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Face the Nation transcript March 19, 2017: Cruz, Pelosi, Mulvaney

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: The president claims yet again that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower and puts his deal-making skills between the Republican Obamacare replacement plan.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We’re negotiating with everybody. It’s a big, fat, beautiful negotiation.


DICKERSON: Undeterred by estimates that tens of millions could lose their coverage under his health care reform plan, this week, the president saw some hits.


TRUMP: All of these nos or potential nos are all yeses.


DICKERSON: From misses.


TRUMP: Let me give you the bad news.

A judge has just blocked our executive order on travel.


DICKERSON: And some awkward diplomatic moments.


TRUMP: As far as wiretapping, I guess this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps.


DICKERSON: Visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel was wiretapped during President Obama’s watch, but, this week, top Republican congressional Republicans said there is no evidence that Mr. Trump was.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz will be here to talk about that and his efforts to fix the Trump health care bill.

Then, we will hear from the top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi.

We will get the administration’s view from White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

And we will check in with the CBS News Nation Tracker to get a sense of how the rest of the country views what is going on in Washington.

And, as always, we will have plenty of political analysis.

It is all ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I am John Dickerson.

We begin this morning with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has been working with the White House as a part of that big, fat negotiation the president talked about.

Welcome, Senator.

I want to get to the negotiation in a minute, but I want to start with the president’s reassertion on Friday that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

Intelligence officials, Republicans in the Senate and the House have said this shouldn’t happen. Should the president drop this?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Well, these are serious allegations.

And I think they need to be looked into seriously. You have got open investigations in both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. You have got next week FBI Director Comey is testifying. And we need to find out what the facts are.

We do know -- or it’s at least been publicly reported that there were two FISA applications for some sort of surveillance or wiretaps, one of which was turned down by the Obama -- by the FISA court of the Obama administration, one of which was granted.

I think it is important to learn a little bit more detail as to what was contained in those FISA applications. And I think the investigations will bring that out.

DICKERSON: The reason I ask is because there’s a lot of questions about whether the president is carrying on something here with kind of his own idea of things.

You in the campaign went back and forth with the president about the question of veracity. He had told stories about your father and JFK’s assassination.

(LAUGHTER) DICKERSON: There seemed to be as much evidence for that as there is for this wiretapping claim.

Can people trust this president?

CRUZ: Well, listen, I don’t know what basis the president has for these allegations. They are serious allegations.

He is now the president of the United States. The Department of Justice, the FBI, the CIA, they all report to him. And we should examine what the evidence is. I think it would be quite good for the administration to put forward what evidence there is.

You know, I will point out, this is not necessarily as outlandish as everyone in the press suggests. We do know that the Obama administration targeted their political enemies. We do know that the IRS, for example, targeted citizens groups who spoke out in defense of the Constitution, who spoke out against Obama.

And so the notion is not necessarily outlandish, but it is serious. So it needs to be based on facts.


CRUZ: We should see what the facts are behind this.

DICKERSON: But that equivalence, in this case, he is saying, the president of the United States wiretapped him specifically. That is of an order different, isn’t it?

CRUZ: I think we should see the evidence behind it.

The FISA applications, though, are significant, or at least they could be. They have been reported publicly in the media. It is not often that the FISA court turns down an application. They usually grant those applications. That suggests the application was probably overbroad.

It is worth looking at, was there a fishing expedition that the Obama administration was trying to do or not?

DICKERSON: All right, let’s move on to health care, big issue.

And you are in the thick of trying to make it better.

CRUZ: Yes.

DICKERSON: What is it that you are trying to fix with the health care plan?

CRUZ: The number one issue is premiums -- premiums, premiums, premiums.

When I am back home in Texas, what I hear from Texans every single day is, I can’t afford health insurance, that Obamacare, the average family’s premiums, they have risen over $5,000 under Obamacare. That’s the central problem.

Now, the current House bill, as drafted, I do not believe it will pass the Senate. It doesn’t fix the problem. My biggest concern with the House bill is, it doesn’t lower premiums. And CBO, in fact, projected that, in the first two years, premiums would rise 10 to 20 percent.

DICKERSON: Although it did say then they would go down.

CRUZ: It did.

But I got to tell you, if Republicans hold a big press conference and pat ourselves on the back that we have repealed Obamacare, and everyone’s premiums keep going up, people will be ready to tar and feather us in the streets, and quite rightfully.

DICKERSON: Do you think, Senator, the same about that coverage question? Twenty-four million, the CBO said.

CRUZ: Look, the coverage question, it is actually interrelated to premiums.

If premiums keep going up -- one of the big problems with Obamacare, people can’t afford health insurance. You know, a couple of weeks ago, I did a debate with Bernie Sanders, two-hour town hall on Obamacare.

The next day, I was having dinner here in Washington, and two waitresses I know well, they both came up to me and they said -- one said, you know what? My premiums have tripled in the last three years. They went from $400 a month to $1,200 a month. She said, for the first time in my life, I don’t have health insurance. She also said, for the first time in my life, this restaurant put me at under 30 hours a week. They put me at 29.99. I don’t have insurance.

The second waitress who I also know well said she was four months’ pregnant, and she had just gotten a notification from her insurance that the doctor that she likes and trusts can’t deliver her baby because he is not covered.

DICKERSON: So, how do you fix it then?

CRUZ: We have got to fix that.

We can do that in the House bill. But the only way to drive down premiums is, we need to repeal the insurance mandates. There are 12 insurance mandates that are in Obamacare. The House bill only touches two of them. We need to repeal those mandates to drive down costs. We need to allow purchases across state lines.

We need to allow association health plans. And we need to allow people to pay premiums from health savings accounts. All of those will make it much more affordable for people to get health insurance.

DICKERSON: The president and the House speaker say that is going to happen, it is going to be a two-step process, first the American Health Care Act goes through, and then this second set of legislation comes on.

You are chuckling.

CRUZ: That ain’t going to happen.

It’s their so-called three bucket solution, which is all the good stuff is in bucket three? Bucket three takes eight Democrats. Right now, Senate Democrats are opposing everything. You can’t get eight Senate Democrats to agree on saying good morning.

Anything in bucket three -- I have called bucket three the sucker’s bucket. And what I have been urging the president and the administration and leader in both houses, take everything in bucket three, put it in bucket one. We have got to actually fix this problem.

DICKERSON: Their argument is that you can’t do it all in this, what you are calling bucket one, in the American Health Care Act that Paul Ryan and the president support because the rules of the Senate just will not allow it, and so that you’re -- that is what you are up against here.

CRUZ: But that is fundamentally false.

The rules of the Senate, we’re on what is called budget reconciliation.


CRUZ: It is governed by the Budget Act of 1974.

It lays out a test for what is permissible on reconciliation, six-part test. The central part of the test is, it is budgetary in nature? If it is budgetary in nature, you can do it. If it’s not, you can’t.

You look at the insurance mandates, they impact billions of dollars of federal spending. And I will point out the Obama Justice Department went before the U.S. Supreme Court twice, and argued the mandates are integrally related, they’re intertwined with the subsidies, you cannot sever them.

Under the statute, we can do this now in bucket one. And if we don’t, this bill doesn’t pass. And if it doesn’t pass, it is a substantive and political disaster for everyone involved.

DICKERSON: If it doesn’t have these reforms about the mandates in it in the Senate bill, will you not vote for it?

CRUZ: I cannot vote for any bill that keeps premiums rising.

Texans have -- look, there has been no issue I have devoted more time and energy to than Obamacare, stopping this disaster. We had a chance for an incredible substantive win for American people.

And I have got to tell you, I am spending night and day meeting with House members, meeting with senators, meetings with the administration. Just yesterday, I spent three hours at Mar-a-Lago with Mike Lee and with Mark Meadows negotiating with the president’s team, trying to fix this bill.

DICKERSON: Does the president get this?

CRUZ: We have had multiple conversations. The vice president and I have had multiple conversations.

As he said on what you played a minute ago, President Trump said, this is one big, fat negotiation.

Here is the central prize. If we lower premiums, and hopefully lower them a lot, that is a victory for the American people. If premiums keep going up, that is a victory for insurance companies and lobbyists, but it’s a loss for the people who elected us.

DICKERSON: We have got very little time. I want to get to the Supreme Court.

But does the president get your central point that this has to be all moved into one thing, one approach?

CRUZ: I think that the president right now is listening to the arguments on all sides.

DICKERSON: All right.

CRUZ: He wants to get to yes, and I want to get to yes, but we have got to actually solve the problem. That is my focus right now.

DICKERSON: Thirty seconds.

On the Supreme Court nominee, Judge Gorsuch, is it going to be filibustered, do you think, and what will Republicans do?

CRUZ: I think it is 50-50 whether the Democrats filibuster.

They don’t have think any good arguments against Gorsuch, but they’re furious that we are going to have a conservative nominated and confirmed. I will tell you this. Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed. He will either get 60 votes and be confirmed, or, otherwise, whatever procedural steps are necessary, I believe, within a month or two, Neil Gorsuch will be an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

DICKERSON: So, Republicans will go that far, if Democrats do filibuster?

CRUZ: Mitch McConnell has said we will do whatever is necessary. A Democratic filibuster will not succeed.

I agree with the leader.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Cruz, thank you so much.

Tomorrow, FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee.

Friday, we sat down with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and asked her why she thinks FBI Director Comey should -- what he should say in public, that there is no evidence for President Trump’s wiretap allegations.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I think it is really important, because that is a terrible accusation to make.

And what are they doing but doubling down on it now of quoting sources saying that the president worked with the British intelligence to also spy on the president. Of course it is not true.

So, let’s just grow up. Why doesn’t it -- grow up. The Justice Department, the FBI has to really clear this, because, otherwise, this administration has decided that they, with impunity, can say anything, can say anything, and it is really damaging.

DICKERSON: So, you think Director Comey should come to the hearing and just put this on the table and just -- and clear this up right away?

PELOSI: I think he should, and that, certainly, if he doesn’t, I think he should be asked to do so, and why wouldn’t he?

DICKERSON: You have faith in Director Comey to carry out the investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the election and any connections with the Trump campaign?

PELOSI: I think it is possible that he can do that.

I think what he did was wrong during the election, but I don’t know who they would appoint.


PELOSI: So, the question is that.

But I have always had admiration for Director Comey before he was there, when he was assistant attorney general. And he acted very courageously in the Bush administration when it came to surveillance and the rest of that.

There is a mixed record there. And I am hopeful that he could go forward in a very positive way. And I think it is important for the director of the FBI not to be subjected to the president thinking he is going to investigate him, so he would terminate his service.

DICKERSON: Let’s switch to health care.

When you were trying to get the Affordable Care Act through, you said, it needed to pass in order for people to experience what was in it, for them to -- you knew what was in the bill, but people, in order to experience what it was offering, they needed to have some interaction with it.

Isn’t that essentially what Paul Ryan is saying?

PELOSI: No. Thank you for asking that question, because you can help me put it in context. The Senate had not acted. They were asking me about the impact of the bill. So we have to pass it, we have to get through the legislative process.

But all of us learned from the implementation of the bill. And there are some things that we could do to improve to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act right now. And I wish the Republicans would work with us to do that.

We can work with them to do that, but what they have put forth is a terrible bill, 24 million people kicked off of health insurance, which the speaker calls an act of mercy, an act of mercy.

And then, at the same time, they have put out a budget which the OMB director, Mulvaney, says is compassionate, to take money from Meal on Wheels and give it to the Defense Department.

We all want to support -- we take an oath to protect and defend our country, but our strength is measured in more ways than just taking money from the health, education and well-being of the American people, which is a source of our strength.

So, compassionate acts of mercy? I don’t know what faith that is.

DICKERSON: When you look at this health care bill that has been put forward, is it Ryancare, is it Trumpcare, is it Republicancare? How do you -- what do you -- how do you think about it?

PELOSI: I think it is Trumpcare.

The fact is this. This president really either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about what is in the affordable health care. The affordable health care’s purpose was to lower costs, expand access, and improve benefits. It has succeeded in all three.

It should be respected for what it does. We should judge it for what it doesn’t do and work hard to improve it. Some places need improvement because the Republicans obstructed that implementation of it.

So, when he talks about his bill, imagine a bill that takes 24 million people out of health insurance, gives the biggest transfer of wealth in our country’s history, $600 billion taken from working-class families in our country, middle-class and those who aspire to it, to the top 1 percent. $600 billion, Robin Hood in reverse.

Some people call it Ryan Hood. But this is Trump. Republicans will find any excuse to pull money up to the high end, at the expense of the working class.

And what is so strange about it all is, many of the people, many of the millions of people who are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act voted for Donald Trump. They live in red areas. That money will be taken from those areas. And many of the people who will be advantaged by the money going to the high end will be in blue areas.

How is that? It is so wrong.

DICKERSON: As you have said, there are issues with the Affordable Care Act.


DICKERSON: I mean, there are high premiums, high deductibles. In some places, there’s only one insurer. Insurance companies are leaving.

Have the Democrats offered something that could meet them halfway, meet Republicans halfway or to the deal with some of those issues?

PELOSI: Well, no, it is not a question of halfway. It is like a little bit pregnant. You either have health care or you don’t. You know, you either have an agenda that is a public-private partnership or you don’t.

But the individual market is challenging. And we can do more to help on the individual market. The co-pays and the out-of-pockets, they will go up more under Trumpcare. You cannot retain any of the benefits of no existing,preexisting -- no discrimination on preexisting condition, no lifetime limit, all -- that benefit that people have, child can stay on your policy until 26, you can’t do that unless you have the big pool that the Affordable Care has and you have a mandate.

You can’t say, I’m going to give you all the goodies, but none of the responsibility. And that’s what the president is saying. But I think, listening to him -- and I listen to him very carefully. I respect the office he holds. I respect the people who voted for him.

He doesn’t know what he is talking about. And when he says death spiral and this and that, he really doesn’t know what he is talking about. It is most unfortunate. And so this product is Trumpcare.

DICKERSON: The president says, he said, “If we submitted the Democrats’ plan, drawn everything perfect for the Democrats, we wouldn’t get one vote from the Democrats.”

What he is saying, essentially, is, there is such opposition...

PELOSI: Well, that’s just not true.

When he speaks, understand that he is projecting. He is projecting.

DICKERSON: But what could you work with on -- with President Trump? PELOSI: Well, first of all, we are not working with anybody who says we’re going to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Repeal? No. That is not going to happen.

DICKERSON: Well, then he’s right, basically.

PELOSI: No, no, he isn’t. No, he isn’t.

He is saying -- he is saying -- you have to have a bill. And we have something that actually was developed at the Heritage Foundation, a Republican institution, a conservative institution, Romneycare.

DICKERSON: The individual mandate.

PELOSI: The individual mandate, Romneycare in Massachusetts, a Republican governor.

So, would it have been the bill I would have written? I would have had a public option. I would have done a different bill. But this was a private sector, market economy, a piece of legislation that worked. It is implemented.

So, it is rolling something back. You have to be totally irresponsible to do that.

DICKERSON: Leader Pelosi, thanks so much.

PELOSI: Thank you. My pleasure.


DICKERSON: And we will be back in just a minute with our CBS News Nation Tracker.

Stay with us.


DICKERSON: Over the last few months, CBS News, along with YouGov, has been tracking Americans for our Nation Tracker and monitoring their views on the Trump administration, Congress and the country.

Elections director Anthony Salvanto joins us now to take a look at our new findings.

Anthony, when we talked last a month ago, you came up with four groups. Let’s check back in with those four groups.

Let’s start with the believers.


The believers are the group we have identified, and they’re about a fifth of the country. They are the base of the base for the president. They support him. They support him strongly. And they are really defined by -- and as people process all this news that has come out in the last few weeks, they are defined by this singular trust in him.

You can see it in where they trust to get accurate information. They say it comes from him above all others. So, for example, this is the group that says he was wiretapped. Other groups are more skeptical. This is the group that doesn’t think that analyses of his legislation are nonpartisan.

And you also see them trust him when it comes to Congress and legislation over Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and even, John, over the Republican Party as a whole.

And this, for me, echoes a little bit of what we saw even last year in the primaries, where Donald Trump was running against the establishment, the Republican so-called establishment. And these supporters still want that. They still see him as the singular figure that can make Washington work.

DICKERSON: Quickly, what are their thoughts about health care?

SALVANTO: Well, interestingly, they are not yet sold on the health care bill. They’re more adopting a wait-and-see attitude, which is sort of like a lot of his supporters, not yet sure it helps them.

DICKERSON: Let’s go now on to the conditional voters. They like Donald Trump, but they are not as firm as the believers. They perhaps listen to other voices or might run away from it.


This is the kind of folks who really liked his address to Congress a month ago. They thought it was presidential. But now what they have seen in the last few weeks is starting to make them a little more nervous.

So, they are still optimistic, but not yet confident. They say the president might be distracted, not focused. They would prefer for him to focus on the economy. They don’t like the tweeting so much.

And so that has got them a little bit -- a little bit wavering. But they are still supporting. They still like the economic news that has come out. They still give him credit for a lot of that.

But on the health care bill, it is interesting, too, they also don’t see what it would do for them. And, again, remember, so much of this is transactional. Unless they see that connection, they are not yet ready to support him.

DICKERSON: All right.

Let’s move now on to the curious group, which is a portion of the country that is available for Donald Trump. They are not set against him, but they’re not in his camp.

SALVANTO: Right. Available, they want to be optimistic. They want him to deliver for them on the economy.

We have seen this throughout. But they are not sold. And they are not on his side just yet, because they don’t like the other policies that have come out. They don’t like the travel ban as much. They don’t like what he is doing on immigration. They want more focus on the -- on policy and jobs.

But here, again, as it pertains to the health care bill, when they look at it, you see this pattern. It is interesting. The more they learn about it and the more they say that they don’t think it will help them, the more nervous they become.

And so that -- this is where you see it could be really pivotal, this piece of legislation, and whether or not he can draw support to him or not.

DICKERSON: And the final group is the resisters. Remind us how many of them there are.

SALVANTO: Yes. That is about a third of the country.

The bulk of them are Democrats. A lot of them who did vote voted for Hillary Clinton, but a lot of them didn’t vote either. And so this is a group that was kind of waiting for Donald Trump to reach out to them, and they don’t feel that he has.

Well, what you see there is, a lot of folks have said, well, are the Democrats and the people who are opposed to the president are going to become more motivated now? A lot of them report that, in fact, they are. They say that they are paying more attention to the news. They say they are paying more attention to social media and linking up to people who share their views.

So, that is part of it. Some of them even say they are going to the town hall meetings. At the same time, a lot of those folks are folks among this resisters group who did vote in 2016. And the folks among the resisters who did not vote in 2016 are still not still paying as much attention and don’t think the Democrats in Congress are being effective right now.

DICKERSON: All right.

Anthony Salvanto, well done. Thanks. We will look forward to another update.

And we will be right back with this very unusual road trip.

Stay with us.


DICKERSON: When a pre-spring blizzard shut down air travel on the East Coast last week, two Texas congressmen, one a Democrat and one a Republican, booked a rental car and hit the road together.

They say you don’t really know a person until you have been crammed a in a car with them. And after 36 hours and 1,600 miles from San Antonio to Washington in a Chevy Impala, Democrat Beto O’Rourke and Republican Will Hurd have become a little closer. On the road, they found a mutual appreciation for country music, fast food.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whataburger unites us all.


DICKERSON: And topics that you will never find in any buddy movie.


REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: We need to be bringing more people on the health care rolls, not fewer.

REP. BETO O’ROURKE (D), TEXAS: Building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security.


DICKERSON: There were a couple of bumps in the road, detours and delays, which is why road trips are exactly like life in Congress.

But, in the end, they made it to the Capitol and forged a new friendship. Now, if only their colleagues could also find a way to get together to reach a joint destination.

We will be back in a moment.


DICKERSON: Some of our CBS stations are leaving us now, but, for most of you, we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION, including White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.


DICKERSON: And now, for the administration’s take on the budget and healthcare. Joining us now is White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.

Welcome, Mr. Director.

I want to start with something the president told Tucker Carlson on Fox about the health care plan.


DICKERSON: He acknowledged that the people who voted for him, who sent him to Washington, bear the brunt of a lot of these changes in the health care bill and he said, quote, “we will take care of our people or I’m not signing it,” meaning the bill. How’s he going to take care of his people without fundamentally changing the bill?

MULVANEY: The same way that we’ve taken care of people for a long time in this country, which is through competition. I think that’s one thing that doesn’t get very heavily reported is that part of the problem with Obamacare right now, and I’ve -- I’ve discovered this first-hand. I live in South Carolina. We’re down to one provider. You can imagine what that does to price competition on cost. It doesn’t do anything but increase the cost. And one of the -- the key points of the plan that is in the Republican House right now is it is going to encourage more competition, which will lower the cost for everybody, not just Trump voters.

DICKERSON: But the president’s remarks here were -- having taken all of that into account, knowing that there’s competition in the bill, what he was responding to are studies that showed that the tax credits go to the wealthy and that -- and that -- or the tax breaks, I should say, and the tax credit doesn’t really help people who are just above Medicaid. And he was saying that part of what is being negotiated in this interview with Tucker Carlson, he said, that’s part of the negotiation. So I’m wondering, if that’s part of the negotiation, what’s he asking for to make it better for those people who are hardest hit?

MULVANEY: Right, keep -- keep in mind, your first comment about how the -- the -- the wealthy get all the tax cuts. We promised, the president promised, to repeal all of Obamacare, and that’s -- that’s who was taxed at the beginning. So I keep wondering why folks just want to focus on who gets a little bit of a tax benefit instead of focusing on the fact that we’re replacing a truly broken system.

But to your point about what we’re trying to do is to make sure that folks have various options available to them. They’re going to get the tax credit. We’re going to have the HSAs, which don’t exist anymore. That will lower their net costs, especially on an after-tax basis. And we’re also going to introduce this competition.

So the president knows, believe me. We know who his voters are and we’re going to take care of them. There’s no question about them, but that doesn’t mean we’re leaving Obamacare in place because that would actually hurt them dramatically.

DICKERSON: I guess the -- the president is -- if -- if I’m a middle -- if I’m a working class person, you know, and I -- and I voted for President Trump, what am I getting out of this?


DICKERSON: I mean just as a political thing, what am I getting?

MULVANEY: You’re getting something you don’t have right now, which is care that you can afford. And that’s important. The Affordable Care Act wasn’t really Obamacare. It wasn’t really the Affordable Care Act. It was the Affordable Coverage Act. And those people that you just described could afford to buy insurance but they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor because the deductibles were so high. DICKERSON: But what of these studies that show, you know, a 64- year-old, his premiums go from $1,700 to $14,000? That’s not affordable.

MULVANEY: It does, but it doesn’t take into consideration, first of all, the other things we’ll be doing. Keep in mind that the reports that you mentioned don’t deal with any of the regulatory reform that Tom Price at HHS is trying to put into place. It doesn’t take into account any of the other what we call the phase three programs that we’re trying to push through Congress, such as medical malpractice reform, sales across interstate line -- across state lines. And it also doesn’t include the couple of amendments that we’ve agreed to the last couple of weeks. So the -- the estimates, I think, are just not reflecting the true bill.

DICKERSON: So in terms of this first phase, though, the president’s basically going to have to -- I mean the first phase isn’t going to take care of those folks who voted for the president. They’re going to have to hope that in the future legislation and through regulation they’ll get the kind of relief that the president is asking for (INAUDIBLE).

MULVANEY: No, I disagree. I think those folks will be immediately better off because, again, you’re focusing on what it costs to buy a health insurance policy, coverage. But that doesn’t allow you to go to the doctor. So the real question is, when you get sick, will you be able to go get care? And I think without exception, those folks would be better off under the new plan than they are under Obamacare.

DICKERSON: You mentioned getting care. The president has said as a candidate, he said about health care, “there was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it,” meaning health care, “that’s not going to happen with us.” He’s talking about universal care there. That’s not -- you’re not going to have universal care after these changes.

MULVANEY: We don’t have universal -- the only way to have universal care, if you stop to think about it, is to force people to buy it under penalty of law. So with this --

DICKERSON: So was he mistaken when he said there should be --

MULVANEY: OK, but keep in mind what we’re replacing. What you’ve got now is, we’re forcing people to buy it under Obamacare under penalty of law and people are still looking for a way not to buy it. So clearly the government mandate doesn’t work. The better process, the better function is exactly what we’re trying to do now, which is to encourage people and enable them to buy a policy they want and can afford.

DICKERSON: But with that -- but universal care was not really a promise he could made.

MULVANEY: Again, universal -- the only way to get truly universal care is to throw people in jail if they don’t have it.


MULVANEY: And we are not going to do that.

DICKERSON: Let me switch to the budget. You said kind of -- one of your guiding principles was when you start looking at places where we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was, can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia, or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? And the answer was no. That seems like a good sorting technique, but doesn’t it open you to the political question then, well, what about the president’s vacation, you know, when he goes down to Mar-a-Lago? President -- as a candidate, Trump made a lot of Obama --


DICKERSON: President Obama’s vacations. Now people are -- are bringing that back to the president. What does a coal miner or a single mom say about these trips down to Florida?

MULVANEY: Sure. You could always attack a budget for being political, right? In fact, we -- we are going to do so. But keep in mind who the president wrote the budget for. He -- he wrote the budget for everybody. We’ve heard a lot of criticism, for example, about different line items in the -- in the budget blueprint from members of Congress. That’s to be expected. I used to be a member of Congress. I used to represent 700,000 people. And my first job was to represent their best interests. We had special interests at play on The Hill. We had lobbyists at play on The Hill. The president wrote this budget without consideration for those things, without being beholden to anybody except the people, and that’s who this budget is written for.

DICKERSON: But if you think about the coal miner and the single mom, doesn’t savings begin at home? I mean there are things the president can do to cut back on his own using that test.


DICKERSON: The coal miner doesn’t get to fly down to Mar-a-Lago either.

MULVANEY: Yes. I don’t have a business card to give to you today, John, because at the Office of Management and Budget, we have to pay for our own business cards. So it does start at home but it’s already started.

DICKERSON: Entitlements, that’s the big -- where the big money is. The president has said he didn’t want to touch Medicare, but he seems to be revising his thinking on that.

MULVANEY: Well, I think the promise was he wasn’t going to affect anybody and we haven’t with this budget. Keep in mind what this budget is. This is just the discretionary spending part of the budget, which was a necessary first step.

DICKERSON: But he might look at -- at future retirement -- future Medicare recipients? MULVANEY: Let me ask you a question, do you really think that Social Security disability insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security? I don’t think so. It’s the fastest growing program. It was -- it grew tremendously under President Obama. It’s a very wasteful program and we want to try and fix that.

DICKERSON: OK, we’re going to have to end it there. Thank you so much, Mr. Director, for being with us.

MULVANEY: Thanks, John.

DICKERSON: And we’ll be back in a moment.


DICKERSON: And we’re back with our political panel.

Kim Strassel is a columnist for “The Wall Street Journal” and sits on “The Journal” editorial board. Jeffrey Goldberg is the editor in chief of “The Atlantic.” We’re also joined by Ruth Marcus, columnist and the deputy editorial page editor at “The Washington Post,” and Ed O’Keeffe covers politics for “The Post.”

Kim, I want to start with you.

Where do things stand on the American health care act in Congress?

KIMBERLEY STRASSEL, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Uncertain, but moving ahead, I think. Look, what we’re witnessing here is the return to old-fashioned politics, and nobody is used to this anymore, in that we had for six years opposition politics, Republicans saying no to everything, the president largely ruling from his perch in the White House. This is about a big, fat, beautiful negotiation. And I think it’s very important -- you had Ted Cruz on. He said he wants to get to yes. This was a guy who was part of the hell no brigade for years. So he wants to get there. The Freedom Caucus. You’re having all these negotiations. And at the same time, Paul Ryan is very ruthlessly marching this on a schedule through the House to try to impose some deadlines and I think we’ll get a lot more clarity this week when we possibly have a manager’s amendment that tries to fix some of the concerns of some of the conservatives.

DICKERSON: Do you think -- the Senator Cruz said he was trying to make it better. He’s working with the White House of this president with whom he had some serious disagreements in the primary, but he’s now working quit hard with the White House. But is he going to be able to get all the stuff he wants? I mean the Senate says it’s technically impossible. He also is asking for things that others have asked for and haven’t gotten yet.

ED O’KEEFE, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Yes. I would say we’ve returned to old school legislating, but I don’t know that we’ve returned to old school politics. I mean I think the fact that he says I want to get to yes and -- and is willing to work with the White House, the question will be whether he gets to a point, guys like Cruz, where maybe they got 80 percent of what they want, will they, like they did in the past, stand firm and -- and hold things up or will they go along to -- to achieve the party’s big goal? That is the question and that is something we won’t really sort out I think until this Thursday when they potentially vote on a bill in the House that will have changes, but we don’t entirely yet know what those changes are. And then down the road, when all these things get merged together, and they decide whether or not certain things get in or not.

Remember, you know, this isn’t just the most diehard conservative Republicans who caused so much trouble for leadership in the last few years. These other guys who represent Miami, and suburban Philadelphia, and suburban Chicago, and the areas that could be under the gun next year in the elections when suburban voters stand up and say, you know, I actually didn’t have that big a problem or not as many problems with my health care system, you’re not trying to dramatically redo it, they looked at those numbers that suggest tens of millions of people would lose their coverage and that’s what gives them pause. So we’ll see.

But -- but it is encouraging, yes, that there is some wheeling and dealing going on between both ends of the street. The question will be what happens when they don’t get everything they want.

DICKERSON: Ruth, let me ask you this. In the Senate they think the political dynamic will change if something passes out of the House. It’s now out of the House. It comes to the Senate. And now are you really going to be the Republican stand -- senator who stands in the way of repealing Obamacare? Isn’t that going to be -- I mean Ted Cruz mentioned very -- was very clear to say, nobody hates Obamacare more than I do, but. But in the end, isn’t he -- are they really going to stand against Obamacare?

RUTH MARCUS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Maybe. And there’s a long way between getting past the House and getting past the Senate because the Senate is going to change what the House does, and that will change from where it is now. And then I spoke to one of the smartest legislative tacticians I know who gave this about a 50-50 chance in a conference committee because you have to satisfy -- the -- the dynamics of this have really changed. There are moderate senators that you have to satisfy in your own party. There are moderate House members. People who are in 20 something who are in districts that Hillary Clinton won. They all have issues. They all have people who are demonstrably going to be potentially hurt here. That all has to be satisfied.

And then you have the sort of usual Freedom Caucus types. You have Ted Cruz drawing his line in the sand. And while he said he wanted to get to yes, he also undercut a very major argument that Trump administration officials are making this weekend, that there is this third phase that will somehow magically happen, Ted Cruz said ain’t going to happen. He’s right.

So this -- and the stakes here, if it’s 50-50, that’s a huge thing because this is not like Bill Clinton’s attempt to launch healthcare or George W. Bush’s attempt to do Social Security reform after he was re-elected. This is a central promise of congressional Republicans for years now, of President Trump during his campaign. If it doesn’t get done, it has serious ramifications for his governing going forward.

DICKERSON: Jeffrey, this is a marketer president we have, who knows how to put a name on a thing and make it popular. What do you make of the pickle -- what he’s got to face here, which is -- I mean the idea of a three part plan, which the president talked about, but Ted Cruz says, you know, not going to happen.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, “THE ATLANTIC”: Well, I actually step back even further, going to -- sort of jumping on to it from what Ruth said, I don’t even understand why they’re doing this now. And the -- if you are Donald Trump, you know that your infrastructure plan, your idea to rebuild America, bridges, tunnels, airports, this is a sure winner because you -- the -- you’re basically daring Republicans not to go with you, and the Democrats are with you. I just -- I simply don’t understand why they have phased this the way they have phased this. I understand that it was a core promise. I get it. But --

MARCUS: Right, when --

GOLDBERG: But -- but it -- infrastructure was a core, core promise and --

MARCUS: Right, when you --

STRASSEL: Yes, but -- but when you talk about it for six years, you have to move on it.

GOLDBERG: Yes, but -- but they’ve also been talking -- he’s been talking about making America great again.

MARCUS: No, they --

GOLDBERG: He talks -- he’s been talking -- he’s not been talking much about -- anyway, I’m just -- I’m just questioning, as a marketing question, it seems to me that one of the things you would want to do is -- is put as many white, male, high school educated Americans to work as quickly as possible. And so I’m not sure that -- I think when the history of this is written, I’m not sure that this is going to be seen as a genius political move.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you this, Kim, on sort of building on that a little bit. There have been these studies, and the president acknowledged it in his interview with Tucker Carlson, that -- that say that the Trump coalition, working class folks, are -- are -- they’re not getting the size of the tax break that people at the upper end get. That the tax credit within -- that’s part of this health care doesn’t really help them as much as Obamacare did.

So, to Jeffrey’s point, if I voted for the president, wouldn’t it better to get a -- to have an infrastructure that’s got jobs associated with it, whereas this is, you’re getting a theory that hopefully will play out in work and practice?

STRASSEL: Look, Obamacare, obviously, affects many different people in many different ways, but there are many, many self-employed people out there, anyone on the individual exchange, for whom this is a big hurt at the moment, and it is something Republicans ran on for six years. And whether or not it was the correct decision to move on it first, if they fail in this now, it potentially derails everything else that they want to do --


STRASSEL: Whether it’s infrastructure or tax reform. And, look, I think the other thing that gets missed here is that there need to be some fixes to this bill. It is not by any means a perfect bill. And especially in ways that will reduce premiums. But when you step back, this is the largest entitlement reform that has ever been contemplated in this country. It’s going to save $1.2 trillion. It’s cutting out another nearly $900 billion worth of taxes that were going to be imposed. So there are some economic benefits to this and just some wide philosophical principled points here that are also making it a worthwhile endeavor for Republicans.

MARCUS: So, but --

DICKERSON: Including the Medicaid block (ph) grant too on that point.

STRASSEL: Exactly.


MARCUS: What -- what Kim calls entitlement reform, I would call something that could actually really hurt core Trump voters. If you are a rural voter, a lower income voter, an older voter who voted for Donald Trump, this plan is not for you. And you could hear President Trump, in some interviews this week, recognizing that that was true.

I would keep an eye on the amount of credit that is going to older people. I -- sorry to say older people between 50 and 64. Some of us may be there. Who I think they’re --

DICKERSON: Tax credits in the bill to help them.

MARCUS: Their tax credit is going to -- very well could be increased as part of an effort not just to get this through the Senate, but to get it through the House. You sort of do that and that calms down some people. Then you put in some work requirements for Medicaid. That calms down a different group of people. But there are clear core Trump voters who are going to be hurt by this, as in -- as laid out and even would --

STRASSEL: I don’t think it’s that clear.

MARCUS: What? Well, it is. Well, I mean it all -- it’s clear if you believe CBO.

STRASSEL: Well, I -- well, I mean --

MARCUS: If you don’t believe CBO, then it’s not clear.

STRASSEL: Well -- well, right. And I -- there are obviously, like if you believe CBO, then twice as many people were supposed to be enrolled in the exchanges already.

MARCUS: But, you know, also if you look at -- look at -- yes, but look at -- you know, but just look at logic. If you reduce -- if you allow insurance companies to charge other people more, if you reduce the credits to them, if you allow people in rural areas to be charged more rather than making the credits change amounts based on where you are geographically, then it’s simple logic and arithmetic that there are going to be these people who are hurt.

STRASSEL: Well, not necessarily. The insurers are finally allowed to craft plans that don’t include all of these mandates and --

MARCUS: And -- and that means that people’s coverage will be less and the deductibles --

STRASSEL: And give people more freedom and flexibility to bring down deductions (ph).

DICKERSON: Right. Right.

STRASSEL: But, anyway, we’re -- we’re -- we’re ignoring the boys.

GOLDBERG: I could listen (INAUDIBLE) about CBO all day.

STRASSEL: We’re ignoring the boys.

MARCUS: Yes, and we (INAUDIBLE) --

O’KEEFE: This is why Thursday will be very disinteresting.


O’KEEFE: IF the House indeed votes on something, because there’s all these unresolved questions.

DICKERSON: Including the CBO number that said --

O’KEEFE: Right.

BERMAN: And hat number, there’s been a lot of discussion this week about the Congressional Budget Office. They -- they have been off in the past, but 24 million is still, as a political matter, a number that floats out there.

O’KEEFE: A huge problem for a lot of these -- again the more moderate Republicans that will be in tricky races next year and a few Senate candidates. A few Republicans Senate candidates that could face tricky re-elections, such as Dean Heller out in Nevada has said, I can’t do it because of that.

BERMAN: All right, we’re going to take a break here. We’ll be back with our panel, so stay with us.


DICKERSON: And we’re back with more from our panel.

Jeffrey, I want to start with you.

Monday the director of the FBI is going to testify in the House on the question of Russian meddling in the election. Nancy Pelosi wants him to come out and basically put to bed this wiretapping claim. The president, in the press conference on Friday with Angela Merkel, said that they shared a common bond of being wiretapped by the Obama administration.


DICKERSON: What’s going on?

GOLDBERG: Safe to say she does not feel like common bond with Donald Trump on most anything.

DICKERSON: She -- she did not appear to pick up --

GOLDBERG: Both human organisms breathing air, but --

DICKERSON: She did not pick up the baton in the -- in the conversation. What do you make of where we are now with the president on this claim?

GOLDBERG: So the fascinating thing about our conversation, actually, is that part of our conversation is about the normal political horse trading in Washington, talking about CBO scoring, and then -- and then there’s this other part of Washington now, which is this kind of, what’s a nice word, non-logical part that’s going on, that’s not rooted in fact and observable reality. You asked the question, will Comey be able to -- will the FBI director be able to put this to bed? No, he won’t be able to put this to bed because people believe it and apparently the president of the United States still believes this, or at least won’t back down from what he has said.

I would note in this sort of whirlwind week that the president managed to alienate two treaty allies anew. I mean he’s already alienated other treaty allies. But his -- his discussions with Angela Merkel seemed semi disastrously. And then he completely gratuitously, and related to, of course, this issue of whether President Obama spied or not, he completely gratuitously, or his administration, put out this idea that the British, our closest ally, were somehow involved in spying on him on behalf of Barack Obama.

MARCUS: Well, they -- his administration, in the form of Sean Spicer, put it out and then he chose the press conference with Angela Merkel to reaffirm it, further inflaming this. It just goes to show you, yes, actually the president is doing a lot of very diligent horse trading, getting to yes work on the budget, like a -- I mean not on the budget on health care, like a regular president would, in some ways, better than his predecessor in terms of his dealings with members of Congress. And then we have crazy town, which is saying something without --

GOLDBERG: That’s another term for it I was not going to use, but that’s another term.

MARCUS: I’m going to go there. Saying something that has no basis in fact before you check it, and then, as Donald Trump has showed us for months now, refusing to back down even when you are demonstrably wrong.

STRASSEL: We actually do know two things, that our facts so far, at least as expressed by the Senate and the House Intelligence Committees, which are, one, that they couldn’t find any evidence of actual wiretapping of Trump Tower. Does that mean that Trump was surveilled in some other way? We don’t know that yet. And they’ll continue their investigation. We’ve also now had -- well, James Clapper, who used to be head of intelligence for the Obama administration, and Devin Nunes, who runs the House Intelligence Committee, just today say that there’s no evidence of collusion between the Trump team and the Russians with regards to the election.

So I think that those are important things to get out there. We are learning something. They will continue their investigation. And it’s going to go into a lot of other things that don’t get as much coverage, like, for instance, who’s been doing the leaking out there?


MARCUS: Well, you know, it -- when President Trump, as candidate Trump and before he was candidate, pushed the birther myth. That was offensive but it wasn’t damaging. Here you have an accusation that’s damaging on a lot of levels. First of all, it’s accusing whether wiretapping is in or outside of quotes. It’s accusing his predecessor of a major violation of federal law. And then it’s causing these problems with a major ally, with Britain, gratuitously, and then keeping going on that.

DICKERSON: Let me -- I want to get to a couple of other things.

Ed, you’ve spent a lot of time talking to the members of the Judiciary Committee about the Gorsuch nomination, which, if any conservatives are worried about things like these wiretapping claim, they’re very happy about Judge Gorsuch.

O’KEEFE: So, yes, incredibly so. I spent the bulk of last week talking -- I mean look at some of what they say. Cruz, who you spoke with earlier, said the most transparent Supreme Court selection process in modern times. Remember, he had his differences with Trump. Jeff Flakes, who never endorsed Trump, said that both in style and in substance, it’s a really good pick. Mike Lee, who’s sparring with the White House on health care, I don’t think it could have done any better. And Lindsey Graham, who spars with the president any day of the week, calls Gorsuch an A plus and says this has been the single best thing the president has done was to pick Neil Gorsuch.

Republicans are in lockstep in the Senate with the president on this. They are excited about it. They are thrilled about how well the rollout has gone so far and they are confident that Gorsuch will sail through this week. What’s been most interesting to watch is Democrats really toiling amongst themselves about how to react. Do you block him? Do you throw everything you have at him? Or do you perhaps hold back a little bit, because inevitably another vacancy will come, Trump may get to pick that person, and it could be even more conservative than Gorsuch.

DICKERSON: We’ve got just a short time. Jeffrey, I don’t want to leave without the rollout of the secretary of state who made a trip overseas. Give us your sense of --

GOLDBERG: The secret rollout of the secretary of state.

DICKERSON: Well, because he didn’t travel with a press corps this trip.


DICKERSON: He said some -- some new things about North Korea. Give us your sense of that in 30 seconds.

GOLDBERG: Well, I think there was some innovations. He’s talk about all options being on the table. He’s put out the idea that there could be a preemptive U.S. attack on North Korea.

Now, of course, North Korea has been a problem for decades. This is -- this is -- the -- the crisis is generated by North Korean extremism and illogic. But I come back to this general conversation about the way the Trump administration does things. On some levels, on Gorsuch, it’s smooth. On health care they’re having a reasonable debate. The -- the question is, on matters of life and death, I’m not confident yet that these guys can and a crisis, because, remember, nothing really has happened yet in the Trump administration. There’s been no terror attacks, nothing of North Korean magnitude. So it remains to be seen whether these guys have a handle (ph).

DICKERSON: All right, we’re going to have to end there. Thanks all of you. And we’ll be right back in a moment.


DICKERSON: That’s it for us today. See you next week.

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