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Face the Nation transcript March 5, 2017: Warner, Collins, Panetta, Price

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: Battling continued revelations about his campaign team’s contacts with the Russians, President Trump lashes out at his predecessor.

It didn’t take long for the glow of the president’s address to Congress to turn cold after reports surfaced that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had not been accurate about his contact with the Russians during the 2016 campaign.

President Trump found himself once again on the defensive against damaging leaks and intensified the focus on the Russia story, launching an unsubstantiated claim on Twitter that the former president had wiretapped his campaign headquarters to investigate Trump’s Russia ties.

We will explore all of this today with the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, and fellow Republican committee member Susan Collins. Former CIA and Defense Chief Leon Panetta will also be here.

And we will go in-depth into a blockbuster “New York Times” report that the U.S. has been involved in cyber-warfare against North Korean missile launches.

As the president and Republican leaders begin a coordinated push to replace Obamacare, we will get a progress report from Health and Human Services head Dr. Tom Price. And we will have plenty of political analysis -- all straight ahead on FACE THE NATION.

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

The Senate Intelligence Committee was already investigating Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election, but yesterday the president opened a whole new set of questions by accusing his predecessor, President Obama, of wiretapping Trump’s campaign headquarters.

And this morning, the president has asked congressional committees to investigate.

We are going to try and sort through all of this today.

And we begin with the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Virginia’s Mark Warner. Senator, let’s start with the claims by the president. He tweeted that he -- on Saturday that he had just found out Obama had “my” -- quote -- “wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found.”

He called it McCarthyism.

What do you make of this?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Well, John, let’s step back for a moment and look at what we do know.

We know that we have seen an unprecedented attack by a foreign adversary, Russia, in terms of meddling in our election. We saw before the election a thousand Internet trolls trying to use and place false information.

We saw manipulation of certain algorithms, so that if you Googled certain items, you got Russia news, R.T. News, other false news. We saw the selective hacking into DNC and individuals that then tried to leak that information to benefit Mr. Trump.

We also saw before the election an unusual change in the Republican platform in favor of Russia. We saw Mr. Trump himself encourage the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton. And we saw this just unusual affection that the president seems to have, where he won’t say anything bad about Vladimir Putin.

And since the inaugural, we have seen the resignation of the national security adviser and recusal of the attorney general because of contacts with Russians.

Now we have this unsubstantiated claim made by the president, which shows in a certain way that the president doesn’t understand how you obtain a wiretap. You have to go before a judge and show either probable cause or, if it is in terms of foreign intelligence, a FISA court and show that there is evidence of some type of contact with a foreign adversary.

And so what I find so strange -- and I thought the president’s comments could no longer surprise me, but, boy, this one yesterday surprised me. To make that type of claim without any evidence is, I think, very reckless.

DICKERSON: Do you think there is a -- let’s stick to the president’s claim first and then go back to the other list you made.

Do you think there is any FISA court order? This morning on “Meet the Press,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said there was no FISA court order.

WARNER: I am not aware of any FISA court order regarding the Trump Tower.

DICKERSON: But there have been ones of -- other kinds of FISA court orders?

WARNER: Listen , I’m not going to get into what ongoing investigations the FBI might be taking.

But I think it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to realize, with this litany of events and this drip, drip, drip of activities, our investigation -- I have to tell you, I have been in public life a long time. There is nothing I have done in my life in public that is as important as trying to get this investigation done right and bipartisan and get the facts out to the American people.

DICKERSON: The president’s claim, is it -- could he just be going off of something in a Breitbart report, or do you think he has access to -- he has access to the best possible intelligence.

WARNER: He has access to the best possible intelligence.

DICKERSON: So, which is this, do you think?

WARNER: I think time will tell.

But I am not aware, as General Clapper has said, of any kind of FISA order that was somehow, you know, in effect bugging Trump Tower. But I feel like this -- again, feels like an attempt where the president is trying to distract us by filling out -- and he is distracting with unsubstantiated information, which, again, if the president is correct, and he says there is nothing here, then he should welcome this investigation, because what we will do...

DICKERSON: Have you seen any connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

WARNER: We are early into this investigation.

We have our staff out looking at information at Langley. I’m going to go out this week. We are going to have unprecedented access to all of the intelligence.

DICKERSON: Meaning the FBI intelligence as well? Because...


DICKERSON: ... says the FBI is holding back.


WARNER: All of the intelligence that is appropriate, we’re going to get to all of that.

I know my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will look at this. And one of the things that gives me pride that this is happening, I have seen colleagues on the committee, Republican colleagues, like Susan Collins and Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio, all make public statements saying they are committed to not having this being interfered by politics and us getting to the bottom of it and getting the facts. DICKERSON: And quickly on the FBI, though, House Intel -- ranking member on the House, Adam Schiff, has said that the FBI is withholding significant issues from top members of Congress. Is that true?

WARNER: I believe I have a good working relationship with Director Comey.

DICKERSON: Are you getting what you need?

WARNER: There’s plenty of time.

You know, we are at the beginnings of this. We’re going to get the information we need to get to the bottom of this.

DICKERSON: Who are you going to call? Is Michael Flynn going to testify?

WARNER: Listen, I think that we will be -- we are looking at when we will hold public hearings. We’re also starting to prepare lists of individuals that I think need to come testify.

I believe, considering General Flynn’s series of contacts and the fact that he had to resign, I want to hear from General Flynn.

DICKERSON: And are you working hand in hand with Senator Burr, who is the chairman of the committee?

WARNER: Listen, Senator Burr and I are friends. We have the ability to have kind of frank conversations. We have had conversations like that.

I can tell you, as recently as Thursday, Chairman Burr and I -- and he was very, very strong with the intel community that we need to get all the facts. We need to get access, unprecedented access. And we got that access.

DICKERSON: You say you have frank conversations.

Senator Burr was one those the White House called and asked to act as a kind of character witness against these news reports that there were connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

You talked to Senator Burr after that. Do you have any doubts that he can carry out his role as chairman?

WARNER: Listen, I have confidence that we are going to get to the bottom of this.

DICKERSON: You have confidence he is going to do his job?

WARNER: I’m -- Chairman Burr, Richard Burr, and I are going to get this done.

And if at any point -- and I made this very clear from the outset -- if at any point, I feel like we are not getting access to all the information, or if there are barriers to getting this done, then I will say so, and look for a different venue.

But what gives me faith is that this is a committee -- the Intelligence Committee, for a lot of reasons, works in a more bipartisan way than virtually any other committee. And the fact that we have got so many Republican members on the committee who I think are as equally committed to getting to the bottom of this, this is as serious as anything I have ever been involved in.

DICKERSON: Final question. It is serious. And there is obviously an attempt by some people in the bureaucracy somewhere to put forward leaks that hurt the president.

Do those leaks, which some in your party cheer like crazy, undermine what you are trying to do and undermine getting to the bottom of this?

WARNER: Listen, any kind of leaks of intelligence is serious and needs to be investigated, because you put people’s lives in jeopardy potentially.

I have great trust and respect for the intelligence community. I wish the president would show that same level of trust and respect for the intelligence community, because they do a good job for us. And they need to have -- and we got to have their back.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Warner, thanks so much for being with us.

WARNER: Thank you.

DICKERSON: And we now turn to a Republican colleague of Senator Warner’s on the Intelligence Committee, Maine Senator Susan Collins.

Senator, what do you make of what President Trump has said about these wiretaps? Should he be talking about this on Twitter? Is this helpful?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It would be more helpful if he turned over to the Intelligence Committee any evidence that he has.

What we need to deal with is evidence, not just statements. At this point, I have seen no evidence of what he has alleged, but I have also not seen collaboration, as Director, DNI Clapper also said today, that he had seen evidence of collaboration.

But we are at the very early stages of our investigation. And this is why it is so important that we do an in-depth, exhaustive, bipartisan, independent investigation, because the American people deserves answers to all of these allegations and counterallegations, so that we can get on with the business of this country.

DICKERSON: The president has said and the White House has said they are not going to talk any more about his accusations over the weekend.

But now that he has put that out there, he is the president of the United States. He has access to this information, even if he might have been going off of a news report. He has access to all of this information.

Do you think it is important for him now to put forward this evidence in some form to back up his claims, because it is now out there, and people might think, because he is the president, he has some special understanding, in other words, not wait until the committee is done with its work, but that he -- does he have an obligation to present some kind of evidence now, now that he has put this charge out there about President Obama?

COLLINS: The president has called for congressional investigations into the allegations that he made starting yesterday morning.

So I would expect that he is going to want to provide our committee with any evidence that he has. My own theory is that the Russians are determined to sow the seeds of discontent and doubt about the legitimacy of our democracy and other Western democracies, and that they were going to do that regardless of who was elected president.

So, it is really important, so that we know what happened and what the facts are, that we get to the bottom of this.

DICKERSON: When you say he will provide the committee with information, but do you think he owes something to the public, now that he has kind of thrown this out there, and now isn’t going to say anything more about it?

But now it is out there. It’s live. Does he owe the public something more than what he owes the committee, just as a matter of what Senator Sasse said, it was a matter of public trust? Do you agree with that?

COLLINS: It would probably be helpful if he gave more information, but it also might be helpful if he just didn’t comment further and allowed us to do our work.

The committee’s work is under way. I am convinced that we are going to do the kind of exhaustive, in-depth and prompt investigation that will help put these allegations to rest, one way or the other.

DICKERSON: You mentioned going through everything.

And I want to ask you about President Trump’s tax returns, because some people believe, in order to really figure out whether there was any influence on the president, you have to know whether there were any ties to Russia.

You have said that the committee will perhaps subpoena the tax returns, if necessary. Do you think a committee investigation that ends without looking at the tax returns has fulfilled its duty, that the committee will have fulfilled its duty?

COLLINS: It is premature for me to reach that conclusion right now.

What I am convinced of, because I know this committee well, and I know how seriously we take this charge, is that we will go wherever the evidence leads us, and that we will get all of the information that we need.

If that includes President Trump’s tax returns, then I have confidence that we will ask for them. If we don’t need them in order to reach our conclusions, then we won’t. But it is too soon to tell.

DICKERSON: But will you come up with sort of a hunting list in terms of all the places you would want inquiry? And wouldn’t the tax returns be a pretty -- pretty high up on the list in terms of that?

COLLINS: Well, let’s see where the evidence leads us.

We are just now beginning to have access, as Senator Warner mentioned, to the information that the intelligence community has. Like Senator Warner, I will be going over to review that information. It is many binders-thick. So, let’s see where the evidence leads us.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you a question quickly on the Affordable Care Act. You have put forward an alternative, or a bill.

Where do things stand in the Republican ranks in terms of a replacement for the Affordable Care Act?

COLLINS: There is not a consensus.

This is very difficult to achieve the president’s goals and the goals that many of us have of wanting to expand access to coverage and have a damper on the prices. We have seen a lot of problems with the individual markets, in a death spiral in many states under the ACA.

So, the irony here is , regardless of who was elected president, we were going to have to do major repairs on the ACA. I have put forth a plan with Senator Cassidy, who is a physician, that is a comprehensive plan that gives states the options of doing what is best for their citizens, and which we believe would actually expand access to health insurance. That is our goal. But there is not a consensus at this point.

DICKERSON: Very quickly, how long do you think it will take to get to consensus? It’s a few little minor details, or are we still talking about the big, complicated business of something that takes up 18 percent of the economy?

COLLINS: It is very complicated. And we shouldn’t rush it. We need to get this right.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Collins, thanks so much for being with us.

And we will be back in one minute to talk to the former head of the CIA, former secretary of defense, and former chief of staff. It is all one person. That is Leon Panetta, coming up when we’re back in one minute.


DICKERSON: Joining us now is former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Secretary Panetta, let’s start with these new revelations or new claims by the president. Who do Americans look to be the adult who says, here is what is happening?

LEON PANETTA, FMR. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, you know, what I see here is that this president is making the same mistake past presidents made when they faced scandals, that he is trying to divert attention.

They are trying to obfuscate. They’re trying to cover up. They are trying to somehow raise other issues. And, in the end, it is going to be the truth that will determine what is involved here, and not tweets, but the truth.

DICKERSON: We had an instance where, this week, the attorney general has had to recuse himself from investigations into campaign events.

We have got -- now you have got investigative -- intelligence committees investigating. I mean, is -- do you think people just need to wait for the Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate to do their work, or is there some better route, you think, to trying to get at what are now several sets of issues?

There is the Russian meddling and now the claims that the president has made, quite extraordinary claims -- and maybe you can, given your experience, put them into some kind of context, for the president to claim that his predecessor was wiretapping him, and comparing him to Nixon and McCarthy.

PANETTA: You know, the best advice I could give the president and this administration is to get ahead of this, don’t get behind it. Get ahead of it. Present the facts as they know it, and commit themselves to cooperating with the investigations that are going on.

This issue is not going away. It is not going away. There is too much here. We have found the Russians to have tried to interfere in our election process. We have a situation now where the administration has denied contacts with the Russians. And we are finding out that that is not true, that there have been contacts with the Russians.

And, lastly, the president himself has raised this issue. His whole national security team has condemned the Russians and Putin. And he still winds up defending Putin. So, you put all of that together, it may not lead you to some kind of collaboration or collusion, but it raises issues that have to be investigated.

That’s why you need a bipartisan, an independent, a thorough and a credible investigation.

DICKERSON: When you say independent, but that can still be within the Congress?


No, I think, as you have seen, these are responsible members of Congress who want to look into this issue. I think they deserve the opportunity to do that. I would hope they don’t run into problems, because, if they do run into political problems in the course of this investigation, then we may very well have to turn to a special prosecutor.

DICKERSON: What do you think foreign, other countries think about when they look at this? Does this have a -- we have got the president accusing his predecessor. You have got investigations into the president.

How does this affect our standing as other countries look at America?

PANETTA: It is sending a terrible message out there.

I can tell you, based on my own conversations with people abroad, that they are very concerned about the administration, about the president. They are concerned about whether he truly is going to be committed to the kind of world leadership that we have seen the United States provide.

But every time these things happen, every time he tweets, every time these issues come up that indicate that -- you know, there’s obviously something to this Russian issue, and the administration is not cooperating, when that happens, when he accuses a past president of wiretapping, without any evidence of that being the case, it makes us vulnerable.

It weakens the United States, and it makes us vulnerable to our enemies. That is the danger.

DICKERSON: Speaking of enemies of the United States, North Korea, “The New York Times” has a piece today about U.S. efforts using cyber-warfare to basically hurt the North Korean missile system.

Are we -- is this -- should Americans be in fear of a cyber- retaliation by the North Koreans?

PANETTA: I have always felt that cyber is -- it’s here to stay. It is one of the weapons that we have to deal with. And we have to be smart enough to use it, not only defensively, but offensively as well.

And I think, you know, the stories you are seeing indicate that the United States is on the cutting edge of that kind of technology.

DICKERSON: President Trump is most concerned about North Korea.

Does he have it right? In terms of all of the global threats, he seems to be most concerned about North Korea. Do you share that concern?

PANETTA: Well, there are a number of threats that are out there that -- we are dealing with a very dangerous world.

I think the Pentagon feels that Russia is at the top of the list because of the nuclear threat, and I understand that. But we also have to worry about North Korea and the unpredictability of that leader. We have to worry about the Middle East and the chaos there.

There are a number of crisis points that the United States has to consider. And the problem is, when we are diverted, when the president is diverted from paying attention to those crises, we pay a price.

DICKERSON: All right.

Stay right there, Secretary.

We will be right back. We are going to take a short break, but we will be back in a moment.


DICKERSON: And we are back with Leon Panetta.

President Trump has suggested that he wants $54 billion in defense spending next year. What does the Defense Department need? Is that a good idea, and what would they spend it on?

PANETTA: You know, the worst thing that they could do is to go through a roller-coaster ride on defense spending, where we are down, increase it dramatically, then, next year, take it back down.

We have gone through the sequester process , which has literally impacted on our readiness. So, yes, we need an increase to try to deal with the readiness issue, but what we really need is a gradual increase and certainty in the budget.

And if you are not providing certainty as to where the defense budget is going, you can talk about increasing it all you want. You are going to create chaos in terms of the Defense Department.

DICKERSON: And how do you get -- you mentioned the sequester. That was the draconian budget cuts as a result of not reaching budget agreements.

How do you get that certainty in budgeting for the Defense Department or anywhere else, for that matter?

PANETTA: Well, John, what has to happen in this town -- and it hasn’t happened for a long time -- is that the president and the Congress have to come to a budget agreement that really deals with this $20 trillion debt that we face.

And the problem now is that they are all trying to do this by going after discretionary spending, which only constitutes a small part of the overall budget.

What you have got to do is put everything on the table. You have got to put entitlements, you have to put taxes, and you have to put discretionary. That’s what we did in the past. That’s how we got a balanced budget.

We are not going to be able to deal with the budget unless there is that kind of agreement. And that is essential, not only for purposes of the budget, but for the American people to understand what our priorities are for the future.

DICKERSON: The president has said he won’t touch Medicare.

PANETTA: Well, I think it is dangerous.

Any time you put something off -- you know, off the table, you are just asking for trouble. Entitlements make up two-thirds of the federal budget, for goodness’ sakes. You are not going to look at how you can develop cost controls on those programs? You will never be able to deal with a budget crisis if you just eliminate that whole area.

DICKERSON: You were brought into the White House as chief of staff during a rocky period in the Clinton years. What do you make of the current White House operation, as you viewed it?

PANETTA: Well, I worry about it, because, when the president goes off and does what he did within the last few days of just going ahead and tweeting without checking on things, there is something wrong.

There is something wrong in terms of the discipline within the White House and how you operate. I mean, you cannot have this kind of situation, where the president is not properly briefed, that you think out what the president is going to say.

And that you have somebody in charge of the White House staff, that, I think, still hasn’t taken place. And I think the White House is paying a price for that failure.

DICKERSON: All right, Secretary Panetta, thanks so much.

And we will be right back. Stay with us.


DICKERSON: And we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Stay with us.


DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. I’m John Dickerson.

“The New York Times” chief Washington correspondent is David Sanger, and he detailed a U.S. covert cyberattacks against the North Korean missile program under the Obama administration in the paper and he joins us now to discuss this latest reporting.

Welcome, David.

Before we get to your specific reporting, President Trump is very focused on North Korea. Give us your sense about why you think -- why he should be.

DAVID SANGER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Well, when President Obama leftovers office, he made it pretty clear, as President Trump has said, there’s one big military problem out there. President Trump has never quite said what that is, but clearly it’s North Korea. And it’s North Korea because in the last year and a half of the Obama era, the North Koreans made huge progress in both their nuclear tests and in bringing in a new generation of missile technology that eventually, maybe two years from now, maybe three, maybe four, but not that long, is going to be able to reach at least the West Coast of the United States. So that timeframe for dealing with this problem, which has been kicked down the road by president after president after president is really narrow.

DICKERSON: And you detailed the cyberattacks used to -- to try and keep that time frame really long.

SANGER: That’s right. So the -- the key to this right now is keeping the North Koreans from learning how to get that ICBM across the Pacific. And the Pentagon, with the help of the intelligence agencies, worked for many years to come up with ways to do this using cyber technology to actually interfere with the way that the North Koreans would send those launches.

And, in fact, the origin of the story, John, was that my colleague, Bill Broad and I, who worked on nuclear issues for a long time, were sitting around one day last spring saying, these things are just falling into the ocean too fast. And Bill went back and discovered that the design on which this missile is -- is based, which is an old Russian design, had a failure rate of about 13 percent --

DICKERSON: When the Russians were shooting them off.

SANGER: When the Russians were doing them.


SANGER: And the North Koreans were running a failure rate of about 88 percent.

Now, a lot of things could explain that. The North Koreans are not the best manufacture in the world, you know. They are not the best welders in the world. But clearly something else was making this worse. And -- and that was it.

And then there’s President Obama, who looked across the spectrum of our defenses and said, this missile defense that we have spent $300 billion building since the Eisenhower era, the stuff that’s up in Alaska and California --

DICKERSON: Right, that shoots it out of the air?

SANGER: Shoots it out of the air --


SANGER: Has a failure rate of about 56 percent under ideal conditions. So he said, this is not going to defend us against the problem.

DICKERSON: So have the North Koreans figured out these cyberattacks and have they gotten better? And what does that mean for U.S. venerability?

SANGER: Well, one of the reasons we ran the story now is it became pretty clear that the North Koreans will have an investigation underway, figured out that somebody was messing in their system. And so we went ahead and wrote a story carefully in a way that we thought would not provide the technical details that would allow the North Koreans to defeat what the United States is doing. But it’s clear that we’ve got a big issue, several big issues here.

One is, is this enough? And that’s a big issue that Mr. Trump is going to have to go deal with. Second big issue is, are there other alternatives? Do you negotiate with the North Koreans? Which a lot of people say we should. President Obama decided not to. Do you take more decisive action? Do you try to attack these launch sites kinetically? You can do that --

DICKERSON: Meaning militarily? Blow them up?

SANGER: Militarily, right. You blow them up. If you do that, you -- and you miss some, you run the risk of starting off another war in the Korean peninsula, and no one wants to go do that.

So, you know, the Russia story is a fascinating one. The tweets are a fascinating diversion. But in the end, at some point, President Trump is going to have to sit down and actually focus on a few threats like this one.

DICKERSON: All right, David Sanger, thanks so much. A fascinating piece of reporting.

SANGER: Great to be with you, John.

DICKERSON: And we’ll be right back with our panel.


DICKERSON: One of the top items on the president’s legislative agenda is the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. Health & Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price joins us from Atlanta to give us an update.

Secretary Price, the president said that he would have a replacement for the Affordable Care Act on day one, and then more recently he said it was more complicated an issue, health care, than anyone would have guessed. Where does -- where does the president’s plan stand at this point?

DR. TOM PRICE, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: John, thanks so much. Good to be with you today.

Before I -- I answer that, let me just say that -- that it is an incredible privilege for me to serve as the Health & Human Services secretary. And the mission of HHS is -- is to improve the health and safety and well-being of the American people.

And right now, across the country, there are many individuals who have a challenge from healthcare access and -- and cost of insurance in the individual and small group market. And that’s what we want to focus on. And there are literally millions of folks who have either -- aren’t unable to afford their insurance or paying premiums, the premiums are up 25 percent over the last year, almost 100 percent over the last three to four years.

So what we want to make certain is that we’re being true to the principles of health care, which is a system that’s accessible for everybody and affordable for everybody and of the highest quality, making sure we incentivized innovation and empowering patients through both transparency and accountability.

So that’s the plan we’re been working on and we look forward to moving it very, very soon.

DICKERSON: The president has -- has said the following about what the plan will -- will do. He said it will offer better care for more people at lesser cost. He said people will have access to the doctor that they want and the plan that they want. And it will be paid for without touching Medicare. Is all of that still true?

PRICE: Absolutely. And I think it’s important for the American people to appreciate. And the speech that the president gave this past Tuesday night, what he did was outline the priorities for the American people. They want a system where the states have the flexibility and authority is returned to the states for the regulation of -- of health coverage. They want to make certain they can buy across state lines. They want to make certain that preexisting illness and -- and injury is not -- makes certain it’s covered from -- from an insurance standpoint. They want drug prices to come down.

He said something also very important about lawsuit abuse. He said that we ought to address the issue of lawsuit abuse and the practice of defensive medicine where we’re wasting hundreds of billions of dollars every single year.

And so these are the priorities that the president has outlined. They’re consistent with the priorities that we’re moving forward with at Health & Human Services. And we’re very, very excited about the opportunity to once again respond to the needs and the concerns and -- and -- and the fears, frankly, of the American people about the health care system that they currently find themselves in.

DICKERSON: One of the fears that people currently on the Affordable Care Act have is that they will not have it after these reforms are put in place. And there seems to have been kind of different claims about whether the 20 million or so who are on it will be able to continue their coverage. Some -- people in the administration have said absolutely yes they will be covered. Others have said that’s a goal. Those are two different things. Which is it?

PRICE: Yes. Well, I think what -- our -- our goal is to make certain that every single American has access to affordable coverage that’s of the highest quality. You know what’s oftentimes missed, John, is -- is that there are 20 million Americans across this land who -- who are exposed to the penalty, have either chosen to take the penalty, not purchasing insurance, or taken a -- a waiver. And the reason is because the federal government has dictated to individuals what they must buy, what kind of health coverage they must purchase. So what our goal is, what the president’s goal is, is to give people choices, to let them purchase the kind of insurance that they want for themselves and for their family, not what Washington forces them to buy. This is a real important distinction between where we are right now in that individual and small group market and where we want to go.

DICKERSON: So if I’m on the Affordable Care Act now, I don’t have to worry about losing coverage? It’s not going to become so expensive that I won’t be able to afford it?

PRICE: Well, it is becoming expensive right now. As I mentioned, the premiums are going up, the deductibles. If you’re a -- if you’re a guy or a gal out there, you’re making $50,000, $60,000, you got a couple kids, you know, your premium, by and large, is somewhere between $8,000 and $12,000 a year. You don’t have that kind of money. So you may have a card, you may have an insurance card, but you don’t have care because you can’t afford the deductible in order to -- to get the kind of care that you need.


PRICE: So our goal is to bring those costs down. And the way that you do that, again, is through flexibility, though allowing states to have the flexibility to care for their vulnerable populations as they see fit, choices for patients all across this land, making certain that they can purchase what they want, not what Washington says they must buy, making certain that the doctors are able to provide the kind of care that they believe to be most important, not, again, responding to what Washington tells them they must do. So we’ve got a lot of wonderful opportunities to make certain, again, that the American people are able to afford the kind of care that they want.

DICKERSON: Final quick question on Medicare, Mr. Secretary. Speaker Paul Ryan said it may still be an open question about whether President Trump really doesn’t want to touch Medicare. Is it an open question? Might there be a back door way that the president will go back on his campaign promise not to touch it either for current retirees or for anybody in the future? What’s the final bottom line here?

PRICE: I’ll tell you what -- I’ll tell you what’s not an open question, is that -- is that we believe in the guarantee of Medicare for our -- for our seniors. The challenge that we have, as you well know and your viewers know, is that Medicare is -- is -- as some folks have said going insolvent or going broke. Within a ten year period of time, we won’t have the money in the Medicare program to be able to pay the benefits to seniors in this country that has been promised to them. We don’t think that’s appropriate. So we believe in -- strongly in the guarantee of Medicare and make certain that it’s a viable, financially secure program going forward so that seniors now, and in the future, know that it will be there for them.

DICKERSON: All right, Mr. Secretary, sounds like a guarantee with perhaps some -- some changes maybe, maybe not, but we’re out of time. I really appreciate you being with us.

And we’ll be right back.

PRICE: Thanks, John. It’s good to be with you.



Julie Pace is the White House correspondent for the Associated Press. Ed O’Keefe covers politics for “The Washington Post.” We’re also joined by CBS News political analyst and Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, and Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor of “The National Review.”

Julie, I want to start with you.

This week saw Donald Trump give his most sustained public comments that were restrained. The word presidential was used a lot. Then, Saturday, a series of tweets that seemed the opposite of that. Where are we now going into Monday with the Trump presidency?

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It was incredible whiplash this week. I think we have to give the president credit for the speech that he gave on Tuesday night. It was a side of him we don’t often see. It was restrained. It was traditional. He got into some of the agenda that he wants to see going forward.

But it just quickly gets overtaken in some cases because of actions by people with Jeff Session, who didn’t totally be up front with the congressional committee when he was doing his confirmation hearing, but then it’s the president himself who goes out on Saturday and distracts with these series of tweets. And the overarching problem for him is, he is going into a week that is going to be policy heavy. A new rollout of the vetting EO and then a rollout of healthcare. And the success or failure of healthcare is going to be one of the -- one of the measures by which his swear presidency is judged on. And -- and to distract from that, to not go into this week with a sense of focus, I think, really hampers his administration.

DICKERSON: Ramesh, on that point, one of the things that made Republicans happy about this speech was that it was focused.


DICKERSON: The president hit the marks of a speech like that, which is important when you’ve got to sell a piece of legislation. Now the -- the worry is back to distraction.

PONNURU: I think there was a very short lived (ph) sigh of relief that came from Capitol Hill Republicans about the president. But I think there’s a connection between what we saw on Tuesday night with the president’s speech and what we saw on Saturday morning with these tweets, which was, the president thought he had hit a home run with the speech. He was getting great positive reviews. And then reportedly he was furious that the story moved on to Attorney General Sessions misleading testimony in Congress, and that’s what I -- apparently set him in this mood where he sets these tweets.

Now, one other thing about these tweets that I think really is remarkable is, he’s alleging explicitly a Nixon Watergate level conspiracy on the part of the previous administration against his own presidency, and then he starts commenting about “The Apprentice” within the same hour. I mean, this is -- this is a -- this is just a remarkable set of things, and it makes you wonder how certainly you can take the things that he’s saying.

DICKERSON: And it was also after a speech in which on Tuesday night he said, there’s no more time for trivial fights and “The Apprentice” would be probably in the trivial category.

Jamelle, a question for you is, when the president takes to Twitter, it’s often as a strategic move to distract from one thing and move to another. Do you see strategy in -- in what was happening yesterday?

JAMELLE BOUIE, CBS NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I see some strategy in that he does want to kind of regain the -- the attention of the media, the attention of everyone from the Sessions controversy. I -- I think -- I think it’s -- we should not overstate the degree of strategy here. It’s -- we’ve -- we’ve seen over the years, over the last 24 months, that Trump is impulsive, that Trump is very self-involved, you might say. And so this could also just well be Trump lashing out as Trump does.

I want to say one quick thing about last Tuesday’s speech that while it was relatively more calm and serious and mature than most of Trump’s addresses to the public, it -- it should be said that some of the policy content there is just -- was just as extreme and just as aggressive as we’ve seen in his less stable moments. Stable might be the wrong word, but in his less -- in those moments. So, for example, in that speech he announced the creation of an office dedicated to publicizing crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, which has two problems. The first that it resumes that undocumented immigrants are responsible for a huge number of crimes, and the second is that it is stigmatizing and contributes to an atmosphere of people arguing harm to immigrants. And Trump’s tone shouldn’t distract from that.

DICKERSON: Ed, picking up on what Jamelle said, the president talked about unity, but if you’re trying to unify with Democrats and yet doing things of what Jamelle just described, they’re not going to be in a mood to unify.

ED O’KEEFE, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Not at all and they weren’t -- I mean they fled the chamber as fast as they could Tuesday night, having essentially held their nose throughout the whole thing. And they -- they have said, look, we see no reason to work with him. He has made no real attempt to -- to make any, you know, overtures to us, why -- why should we bother? And I think the fact now, even today, we’re seeing the Senate minority leader on another program raise doubts about the Republican leader of the Intelligence Committee. It now shows you to what extent this really spreads. It spreads all the way now into the even -- even into the investigation into Russia. There is no appetite up there among Democrats to cooperate with this president because they’re convinced that he’s just so tarnished and they see no political benefit. Whether that works for them ultimately remains to be seen, but I think it’s -- it’s a real testament to the poisonous nature and the fact that he has done nothing so far, at least in their view, to fix things.

DICKERSON: Mark Warner working very hard to --

O’KEEFE: Right.

DICKERSON: To keep support there for -- for his chairman, Richard Burr, and in his comments. Julie, I want to ask you about the substance of President Trump’s Russia policy, because there’s a lot of talk about Russia and connections and all of that. But what’s happening with respect to actual U.S. policy towards Russia and the president’s position on that.

PACE: So this is really an interesting conversation that’s happening in the White House against the backdrop of all of these revelations about people meeting with the Russian ambassador. The president came into office talking about striking a deal with Russia. It hasn’t quite been defined. But the broad buckets include cooperation on the Islamic State, Ukraine, some kind of negotiations over arms control. And I’m told that he’s been sending signals, both to his advisors and to allies, that this may not be the right moment for that kind of deal.

There are a couple of reasons why. One is that the White House is very concerned, legitimately, about some treaty violations that Russia has had involving a cruise missile launch a few weeks ago. But there are other factors. You have some new voices in the room with the president who are tougher on Russia than he has been and some of his previous advisors have been. You have European allies that are learning to speak the language of Trump, talking to him about a deal. You don’t want to make a bad deal with Russia. You don’t want to make a weak deal with Russia. So they’re -- it’s interesting that they’re picking up on those cues.

And, frankly, it just underscores the political climate right now for him to have a president moving forward on a robust deal with Russia against all of these questions about his relationship I think even he, and his advisors, are realizing that that would be pretty difficult to -- to strike that kind of deal in this climate.

DICKERSON: Ramesh, let me switch to Obamacare here from Russia and ask, where do you think things are, as the House leaders begin their process, and as the White House sort of comes along with them, what’s the state of play with respect to replacing Obamacare in the -- in Congress and the White House?

PONNURU: I think there’s considerable confusion and disagreement still among Republicans. I think that the congressional Republican leadership has its own basic sense of where it wants to go. It wants to have a tax credit driven strategy that provides coverage to a lot of people, even in a post Obamacare world. But there’s a significant number of conservatives in Congress who don’t want any part of that. And the administration is not being entirely clear about where it stands on this basic divide among Republicans. Normally, congressional Republicans, in charge of Congress, with a Republican president, would be looking to the administration to set their direction on this kind of issue. This time, they’re not, or at least that direction is not being provided.

O’KEEFE: I -- a fascinating piece of context today by our friend Paul Kaine (ph) in the post. He said more than 160 House Republicans have never worked before with a Republican president. They’re used to blocking and tackling. They’re not used to running with the ball. And we are seeing this every day up there. I mean all the other noise about Russia and whatever the president is tweeting about or doing and saying, they do not know how to deal with this issue and they’re going to have real trouble. To hear the secretary here now dodging your questions about the specifics of what this outline will look like, they’re allegedly working off of his blueprint that he wrote as a congressman. And even that isn’t able to generate enough agreement. If you have as many as 40 House Republicans, and they’re out there concerned about this, wanting to stand in its way because they don’t think it’s conservative enough or costs too much money, that’s the end of the game. There will not be healthcare reform if they can’t get it out of the House and if they can’t find Democrats to work with them, and they don’t want to.

DICKERSON: Well, the Democrats definitely don’t want to work with them.

BOUIE: Well, absolutely. Yes. It’s almost a perfect storm of dysfunction for the effort to get -- to repeal the Affordable Care Act because you have Congress people who have not worked with a Republican president, have very little experience with this kind of legislation. You have a White House that is arguably in disarray, or at least is not -- does not have the kind of experience that you need to shepherd major pieces of legislation through Congress. You have a president whose stated goals for reform are count run -- run kind of counter to what congressional Republicans say they want. And the, of course, you have Democrats who have just decided largely to say, hey, we’ll let you take care of this and we not really going to help out. There is a timer here too, right, that as time goes on this just becomes more and more difficult. And so --

DICKERSON: It’s a political matter.

BOUIE: Right, it’s a political matter. And so we may actually already be approaching the point politically where there isn’t that much to do because it’s just -- opposition is building, voters are speaking out in the opposition and Democrats are really rallying their side against it.

DICKERSON: Julie, one thing I heard from Secretary Price when I asked him about Medicare, is he said the promise of Medicare will be there.

PACE: Right.

DICKERSON: When -- when Donald Trump was a candidate, he, no tinkering, no how.

PACE: Absolutely.

DICKERSON: Promise is different. Promise is you can get a whole different kind of thing. The promise is there but the form of it is different.

PACE: And the president, in the campaign, said that over and over and over again. That will come back to haunt him if an eventual package does -- does make changes there. I mean I think what’s so interesting about this -- about this moment that we’re entering is, Trump is now going to have to really be a president who gets involved in legislation if he wants to get this through. You have people -- lawmakers on The Hill who want to hear from him. They want him to pick up the phone and give him a call. We don’t know if he’s capable of doing that. This is going to be a big test for him as a president.

DICKERSON: Ramesh, and the president -- the reason Paul Ryan wants flexibility on Medicare is to find some money to pay for all the other things that President Trump wants to do.

PONNURU: That’s right. I do -- I think that this point Julie made about the president’s involvement and its possible effect on The Hill is a really important one because it’s -- it’s right saying that 40 conservative Republicans are holdouts, you can’t pass anything, but will they stay holdouts if at some point President Trump is saying --

O’KEEFE: Right.

PONNURU: I need you to replace Obamacare. I understand you’ve got some -- some problem you’ve got with this legislation, but it’s decision time. Are you going to be responsible for defying me, hurting my presidency and keeping Obamacare on the books? I don’t think that those 40 stay 40.

DICKERSON: Right, he’s still got political power.

Ed, I want to ask you quickly about the president -- or the White House had a little faint towards immigration reform. The day of the speech, there was a little notion that the president might support permanent legal status, have a job, pay your taxes, you won’t have to worry about getting deported. What did you make of that?

O’KEEFE: Twice in February he had private lunches with people where he raised this issue. Repeatedly in public he hasn’t brought it up. So one wonders really what is his stated goal here?

You know, all he really talked about was that immigration victims -- crime victims office --


O’KEEFE: Which is not going to be a very busy office, frankly, because there are isolated and very high-profile examples of this, but it’s not widespread. What is widespread and what’s causing a lot of trouble and concern for people right now is the really uneven enforcement of the immigration laws. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to their credit, has done a good job tracking this. And, you know, the examples of, you know, a 22-year-old who was arrested by ICE after speaking out at a press conference about them is being sent back to Mexico. A mother who was checking in with ICE for years being sent back to Mexico for the same reason.

DICKERSON: In other words, it’s not just the -- the bad dudes.

O’KEEFE: And it’s happening all over the country. It’s not the bad hombres.


O’KEEFE: These are good hombres, in many cases. No criminal record at all. And the confusion that this is causing with very little congressional oversight, while the president’s talking about the idea of doing it and people are waiting for him to signal what they want to do, is just incredible and causing great confusion.

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


DICKERSON: Thanks for watching FACE THE NATION. Until next week, I’m John Dickerson.

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