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MTP Daily, Transcript 7/27/2017

Guests: Garrett Haake, Kelly O`Donnell, George Will, Neera Tanden, Eliana Johnson, Dick Durbin

Show: MTP DAILY Date: July 27, 2017 Guest: Garrett Haake, Kelly O`Donnell, George Will, Neera Tanden, Eliana Johnson, Dick Durbin

NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: That does it for had this hour. I`m Nicole Wallace. "MTP DAILY" starts right now with Chuck. Hi, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: How`re doing, Nicole?


TODD: We`re going to have big news, apparently, coming up. Five big-time senators have a big health care announcement coming in 20 minutes.

WALLACE: Can`t wait.

TODD: So, even more reason for you to stick around, Nicole. Thank you.

If it`s Thursday, we`re about to find out if health care reform will go belly up yet again.

(voice-over): Tonight, the skinny on the health care debate. Can Republicans pass their so-called skinny bill? Or will even that go down to defeat with every other proposal?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In some cases, it`ll get fat, if a lot of amendments are adopted, and it may stay very skinny.


TODD: Plus, the growing chaos in the president`s inner circle.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay.


TODD: Who`s in? Who`s out? Who knows.

And the Russia investigation. I`ll talk to the top Democratic on the House Intel Committee. Do they have cooperation on the other side?

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

(on camera): Well, good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington. Welcome to MTP DAILY.

Guess what? The cots are out. It could be a long night in the Senate. The Senate is barreling toward a major health care vote, we think, tonight. And we have no idea what exactly they`re voting on. And guess what? Neither do they.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know if you`ll support it or not?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I don`t know what`s in it still. I truly don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any idea if you`ll vote for this so-called skinny repeal tonight?

SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R), WEST VIRGINIA: You know, I haven`t seen it yet, so I`m going to reserve comment on that before -- as we move into the markup tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you decided how you`ll vote on this so-called skinny repeal that`s so -- apparently the plan tonight?

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: You know, I`m still waiting to see. There was some discussion on the floor last evening when we broke, as to what this skinny bill would look like. I`ve been in conversations with folks and I know others have, so we`ll see what it actually looks like.


TODD: But we did find one Republican senator who says he knows what`s in the bill, and he`s not optimistic about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I know what`s in the bill.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do? Will you explain exactly for us what -- where it stands right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it`s just up in the air. We`ll just have to see what happens. But I don`t see anything passing.


TODD: In just a few minutes, these Republican senators, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Purdue, Johnson and Lee are holding a presser on health care. None of them, of course, have been big fans of this approach. Are they going to collectively kill this plan, draw a line in the sand?

Trust me, you`re going to want to hear what they have to say on this in a few minutes. You`re looking live right now at the Senate floor, where every single vote so far has failed. Repealed, failed. Repeal and replace, failed. Repeal and replace, failed. Start over, failed. Single payor, failed.

Even a symbolic resolution basically saying Medicaid is good, failed. The Senate is actually moving on to a sanctions bill against Russia, Iran and North Korea at this hour. It already passed the House and it`s expected to pass the Senate easily. A version of this passed the Senate earlier, but this now has North Korea added to it.

The current health care plan, on the vote as early as tonight on the so- called skinny repeal which has become a big, fat headache for leadership, that is what we`re trying to figure out when that comes up next.

Things got even more complicated, though, thanks to the wonky reconciliation rules that Republicans are using to pass this skinny bill without the help of Democrats who have, of course, have walked away from the process entirely.

Folks, it`s no way to govern, as many of you already realize. And to make matters worse, Republican Senator Dan Sullivan told the local press in his home state of Alaska that interior secretary Ryan Zinke basically threatened to sabotage Alaska`s economy. Because Sullivan`s colleague, Lisa Murkowski, voted against starting debate on repealing Obamacare.

Now, Murkowski says she didn`t feel threatened, but she said the White House has made it clear they don`t like her position. That`s makes it an appropriate segue to this because within the executive branch, all hell has broken loose.

It looks as if the new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, is trying to get chief of staff Reince Priebus fired or make -- force him to quit. He`s accused Priebus of leaking a financial disclosure form, which is a publicly available document, and called for an FBI investigation into the leak of this public document.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, U.S. WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS: People know my history between me and Reince.


SCARAMUCCI: OK. I can speak for my own actions. He`s going to need to speak for his own actions. If Reince wants to explain that he`s not a leaker, let him do that.


TODD: When did you stop beating your wife type of thing. OK?

This comes as a President Trump lashes out at his attorney general for recusing himself on Russia. The president has suggested Jeff Sessions investigate his political opponent, Hillary Clinton, probe the opposition party, the DNC, and fire the nation`s top investigator, the acting FBI chief, among other things. He`s also threatened to undermine Special Counsel Bob Mueller`s investigation. All this week, by the way.

[17:05:00] And if that`s not enough insanity, we`ve got some Republicans, like Lindsey Graham, now threatening the White House.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong.

The president`s not in the business of drawing red lines when it comes to the law. The law is above any presidential red line. This is not draining the swamp. What he`s interjecting is turning democracy upside down.


TODD: Other Republican senators have told the president, point blank, that if he fires Sessions, they won`t confirm a replacement. And to top it all off, there`s a shakeup today inside the president`s national security council.

And, folks, this is just the madness that happened today. Well, we begin tonight with what Senator Mitch McConnell is promising will be a long night in the Senate. In fact, we have reports now that the cots are out.

So, I`m joined by Kelly O`Donnell from the White House and Garrett Haake from Capitol Hill. Garrett, let me start with you, because that`s where all the action is right now.

We have this press conference coming from five senators. I have an inkling about where we`re headed here. And it has to do with this, what is the House planning to do when or if the Senate passes something tonight? Are they going to go to conference or are they going to try to pass whatever the Senate passes?

GARRETT HAAKE, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Yes, Chuck, we`re on the same wave length here, because that is the million-dollar question. House leadership haven`t committed one way or the other, whether they would go to conference on this bill. They`ve sent some signals, basically saying they`re going to be here tomorrow with most rules suspended.

So, theoretically, they could vote on something the Senate passes tonight, or they could decide to go to conference. And they haven`t said either way which direction they`re going to go.

That press conference coming up with Lindsey Graham, John McCain, David Purdue. The presence of David Purdue as part of that group makes me pretty certainly this is not an effort to scuttle this bill.

TODD: Right.

HAAKE: He`s been a major, major ally of the president here. I suspect we`re going to hear from them, trying to say, look, we`ll support this thing maybe if the House agrees to do a conference committee on it.

But, you know, Chuck, they`re not in a position to make demands of the House. So, it`s going to be interesting.

TODD: It absolutely will. And what if skinny doesn`t happen tonight? Is there a plan E? I would say plan B. I don`t know -- I feel like we`re on plan E or F here.

HAAKE: Yes. I mean, in the short term, I think not. You know, skinny is, essentially, the combination of all future plan -- lettered plans. I mean, the whole idea behind this skinny repeal, which is just, sort of, a name we`ve put on it, is to slap together what concepts they think can pass with 50 votes.

So, if they don`t get that, I don`t know that there`s enough letters left for a new plan beyond essentially going back to zero and starting over.

TODD: Kelly O`Donnell, who at the White House is tracking this? And who - - other than the president? I mean, is this a Reince Priebus project? If he has time in the midst of the Scaramucci stuff. Who is, sort of, the point person at the White House right now, following this debate and trying to be helpful if they can?

KELLY O`DONNELL, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Well, based on the phone calls that I`m learning about from the White House going to senators involved, Priebus is at the center of this. That, of course, also is aided by his close relationship with the House speaker.

And then, of course, you`ve got a legislative team and the vice president. He really has a big shadow over this. And the president even, kind of, teased at him in recent days. Mike, this is on you, Mike. That kind of public stance we`ve seen where the president tries to push people. So, it is closely watched.

At the same time, we also saw a joint statement coming out from the White House on the Hill today, talking about tax reform. So, they seem so ready to try to turn the page.

It`s hot in Washington in the summer, and it just feels like the heat has been rising for the political atmosphere. The stakes here, you know, after skinny, does it go to skeletal? I`m not sure quite sure. But it`s going to be tough --

TODD: That`s a good one.

O`DONNELL: -- for this White House. It`s going to be tough.

TODD: Kelly, I`ve got to give you credit on that skeletal. That was -- that`s well played. All right, before I let you go, I`ve got to ask you about Scaramucci and Priebus. What`s happening here? I mean, he -- it seems as if Scaramucci has no qualms about making every little public issue that he has with Priebus public -- excuse me, every issue that he has public.

O`DONNELL: Airing it all and then often marrying that to his close relationship with the president, talking about how he has spoken with the president, spent time with the president, sat in the Oval Office with the president.

Today, we`re just, sort of, looking for tea leaves. Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, was in a very special event this afternoon, honoring are the first responders for the congressional shooting. I saw a moment where the president appeared to either shake his hand or pat him on the elbow. So, he was there, he was present.

Scaramucci, we are told, was not here today. But they`re also giving us somewhat conflicting messages. Is he actually an employee of the White House yet? They say, yes, he is. Has he gotten a clearance? They won`t talk about that. Has he taken the oath required of all senior staffers? They are not aware of that.

[17:10:09] This is a communications director who is really managing up, going right to the president. Normally, the chief is in charge of all staffers --

TODD: Right.

O`DONNELL: -- no matter how influential, no matter how wealthy, powerful or big their personalities may be. And it really seems as if Scaramucci is trying to pressure Reince Priebus in every way possible.

I sort of think it`s not unlike what the president has done to Jeff Sessions, to really squeeze somebody publicly.

TODD: Right.

O`DONNELL: You either win or you move on. We`re just not sure how this ends.

TODD: And it`s -- apparently, the president doesn`t mind it. That`s what`s amazing here.

Anyway, Kelly and Garrett, get back to work both of you. It`s going to be a busy night, that`s for sure.

Let me bring in tonight`s panel. George Will, Columnist for "The Washington Post," and of, course, an NBC News and MSNBC Contributor. Neera Tanden is President and CEO of The Center for American Progress. She`s also a former senior advisor for President Obama and Hillary -- the Hilary Clinton campaign. And Eliana Johnson, National Reporter for "Politico." Welcome all.

George Will, what`s this look like? What are you watching?

GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Just a small little matter, like in the last graphic, apt to be kept in the bill is the medical devices tax. What`s funny about that is, A, it`s particularly destructive. It`s a tax on a very dynamic industry, one spread all over the country which matters. And it`s pay tax not on their profit but on their gross revenues. So, a firm can be losing money and still pay the tax.

Now, what makes this interesting is you want something bipartisan to be 60 to 70 votes to repeal that.

TODD: They`ve had it. I think the Senate has voted to repeal this a few times from Dick Durbin who I`m going to have on the show is somebody that is advocated (INAUDIBLE.)

WILL: So, now, they`re keeping this tax that no one wants because or in spite of the fact that they can get rid of it on a bipartisan vote.

TODD: That actually underscores the craziness in this. That the one thing that there is bipartisan, it`s the one thing they can accomplish.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I might add that the further aspect of the lunacy which is you have senator after senator after senator, Republican senators, saying they don`t want skinny (INAUDIBLE.) They don`t want it to become law, but they`re going to vote for it.

I mean, just think about that. We are at the end of this process. They have voted down multiple options. And now, their way of getting to a bill is to vote for a bill which they`ve just said will -- they know will increase premiums for --


TANDEN: -- millions of people, 20 percent increase in premiums. It`s like --

TODD: You were at the White House when that was what the Democrats did. Don`t worry. We`ll fix what you don`t like in conference. And there never was a conference.

TANDEN: Oh, my god. We had a bill --

TODD: But there never was a conference. I understand that. No, no, no, no. And I`m not going to compare the two. But because it`s not -- you did hold hearings and all this stuff. But you skipped the conference, too.

TANDEN: And then, people had to make a decision. But that wasn`t it. This proves my point. That bill was deliberated on four hundreds of hours. It was -- we -- just to be clear, it`s five o`clock Eastern time. We still don`t have bill language for a bill that`s going to affect one-sixth of the economy. No one has seen it. No member of the public has seen it. Most Republican senators haven`t seen it either.

TODD: They want to this magical conference. I don`t understand why they think if they haven`t been able to do it here, that they`re somehow going to get it done in conference. But I get that they want to at least show they can do something.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, I think the one thing that this entire process has revealed is for all the focus there is in Washington on the dysfunction of the White House and the president`s knack for delivering self-inflicted blows is that there is more than enough dysfunction in Congress to go around. And that Republicans in conference are plenty good at delivering self-inflicted blows to themselves.

And I think going forward, there will be more focus on the processes in Congress, among the Republican Congress. I think Mitch McConnell will shoulder a huge amount of blame if he doesn`t get something acceptable out of this.

But I do think that the focus will shift from the administration to Congress, because there are plenty of problems there, too.

TODD: George, here`s what I don`t understand. Mitch McConnell, the one thing he`s always so good at is understanding when he -- when he -- you know, the old saying, you know when to fold them. You know when to hold them. You know when to fold them. And he knows when to fold.

It seems to me, if any other president were sitting in that Oval Office under the same circumstances, McConnell would have walked away from this a while ago. For some reason, he`s pushing forward with what he knows is a bad hand. Why?

HILL: I can`t figure it out. Because you remember when he was reelected, he said, we`re looking forward to this Republican majority and we`re not going to be like Harry Reid.

Now, Harry Reid may not have been the worst senator of all time, but you can argue that he was the worst senator for the Senate because he made it so entirely subservient to the interests of a Democrat president. Thereby violating Madison`s hope and ethic which was that each institution would be rivalrous and prickly about defending its own interests.

[17:15:06] This looks, to me, like a -- this is what`s puzzling. McConnell`s an institutional man. He was a Senate staffer.

TODD: He claims to be. Right.

HILL: He was a Senate staffer before he became a senator. And he`s been a senator since the Taft administration.

So, I mean, it just -- he does not look -- seem to me to be looking to the interests of his institution.

TODD: My thesis is he saw what happened to John Boehner. He saw what happened, frankly, to Paul Ryan after health care, where the president, effectively, was laying this blame on him. I think McConnell fears that he could suddenly be out of -- that all of the blame goes on him if he pull -- if he pull -- if he pulls the rip -- if, sort of, he pulls the plug too quickly.

TANDEN: Well, if that`s the case, he`s choosing his own political fortunes over the senators he`s supposed to be serving. I would just point out that this is the most broken the Senate has ever been. So, if Mitch McConnell is an institutionalist, he should really go home right now. Nothing like this happened under Harry Reid.

We are -- again, I`m just saying, we`re delivering a bill that affects one- sixth of the economy and no one has even seen it. And we`re likely to vote on that -- or they`re likely to vote on that within the next 24 hours.

The thing I don`t understand is why John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are also institutionalist, are acceptable -- are accepting voting for a bill that they, themselves -- Lindsey Graham has said this bill is a bad bill. He has said this bill is a bad bill. Why he would even send it into the process that he can`t trust with the House, I do not know.

TODD: That`s what you just did. You just teased the press conference that Lindsey Graham and John McCain are going to be participating on where they may answer that very question.

You guys stick around. We`ll watch this together. We are expecting said press conference any moment now from those Republican senators on the future of this bill. We`re going to bring that to you live. So, we`ll sneak in this break. Stick around.


TODD: Here we are. We`re going right to Lindsey Graham, one of five senators, about the skinny bill.

GRAHAM (live): -- concern on my part and others that what the House will do is take whatever we pass, the so-called skinny bill, not take it to conference, go directly to the House floor, vote on it and that goes to the president`s desk with the argument this is better than doing nothing.

Here`s my response. The skinny bill as policy is a disaster. The skinny bill as a replacement for Obamacare is a fraud. The skinny bill is a vehicle to getting conference to find a replacement. It is not a replace in and of itself.

The policy is terrible because you eliminate the individual employer mandate which we all want eliminated but we actually have an overall solution to the problem of Obamacare, so you`re going to have increased premiums and most of Obamacare stays in place if the skinny bill becomes law.

Not only do we not replace Obamacare, we politically own the collapse of health care. I`d rather get out of the way and let it collapse, then have a half-ass approach where it is now our problem.

[17:20:08] So, we`re not going to do that with our vote. What we will do is move the process along. Our Freedom Caucus friends, who I disagree with a lot but sometimes I agree with them. Here`s what Mark Meadows said. We will send a skinny bill to the president is the question. The answer is no. So, it becomes the vehicle for conference.

Mark Meadows agreed the skinny repeal will be dead on arrival in the House, but he understands it`s just a vehicle for a conference. Here is the problem. The whip in the House is suggesting to some that whatever we send becomes the final product. There will be no conference.

And I am not going to vote for the skinny bill if I am not assured by the House there will be a conference where my idea and other ideas can be taken up so we can actually replace Obamacare. I`m not going to vote for a bill that is terrible policy and horrible politics just because we have to get something done.

So, all three of us want to move the process along. We were encouraged by our leadership to be team players. They`re coming up with a skinny bill that changes by the moment. But none of us believe it actually replaces Obamacare. Neither does the Freedom Caucus.

And I need assurances from the speaker of the House and his team that if I vote for the skinny bill, it will not become the final product. It will be the vehicle to have a conference between the House and Senate where we consider -- can consider a true replacement.

If I don`t get those assurances, I am a no because I`m not going to vote for a pig in a poke. And I`m not going to tell people back in South Carolina that this product actually replaces Obamacare because it does not. It is a fraud.

And with that, I`ll turn it over to my great friend, John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have nothing to add.

As I stated earlier this week, I`m not supportive of the legislation as it stands today. I am in close consultation with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey regarding the so-called skinny repeal and its potential impact on the state of Arizona.

My position on this proposal would be largely guided by Governor Ducey`s analysis of how it would impact the people of our state.

My friends, this is legislation that directly affects the lives of the people in my state. I trust my governor. I trust his people. And he is looking carefully at this. He is looking carefully at the skinny bill repeal, but he`s also looking at steps that need to be taken in addition to it.

So, I am convinced that we can move forward. But we have to have an assurance that it will go to a normal conference. Right now, that is not the case. And we do not have the assurance that is the case.

I believe that one of the major problems with Obamacare was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats without a single Republican vote. I believe we shouldn`t make that same mistake again.

And, if necessary, this is -- you are now about to hear from an antique phone that very few Americans -- there`s very few Americans anywhere in the world. I believe there`s a person in Togo who also has -- who has this phone.

Look, we can`t make the same mistake that we inflicted in 2009. We`ve got to have some bipartisanship. All of you saw my speech which I will be glad to provide you with a recording of in case you missed it, in case you have insomnia.

But the point is -- but the point is, we`ve got to have Republicans and Democrats sit down together and come up with a bill that gets a majority in both Houses. Otherwise, we`re going to see this continuous gridlock.

And I don`t want to go on and on. But when we passed Obamacare in 2009, it split us. It split us dramatically. And it split us for years.

It`s time we sat down together and came up with a piece of legislation that addresses this issue. And don`t think this issue is just out there sitting by itself. In my state, we`re down to one health care provider in every county. Co-pays are going up by hundreds of thousands -- you`re late. You see, the freshmen show -- the freshmen show no respect for their elders.

[17:25:02] Finally, I`d just like to say, again, in my state, Obamacare is a failure. It needs to be fixed. We have fixes, but it`s got to be done in the -- in the normal process.

And what I`m afraid of, of course, is that this thing dies this week. And then, it sits out there over the August recess or whatever it is. It`s time we sat down together and came up with solutions that the American people overall would support.

I guarantee you, in my state, the status quo is not satisfactory. And that`s one of the major reasons why I`ve been in constant contact with the governor of the state of Arizona who bears large responsibility.

Now, as is keeping with our seniority, we will allow the two additional senators 30 seconds each.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Thanks much, John.

MCCAIN: All right.

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, John, it was great seeing you come back. And I`ve told you a number of times, it`s an honor to be able to serve with you.

Listen, I`m happy to join Lindsey and John and Senator Cassidy. Just asking very simple request. Give us the assurance. Give us a guarantee that whatever we pass out of the Senate is going to go to conference. So, we can work on, for example, the great ideas that these two gentlemen have been working hard, with our governors, something that I think can really get a great deal of support.

The fact of the matter is the status quo is unacceptable. Obamacare markets are collapsing.

Let me just tell you a little story of a woman that I spoke to for the first time on Tuesday. Cheri and Vern Kobe (ph) from River Falls, Wisconsin contacted our office. And I called her up and she conveyed her story to me. Had some pre-existing conditions.

In 2014, they signed up for Obamacare. I won`t go through all the troubles they had in signing up. Paid their premiums. Sent in their check stubs to make sure they qualified for the subsidies. Did their taxes in March of 2015. Got the bad news that they made too much money and had to pay $15,000 back to the IRS.

Now, the IRS isn`t real kind about being real forgiving about it. So, in order to pay that $15,000 back because, again, they made too much money. They first pretty well depleted their 401K. Then, they had to sell their home that they intend -- that they intended to live in for the rest of their life so they wouldn`t lose their home. I mean, think about that.

Now, Cheri and Vern are the forgotten men and women, the same folks that Bill Clinton was talking about, the ones that are busting it. Vern works 60 or 70 hours a week driving milk trucks. Cheri works 30 hours a week as a florist.

They`re busting it. They`re working those hours. They`ve seen their premiums double or more. Their coverage cut in half. They depleted their 401. They lost their house. That`s why the status quo is not acceptable.

And I`m sorry, the skinny bill in the Senate doesn`t even come close to honoring our promises of repealing Obamacare. Those market reforms that have increased their premiums. And nothing we`re doing, virtually nothing we`re doing in any of these bills, and the proposals are addressing the challenges, the problems, the damage done to people like Cheri and Vern.

And so, all we`re asking leadership, and this is a very simple request, just give us the assurance that whatever we pass tonight will go to conference. And so, the good ideas of people. like Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Cassidy here, can get scored. Can have a chance to be argued. And hopefully can replace Obamacare with something that actually works for folks like Cheri and Vern.

Now, with that, I`m happy to introduce Senator Cassidy who is doing some great work coming up with an alternative.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: And I just want to look at the potential of what would happen should it go to conference. Again, Senator Graham, Nelson, Heller and I have been working on a provision which, frankly, will take a little bit longer to be scored. The process, as you know, requires that to occur. And it could be overlaid upon the bill that would be passed tonight.

And in that, we would hope to take all the dollars that would go to a state and deliver it to the state. The state would have to use it to health care. But then, allow that state to come up with a solution particular for their state.

What happens in Alaska with less than one person per square mile is very different than what happens in Washington, D.C., over a hundred thousand people per square mile which is different than South Carolina, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Arizona. Those states should decide what`s best for those states.

We can do that through this process if, indeed, we pass the bill tonight and then it goes to conference committee and then we can overlay this. We think this is the way to fulfill the promise President Trump made to the American people to actually repeal. And that`s our commitment. We hope this process allows it.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people that you have increasing concerns that you will pass this bill and that it will not go to conference. Did something happen to make you feel that way?

[17:30:02] GRAHAM: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is it that happened?

GRAHAM: Martin Meadows, who has become a good friend, he`s from North Carolina. So, a really good conservative. He`s in the Freedom Caucus. He`s been suggesting that nobody in the Freedom Caucus sees this as a viable replacement.

I don`t think Governor Ducey is going to say that the skinny bill is -- fixes Arizona`s problem. I know it won`t fix Sherry`s problem. We`re just trying to create a vehicle so we can take our bill which hasn`t been scored that Governor Ducey likes and see if we can come up with a block grant approach.

Four states get 40 percent of the Obamacare dollars. We`re trying to level that out. So, Mark called me and said that he was concerned that there is a move in the house to take whatever we pass in the senate and pass is, not go to conference. We have been trying to communicate to the speaker. We`ve asked our leader point-blank and he says the speaker now prefers to go to the conference, intends to go to the conference.

I want to know like, are you going to go to the conference? I want to know that, because I am not going to vote for a piece of legislation that I believe is not a replacement, that politically would be the dumbest thing in history to throw this out there, collapse the individual market and own the problem at a time when Obamacare is collapsing.

So, I think Senator McCain is dead right. If you listen to Governor Ducey, John is going to have a pretty good decision to make. The governor is going to look at our new approach overlaid and he`s going to tell John that works for Arizona. I can tell you right now, the skinny bill doesn`t work for any state. It`s never meant to be the final outcome.

It`s meant to be part of a process to get a better outcome. My bill hasn`t been scored. Our bill hasn`t scored. Ted Cruz`s bill hasn`t been scored. So, we`re buying time to get there, but that requires the house to actually go to conference. And if they don`t go to conference, then I am not going to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are any three of you worried about -- is there a concern if you three block the replacement attempt tonight that you will then have to be accountable to voters who really want Obamacare replaced and then you three --

GRAHAM: Yes, I do this with joy in my heart.


GRAHAM: I`m going to go back to South Carolina and say that the skinny bill does not replace Obamacare. The skinny bill leaves most of the Obamacare infrastructure in place. It`s a disaster for premiums in South Carolina. It was never sold to be the final product. That I was told that if I vote for the skinny bill, I get a chance to put in play my block grant approach.

So, I`m not the bad guy here. I`m actually a team player. I`m trying to honor the request by our leadership to keep the process alive. And as we get to the -- near the goal line here, this will surprise people in South Carolina, you need to trust but verify in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you verify?


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: You -- by the way, let me just confirm what Lindsey said. This has been sold to us as the vehicle to get to conference, so we can have the time, because CBO has to be able to score things. We have 22 senators sign a letter that I asked the CBO to score the full repeal of Obamacare back in March. Never got the score.

We`ve been told this is the vehicle to give us the time to get those scores so we can take a look at those other alternatives. And so, again, all we`re looking for is a pretty simple guarantee. We`re not trying to tank anything here. We`re trying to do (INAUDIBLE). We`ll vote yes as long as we get that guarantee.

GRAHAM: Wait a minute. Let me ask you. Wait a minute.

JOHNSON: He wants to ask a question.

GRAHAM: Do you believe the skinny bill is an adequate replacement for Obamacare and if this will go?

JOHNSON: It absolutely would not, Senator Graham.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain, what do you say to people (INAUDIBLE) regular order (INAUDIBLE) Democrats?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say to people who say, then you should vote no, and send this thing back to committee.

MCCAIN: Right now as I mentioned earlier, I am voting no, unless I see that there is a path to a conference that will come out with a result that will address the challenges. The status quo in my state is unsatisfactory.

That`s why I`m working with the governor of my state, who has proposed three different amendments which I will be putting up for votes as we go through. And if it satisfies the governor, then I would be satisfied. Right now, my governor is not satisfied.

GRAHAM: One last question from South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has the parliamentarian said that your amendment will still pass the (INAUDIBLE)?

GRAHAM: I am 99 percent sure that it will get a memo from the parliamentarian saying that the Graham, Cassidy, Heller, maybe Johnson bill will be conference (ph) and that block has been checked. And I really wouldn`t too much worried about anything above that until I got a call from Mark Meadows.

And I got a call from Mark Meadows who believes like Ron does and I do that the skinny bill is not a replacement, that Obamacare is collapsing, and the skinny bill won`t prevent it from collapsing and in many ways makes everything worse. So, that part of it, I think, we`re good to go. I just need an assurance. Who asked that? OK. Here is what an assurance --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the guarantee? Blood oath?


GRAHAM: We don`t have it. It`s like pornography. You`ll know it when you see it.

(LAUGHTER) JOHNSON: There you go.

GRAHAM: We got to go.

JOHNSON: Thank you very much.

GRAHAM: Come on. Go ahead. Say whatever you want to say.

JOHNSON: Well, you also asked why are we a little concerned. You walked up here, someone is asking me that the house is going into martial law. I didn`t even know that was possible. I guess that would give us a little bit of a concern. I do in the remaining moments, I`m happy to give you all this charting. I keep talking about information we need.

This shows you the disaster that is Obamacare in terms of the effect of premiums. This was the premium trend prior to Obamacare. This is what we`re talking about now. This is why Sherry and Vern can`t afford insurance. This kind of information we need to make better information to have a better process to actually have a replacement that will work for Sherry and Vern.

GRAHAM: And we`ll end on this. We`ll end on this. As to the skinny bill being a replacement for Obamacare, actually helping Americans like Sherry and people in my state, that`s about as accurate as when President Obama told you, if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor.

JOHNSON: Thanks much.


CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS DAILY SHOW HOST: Well, that was quite a lively presser there with four senators. Should be noted the fifth senator that we had been told was going to join that quarter of senators, David Perdue, of Georgia did not.

Joining me now is Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, who I`m guessing was listening, probably chuckling at times, because Lindsey Graham and John McCain can make us all laugh at times. What`s happening here? What can you decipher? What do you take away from what you just heard from your four colleagues on the other side of the aisle?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Chuck, it has been over six years since the Republicans told us they were going to repeal Obamacare and replace it. And now it`s been seven months that we`ve been in session here and listen to how Republican senators describe the work product we`re being asked to vote on tonight.

I respect the senators who came before the press calling it a fraud, a disaster. It will make this situation worse, and it won`t solve the problems that face our health care system and Obamacare today. What I heard them say was they are demanding a conference committee.

They want it to be bipartisan and they want buy in from the governors across America who are going to have to implement the final work product. That tells you that we need to roll up our sleeves, follow John McCain`s advice, and have a bipartisan effort to finally write a good bill that is deserving for the American people.

TODD: Look, there`s a lot of people that may have forgotten how a bill becomes a law because I think many of you in the Uunited States senate have forgotten how a bill becomes a law, to be respectful here. I`m trying to figure out the last time a bill was written in conference.

George Will was reminding me here that the way it works, the way we thought it worked was the house passes a bill, the senate passes a meaningful bill, and you work out a few differences. It seems as if the plan by senators Graham and McCain and Cassidy in particular is they view the conference as an opportunity to write new legislation.

How does that work? Is that -- and will you participate in something like that? Will Democrats be appointed to a conference committee and participate in helping to write that legislation?

DURBIN: And don`t forget, we have reached this point in this deliberation, and the Republicans in control of the United States senate could not find a plan that 50 of them could agree on. And so they came up with this skinny thing, which I think Lindsey Graham was right. It is a fraud.

It is going to raise health insurance premiums. He said as much and I agree with him completely. It`s going to cut 16 million people off of health insurance. And so they couldn`t come up with a plan that 50 of their members can agree on and now they`re hoping that a conference committee might be able to. I just say to George Will, let`s go back to basics here.

Basics suggest that we ought to junk this approach, really go down to the regular order which John McCain spoke about. Let`s have the hearings in the committee. Let`s have the deliberation and the amendments and the debate on the floor. That`s the design of the constitution and that`s what we ought to follow.

TODD: You`re a member of leadership on the democratic side. You have good personal relationships with the leadership on the other side of the aisle. I know that. Senators Cornyn and McConnell and those folks.

The rank and file on that republican side clearly would like regular order. You see it growing. We`re up to probably 12 or 13 senators who don`t like the reconciliation at this point. When does leadership acknowledge that on the other side?

DURBIN: When the Republicans have a vote that they lose. If the vote that is called on this skinny approach loses, and at that point they have to decide what the alternative is.

Do nothing and watch the health care system that we currently have face problems that we know exist and need to be resolved and solved, or they`re going to step forward and have a meaningful bipartisan approach which these senators asked for today, John McCain asked for two days ago. That really is the answer.

TODD: I want to go back to you didn`t quite answer my question about the conference situation. If we do get a conference committee and it`s clear to me Lindsey Graham used the fraud word to almost guarantee that Paul Ryan will have no choice but to do that. Will Democrats participate in that process of helping to shape that legislation or are you going to be a little more -- as hands off as you`ve been so far on the floor of the senate?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you if we start with the premise that this is not about a tax cut but it`s about health care for all Americans, if we say that we`re at the end of the day not going to cut off health insurance for Americans and try to expand that opportunity, and really address the issue that I think most are concerned about, the premium costs and the individual market, I`m sure we`re ready to sit down and work. We`ve said that for months to republican leadership.

TODD: Even in a conference committee you would do that, even the way this process has gone?

DURBIN: Can I add one caveat, Chuck?

TODD: Yes.

DURBIN: We don`t know who is going to be on that conference committee. If the conference committee includes a group of good faith participants who are trying to reach the goals I just described, then it`s possible that we will be joining them. But let`s wait and see how this unfolds. The first step is going to be this critical vote on the skinny freedom bill as the president now calls it and that will decide how we go forward.

TODD: Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, the democratic whip, who at this point I`m guessing is just watching with amusement from the other side of the aisle. Senator Durbin, thank you very much. Let me bring back the panel.

George Will, Neera Tanden, Eliana. George, I invoked your name. We`ve invoked you a lot here. You were pulling your hair out when you heard the conference committee being sort of warped in its description.

GEORGE WILL, POLITICAL ANALYST, NBC NEWS: By great Senator Pat Moynihan inserted into our language, the phrase defining deviancy down.


WILL: What they are doing here is defining regular order down. They are envisioned in the conference committee as a third branch of the legislative branch. That is these guys could pass and call it repeal and replace. They could pass this afternoon -- it`s very interesting that`s box score.

Send it over there and hope that these unknown and unnamed people so far in the conference committee would write a bill. That is not regular order. Regular order is the reconciliation of two fully written and deliberated and debated, after hearings, pieces of legislation. TODD: It seems to me, Eliana, the ball really is now suddenly in Reince Priebus -- wrong Wisconsin -- in Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy`s corner. I mean, the senators through them the gauntlet (ph). You`ve got to tell me this is going to conference or we`re out, which then it`s over.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: That`s absolutely right. They have got to decide -- I think Paul Ryan has to decide what he`s going to do. But he also has to corral house members and get them to vote on whatever, you know, piece of paper is passed from the senate to the house, which we don`t know what it`s going to be.

And as we`ve seen before, it`s not so easy either for Mitch McConnell to round up the votes he needs or for Paul Ryan in house to round up the votes he needs. So, if he wants to do this, he will have the difficult task of corralling the votes and ensuring that house members trust that there will be -- I think it`s difficult because precisely for the reason George described to get the trust among house and senate members that what results will be a good bill.

TODD: What did you make of Dick Durbin essentially not ruling out the idea that while Democrats haven`t wanted to participate in the process right now that they might in a conference committee if they know something is going to the president`s desk from there, that Democrats appointed to that would participate?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Look, if you listen to John McCain and Lindsey Graham, particularly John McCain, talk about how he wants to fix the markets, that`s a conference Democrats are willing to have, have been willing to have. What I think is just bizarre about where we are is that if you listen to Senator McCain, it sounds like he recognizes that skinny (INAUDIBLE) or the skinny repeal and replace will hurt Arizona and so he may well vote no.

But most of those senators are talking about how this is a disaster bill, a terrible bill, a disaster for their markets and yet they may still vote for it to get to a conference in which they can talk about a proposal that nobody has ever discussed before their own particular idea on the process. And the reason why we are where we are is because we`ve had no mark ups, no deliberation, no normal system.

People are just -- to be honest, spitballing ideas out there and the idea that we`re actually going to decide issues that affect people`s health insurance in this kind of random way is just like the most irresponsible leadership I`ve ever seen in my life.

TODD: You want to talk?

WILL: I spoke this afternoon with Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the head of the Freedom Caucus. He`s got 30 serious people who are here for a reason. And he was none committal, but he said, look, if they passed if from the house by two votes.

Now, they`re going to go back over there and Mark Meadows` people are going to look at this and they`re going to see some things. They`re going to see maybe a hundred billion dollars thrown at the opioid crisis.

They`re going to see -- that will be dwarfed by the slush fund that will be provided to stabilize the insurance markets, that is to subsidies the insurance companies. And by the time -- TODD: By the way, the exact thing that they criticized Obamacare for doing and repealed some of that earlier.

TANDEN: We don`t know.

WILL: At that point, again, I keep saying this every two weeks, keep your eye on the Freedom Caucus. TODD: Well, it`s clearly, and Meadows made his presence known. He`s the one that sounded the alarm. TANDEM: It`s weird. He sounds more (INAUDIBLE) than Paul Ryan, that`s for sure when you`re looking at this guy.

TODD: Where is Ryan on this? Where is McCarthy on this?

JOHNSON: Well, I have no idea but this is precisely why I said this is why I think it`s going to be more difficult for Ryan simply to say I agree, you know, and come out and have a ceremonial handshake with Lindsey Graham or Mitch McConnell.

TANDEN: I mean, all of this is just passing the buck. JOHNSON: The larger problem here is that all of the crafting of this legislation has been done behind closed doors, and what they want to strike an agreement to do is to craft the bill behind closed doors.

TODD: There`s a fundamental issue that I have -- that somebody yesterday pointed out. We don`t know what the goal is of the bill. The Republicans have never outlined what is the goal of their health care legislation. Is it universal coverage? Is it lower premiums? What is the goal? They`ve never outlined it.

WILL: All of the above, but the primary goal is to get this over with, so they can get on with the mayor`s nest of tax reform.

TODD: There is the problem right there. There is the problem.

TANDEN: Absolutely. They`ve never --

TODD: They say the goal is not about the policy. The goal is to get through the bill.

TANDEN: Whatever the American people have seen is a 12 to 25 percent because people don`t know what they`re trying to do other than just pass something that helps their political goals, which is not what they`re supposed to be here -- I hate to be naive, but they are not supposed to be here just to get reelected. You`re not supposed to damage people health care in order to meet your political needs.

WILL: In recent with something amazing happened that is for the first time since 2010, the Affordable Care Act was 50 percent approval. So what Obama`s tireless campaigning and rhetoric could not accomplish, this debate has accomplished.

TODD: It`s unbelievable. Let`s sneak in a quick break because I don`t want to go to our next topic here, because we call our final break "The Lid." Well, Anthony Scaramucci has blown his own lid in an interview with Ryan Lizza filled with expletives that is unbelievable and we`ll quote as much as we can on a family program like ours. Right after the break.


TODD: Welcome back. Time for "The Lid." George Will, Neera Tandem Eliana Johnson. All right. The headline of the Ryan Lizza piece in "The New Yorker" that just broke about 40 minutes ago is this. Anthony Scaramucci called me to unload about White House leakers Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon.

It`s filled with four letter words descriptors from Mr. Scaramucci. We have a few of them up here that we feel like we can at least give you an idea of how Scaramucci described Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon. Let`s put up a few of these quotes now. What are got ready on screen here. Reince is a -- expletive deleted -- paranoid, schizophrenic, a paranoiac.

What I want to do is I want to -- expletive deleted -- kill all the leakers and I want to get the president`s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people. I think we have a couple more choice quotes that we could not actually put on air because we`d have to delete so many expletives, you would not understand what the quote meant.

Eliana, you`ve had some interactions with Mr. Scaramucci, as have I. We know he`s a colorful talker. But this is the White House communications director speaking of the chief of staff in such a derogatory and deviant manner. It`s unbecoming and yet with this president, maybe it works.

JOHNSON: Well, he`s clearly the kind of tight lipped guy you would want in charge of your communications operations. But, you know, what occurred to me was, I think the president likes to be surrounded by people he feels comfortable with, people he enjoys being around.

He brought on Anthony Scaramucci who is a wealthy New Yorker, you know, a vulgarian, clearly, and he will go to the match for him. And I think this is going to win him points with the president, oddly. He lost Sean Spicer who is somebody he has far less in common with who is not wealthy and not a New Yorker, and clearly is willing to depart with his chief of staff Reince Priebus.

Both of those guys have ties to the Washington establishment, clearly not something he values. But, yes, I think this is the new face of the Trump White House. It`s something that perfectly reflects the president himself.

TODD: This was all on the record here. He said, Reince is going to get fired if he`s proven to be a leaker. He wants to do lie detector tests. He also went after Steve Bannon in here. Mr. Scaramucci said on Bannon, I`m not trying to build my own brand off the -- expletive deleted -- strength of the president.

I`m here to serve the country. So, Priebus may be going soon, but Bannon isn`t going anywhere. And so he`s going to have another war inside that White House, apparently.

TANDEM: This is a circular firing squad. They`re all alike. The president`s staff are all attacking and we`re hearing this president likes when people attack each other. What`s ridiculous about this whole situation is Jared Kushner recommended this guy for the job.

Jared Kushner recommended that he fire the FBI director. I mean, I just wonder where the accountability is for this where you have disaster after disaster after disaster coming out of White House.

WILL: The west wing of the White House is today the state of nature as Thomas Hobbes described it, where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Emphasized the short. I would be -- nothing surprises me. I would be semi-surprised if the man who gave that interview with that language and who is not now as far as we know a public official.

TODD: We don`t think he`s technically taken the job yet.

WILL: That`s right.

TODD: Officially, as far as bookkeeping is concerned.

WILL: That sort of fits because remember before Mr. Trump was president, he wielded presidential powers against the Carrier air-conditioning company. He said this is our new policy and they caved. They`re a little casual about distinctions between public official and not public officials. But even so, if after this they go ahead and put this man in John Adams` White House, we`ll have learned even more.

TODD: Again, his title is communications director.


TODD: I`m just sort -- that`s the part of this, Eliana, that I`m struggling with. He chose to communicate this way.

JOHNSON: Look, I think Scaramucci came in and said he was going to crack down on leaks. I think there are two things. First is that there is no cracking down on leaks in the Trump white house. The reason is, you know, second point is that in previous White Houses, you know, people really believe in the George W. Bush agenda. They felt a loyalty to George W. Bush, same in the Obama administration and the Clinton administration. I don`t think there are very many people --

TODD: Different tactics. They may trash people.

JOHNSON: There were plenty of arguments, but I don`t think in the Trump White House, there`s anybody who is not related to the president of the United States who feels loyalty to the president and who even knows let alone believes in what the larger cause is here. That`s why I don`t think any of this is going to change.

TANDEN: But why would they? He attacks his staff all the time. You have to be loyal to get loyalty.


TANDEM: He viciously humiliates Jeff Sessions, like his first -- the first political leader who actually -- he viciously humiliates him day after day after day. Who would be loyal?

TODD: George Will, you left the Republican Party. You are no longer a Republican. Who stands for character in the Republican Party right now? Who says -- I mean, Ben Sasse says a lot of strong words, but at what point the other words are not enough?

WILL: Well, the words depend on when they are said and about what. Mr. Sasse, I think, is laying the predicate for institutional and political opposition to the president. Jeff Flake is another. They`re out there. Mr. Trump -- one of the good effects he`s going to have is he`s going to revitalize institutional identity of the legislative branch.

TODD: You know, the best example of this is what we just saw take place in the last 24 hours in Alaska. So, here you have Lisa Murkowski, one of two Republican senators, who didn`t vote, the president attacks. Apparently, the interior secretary called up the other senator in Alaska, Dan Sullivan, and says, you know, boy, the interior department may not be able to be as helpful to the state of Alaska all the time.

What was interesting, Eliana, is that Dan Sullivan decided to go public and make sure he basically -- even though he`s going to be a yes on this, he and Murkowski aren`t technically on this, but he thought that was unbecoming and then Lisa Murkowski today suddenly decided in a committee that they didn`t have time to consider any interior secretary undersecretary nominees today. The payback goes two ways.

JOHNSON: Yes, I was going to say they showed that if the executive branch shoves them in one direction, they have the power to push back.

I think the other example of this this week was Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley coming out and saying, if the president fires the attorney general, we have some power too, we`re not confirming another attorney general in 2017, and if he fires Bob Mueller without showing any proof that he did anything wrong, you know, there`s going to be serious consequences for that.

So I think this isn`t really the first time that we have seen congress draw a serious red line, you know, cliche term now, but with regards to the president`s behavior.

TANDEM: The only I will add to this is it`s true that there has been resistance in the senate. So far Paul Ryan has not stood up to the president and say you can`t pass a bill, you can`t pass a bill to tie the president`s hands on a special prosecutor without the house. It`s not enough. You need leadership from both sides. Republican leaders to have backbone in both the house and the senate.

TODD: By the way, what Ryan Lizza (ph) did, against the law?


TODD: Might be against the law.

WILL: That`s (ph) not criminal act.

TODD: We don`t know, right. But it certainly may get an inspector general.

TANDEM: I mean, if an inspector general does not investigate that --

TODD: You may get that.

TANDEM: What do you have an inspector general for?

TODD: All right, guys. What an hour. What a day. Guess what, it`s only Thursday. Thank you very much. That`s all we have tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily." My friend, Ari Melber, is next with "The Beat." And it starts right now. Boy, Ari, the beat goes on and on and on for sure today.

ARI MELBER, THE BEAT SHOW HOST: The beat goes on and what an hour it could be a theme for any number of hours in today`s political news cycle. Thanks, Chuck.

TODD: Thanks, brother.

MELBER: Appreciate it.