This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," October 18, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has the White House been involved in those negotiations, and will you support that deal?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes, we have been involved, and this is a short-term deal because we think ultimately block grants going to the states is going to be the answer. That's a very good solution.
While I commend the bipartisan work done by Senators Alexander and Murray, and I do commend it, I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the ObamaCare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.
If something can happen, that's fine, but I won't do anything to enrich the insurance companies.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: OK, so we are trying to figure out exactly where President Trump, the administration are on the Lamar Alexander-Patty Murray bill. It was seen as a temporary fix to ObamaCare while a bigger fix, a repeal and replace, is still being worked on.
The president tweeting today, "I am supportive of Lamar as a person and also of the process, but I can never support bailing out insurance companies who have made a fortune with O-care."
With that, let's bring in our panel: Steve Hilton is former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron and host of "The Next Revolution" here on Fox News Channel; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics and host of "No Labels" Radio on Sirius XM, and Byron York, chief political correspondent of the Washington Examiner. You just have one title. It's very simple.
BYRON YORK, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: That's me.
BAIER: Byron, is there an evolution here? Do you think he felt pushback from conservatives? What do you think happened?
YORK: Both of those things. I think he found out more of what was in this Murray-Alexander agreement, and it got a very bad reaction from a lot of conservatives, policy wonks and others. And also it was pretty clear last night one of those sound bites you played was from the speech he gave at the Heritage Foundation last night, and he made it very clear that he wasn't going to go with any sort of bailout. So I think he just spoke off- the-cuff yesterday when he said he supported this, and now he simply commends the two for making this effort.
BAIER: Here is Senator Alexander on the compromise leading up to what he says are conservative victories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R-TENN.: This is what we need to do in the meantime. It gives us a few steps toward what we most want which are more options for the states to give people choices of insurance at lower costs. There are more victories for conservatives in the Alexander-Murray compromise than we've had eight years of arguing about ObamaCare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: But a guy who likes compromise sometimes, speaker Paul Ryan, through a spokesperson says the speaker does not see anything that changes his view that the Senate should keep its focus on repeal and replace of ObamaCare. So it seems, A.B., that we are back to square one.
A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Yes. Actually the president did lead Senator Alexander on and talked to him over the weekend. I'm sure you've all read the quote. He said I don't want those people to suffer. Lamar Alexander felt that he could come out and actually say that out loud. Lamar Alexander doesn't give a lot of interviews, doesn't talk to the press very much. He was encouraged to find a way to not have FOX News go into a county in April of 2018 that Trump won where people say my whole life took a bad turn in November of 2017 after those CSR payments were cut. He knew exactly what this was going to do.
I was told last week he was in a meeting with a foreign policy, national security official at the White House, spent the entire meeting trying to drive the conversation back to a health care deal. He wants this behind him.
But he had pressure from his crowd last night. He had pressure from Mark Meadows of the Freedom Caucus actually spoke pretty positively about this deal, and he backed off. They don't have the votes for repeal. The Republican Party of 2017 who are seated in Congress are not going to repeal this law.
So I thought that his opening gambit was good yesterday, which was let's do this and then we'll get to our own thing later on. But he's blowing up the process. The House problem solvers caucus that came up with this first plan which is the predicate for the Murray-Alexander thing has a few more things in it that Republicans would like, including a medical device tax repeal and some other things. There's a little more there that could happen. But not if Paul Ryan and the leaders are saying let's go back to repeal, which they all know is an illusion.
BAIER: They may not even bring up the bill. It's the leadership's decision whether to bring it up or not. Let's just talk broadly, Steve, about governing and working with lawmakers and an executive, and the trust level of the ying and yang of you have to believe that you're going to be backed up at some point to go out on a limb to push something.
STEVE HILTON, FORMER DAVID CAMERON ADVISER: Yes, I think that's right. And I think that there's also a really big question here on strategy that isn't being handled right. I've said many times here with you, Bret, that the really big thing the president was elected to do was to get the economy moving, to get jobs and incomes, and that is the thing he seems to understand the best. We are going to talk about it later I know.
All of this is a diversion from the big thing that he needs to do. Every time they go in, they seem to get bogged down in it. You're right that they don't have the votes. That's why I was encouraged to see that there may be an attempt, exactly as you were saying, I completely agree. This felt encouraging, felt like he was learning the ropes a bit in terms of working with others, giving them encouragement. But now it feels like, again, step back. It's just not -- and all of it is wasting time and energy that really should be focused on the economic.
BAIER: We should point out also that Lindsey Graham and others have said even if the Cassidy-Graham bill was passed, it was still take a couple years to be implemented to do these block grants to states for that repeal and replace version.
YORK: That was just a step for the Senate. The House had passed a bill, and the Cassidy-Graham bill was not going to be anything like it, so we were still going to be a long way away. But I think for Republicans, I think you just have to remember, it is taking a while to soak in about how catastrophic this ObamaCare failure was. The reason there's all this tension about tax reform right now is the basis of that is we screwed up ObamaCare, and if we mess up on taxes this will be a total disaster and we'll lose our job next year.
So this is not something that's gone away. And what the president did with this order to cut off these CSR subsidies is put the pressure on Congress to actually do something. And they are feeling it, and that's why we had the Murray-Alexander thing.
BAIER: We talk about the constitutionality question about the subsidy payments and Congress had to appropriate all of that. I do want to turn to the other thing that got a lot of attention today and it seems like every day there is something that is the shiny thing that gets our attention. But this is about the condolence calls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. FREDERICA WILSON, D-FLA.: I'm not trying to prove anything with the president. So the president evidently is lying, because what I said is true. I have no reason to lie on the president of the United States with a dead soldier in my community.
TRUMP: I didn't say what that congresswoman said, didn't say it at all. She knows it, and she now is not saying it. I did not say what she said. And I'd like her to make the statement again, because I did not say what she said.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are there recordings of a phone call with Major Johnson?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, but there were several people in the room from the administration that were on the call, including the chief of staff General John Kelly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: This is a call to the widow of someone who died, a soldier who died in Niger. And now you have all of these news organizations going after all these gold star families who did or did not get calls or letters from the president. The Associated Press, A.P., found relatives of four soldiers who died overseas during Trump's presidency who said they never received calls from him. Relatives of two also confirmed they did not get letters after her army son died in an armored vehicle rollover in Syria in May. Sheila Murphy says she got no call or letter from President Trump even as she waited months for his condolences and wrote him that some days I don't want to live. Steve, this is just so heart-wrenching to be in the public, period.
HAYES: You are right. That's exactly how I feel about it. It is just so sad in every single way, sad for the family, sad that this is what our political debate has come to, chasing after this story. If there was some deeper truth at the bottom of this that it was important to get out there about something nefarious that the government or the administration or the president had done, fine. But actually I don't think there's anyone who really believes President Trump doesn't really take seriously the honor of the military, that he is somehow unpatriotic or doesn't care about these people.
BAIER: It was the president who brought up these calls and who called and who didn't in presidents of past and whether they did or did not. But it's going to go down this road, and it's going to continue like this if he --
STODDARD: I think it's terrible for every military family and gold star family in this country to watch and listen to any of this. It's extremely upsetting and it's offensive. The president started this on Monday. He was asked a question about the ambush in Niger and why it's taken two weeks for us to find out about it. Reports are that James Mattis, the secretary of defense, is still trying to look for answers about -- that's really concerning. But Trump turned this into some untrue accusation about former presidents, to which a Twitter onslaught began, proving that what he said was false. He doubled down today. He might have stumbled over his words and said the wrong thing. What he did today made it a lot worse. And he has a terrible record on gold star families. He needs to spare this one group of people.
BAIER: Last word.
YORK: I think you have to separate, there's two things. One, he made a terrible mistake bringing up Obama and previous presidents at the press conference. That was a dumb thing to do. As far as this stuff with Sergeant Johnson's family is concerned, we do have a member of Congress who has talked about his impeachment several months ago, just stirring this thing up. And it's not entirely clear what the president said and whether it was disrespectful or not.
BAIER: The broad point being all of it is horrific. We have to cover it because it's news, but it's bad.
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