Is the Senate GOP health care bill dead on arrival?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," June 22, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: ObamaCare is a disaster. It's dead, totally dead. And we're putting in a plan today that's going to be negotiated.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: The president said the Senate bill needed heart. The way this bill cuts healthcare is heartless.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: No amount of 11th hour reality denying or buck passing by Democrats is going to change the fact that more Americans are going to get hurt unless we do something.

SEN. TED CRUZ, R-TEXAS: I want to get to yes. It's not enough just to pass a bill that has ObamaCare repeal in the title. We have got to actually have legislation that fixes the underlying problem.


JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS: So there you hear the debate going on in the Senate now over the new health care bill, the framework of which was announced this morning.

Let's bring in our panel now to discuss more about this and whether this thing can go anywhere: Jonah Goldberg is the senior editor at National Review; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics, and Mollie Hemingway, the senior editor at The Federalist.

A.B, why don't you start us off tonight. Does this thing have a hope in passing, because you have a 50-48 split and already you've got four Republican senators saying, you know, we are not too thrilled with this thing?

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Right. Well, if you've watched Congress for a long time you know that Mitch McConnell knew exactly what was going to happen the minute this was released. He is not surprised by these defections. I do actually believe that Senator Ted Cruz really does desperately want to get to yes. There can be some more wrangling a bit, but that could threaten the support of moderates on the other side of the Republican conference.

Either way, they've decided internally that they need to get this monkey off their back. So they're going to bring it to the floor and hope that they can bring it down to one or two votes where they shame these people into opposing it and stopping the fulfillment of a seven-year promise. If that doesn't happen they're going to walk away. They've lost too much time and too much momentum. And there are strong indications that they are going to get this through the Senate, and if they can, pass it back over to the House and try to get this dispensed with possibly before the July 4th recess. So they are in a huge rush, and it's intentional.

ROBERTS: In addition to Ted Cruz, the other three senators who are against the bill right now, Ron Johnson, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, who calls this "ObamaCare-lite." Let's listen to what Rand Paul said about it earlier today.


SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY.: We cannot support the current bill. We are open to negotiation but we want the bill to look more like a repeal. We are afraid that when we read the bill, it actually looks like a reiteration or a keeping of ObamaCare.


ROBERTS: It looks, though, Jonah, like the Senate was trying to leave in place a lot of the provisions or at least some of the provisions of ObamaCare, particularly on subsidies, particularly on pre-existing conditions. Can they win over people like Rand Paul? Ted Cruz said he's open to discussion. He wants to get to yes.

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: It's hard for me to see how they win over Rand Paul. He says the Senate version took out two dozen or so mandates, the regulations that he wanted out. And he says somewhere between two and 12, maybe there's a compromise in there. Maybe there is, maybe there isn't.

But I think this I the weird irony here is Chuck Schumer and all the Democrats insist that this is an outrageous and total repeal of ObamaCare, and conservatives, I think much more rightly say, no, this is actually a scaling back of some of the Medicaid stuff. But for the most part, this leaves the structure of ObamaCare in place. It really is ObamaCare-lite.

And I think the most telling thing that we saw today was Mitch McConnell basically just dropped this thing like it was road kill. He said, it is your problem now. You guys figure out what you want to do with it. He didn't -- there was no messaging from Senate leadership about this is a great bill. This is a great way forward. He said, my work is done and walked away. And I think that tells you something. He is setting it up for negotiation. I think that's right, but his heart is clearly not in it as a grand ideological matter.

ROBERTS: So Mollie, Jonah believes Rand Paul is not going to come on board this, but if you're Rand Paul, do you make the political calculation of, well, I hold my nose and I vote for this or at least I to negotiate up a little bit and get something a little better, or do you vote against it, it fails, and you are stuck with ObamaCare?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: It's an imperfect bill that comes out as an imperfect process. But when you think about what the option really is, you have a bill that gets rid of the individual mandate, gets right of the employer mandate, that phases out Medicaid expansion, cuts taxes. And -- a lot depends on what happens in the future, but builds a case for getting rid of ObamaCare structurally over the long term. If your option is that or nothing, that's actually not the worst option that you have.

At the same time, it's a bill that does a little bit more in reaching out to the moderates than the House bill did in that it does phase these things out a little bit more gently, provides some money up front. So the best way to understand Mitch McConnell, I think, is that he picks the most conservative, politically plausible position. And that's what this bill might be.

GOLDBERG: I think that's largely right, and I do think it's an improvement over ObamaCare. But I think Mitch McConnell's goal here is to check the box, hopefully we can kick this over back to the House. It's not our problem. It will die over there. But he's not investing in it passionately as a philosophical issue.

ROBERTS: When the president was in Cedar Rapids last night he said several times he doesn't expect to get any Democratic support on this, calling them obstructionists. It certainly doesn't look like he is going to get any Democratic support if we listen to what the Democrats said about this a little. Here is Senator Patty Murray. Listen to what she said.


SEN. PATTY MURRAY, D-WA.: Based on what we are now learning, their TrumpCare plan is every bit as bad as what the House passed. It is mean, to quote President Trump, meaner. It is heartless. And it is in an enormous broken promise to people across the country.


ROBERTS: And Chris Murphy of Connecticut said, quote, "No tweaks by amendment can fix this monstrosity. If you vote for this evil, intellectually bankrupt bill, it will ruin millions of lives." Doesn't sound like the president is going to get any Democrats support here, A.B.

STODDARD: No, but they've known that all along. It mirrors the House bill enough. The House bill is very unpopular. And the real fear among Republicans is that they set this up as a partisan process they have a very narrow, restrictive procedural trick they are going to use to get reconciliation to have a partisan vote.

The problem is they are afraid in the next few days that President Trump is going to take in the criticism and have one of his reactions and call it mean again and heartless. And that's a real risk to them putting it all on the line. And he's playing nice and quiet for now. But he called it a negotiation, saying he always likes to say that is not over yet and things may change. But there's a real concern among Republicans that they've stuck their neck on the line for this. It is imperfect. They're going to take a lot of heat. They own the outcome and the president might turn on them.

ROBERTS: There are a lot of Republicans who do like this. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana is one of them because he thinks that what it does is it addresses one of the biggest influencing factors on the House bill at the 11th hour. That's when Jimmy Kimmel came out and told the story of his brand-new baby and the heart condition, saying we all need to have coverage for preexisting conditions. Here is what Bill Cassidy said a little while ago.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY, R-LA.: I think it begins to address the Jimmy Kimmel test. A child who is terribly or any loved one would both have coverage but also would keep coverage affordable.


ROBERTS: So when you talk about this in the public perception, Mollie, does it at least pass that test?

HEMINGWAY: This is actually a whole problem that we have with how we talk about health insurance, which is people are very good at telling heartbreaking stories about one side of the equation, and the media is really bad about telling the other side of the equation. A lot of people have suffered under ObamaCare. Yes, some people have been helped by it. Some people have had their premiums go to places where they can't afford to get insurance for their families. They have been penalized with these really regressive taxes and fines for not buying insurance that they don't want. And so there are all sorts of stories that should be told in this.

We should be thinking also about how -- I read something today were someone was saying that half of all babies are born on Medicaid. That's an assumption that that's a good thing. Is that really a good thing or should be thinking more about how to lower health care costs so that people can pay for their own health insurance?

ROBERTS: I should point out you mentioned just a little while ago that Mitch McConnell dropped this thing and said I'm done with it. We just heard the president weigh in on this a second ago. He said, quote, "I am very supportive of the Senate health care bill, look forward to making it really special. Remember, ObamaCare is dead."

STODDARD: The power of Mitch McConnell has reined him in.


ROBERTS: I think the president is watching this tonight. Good evening, Mr. President.

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