Sec. Tom Price breaks down the Senate health care bill

This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Sunday," June 25, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS GUEST ANCHOR: I’m Brit Hume, in for Chris Wallace.

All eyes are on the Senate as Republicans unveil their plan to replace ObamaCare. But do they have votes?


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY, MAJORITY LEADER: Republicans believe we have the possibility to act and we are.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-NY, MINORITY LEADER: It’s every bit as bad as the House bill? In some ways, it's even worse.

We’ll break down what’s in the Senate’s bill and what it means for you, with Tom Price, the head of Health and Human Services.

Then, with opposition from within the Republican Party, can the bill actually pass?

SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KENTUCKY: The intention is not to take down the bill. The intention is to make the bill better.

SEN. TED CRUZ, R-TEXAS: I want to get to yes and the way to get to yes is fix the underlying problems.

HUME: We’ll discuss the battle ahead with number two Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, and Republican Senator and doctor, John Barrasso, who helped craft the plan.

Plus, the president questions special counsel Robert Mueller's ability to be impartial.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome.

HUME: We’ll ask our Sunday panel if Mueller needs to recuse himself from this investigation.

All right now on "Fox News Sunday."


HUME: And hello again from Fox News in Washington.

Republicans have continued making headway on their pledge to overhaul the nation’s health care system, as an ObamaCare replacement was unveiled in the Senate this week. And as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushes to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, several of his fellow Republicans have come out in opposition to it.

This hour, we’ll look at the battle ahead in the Senate, with Democrat Dick Durbin, and Republican Barrasso.

But, first, joining us to discuss the bill, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Mr. Secretary, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Good morning. Thanks, Brit. Wonderful to be with you.

HUME: Thank you, sir. Glad to have you.

What is -- what is in this bill for an average family worried about the cost of health care and wondering if they’re going to be able to get or keep their coverage? Why should they care about this bill? Why should they want this bill?

PRICE: Yes, I think the important thing to appreciate is that where we’re headed right now is in the wrong direction. We’ve got premiums increasing. Deductibles increasing, where folks can’t afford the deductibles, so they can’t get care.

You heard just this past week, more insurers announcing that they’re not going to be able to provide coverage in 2018. So, this bill would provide market stability, making it so that insurance companies can come back into the market and provide -- offer coverage for individuals.

It would make it so that there are insurance reforms so that individuals have more choices. It does away with the mandate so you aren't forced to buy something that the government wants you to purchase or says you got to purchase. You get the choice as individuals across this land to be able to purchase the kind of coverage that’s right for you and your family.

And then in the Medicaid system, what we do is to say to states, you need the flexibility to be able to provide the coverage that you think is most appropriate for your constituents, for your population, instead of a top-down Washington knows best model. So, it's significant reform. It’s a move in a much better direction because it is patients-centered move for patients, and families and doctors will be making decisions, not Washington, D.C.

HUME: Let me ask you a question that was sent to us by a viewer, Chris Bustin is his name. And he writes: Does the Senate bill address those Americans who fall within the, quote, coverage gap between Medicaid and ObamaCare?

What about that, Mr. Secretary?

PRICE: Yes, precisely. In fact, it does a much better job. Remember right now, Brit, there are 28 million Americans who are uninsured. Twenty-eight million Americans who don’t have insurance, 6.5 million of them have said -- have been forced to pay $3 billion in taxes and penalties for the privilege, for the right of not purchasing what the government says they’ve got to buy.

So, what the Senate bill does is say, every single individual between zero between -- up to 350 percent of the poverty level ought to be able to have some type of tax credit that will allow them to purchase the kind of coverage that they want. And it’s a tax credit, or refundable tax credit, or advanceable, so that nobody will fall through the cracks, nobody will have the rug pulled out from under them. We want a seamless transition for those that are moving from either Medicaid to the individual market or Medicaid to the employer-sponsored market, so that individuals are able to maintain the kind of coverage that they want for themselves.

HUME: The Senate bill which is similar in many respects to the House bill, it was scored by the CBO as leaving, you now, 20-some million more uninsured over a period of time than present law would foresee. What is your response to that criticism that it just leaves too many people out?

PRICE: Yes, two major points to this. One is that the Congressional Budget Office does a pretty good job usually of saying what something is going to cost. They've been woefully inadequate and being able to predict what kind of coverage. For example, the congressional budget office said that right now, ObamaCare would cover about 23 or 24 million people. In fact, it's about 10 million people. So, they are off by a significant factor and we believe that they are off by a huge factor here as well because they don't get any credit for individuals purchasing some type of insurance that the CBO says it isn’t incredible insurance.

Second point is that in terms of the entire plan, the bill isn’t the entire plan, the kinds of things that we’re doing at the Department of Health and Human Services to make certain that individuals across this land have the opportunity again to purchase the kind of coverage that they want for themselves, not that the government forces them to buy, to bring market stability so prices come down, to make it so that deductibles aren’t so high, that you have health insurance card but you don’t have care.

So, in its entirety, we believe that we will get more individuals covered that are covered right now.

HUME: It will be interesting to see what the CBO says about that.

But let me ask you this question. What do you say to Senator Heller of Nevada who came out this week and said he can support the bill in its present form because over time, the Medicaid changes you are making will mean fewer people are able to afford coverage that are now getting it or would be getting it through Medicaid? What do you say to him?

PRICE: Yes. I say that Medicaid isn't the only vehicle to be able to purchase coverage or be able to have coverage. The goal of the Senate plan, the goal of the president’s plan and he’s adamant about this, he wants to make certain that every single American has access to the kind of coverage that they want.

But the plan is to make it so that if individuals aren’t eligible for Medicaid, then again, there's that seamless transition to the individual market. And that that market is more robust because of the kinds of changes within the Senate bill and other kinds of things that we’re doing at the department to provide greater choices at a lower cost within that individual and small group market.

So, our goal is, if you’re not eligible for Medicaid in this new construct, that you are eligible for the kind of coverage and had the kind of subsidy, the kind of assistance -- financial assistance, to be able to purchase that coverage.

HUME: Let me come at from a somewhat different angle, the angle where Rand Paul is coming from and he is not alone in this. There are members of the House who feel the same way, and perhaps others in the Senate as well.

His point is, you don't repeal and replace ObamaCare here. You leave most of its key elements in place. You know, the coverage for pre-existing conditions, people -- young people can stay on their parents' insurance plan until age 26. The subsidies which are a key part of ObamaCare are all left largely intact here. That this doesn't, in fact, do the job of repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

What do you say?

PRICE: Yes. What I tell him is, look, the penalties go away. Right now, the government is forcing people to buy coverage. In fact, again, there are 6.5 million folks who are paying the $3 billion for the privilege of not purchasing that coverage. Those go away. So, that’s not ObamaCare.

Medicaid actually becomes much more flexible for states so that they can design a program that works for their citizens as opposed to Washington telling the states what they want. That’s not ObamaCare. The taxes that are in place, solely to build a huge government-run health care system, those go away. So, that's not ObamaCare.

So, what we are trying to do here, admittedly, is to thread a needle in make it so that the president says, every single American has access to that kind of coverage that they want, ensuring that pre-existing elements are covered, ensuring there are no lifetime caps, ensuring that individuals again have the kind of choices that are necessary so that the system is responsive to people, to patients, not responsive to government.

HUME: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that the penalties for not having -- the tax penalty for not having insurance goes away, which suggests that people with pre-existing conditions are covered. Anybody who wants to simply wait until they are sick to buy coverage and then be covered. That obviously is an issue since you need healthy people in the program --

PRICE: Sure.

HUME: -- to pay for the coverage for people who are ill.

What do you -- what is the incentive in this bill, if any, to get people to go ahead and purchase coverage when they are young and they seem -- they feel healthy and it's a rational choice not to have it?

PRICE: Well, it's a great question. And the question really is, how do you get young healthy people to purchase coverage so that that pool includes them?

And the answer is, you provide the insurance companies the opportunity to sell something to young healthy people that they want to buy. Not that they say -- the 6.5 million folks out there say, we’ll write a check so that we don't have to buy what Washington tells us to buy. You provide the kind of choices, the array of choices, before individuals were able to purchase the kind of coverage that was actually responsive to them, fit their system, fit their lifestyle, fit their situation and life. That's the way to get folks to buy coverage and that’s providing coverage that they want to purchase as opposed to what the government dictates to them they’ve got to buy.

HUME: Secretary, let me turn to the question obviously that everybody is going to be thinking about this week and which we’ll take up presently with Senators Durbin and Barrasso, which is this -- since the plan was brought forward this week, five Republican senators have announced their misgivings. There may be four or so others who share those misgivings for various reasons.

So, you’re going to be -- you can only afford to lose two, you are down five and maybe more. How do you get from where you are now to the 50 votes you need?

PRICE: Yes. If you listen to what those five said, and we talked with every one of them, and I know that the Senate leadership has as well, and the president is talking with folks. If you talk to them, what they will tell you, and they -- I think it was part of your clips before, is that we want to be able to support this bill. We simply believe that it can be made better in a certain way.

HUME: Can it?

PRICE: And so, those conversations are ongoing. That’s the -- that’s the nature of the legislative process and that's what we've been working through this week.

HUME: Well, I mean, but you’ve got -- they are coming at you from both sides. You’ve got, you know, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul who are worried about it for one set of reasons and then you’ve got, you know, the other senators who come out with and shown their misgivings about it for another set of reasons.

Aren't you in danger if you please one group of losing others and so on? I mean, aren't you got a pretty little delicate structure here that you risk upsetting when you start adjusting it to pick up votes?

PRICE: Well, you’ve identified the challenge. There is no doubt about it. It’s a thin needle to thread.

Sadly, as the president has talked about it, it would be wonderful to have some Democrats come along and recognize that there are nearly 40 percent of our counties across this nation that will only have one issuer, insurance company providing coverage. There are going to be counties across this country that won't have any insurance company providing coverage. You’ve got premiums going up, deductibles going up, folks have that insurance card but no care.

What do they -- what our friends on the other side of the aisle from a Republican-Democratic perspective say to those challenges? Why aren’t they coming to the table to help out? That’s what the president wants to know (ph).


HUME: Mr. Secretary, we have one of their leaders coming up next and I’ll ask that very question.

Sir, thank you very much for being with us.

HUME: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Up next, Senators Dick Durbin and John Barrasso on where things stand in the battle over healthcare reform in the Senate.

Stay with us.


HUME: The pressure is now on Senate Republicans who took a big step this week in their effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. But does that health care plan has the votes to pass?

Joining us to discuss it, from Springville, Illinois, the Senate’s number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, and here in Washington, Wyoming senator, Dr. John Barrasso, who helped craft the plan.

First to you, Senator Durbin. Let me pick up where Secretary Price left off. Is there a single Democratic senator that you can identify who might vote for this plan?

SEN. DICK DURBIN, D-ILL., MINORITY WHIP: No, not as written. I will tell you two things that were omitted from your interview with Secretary Price. I asked him ten days ago in a hearing before a committee, have you seen the Republican plan, are you part of the discussion? He said, no, I haven’t seen it at all.

This is a man responsible for implementing it. So, we are going to vote this week on changing the health care system in America without any public hearings, without the publication of the bill, without any discussion and debate, and then we have this expedited amendment process. It is really disgraceful to think that Senate has reached this point.


HUME: Senator, I understand your procedural objections to the bill. But let's talk a little bit about what's in the measure and the plan as it was announced this week to the tune of, what, 142 pages or something. What would it take, in your judgment, to get some Democrats to come over and vote for this plan?

DURBIN: Take repeal off the table.

And the other thing that wasn't mentioned in the earlier interview, what's driving this is not health care reform, what's driving this is a tax cut. A tax cut the Republicans insist on of about $700 billion for the wealthiest people in America and pharmaceutical companies. That is what the Republicans had to put in the plan to make it work for Republicans, and then they took the money out of health care, out of Medicaid, and that's why we see 23 million Americans losing their health insurance. So, those at the highest income categories can get a tax break.

Take that off the table. Let's talk about repairing Affordable Care Act as it exists.

HUME: Senator Barrasso, let me bring you in here. What do you say to Senator Durbin’s objections? That this is basically not really health care reform or ObamaCare repeal and replace. That is a -- this is a big tax cut for rich people.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, R-WYO., CHAIR, REPUBLICAN POLICY COMMITTEE: It’s absolutely wrong. The crisis is getting worse. ObamaCare is collapsing every day. I was at a hospital yesterday in Casper, Wyoming, talking to doctors, nurses and patients. There's an urgency to act.

We are down to one company providing insurance in Wyoming, the crisis has skyrocketed. That's why we have to do something. And we need to do what the people are asking for, which is stabilize the insurance markets. Senator Durbin doesn't want to talk about the fact that in Illinois, they are way down the number of people even selling insurance and prices are way up.

That we want to eliminate the mandates that you have to buy a government-approved product, get rid of all of the taxes. But focus on the fact that this is health care for people, many people and Wyoming lost it under ObamaCare. They had insurance they like and they could afford.

The Democrats said, not good enough for us. It was good enough for them, and they could afford it.

HUME: Well, let me press you a little bit on Senator Durbin's point, which is that you repeal all the taxes that are in here. The tax cuts naturally -- benefit -- tend to graduate to the people who pay more taxes, which is, of course, the more wealthy people. And that, on the other side of this, over time, Medicaid funding will diminish.

And therefore, the argument is made, this is -- this is repealing and replacing ObamaCare on the backs of the poor. What do you say to that argument?

BARRASSO: ObamaCare raise taxes on every American who uses health care in America. They put it on over-the-counter medicines, prescription medicines, medical devices that are so often used for the disabled population the most. So, it’s been very cruel taxing on ObamaCare. But that's what he wants to talk about.

We want to eliminate all -- they put the taxes on people that buy health insurance. So, anybody using the health insurance, the cost of that has actually gone up by the taxes under ObamaCare.

With regard to Medicaid, I’m a doctor who took care of every Medicaid patient that there was a came to me in Casper, Wyoming. As a state legislator, I always believed we could do a much better job if we could just have control of that money and actually help more people with the same amount of money without all the Washington.

HUME: You mean local control.

BARRASSO: Local control, which is what I saw in the Wyoming state Senate. But the amount of dollars going to Medicaid, from today on out continues to go up year after year after year. So, when Senator Durbin refers to a cut, only in Washington is giving more each year, something you can see (ph) of a cut, if it doesn't go up as fast as he would like it to go up. It goes up every year.

HUME: Let me turn it back to you, Senator Durbin. There is a question about the growth in Medicaid's spending and the fact that our budget problem has attributed to huge parts by the kind of entitlement program that Medicaid represents. And with its exponential growth, are we in a situation where something has to be done to curb the growth of Medicaid and perhaps other entitlement programs?

DURBIN: Brit, let me tell you, my friend John Barrasso, and he is my friend, spends a lot of time -- we talk about Wyoming. Over the weekend, the head of the Wyoming Hospital Association came out against Senator Barrasso's bill, and the CEO of the Wyoming Medical Center said it’s going to hurt everybody in Wyoming. Now, that's what’s being said in his home state --


BARRASSO: She also said she didn't read the bill. She also said she didn’t read the bill. So, she could read it first.

DURBIN: Well, it's impossible to find -- you couldn't find the bill until the very last week.

BARRASSO: Only 150 pages.

DURBIN: Most of it are tax cuts.


HUME: Let me get back to my point.

DURBIN: If I could respond on Medicaid?

HUME: Yes, go ahead.

DURBIN: May I please?

HUME: Sure.

DURBIN: And I might say that the Republican governor of Wyoming would like to expand Medicaid, but the legislature won't let him, and the reason we need to expand it is to make sure that people who are currently working hard in low-paying jobs and have no medical benefits have an opportunity through Medicaid to have insurance for their families.

Why do we have this increase, this dramatic increase in people on Medicaid? Because so many people are working hard every single day and don't have health insurance. Medicaid is their ticket to health insurance and the Republicans have decided to put a cap on the amount of money that’s going to be given to states, and Republican governors like the governor of Nevada, the governor of Ohio, the governor of Illinois have said this is a disaster for our states if you do it.

HUME: Senator, nowhere, though, in your answer do I -- I mean, in your comments do I hear an answer to the question of, is not Medicaid expanding at an unsustainable rate? And does not something have to be done for budgetary reasons, long term and short, to curb the growth of this program and others like it?

DURBIN: Brit, let me tell you what is expanding at an unsustainable rate and that is the notion that people would not have health insurance under this Republican approach. Let's face the reality. Even if you don't have Medicaid, even if the Republicans are successful with coming back on it, people get sick and go to the hospital.

In a state like Kentucky, one of the largest expansions of Medicaid, if they eliminate the Medicaid funding, it will be 165 percent increase in Kentucky in uncompensated care. There’s going to be medical care given to these people, the working poor and those who are struggling, and others will have to pay for it.

HUME: Got it.

DURBIN: The Republicans won't face that reality.

HUME: Senator Barrasso?

BARRASSO: Well, Medicaid was set up for poor women, for children and for people with disability. ObamaCare used Medicaid as a dumping ground for able-bodied, working aged individuals.

There are ways to modify Medicaid. Mike Pence, vice president, when he was governor of Indiana, did a wonderful job of that with the local control that we are asking for all across the country.

The growth will continue for Medicaid. We need to do it in a responsible way. But to just talk about these things as being cuts, it's just not the case. And when they put -- dump all of these additional people onto Medicaid, it made it that much harder for the poor women, children, and people with disabilities to get the treatment they need because now, more and more doctors are saying, actually a third of doctors, saying, I just can't see any new Medicaid patients.

So, ObamaCare actually made it worse for patients who were originally designed to be helped by Medicaid.

HUME: Senators Durbin?

DURBIN: I can tell you that this approach, the Republican approach, will devastate Medicaid. And you know who will be hurt? Rural hospitals in Wyoming and in Illinois.

Ask your hospital association, Senator.

My hospital association over the weekend here in Illinois and said this is devastating. We are going to lose jobs in rural hospitals in Illinois. That’s the Trump constituency that’s going to be hurt by this approach on the Republican side.

And secondly, we’re going to see premiums go up dramatically, particularly those --


HUME: But they’re going up dramatically now, aren’t they, Senator? Aren’t they going up dramatically now?

DURBIN: They’re going up -- they are going up now, but I can tell you, it is a finite group of individual insurance market placed people, 5 percent to 6 percent of the overall market, that's what we need to sit down and fix. Democrats and Republicans should work together to make the Affordable Care Act work for them. Not devastate Medicaid, not raise premiums.

HUME: Senator Barrasso?

BARRASSO: Senator Durbin has no interest in working with the Republicans on this. But he should have seen the headline in a Chicago newspaper that said ObamaCare -- ObamaCare rates -- rate shock. Another ObamaCare rate shock. That's what's happened all across the country.

People are hurt by these incredible increases. This is a program that is collapsing.

HUME: Senator Durbin, let me just cite a couple of examples and let you respond to them. We -- I think we have something put up on the screen on some of these premium increases.

In the state of Maryland, BlueCross BlueShield up 52 percent in 2018. You can see in New York, 49 percent BlueCross BlueShield. Cigna in n Virginia, 45 percent. Anthem in Connecticut, 34 percent. Delaware, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield up 34 percent.

Those are pretty sharp increases and those are just a sample. Senator, it seems to me that -- to complain that the premiums may go up under this plan, it seems to me they’re going up pretty seriously under the present situation. Are they not?

DURBIN: The Congressional -- Brit, the Congressional Budget Office, when they analyze the House approach, which is similar to the Senate approach as we have seen it, has said that this is a stable insurance market and need -- there’s need obviously for us to work in individual insurance marketplace with 5 or 6 percent of Americans who go there.

But in the meantime, when you go to the insurance company executive and say, why are you pulling out of markets, why are you raising premiums? They say the uncertainty in Washington since the arrival of President Trump who from his first executive order has been undermining health insurance and the Affordable Care Act, cutting out the individual marketplace, which would expand insurance pools and bring premiums down, cutting off the assistance for those who need help in paying for premiums. These are the things that are sabotaging and undermining the Affordable Care Act.


DURBIN: You can't have it both ways. You can’t claim a death spiral why you’re choking assistance to death.

HUME: What about it, Senator Barrasso? What about --

BARRASSO: ObamaCare has sabotaged the insurance market in the country to the point where now in half of the counties around the country, people are down to either zero, one, or two choices. You have over 40 counties where no one is selling ObamaCare insurance.


HUME: Senator, you made that case pretty effectively that ObamaCare is in trouble. I think -- I think -- you know, even Senator Durbin would not disagree that something needs to be done. The question now is, of course, whether you --


HUME: -- and your team of bill designers (ph) can find a way to bring over the senators you are going to need. You are down five. You can only afford to lose two. There may be others.

BARRASSO: We work with all of them. Every one of them is committed to a fundamental change away from ObamaCare and a central government control and into local control and patients making decisions.

We’re going to continue to work with each of them through the process. Every one of them has very good points that they are making. I want to work with all of them.

HUME: Yes. But do you have the flexibility within the framework of the bill to fix it so that they’ll go with you?

BARRASSO: I believe we do. I believe we’ll get it passed. And that's the only way we can fundamentally change away from ObamaCare, get rid of all of the hated mandates and the taxes and put Medicaid on a sustainable course long-term --

HUME: Got it.

BARRASSO: -- to cut down the costs of care and insurance.

HUME: Senator Barrasso, Senator Durbin, a very good debate, thanks to both of you.

Up next, we’ll bring in --

DURBIN: Thanks, Brit.

HUME: We’ll bring in our Sunday group to get their take on whether the Senate health care bill will even make it to a vote. Stay with us, please.


HUME: Coming up, the president admits he did not tape his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey.


TRUMP: You never know what's out there, but I didn’t tape and I don’t have any tape and I didn’t tape.


HUME: We’ll ask our Sunday panel how that revelation affects the special counsel’s investigation, coming up on "Fox News Sunday."



SEN. DEAN HELLER, R-NEVADA: This bill -- this bill that’s currently in front of the United States Senate, not the answer. It simply is not the answer. And I'm announcing today that in this form I will not support it.

TRUMP: It’s a very complicated situation from the standpoint. You do something that's good for one group, but bad for another. It's a very, very narrow path, but I think we’re going to get there.


HUME: Well, you heard now Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller there announcing he is not supporting this, in its current form at least, this Senate health care plan, and President Trump, of course, is saying, optimistically, that they’ll get the votes, but will they?

Now it's time for our Sunday group. The head of Heritage Action for America, Michael Needham, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin, and Josh Holmes, Mitch McConnell’s former chief of staff and a Republican strategist.

Let's start with his question. They’re down five. They can't afford to lose more than two. There may be others waiting in the wings who -- who -- who may oppose this measure. What are the chances, Michael?

MICHAEL NEEDHAM, CEO, HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA: Well, it’s going to be very tight, as you mentioned. There’s five -- probably more like seven or nine -- senators who have concerns. I'm optimistic because I think those different camps are looking at different parts of the bill. The conservatives are looking at what's going on with the regulations, the ability to bring down premiums. Some of the moderates are looking at the Medicaid expansion. In a negotiating situation, when people want different things changed, there is pareto optimal, there is an outcome where people can, as the president said this morning, maybe not love the bill but like it. And I think -- I'm optimistic that they’ll get there.

HUME: Jen.

JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I thought it was notable that the president reached out to Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat. It’s clearly that they’re very concerned about the five and they don't believe that they can change Senator Rand Paul's mind or Senator Mike Lee's mind. That’s two. They can't also -- they can only afford to lose two. So they are looking at Democrats that they can sway. But Senator Manchin has said that he will vote against the bill.

HUME: Well, Josh, you've been in the leadership operation over there on the Republican side. Do you there’s a hope in Hades that any Democrat will come over? Senator Durbin said he couldn’t identify one to vote for this bill.

JOSH HOLMES, FOUNDER, CAVALRY: No, I -- I think this Democratic Party is not your grandfather's Democratic Party. I think they’re going to oppose Donald Trump at every possible corner no matter what. And -- and basically no matter what the policy outcome is.

But I -- I share Michael’s optimism. I think they’re going to get there next week. I really do. If you look at the statements that the senators have made, they've had every -- every opportunity to draw a hard line and -- and say no. And they’re leaving themselves some -- some wiggle room. And I think they’re having conversations over the weekend that hopefully will send that in the right direction.

HUME: Bob, your thoughts?

BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: I -- I think it's kind of a fantasy-based debate on all sides here and I don't see how you put it together. I mean people talk abstractly about Medicaid. That is the health insurance program for the poor.

HUME: Right.

WOODWARD: Or the people who can't afford health insurance. And you now have a system where they’re -- at least a proposal in the Senate of saying, hey, let’s -- we’ll take them off Medicaid and then they can buy insurance, but they don't have the money to do it. There’s an absurdity in this.

NEEDHAM: It’s kind of incredible, both in Senator Durbin’s comments and Bobs. If the Democrat Party wants to become the party of Medicaid, I don’t think it’s going to have a lot of success in the 21st century. Medicaid was a program designed in the middle of the last century where health outcomes between people on Medicaid and be completely uninsured are exactly the same. Actually, on some procedures, you're more likely to die if you’re on Medicaid than if you’re uninsured.

What’s happened was that Medicaid was originally a very targeted program for certain vulnerable populations, people like the disabled, that Barack Obama then poured millions of able-bodied poor people onto the problem, the able-bodied. What will happen at the end of this process, if you compare where was this country eight years ago to where would this country be if this bill passed, is we’ll be more compassionate, we’ll be spending more money on venerable populations while not propping up a failing program from the middle of the last century. That's what a modern 21st century policy agenda looks like. If Bob and the Democrats want to be the party of Medicaid, let’s -- let’s take it (INAUDIBLE) --

WOODWARD: Now, wait -- wait a minute, I mean that's unfair. I’m -- I’m saying, I’m looking -- there’s a critique of Medicaid that can be made, and you made it, but to fix it this way when you’ve got, you know, tens of millions of people on it and say, let’s -- oh, now you can buy health insurance, well, that doesn’t -- but it doesn’t --


HUME: But isn’t it -- well, wait a minute. Hold on. Let me -- let me interject. Isn’t this the age-old story with entitlement programs, which is to say, that once you put an entitlement program in place, people then turn to it and become dependent on it in a way they might not otherwise have done and then you end up in the situation you're always in where you’ve got this exploding costs and people worried about losing it. And -- and the -- and the result is you have the national debt through the roof and you can never seem to take it away.

HOLMES: That’s -- that's absolutely right. I mean if you look at the way that health care has developed over the last 50 years in this country, and has taken a significant lurch to the left. And the reason it has is exactly what you just outlined, is that Democrats have an incremental way of getting to their ultimate goal, which is socialized, nationalized, single-payer system. So you create an entitlement program for the elderly, an entitlement program for the young, an entitlement program for the poor and then ever expand eligibility for all three. And that's what we’ve got here today.

HUME: Jen.

GRIFFIN: Look at the numbers. There are 11 million more people on Medicaid since ObamaCare was introduced. It's been a 30 percent rise in terms of those on Medicaid. If you look at the cost, last year the federal government spent $389 billion on Medicaid. In the next ten years, that will go up to $650 billion. These numbers are staggering.

HUME: Beyond sustainable perhaps.

GRIFFIN: The -- the -- it’s perhaps unsustainable. But look at where the greatest pushback in terms of the Senate bill is coming from. And it's coming from Republican senators or governors who are up for re-election this year or next because they know that they have hundreds of thousands of new Medicaid voters on the roles who are going to lose that coverage and they are very scared of that population.

HUME: But that -- all right, that raises this question, Michael. Let’s address the politics of this. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that they cobble together a bill along the lines of some -- somewhere between the House and Senate bills that do these things. Both -- both do similar things with Medicaid. What are the political consequences in the 2018 midterms?

NEEDHAM: Well, I think that it depends on what the party is capable of making the compassionate case for what's going on. I mean when you look at this, there was a cruel element of Barack Obama's Medicaid expansion that said the federal government is going to give more money to states for the able-bodied populations that they pass (ph), versus the populations that are more vulnerable, which cause many states to start ignoring or shifting their programs to -- to care more about the abled bodied than the venerable. That’s not compassionate, that’s cruel. And I think that needs to be pulled back.

HUME: I understand. So what you’re basically saying, though, is, if they can make the right argument, they can avoid the political damage, is that it?

NEEDHAM: I think they can. I mean I think the biggest threat that they have is that this is not a repeal bill.

HUME: Right.

NEEDHAM: And so they’ve spent eight years telling people that they’re going to repeal ObamaCare. It doesn't. And they’re going to have problems on their right flank about that.

HUME: So -- so they’re going to -- if I have this right, you got people on the right who think it doesn't do enough to repeal and replace ObamaCare and -- and centrist Republicans who have centrist constituencies who think it’s going to hurt too many people. How do you deal with that, Bob, politically?

WOODWARD: In -- but the resolution here is Senator McConnell, who can be the magician when it comes to putting something together to make a picture where the pieces in the puzzle don't fit. So maybe he's going to make it work.

HUME: Josh, your thoughts on that?

HOLMES: No, I think that's right. I mean this -- this is a delicate balance. It is an extremely delicate balance to get the right and the left of the party on the same page with no margin of error. But I think we’re -- I think that this bill is there. And the alternative, just so we’re clear, the alternative to 51 votes is ObamaCare.

HUME: Yes, I get that now. So -- so what would be the consequences? So we -- so we’ve discussed the consequences of the bill passing, which looked like -- looked difficult, right, politically. What about the -- what about the consequences of not passing a bill?

GRIFFIN: Well, if they don't pass it, they’re going to have to go back to their constituents in 2018 and explain -- the Republicans are going to have to explain why they didn't do what they said they were going to do, repeal and replace. But I would point out that the Senate bill is rather clever because the Medicaid cuts come in 2021. That's after not only 2018 elections, but also the 2020.

HUME: So they won’t kick in. (INAUDIBLE). OK, let’s -- let’s -- let’s -- let's boil this down to a simple question, which is that -- just in raw political terms, not -- I mean, you know, without getting into the substance, what’s -- in political terms, which is worse, passing the bill politically or not passing it? Michael?

NEEDHAM: I think that politically and from a policy standpoint the world is a better place if this bill passes than if it doesn’t.

HUME: Jen.

NEEDHAM: There’s still to be a lot of work to be done.

GRIFFIN: I think that the Republicans will be better off if it doesn't pass than they can say that obstruction -- the Democrats were obstructionists and Washington doesn’t work and they tried.

HUME: Josh.

HOLMES: They’re going to have to pass it. I mean this is a core campaign promise that has been made for the last seven years. I think every Republican senator ought to look hard at that and (INAUDIBLE) passed.

HUME: Bob.

WOODWARD: Yes, but, again, this fantasy, there is a House bill that’s passed that is different. And you’ve got to put --

HUME: It’s not that different though.

WOODWARD: Yes. Well, but it's enough that it's something that has to be reconciled. And that’s not --

HUME: OK, let’s assume they get that done.

WOODWARD: You know, the -- there’s not a magic wand that fix --

HUME: So they better pass something or not?

WOODWARD: Well, I mean, who know the future. We’re a detective --

HUME: Yes, but what you’re knowing at --


HUME: (INAUDIBLE) A courageous member of our panel who is willing to admit what we journalists hate to admit, is that we don’t know.

We’ve got to take a break here, but when we come back, the president questions whether Robert Mueller can be impartial in his role as special counsel.

Plus, what would you like to ask the panel about the White House decision to hold some press briefings off-camera? Just to go to Facebook or Twitter @foxnewssunday and we may use your questions on the air.



TRUMP: He’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome. But he's also -- we’re going to have to see.

Robert Mueller’s an honorable man and hopefully he’ll come up with an honorable solution.


HUME: That’s President Trump, of course, on the relationship between Robert Mueller and -- and the former FBI Chief James Comey, which has sparked some new questions about whether Mueller's job is on the nine.

We’re back now with our panel.

Bob, let me get your thoughts on this. It is an interesting question whether -- whether Mueller, with a -- at least an association with Comey, whom I think they regard each other as allies, can fairly judge a matter that has to do with the credibility of Comey’s testimony versus that of the presidents. Your thoughts?

WOODWARD: And -- and -- well, that’s part of it. But, remember, Mueller headed the FBI for, what, 12 years.

HUME: Yes.

WOODWARD: I mean it’s a -- in the end, it's effect-driven institution and hopefully he -- he’ll stick to the facts on this. I think the problem is a practical one. How many years is it going to last?

HUME: Yes.


HOLMES: You know, it would be hard-pressed to find somebody who’s capable of doing the job here they didn't have some kind of a relationship with Jim Comey over the last decade. So I’m less concerned with that as I am with some of the hires that is -- that have been made on this investigation. And, yes --

HUME: Yes, let’s -- let’s just -- to be -- to explained that, he's hired several lawyers who have made contributions to the Democratic Party and would appear, at least on the surface, to be Democrats and perhaps Democrat -- Democratic partisans.

HOLMES: Right. Yes. And I -- the key to any good investigation is to avoid the appearance of impropriety at all cost. And, of course, this gives critics all they need to sort of allege that this investigation is somehow off the rails.

Now, I think that remains to be true, but -- but, really, if you look at it, I mean Nancy Pelosi could be leading this investigation for all the facts that they have against Donald Trump and -- and his campaign at this point. They’ve got nothing. And so --

HUME: You mean on terms of collusion?

HOLMES: In terms of the collusion.

HUME: But what about the -- and, Jennifer, what about this issue that has arisen recently about the possibility that by acting as he has, Trump has effectively obstructed justice in -- by firing Comey, apparently in part because of the way Comey was handling this whole matter?

GRIFFIN: Well, I think it’s very clear from the choice of the 13 prosecutors that Mueller has hired so far that he is looking at that very seriously. These are people who prosecute that kind of case. Their -- between the tweets -- remember, the special prosecutor -- special counsel was put into place by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after a tweet in which President Trump said that he had tapes of the meeting with Comey. And so every time he tweets, there's a reason --

HUME: Is that what trigged it (INAUDIBLE)?

GRIFFIN: In fact -- in fact there -- there’s a reason that they say you have the right to remain silent. Every time he tweets and every time he gives an interview, he gives ammunition to the -- to Mueller and his team.

NEEDHAM: Yes, and I think the president needs to be careful that his justified frustration kind of stemming from the same exhaustion that the American people have of an investigation that just seems to be about the investigation itself doesn’t create a -- a crime and the cover-up. You know there --

HUME: Yes, it’s worth noting, I -- I think, that this investigation has never been officially described as anything other than a counterintelligence investigation, which is to say that his purpose was to find out the extent of the Russian's attempts to interfere in the election and to influence the election. And it was not, therefore, a criminal investigation. It’s never been described as a criminal investigation. Do we all now believe that it has now become a criminal investigation?

WOODWARD: Well, we, as reported in The Washington Post, that it -- it is. And -- and these investigations, as you well know, they mushroom, they grow --

HUME: Well, they can.

WOODWARD: Of -- well, they almost inevitably do, particularly --

HUME: So the -- so the --

WOODWARD: The special counsel, which has a blank --

HUME: But what’s the --

WOODWARD: It has a blank check in terms of time.

HUME: All right. We’ll have heard the --

GRIFFIN: And the grand jury in Alexandria that has been called. So they are looking into criminal --

HUME: But what -- but what crime?


HUME: Can anybody identify the crime?

NEEDHAM: I think that’s the point. Right.

HUME: Collusion, while it would obviously be alarming and highly inappropriate for the Trump campaign to -- of which there’s no evidence by the way, collude with the Russians, it's not a crime. So are we talking here about the president's firing of Comey being an obstruction of justice and they’ve got a grand jury on that? Is that what this is about?

GRIFFIN: I think it’s --

NEEDHAM: I think the question is, what’s the core -- even in Whitewater, which people felt eventually got over its heals, there were 15 criminal conditions that came later out of Whitewater, including Bill Clinton’s successor as governor. I think the core question is, what was the original crime that led to the investigation and any possible kind of -- and nobody knows what that is.

HUME: But -- but it wasn’t -- it wasn’t -- this investigation was not triggered by a crime.

NEEDHAM: Exactly.

GRIFFIN: I think a lot of the prosecutors who have been brought in specialize in corruption and money laundering. And I think that some of the -- the -- some of the cases that are there -- what they’re looking into in terms of Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort is, were they taking money? Did they disclose that money? Were they acting as a foreign agent? Did -- some of the disclosures and lying to the FBI, those are some of the --

HUME: So what -- so what it comes down to is we’re talking about former participants in the Trump campaign and, in the case of Flynn, briefly in the administration, being under investigation for improprieties that don't touch the president, is that --

WOODWARD: Yes, but -- yes. And I -- and I think it's not known in their -- their -- the absence of the underlying crime is a big deal. But once you get an independent counsel spun up, he will feel an obligation to look at everything from his tax returns, quite likely the -- the mystery may be solved there someday, you know, months or years down the road. So we now -- I mean the -- it was the late Justice Scalia who said in one of his famous opinions for the Supreme Court, he said, imagine having an independent counsel look at your life, no time limit, no money limit.

HUME: Right.

WOODWARD: It, you know, never --

HUME: Yes, nobody -- nobody can survive that frisk. I’m sure I couldn’t.

Let me just get to another question here that -- that -- that touches on this that Bob and I have -- have talked about, which is this. We have had an extravaganza of coverage of this investigation, not the counterintelligence piece of it, but of what we imagine to be the criminal piece of it, the collusion piece of it, although there’s not sure what (ph), and are we looking at a -- at a style and form of news coverage regarding this president that is very different from what we in journalism who came into this business came to expect?

Jennifer, your thoughts?

GRIFFIN: Well, I think we’re seeing very opinionated journalist and I think what’s happening is the -- part of a country that voted for Donald Trump, they are not buying it. They are not believing it because there are too many unnamed sources. What we saw this week, though, which -- with The Washington Post story, which was a blockbuster in terms of what the Obama administration knew and what they did, we’re seeing more and more former Obama administration senior national security types come forward with their names on the record, and that changed when Jeh Johnson testified on Tuesday.

WOODWARD: Well, I -- I think the -- the whole question here is tone. And -- well, you and I, going back to the 70s when we reported --

HUME: Shh.

WOODWARD: The idea -- well, yes, I -- that was the Calvin Coolidge era, wasn’t it? No, it was the Nixon era. And the idea was, get the facts right. We had an editor -- a great editor at The Washington Post, Ben Bradley (ph), who would run around at say, no gloating, and, stay off television.

HOLMES: Yes. I mean the opposites into Trump sparked kind of a rebirth of the mainstream media in a lot of ways. And feeding that beast has become a full-time job. And you can see, I mean based on the Jim Comey testimony, he himself pointed out four or five articles that are on the front page of major newspapers that had no basis in fact.

HUME: Mike, I’m going to give you the last word here. We’ve only got about 30 seconds.

NEEDHAM: Yes, Pete Hamby (ph) was, for a long time, a reporter on the presidential campaign beat for CNN, spent a year at Harvard and wrote a great research paper that all journal should read called "How Twitter Killed Boys on the Bus." The "boys on the bus" being the classic book about the 1972 campaign. Twitter has created, and the media environment has created a -- a kind of monster that constantly needs to be fed with scandal, even if the scandal is just the president tweeting out the word covfefe (ph). Everyone should read it.

HUME: Yes. Yes. (INAUDIBLE) of the independent panel. Thanks We’ll see you next Sunday.

Up next, our "Power Play of the Week." A symbol of our -- of our nation gets a makeover. Watch this. Stay tuned.


HUME: It is a symbol of unity, but for years it was slowly decaying. And as we told you in November, the Capitol Dome is like new again, a very much-need makeover.

Here’s Chris Wallace with our "Power Player of the Week."


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX ANCHOR: What kind of shape was the dome in?

STEPHEN AYERS: The dome was in terrible shape. It’s a bucket of rust.

WALLACE (voice-over): Stephen Ayers is the architect of the Capitol and in 2014 he faced a big problem. The Capitol Dome, symbol of American democracy, was falling apart. The cast iron structure was built during the Civil War, but the project Lincoln pursued to show the strength of our union was in trouble.

AYERS: There were 1,300 cracks in the dome, each of them representing a water leak.

WALLACE: So Ayers led a $97 million restoration that took two and a half years. They put up 25 levels of scaffolding around the dome, one million pounds, with what amounted to 52 miles of pipe.

AYERS: And we’re about to enter the interstitial space, the space between the inner dome and the outer dome.

WALLACE: Ayers took us behind the scenes to see the remarkable work his team of 1,000 did. First, taking off all the paint going back to the 1860s.

AYERS: On the outside of the dome, there were 13 layers of lead-based paint.

WALLACE: Then, they remove the pieces that had rusted away. They close those hundreds of cracks using something called a lock and stitch technique, not unlike a surgeon stitching up a wound. And while all that was going on, they set up a half million pound scaffold to repair the separate cast iron rotunda. Ayers took us to the very top inside.

AYERS: From this level all the way to the ground was completely scaffolded and we took all of the paint off of the rotunda, repaired all of the cast iron cracks that were in here, and repainted it and took that scaffolding work down.

WALLACE: Finally, after climbing through that space between the inner and outer domes, we reach the top.

AYERS: So here we are outside.

WALLACE (on camera): Wow.

AYERS: And this is the National Mall.

WALLACE: This is a view you don't see any place else in this city.

WALLACE (voice-over): But the decay of the dome started at the top.

AYERS: This spaces was in the worst shape. In fact, this balustrade was completely rusted out, was completely rebuilt and shipped back.

WALLACE: From up here we could see Ayers’ new project, building the platform for the January inauguration. In September, Donald Trump questioned whether they would get the dome restoration finish on time, whether the scaffolding would be gone.

TRUMP: I told them, I said, why don't you just move faster, work faster.

WALLACE (on camera): When Trump said that, did you take that as a kind of challenge?

AYERS: I'll pass.

WALLACE (voice-over): And standing at the top of the newly restored Capitol Dome, that sort of controversy disappears.

AYERS: Not only are we preserving our nation's history, but we’re also creating history at the same time. This dome has been here 150 years and if we’ve done our job right, it will be here another 150 years.


HUME: Well, it looks great today. Ayers says both the dorm restoration project and the inauguration platform were completed ahead of schedule.

And that's it for today. Have a great week. And we’ll see you next "Fox News Sunday."

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