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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Susan Collins appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” with host Jake Tapper.
A transcript of the interview follows:
“State of the Union”
December 16, 2018
JAKE TAPPER: Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine joins me now. She's a member on the Senate Intelligence Committee and she voted not to replace Obamacare in that famous vote—or infamous depending on your point of view, I suppose. Thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it. So, millions of Americans, including everyone covered by Medicaid expansion and many with pre-existing conditions are going to lose their health insurance if this ruling is upheld. You voted for the repeal of the individual mandate as part of the tax reform bill last December. That's the basis of this judge's decision. You heard President Trump call this, quote, “a great ruling for our country,” do you agree?
SUSAN COLLINS: I don't. First of all, I would point out that this really is not going to affect people who are currently enrolled in Obamacare policies or their policies for 2019. There is widespread support for protecting people with pre-existing conditions. There's also widespread opposition to the individual mandate, and here's why: The individual mandate penalties, 80% of people who paid the penalty earned under $50,000 a year. So, this hurt low- and middle-income families who couldn't afford the cost of health insurance, and it's telling that when the tax bill was on the floor, not a single Democratic Senator offered an amendment to strike the repeal of the individual mandate. That's how unpopular it was. I think this will be overturned on appeal.
TAPPER: You do?
COLLINS: I do.
TAPPER: In the Supreme Court or fifth circuit or where do you think it's -?
COLLINS: I’m not sure where it will occur, but there's no reason why the individual mandate provision can't be struck down and keep all of the good provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, the mandated benefits for substance abuse and mental illness treatment, and also allowing young people to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.
TAPPER: All right, let's move on. I want to ask you—the last two weeks have brought major developments in the Russia investigation and the southern district of New York investigation. Take a listen to what former Trump fixer Michael Cohen said this week about the two campaign finance felonies.
COHEN: First of all, nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me, as I said in my elocution, and I said as well in the plea, he directed me to make the payments.
TAPPER: So, I understand that's Michael Cohen and he has a history of saying things that are not necessarily true, but it's not just him making that assertion. The federal prosecutors in the southern district of New York stated in their filing that the president directed these illegal payments and they were done in coordination with him. Does it bother you the President of the United States is being accused of ordering federal crimes in order to help him in the election?
COLLINS: Let me point out there are a lot of unanswered ethical, legal, and factual questions. But clearly this was not a good week for President Trump nor for his campaign organization and these allegations are concerning, but we need to wait until we have the entire picture. And that's why it's so critical that the special counsel be allowed to complete its investigation unimpeded so that we can have the full picture.
TAPPER: I get that when it comes to the Russia investigation because we're still waiting to hear the whole picture there, but when it comes to Michael Cohen, we kind of do have the whole picture. The southern district of New York said that these payments were illegal. They were campaign contributions and the prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office there say they were done in direction of and in coordination with President Trump, and now Michael Cohen is going to jail as a result of that and other crimes. Don't we have the whole picture there?
COLLINS: I don't think we do. For one thing, the U.S. attorney's office described Michael Cohen as being deceitful, as being motivated by greed and pointed out that he was not a cooperating witness. On the special counsel's side, the special counsel praised him for his cooperation in the Russian investigation. So, we have two different pictures of Michael Cohen and many of the crimes for which he is going to prison have nothing to do with Donald Trump, such as tax evasion. That benefitted him. Lying to the Intelligence Committee is another crime for which he was punished. So, the picture there is still murky in my view.
TAPPER: So, there is an audiotape of Michael Cohen talking about these payments with President Trump. I’m sure you've heard the audiotape. Do you not believe - you haven't seen enough evidence to convince you that Donald Trump told Michael Cohen, directed him to make these payments to get Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to keep their stories quiet?
COLLINS: I’m not going to engage in speculation because I don't feel that I have the entire picture yet. I have charges and counter charges. Certainly, this is concerning. I don't mean to imply otherwise, but I’m going to wait until I have the full picture.
TAPPER: There is, I mean he is going to jail, but it's not just for that charge.
TAPPER: But bigger picture, there are ongoing investigations into the Trump administration, the Trump campaign 2016, the Trump transition team, the Trump organization, the Trump foundation, there was one for Trump University, and now we found out from the Wall Street Journal this week, the Trump inaugural committee. Given all those investigations, given the fact the president has surrounded himself with people like Michael Cohen and people like Paul Manafort, do you think that President Trump has respect for the rule of law?
COLLINS: I think this reflects the fact that President Trump put together a campaign organization with very little experience, with completely inadequate vetting, and I think that's what happens - this is what happens when you take that kind of approach.
TAPPER: I want to move on. You told reporters this week you felt vindicated by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's decision to not want to hear a case involving whether Medicaid can be paid to Planned Parenthood affiliates for non-abortion related services. In response to your saying that you thought it vindicated you for voting for Brett Kavanaugh, Planned Parenthood’s political arm tweeted out from a liberal website that you were, quote, “delusional” for thinking that this move means Kavanaugh will support abortion rights and uphold Roe v. Wade in the future. I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond.
COLLINS: This is the point I was trying to make. Planned Parenthood was Brett Kavanaugh’s number one opponent. They went after him with everything that they had, and yet when it came to this case he was able to put that aside and rule impartially, independently. And it's notable that he was the key vote. It takes only four votes on the court to decide to hear a case like that. And despite the way he was treated by Planned Parenthood, he ruled not to hear the case that would have stripped them of their - that upheld as a lower court ruling that said they couldn't participate in the Medicaid program. I was trying to speak to his temperament and his fairness and his impartiality, which I think he did demonstrate in this case.
TAPPER: Last question, Senator. The race for 2020 as you saw from our opening has already started on the Democratic side. On the Republican side Ohio Governor John Kasich, who you supported in 2016, has been out publicly considering running against President Trump. Whether it's Kasich or Flake or Sasse or anyone else, do you think it would be good for the Republican Party and good for the country for President Trump to face a Republican challenger in 2020.
COLLINS: It’s always interesting when we have primaries because a lot of times it allows different viewpoints to surface, it can help influence public policy down the road, and it’s healthy for our democracy. So, it’s up to those individuals to decide whether or not they are going to oppose the president. They would probably have an uphill climb since he is the president and is in office now.
TAPPER: But it sounds like you think it would be a good thing for the country and a good thing for the party for the president to face a challenger.
COLLINS: Well it’s really not my choice—it’s the choice of those individuals—but I see nothing wrong with challengers. That is part of our democratic system.
TAPPER: And you’re not ready to say that you’re endorsing President Trump for 2020.
COLLINS: I’m going to talk about 2020 in 2020. That's a lifetime in politics. We haven't even sworn in the new Congress yet, and I worry that we're getting into this perpetual campaign mode instead of focusing on governing. That's what I’d like to see us do this next year.
TAPPER: Senator Susan Collins, it’s always a pleasure to have you. Thank you so much for being here.
COLLINS: Thank you.