Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” with host Jake Tapper to discuss health care.
A transcript of the interview follows:
“State of the Union”
July 30, 2017
TAPPER: A dramatic moment on Capitol Hill, Senator John McCain, in the wee hours of the morning, voting no on the Republicans' latest plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
His vote, along with that of two other Republicans, Murkowski and Collins, was enough to quash the bill.
And President Trump, frankly, looked back in anger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They should have approved health care last night, but you can't have everything. Boy, oh, boy. They have been working on that one for seven years. Can you believe that? The swamp.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Joining me now, one of the three Republican senators who voted no on that legislation, Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
COLLINS: My pleasure, Jake.
TAPPER: So, Senator, before I get to policy, I just have to ask, I saw this viral video of you getting off an airplane in Bangor, Maine, and a crowd of people spontaneously and organically applauding you.
I don't know if that happens to you every time you get off an airplane in Bangor, Maine.
TAPPER: But it was a pretty remarkable thing.
What is the response you're getting?
COLLINS: It really was so extraordinary, heartwarming and affirming.
I got off the plane, and there was a large group of outbound passengers, none of whom I happened to know, and, spontaneously, some of them started applauding, and then virtually all of them started to applaud. It was just amazing.
I have never had that happen in the 20 years that I have been privileged to serve in the Senate. So, it was very encouraging and affirming, especially arriving back home after a very difficult time.
TAPPER: A very difficult time, very contentious time.
President Trump, as you know, is hoping to revive the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. He needs the vote of one more senator in order to flip someone's vote, whether yours or Murkowski's or McCain's.
The president appears to be threatening to cut off funding for the health care plans that the members of Congress receive. Would that kind of pressure change your vote?
But, you know, the ball is really in our court right now. There are serious problems with the ACA. We're seeing collapsing markets in some areas of the country where, even though people have subsidies, they're not going to be able to buy an insurance policy.
So, our job is not done. And what we need to do is to remember my friend Lamar Alexander's words, which is that he says that Congress doesn't do comprehensive well.
We need to go back to committee, to the Health Committee, and the Finance Committee, identify the problems, carefully evaluate possible solutions through hearings, and then produce a series of bills to correct these problems, the most serious of which is the pending collapse of the insurance markets.
And I certainly hope the administration does not do anything in the meantime to hasten that collapse.
TAPPER: Well, as you note, the president is also threatening to cut off what he calls bailouts for insurance companies. Presumably, he's referring to the payments the government makes to insurance companies to reduce the costs for low-income Americans.
The Trump administration has threatened to withhold this money before, which has led to uncertainty among insurance providers. If President Trump were to officially withdrawal that funding, would that affect your vote on health care?
COLLINS: It would not affect my vote on health care, but it's an example of why we need to act to make sure that those payments, which are not an insurance company bailout, but rather help people who are very low-income afford their out-of-pocket costs towards their deductibles and their co-pays.
And that's what we need to remember. So, it really would be detrimental to some of the most vulnerable citizens if those payments were cut off. They're paid to the insurance companies, but the people that they benefit are people who make between 100 percent and 250 percent of the poverty rate.
So, we're talking about low-income Americans who would be devastated if those payments were cut off, though the threat to cut off those payments has contributed to the instability in the insurance market.
But what Congress needs to do is to start by the first bill that we should consider is how to stabilize the market. And that is a key component, to ensure that those payments continue to be made to benefit low-income Americans.
TAPPER: You are one of three Republican senators who voted against the so-called skinny repeal of Obamacare.
When did you realize that Senator John McCain was going to join you and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in voting no? And what Vice President Pence say to you when he walked up to you on the Senate floor and tapped you on the back?
COLLINS: Well, Senator McCain had given an extremely eloquent speech on the Senate floor the day before, when he had arrived back from Arizona after his devastating diagnosis with brain cancer.
And he called for a return to the regular order, where we would work together across the aisle to produce legislation. It has been my experience as well that that is what works best and that is what produces sound legislation.
So, he had given this dramatic and heartfelt speech. But it was only date of the vote, just a few hours before the vote, that I realized from my conversations with him that he was going to vote no.
Vice President Pence had come over originally to break the tie that most people anticipated was going to happen when Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and I voted no. Instead, the vice president ended up coming over to lobby John McCain directly, to try to get him to vote yes.
And I was talking with John. And I felt this tap on my shoulder, and I turned around, and it's the vice president. And he said to me, "Boy, are you tough." But he softened that by putting his arm around me.
And he has always been extremely courteous in his conversations with me. He then started talking with John. We were reminiscing in some ways. And then it was obvious he wanted to have a private conversation with John about the bill. So, I stepped aside and did not participate in that part of the bill.
But I was very proud of John. Once again, he showed the courage that he has demonstrated throughout his life to do the right thing, even when it's not popular, even when it's hard.
TAPPER: The health care bill is just one of many moments of drama in the last week.
There's been a tremendous amount of infighting at the White House, the president attacking his own attorney general, the communications director attacking the now former chief of staff and the president's senior strategist.
Is this affecting the president's ability to get his agenda passed on Capitol Hill?
COLLINS: It doesn't really affect the president's agenda.
As I said, I really think that the health care bill -- and I think it will be a series of bills -- is in our court now. But I don't think it's helpful to the presidency in general.
And I -- the president certainly has the right to choose whomever he wants to be on his personal staff. But I certainly hope that his new communications director strikes a different tone than he has in his first week on the job.
TAPPER: I want to ask you a question about governing in the Trump era.
When the president tweets, do you consider those tweets to be policy, or should they be ignored, in the way the Pentagon seems to be, in a way, treating his tweet about banning transgender people from serving in the military? They're kind of -- they seem to be saying, oh, well, he tweeted that, but we don't have any policy, so we're just going to keep on as we're going. How do you take the president's tweets?
COLLINS: I personally don't think that governing or setting policy by tweet is a wise approach. It creates confusion. It does not give details. These are serious issues that we're dealing with. I do understand why it's attractive to the president to be able to get his message out. But when it comes to an issue that has widespread implications, whether it's health care or the transgender issue for our military, I just don't think a tweet is the right way to go.
I think he should have a serious policy discussion with his Cabinet, with those who are responsible for implementing policy, because then there's much more clarity in how to proceed. So, that would be my advice to the president. But I know he's very fond of Twitter.
TAPPER: All right, Senator -- he sure is. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.
COLLINS: Thank you.