STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The president of the United States had a lot to get off his chest this morning. Before 7 o'clock Eastern Time, President Trump had fired off seven different messages on Twitter. In message after message after message, he attacked Hillary Clinton, Ukraine, the Affordable Care Act, the acting director of the FBI, the investigation of Trump's ties to Russia and the president's own attorney general. He wrapped up by predicting that his 11-year-old son will be investigated next. Amid it all, Trump also urged the Senate to repeal Obamacare, which they may take a step toward doing in a vote today. Last night, the president pushed Republicans to act.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Remember repeal and replace, repeal and replace? They kept saying it over and over again. Every Republican running for office promised immediate relief from this disastrous law.
INSKEEP: Although Republicans never did say exactly what the replacement was that they could agree on and neither did the president, which is where we start our conversation with NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, good morning.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK. So senators say they're going to vote to start debate on health care. Let's just start there. That's the actual substantive story here that could affect many millions of people. Do senators know what they're going to vote to start debate on?
MONTANARO: No. They know that they're going to start debate on health care broadly, but they're not sure what exactly the bill they could be voting on would be. Remember, Mitch McConnell, who's the Republican Senate leader who controls the agenda, promised to bring a full repeal bill forward after the last version failed. Donald Trump, the president of the United States, seemed to be onboard with that. And that would also include a two-year delay on Obamacare, which would mean that they would have two years to basically write a bill after seven years of saying they wanted to repeal and replace though never came up with a replacement.
The problem with that is that Republicans don't have the votes for a full repeal with the replacement, at least to this point. And they barely have enough votes maybe to win on the motion to proceed. That's why John McCain is coming all the way back from Arizona after just five days ago being diagnosed with brain cancer, Steve.
INSKEEP: With brain cancer, John McCain will be there and voting. Tough guy. Do you know what his vote is going to be?
MONTANARO: He's likely a yes. He was in favor of it before. If he was a no, then I would imagine Mitch McConnell would certainly not try to drag him back from Arizona.
INSKEEP: Although this is unusual because McCain has made statements suggesting he seems uncomfortable with this way of proceeding and even suggesting - not quite saying, but saying - that, you know, if this effort should fall apart, maybe we should go back to regular order meaning, you have committee hearings and actually think about the legislation that you're trying to pass and work with Democrats and do things like that.
MONTANARO: And a key ally of his is Senator Lindsey Graham. And Lindsey Graham is also yes on this, although Graham has also said that he thinks that maybe the best option would be to try and work with Democrats. But that's only if this version of the health bill fails. If they can't get something done together as Republicans, then maybe, maybe you could see some kind of working group that gets together from both sides.
INSKEEP: OK. So Republicans who mocked Nancy Pelosi for once upon a time saying, vote for the bill to find out what was in the bill, which was according to fact checkers a distortion of her actual statement, are now going to vote today to move to debate on a bill that they don't know what it is. What do you make of the president's eruption on Twitter?
MONTANARO: (Laughter) What to make of it. You know, he went to bed tweeting. He woke up tweeting. He's tweeting as wide range as anything. The biggest news out of those tweets, you know, yesterday, he said that his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, called him beleaguered. And that is not necessarily something you would normally hear from a president about their own attorney general. This morning, he said, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a very weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes. Where are emails and DNC server and intel leakers?
So, you know, he's putting the pressure still on Jeff Sessions to do what? We're not quite sure. Does he really want him to crack down on Hillary Clinton, who he beat in the the election and then said that he would not prosecute or not want an attorney general to prosecute? And, you know, or intelligence leaks, which certainly Trump would like to see stopped. Or is he trying to pressure him to resign? Is he trying to pressure him to tender his resignation? We don't know if he's actually done that. But this is where I think the big news is going for the rest of the day today.
INSKEEP: The president is - and this is, you know, this is what he does. It's not necessarily a pejorative thing. It's what his supporters like. He tramples on norms. And this is trampling on one of these subtleties of Washington, isn't it, Domenico? Because the attorney general is part of the administration, hired by the president, can be fired by the president, works for the president, theoretically ought to follow the president's orders. But it's also supposed to be a law enforcement official who is supposed to be independent from politics. What position does it put Jeff Sessions in when his boss demands publicly or says publicly that he's doing a lousy job of investigating his former political opponent?
MONTANARO: You know, it's almost untenable unless he were to go in and somehow try to influence the Russia investigation or do something that Donald Trump would apparently be happy with. And speaking of that Russian investigation, you alluded to it in your introduction, but he said, Jared Kushner did very well yesterday in proving he did not collude with the Russians. Witch hunt, he called it. Next up, 11-year-old Barron Trump. Which, you know, OK, the mic is on and it's open but, you know, this is a little bit of Donald Trump playing the Rodney Dangerfield card. I get no respect, I guess.
INSKEEP: Although it's another thing too, talk about trampling on a norm, if anybody else brought up his 11-year-old son in a political conversation, a political context, it would be totally out of bounds. It would be totally inappropriate, but the president is comfortable going there.
MONTANARO: Sure. Obviously, he's being sarcastic and trying to say, look, of course there's nothing that Barron did. No one is going to say that my 11-year-old did anything wrong. So, you know, there's nothing here to see. This is all just a witch hunt and all just made-up fake news.
INSKEEP: So circling back to the substance, when do we know if Republicans are getting anywhere on health care today?
MONTANARO: Well, we're going to have maybe a vote this afternoon on the motion to proceed. We'll see where they go. And then we'll maybe get an indication from McConnell on what exactly substantively he'll bring to the floor.
INSKEEP: OK. Domenico, thanks very much.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's editor, Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.