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Sen. Tim Kaine On Trump And Russia And GOP Health Care Bill

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The nation's top intelligence official has now found himself wrapped up in the investigations into President Trump, his campaign and Russia. The Washington Post has reported that President Trump asked the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, to publicly deny any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Coats was on Capitol Hill yesterday for a routine Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on national security threats, but it quickly turned into a session where most of the focus was on Russia.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine was in that hearing. He joins us now.

Senator, welcome back to the program.

TIM KAINE: Glad to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: The chairman of the committee, Senator John McCain, started the hearing by asking DNI Coats to directly respond to The Washington Post report. Let's listen to what Mr. Coats said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAN COATS: I have always believed that, given the nature of my position and the information that - which we share, it's not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that.

MARTIN: Did you expect him to answer differently? I mean, was that a satisfying answer?

KAINE: Rachel, I didn't expect him to answer that question differently. He's got to maintain the confidence of his communications with the president. But the interaction that I found telling was shortly after Senator Jack Reed, who's the lead Democrat on the committee, asked him a hypothetical question - would it be appropriate for a president to make such a request? And DNI Coats was very plain about that. He said, any political shaping of intelligence would be inappropriate and that I have made my position very clear to the administration on that topic.

So that suggested to me - he didn't confirm or deny The Washington Post story. But that suggested to me that the story was accurate and that he would not allow the DNI position to be used to shape intelligence.

MARTIN: Your colleague on the committee, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, seems to believe there is mounting evidence of obstruction of justice - those are his words. Do you agree with him?

KAINE: I would definitely say the evidence is very troubling, Rachel. I mean, you know, here's the quick version of it. You have the president in discussion with the FBI director about whether or not he can continue in his job. The president asks him, will you be loyal to me? The president asks him to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. The FBI director not only does not drop the investigation but publicly reveals it to Congress and asks for more resources in the investigation.

He's then fired, and the president tells others in the press and Russian officials that he was fired to reduce the pressure on the Russia investigation. There's other evidence as well. But just this evidence really coming directly from the president lays out a pretty clear case that the president was trying to undermine the investigation - was very worried about it - and took the action of firing the director to slow it down.

MARTIN: So...

KAINE: That's what it looks like right now.

MARTIN: So what does that mean? Where do you think this is heading?

KAINE: Well, look - there's two very live investigations right now to get to the bottom of everything Russia did and any degree of cooperation or collusion between the Russian effort to interfere with America's election in the Trump campaign transition or administration. The first is the Senate intelligence investigation that's moving forward. Director Comey has been invited to come testify at that investigation after Memorial Day. And the second important was the appointment of Robert Mueller as the special prosecutor so that this matter can be handled in a way that Americans will, you know, have the confidence that it's independent and objective.

MARTIN: I want to switch gears and ask you about health care. The health care...

KAINE: Today's a big day.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Yeah. The health care bill Republicans passed a few weeks back never got a CBO rating. This is essentially the price tag for...

KAINE: Right.

MARTIN: ...What this thing would cost. So it's happening today. The CBO is set to give an official score. What are you expecting to hear?

KAINE: Well, you know, I wouldn't want to speculate on it. I'll tell you what I'm going to be looking for, though. Any bill has to meet President Trump's three promises - nobody is going to lose coverage; nobody's going to pay more; and nobody with a pre-existing condition is going to go back to being kicked around because they have an illness or a disability. Those are the three promises he's made over and over again.

And we have to see whether the bill, whether it's the House bill or whether it's this secret Senate bill that's being worked on by the Republicans behind closed doors, we got to hold it up against those promises. I don't think we'll get there unless there's finally a decision to allow Democrats to participate and work in a bipartisan way.

MARTIN: What do you mean a decision for Democrats to participate? That - as I understand it, that olive branch has always been there.

KAINE: No, it isn't because we're not - for example, we're not having committee hearings. We should be having committee hearings and hearing from patients and doctors. There is no commitment that Democrats will be allowed to make amendments. They weren't able to on the House side. And they're suggesting they're going to rush it to the floor, and we won't have an opportunity on the Senate side. So we need to open up the process, hear from people. And Democrats need to be able to participate.

MARTIN: Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia - thanks so much, Senator.

KAINE: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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