By Liz Goodwin
WASHINGTON — Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday that she believes the U.S. House of Representatives needs to “slow down” in its quest to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law and said the current bill unveiled this week would get a chilly reception in the Senate.
“I do not think it would be well received in the Senate,” Collins told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric of the current House bill, which President Trump has called “wonderful.”
Collins, a moderate Republican who has bucked Trump on a handful of his Cabinet nominations, said she is concerned by analyses that estimate 6 million to 10 million people would lose their coverage under the bill and that older people’s premiums would rise. She also thinks the bill breaks the “promise” Congress made to states that they would receive 90 percent of the funds to expand Medicaid. (The House bill phases out expanded Medicaid funding.)
Asked if she agreed with her colleague Sen. Rand Paul that the bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, Collins responded “yes.” But she stressed that the bill is a “work in progress” and may improve to the point where she could support it.
“I want us to slow down to take more time to be sure we get this right,” Collins told Couric.
The Maine senator also strongly opposes defunding women’s health services and abortion provider Planned Parenthood in any health care bill, since 10,000 women in her state use Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings and other health care. Existing federal law prevents Planned Parenthood from using any federal funds for abortions.
“Where are those people going to go? And why should those women have to change doctors? That doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Collins, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also responded to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s recent claim that Trump has not released his tax returns because he is still under audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
“This is an awfully long audit if that is the case,” Collins said.
She also left open the possibility that Americans may see Trump’s tax returns as part of the intelligence committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Trump associates were reportedly in contact with Russian officials during the campaign, though both they and the Trump administration deny that anything nefarious occurred.
“Well, at this point, it is his choice. It is possible that during the course of our investigation by the intelligence committee that we may find that we need access to financial information to inform our conclusions,” Collins said. “We’re not there yet, and I don’t know that we will get to that point, but that is another possible avenue.”
She said her “preference” would be for the president to voluntarily release his tax returns on his own.
Collins said the intelligence committee would attempt to find answers for the American people on Russia’s involvement in the election. The U.S. intelligence community has accused the Kremlin of backing cyberattacks that led to massive email leaks from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.
She criticized Trump for frequently praising Russian President Vladimir Putin but said her personal theory is that the Russians were determined to sow doubt about American democracy no matter which candidate won.
“I don’t understand the president’s affection for Mr. Putin,” Collins said. “I think that President Putin is an authoritarian thug. I believe that he’s pure KGB, and I don’t understand [Trump] describing him in any admiring way.
“But I will say that I think we can’t jump to conclusions on this and that it’s important that we do a thorough and careful investigation,” she said. “My theory is that regardless of who was elected president, the Russians have been determined to sow the seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of our elections and our democracy, and they’re doing it in Western Europe right now as well.”
Collins said the committee would also look into Trump’s recent allegations that Obama wiretapped him during the election — though she said she’s seen no proof to substantiate the president’s claims. Obama’s post-presidency office denied the incendiary allegations, which the White House has called on Congress to investigate.
“I think it would be helpful if the president has evidence of this that he turn it over to the House and the Senate intelligence committees,” she said. “We need evidence, not tweets, if we’re going to look into these allegations.”
She also said that she was confused about why Trump chose to take to Twitter last Saturday morning to strongly suggest that his predecessor had committed a crime.
“I don’t know why he would make those allegations, because the president had just given a very well-received State of the Union address, and he stepped all over his own story on that,” she said. “So I don’t know. There must have been something that led him to believe that this occurred, and I’d like to know what that something is.”
Collins had a piece of advice for the president: Delete your account. “Look, if I were advising President Trump, I would say, put your Twitter account on hold and make sure you’re not sending out this storm of tweets before you’re sure of [the] facts,” she said. “In fact, I would suggest he not send out tweets at all.”
Though Collins has been more critical of Trump than some of her Republican colleagues, she praised many members of his Cabinet, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, whom she views as an upgrade from his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
In the wide-ranging interview, Collins further said she believed Sessions showed “integrity” in recusing himself from any potential investigations involving the Trump campaign. Sessions announced the decision last week after it was revealed that he incorrectly claimed during his confirmation hearing that he had had no contact with Russian officials while involved with Trump’s presidential run.
Collins also called Trump’s new, revised executive order temporarily banning visas for people from six majority-Muslim countries “much better” than the first one, since it does not contain a “religious test.” She said she remains concerned that it’s not the best approach.
“This is a blunt instrument that the president is using,” she said. “I do see it better than his original executive order but not where we should be.”
Video thumbnail photos: Mary F. Calvert for Yahoo News
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