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Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings On Meeting With Trump

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You probably won't find a sharper critic of President Trump than Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland. But Mr. Cummings met with Mr. Trump this week to discuss the possibility of lowering prescription drug costs, and Mr. Cummings came out of that meeting sounding upbeat. The congressman joins us now. Representative Cummings, thanks so much for being with us.

ELIJAH CUMMINGS: It's good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: You and your fellow Democrat Peter Welch gave the president a proposal that would allow the government to use the leverage of Medicare to try to negotiate lower prices with drug manufacturers. Let me ask you a question from the Democratic primary. If that was such a great idea, why didn't the Democrats do it themselves when they controlled Congress in 2010 and passed the Affordable Care Act?

CUMMINGS: That's a great question. What happened back then is I think President Obama was trying to get the deal through. And as you know, we got very little, if any, cooperation from the Republicans. And I think that this was...

SIMON: Well - but you had the votes in your own party to make this a part of the legislation.

CUMMINGS: Yeah, but, Scott, you know that that doesn't always work that way. It's not that simple because we had a lot of blue dogs. We had people who - Democrats who really didn't even want to go along with the Affordable Care Act. And so there was a lot of compromise there. And part of the compromise was to work through a deal where the prices of Medicare Part B - that is the prescription - drug prices would not be negotiated. I was against that because I thought that we were - I thought that we were bulk purchasing. And as most bulk purchases do, you're usually able to get a discount. But that was a part of the deal to get through the Affordable Care Act, and that's one of the reasons why I think you had a lot of Democrats who were concerned about the act even back then.

SIMON: Well - but let me ask this - there are some health care economists who have looked the idea of having government negotiate for lower drug prices who say - talk about "The Art Of The Deal" - negotiation only works if one party is willing to get up and walk away from the table. But you can't do that with Medicare, can you? You can't say, well, we're willing to walk away from this deal because millions of people on Medicare need those drugs to survive.

CUMMINGS: Yeah, but you're missing a point. You may have a - you know, say for example leukemia - just hypothetically. You may have four or five drugs there by four or five different manufacturers. And so you want to add one drug in the formulary that addresses most of those people's needs. So there would be competition, Scott, between those four or five companies. So yeah, it can be done. As a matter of fact, it's done in Rhode Island right now, so that's not unusual. So no, no, no, no, it - definitely room for that. President Trump fully understands it, and he wants to do something about it.

SIMON: Do you think you have a chance with President Trump that you didn't have with the previous administration?

CUMMINGS: I think that we have a chance. As a matter of fact, as late as yesterday - last night - he told me that he's going to try to get it into his bill.

SIMON: He told you this last night, Friday night.

CUMMINGS: Last night, that's right. So we'll see what happens. You know, with President Trump you - I think you have to wait and see. You're going to have a good conversation. It sounds like he's going in the direction that you're going in, and people have told me you step out of the room and next thing you know maybe something has changed. But the conversation that we had with him was a very good one.

SIMON: We've got about a minute left. You figured in another headline. You sent - was it November 18? - a letter to Vice President Pence alerting him - if he didn't know already, and he said he didn't - to the fact that Michael Flynn had worked centrally as a foreign agent in behalf of the Turkish government.

CUMMINGS: That's right. We sure did.

SIMON: Are you concerned he was appointed anyway?

CUMMINGS: Yeah, I am concerned. I'm concerned about the vetting process. I also had a conversation with Vice President Pence yesterday, and it's my understanding that he may have missed my letter because they were trying to get up and running, and he had just been appointed to head the transition team, that is Vice President Pence. And those things do happen.

SIMON: Yeah.

CUMMINGS: But there were too many warning signs about Flynn, and, you know, that's the reason why we should have very careful vetting. You can't have somebody like that as head of your security team. That's ridiculous.

SIMON: Thanks so much, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

CUMMINGS: All right. Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.