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EARLY START

Trump Warns GOP on Health Care; Gorsuch Pushes Independence; Diplomats Meet to Defeat ISIS; North Korea Failed Missile Launch. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 22, 2017 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:09] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now -- the White House looking to wrangle the votes it needs to pass the Republican health care bill. But with just one day before the House vote, can the president seal the deal?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And the president's nominee for the Supreme Court says he is his own judge, he will not be forced into any ruling by this president or any other. What else did Neil Gorsuch say during 12 long hours gripping testimony?

BRIGGS: Twelve hours.

ROMANS: I know.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs.

Richard Hudson, a representative, said it was a tour de force by Donald Trump yesterday, trying to sell this health care bill.

March 22nd, 4:00 a.m. in the East. We're now one day away from what could be the change of health care in this country.

President Trump bringing his patented brand of hard sale to Capitol Hill, trying to coax reluctant Republicans to vote for the American Health Care Act repealing Obamacare. In all hands, closed-door meeting for House Republicans, the president said, quote, "a loss just isn't acceptable." He even called out Mark Meadows by name. Meadows is the chairman of the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus. Trump predicted Meadows and the caucus will get on board.

Hours later, the president that call for party unity at the National Republican Congressional Committee dinner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people voted for historic change. And they also voted for serious action. The American people gave us clear instructions. It's time to get busy, get to work, and to get the job done. These are the conservative solutions we campaigned on. And these are the conservative solutions the American people asked us, as a group, to deliver.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The House Rules Committee takes up the health care legislation this morning at 10:00. The vote is set for tomorrow. House leaders still have some work to do.

CNN's ongoing whip count currently said 19 Republicans have said flat out no, they'll vote against this bill. Seven more say they're likely noes. That is a total of 26 GOP lawmakers opposed or leaning against. Only 21 can defect without killing this measure.

Following the whip count for us on Capitol Hill, CNN's Phil Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Dave, it's the moment that House Republican leaders have been waiting for. The moment White House officials said was going to eventually come. The hard sale from the president, basically telling his members that it's now or never on his bill and on his entire agenda.

But the reality remains right now, they're short. They don't have the requisite number of votes to pass this. But it's important to note that this vote isn't scheduled for more than 24 hours and that means they have time to work. And work is exactly what they're doing.

But one of the most important elements of the course of the last couple of days was the threat. The president himself laid out behind closed doors. Sources telling me, the president made very clear, if this bill goes down in the House on Thursday, if it does not pass, the members themselves, their seats are in trouble. Not just the singular numbers, but the entire House Republican majority could also be in trouble.

I asked Paul Ryan if he agreed with that assessment. Take a listen.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president of the United States came to us and said, we all made a promise to the American people and we need to keep our promises. Everybody running for Congress in the House, everybody running for Senate, the president himself said that the American people, you give us this chance, this responsibility, this opportunity, with a Republican president, with a Republican Senate and a Republican House, and we will repeal and replace Obamacare. Wee keep our promise and the people are rewarded. If we don't keep our promise, it will be very hard to manage this.

MATTINGLY: So, guys, the question now becomes, what can they do? What can House Republican leaders, what can the White House do over the next couple of days to close this deal? I can tell you, House Speaker Paul Ryan has cleared his schedule to meet with members. You've seen Vice President Mike Pence shuttled up the Hill. You've seen the members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus themselves be shuttled in small groups over to the White House, as White House officials try to peel them off one by one. When you talk to leadership officials, they say they can and plan to

get there. But I think it's important to note, as of now, they are operating with no net. There is no plan "B", there is no alternative bill or alternative option. The vote is still scheduled for Thursday. They plan to put the bill on the floor on Thursday. They need 216 votes to get there.

As I said, they're not quite there yet, but they think at some point, they'll get there -- Christine and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Long way to go. Thank you, Phil.

If Obamacare repeal does manage to pass the House this week, how will it fare over in the Senate? Well, the measure is set to bypass communities and go straight to the floor, predictions by key Republican senators that the bill's fate, they are mixed.

Second-ranking Republican leader John Cornyn says that -- should the House OK the repeal bill on Thursday, the Senate will take it up next week and approve it.

[04:05:02] He says, "If they pass it, we will pass it."

ROMANS: Other Senate Republicans not so sure. Alaska's Lisa Murkowski said of the tight schedule, quote, "Wow, pretty progressive."

Senator Bill Cassidy, a physician, said he also would prefer not to vote next week.

Senators already on record against the bill in its current form are Tom Cotton, Mike Lee and Rand Paul. Republicans can afford only two defections in the Senate.

BRIGGS: Another long, grueling day of questioning on tap for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Gorsuch faced a ten-hour grilling by senators at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, with Democrats challenging his ability to maintain independence from President Trump.

Listen to this exchange with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal about the president's frequent criticism of the judiciary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: When anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity, the motives, of a federal judge -- well, I find that disheartening, I find that demoralizing because I know the truth.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Anyone including the president of the United States.

GORSUCH: Anyone is anyone.

BLUMENTHAL: Because no person is above the law, including the president of the United States.

GORSUCH: That's right, Senator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: That's just one response from Judge Gorsuch that made headlines.

We get more now from CNN's Jessica Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, day three of that confirmation hearing kicks off this morning, but in a long day of questioning Tuesday, Judge Gorsuch was steady and steadfast in sticking to his script that he's an impartial and independent judge.

But Democrats really seized on their narrative that Judge Gorsuch is a jurist who puts big business first, they also pressed him on his legal views asking if President Trump imposed a litmus test before nominating him. And that was a line of inquiry Judge Gorsuch firmly shut down.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Have you ever met President Trump personally?

GORSUCH: Not until my interview.

GRAHAM: In that interview, did he ever ask you to overview Roe v. Wade?

GORSUCH: No, Senator.

LINDSEY: What would you have done if he had asked?

GORSUCH: Senator, I would have knocked out the door. That's not what judges do. They don't it at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue, or they shouldn't do it at this end either, respectfully.

SCHNEIDER: Judge Gorsuch continued to say that he flatly rejects litmus tests in general and he's written about the issue and says it's not something judges do.

Senators will hear in the next few days from witnesses and a vote in the Judiciary Committee is expected April 3rd -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Thank you, Jessica.

CNN has learned an al Qaeda affiliate is perfecting techniques for hiding explosives in batteries and battery compartments of electronic devices. And U.S. officials saying this is what led to the new carry- on restrictions aboard commercial flights heading to the U.S. and now, the U.K. from the Middle East and North Africa. Passengers originating from eight countries there must check devices

bigger than a smartphone. The intelligence points to a bomb planted in a laptop aboard a flight from Somalia last year. The bomber was killed but the plane with the hole in its fuselage managed to land safely.

Observers calling this some of the widest reaching aviation security measures since the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001.

ROMANS: The White House is using the rape of a Maryland high school student to bolster the case for President Trump's attempted crackdown on illegal immigration. One of the two male students charged with sexually assaulting a classmate at Rockville High School is an 18 undocumented immigrant Henry Sanchez Milian.

Listen to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer discussing that case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And it's horrendous and horrible and disgusting what this young woman in Rockville went through. Part of the reason that the president has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Both male students are charged as adults with first degree rape and two counts each of committing a first degree sexual offense.

All right. Nine minutes past the hour.

The White House is looking to calm nerves with NATO. The president is answering critics after his secretary of state opted out of a key NATO meeting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:13:17] BRIGGS: New this morning, President Trump has just officially added a May 25th NATO summit to his schedule. In a statement, the White House said the president will, quote, "reaffirm our strong commitment to NATO." Among the items on the president's agenda for the meeting in Brussels, NATO's role and the fight against terror and what the White House called allied responsibility sharing. President Trump has been relentlessly critical of NATO allies for failing to pay their full share of the alliance's costs.

ROMANS: All of this comes as the State Department scrambles to suggest new dates for an April meeting of NATO foreign ministers after the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip the gathering came to light. Tillerson is set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping in Washington during the NATO summit, then fly to Russia the following week. The plans have frustrated and confused many NATO allies.

BRIGGS: Later today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be hosting foreign ministers and senior leaders from around the world at the State Department. All 68 nations from the global coalition to defeat ISIS are expected to attend.

We now get a preview from CNN's Clarissa Ward in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, there are 68 members of that coalition of countries that are fighting ISIS. And this is the first time we've actually seen a meeting of this size since 2014. We know that British Foreign Minister Boris Johnston will be attending. Also, the Turkish foreign minister is coming.

And while ISIS has taken a real beating in the past year, they've lost more than 50 percent of their territory in Iraq and Syria. And, of course, now, they appear to be on the cusp of losing the crown jewel, which, of course, is the city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq.

But now, the focus is on how to take the city of Raqqah.

[04:15:02] This is, of course, ISIS' capital. It is deep inside hostile Syrian territory. And it's incredibly complex to coordinate who will take part in the fight of Raqqah because, of course, there are so many local sensitivities. All of these different ministers will also be talking, of course, about the humanitarian situation in Iraq and Syria. The massive displacement that has already occurred as a result of the fight against ISIS.

All of this clearly a priority for the Trump administration, with the president having vowed to defeat ISIS in 30 days. Needless to say that deadline has come and gone. But definitely, there is a desire to show that this is a priority and to get the momentum going -- Christine and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Clarissa, thank you for that.

Democrats and Republicans are looking for answers from former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. A lawmaker in Kiev claims he has a document that could prove Manafort tried to hide millions of dollars in illegal payments from former pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort insists he did not recognize the document and the signature on it is not his. But senators on both sides of the aisle clearly not satisfied.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have serious questions about some of the people around the presidential campaign. There are people with close ties to the Russians.

REPORTER: You're talking about Paul Manafort specifically?

MCCAIN: I'm talking about Mr. Manafort. His relations.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: We're going to need to bring him in and have that kind of conversation, because there's such a cloud now that's hanging over this whole administration. We've got to get to the bottom of this and that's why I've said at the outset this is probably the most important thing I've ever taken on in my public life.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BRIGGS: This latest coming in the wake of House hearing where FBI Director James Comey confirmed there is an ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

ROMANS: All right. The stock market sits at a major turning point this morning. Unrelenting optimism over President Trump's policies colliding with the realities of Washington. That has caused fear to creep back into the market.

Look at this, the Dow tumbling 238 points yesterday. The S&P 500 shedding 1.25 percent. That marks the first drop of more than 1 percent in the last 161 days. There hasn't been a drop of more than 1 percent going all the way back to early October. So, really reversing a trend here.

The NASDAQ was the biggest loser down 1.8 percent. Those losses driven by tech, some of the hottest names this year facing big losses.

Facebook down 1 percent. Amazon losing 1.6 percent. Netflix, terrible days for Netflix. Google dropping two percent.

The losses are just a dent though in the big gains since the election, and the rally could easily get back on track. But if the health care bill stalls, that could be a sign that tax reform will also be difficult, and that is a big prize for investors right now.

You know, I've been talking to CEOs, I've been talking to, you know, business leaders who have been saying, Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, promised to have health reform -- I'm sorry, tax reform by the August recess. And any sign that that's not going to happen is going to be a hard thing for the stock market.

BRIGGS: Some have questioned the order in which President Trump chose to go about his legislation choosing the most difficult first.

ROMANS: It's interesting, too, that the president has chosen the stock market as a barometer of his success. Careful.

BRIGGS: Live by the sword, die by the sword.

ROMANS: That's absolutely right.

BRIGGS: Yes.

Another provocation from North Korea. A new missile launch off the coast. But what makes this one different? We're live in Beijing. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:23:04] BRIGGS: Breaking overnight, a failed missile launch by North Korea. Military officials with the U.S. Pacific Command confirming that the test took place at the Kalma ballistic missile site on North Korea's east coast. Earlier this month, Pyongyang launched four missiles from the same site, successfully reaching Japanese waters.

CNN's Will Ripley is tracking the latest developments from Beijing.

Good morning to you, Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Dave.

So, we don't know what kind of missiles these were, but given that they did come from the same site, we can -- analysts believe they might have been ballistic missiles like the ones that landed close to the Japanese coast just a couple weeks ago.

Also, some information from the U.S. Air Forces, they conducted a U.S. bomber flyover in South Korean airspace along with Japanese and South Korean fighter jets. And this came shortly after North Korea put out a propaganda video with computer animated effects showing them blowing up a U.S. bomber and also a U.S. aircraft carrier. Of course, that is a pretty clear warning to the United States of what North Korea intends to do if they are provoked.

And this failed launch was certainly a setback in terms of -- you know, it was not a successful attempt this time. Analysts point that North Korea gain a lot of valuable information every time they try a missile launch like this. The North Korean people will never know that this happened because failed launches are never reported inside the country.

And so, right now, it just seems to be a matter of time for the next launch attempt, because we know that North Korea intends to launch a lot of missiles during the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises which always anger them every year. And, of course, there's also on the horizon, the possibility of an imminent nuclear test and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been threatening an intercontinental ballistic test as well. We know over the weekend, they tested a rocket engine that analysts say could be modified in place on an IBCM, bringing North Korea closer to that goal, Dave, of a nuclear tipped missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

[04:25:03] BRIGGS: Tensions only rising there. Will, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump looking to prove he's the dealmaker he claims to be one day until a critical vote, House vote on the bill to repeal and replace Obamcare. Can Trump find the votes he needs?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Happening now, a last-minute push for votes on the Republican health care bill. That vote is set for tomorrow. Can the president and Republican leadership avoid falling short?

BRIGGS: And the president's Supreme Court nominee vowing to remain independent if he's confirmed. What else did Neil Gorsuch say during 10 grueling hours of testimony? And what's on tap for him today?

Funny, they tried to pin Gorsuch down on torture, all the while torturing him for ten hours.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

We're now just one day away from the vote that could change the face of health care in this country. President Trump bringing his patented brand of hard sale to Capitol Hill. He's trying to coax reluctant Republicans to vote for the American Health Care Act, repealing Obamacare.