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EARLY START

Trump's Push for 216 Votes; Trump Associates Linked to Moscow?; Terror in London. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:08] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The final desperate hours here. Exactly seven years after President Obama signed landmark health care bill, Republicans are on the verge of repealing it. But it's not done yet. Can President Trump strike a deal to satisfy conservatives without sending moderates running for the exits?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight: new information into CNN suggesting some of Trump's associates may have communicated with Russia in an effort to release damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

ROMANS: And overnight, anti-terror raids in London. The city is in mourning. London on alert after a terrorist tried to storm the Houses of Parliament, but not before leaving several dead. We go live to London this morning.

Good morning, everybody. A lot going on this morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. It's Thursday, March 23, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And extraordinary in news. We start with history being made today one way or the other either. Republicans will take their first vote to actually repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act or we could see a staggering blow to the seven-year GOP campaign against Obamacare and perhaps the entire Trump agenda.

The White House and Republican leaders now deep into a furious last ditch campaign to turn no votes by members of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus into yeses.

ROMANS: One critical issue at this point, ending so-called essential health benefits that Obamacare requires in every insurance policy. More on what those are, those essential benefits in just a moment.

But, first, right now, there is still no deal. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, though, suddenly sounding more optimistic one will be made soon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: I'm really optimistic that we can get there. I mean, there are still a lot of details to work out, Sean. And so, to say we've got a deal, that wouldn't be accurate.

The president and I came to agreement in principle. I think what we are trying to do now is make sure that our agreement is actually something that can be executed in a way that passes the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: That's the big question. While Meadows, a conservative, is changing his tune, some moderate Republicans are now sounding an alarm. After a late meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Congressman Charlie Dent, the chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, announced he is opposed to the bill.

So, with all of the give and take, here is where it stands at the moment. On this version of the bill to repeal Obamacare, according to CNN's ongoing whip count, you have 24 House Republicans have said they are flat-out no. Another four leaning against. That's 28 lawmakers in the definitely or likely no column.

But that could change quickly.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Even fluctuate wildly if the Freedom Caucus flips to supporting the bill. And we don't even know which direction. This is very fluid.

ROMANS: At this point, it's minute by minute, hour by hour in these final frantic moments. As for the president, himself, aides say he is not involved in all of the details of the legislation. He either doesn't know, doesn't care or both. But they say he is deeply into selling the bill and, quote, "appears energized by that." He is after all the guy who has a book "Art of the Deal."

For the latest on wheeling and dealing on Capitol Hill, let's bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave and Christine, a day of furious lobbying behind closed doors, text, calls, all of the above, appearing to reach a break through or at least step forward between the House Freedom Caucus, those conservatives who said they were not going to support the health care bill. Leadership Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House all coming together to agree perhaps changes should be made.

Now, guys, there's no question, there's still work to be done. But just the fact that leadership is open to changes to the bill is a major, major step forward. President Trump has been on the phone with House Freedom Caucus members trying to get them onboard as well. White House staff, leadership staff, House Freedom Caucus staff all working behind closed doors to try and reach a deal on this moving forward.

The big issue here now: essential health benefits. This was something that was in Obamacare that House leaders did not think they could include in the House bill for procedural reasons, now, that is in play. The question is, is that enough to bring conservatives onboard or will they ask for more?

Dave and Christine?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Fascinating developments. Phil, thank you.

So, just what are those essential health benefits that may hold the key to the final repeal and replace deal? There are ten of them that Obamacare requires as part of every health insurance policy. Among the things insurers currently must cover -- maternity, mental health and prescription drugs. Republicans have long argued that eliminating that requirement would reduce premiums and give consumers more choices. That's what the House Freedom Caucus has argued for.

[04:05:01] The conservative wish list item was not in the original repeal bill because Republican leaders want to get it passed by a simple majority vote via the reconciliation process. Sorry to get to deep in the woods, that's where we are. Reconciliation is limited to federal budget items and Republicans fear it would be hard to argue insurance regulations are a budgetary matter.

ROMANS: So, then, how did essential health benefits make it to the table? We're told it was a concession that came at the end of the day long stalemate between the White House and the House Freedom Caucus. House conservatives calling it a must have. The White House saying the bill was locked. Something had to give.

And now, an official says White House and Republican leaders believe they made a pretty big concession in offering up essential health benefits. But given an inch, Freedom Caucus members are looking for more concessions now, like eliminating another costly Obama requirement, coverage for pre-existing conditions, which is a popular, popular part of Obamacare.

BRIGGS: Deal breaker for many. Certainly the moderates in the Senate.

ROMANS: You lose moderates. You'll get conservatives --

BRIGGS: Running for the exits, without question.

ROMANS: All right. Dueling promises this morning on the Republican health care bill. President Trump's message to House GOP members: vote yes and I'll have your back during re-election.

The message from two GOP mega donors, vote no and we'll bankroll your reelection. A powerful network of conservative donors backed by Charles and David Koch say it will create a new fund for Republican 2018 reelection races, but they'll only open it up to GOP lawmakers who vote against this bill. The money will fund advertisements, field programs and mailings. They say it's worth millions of dollars.

This is an explicit warning to Republicans on the fence about the vote from one of the most influential players in electoral politics. So, what's their big issue with the bill, the Koch brothers?

Well, the president for one of the groups says, quote, "We want to make certain that lawmakers understand the policy consequences of voting for a law that keeps Obamacare intact. We have a history of following up and holding politicians accountable, but we will also be there to support and thank the champions who stand strong and keep their promise."

BRIGGS: You wonder, though, Christine, will they take it a step further? Not just saying they'll promise money to no votes, will they promise money against those that vote yes on the bill? The AARP type of methodology at this point.

ROMANS: Right. It shows you how some powerful forces are lining up on each side.

BRIGGS: Hey, money is a major part of this bill.

ROMANS: Sure is.

BRIGGS: Also, breaking overnight: new fallout from the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Now, U.S. officials tell CNN the FBI has information indicating associates of President Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.

How much evidence does the FBI have? Where did it come from? And how much damage could it do to the White House?

CNN's Pamela Brown is part of the team that broke the story. She has more now from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave and Christine, U.S. officials tell CNN the FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign. FBI Director James Comey as you recall, made his bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign ties to Russia.

So, the FBI is now reviewing that information which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in- person meetings. So, the information is raising those suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, so officials cautioned that the information is not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing. There is still more work to be done. The FBI would not comment nor would the White House. Though Trump officials denied there is any evidence of collusion. Mostly, the FBI is focused on the stolen and published e-mails by

WikiLeaks, including the DNC and Clinton campaign's John Podesta, which as you'll recall started last July. U.S. officials said the information being investigated was not drawn from the leaked dossier of unverified information compiled by a former British intelligence official that was compiled for Trump's political opponents, though the dossier also suggested coordination between Trump campaign associates, as well as Russian operatives.

So, this investigation is ongoing, but this is what we're told in terms of what's going on within the FBI as of now with this counterintelligence investigation -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Again, that's brand new reporting from our justice team, breaking last night. So, if you are waking up this morning, yes, there are new developments in all this.

All of this came down as another stunning controversy unfolded on Capitol Hill. Now, there are big questions about whether the House Intelligence probe of Russia's meddling in the election has been compromised.

All right. That's because House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes announced communications involving President Trump and his associates may have been incidentally collected by intelligence agencies conducting surveillance on foreign subjects after the election.

[04:10:12] Nunes said to be steaming at the intel he read, personally briefed the president on this new development without informing his Democratic counterparts. We're told Nunes ignored pleas from other Republicans to wait to go public before he spoke to Democrats.

Listen to Nunes defend his actions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It concerned me enough to notify the president because it was he and his transition team that were involved in this. And he needs to see those reports. These are intelligence reports that were widely disseminated. It's not fair for him not to know what's in these reports while the past administration and many agencies do know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: A ranking member of the House Intel Committee, Democrat Adam Schiff, insists Nunes has cast a, quote, "profound cloud over efforts to investigate Russia's meddling." He claims evidence of collusion during the election is building.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS: But you admit, it's a circum -- all you have right now is a circumstantial case?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Actually no, Chuck. I can tell you the case is more than that and I can't go into the particulars but there is more than circumstantial evidence now. So, again, I think Director Clapper --

TODD: You have seen direct evidence of collusion?

SCHIFF: I don't want to go into specifics, but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: President Trump says he feels, quote, "somewhat vindicated" by what Nunes told him. There also questions about whether Nunes should have revealed the information to the president at all since it was based on intelligence collected under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance warrant.

ROMANS: I mean, it was head spinning yesterday. The way the news flow was working here. You heard that Devin Nunes say this does not have to do with Russia, which really was --

BRIGGS: Right, again, this was after the election.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: Short game, he gave the president political cover. You wonder if in the long game, he hurt the president because now, John McCain has called for a select committee to investigate collusion and to remove Nunes from the process. So, you wonder if he hurt the president in the long run.

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: So many questions.

ROMANS: So many questions. We're going to continue to probe those in the next hour and 45 minutes.

Twelve minutes past the hour.

A terror attack in Britain striking at the heart of the city at the Houses of Parliament. The new working theory after anti-terror raids overnight. We are live in London.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:16:44] ROMANS: All right. Breaking news this morning: officials in Britain say the working theory about the terror attack in London is ISIS-inspired. Overnight, police conducting terror raids connected to that attack, arresting seven people at six locations in London and Birmingham. The attack left three people killed and dozens injured when a man plowed his car into the crowd of people before trying to storm the Houses of Parliament. CNN's Nina Dos Santos tracking the latest developments live from New

Scotland Yard for us in London this morning.

Certainly, a dramatic afternoon there and now, a rapid series of raids and these arrests, Nina.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, I'm outside the headquarters of London's Metropolitan Police, Christine, where we just had a press conference and we've been told that six arrests -- seven arrests were made at six raids across the addresses in the cities that you just mentioned, London, Birmingham, elsewhere in the U.K.

What they say here, the Metropolitan Police, is that they believe this attacker, they know who he is, but they're not releasing identity. They believe that he probably acted alone, but as you quite rightfully mentioned he was inspired by international terrorism events. In the meantime, I can tell you that there has been a revision on the death toll. Revised back down towards four people who tragically lost their lives, 29 people were taken to hospital in the aftermath of this attack yesterday afternoon. Seven of them still remain in five hospitals across the capital in serious condition.

And so far, we only have the identity of one of the victims. That is one of the police's force own people, Keith Palmer, a 48-year-old, parliamentary protection officer. The person killed with a knife by the attacker was brought down by an armed police officer.

We do hear, though, that there are a mix of other nationalities that are involved in the casualties. It's said a man in his 50s lost his life on the bridge and woman in her 40s also lost her life. From here, officers will piece together through social media, videos that they're getting from the public, and also CCTV, as well as the forensic evidence that's still in the vehicle that crashed into the side of Westminster Bridge and the parliament. They are trying to get a clear picture of the motive was and whether this person really did act alone, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Keep us posted on the investigation. Thank you so much, Nina dos Santos, for us in London.

BRIGGS: Well, can the Republicans get the vote they need to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court? We will tell you how the second day of questioning went for the nominee.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:23:4] ROMANS: Twenty-three minutes past the hour. Welcome back.

After 20-plus hours of intense grilling over two days, the questioning phase of the confirmation hearing is over now for Judge Neil Gorsuch. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee hears for those for and against Gorsuch being named for the Supreme Court. In his final day of testimony, Gorsuch kept refusing to tip his hand on how he might rule in the future despite frustration from some Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: If persons coming to this table, this rather lonely table in this rather big room, have to make promises or hints or previews or nudges and gestures about how they will rule in cases, then I don't know where we are as an independent judiciary. It's like a campaign promise for office it seems to me. You know what? It hasn't happened so far. The precedent in the area is strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The question now, can Senate Republicans get eight Democrats to support Judge Gorsuch to reach the 60 votes needed for confirmation. If not, they could invoke the nuclear option and change the rules to require only 51 votes.

BRIGGS: Team USA dominating Puerto Rico, 8-0, to capture its first ever world baseball classic title. They never finished better than fourth the tournament begun since 2006. Now, Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers got things started for the U.S., that 2-run bomb here in the third inning. You've got to love the crowds on hand throughout the tournament, passionate.

On the other side, it was Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays who took a no hitter into the seventh inning to shutdown the Puerto Rico team. He could have pitched for Puerto Rico. His mother is Puerto Rican. She took abuse online when her son decided to pitch for Team USA.

He gave it a lot of thought as well. She was born and raised there. But this is his country. This is an outstanding win for the United States and fantastic tournament from beginning to end. I think a game changer for the sport.

ROMANS: You really love that.

BRIGGS: It was nice to see a game that can be dull and boring. So passionate, almost like World Cup Soccer.

ROMANS: Awesome, awesome.

BRIGGS: Well, can President Trump seal the deal? We are hours from finding out whether Republicans can pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. If they can't, how big of a blow is it for the Trump agenda?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)