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GOP Health Plan Collapses, Ryan & Trump Pull Bill; Controversial Presidential Candidate Meets with Putin; Trump Associates to Face Questioning Over Russia Ties; Interview With New York Senator Chuck Schumer; Trump on GOP Bill Failure: Let Obamacare Explode; Trump Fails at Deal-Making; Republican Health Care Bills Fails. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 24, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: No vote. Speaker Paul Ryan withdraws the Republican health care bill, rather than see the legislation go up in flames on the House floor. What's next after this enormous setback for the president and party leaders?

Trump's gamble. The author of "The Art of the Deal" tried and fail to win over rebel Republicans who doomed the health care bill. Tonight, Mr. Trump says he's going to let Obamacare explode.

I will get reaction from the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer.

And Russia probe. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee raises eyebrows again by canceling a public hearing. Tonight, Democrats are accusing Devin Nunes of trying to protect the president, even as some key former Trump advisers offered to be questioned about their Russia ties.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news this hour, President Trump says he's going back and let Obamacare explode after his efforts to replace and repeal it were blocked by members of his own Republican Party.

Mr. Trump says Republicans were very close to passing health care legislation in the House, trying to put the best face possible on a huge and stinging political defeat. House Speaker Ryan pulled the bill and canceled the scheduled vote at the last minute, after failing to win over conservative opponents, despite an all-out lobbying campaign led by the president.

Speaker Ryan chalking up the loss as growing pains for a party that's not used to controlling the Congress and the White House. But tonight there are very serious questions about efforts to move the Trump agenda forward.

Also breaking, three key former Trump advisers have volunteered to be questioned about their Russia ties, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, this as the House Intelligence Committee chairman cancels an open hearing on Russia, prompting the panel's top Democratic to accuse him of trying to keep information from the American public.

I will talk about these stories and much more with the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by as we cover all of the news that is breaking right now.

First, let's go to our correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, walk us through the truly historic and dramatic developments.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a whirlwind last couple of days that really came to an end, a jarring end, with three words: Trump is done. That was the message from House leaders behind closed doors according to sources in the room, making clear that not only were going to pull the health care bill. They were going to move on from the issue they campaigned on year after year after year completely.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): The pressure, the arm-twisting, the ultimatum, they have all fallen short.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I will not sugarcoat this. This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard. All of us, all of us, myself included, we will need time to reflect on how we got to this moment, what we could have done to do it better.

MATTINGLY: House Speaker Paul Ryan deciding to pull the Republican Obamacare repeal and replacement plan hours after traveling to the White House to tell President Trump directly he didn't have the votes to pass it and warning, one source said, that the loss on the House floor could be big.

RYAN: Obamacare is the law of the land. It's going to remain the law of the land until it's replaced. We did not have quite the votes to replace this. And so, yes, we're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.

MATTINGLY: A jarring realization less than 24 hours after the president himself made his final offer, vote now or he's prepared to move on.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we have to let Obamacare go its way for a little while and we will how things go. I would to see it do well, but I can't. I mean, it can't. It's not a question of, gee, I hope it does well. I would love it to do well. I want great health care for the people of this nation, but it can't do well. It's imploding and soon will explode.

MATTINGLY: Democrats taking a victory lap. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Frankly, I thought

they might have accomplished something in the first couple of months. I think their mistake really was they were so focused on embarrassing the Affordable Care Act, rather than trying to improve it.

MATTINGLY: The health care setback a stunning turn of events from the cautious optimism of the morning.

QUESTION: How are you feeling this morning?


QUESTION: Do you guys think you are going to get the votes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We will get it done today.

MATTINGLY: And even a few hours after that.

QUESTION: CNN. Wondering how are things going?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going great. We're just continuing to talk to the members, getting ready to move forward. Always confident.

MATTINGLY: But sources tell CNN the votes simply never materialized and it became clear leaders were actually losing votes based on the compromise designed to bring conservatives aboard.


The deal on the table would strip the 10 essential health benefits required in insurance plans by Obamacare, something moderate Republicans already wary of the bill were telling leaders was simply a bridge too far, sources said. This was all happening as the debate on the bill was ongoing, leaving members to question what, if any path forward existed, and leaving the president to answer questions about a looming failure of his first and biggest legislative push.

QUESTION: Did you rush it?

TRUMP: We will see what happens.


MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, the recriminations, the blame game, that's certainly already starting. You can hear it from aides behind closed doors.

But the big question now is, as you noted, the growing pains the speaker referred to. There is a very ambitious agenda that the president and this House Republican leadership wants to accomplish going forward, starting most notably with tax reform. Is this a harbinger of failures to come? Or can they grow and get past this? That is question right now nobody I'm talking to has the answer to, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Phil, thanks very much, Phil Mattingly up on the Hill.

Let's get reaction to all of from the top Democrat in the United States Senate, the minority leader, Chuck Schumer.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.



SCHUMER: They were just turning the monitor off.

BLITZER: I know you have got a nice smile on your face.

I want to you to listen to the shout-out you got from the president, his reaction to having the Republicans pull this health care bill. Listen to this.


TRUMP: I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because now they own Obamacare.

They own it, 100 percent own it. And this is not a Republican health care. This is not anything but a Democrat health care. And they have Obamacare for a little while longer until it ceases to exist, which it will at some point in the near future. And, just remember, this is not our bill. This is their bill.


BLITZER: OK. Senator, your reaction?

SCHUMER: Well, it's a tall tale, another one by President Trump.

They never reached out to us, they never talked to us, they never said how can we work together to make it better? The failure is, of course, completely among the Republicans, President Trump and the Congress. They weren't even trying to get Democrats involved.

And now it's about time for the president to lead, not to name-call, not to blame, but to lead. To simply say people are going to suffer, and someone is to blame, that makes no sense at all.

If you're a real president, you care about people suffering. And we're ready to work with the president. Let them take repeal off the table. Let him and Speaker Ryan, Mitch McConnell say, we're not repealing, and we will work with him on improving Obamacare.

But, in the meantime, for the president to do things to make Obamacare worse and have millions of people suffer, to make sure it doesn't work, when CBO says it is working -- he's wrong about that -- that's not being a president.

BLITZER: Listen to how the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, reacted. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: Yes, I think we were probably doing the Democrats a favor. I think we were doing the architects of Obamacare a favor by passing this law before it gets even worse.

Well, I guess that favor is not going to be given them and it's going to get worse. And so I don't think the architects of Obamacare, I'm sure they may be pleased right now, but when they see how bad this thing gets, based on all the projections we're being told by the plans that are participating in Obamacare, I don't think they're going to like that either.


BLITZER: All right, go ahead and react to the speaker.

SCHUMER: Well, again, Obamacare is working for millions of people.

That's why there was such an outcry when they decided to repeal it. Can it be improved some? Of course. We have always said that. And once the Republicans take repeal off the table, we're willing to work with them to improve it.

But it's far, far better having it than not having it, 20 million people covered, preexisting conditions taken care of, college kids and who graduate from college can get on their health care plan, women's health care taken care of, senior citizens getting reasonable cost health care, all of which would have been undone by Trumpcare.

And that's why the public was on our side. Last polls I saw, 57 percent against Trumpcare, rather keeping and improving ACA. We're willing to work with them, but they have got to take repeal off the table. You know, it was very easy for seven years for them to decry this.

But I will say this. You know, there were two problems, two reasons this failed, that President Trump failed. One is incompetence. I have never seen such incompetence. They put together a bill that doesn't have the support of so many of their own party. Nobody, hardly anyone on the outside -- supported it, AARP against it, AMA against it, hospitals against it, nurses against it.


And, second, you can't -- and this is a lesson for them for the future. You cannot govern from the hard right. This bill, the only people who really benefited were the very, very wealthy, people above $250,000 a year


BLITZER: Who do you blame for their failure?

SCHUMER: Pardon?

BLITZER: Who do you blame for their failure? I would like you to name names.

SCHUMER: Well, the bottom line is, President Trump proved to be incompetent. There was no art of the deal here.

Even his great technique, I will threaten them, I will put out, and then they will come back to me, didn't work. Leader Ryan, I like him a great deal. He's a good man, but I don't understand how you can put a bill on the floor before so many of your members have signed off on it and don't like it.

So there is a lot of blame all on the Republican side to go around.

BLITZER: If Republicans can't come together and agree on a new health care bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, what, if anything, are you, the Democratic leader in the Senate, going to do to reach out to Republicans and try to work with them on a bipartisan basis to find some solutions to fixing Obamacare?

SCHUMER: That's just what we want to do.

If they take repeal off the table, we're willing to sit down with them and improve Obamacare. It's doing a good job, but there are places that it can be improved. No question about it.

BLITZER: What would you want to improve?

SCHUMER: There is a whole lot of things. I'm not going to get into it a whole list now.

We've introduced legislation making drug prices lower, providing Medicare maybe for more people, making sure the insurance companies don't get away with everything by giving more power to the insurance companies, more competition through a public option.

There are all kinds of changes that we're willing to take to make Obamacare better. But they have got to get off this kick of repeal. And I did not see Speaker Ryan say that. And Donald Trump is saying, ha, ha, everyone will now suffer. Well, only if he tries to make it worse. And that wouldn't be what a president is supposed to do.

BLITZER: And even as this legislation was going down, they were pulling the actual bill, the president phoned "The Washington Post," Bob Costa over at "The Washington Post" and he said this.

And let me put it up on the screen: "As you know, I have been saying for years that the best thing is to let Obamacare explode and then go make a deal with the Democrats and have one unified deal. And they will come to us. We won't have to come to them after Obamacare explodes."

Will you come to the president now and try to make what he calls a unified deal?

SCHUMER: Well, as I said, if they take repeal off the table, absolutely. They have tried to repeal it. They failed. If they keep trying to repeal it, we won't be able to do anything. So, of course we will come to them. And it's about time for the

president to act like a president, not to make people suffer, make things worse by making Obamacare worse. It's a good deal now. He can try to make it better. That's fine.

But this idea of, ha, ha, ha, people will suffer, that is not what a president is supposed to be. We're not gloating that they failed. We're sad that they won't work with us to improve Obamacare.

BLITZER: What lessons, Senator, will you take from this health care episode right now to apply to upcoming items on the president's legislative agenda? Because now he says the priority number one for the White House is tax cuts, tax reform.


The number one lesson here is to do, is to aim things at average families, working families. Obamacare had huge tax cuts on the very rich and then they made everyone else pay more. And their main focus was to give tax cuts to the rich.

If tax reform is the same way, and the overwhelming benefit goes to the top 1 percent, it will fail again. So the lesson that they should learn is focus on middle-class people.

The president talks about average working families, but it seems every one of his policies moves in favor of the powerful few special interests, the very wealthy.

BLITZER: Are you willing to work with him on legislation on tax reform?

SCHUMER: Well, we have to see what the legislation is, but if it's anything like health care, they don't talk to us, they just put down a piece of legislation and say, if you want to be bipartisan, you have to support it, even when it doesn't help the American people.

That didn't work last time, and it won't work this time. Obviously, if they're going to help middle-class people, it's something we will look at. They have to put a proposal down first. We will see what it's like.

BLITZER: We will see what it's like, indeed. They haven't done that yet.

While I have you, Senator, let me shift gears for a moment. The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, he canceled a hearing scheduled for next week, that the committee no longer will be hearing in open session from the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the former CIA Director John Brennan, the former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.


The chairman, Devin Nunes, still hasn't shared the information he says shows what he calls incidental collection of the president's communications or his sources. How confident are you in this investigation right now?

SCHUMER: Well, I don't have much confidence in Chairman Nunes.

The Intelligence Committees in the House of Senate have had a grand history of bipartisanship. Democrats and Republicans put parties at the door when they check into that SCIF, the intelligence room where they can talk about classified information.

Nunes seems to be much more of a partisan, and that is a very, very bad thing. And it could destroy a grand tradition. I hope he either comes to his senses or maybe Speaker Ryan replaces him.

BLITZER: Do you think there is better cooperation in the Senate Intelligence Committee?


BLITZER: Richard Burr and Mark Warner?

SCHUMER: There have been a few bumps in the road, but Mark Warner, I think, has done a very, very good job -- so has Adam Schiff. They both have.

But Mark warner has done a very good job. And even though on occasion Chairman Burr has lost some of our full faith and credit, when he tried to call reporters, for instance, and tout the administration line, I think things are much working better in the Senate, absolutely.

BLITZER: Do you think there needs to be an independent and outside commission to investigate?

SCHUMER: Look, I have always thought that the best way to go was that way, particularly if the Intelligence Committees can't do it on their own.

So we will have to wait and see. You know, I have faith in Mark Warner and the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee. Some of the Republicans have been very bipartisan as well. We will see where that goes.

BLITZER: Is there evidence of collusion?

SCHUMER: Well, I'm not going to get into any details about classified briefings I have heard.

BLITZER: Can you just give us a sense of...


BLITZER: You don't want to say anything on that?

SCHUMER: No. I'm very careful about that kind of thing.

BLITZER: If they were to find some collusion or cooperation between what they call Trump associates and the Russian government and their meddling in the elections going ahead in the cyber-attacks and all of that, what would be the remedy?

SCHUMER: Well, I'm not going to -- again, Wolf, I'm not going to speculate on something like that.

BLITZER: All right, I understand.

SCHUMER: Good try. Good try.

BLITZER: All right. It's always a good try.

Before I let you go, your party now, you say, plans to filibuster President Trump's U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. You say if he doesn't get 60 votes, the answer isn't to change the rules, it's to change the nominee.

But is that a dangerous approach, because you know that Mitch McConnell, he can unload what is called the nuclear option that would require only 51 votes for confirmation?

SCHUMER: No, I hope he won't. I think there are some members of his own caucus who don't want to do it.

And let's not forget, had Mitch McConnell not held up Merrick Garland for a whole year, we wouldn't even be talking about this. I have always believed that Supreme Court justices should get 60 votes. They call it a filibuster. It's just 60 votes, because there should be some bipartisan buy-in.

And the last four have, Wolf. The two George Bush nominees, Roberts and Alito, the two Barack Obama nominees, Kagan and Sotomayor, all passed that 60-votes threshold. There is no reason why Gorsuch shouldn't. And if he can't, the answer is not change the rule, but change the nominee.

BLITZER: Justice Alito had 58. He didn't get...


SCHUMER: Well, there was a cloture vote where he had over 70.

BLITZER: Yes, but he wound up in the end with 58.


SCHUMER: I know, but I said each justice met a 60-vote threshold.

BLITZER: But when the American Bar Association says that Judge Gorsuch is highly qualified right now, do you believe that he's highly qualified?

SCHUMER: The issue is what his ideology is. He says he's going to call right it down the middle.

But someone who was so fervently supported by the Federalist Society, which has a generation-long goal of moving the courts way to the right, why are they doing that? Why are they spending $10 million, these hard-right groups, to support him? Is it because he's going to be a neutral judge and call balls and strikes? I don't believe so.

And if you look at his early history and his court cases, they don't indicate that as well. What I have found most troubling, he almost has an instinctive reaction in too many cases to side with the big corporate special interests, rather than the middle-class person, average person who needs help.

And the courts are often the only recourse average folks have.

BLITZER: We got to let you go. I know you're rushing off.

SCHUMER: Yes, I am.

BLITZER: Senator, you have been generous with your time. Thank you very much.

SCHUMER: Wolf, it's always good to be with on with a Buffalonian, someone from Buffalo.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. We love those Upstaters. I know you do too. Thank you.

SCHUMER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Chuck Schumer of New York.

He's from Downstate. I'm from Upstate.

We have more breaking news coming up right after this.



BLITZER: Breaking news we're following. The president and the Republican leadership, they pulled the House health care bill. Mr. Trump responding to the defeat by promising to let Obamacare, in his word, explode.

Our political team is here. There is a lot to talk about.

Let me play this clip, and John King is with us right now. Listen to the speaker reacting to the news.


RYAN: Obamacare is the law of the land. It's going to remain the law of the land until it's replaced. We did not have the quite votes to replace this law. And so, yes, we're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.


BLITZER: That was a pretty dramatic statement.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Especially if you just take a breath.

We're all caught up in the drama today. They ran four election cycles in a row. This was the foundation of the Republican message. We will repeal Obamacare. And then it became the repeal and replace.


That was the message in 2010. It was again the message in 2012, where the president was reelected, but the Republicans did OK down-ballot, 2014, when the Republicans took the Senate back, 2016, when they won everything.

That was their signature issue. To hear the speaker of House, who made this his number one priority, who helped convince President Trump to make his number legislative priority in town, Obamacare is the law of the land. Wow.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: One thing it shows is the power of facts on the ground

The reality is, you have 20 million people who have health care who not have health care before the law. You have a medical industry that has evolved in many different ways to respond to the nudges in the law.

It's difficult to think of another legislative loss this big this early for a first-term president. I was talking to David Gergen, who has been doing this even longer than some of us. And it's really hard to think of a precedent for a president having a legislative defeat of this magnitude.

And having said that, he may be better off than having this go on for several more weeks in the Senate. If there was any chance of getting it through the Senate, it would have to evolve in a radically different way that would have been unacceptable to the House.

The fact is the Republicans don't have a clear vision of what can replace this that is acceptable in a world where 20 million people have health care.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The other interesting thing Paul Ryan said in the presser was, he asked a question.

Are all of us willing to give something to get something done? And clearly he's speaking to the Freedom Caucus. He's suffering from the same problems that John Boehner suffered from. And he understands if he's going to get tax reforms through it all, and if he's going to get infrastructure through it all, those very same people are the people he's got to talk to.

KING: And the debt ceiling.


BORGER: To keep the government open. And he was basically pleading with them, saying, we have to give something to get something done around here.


He's been saying for so many years that the Republican Party needs to evolve into a proposition party, not an opposition party. Clearly, that transformation is not complete.

Part of the problem is you have a quarter of the House Republicans now, and not just the Freedom Caucus, who have never been in a Republican majority in Congress at the same time there has been a Republican president. You have a quarter of House Republicans who don't have any governing experience whatsoever. That's a long-term problem.

BLITZER: John, until today, until this afternoon, the Republicans, officials at the White House, Sean Spicer, they were all pretty upbeat about the chances of success. Listen to this exchange Sean Spicer had.


QUESTION: How confident are you that the bill will pass and if it doesn't pass, is there a plan B?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, there is no plan B. There is a plan A and plan A. We're going to get this done. I'm not looking -- as I mentioned, we're not looking at a plan B. We have plan A and it's going to pass. And we're going to go from there.

QUESTION: You said there is only plan A.

SPICER: Right.

QUESTION: At this point, is there an acknowledgement that perhaps there does need to be a plan B if this vote doesn't happen tonight?


QUESTION: Is there any sort of plan if the bill doesn't pass tonight?


SPICER: No. It's going to pass. So that's it.


BLITZER: Well, it didn't pass.

KING: It didn't pass.

And, look, again, it's his job to go out and be optimistic and talk for his boss. It's one of the toughest jobs in town. We both covered the building for a long time. So, I want to give him some grace.

At the same time, there have been questions about the credibility of the president, the things that the president says, the things that have been said from that podium. Now there is a performance question.

Rebecca is dead right that this is, to borrow a medical term, a preexisting condition, the fractions in the Republican Party. Donald Trump inherited them. They were there when John Boehner was speaker. That's why he left town. They were there for Paul Ryan last year when Barack Obama was still president. They frustrated him.

The fractures in the Republican Party are preexisting conditions. This is why Donald Trump won. In the primaries, if you were a senator or a governor, the Republican base said, go away, we want something new, we want something different.

He was and he said this himself, I alone. He was the businessman who was going to be able to negotiate these big, tough deals. He said I have Mike Pence and Tom Price and Mick Mulvaney. I have these inside Washington guys who will take me, the ultimate outsider, and tell how to get this done. I can do this.

This is what he said. He based his whole campaign on, I can do this. On challenge number one, he failed.

BORGER: But they need a plan B. They don't have a plan B.

And the problem for from is that their base wanted to repeal and replace Obamacare, issue number one. And so the notion today, and we seem to be hearing this, and correct me if I am wrong, if you guys are hearing the same thing, that they don't have another plan. And so they're going to -- so their base is not going to let them get way with that.


BROWNSTEIN: He did sort of suggest a plan B, which was you kind of go forward and the existing Obamacare law becomes so onerous that ultimately Democrats -- and it is also something that is not really true.

The Congressional Budget Office in their analysis of the bill concluded that Obamacare and the Republican replacement both would produce stable insurance markets. It is not clear that Obamacare would die from natural causes. Somebody is going to have to hold a pillow over its head if, in fact, you're going to take it out.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by.

There's a lot more on the breaking news.

What's next in this political battle over health care, as Republicans face defeat and the reality that Obamacare isn't going anywhere, at least for now?


[18:44:47] BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. President Trump says he's going to let Obamacare explode after Republicans were forced to pull the House health care bill because of a lack of support within their own party.

Listen to the president speaking just a little while ago about this huge political defeat.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obamacare is exploding. With no Democrat support, we couldn't quite get there. We're just a very small number of votes short in terms of getting our bill passed.

A lot of people don't realize how good our bill was because they were viewing phase one, but when you add phase two, which was mostly the signings (ph) of Secretary Price, who's behind me, and you add phase three, which I think we would have gotten, it became a great bill. Premiums would have gone down and stable and strong. But that's OK. But we were very, very close.

And again, I think what will happen is Obamacare, unfortunately, will explode. It's going to have a very bad year. Last year, you had over 100 percent increases in various places, and in Arizona, I understand, it's going up very rapidly again like it did last year. Last year was 116 percent. Many places, 50, 60, 70 percent. I guess it averaged, whatever the average was, very, very high. And this year should be much worse for Obamacare.

So what would be really good with no Democrat support, if the Democrats, when it explodes, which it will soon, if they got together with us and got a real health care bill. I'd be totally open to it. And I think that's going to happen. I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because now they own Obamacare. They own it. 100 percent own it.


BLITZER: They owned it before, too. You know, Rebecca, the president, unlike the speaker, he's not really taking personal responsibility for this.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's reasoning to see, Wolf. He did see in that statement that it's "our bill." So there's some sense of ownership in that remark there.

But the president is acting more like an innocent bystander than a stakeholder in this whole thing. And this is something that he ran on. This was a cornerstone of his campaign for president. And now he's telling "The Washington Post" he just felt like he had an obligation to go along with it, that he wanted to be a team player.

I mean, it is stunning to see, and I would be amazed, personally, if the president is able to pull this off, if he's able to create that separation between this failed bill and himself.


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Your answer's no. BORGER: And the most telling quote, I think, today was when he said the best thing that could happen is what happened today. Huh? Your bill just lost. This was your No. 1 issue. And it was a statement that was above all else, I think.

BLITZER: He was suggesting that if Obamacare explodes, in his words...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ... the Democrats will be blamed; it will be good for the Republicans.

BORGER: How cynical is that? Coming from a president who is a president of all people, and if he thinks Obamacare is going to explode or implode, or whatever it is, then you have to care about the people who could suffer as a result.

BROWNSTEIN: And again, just to underscore, the CBO said, yes, Obamacare does have problems. They have rate rises in many places. But the Congressional Budget Office concluded it would not explode. It would ultimately produce stable markets.

There was a lurching unsteadiness to this from the beginning. From the beginning, this was off-brand in the sense that the president said he was going to protect older, working-age adults on Medicare and then to endorse a health care bill that hammered those same voters, who are Republican voters just didn't make any sense.

And at the end, to lurch the bill so far to the right by eliminating such mandatory benefits as maternity care, and mental health and drug addiction and not realize that that would expose you to risks on the other side of the party, I mean, this really was kind of an amateur hour.

BLITZER: John, I think there was a revealing moment about a month ago at the end of February when the president acknowledged this. Listen.


TRUMP: Now, I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.


BLITZER: Well, a lot of people knew it was pretty complicated.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And he does tonight. He does tonight. And there's a very important lesson here. This -- A, No. 1, this is not Donald Trump's Republican Party. He took it over in the Republican presidential primaries last year, but as a governing president, he went to these members of the Freedom Caucus, conservative members. He carried all their districts. He ran about even with them. This is where he is most popular. This is where he won 55, 60, 70 percent of the vote in their districts. They all cheered him. They all said it was great. They said it was wonderful to have him involved. They would not give them their votes.

The moderates in the northeastern part of the state who -- northeastern part of the country, who Hillary Clinton carried their districts, sometimes you take a bet on a new president. A lot of Republicans did that for George W. Bush: "He's our new president; we have to be loyal here." They wouldn't do it.

So this is a lesson to this president, who needs to cut a lot of deals that, again, this is supposed to be his strength, and the party said no.

BLITZER: And you and I -- and you and I, John, we can personally testify, we were both White House correspondents, in '93, '94. Early in the Bill Clinton administration, health care reform, that was a big issue. It was called Hillarycare. Bill Clinton went -- they got Hillarycare through the House, but then it collapsed.

BROWNSTEIN: It never got through the...

BLITZER: It didn't get through the House. Well, it collapsed in the House and the Senate.


BLITZER: And they paid a serious price for that.

KING: They failed. And we don't know -- look, Donald Trump has defied every rule in American politics. So let's be careful, and let's not rush to judgment. The midterm election is 571 days away.

[18:40:05] BROWNSTEIN: Who's counting?

KING: But failing -- I count all the time. But failing, it matters. It matters. Again, if your -- especially if your brand is "I do deals and I'm success; and I will get things done. I alone can do this." When that's your brand and then you fail, there's usually consequences.

We don't know. Trump, again, defies gravity most of the time. We'll see.

BLITZER: You know who predicted what was going to happen today? John Boehner...

KING: Yes.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ... the former speaker of the House. Let me put it up on the screen. This is what he said last month: "In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever one time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like. Not once."

BROWNSTEIN: And there was a casual decision at the beginning of this -- it was almost unremarked by any of us -- not to involve Democrats in any meaningful way, either through process or through the substance of the policy. And what that does is it essentially gives a veto power to each wing of the Republican Party, because there are no Democratic votes.

Now, it is a very different Congress if, in fact, you were going to bring Democrats in and you would not be talking, for example, about repealing the Medicaid expansion. But the fact is, as they go forward to tax reform and as they go forward to infrastructure, if they maintain this posture of essentially trying to do this solely within the Republican Party, you see the results. You're empowering each wing with, in essence, a veto power.

BORGER: You know, I think Donald Trump, in his own way, believed that the sheer power of his personality could get him through this. I mean, remember "Win one for the Gipper"? Well, you can't do that anymore. Politics doesn't really -- I don't even know if the Gipper could win one any more, because...

KING: The Gipper governed a very big, complicated state...


KING: ... before he was president.

BORGER: Well, that is true.

BROWNSTEIN: And he knew how to make a deal.

BLITZER: And he was willing to compromise.

BORGER: But Donald Trump believed in the powers of persuasion that he would have over these, you know -- over the Freedom Caucus, believing that they would be ultimately loyal to him.

But what I don't think he understood is that the Freedom Caucus would have won their districts anyway.


BORGER: Because they have their -- many of them have very big margins. Mark Meadows had a very huge margin. And that -- so they're not ultimately beholden to Donald Trump. They're beholden to their districts. And it was a lesson for him to learn.

BERG: But in spite of what Sean Spicer said that the president left everything on the mat with this fight...

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Not true.

BERG: ... he really didn't. He didn't use all the tools in his tool belt. He could have gone out there, been a more public face of this bill, done town halls, talked to the media. He wasn't doing any of those things. If you compare it to...

BLITZER: And you know, it's interesting. It's interesting. The speaker, Paul Ryan, he sounded a little bit like Bill Clinton...


BLITZER: ... when he was admonishing the Freedom Caucus, the conservatives...


BLITZER: ... "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." We used to hear that from Bill Clinton all the time.

KING: Yes, and again, remember how Paul Ryan became speaker when John Boehner left town. And as the kids say "LMAO," hashtag LMAO. I'll leave it to the -- it's a family-friendly audience here.


KING: But both John Boehner and President Obama today are laughing at this, because this is almost an "I told you so" moment for John Boehner. You just read the quote.

The challenge for the speaker, who is a policy guy -- he is a policy guy -- is now he wants to get the agenda through, and he understands, again, these fractures have not healed. And on round one, the president -- president did not prove that he could pull it together and get through it, to Gloria's point.

BROWNSTEIN: Tax reform will be just as hard.

BLITZER: Tax reform, the president says that's the next big legislative issue. Major tax reform. Let's see.

BERG: Where does he get the money for that?

BLITZER: There's more breaking news ahead. What's next for President Trump and the Republican leaders after the failure of their health care bill?

And the Republican leader of the House Intelligence Committee cancels a hearing on Russian election meddling, escalating partisan tension on the panel.


[18:48:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following the dramatic collapsing of the Republican health care bill and the fall-out from President Trump.

Right now, we have more breaking news. We're also following in the House Intelligence Committee's investigation of Russia's election meddling. The top Democratic on the panel now is accusing the Republican chairman of trying to choke off information from the public.

Let's go to our senior congressional reporter Manu Raju.

Manu, the partisan split clearly is widening right now even as three key witnesses are offering to appear before the panel. MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, no question about

it, those three witnesses, Wolf -- Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone -- Trump advisers from the campaign season who have agreed to come forward if the House Intelligence Committee wants to hear from them. Carter Page even telling me earlier today that he wants to go public, have a public hearing to clear his name, believes he's been smeared by lies and innuendos in his words.

But this comes, Wolf, as a lot of tension is growing between Republicans and Democrats on the committee, starting earlier this week when Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the committee, decided to brief President Trump over new information that he obtained from a secret source showing that some Trump communications may have appeared in some intelligence reports, something that he believed was alarming enough that he had to brief President Trump first before committee Democrats, even as they were investigating this issue of Russia and any connections with Trump campaign officials.

Now, this came as today, Mr. Nunes also they also canceled a Tuesday hearing where they're going to talk about the issue of Russia from three former intelligence officials. Now, Democrats are sounding off but some saying Nunes should step down as chairman of the committee. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat, also raising concerns earlier today.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: To take evidence that may or may not be related to the investigation to the White House was wholly inappropriate and, of course, cast grave doubts into the ability to run a credible investigation and the integrity of that investigation.

[18:50:06] RAJU: Do you believe that he can still run this committee or should he step aside?

SCHIFF: Ultimately, that's a decision that the speaker needs to make. And I think the speaker has to decide as well as our own chairman whether they want a credible investigation being done here, whether they want investigation that the public can have confidence in.


RAJU: Now, Devin Nunes also getting -- coming under fire after saying on Sean Hannity's program last night that one reason he briefed Donald Trump was, quote, to ensure -- because Donald Trump had been getting a lot of heat in the news media. And also, Devin Nunes taking questions earlier today about whether or not he would allow Paul Manafort to testify publicly, suggesting he's willing to do so if Mr. Manafort is, addresses those issues today.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: He voluntarily offered to come to the committee. We will work it out. Our lawyers, Republicans and Democrats, will work with his lawyers. If he wants to come out in public and have a public hearing , he's more than welcome to do that. If he wants to do it in a closed setting, that's also fine with me.

RAJU: Last night, on Sean Hannity's show, you said that one reason why you brief the president is because he was taking a lot of heat in the news media. What did you mean by that?

NUNES: I'm stating the obvious, because you can follow me around and ask me, of course, more questions today.


RAJU: So, the reason why Mr. Nunes canceled that Tuesday hearing was to hear from a private briefing from James Comey and Mike Rogers in a private classified briefing on Tuesday. That's going to happen before the House Intelligence Committee next week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Mike Rogers, who's the director of the National Security Agency. Thanks very much, Manu Raju, for that report.

More breaking news just ahead.


[18:56:16] BLITZER: We have much more ahead on the breaking news: today's collapse of the Republican health care bill.

We're also watching intriguing developments involving a top U.S. ally and adversary, a leading candidate in the upcoming French presidential election who shares some of President Trump's nationalist, populist positions, sat down with the Russian President Vladimir Putin today.

Let's bring in Brian Todd.

What kind of message is all of this sending, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a message that this far right nationalist surge in France is gaining momentum. Many Americans are worried about it and Vladimir Putin is embracing it. Today, he met in Moscow with French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who could turn America's alliance with France on its ear.


TODD (voice-over): Vladimir Putin's latest attempt to manipulate another country's levers of power. He meets in Moscow with France's far right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, a woman who, if she wins, could turn a key U.S. ally upside down. Le pen says she'd like to lift sanctions on Russia, to recognize Putin's annexation of Crimea.

And she makes another bold prediction.

MARINE LE PEN, FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the world of Vladimir Putin. It's the world of Donald Trump and the United States.

TODD: Analysts say it's a stunning image for a top candidate in a Western democracy to unabashedly embrace Moscow, at a time when in America, President Trump's campaign is being investigated over whether aides coordinated with Russian operatives.

HEATHER CONLEY, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think what's unusual is how much Russia is now playing into our daily news cycle, our daily consciousness. Russia is very much at the center of our attention, and that's exactly where Putin would like to be.

TODD: Why is Marine Le Pen a favorite French candidate of Putin's?

BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, "FRAGILE EMPIRE": Because Le Pen wants to break Euro/Atlantic institutions. Le Pen wants to bring France out of NATO. She wants to bring France out of the Euro, she wants to break a bloc which Putin sees correctly as preventing Russia achieving the dominant position in Europe as a great power.

TODD: And tonight, there's serious concern that Putin will meddle in France's election like he allegedly did in America. CNN has learned French officials are worried that Putin's hackers will fish for damaging information using similar tactics to how U.S. intelligence says they targeted Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Russian hackers are believed to have targeted France before with a devastating cyberattack in 2015 of a top French TV network.

Putin denies trying to tilt the French elections.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): We do not want to influence events in any way.

TODD: But Marine Le Pen has already gotten a boost from Russia, a loan, three years ago, of about $10 million to her party from a bank owned by a close friend of Putin's.

DAVID KRAMER, THE MCCAIN INSTITUTE: The very fact that Marine Le Pen is in Moscow this week and is there to drum up support from Putin, has received a $10 million loan from the Russians in 2014, that Putin is trying to boost the far right forces in France, all this does suggest that Le Pen is rather beholden to Putin and the Kremlin and Russia.


TODD: Analysts say Putin's attempts to help far right candidates with his world view win power in Europe is just one way Putin is moving towards his ultimate goal, staying in power himself. He's got an election coming up next year that experts say he's fairly paranoid about, even though he has manipulated the political machinery so heavily, there's almost no chance he's going to lose. Wolf, he has neutralized about every potential opponent he has for next year's election.

BLITZER: And I'm anxious like you are, Brian, like a lot of our viewers to see what if anything the House and Senate Intelligence Committee investigations into all of this develops.

Brian Todd reporting for us -- Brian, thanks very much. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I hope you have a great weekend.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.