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EARLY START

Big GOP Health Care Push; Trump's Strongmen; Violent (and Non- Violent) May Protests. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 2, 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: House Republican leaders making another big push on health care, even as questions swirl over coverage for people with preexisting conditions. Are the president's comments on this issue undermining the bill?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And this White House defending President Trump for extending a hand to authoritarian leaders. All this hours ahead of a high stakes phone call with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

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

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. It's Tuesday, May 2nd, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

The president has been awfully busy, talking an awful lot.

ROMANS: I know.

BRIGGS: Five interviews in the last few days.

ROMANS: Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley just said, it's been a surreal 24 hours in presidential history.

BRIGGS: Yes. I mean, each one has new information. Each one yet muddying the waters further.

ROMANS: Lots to talk about.

BRIGGS: The administration going all out this morning, straining for every last vote to get a health care bill through the House, Vice President Mike Pence. The former House leader himself walking Capitol hallways, a sure sign there is work to be done, before the Obamacare repeal and replace bill is ready for a vote. Moderates do remain the focus now. Leaders hope they can sell those unhappy with the bill on the fact that if it passes, it could be significantly reworked by the Senate.

ROMANS: Although the White House keeps touting progress and suggesting a vote is near, the whip count is painfully tight with many members on the fence, including some on the whip team itself. The White House does have its work cut out.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has more this morning from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

Well, there certainly was some hopeful and optimistic rhetoric out of the White House early on Monday that they could get this bill through this week. But that has given way to a harsh and stark reality up here on Capitol Hill. Put simply, they simply don't have the votes for this bill yet.

We had Vice President Mike Pence up here on Capitol Hill last night, trying to save this bill, meeting with members. And as he left Capitol Hill, he was asked by reporters, do you have the votes? And he answered with just two words, "Stay tuned", which really speaks to the fluidity of this at this moment.

On Monday, we saw a slew of House Republicans stand up against this bill, say they anticipate voting no against this bill and that's really put it in some serious jeopardy. According to CNN's latest whip count, 21 House Republicans say they'll vote against the bill, meaning that Republicans can only afford to lose two -- just two more Republican votes or this bill will ultimately fail.

And, of course, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has not scheduled a vote on the bill, which speaks to where it is this moment and later this morning, the full Republican conference will meet, which give us the truest indication of where this is all headed -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Sunlen, thanks.

As GOP leaders struggle to round up votes on health care, President Trump took a fresh stab at laying down his marker on the most controversial issue: preexisting conditions. But seeming to further muddy the waters a bit. The president told "Bloomberg" the bill is, quote, "not in its final form right now. We are protecting preexisting conditions and it will be every bit as good on preexisting conditions as Obamacare. I want it to be a great deal for the people."

ROMANS: But experts and advocates disagree with that claim, at least as the measure stands in its current form. It does still require insurers to provide policies to people with preexisting conditions. But it would allow states to opt out of several key Obamacare insurance reforms, including regulations that prevent insurers from pricing patients right out of the market.

BRIGGS: And there's the hook.

A lot of raised eyebrows meanwhile over President Trump's latest comments about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. No sitting U.S. president has ever met face to face with the North Korean leader, but listen to Mr. Trump's response when asked by "Bloomberg News" whether he is willing to be the first.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would be absolutely -- I would be honored to do it. If it's under, again, under the right circumstances.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROMANS: A lot of attention to that word "honored". And you hear him paused before he says it. He paused, thought about his words, and said he would be honored.

So what are the right circumstances for a face to face meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader?

Reporters posed that question to White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've got to see their provocative behavior ratcheted down immediately. Those are -- there's a lot of conditions that would have to happen with respect to behavior and to show signs of good faith. Clearly, the conditions are not there right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[04:05:00] ROMANS: So let's go live to South Korea. We want to bring in CNN's Alexandra Field.

Alexandra, we understand, there's new reaction from Seoul to this.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, no reaction to the word "honored". I think maybe that's left some people speechless.

But the official response did have to do with the suggestion that President Trump would under some circumstances, be willing to speak to Kim Jong-un. And the word we heard from officials here was an explanation that it the door has always been open. It's been the long standing policy in the view of South Korea officials for both South Korea and the U.S. that there could be negotiations if North Korea took the right steps and set itself on a pack toward denuclearization.

Just like what you heard from Sean Spicer in the White House briefing room, South Korean officials also are saying that clearly North Korea has not met the kind of steps that would be required for conversations at this point. And they also took the pain to point out that that's the kind of message you have previously heard from Trump administration officials.

There was some back and forth over the course of this administration, over the course of the last 100 days or so on whether or not the U.S. would be willing to open talks with North Korea. You had heard the secretary of state and the vice president come out here and say the conditions weren't right, but in recent days, you have heard top level diplomats in Washington saying that there could be this path to talks and negotiations if North Korea proved that it was serious about denuclearization and that standards that it seems that Washington is still looking to set forth, Christine.

ROMANS: You know, we understand also, North Korea now accuses -- North Korea accuses the U.S. of carrying out military provocations overnight. This has to do with bombers, it says, or secretly flying over the country. What can you tell us?

FIELD: Yes, this is just the next step. There's been a back and forth exchange where both sides are pointing fingers about who's provoking home and the latest has to do with bombers. North Korea saying that two U.S. bombers flying e over the Korean peninsula are a clear sign of military provocation from the U.S. U.S. military officials confirming that those bombers are participating in training exercises with both the Japanese air force and the South Korean air force.

South Korean military officials saying this is a clear sign, another message to North Koreans in effort to build up deterrent capabilities against further provocations from North Korea. When it comes to not just deterrence but also defense, we are now receiving word that THAAD, that controversial missile defense system is, in fact, now operational. Christine, you'll remember there was a bit of a back and forth about who would pay for it. The U.S. is going forward with footing the bill.

But the top, the front runner in the presidential election here which will happen in just a few days is still saying, despite the fact that this is operational, despite the fact that U.S. is paying for it, that he believes this is a question that could be revisited by the next president to take office and it could still be reconsidered.

So, still a lot of debate over a system that the U.S. insists is critical to the defense of South Korea and the region.

ROMANS: Yes, not so subtle subtext of the politics, the internal politics of South Korea here as well. Thank you so much, Alexandra Field.

BRIGGS: Another controversial strongman causing headaches for the White House. President Trump's decision to invite the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to Washington was not expected or planned, according to senior administration officials. We're told the State Department did coordinate the phone call between the two leaders and brief the president beforehand.

ROMANS: The White House is defending the decision to invite Duterte as part of an overall strategy to rein North Korea and defend American security. The president believes the meeting is called for because Duterte has, quote, "a very high approval rating in his country." The Philippines leader says he cannot make any definite promise though to visit the U.S. because he's currently, quote, "tied up." BRIGGS: President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin set to

speak by telephone this afternoon. This will be their third conversation since Mr. Trump took office and their first since Putin denounced the U.S. for its missile strike against Syria last month. All this as questions continue to swirl over ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The FBI and four separate committees on Capitol Hill are investigating.

ROMANS: According to the president, the White House staff is getting it together despite reports of infighting between Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon. The president now says, quote, "We have a lot of people that are getting along well. It's coming out better now than it was, you know, for a while. And for awhile, it was a little testy, I guess for some of them, but I said they've got to get their act together." That's in that "Bloomberg" interview.

BRIGGS: Got it.

With the reports of an impending shakeup at the conservative think tank, the Heritage Group, there's speculation Bannon might be in line for the top job there. But a White House source tells CNN those reports are, quote, "total nonsense."

ROMANS: OK. President Trump says his infrastructure is plan is almost finished and raising the gas tax could help fund the $1 trillion proposal. On Monday, the president says he's considering hiking the tax on gasoline.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: The truckers have said that they want me to do something as long as the money is earmarked to highways.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

[04:10:02] ROMANS: The federal gas tax has not been increased since 1993, Dave Briggs. And though average gas prices rose slightly in the past year, high supply and low demand have kept prices at a decade long low.

A spike would hurt American consumers. Low prices have put extra cash in their pockets. Republicans typically oppose raising this tax, but Trump's bill to repair America's highways, bridges and airports has a $1 trillion price tag. The White House privately said the majority of funding would be private financing, so more federal money helps the federal gas and diesel taxes raise more than $29 billion for America's highways in 2015.

BRIGGS: Some bizarre comments from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about last month's U.S. missile strike against Syria. Ross was with President Trump who was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort on the night Mr. Trump launched the attack.

Here's how the commerce secretary characterized the strike while speaking at a conference in California. He says, quote, "It was in lieu of after dinner entertainment. The thing was, it didn't cost the president anything to have that entertainment."

CNN has calls into Commerce Department and the White House for comment. They have not yet been returned.

ROMANS: People at that event saying it was certainly a bad joke. But we'll see.

BRIGGS: Certainly sounds like a joke.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump offering another salute to his populist predecessor in the White House, Andrew Jackson. It's been a while since Andrew Jackson was trending on social media, but he was all day yesterday. There was a flaw in Trump's off-the-cuff history lesson.

Listen to what he told CNN contributor Salena Zito in her interview for "The Washington Examiner".

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later, you wouldn't have had had the Civil War. He was -- he was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. And he was -- he was really angry that, he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, "There's no reason for this."

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Well, here's just some of the problem. Andrew Jackson died in 1845 while the Civil War didn't start until 1861. Overnight, President Trump tried to clarify with a tweet. Quote, "President Jackson who died 16 years before the Civil War started saw it coming and was angry. Would have never let it happen."

It is unclear to put it mildly what Jackson could have or would have done to stop it as a Southern slave owner himself.

This is difficult to interpret. Did he know Andrew Jackson was dead at the time of Civil War? It's not entirely clear from that audio, but the tweet implies that --

ROMANS: Even if he did, even if he did, Andrew Jackson, we were talking about putting a new face on $10 bill. There were a lot of historians who said, maybe Andrew Jackson needs to go. He died a slave owner, right?

BRIGGS: A hundred and fifty slaves.

ROMANS: Trail of Tears.

BRIGGS: Trail of Tears, maybe his legacy on that.

ROMANS: Really his legacy has not held up as well as one would have thought for the seventh president of the United States. But he was a shrewd politician and a populist. And lots of people think around Donald Trump, maybe Steve Bannon, maybe others have been talking about Andrew Jackson, so he had a little bit of information, just enough maybe --

BRIGGS: That outsider mentality is what he's clinging to.

ROMANS: Exactly.

All right. Violent protests marring May Day protests nationwide. We have details of those, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:17:21] BRIGGS: Violence and vandalism broke out at May Day protests across the country Monday. In Portland, Oregon, dozens arrested as self-described anarchists smashed windows and targeted police officers with incendiary devices, including fireworks, smoke bombs and Molotov cocktails. Police in Seattle say five people were arrested in protests downtown, including a 26-year-old who threw a rock as Trump and anti-Trump demonstrators faced off.

ROMANS: In nearby Olympia, Washington, police say the protests turned into what they called a riot with people in the crowd throwing rocks and bottles and using slingshots and pepper spray against police officers. A more peaceful protest in Las Vegas with thousands of union members walking along the strip chanting labor slogans. Protests in New York are also largely peaceful. Police say at least a dozen people were arrested for civil disobedience outside the Park Avenue offices of J.P. Morgan Chase.

Why all the protests on May Day? It's also International Workers Day, of course, which has been celebrated on May 1st for more than a century.

BRIGGS: Classes and events on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin will resume today following a deadly stabbing spree. One person was killed, three others wounded in the attack. The alleged suspect, 21-year-old Kendrex White, a U.T. student, is in custody.

Police say he calmly walked around a campus plaza Monday with a large hunting knife and attacked the four students. Two of the victims were released from the hospital. No word yet on a motive.

All right. New numbers from the Pentagon show sex assaults in the military are on the decline. More on that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:23:25] ROMANS: The Pentagon reporting a steep decline in military sexual assaults. According to a new study, the number of service members who reported being victims of sexual assault dropped by more than 5,000 in 2016, a ten-year low. There was also a 1.5 percent increase in victims who said they reported their attack through appropriate channels and the Pentagon report found the number of cases where disciplinary action was taken also increased.

BRIGGS: The State Department issuing a travel alert for Americans in Europe. Officials citing recent terrorist incidents in France, Russia, Sweden, and the U.K., saying there's concern about the potential for future attacks in Europe by ISIS and al Qaeda. They say the new warning was not prompted by a specific threat, but they say U.S. citizens should be alert to the possibility that terrorist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks with little or no warning.

ROMANS: FOX News co-president Bill Shine is the latest casualty in a sex harassment scandal that has plagued the network. FOX chairman Rupert Murdoch announcing Shine's resignation in a statement Monday. Shine had been with FOX News Channel since its inception back in 1996. He was closely allied with Roger Ailes, who was forced out as FOX News chief last summer. It comes on the heels of Bill O'Reilly's departure following reports he paid settlements to five women for alleged sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.

BRIGGS: Late night host Jimmy Kimmel tearing up during his monologue, revealing his newborn son's health scare and thanking the alert nurses who figured out something was wrong when Little William was born April 21st.

[04:25:02] Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": They did an x-ray and his lungs were fine, which meant his heart wasn't. So, now, more doctors and nurses and equipment come in. It's terrifying thing.

You know, my wife is back in the recovery room and has no idea what's going on. And I'm standing in the middle of a lot of very worried looking people kind of like right now, who are trying to figure out what the problem is. They did an echo cardiogram, which is a sonogram of the heart, and found that Billy was born with a heart disease.

It's hard to explain. Basically, the pulmonary valve was completely blocked and he has a hole in the wall between the left and right sides of his heart.

On Monday morning, Dr. Starnes opened his chest and fixed one of the two defects of his heart. He went in there with a scalpel and did some kind of magic that I couldn't even begin to explain. He opened the valve and the operation was a success. It was the longest three hours of my life.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Kimmel says his son needs another surgery in three to six months, and possibly more treatment as a teen. He made a plea to both sides of the aisle in this health care debate that all Americans should be cared for, especially those with preexisting conditions.

And, Christine, any parent who has gone through a trauma with a newborn was tearing up like I was this morning because you know how heartbreaking, how -- that is the most stressful time in a parent's life. Nothing can come close to that. ROMANS: No, nothing can come close. It's the miracle of creating

another child, and just the absolute terror of not being able to control the outcome.

I will say, it is a reminder that health care is not a small thing. It is something that -- we live in the richest country in the world and deserve to have it done right, right?

BRIGGS: A heartfelt plea there. Right, Jimmy.

ROMANS: All right. Lots of news coming out of Washington. Republicans are trying desperately to get the votes on health care. The president under fire for making nice to authoritarians. It's been a wild 36 hours, that's just the start.

All these headlines, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)