Return to Transcripts main page

EARLY START

Trump Addresses Congress Tonight; Obamacare Replacement "Complicated"; Who's Behind the Leaks. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:10] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Trump getting ready to address Congress for the first time as commander in chief. The central theme, renewal of the American spirit.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And one of the topics we'll hear about tonight is health care. The president now realizes repealing and replacing Obamacare won't be easy. We'll show you exactly what he says.

ROMANS: And a stunning suggestion from President Trump. Who he says is behind those leaks that have rattled the White House.

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

BRIGGS: Good to see you. I'm Dave Briggs. It's Tuesday, February 28th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

In just hours, President Trump will give his first address to a joint session of Congress. The president's speech writing-team working with him to finalize the address, which is expected to be heavy on national security, creating economic opportunity and, quote, "promises made and promises kept".

We also learned the White House sent an e-mail to conservative media outlets and activists in advance in the speech. The e-mail was provided to CNN by a recipient. It lays out many of the same ideas we've reported but also notes the president will address safer communities and better schools for the forgotten men and women, apparently a reference to poor and minority communities. He will also lay out a plan to work with Congress on a sweeping agenda that includes better workplaces for parents and better education for kids.

ROMANS: This speech comes at a critical time for this young administration. The country is still waiting on the president's health plan, his budget outline just made public, and he's going to give new options for winning the fight against ISIS. This morning, CNN's Jim Acosta joins us with a preview of Trump's address.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, the president appears to be ready to strike a more positive in that speech to a joint session of Congress later on tonight. Renewal of the American spirit and optimistic vision for all Americans, that will be the theme of the president's speech.

Meanwhile, the White House is signaling that President Trump is sharpening his budget axe to make major cuts to nondefense spending here in Washington. Only the Pentagon appears to be spared in the Trump administration's budget plans. White House officials say the president is expected to propose a big $54 billion increase in defense spending. Just to put that in perspective, that increase is larger than what the government spends at the state and the EPA.

What the president said yesterday here at the White House, federal agencies should brace themselves for leaner times.

Here's what he had to say.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people. We can do so much more with the money we spend. With a $20 trillion in debt, can you imagine that, the government must learn to tighten its belt -- something families all across the country have had to learn to do, unfortunately. But they've had to learn do to do it.

ACOSTA: The White House cautions the full budget proposal from the president won't be out until May -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. And we will look for that, of course.

Now, President Trump wants to boost military spending and cut funding of government agencies. So, how will those money moves work?

Here is the projected budget outline for 2017. About 66 percent is mandatory spending. Think about the bills the government has to pay, mandatory. The remaining third is what we be called discretionary spending. The bulk of that money goes to defense spending, which accounts for $549 billion.

Now, Trump wants $30 billion added to the military budget this year. The military, by the way, the single biggest chunk of discretionary. He wants to increase next year's defense spending by $54 billion. He'll get that money by cutting government programs and agencies. No word yet on exactly what would be cut.

This is not a final budget, more of a guideline. But the president spending is priorities. This goes to the federal agencies to give them a head's up on what they're looking for here. Then it goes to Congress and could look a lot different by the time it's passed.

Despite that uncertainty, there's one group very excited about Trump's policies -- investors. The Dow hitting yet another record high. That's 12 in a row. It ties the record set back in 1987. The Dow is up an incredible 2,400 points since Donald Trump was elected president. BRIGGS: Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare running

into new stumbling blocks in morning. Two top House conservatives, one of them, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, saying they would vote against a draft of the Obamacare repeal bill that was leaked last week. Meadows pointing to the draft's call for refundable tax credits which Meadows calls a, quote, "new entitlement program".

Now, ahead of the speech, even the president is admitting that replacing Obamacare will be tougher than it looked from the campaign trail.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has the latest from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: David and Christine, it's been a seven-year war for the Republicans against the cornerstone achievement of President Obama's domestic policy, Obamacare, the repeal and replace of it. It's no secret what they want to do.

[04:05:02] The process of actually doing it, that's slightly more difficult, something President Trump made very clear yesterday.

Take a listen.

TRUMP: We have come up with a solution that's really, really, I think very good. Now, I have to tell you, it is an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.

MATTINGLY: And, guys, that complexity on the policy side, on the politics and on procedural side here on Capitol Hill really kind of underscoring the urgency right now for House GOP leaders. They want to move fast and with good reason. As they see the town halls, as they see approval numbers for Obamacare start to rise, they want to move quickly because if they don't, if people feeling the election pressure, as people start feeling that town hall pressure, who knows what could happen?

And that's exactly why they want President Trump not to get behind in general proposals, but specifically get behind the path laid out right now by House Speaker Paul Ryan. That is what they want to see tonight in his speech.

The big question is, will he go that far? Is he even with them so far in this process?

Dave and Christine?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Phil Mattingly this morning, thanks, Phil.

Bernie Sanders not widely known for his sense of humor busted out laughing when asked about the Trump's comment that, quote, "nobody knew how complicated health care could be so complicated." Sanders is telling our Anderson Cooper that he learned a survey on the

Senate Health Committee that providing care in the nation of 320 million people is very, very complicated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Stunned, really, every day. I mean, you just mentioned to me. He said -- I mean, this is the president of the United States. We have debating health care in this country for 30 years, and he says, gee, who knew how complicated it was. He is maybe the only person in the country who doesn't know how complicated it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Bernie Sanders, the former presidential candidate, says he does not believe Democrats should help repeal and replace, but would work with them to improve Obamacare.

BRIGGS: Members of the key House committee looking into Russia's alleged interference of the U.S. election now agreeing on the boundaries of their investigation. They will examine contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia and also look into who leaked key details about Russia's action. But the leadership on the committee is still at odds over what investigators have determined, if they determined anything at all.

House Intel Chairman David Nunes tells CNN there's no evidence that Russian officials communicated with the Trump campaign and is brushing off calls for an independent investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Not that I'm aware of. We still have not seen any evidence of anyone from the Trump campaign or any campaign for that matter that's communicated with the Russian government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, though says the committee hasn't even looked into the issue yet, and he says that the White House is being too quick to dismiss the investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: That as if saying before you begin the investigation, because you haven't started it yet, you should never start it because you don't have the evidence. That's nonsense. We need to follow the facts wherever they lead and not begin with the conclusion as the White House would like us to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: There are also new questions over whether the House and Senate Intelligence investigations are compromised after reports that the Republican chairmen of both committees privately discussed the matter with the White House and agreed to speak with reporters to tamp down stories about the Russia-Trump connection.

BRIGGS: President Trump insists he knows who is responsible for those town hall protests and damaging links that keep plaguing the White House. In an interview with FOX News set to air this morning, Mr. Trump points the finger at President Obama.

Listen to the interviewer suggests Mr. Obama is somehow orchestrating all the chaos before President Trump takes it one step further.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: Can we talk about President Obama? It turns out his organization seems to be doing a lot of the organizing some of the protests that a lot of these Republicans are seeing around the country and against you.

TRUMP: Right.

INTERVIEWER: Do you believe President Obama is behind it? And if he is, is that a violation of the called, so-called unsaid president's code?

TRUMP: No, I think he is behind it. I also think it's politics, such the way it is. His people are certainly behind it. And some of the leaks, possibly, come from that group. You know, some of the leaks, which are really very serious leaks because they're bad in terms of national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Is he prodded or questioned?

Trump did not offer any evidence to back up his claims. CNN has reached out to President Obama's office for comment.

ROMANS: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denying a CNN report that President Trump blessed his decision to search staffers' cell phones and to block certain reporters from the briefing last Friday. Spicer insists that decision and the move to check the phones of top aides to see if they were leaking information or if they were using encrypted apps to talk to reporters, he insists those were his ideas. Spicer tells, CNN, quote, "Mr. Trump did not sign off or even know what I did. That is not accurate. I don't believe he even knew there was a gaggle, and in no way was it discussed with him or any other staffer."

[04:10:01] BRIGGS: A driving force behind President Trump's trade agenda will be sworn in today. The Senate voting 72-27 to confirm billionaire Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary. And a final vote confirmation vote for Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke is now scheduled for Wednesday.

Zinke, along with HUD nominee Ben Carson and energy nominee Rick Perry still awaiting confirmation votes by the full Senate. Sonny Perdue, the president's pick for agriculture secretary, and Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta are still waiting for their committee hearings.

ROMANS: And now that Wilbur Ross is confirmed as commerce secretary, he is a very key part of a lot of the president's economic agenda and job-creating agenda, including, you know, involving the budget negotiations.

BRIGGS: Essentially as trade, right?

ROMANS: Yes, exactly. So, now, there's a feeling that that the team can really get up and running.

BRIGGS: How they will renegotiate NAFTA.

With the president mulling his options for expanding the fight against ISIS, what's the thinking in the Arab world? We're live in the Middle East with reaction.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:15:04] BRIGGS: Welcome back.

A preliminary framework for wrapping up the war on ISIS is now in the hands of President Trump. The Pentagon delivering a series options covering military, diplomatic and financial strategies. CNN reporting earlier this month that sending conventional ground forces into Northern Syria could be on the table.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh tracking the latest developments from Amman, Jordan.

Jomana, how is all this being received in the Middle East?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, I think the attitude here is very much wait-and-see. There's this realization that there are so many different options on the table and people want to wait and see what the administration decides to do when it comes to the fight against ISIS.

You've got some in the region who would be very welcoming of an increased U.S. role in the fight against ISIS, some who have been critical of the United States saying that they haven't been aggressive enough in the fight. You've got others who are very suspicious of U.S. motives, especially when there's this talk of the possibility of deploying ground forces and combat forces in northern Syria and increasing the number of forces in Iraq, some who feel that, you know, there's more to the U.S. intention here of deploying troops, especially after we heard the talk from President Trump about mistakes in the past and not taking Iraq's oil. That really has increased those suspicions in some parts of the region.

And you have others who are concerned also about increasing, having more fighting forces in northern Syria. A very complex battlefield with so many groups there, so many competing interests and having U.S., of course, raises the concern that it would make this battle even messier. So, there's no real one option that would be accepted by all in this very complex and very divided region -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Jomana.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight: CNN has learned two women will be charged in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

I want to get straight to CNN's Alexandra Field. She is live in Kuala Lumpur for us with these breaking details.

There have been some suggestion from family members of at least one of these women that they were duped, they thought they were doing some sort of a TV prank. But authorities there see something more devious.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Authorities here believe that these women were trained to kill. Both of the women have told authorities that they thought they were participating in some kind of prank. But the officials here say they've got enough to charge the Vietnamese and the Indonesian suspect in this case with murder after they put that liquid on Kim Jong Nam's face.

There is still a North Korean suspect who is in custody here in Malaysia. Investigators say they are still looking into that case. He has not been charged yet. But an envoy from North Korea arrive in Kuala Lumpur, calling for that man's release. He's also calling for the return to North Korea of Kim Jong Nam's body and he's asking for better relations between Malaysia and North Korea.

The North Koreans have been very critical of the Malaysian investigation into Kim Jong-Nam's death. Malaysian officials have said that North Korea has refused to cooperate. The officials here are looking for at least seven more North Korean citizens who they want to question in connection with this attack.

Without more cooperation from North Korea, officials here are saying that they could look at various actions. They already recalled their ambassador who has posted to Pyongyang. They could additional look at shuttering the embassy there and even ending the visa-free travel program here for North Korean citizens -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Alexandra Field following every twist and turn of this very, very mysterious death. Thank you so much for that, Alexandra.

BRIGGS: Another round of bomb threats at Jewish centers, including the offices of Anti-Defamation League. We will tell you how they are responding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:23:25] ROMANS: A team of NTSB investigators heading to the scene as authorities try to determine what caused a small plane to crash in southern California. At least three people were killed when the plane went down Monday in a residential neighborhood of Riverside. Authorities say the aircraft broke apart on impact, destroying two homes. Two people on the ground survived. They were taken to a local hospital. As many as five people on the ground are still unaccounted for.

BRIGGS: And a new wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers in days schools. JCCs, at least a dozen, were targeted Monday, along with the San Francisco offices of the Anti-Defamation League. No devices were found at any of the facilities. The threats prompting the ADL to issue a security advisory. Since the beginning of the year, there have been 90 reported incidents at 73 locations in 30 states and one Canadian province.

ROMANS: The Japanese auto parts company Takata pleading guilty and agreeing to pay $1 billion in criminal penalties for concealing defective air bag deflators that are blamed for at least 16 deaths. Now, this scandal touched off the biggest auto recall in U.S. history, involving 19 automakers and 42 million vehicles. Three former Takata executives are also charged.

Attorneys for Takata telling a federal judge the company's actions over the 15-year period were, quote, "deeply inappropriate".

Dave, there are still cars on the road that need those air bags changed. It's just a remarkable consumer story.

BRIGGS: Nothing more frightening than that.

All right. Well, President Trump getting ready for primetime. His first address in the halls of Congress.

[04:25:02] Will he take the same dark tone as his inaugural address?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: President Trump putting his final touches on his first address to Congress. With critical issues facing the country, will he take the same harsh tone he did when he was sworn in?

ROMANS: One of those critical topics, health care. With Republicans struggling to agree on a replacement for Obamacare, wait until you hear what the president says about the health care system.

BRIGGS: And an accusation by President Trump that might leave you shocked. Who does he say is behind the leaks shaking up the White House?

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

ROMANS: Nice to see you this Tuesday morning.

BRIGGS: You too.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's about 30 minutes past the hour.

In just hours, President Trump will give his first address to a joint session of Congress. The president's speech writing team is working with him to finalize the address, which is expected to be heavy on national security and creating economic opportunity and promises made and promises kept.