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Trump: GOP Lawmakers Could Lose Seats; Gorsuch Pushes Independence; Diplomats Meet to Defeat ISIS; North Korea Failed Missile Launch; Apple Unveils Several New Products. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 22, 2017 - 04:30   ET


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

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

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

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

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

We're now just one day away from the vote that could change the face of health care in this country.

[04:30:02] President Trump bringing his patented brand of hard sale to Capitol Hill. He's trying to coax reluctant Republicans to vote for the American Health Care Act, repealing Obamacare.

At an all hands, closed-door meeting for House Republicans, the president said a loss just isn't acceptable. He called out Mark Meadows by name. Meadows is the chairman of the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus. Trump predicted Meadows and the caucus will get on board.

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


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

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

CNN's ongoing whip count currently shows 26 GOP lawmakers opposed or leaning against, only 21 can defect without killing the measure.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ROMANS: All right, Phil Mattingly. The desperate last hours trying to sell that bill.

If the Obamacare repeal does manage to pass the House this week, how will it fare with the Senate?

The measure is set to bypass committees and go straight to the floors. Predictions by key Republican senators of the bill's fate there are mixed. Second ranking Republican leader John Cornyn says, should the House repeal the bill on Thursday, the Senate will takes it up next week and approve it. He said, "If they pass it, we will pass it."

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

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

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

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

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


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

[04:35:06] SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Anyone including the president of the United States.

GORSUCH: Anyone is anyone.

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

GORSUCH: That's right, Senator.


ROMANS: All right. That's just one response from Judge Gorsuch that made headlines.

We get more from CNN's Jessica Schneider.


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

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

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

GORSUCH: Not until my interview.

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

GORSUCH: No, Senator.

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

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

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

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


BRIGGS: Jessica, thank you.

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

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

REPORTER: You're talking about Paul Manafort specifically?

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

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


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

ROMANS: All right. A major turning point in the stock market right now. Unrelenting optimism over President Trump's policies colliding with the realities of Washington. That has caused fear to creep back into the market. It sent the Dow tumbling 238 points, S&P falling more than 1 percent, the NASDAQ was the biggest loser. Look at that, tech stock slammed.

So, what's next? Futures are down this morning. It could be a pause. It could be a small fall back or could it be the start of the Trump slump as the slow grind in Washington weighs on investors' hope of lower taxes ahead and fewer regulations for business.

The emotion behind the stock market is slowly shifting. This is what we call the fear and greed index. You can check it out on CNN Money. It's composed of several market metrics. Right now, it's showing modest fear, or we can go, it was neutral last month, extreme greed as investors rushed to buy stocks with optimism on tax reform. Same level as one year ago when the market was charging back to a rough start.

That statement can also be seen here. A new survey of fund managers from Bank of America Merrill Lynch 34 percent say U.S. stocks are overvalued. That's a record high, 81 percent say the U.S. is more overvalued than any other region in the world.

And we were just talking about "The Wall Street Journal's" assessment of the Trump trade is over here. And that now, you're settling into Trump light. The health care fight is showing you can't just wave a magic wand.

BRIGGS: Will tax reform be more or less difficult than health care?

ROMANS: I don't know.

BRIGGS: Can't be more difficult at this point, right? ROMANS: And meantime, credibility is strained every single day and

that makes it hard to tell something.

All right. The White House shifting course after the secretary of state opted out of a big NATO meeting. We'll tell you what the president is doing to calm concerns with the alliance.


[04:43:37] ROMANS: All right. CNN has learned an al Qaeda affiliate is perfecting techniques for hiding explosives in batteries and battery compartments in electronic devices. U.S. officials saying this is what led to the new carry-on restrictions aboard commercial flights heading to the U.S. and now also to the U.K. from the Middle East and North Africa. Passengers originating from eight countries there must check devices bigger than a smartphone.

CNN's Samuel Burke live for us at London's Heathrow airport this morning.

Good morning, Samuel. What are the tech companies saying about this move?


I've been speaking with tech and aviation experts who say they're constantly looking at the dangers and threats imposed from lithium batteries, those are, of course, in nearly all of the devices we have from smartphones to laptops. And what they say that for years, the FAA has been pushing to get those lithium batteries out from the belly of the airplane into the cabin of the airplane. What they worry about a change reaction, if God forbid there were an expose or one battery to catch fire. If there are so many batteries around, it could pose a huge domino effect.

And if that were in the cabin, if something happened to one of the batteries in cabin, at least there would be an opportunity for the crew to come and extinguish that. So, a lot of people question whether it's safer to have that on the belly of the plane.

[04:45:01]So, I'm asking, so, what can we do given the threats we're hearing from both the U.S. government and the U.K. government? And a lot of the experts are saying, if you look at the lithium batteries and these threats it posed, what would be a better step might be to really push the amount of times that you make people turn on devices. El-Al Airlines, for instance, the Israeli airlines, makes all the customers turn on the devices to make sure they're fully functional, that there aren't explosives tucked away in there, or increase the amount of those sniffing machines.

You know, you go and to have that stick with that cloth what that's doing is checking your device to see if there are any explosives in there. They say that might be a more sure-fire way of guaranteeing that there aren't explosives and guaranteeing our safety.

ROMANS: Samuel Burke for us at Heathrow, certainly a frightening development in thinks al Qaeda is getting closer, intelligence experts, of being able to having such a bomb. Thank you so much for that, Samuel.

BRIGGS: New this morning, President Trump has just officially added a May 25th NATO summit to his schedule. In a statement, the White House said the president will, quote, "reaffirm our strong commitment to NATO. President Trump has been relentlessly critical of NATO allies for failing to pay their full share of the alliance's costs.

ROMANS: All of this comes when the State Department scrambles to suggest new dates for an April meeting of NATO foreign ministers after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's plans to skip that gathering came to light. Tillerson is set to host the Chinese President Xi Jinping in Washington during that NATO meeting, then he flies to Russia the following week. The plans have frustrated and confused many NATO alliances who question American priorities.

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

ROMANS: All right. Forty-seven minutes past the hour. Apple is out with a slate of new products and we see a price drop on one of its most popular devices. We're going to get a check on CNN Money Stream, next.


[04:51:23] BRIGGS: Breaking overnight, a failed missile launch by North Korea. Military officials with the U.S. Pacific Command confirming the test look place at the Kalma ballistic missile site at North Korea's east coast.

Earlier this month, Pyongyang launched four missiles from the same site successfully reaching Japanese waters.

CNN's Will Ripley tracking the latest live from Beijing.

Good morning, Will. What do we know?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that this missile according to U.S. Pacific Command exploded just seconds after taking off. A failure, yes, but it does help North Korean scientists gain valuable information as they continue these missile launches at a very alarming pace. They launched four ballistic missiles as you mentioned from that very same site just a couple of weeks ago, and those missiles landed very close to the Japanese coast.

China is now speaking out. Their foreign ministry, a short time ago, expressed very serous concern here in Beijing. They say the situation is extremely tense and they're urging all sides to remain calm and cool-headed here.

They're not blaming North Korea for this, interestingly enough, because they think that the United States plays a role in these provocative actions of North Korea because the U.S. continues its joint military exercises with South Korean forces. In fact, we have confirmed within the last couple of hours that yesterday a U.S. bomber flew with South Korean and Japanese fighter jets in South Korean airspace, a very short distance from North Korean airspace.

This is considered a very provocative action by Pyongyang. And, in fact, they just put a new propaganda video simulating what would look like if they blow up a U.S. bomber and also a U.S. aircraft carrier, threatening to do just that, if the United States provokes them. This will be a main topic of conversation early next month when Chinese President Xi Jinping travels to the U.S. to meet with President Trump. And we also know that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who was here in Beijing over the weekend has been briefing the president about this issue.

But right now, we don't know exactly what they intend to do to respond to further provocations, which could include another nuclear test or even an intercontinental ballistic missile test -- Dave.

BRIGGS: What a pivotal meeting that will be with President Xi. Thank you, Will.

ROMANS: All right. The family of a part time consultant for the CIA who disappeared a decade in Iran is filing a lawsuit against the Iranian government. Robert Levinson travelled to an Iranian island in March 2007 to recruit an intelligence source for the CIA. In 2010, a videotape appeared to show he was being held hostage. Tehran insists it does not know where he is, nor what happened to him.

BRIGGS: Philadelphia's district attorney has been indicted on bribery and corruption charges. Officials say Seth Williams took part in a corruption spree spanning five years. They say the 50 year old accepted tens of thousands of dollars in concealed bribes. He also apparently stole cash meant for a relative's nursing home care and used the money for personal expenses. Williams took office in 2010.

ROMANS: Lawyers for the affluenza teen Ethan Couch are turning to the Texas Supreme Court seeking his release. Their motion argues the judge did not have the authority to sentence Couch because his jurisdiction was over criminal cases. The Couch's case started with a civil matter in juvenile court. Couch is serving a nearly two year sentence for killing four people in a drunk driving accident in 2014.

BRIGGS: Severe storms in the South killed one person in Georgia, along this cold front that may cool things down for much of the East.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has the details.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Dave and Christine, it's the time of year, late March, early April, you get the severe weather reports rolling in and certainly was the case for Metro Atlanta and to parts of western and central Tennessee as well, where over 100 severe weather reports mainly related to strong winds brought in dozen of trees across some of these areas, and, of course, a lot of large hail reports.

[04:55:12] Some as golf ball, even reports baseball size hail coming down in parts of South Carolina. But change in the forecast, the transition to scattered showers coming Wednesday afternoon with cooler temperatures filtering very much so across the northern portion of the country.

High pressure stood up shop here. So, we've got some clear skies the next couple of days then as we go in towards the latter portions of the week, just like that, we flip the dial back into the mild department and temps begin to warm up. And ahead of all of that, we could actually see severe weather generally across portions of eastern Texas, and to say, Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma, onto Louisiana. That would be for Friday afternoon, it could be decent weather.

So, we'll follow that carefully and we'll watch the temperatures today drama off sharply from the mid-80s in Atlanta to about 70 degrees in New York, down into the mid-30s. But the seven-day forecast has it all for you. Getting up to 60 or so degrees on Saturday, and then come right back down into the lower 40s early next week, guys.

BRIGGS: We need to get to 60 and stay there. These little teases are brutal.

ROMANS: I know, I'm done with winter. I'm done.

All right. A funny moment in the Oval Office. It happened as President Trump signed a NASA funding bill. As part of the ceremony, he paid tribute to astronauts when things took a bit of a turn.


TRUMP: -- ongoing medical monitoring and treatment of heroic astronauts for health conditions that result from their service. A pretty tough job.

I don't know, Ted, would you like to do it? I don't think I would.

But, Marco, do you want to do it? Marco, I don't know. I'm not sure.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: We could send Congress to space?


TRUMP: That could be --


ROMANS: It turns out even Congress isn't a big fan of Congress.

As for the actual funding bill, it asked NASA to create a plan to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

BRIGGS: If he doesn't get the health care votes, he may load Congress on a shuttle.

ROMANS: That's right.

Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Stock futures lower, big losses in Europe, big losses in Asia. Look, Tokyo closing down 2 percent.

The Dow dropping 238 points on Tuesday. Investors nervous about the prospects of tax reform and they're realizing how slow Washington moves. It puts a lot of weight on the Obamacare repeal bill and Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination. If those go smoothly, the rally could potentially resume, any hiccups, and we could see more losses.

Today, President Trump's pick for labor secretary will finally get a confirmation hearing. Alexander Acosta will face lawmakers. He's currently the dean of Florida International University Law School. But he's been through three Senate confirmations in the past, for positions serving under President George W. Bush. He's President Trump's second pick after Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination following several hearing delays.

Puzder is also out of his job as CEO of CKE restaurants, the company that runs Hardee's and Carl's Junior. The company says he will step down at the end of April.

Apple unveiling some new products in efforts to do sales. A new bright red eye phone will be available for a limited time starting on Friday. The models commemorate Apple's partnership with Red, a charity that helps fight AIDS. Prices start at 749 bucks. But for even less than that, you can get a new iPad.

Apple rolling back prices on the new generation tablets. The 9.7 inch iPad with a brighter retina display will start at $329. That's the company's lowest price for a new iPad to date.

Price drop on its products but no price drop on its stock. The stock is up 20 percent this year and has a market value of nearly $750 billion and my colleague Paul La Monica yesterday writing a great column saying, you know, next stop is a trillion.

BRIGGS: Hey, 330 bucks, ain't a bad price for a babysitter. I mean, those are the most effective babysitters with respect to wonderful child care out there, nothing is better.

ROMANS: But they zone out, they don't listen to you, you know?

BRIGGS: That is --

ROMANS: That's the point. That's the point for you, right?

BRIGGS: That's the idea.

EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: Happening now -- the White House looking to wrangle the votes it needs to pass the Republican health care bill, just one day before the House vote. Can the president seal this deal?

BRIGGS: And the president's nominee for the Supreme Court says he's his own judge and won't be forced into any ruling by the president. What else did Neil Gorsuch say during ten hours of testimony.

ROMANS: Plenty.

BRIGGS: An awful lot in 10 hours.

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

ROMANS: It is Wednesday, I'm Christine Romans, March 22nd, it is 5:00 a.m. in the East. Good morning, everybody, up and at 'em.

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