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EARLY START

Trump's Health Care Ultimatum; Democrats Threaten to Filibuster Gorsuch; Two "Significant" Arrests in London Attack. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 24, 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: The ultimatum from President Trump: Get the health care deal done today or else. The president tells House Republicans he'll move on if they don't. Will the ways of Washington grind the deal-making president to a halt?

Here it is. Once again, this is the day. Good morning. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, Friday, March 24th, 4:00 a.m. in the East. I'm Christine Romans.

It is a political version of win or go home. President Trump laying down an ultimatum to House Republicans. Talks are over, vote on the health care bill today and pass it, or you will be stuck with Obamacare and be forced to explain why you didn't vote to repeal it.

All this after leaders postponed the vote scheduled for Thursday when it became clear they did not have the votes. Both the White House and House leader are said to be frustrated with ultra conservative Freedom Caucus after both spent the day trying to, quote, "grind them down" to no avail apparently.

BRIGGS: Yes, one senior administration official said the president tried to address the Freedom Caucus concerns with the bill. They kept moving the goal post. The official said of Mr. Trump, he's just done. Another official said he wants to win and move on to tax reform. Now, a familiar trend emerging, with the White House laying the groundwork to place the blame on others, from House Speaker Paul Ryan to the Freedom Caucus, to his own White House staff for roping him into the leadership's bill.

A Republican source says Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told his members to vote their conscience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Realistically, I'm still optimistic. I don't put grades or numbers on anything. I know that would make for a better headline. But I'm still optimistic that everybody is negotiating in good faith to try to get it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Then among the horse trading, this dropped, this updated score from the Congressional Budget Office. Worst than the first. CBO says this revised bill would cost more, but leave just as many, 24 million, uninsured.

I mean, if you are only saving $150 billion, you know? I mean, how does that play into the notion of trying to make this cheaper and better?

BRIGGS: Well, and no real improvement on premiums either, which really undercut what the Freedom Caucus was asking.

ROMANS: Our whip, our CNN's whip count of votes against the bill shows now 27 Republicans are flat out noes, four more lean against. That's 31 lawmakers maybe or definitely against it.

BRIGGS: With the vote just hours away, big questions, numerous questions -- will the president's ultimatum force the caucus to fall in line? Will the president really reject a vote later if Republicans can't round up the votes today? And what might be the fallout if the dealmaker president can't close this deal.

Our coverage begins this morning with Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, it was as abrupt as it was not subtle. A message from one of President Trump's top advisers to the entire House Republican conference -- a House Republican conference that simply would not get into line for this health care bill. The time to negotiate was over. Time to vote was now.

In fact, the president, according to Mick Mulvaney, his budget director, was demanding a vote on Friday. Even though both the president's team and Speaker Ryan's team know they don't have the votes. But it is a strategy that is backed by House leadership.

Just listen to what House Speaker Paul Ryan had to say after that late night conference meeting.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it's collapsing and it's failing families. And tomorrow, we're proceeding.

MATTINGLY: What's clear right now: they don't know that they have the votes. In fact, they are pretty sure they don't, at least going into this huge, enormous, very consequential day. Something needs to change. The hope was that in President Trump's decision to back all of these individuals into the corner and really give them no other option, that they'll eventually come along. Will that work? Well, we'll see in a couple hours -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: He still is pretty fresh, Phil Mattingly, although I know for sure, I know he has been working his tail off the last 48 hours.

Even if this House passes -- if the House passes the Obamacare repeal bill, it still has a long road ahead. Next, it goes to the Senate. The only changes allowed there are those affecting the budget because Republicans chose to move the measure under reconciliation rules to pass the Senate with 51 votes instead of 60. If the Senate passes the bill, which is in doubt, it goes to a conference to work out differences between the House and Senate versions. If both Houses sign off, then it goes to the president for his signature.

BRIGGS: Even if that happens, this is still just bucket one of what Republicans promise will be a three-phase process. In bucket two, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price will make administrative changes to the way insurance is regulated. Bucket three, Congress is supposed to pass other standalone bills to make further health market reforms.

Now, those changes will need 60 votes. Good luck with that. Requiring cooperation from Democrats. We learned about that yesterday with Neil Gorsuch, right?

[04:05:01] ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: It doesn't look like cooperation is going to happen on any front.

Let's bring in our CNN politics reporter Eugene Scott with us here in New York and in Washington, political economist Greg Valliere, chief strategist for Horizon Investments.

Good morning to both of you. Thanks for being up so early with us.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning.

GREG VALLIERE, POLITICAL ECONOMIST: Good morning.

BRIGGS: The next hour early.

Eugene, let's start with you, my friend. Best guess. What happens? Will those reluctant lawmakers, those in the House Freedom Caucus, on the fence, will they turn when it's their turn?

SCOTT: Within the next two hours? Well, not two, I guess four?

BRIGGS: A vote comes later this afternoon, we believe. Rules Committee starts at 7:00.

SCOTT: Well, I would imagine that change -- some significant change would have to be made before that definitely this morning. And it's just not looking like some of these lawmakers are going to budge in the areas that they -- well, when I say they, the Trump administration, are hoping that they will. And, quite frankly, I think someone out there named John Boehner is saying, I could have told you this before if you thought this was going to be simple as you said it would be while you were campaigning.

ROMANS: Yes, there is nothing simple about this kind of big legislation, and there's nothing simple about undoing big legislation, Greg Valliere. And let me ask you about the Freedom Caucus. I mean, you hear frustration from folks in the White House about the power of the Freedom Caucus, the intransigence of this conservatives and moving the goal post. Is there -- do you think there's a chance that the president can wrangle them today?

VALLIERE: Pretty unlikely. I agree with Eugene. Freedom Caucus is the major reason why John Boehner is in retirement right now. They made his life miserable. They have made Ryan's life miserable.

It's only about 30 people, but they will control the debate. I think either this Obamacare change dies today on the floor of the House or they tinker with it and it eventually dies on the floor of the Senate. Either way, I don't see this thing making it.

ROMANS: I had heard some interesting conversation yesterday from folks who said we should just pass the repeal bill like we did before. The House passed it. The Senate passed it. And President Obama --

BRIGGS: Straight repeal.

ROMANS: Straight repeal and go from there. But, Greg, you don't think there's --

BRIGGS: That leaves millions on the hook.

ROMANS: Yes, but then they say they will fix it again later. But do you think that they could something like that? That there could be some trick up their sleeve, Greg?

VALLIERE: I don't see one. You know, in a perfect world, Christine, the Republicans would go to the Democrats and say, let's reform Obamacare. But this is not a perfect world.

And what we saw yesterday from Democrats was to me going down a dead end with a filibuster against a well-qualified Supreme Court nominee. So, the Democrats are not looking to be conciliatory.

BRIGGS: No, it doesn't look like 60 votes happen on anything.

Eugene, the notion is the president is the closer, the dealmaker. But it didn't appear so late last night when you read the reports from this meeting. Thirty Republicans stood up and spoke out in favor of signing on to this bill, only one spoke out against. One that spoke in favor of it was Brian Mast from Florida who lost both legs in Afghanistan and said, we need to stick together like me my comrades did on the battlefield.

How powerful is that type of argument for those lawmakers that are reluctant?

SCOTT: I don't think it's powerful at all. I think one thing many failed to realize -- BRIGGS: There were tears shed in that meeting according to reports.

SCOTT: Not by everybody, though. That's the point, right? The reality is the Republican Party philosophically is more diverse than people realize. I think the thought has been, we're going to scare the Freedom Caucus members going with this plan because they're afraid that they're going to lose to Democrats in 2018.

That is -- there are some freedom caucus members who are afraid that they can lose the people, even more right of them. So, the reality is that you can't get them to move more moderate if the fear is that they already have moved too much.

ROMANS: Greg, you're going to be hearing a lot of blame gaming here today. But, you know, look, I want to show you this Quinnipiac poll on health care shows just 17 percent of American voters approve on the GOP health care plan, 56 percent disapprove. Maybe this was the wrong first legislation. Maybe in hindsight, the president should have done, as I think he wanted to, tax reform first.

If this blows up today, does it hurt him on the rest of his legislative agenda?

VALLIERE: Sure it does. I mean, he infamously said. Who knew it would be this complicated? Well, now, he knows that deal-making in New York City is different from deal-making here.

What I worry about guys is that he's gong to will change the subject. He has a pattern of doing this. He's going to either going to say or do something really controversial in the next few days to divert attention away from this fiasco.

BRIGGS: All right. Well, we talked about things he said leading up. He really sold himself during the campaign as the ultimate dealmaker.

Here's an example.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to make the great deals.

I'm going to make great deals for our country.

I built an extraordinary business on relationships and deals that benefit all parties involved. Always.

I make deals. I negotiate.

Everybody wants me to negotiate.

[04:10:00] That's what I'm known as, as a negotiator.

I'm so anxious to negotiate.

Nobody can out-negotiate these deals. I will make a great deal and lots of great deals for the American

people.

We don't make great deals anymore, but we will once I become president.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BRIGGS: Now, that was the pitch. That's why people elected him. One thing I read, though, in "Art of the Deal", he said, quote, I never get too attached to one deal, or one approach.

ROMANS: Maybe he's moving on.

BRIGGS: Is he, Greg?

VALLIERE: Well, he -- I think he'll have to. I would make this quick point. It is too early to write an obituary for tax reform. It might take a year to get it done, but I still think we're going to get it.

ROMANS: That's a very good point. That's something the markets certainly want to hear and, you know, that's something I think the president really wanted to do first. I mean, you hear this frustration, Eugene, about, you know, how he wanted to get moving quickly on tax reform, his treasury secretary said we have something done by, you know, by August recess. Is that impossible?

SCOTT: Well, I don't -- I don't think so. I think that what we did see is that he supposedly according to sources had been blaming Speaker Ryan for making this the first move that they have taken on because to your point, he said he wanted to move first with tax reform. The fact is, we also have footage that said he would repeal Obamacare on day one.

ROMANS: Yes.

SCOTT: The reality is, this is something that he promised his voters that he would tackle immediately. The reality is, as he says, it's just harder than he thought.

ROMANS: Well, we just showed that montage of all the deal-making. I can get a deal. Maybe the headline tomorrow morning is wow. They got a deal.

BRIGGS: Look, how many times did we write this guy off, right? I mean, he was at 1 percent in the polls. No one gave him a chance. He was laughed out of the primary. He's the president now. How can you count him out?

ROMANS: All right. Guys, we're going to come back and talk about this. Get a cup of coffee. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East. Thank you, guys, so much. We'll talk to you again in just a minute.

Today's vote on health care could implication for tax reform as they said. It's the Trump's administration's next priority and the biggest prize for the stock market. If all goes well, and health care passes, it will likely help the president's chances of scoring tax cuts. It will be easier for Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, because saving money there will pay for cutting taxes. But if the bill fails, one former senior budget office staffer tells us it could derail Trump's entire economic agenda.

Another says it actually may motivate Republicans to move quickly and come to terms on tax reform, maybe. Regardless, since the election, the stock market has been pricing in the best-case scenario. That is push stocks to record highs. The past few days, we've seen the rally paused because of this. This uncertainty has investors on edge.

The stock market is a leading indicator. The stock market has priced in health care bill that saves money that helps pave the way for tax reform. Now, we see what happens.

BRIGGS: So, we -- but do we know? I mean, do you really get a sense for where it goes if there's no deal?

ROMANS: If there's no deal, I think you've got a lid on things. If you've no deal here and you've got stalled tax reform, I think there's a lid on the stock market.

BRIGGS: Oh so much in the balance here. Believe it or not, this is the start of the news from Washington. Top leaders of the House Intel Committee are at odds over suggestions of collusion between the president's associates and Russia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:17:20] ROMANS: The investigation into the Trump administration's ties to Russia is triggering a very public dispute between Devin Nunes, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Adam Schiff, the committee's ranking Democrat.

Listen to each of them describe the evidence they have seen of possible collusion between the president's associates and the Kremlin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't feel comfortable talking about the particular evidence either that the FBI is looking at or we are looking at. But I think it is appropriate to say it's the kind of evidence that you would submit to a grand jury at the beginning of an investigation.

REPORTER: There's new evidence of collusion from Schiff, you said you have no idea what he's talking about?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't. No.

REPORTER: You haven't seen any new evidence of collusion?

NUNES: Not that I'm familiar of. No.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Nunes has apologized for rushing to tell the president his communications may have been incidentally collected by U.S. intelligence agencies, before he told members of his own committee. Nunes will not say where he got that information.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, among the growing number of Democrats, now calling for an independent, nonpartisan commission to handle the investigation of Russia's election meddling.

ROMANS: Senate Democrats are lining up to fight the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania on the record opposing the president's Supreme Court nominee. Schumer is vowing to launch a filibuster to stall the process. Gorsuch must earn support of at least eight Democrats to break a filibuster.

Republicans are threatening to use the so-called nuclear option to change Senate rules if necessary so Gorsuch could be confirmed with a simple majority of 51 votes.

BRIGGS: CNN has learned least six Secret Service members are facing disciplinary action for a security breach at the White House earlier this month. The suspect jumped the fence and roamed the White House grounds for 16 minutes until he was spotted and apprehended. Mr. Trump was in the White House at the time. Special agents and uniformed officers from the Secret Service are involved.

ROMANS: All right. The death toll rising sadly following that terror attack in London. We are live in London with what we are learning about the attacker.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:23:50] ROMANS: New this morning, two significant arrests in the London terror attack. It comes after another victim of the attack passed away, bringing the death toll now to four. That latest victim, an American from Utah celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary with his wife who was also injured.

We are also learning new details about the attacker who authorities say was known to police and inspired by ISIS. I want to go live to new Scotland Yard in London and bring in CNN's Nina Dos Santos.

What are we learning about the attacker, Nina?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks very, Christine.

Well, we've learned quite a bit just in the last few minutes because the Metropolitan Police have come and given us a statement. They've given us his actual birth name now.

We know that Khalid Masood, 52 years old, was actually using a number of aliases. His real birth name is Adrian Russell. And he was born in Kent, which is a county just close to London, toward the east of where I am. And he was living in the midlands in the city of Birmingham, the second largest city in the U.K., about 118 miles from where I am today.

And, in fact, police also confirmed that they had made two significant arrests since they've called them overnight. One again around the area of Birmingham, in the midlands, but another one in the northwest of the country as well.

[04:25:03] And they're appealing towards all sorts of witnesses who are there on the scene to continue to get in touch with police, anybody who knew Khalid Masood, so they can put together a picture of how he became radicalized over the years and also what he was doing here in Westminster, what were the immediate events that led him towards committing the atrocity that he committed just a day and a half ago -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. British born, certainly a concern for people who are trying to -- authorities who are trying to figure out how these men are radicalized. Thank you so much Nina for that in Scotland Yard this morning.

BRIGGS: All right. Will President Trump's deal making skills work in Washington? We find out today, thanks to his ultimatum demanding a House vote on health care. The White House already laying the groundwork to shift the blame if it doesn't work.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: President Trump tells House Republicans he'll walk away if they don't vote for and pass the health care bill today.