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White House Leaders Face Steep Climb on ACA Repeal; Pence Ducks Question About Trump Wiretap Claim. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:10] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump ready to sell his health plan to growing number of skeptics in Washington, and across the country. But with opposition growing here, a back up plan is emerging in the event Republican leadership can't get this done.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And with few answers about the president's wiretapping claims, even his biggest backer is dodging the questions. Hear what the vice president had to say.

Good morning, everybody. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Good morning, Dave Briggs.

BRIGGS: Good morning to you.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, not Friday, I'm sad to say, but it's Thursday, March 9th. It is 4:00 in the East.

And a lot going on this morning, bright and early. With opposition to the new Republican health plan growing among conservatives on Capitol Hill, President Trump is laying out two strategies. His plan A for getting the bill passed and plan B in the event he does not.

Sources tell CNN the president advised conservative leaders in an hour-long Oval Office meetings, he will allow Obamacare to fail and let Democrats take the blame. Sources say Mr. Trump scolded those conservative groups for calling the House bill Obamacare-light. White House officials admitting the volume of blowback from conservatives came as a bit of a surprise, acknowledging they could have done more outreach ahead of the bill's rollout.

BRIGGS: For now, the White House sticking with plan A, shifting in full campaign mode to sell this Republican repeal and replace. The president will start stumping for the plan, including upcoming visits to Kentucky and Tennessee. Even though, there is a feeling in the West Wing that Republican leaders have saddled Mr. Trump with all the heavy lifting. House Speaker Paul Ryan for his part is confident the bill will pass as the first set of votes runs late into the night.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, as legislative action gets under way, that legislative action the Republicans have been promising now for campaign cycle after campaign cycle, the real question is, are they actually going to be able to push this over the finish line? Not to the president's desk, just through the House of Representatives?

The reality here House leadership recognizes is that they've got conservative members who aren't just weary at the moment about this bill, but they are downright opposed. And they have to start moving some of those members back in line if they want to move this forward.

The reality is Speaker Ryan laid out rather eloquently. Take a listen.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What you're seeing is, we are going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to becoming a governing party. And being an opposition party, we have divided government, 64 percent of our members -- 64 percent of our members have never known what it's like to work with a Republican president, to have a unified government. So, it's a new feel. It's a new system for people. But it's all the more reason why we have to do what we said we would do.

MATTINGLY: So, the big question, obviously, now is what comes next? The committees will finish moving forward on their bill. The House floor, the bill is expected to be on that, in the next couple of weeks.

And Speaker Ryan has been very clear: he is guaranteeing he will get the requisite number of votes to move this forward. But the work behind the scenes right now is what really matters. Obviously, you have the closed-door meetings with House leaders and their members trying to rally the troops. But you also have President Trump playing a huge role here, folks. President Trump and Vice President Pence, also add into that, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, all will be crucial in the days and weeks ahead.

There is a belief when you talk to House Republican leadership aides that the president himself will be the one who can finally persuade some of these skeptical members to get back in line, really kind of close the deal, guys. And if he is unable to do that, the reality is this: this major initiative, this thing Republicans campaigned on year after year after year will die. Republican leaders believe with that in mind, at some point, everybody is going to get on board. It's just a question now of when -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: Thank you, Phil.

Also a question of when these hearings will end. Four o'clock Eastern Time, they are still making the sausage, if you will, on Capitol Hill. The two main committees involved in crafting this legislation. The Ways and Means and the Energy and Commerce Committee voting on the amendments throughout the night, past midnight. It's still going at 4:00 this morning.

We are still hearing rumors of eye drops and few Dunkin' Donuts snuck in the room as they continue to try to craft this, take out some amendments. A lot of them related to taxes.

You think being a congressman is glorious? Think otherwise. Not exactly what you thought of when you signed up and started running for Congress.

But this is how this thing will be made and crafted and debated for hours upon hours, Christine. It should be fun.

ROMANS: Live pictures there, 16 hours into this. The mark-up marathon for the House committees.

All right. Some powerful groups in the health care industry are lining up to oppose the GOP replacement plan. The folks who actually deliver the health care that will be in this say it's not good.

[04:05:02] Doctors and nurses associations were among the first to speak out. The American Medical Association is the nation's largest group of doctors. It has the lobbying dollars.

The list also features liberal-leaning groups like National Nurses United and conservative players like the Association American physicians and surgeons. It told Breitbart that the plan was too similar to Obamacare.

There's also pushback from industry and special interest group, AARP. Have you heard of them? It's a little lobby that maybe you don't know. It represents the interests of millions of older Americans. A powerful lobby already starting with the big social media push against the plan.

The three hospital associations -- they are against it. The Families USA is a long time proponent of the Affordable Care Act. It represents consumers.

A new report from S&P Global finds as many as 10 million Americans could lose coverage if this bill goes through. We are waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score this.


ROMANS: You know, that is a non-partisan arm of Congress to help Congress understand the affects of its legislation. Already, you are seeing in Washington saying -- downplaying what that number is going to be.

BRIGGS: It's surprising, though, the lack of outreach that didn't happen ahead of this bill coming out to get some of these groups on board. You need some support from these groups ahead of this.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: It wasn't a whole lot of force right there. Well, Republicans taking fire this morning for suddenly dismissing the importance of a score as Christine just mentioned from the Congressional Budget Office. But the GOP pushing the health care bill through so far without a score. That's normally something very important to fiscal conservatives.

Now, Republican lawmakers and the White House are worried about an unfavorable CBO report that could forecast high costs or millions losing health coverage. They are taking steps to under cut the CBO's credibility. Listen.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Of course, cost matters. But look how off they were last time. If you are looking for CBO for accuracy, you are looking in the wrong place. I mean, they were way, way off last time in every aspect of how they scored and projected Obamacare. It will be scored. But the idea that that's any kind of an authority based on the track record that occurred last time is a little farfetched.


ROMANS: All right. Sean Spicer is correct. The CBO did project higher enrollment than Obamacare reached in the first few years. But the agency also overestimated government costs based on the same analysis. As House committees begin work on the bill yesterday, Republican Whip Steve Scalise told one panel he is ready for a CBO score, but won't let what he called "unelected bureaucrats" slowdown repeal and replace. This even though Scalise has frequently cited CBO scores as his reason for opposing other bills.

One other note about the CBO, its current director was put in place by Republicans, including Tom Price, who was then the House budget committee chairman and now the secretary of health and human services. And again, the Congressional Budget Office, it's not a bipartisan group to advise Congress. It is a non-partisan group to advise Congress.

BRIGGS: I think the concern is less cost and more how many Americans will lose coverage if this goes into effect, because it has to be deficit neutral to go through the process that they are using which requires just 51 votes in the Senate. If it costs a lot of money, for example, they're going to need 60. So, it becomes a lot more difficult if it's a huge cost.

Anyway, Vice President Mike Pence ducking questions about President Trump's baseless claim he was bugged by President Obama. Pence clearly not willing to say he believes his boss. Listen to the vice president pivot when a reporter from CNN affiliate WEWS in Cleveland asked him a point-blank question.


REPORTER: Yes or no, do you believe President Obama did that? MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, what I can say

is that the president and our administration are very confident that the congressional committees in the House and Senate that are examining issues surrounding the last election, the run-up to the last election, will do that in a thorough and equitable way.


BRIGGS: Senator Lindsey Graham says he is prepared to subpoena U.S. intelligence agencies for any evidence related to the president's claim that Mr. Obama ordered a wiretap on Trump Tower.

President Trump and President Obama had not spoken since the inauguration, but CNN has learned their respective advisers have spoken since Mr. Trump leveled the wiretap allegation last weekend.

ROMANS: All right. The federal government is launching a criminal investigation to find out how WikiLeaks obtained and leaked documents allegedly detailing the CIA's hacking operations. The FBI and the CIA are working together on that case.

The CIA releasing a statement saying, "The American public should be deeply troubled by any WikiLeaks disclosure designed to damage the intelligence community's ability to protect America. Such disclosures not only jeopardize U.S. personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm."

BRIGGS: FBI Director James Comey speaking at a cyber security conference in Boston College warning Americans to never expect to have, quote, "absolute privacy".

[04:10:07] It was Comey's first public appearance since President Trump accused President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, though Comey did not comment on the allegation.

ROMANS: A secret online group of Marines is still sharing nude photos of unsuspecting service women even after being discovered by the military. It turns out members are being redirected to new links where the group is not only operating, but also taunting federal and military investigators, suggesting their wives could turn up on the next site.

Some female marines who are secretly photographed report being harassed. Military investigators setting up a texting tip line to try to find out who is operating this site. Just ridiculous.

BRIGGS: Yes, that is despicable.

Another round of U.S. military personnel are headed to Syria. Where are they headed and what's their mission? We'll have a live report, next.


[04:15:06] BRIGGS: U.S. officials say hundreds of marines deployed to northern Syria. That's in advance of a plan to help U.S.-backed fighters on the city of Raqqah, ISIS's self-declared capital, in the coming weeks.

CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman monitoring developments from Irbil, Iraq.

Good morning to you, Ben. What is the latest?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is this group of marines, the precise number is not clear, are being deployed to the area around Raqqah. They are an artillery unit. They have M-777 howitzers with a range of about 20 miles. And, of course, they are going to be part of the anticipated offensive to retake the city of Raqqah, which is ISIS's de facto capital, where according to U.S. officials, they are anywhere between 3,000 and 4,000 ISIS fighters.

They are saying, the same officials, however, that ISIS leaders are gradually leaving the city in anticipation of this offensive. Now, the American, the Marines who just arrived there supplement several hundred Rangers and Special Forces that are in another location in Syria in the town of Manbij, which is about 85 miles northwest of Raqqah. There, they are basically trying to separate Turkish-backed Syrian fighters from other fighters. It is a complicated situation out there.

As far as Raqqah is concerned, it's not all together clear, Dave, when this offensive is going to take place. But when it does, it could involve Turkish-backed fighters, Kurds, Arabs, Americans and perhaps even Russian and Syrian government forces. So, a very complicated and possibly dangerous situation on the ground with so many players involved -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Very complex situation getting even more so.

Thank you, Ben.

The death toll in a terror attack in Afghanistan has grown to 30 people after terrorists disguised as medical personnel stormed a Kabul military hospital on Wednesday. In the video, you can see patients even climbing out of windows, standing on the ledge trying to escape the violence.

After six hours of fighting, the attackers were killed by Afghan security forces. ISIS has claimed responsibility.

ROMANS: Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has accepted an offer to be the next ambassador to Russia. Two senior administration officials confirmed this move, although vetting still needs to be completed. An official tells CNN was picked because, quote, "he understands what the president wants."

The post would be the third ambassadorship for the former Utah governor and the 2012 GOP presidential candidate. He was U.S. ambassador to Singapore before serving as ambassador to China during President Obama's first term, which is interesting because he is a Republican and he served under a Democratic administration. He is known as a very adept China hand, now will translate those skills to Russia.

BRIGGS: I know many mentioned him as a Senate candidate if Orrin Hatch steps down. That's been talked about for years and years. He may never.

ROMANS: All right. Speaking of China, a new round of preliminary trademarks granted by China to the Trump Organization. Does this obscure the line between the president and his business empire? We're live in Beijing.


[04:22:56] ROMANS: In the face of questions about remaining ties between the president and his businesses at home and abroad, the Chinese government has granted preliminary approval for more than 30 Trump-related trademarks. This is according to documents reviewed by CNN. Lawyers for the Trump organization claimed they are just trying to protect the trademark from squatters, but could there be a conflict?

CNN international correspondent Matt Rivers joins us live from Beijing with more.

And I've got to tell you, I've never heard of the name of a president of the United States being trademarked, at least preliminary in any country.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. We are in a bit of unchartered territory here, Christine. Thirty-nine trademark applications were filed by lawyers for Donald Trump seeking to trademark his name, both in English and in Chinese here in China. Thirty-five of those applications were granted in a range of industries, including ones you might expect, like construction and hotels, and ones you might not like animal training and body guard services.

Now, as you said, this is the kind of thing that companies say they do all the time to protect intellectual property. The Trump Organization says they have the right to do that and they've been doing it for a long time. But, of course, now, he is President Trump not just Donald Trump and that means that there could be a conflict of interest.

Ethics lawyers say that if these approvals could be seen as a gift from the Chinese government, that could be a conflict of interest and depending on your interpretation, maybe even unconstitutional.

ROMANS: You know, Matt, we also understand that some lawmakers in the U.S. are taking issue with the visa program that has benefitted wealthy business executives in countries including China. What can you tell us about that?

RIVERS: Well, this is an EB-5 visa program that holds if you are a foreigner, you can invest large sums of money into products in the U.S. that create jobs. In exchange, you get a visa to the United States. We know the Trump Organization has used funding fro the EB-5 visa program in some of its projects before. But it does appear there is rare by bipartisan support to maybe scrap

or reform this program, saying it really just amounts to selling U.S. citizenship to wealth foreigners. And so, here in China, you're going to have lots of wealthy people not too happy about that, because it has been a way for wealthy Chinese to move money out of this country and also pickup a U.S. visa while they're at it.

[04:25:07] ROMANS: Yes, that's exactly right. It is a program that has been criticized here quite frankly for being a way to sell American citizenship. So, we'll see what they do with that. Thank you so much, Matt Rivers. Nice to see you.

BRIGGS: Are Republicans working into the morning trying to move the health care plan along? But now, the president who ran on the promise of cutting great deals is said to have a back-up idea if he can't see this one to the finish line. The latest for you.


BRIGGS: Two scenarios and two plans for President Trump as he tries to sell his vision for health care. He's ready to hit the road to make it happen and ready to shift the blame if he can't.

ROMANS: And with the president's wiretapping claims still unfounded, the vice president is asked directly if he believes his boss. Hear what he said and more importantly what he didn't.