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White House Gears Up for Obamacare Fight; Pence Ducks Question About Trump Wiretap Claim; U.S. Officials: Marines Deployed to Northern Syria. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 04:30   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And with the president's wiretapping claims still unfounded, the vice president is asked directly if he believes his boss.

[04:30:01] Hear what he said and more importantly what he didn't.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome back to EARLY START this Thursday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Good morning to you. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

Breaking news: just minutes ago, the House Ways and Means Committee voting on party lines to approve the Republican Obamacare repeal bill. This after 16 grueling hours of debate. At this hour, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is still debating the measure. They thought it was fun to be a congressman. Think otherwise.

ROMANS: A long night.

BRIGGS: This is the sausage making.

ROMANS: We're told they brought in doughnuts. We are told that some aides are curled up with blankets on their laps. But this has been a very long night here as they're debating, what is really frankly a very important legislation.

So, there you go. Live on Capitol Hill right now, 4:30 a.m.

Good morning to our representatives.

BRIGGS: Of course, they had to read this bill out loud because the Democrats who insisted on that only added to the time and pushed this thing back. Eye drops as we love here on the show are very much needed.

ROMANS: A staple at 4:00 a.m. BRIGGS: With opposition to this new Republican health plan growing,

among conservatives among Capitol Hill, President Trump laying out two strategies. His Plan A for getting the bill passed and Plan B in the event it does not.

Sources tell CNN the president advised conservative leaders in an hour-long Oval Office meeting, he will allow Obamacare to fail and let Democrats take the blame if he can't get this through. 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 surprise, acknowledging they could have done more outreach ahead of the bill's rollout.

ROMANS: For now, the White House sticking with plan A, shifting into full campaign mode to sell the Republican repeal and replace. The president will start stumping for the plan, including upcoming visits to Kentucky and Tennessee. Even so, there's a feeling in the West Wing that Republican leaders have saddled Mr. Trump with all the heavy lifting.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.


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.


ROMANS: All right, Phil Mattingly.

What you're hearing there is the process, the Washington process, as they try to hammer this out. Two different world views: an Obamacare world view and a more conservative health care view.

Well, what are the people who deliver health care think? Some powerful groups in the health care industry are lining up against this GOP replacement. Doctors and nurses associations among the first to speak out. The American Medical Association is the nation's largest group of doctors. It's got big lobbying dollars.

The list also features liberal leaning groups like National Nurses United, that's a union. But also conservative players like the association player of American physicians and surgeons. It told Breitbart that this GOP plan is too similar to Obamacare. So, they're opposing it for different reasons.

There is also pushback from industry and special interest groups, AARP. Powerful lobby. Represents millions of older Americans.

The three hospital associations, they cover huge swaths of the country.

[04:35:03] They are against it. Families USA is a long-time supporter of the Affordable Care Act. It represents consumers. It is against this plan.

So, you are seeing the folks who deliver health care lining up against what Republicans are arguing about this morning.

Also, Republicans taking fire this morning for suddenly dismissing the importance of a score from the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO is a non-partisan office tasked with predicting the economic impact of legislation, giving bills a so-called score. But the GOP is pushing the health care bill through so far without the score. That's normally something very important to fiscal conservatives.

Now, Republican lawmakers in the White House are worried about an unfavorable CBO report that could forecast high costs or millions losing coverage and they're 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.


BRIGGS: To be clear, Spicer is correct there. CBO did project higher enrollment than Obamacare reached in the first few years. But the agency also overstated government costs based on the same analysis. House committees begin work on the bill yesterday, 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, even told colleagues they had a choice to side with Trump or Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. 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 is now President Trump's secretary of health and human services, one of the architects of this very bill.

ROMANS: All right. 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.


ROMANS: 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 Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus and former Obama chief of staff, Denis McDonough, have been in contact since Mr. Trump leveled the wiretap allegation last weekend.

BRIGGS: The federal government is launching a criminal investigation to find out how WikiLeaks obtained and leaked documents purportedly 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."

ROMANS: FBI Director James Comey speaking at a cyber security conference in Boston College warning Americans to never expect to have, quote, "absolute privacy". It was Mr. Comey's first public appearance since President Trump accused President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, accused him with no evidence. Comey did not comment on the allegation.

BRIGGS: President Trump's tough talk on illegal immigration may having a serious deterrent effect. According to statistics just released by Customs and Border Control officials, illegal crossings in the Southwest were down 40 percent last month. That reverses the 17- year upward trend.

Check out these numbers. Family unit apprehension is down 66 percent from January to February with unaccompanied childhood apprehensions falling 55 percent. Fewer apprehensions mean fewer attempts are made to cross the border.

ROMANS: Next hour, we'll have Tal Kopan on and she's been covering immigration issues. It will be interesting to see what she thinks.

Ten thousand baby boomers are retiring every day. And a new report shows one thing to make up for the drop in the number of workers as these baby boomers leave the workforce: immigrants. Oh, yes, immigrants is a key driver of economic growth and keeping tax revenues on pace.

In 2015, the total U.S. workforce was 173 million people.

[04:40:03] That covers those between ages 25 to 64. Without new immigrants coming into the country, that number will drop to 165.5 million by the year 2025. This is according to Pew Research. If the flow of both legal and unauthorized immigrants continues at current rates, the workforce will jump to 183 million.

The reason for the gap is a big drop in the largest slice of the labor market, people born in the U.S. to parents who are also born here. Think about that -- people born in the U.S. to parents also born here. In 2015, that group accounted for 74 percent of the workforce. By 2025, it will be just about 2/3. That's due to both baby boomers retiring and a lower U.S. birth rate.

Again, this is all according to Pew. Fascinating research.

The big question now, how will this play out with the Trump administration's moves to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records and restrict, more importantly, restrict legal immigration. The Justice Department is also reviewing a rule which lets spouses of

H-1B visa holders working in the U.S. We're expecting that they will move to not allow those spouses.

But I'm going to tweet out and you can look @earlystart on Twitter. We're going to tweet out sort of that Pew Research and our story about that Pew Research that shows, you know, Donald Trump has talked about growing the workforce. This Pew Research says without immigration, you won't be able to grow the work force.

BRIGGS: Well, looming over this is health care. If you can't get through the first big legislative push --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- how does all the rest of the subsequent efforts fall behind? We shall see. Tax reform included. Time will tell.

Another deployment of U.S. military personnel to Syria. Where are they headed and what's the plan when they arrive? We'll have a live report, next.


[04:45:54] ROMANS: U.S. officials say hundreds of Marines are being deployed to northern Syria in advance of a plan assault by U.S.-backed fighters on the city of Raqqah. Raqqah, of course, is ISIS's self declared capital. That assault expected in coming weeks.

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

What can you tell us? Do we know how many are on the ground and what kind of role they will play here?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The precise number of Marines that are there, we don't know, but we do they are part of an artillery unit. They have 155 millimeter howitzers with a range of about 20 miles. They're going to be deployed, we understand, somewhere around Raqqah, which as you said is the de facto capital of Mosul.

And the will be in addition to several hundred -- excuse me, Raqqah. They will be in addition there in addition to several hundred Rangers and Special Forces that are in the town of Manbij, which is 85 kilometers northwest of Raqqah.

Now, U.S. officials are saying that the offensive to retake Raqqah could happen within the coming weeks. We understand from U.S. officials that anywhere between 3,000 and 4,000 ISIS fighters in the city itself, although the same officials say many of the ISIS leaders have already left the city in anticipation of this offensive.

Now, when this offensive is going to begin is hard to say, but it should begin soon because temperatures in the part of Syria by mid-May to early June get quite high and it will be quite difficult to launch a full-on offensive then. But it's going to be a hard battle because of the number of ISIS fighters and the fact they had well over three years to prepare for this to dig in and prepare the sort of defenses that Iraqi forces are struggling with in Mosul at the moment, things like networks of tunnels, booby traps, car bombs, the usual antics that ISIS gets up to -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, certainly, Raqqah has been the beating heart of ISIS for the past several years. So, an important target there.

Thank you so much for that. Ben Wedeman for us in Irbil, Iraq, this morning.

BRIGGS: U.S. officials rejecting a Chinese proposal aimed at diffusing new tensions on the Korean peninsula. It called for North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for a halt to military exercises by U.S. and South Korean forces. The State Department says it was not a viable deal. China's foreign minister floated this idea as a basis for talks that would end North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

ROMANS: All right. The death toll in that terror attack in Afghanistan has grown now to 30 people after terrorists disguised as medical personnel stormed a Kabul military hospital Wednesday. In the video, you can see patients even climbing out of windows and standing on a ledge. They're trying to escape the violence inside those walls. After six hours of fighting, the attackers were killed by Afghan security forces. ISIS has claimed responsibility, Dave.

BRIGGS: Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has accepted an offer to be the next ambassador to Russia. Two senior administration officials confirmed the move, although vetting still needs to be completed. An official tells CNN Huntsman 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 Mr. Obama's first term.

ROMANS: Certainly, a long foreign policy hand. It should be --

BRIGGS: An important post, considering all the talks of Russia.

ROMANS: Apparently, it's really important, the diplomatic post.

BRIGGS: Yes, they needed someone far away from all this scandal.

ROMANS: All right. Forget the record highs, the Dow milestones. Forget the Trump rally. The stock market has a birthday today. I meant to bring you a cupcake. I know.

I'll show you one of the most important stats --

[04:50:01] BRIGGS: No cake?

ROMANS: No cake, but I'm going to a state on the birthday of the stock market when we get --

BRIGGS: Oh, please. No cake, but stat.

ROMANS: I prefer a stat instead of a cake.


BRIGGS: We're hearing for the first time from the son of Kim Jong- nam. He's the half brother of North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, who was murdered in Malaysia. Kim Han-sol appears in a short video. It's the first time anyone in Kim Jong-nam's immediate family has been heard from since his death.

CNN's Ivan Watson live in Kuala Lumpur with the latest.

Does anyone in the family fear for their own survival? Good morning to you, Ivan.

[04:55:02] IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really does seem like they fear for their survival because this mysterious video came out. It makes this incredible assassination that took place in the main airport here in Kuala Lumpur almost a month ago even stranger because this has been identified as Kim Han- sol. He's a son, a surviving son of the victim who was poisoned to death in the airport nearly a month ago. And South Korean intelligence is, in fact, confirming it is him.

Take a listen to an excerpt from the short video that came out online this week.


KIM HAN SOL, KIM JONG NAM'S SON: Hi. My name is Kim Han Sol from North Korea, part of the Kim family. My father has been killed a few days ago. I'm currently with my mother and sister. And we are very grateful to --


WATSON: Now, Dave, we know that Kim Han Sol, he is around 22 years old. He was born in Pyongyang, educated mostly outside of North Korea and a member of the ruling dynasty that governs North Korea.

The group that released this video is very mysterious. Nobody has ever really heard of it before. It's called Cheollima Civil Defense. And its statement, it claims four governments, including the U.S., China and the Netherlands and another unspecified government helped get Kim Han Sol and other family members to safety after the assassination here in Malaysia.

We can't confirm that. The governments we reached out to refuse to comment on this. But it has triggered a bigger diplomatic dispute between Malaysia and North Korea. Both governments that used to be friendly are holding each other's citizens hostage right now. The Malaysian government not letting the North Koreans leave here and vice versa for the North Koreans. And the Malaysian government this week for the first time has directly accused the Pyongyang regime of the assassination that took place in their international airport on February 13th, something that North Korea continues to deny -- Dave.

BRIGGS: And that video, just so casually talking about assassination.

Ivan, thank you.

ROMANS: Wow. Just fascinating.

All right. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Today is the bull market's 8th birthday, a little third grader here in terms of age. It's been an incredible ride from the recession lows of March 9th, 2009.

The S&P 500 is up an incredible 250 percent. The Dow is up nearly 220 percent. On that day, that terrible day, do you remember, the S&P 500 closed at just 676. It's now above 2,300.

The labor market, the job market, shed 823,000 jobs in just March of 2009. The worst month of the recession. Tomorrow, we get a jobs report. We expect a job gain of 185,000 jobs.

Home prices dropped 18.7 percent over the year that ended in March of 2009. Today, home prices are up almost 6 percent over the past year.

Now, while the trend here reflects a rebounding economy, the more recent gains are all about corporate profits. The Trump rally is just a tiny portion of the gains. If you look back at the chart, the Trump rally is just the very, very top of what has been eight very strong years.

But the president's policies, everyone is telling us, are key to keeping this rally going. If this rally were to match the biggest bull market in history, it would have four more years to run. Think about that.

Here is good news for the bulls out there, the market right now 2,922 days young. Longest bull market? Forty-five hundred days. That's in green from the crash of 1987 to the pop of the dot-com bubble in 2000. The S&P shot up during that record rally 582 percent.

So, if you think the market could challenge number one, it's got four years to go and would double more from here.

All right. We told you about that new bronze statue on Wall Street, the little girl defiantly staring down the iconic bull. It was swarmed with bullish visitors on International Women's Day. One visitor brought her super powers.

This is 5-year-old Abriana Almonte (ph). She visited on Wednesday. She had the day off from school. Her mother and others and news photographers snapped her picture. She became famous yesterday. She was viral on social media.

The little girl's mom says she dresses up like a superhero frequently mainly to play with her 8-year-old brother who has autism. She says that's her way of connecting with him.

That story gives me goose bumps because I love that little girl. I love the bronze statue and I love that she plays with her brother right that.

BRIGGS: State Street. Very well done.


BRIGGS: Brilliant.

ROMANS: That was an ad campaign that really worked.

BRIGGS: Yes, without having a single commercial.

EARLY START continues right now.


BRIGGS: President Trump ready to sell his health plan to skeptics in Washington and across the country.