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Trump Gears Up for Obamacare Fight; Pence Ducks Question About Trump Wiretap Claim; U.S. Officials: Marines Deployed to Northern Syria; Cowboys to Release Tony Romo Today. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:02] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump ready to sell his health plan to skeptics in Washington and across the country. But with opposition growing, a back-up plan might be emerging in the event the Republican leadership can't get it done.

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

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

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs.

You know, you like bowling, you like pizza?


BRIGGS: You know, the skeptical Republicans in the House are being invited for bowling and pizza next week at the White House to try to sell the health bill. Do you think that works?

ROMANS: We'll see if it works.

BRIGGS: Do you think that works?

ROMANS: If it's pepperoni, maybe.

BRIGGS: Hey, if it's good pizza, I'm in.

Breaking news, though, just in the last few minutes, the House Ways and Means Committee voting on party lines to approve the portion of the Republican Obamacare repeal bill. This after 16 growling hours of debate. Republicans repeatedly voting down Democratic amendments on a host of issues from out of pocket costs and tax increases, to the president's tax returns.

ROMANS: The Ways and Means Twitter account controlled by the Republican majority saying, quote, "We are delivering on our promise to bring relief from Obamacare and empowering Americans to make their own health care decisions." At this hour, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is still

debating the measure. Oh, that's what it looks like at 5:00 a.m. in the East on Capitol Hill.

Once this committee presumably passes its portion of the bill, both still need to go through House Budget Committees and House Rules Committees before going to full House votes.

BRIGGS: These guys like sharp for pulling an all-nighter.

ROMANS: The word on the street is they are exhausted.

BRIGGS: Eye drops required.

So, this is the first step on the broader level, opposition to the new plan growing among conservatives on Capitol Hill. President Trump laying out two strategies. His Plan A for getting the bill passed, and a Plan B that 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. 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.

ROMANS: So, for now, the White House sticking with plan a shifting in 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 the West Wing that Republican leaders saddled Mr. Trump with 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.

All right. So, those are the policymakers. What about the people who deliver health care to you, the patient in this country? Many of them, powerful names in health care lining up against the plan.

Doctors and nurses associations, the biggest names in medicine, the first to speak out. The American Medical Association is the nation's largest group of doctors. It's got big lobbying dollars.

Also, liberal-leaning groups like National Nurses United, that's a union. Conservative players like the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

It opposes it for different reason, Dave. It told Breitbart that the plan is too similar to Obamacare.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: There is also pushback from industries, special interest groups, AARP, represents the interest of millions of older Americans. The three hospital associations are against it. Families USA, a long- time supporter of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. It represents consumers.

All of these big name health delivery groups and senior groups, AARP. If you are on social media, you have seen the AARP ads over the past couple days I bet.

BRIGGS: Yes, you talk about the lack of outreach ahead of the bill. Even the conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, Heritage, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth. With a whole of outrage to get them on board ahead of this either.

Let's discuss all of this with CNN politics reporter Tal Kopan, live this morning in our Washington bureau.

Good morning to you.

ROMANS: Good morning.


BRIGGS: So let's start on Steve Scalise. His ploy, his messaging to the House Republicans, those skeptical, are you with Nancy Pelosi or Trump? Does that kind of push work in the House?

KOPAN: I think it does. I don't know it will, but generally it can. You know, let's break down sort of the calculations that politicians make. I mean, certainly, we all hope that our lawmakers are weighing policy decisions based on what they think is good policy. But, you know, they, of course, look at the politics of it.

And what they're thinking about is when I am in front of my constituents a year from now and someone asked me how I voted on this bill, do I have a good answer for them? If they're going to vote no, they need a reason to take to constituents and say, you know, against the ads that will hit them that they didn't deliver their promise to repeal Obamacare, they need a reason to say "no, I voted against x."

[05:05:07] And so, that's the sort of calculation that at least Republicans are making right now.

ROMANS: We don't know yet how much this is going to cost. The CBO, the non-partisan tool of Congress to help them score this stuff is not out yet.

But we heard from Steve Scalise, Republican congressman from Louisiana, majority whip yesterday in Washington calling them unelected bureaucrats. I want you to compare that with what he said in 2010.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUSIANA: We asked CBO, by the way, for a score. Anybody who thinks we're going to just wait and let some un- elected bureaucrats in Washington to stop us from following through on our promise to the American people that we're going to repeal this failed law and finally rescue them.

They don't even know what's in the bill. They won't release the CBO score. There are rumors flying around. There are all these back door secret negotiations.


ROMANS: OK. I have seen in Washington an attempt to under cut what is not out yet from the CBO.

KOPAN: Yes. I mean, it is a time honored tradition in Washington to suddenly adopt messaging that is more convenient, whether you have the advance. I mean, this is something that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle all the time, right? It's -- let's see the CBO score. Oh, downplay the CBO score depending if it benefits or not.

This is, you know, politics. And so, obviously, the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, is a, you know, non-partisan institution that does its best to evaluate the bills in front of it. But if that score is not advantageous to the bill, you know, lawmakers do what they can to downplay the significance of that and, in fact, you know, back. And now they are pointing to the score and saying it was off.

And so, that's certainly part of the Republicans' messaging going forward. They seem to expect a bad score coming out.

BRIGGS: Yes, there are early estimates I think from Brookings that 15 million could lose health insurance with this bill.

ROMANS: I think S&P Global says 10 million.

BRIGGS: Somewhere in that range.

ROMANS: A 10 million to 15 million range I think is what they're settling on here.

BRIGGS: So, Tal, this really comes down to the president of the United States. How much political capital does he have? The art of the deal? How does he sell it? How much do you think he is willing to put behind this bill?

KOPAN: I mean, that is the big question among Republicans on the Hill. You know, he has already been more aggressive than we have seen him be with Congress so far. You know, there's waves of outreach. He is inviting lawmakers to the White House for various social engagements for some arm twisting. He and through his surrogates, especially, you know, the vice president, the cabinet secretary saying this is absolutely the bill we are supporting going forward.

But, you know, keep in mind the big question on every single lawmaker, especially on the Republican side in mind is, will he tweet at me and what will he say, you know? And he certainly goes after people and can sort of blow them up at their constituents. And so, you know, they are keeping an eye on how aggressive is he going to be? Is he going to say, I support this but I'm open to changes which gives conservatives some cover? Or does he go after people who are not supporting the bill?

ROMANS: Doctors and nurses and retired Americans, you know, people over 50, older Americans, hospitals, I don't know. I mean, the people delivering health care and consumers are against this bill. Is that important for these Congress members? I mean, are they worried about getting killed by AARP, sorry for the verb, when they are trying to run for re-election?

KOPAN: Yes, these interest groups are extremely important in the way Washington functions. You know, certainly, Bernie Sanders would say that this is an example of big money throwing their weight around.

But these groups put out ads. They know the issues. They have a lot of respect among the American public for the most representing viewpoints. And so, these flags are concerning for Republican leadership. I'm sure.

The question is, you know, what does the final version of the bill look like? What kind of negotiations are going on to give people what they need to come back a little bit from these positions. We don't know yet, you know, if they're going to be any changes before this gets a final vote. It certainly didn't happen in markup, but it could happen before it is voted on. So, it remains to be seen.

BRIGGS: There's major changes. All of this amidst continued questions over the president's wiretapping allegations against former President Obama. Mike Pence, the VP, asked about those allegations yesterday.


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.


[05:10:06] BRIGGS: That's about the closest thing you heard to a defense by any lawmaker on the right. How do they put this to bed?

KOPAN: Well, you know, there is a lot you can do to bury something in paperwork, especially if you're the House Intelligence or Senate Intelligence Committee. You know, you can conduct investigation behind closed doors and claim it is classified. I mean, look, the White House surrogates are having a hard time with this when you listen to the staff and cabinet and vice president. They don't want to say, you know, yes or no if they believe the president.

You know, keep in mind, the White House and Donald Trump provided zero evidence to back up this claim. He has simply thrown it out and suggested that the evidence may be out there and others should find it. And so, lawmakers are struggling with that. They're likely going to fold this in with the rest of the work and you know probably try to avoid it as much as possible. But I don't think Democrats are going to let them do that.

ROMANS: All right. Tal Kopan, up bright and early for us, along with the Ways and Means and the Energy Committee, they've been up all night, too. So, a lot going in Washington. We're glad you're there for us, Tal. See you in about 20 minutes or so. Thank you.

KOPAN: Thank you.

ROMANS: Eleven minutes past the hour.

A new round of U.S. military personnel headed to Syria, headed right here Raqqah. We're going to tell you more about their mission and the risks, up next.


[04:15:32] ROMANS: U.S. officials say hundreds of Marines are being deployed to northern Syria, that's in advance of a planned assault by U.S.-backed fighters on the city of Raqqah. And, of course, it's ISIS self-declared capital. That assault expected in coming weeks.

Our CNN national security reporter Ryan Browne joins us now live from Washington.

Good morning, Ryan. We were in Irbil an hour ago with Ben Wedeman, talking about what we're expecting here in these boots on the ground, at least an advisory role. Tell us more about what the American role will be here.


You know, as you said, there's been an advisory role for U.S. troops in Syria for some time now. Advising America's local Syrian and Kurdish allies. Now, this is a new unit, a new contingent that will be providing artillery support.

Now, America's local allies in Syria lack heavy weapons. So, the Marines will be proving some of that support, artillery strikes to aid their assault on Raqqah.

Now, a U.S. defense official tell us that ISIS has as many as 4,000 fighters still in Raqqah and they've been digging trenches and tunnels, booby trapping houses with what are called house-born IEDs, really large bombs. So, there's a concern that there's a very big fight ahead against a well-dug in economy. Of course, they had years to prepare.

So, the marines are thought to support that push. Now, all of this comes as the U.S. publicly deployed about 100 U.S. Army Rangers to the Syrian city of Manbij.

Now, Manbij was liberated from ISIS back in August. But what is happening in Northern Syria is a very complicated picture. You are seeing Syrian troops and Russian allies moving in to close distance to where the U.S. forces are with their allies, as well as Turkey has their own force in the region with a separate rebel group.

Not all the groups get along. So, the U.S. is bringing 100 troops to kind of serve as a deterrent, to kind of prevent any clashes between all these forces that could undermine this very critical assault on ISIS capital in Raqqah -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Ryan, thank you so much for that this morning, bright and early in Washington for us. Thanks.

BROWNE: You bet.

BRIGGS: In the world of sports, Tony Romo. Is he done in Dallas? Where will the Cowboys all-time leading passer wind up next season?

Andy Scholes with this morning's "Bleacher Report". Hopefully he tells me he's going to Denver, next.


[05:22:23] BRIGGS: It's the end of an era in Dallas. Cowboys expected to officially release quarterback Tony Romo later today, Romans.


Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report". But I can't play any sports like he does.

BRIGGS: Is he going to Denver?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Dave, me and you are going to have to fight this out. You want him on the Broncos. I want him on my Texans.

But, you know, Romo watch is now officially on. The favorites to land the former Cowboys quarterback is the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans right now. Romo cut by the Cowboys unimaginable. Due to the rise of Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott, Romo became expendable. He leaves the Cowboys as the team's all time leader in passing yards and touchdowns.

All right. Michigan men's basketball team got a scare on the way to the Big Ten tournament as the plane skidded off the runway. The team released a statement saying that high winds forced the plane to abort takeoff and strong braking slid them off course. The plane was badly damaged. The Michigan coach said few people were banged up, but thankfully, no one was seriously injured. Team flying this morning to D.C. and heading straight over to the arena for their game.

Barcelona pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in history. In the Champions League, you play two games against opponent. They combine the score and winner moves on.

Well, Barcelona lost game one to Paris, 4-0. Odds of moving on were slim. More slim when they needed to score three goals late in the game. But in what some are calling a miracle, Barcelona did just that, they scored three goals in a span of seven minutes at the end of the game to win 6-1. The stadium erupted as Barcelona is moving on to the quarterfinals.

Team Israel continues to shine in the World Baseball Classic, ranked just 41st in the world, Israel beat the Netherlands. Earlier this morning, Israel has zero major leaguers on the roster. The odds to win the tournament at the start were 200 to 1. Now they are on to the quarterfinals.

All right. Finally, Tim Tebow making his Mets spring training debut. One to forget for the former Heisman Trophy winner. Tebow went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and grounded into a double play in this one as we watch the computer screen.

I promise you, Tim Tebow playing yesterday. Maybe we did not show the video because it was not one to remember for Tim Tebow.

[05:25:01] BRIGGS: We were trying to save his feelings.

SCHOLES: He's going to be playing in the field on Friday which could be fun to watch.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes, we read the tabloids in the break before your segment. Here is the big sports segment.

Here's a big sports story today.


SCHOLES: What is it?

BRIGGS: Alex Rodriguez and --

ROMAN: And J. Lo.

BRIGGS: And J. Lo.

ROMANS: Breaking news according to the tabloids in New York.

SCHOLES: I thought J. Lo was still dating Drake. That's how far behind I am, guys.

ROMANS: I don't know.

BRIGGS: They are a lovely couple.

SCHOLES: Thanks for the update.

BRIGGS: I get it.

ROMANS: Change our lead. Come on, healthcare reform? Forget it. This is our top story.

All right. See you later, Andy. SCHOLES: All right. Have a good one.

ROMANS: Republicans working into the morning to move their health care plan along. Now the president who ran on the promise of cutting great deals is said to have a back-up idea if he cannot see it to the finish line. Plan B? I don't know.