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WH Shift on Health Bill; Comey Meets with Congress; South Korea's President Impeached; TCU Stuns #1 Kansas, 85-82. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired March 10, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House ready for an earlier rollback of Medicaid for millions. This to win over conservatives, but will that cost them votes they'll need to pass the new health care bill with moderates?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And the FBI director behind closed doors with top members of Congress. What did he say about Russian meddling in the election as questions resurface about links with the Trump Organization and a Russian bank?

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. The big question today, will it be a snow day for the Northeast? It is Friday.

BRIGGS: It is for my children. It is official. The text just came.

[05:00:02] ROMANS: We are watching our phones wondering if we're going to have to scramble here. It's going to be kind of a messy day in the Northeast here.

In politics, fascinating day. Another one. This morning, growing involvement by the White House in negotiations over the Obamacare repeal bill being met with growing resistance from some Republican factions. In what looks to be a major pivot, the White House is privately signaling it is open to a big change in the House Republican bill, rolling back Obamacare's Medicaid expansion years sooner than the current proposal. That's according to two senior administration officials and a senior House conservative aide.

BRIGGS: The shift comes after two House committees sign off on the bill following marathon markup sessions, one running 27 straight grueling hours. But with concerns growing about the measure's content and the pace it is being pushed through the House, opponents, Republican opponents, are ramping up their public criticism.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: There is no deadline. We need to get health care right and fast. There are a lot of Republicans who are saying the exact same thing in private. I'm simply saying in public what many Republicans are saying that the legislation as it's written, one, probably cannot pass the Senate. But, two, would not solve the problems of our health care system, problems that Obamacare made worse.


BRIGGS: Today, a new push in the sales campaign for Obamacare repeal as President Trump meets with key House committee chairman and a vice president sits down with conservative leaders.

We get the latest now from CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, Dave and Christine, conservatives still very wary about this proposal and not guaranteeing that when it gets to the floor, they'll support it at all. All that does is underscored that there's a lot more work to do.

The reality is this, when you talk to House Republican leadership aides, when you talk to Senate and Republican leaders altogether, they say this is the vehicle moving forward. If they want to repeal Obamacare, that issue that they've campaigned on cycle after cycle, this is the moment to do it.

Now, the biggest issue by far is Medicaid. In the bill, as it currently stands, the Medicaid expansion that came with Obamacare would be rolled back in 2020. What conservatives want is 2017. That is problematic going forward. Still, they haven't here at the White House.

The president telling conservative groups that he is not only open to the idea, but would consider trying to act on it. That would be problematic for both the House and Senate, where a lot of moderate senators, a lot of senators from those Medicaid expansion states simply wouldn't go along.

The reality is this: this bill still moving forward. The process, a little bit slow and certainly ugly. But when you talk to Senate leaders and House leaders, they say they'll still get it done -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: OK, Greg Valliere, our favorite term is "slow and ugly", Greg, because that's what it gets said, it's going to be slow and ugly.

BRIGGS: Phil nailed it.

ROMANS: Greg is a political economist for Horizon Investments, the chief strategist there. He is live for us in Washington this morning.

And you have been watching the sausage made on this health care thing. And so, how -- how much of what we're seeing here is normal? That when you put a bill like this forward, reconciliation process, that -- you know, this is the time to complain about it and to get changes made.

GREG VALLIERE, POLITICAL ECONOMIST: Exactly right, Christine. Good morning.

Two important points here. Number one, no one is looking for a work of art. No one is looking for a perfect bill. The goal is simply just to have movement. There will be a real bill written in the conference committee.

So, the House will pass something. The Senate will pass something. And then in the House Senate Conference Committee will actually get the wheeling and dealing and the horse trading ands get a bill done.

The second point is this, this squawking from the right is to be expected. They need to impress their base and talk radio. So, of course, they're going to complain about it. But when push comes to shove in the conference committee, I think they'll take whatever they can get.

BRIGGS: It is expected. But the difficulty of it is, in the House, at least, you have to please the House Freedom Caucus of 29 members by going to the right. But once this bill gets to the Senate, you really have to worry about the moderates who were worried about the Medicaid expansion.

How do you thread that needle?

VALLIERE: It's not easy, Dave. There's a well-regarded senator named Rob Portman from Ohio who leads the group, saying we will not cut back on Medicaid.

So, there's going to be a different Senate bill, much different from the House bill, then they'll get to conference. Trump will have to get involved. I don't think Trump distinguished himself as weak. I think he incited the right wing even more by saying, you know, what do you want? I'll cut a deal.

But I think when you get to this conference committee, that's when all of the really important deals will be cut.

ROMANS: It seems like the Medicaid expansion -- OK, so in the House version, they're going to rollback the Medicaid expansion, but slowly. And so, both sides are angry about that. Some say it is too slow and GOP governors who say, oh, you can't do that because we will have millions of people who will be uninsured or under-insured in our states. So, they're getting hit by both sides on even talking about Medicaid expansion rollback.

VALLIERE: Well, you are right. I think for the financial markets, which are hoping to focus on the good stuff -- tax cuts, infrastructure -- the longer this thing drags out and I think it's going to be early summer before we have any hope for a resolution, the longer this drags on, the less likely it is that good stuff can move to the front burner.

[05:05:18] BRIGGS: All right. So, at the heart of this, a world view difference. You have the federal government taking over health care. And as Douglas Holtz-Eakin writes today in "The Washington Post" really talks about states and how this gives freedom and flexibility to the states.

And Douglas Holtz-Eakin was a former CBO director. We're expecting a CBO score on this on Monday to tell us how many lose insurance, how much it costs. You can read this on the screen.

But let me ask you, why is he making argument that states have freedom and flexibility here in this bill? Republicans in the House, the president, Senate, they are not necessarily making that argument.

VALLIERE: Well, I think a lot of Republicans view this as the mantra. They promised it. They're going to have to keep this promise. But I would just make this point, guys -- whichever party owns the health insurance issue regrets it.


VALLIERE: Health reform is an albatross for whichever party. It is so controversial. So, now, Republicans own it and they're realizing just how complicated it is.

ROMANS: Well, let's be honest here. When I go through the numbers, I mean, I know this is going to change. This is the starting box.

But you look at the sort of AARP messaging right now, the people 50 to 64 years old are going to get this age tax under this new Republican bill and that's resonating online. Everyone is talking about how, you know, you are 50 to 64, you're going to pay more. You talk about poor people, people who are maybe making $20,000, $24,000 a year who would have to pay more out of pocket because of the rollback of Medicaid expansion -- these are Trump voters.

VALLIERE: Yes. And you can't satisfy everyone. There's going to be a lot to complain about.

And I thought one of the great quotes so far this year was when Trump said, "Who knew, who knew it was this complicated." But now, he realizes that it's like Rubik's cube trying to get everything lined up. And I think for the Republicans, this issue quickly will become a liability.

ROMANS: Jobs report today. Tell Dave Briggs why it is so important that a big jobs report that the president accept the numbers?

VALLIERE: Well, a lot of interesting angles. I think wages may pick up. Unemployment may drop by a tenth or so. Nonfarm payroll growth will increase.

So, this cinches the deal for a rate hike next week for the Federal Reserve. And the Fed knows what a lot of voters may not know and that is, if anything, the economy is getting too strong. They've got to take the punch bowl away because the economy could actually begin to overheat. ROMANS: The economy is getting too strong. Tell that to the

president who says these numbers are fake and phony and that everyone is out there struggling.

VALLIERE: Yes, I'm not sure he'd listen.

But people who say the real unemployment rate is 40 percent, I travel all around America. And you talk to business leaders. You ask them, what's your biggest problem? Almost unanimously, they say lack of skilled labor. It's a real shortage.

BRIGGS: Greg, thank you. We'll see you back here in about 20 minutes. Appreciate it.

VALLIERE: You bet.

BRIGGS: Well, for months after early reports of a computer server connection between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank were widely dismissed. FBI investigation remains open. Sources close to the probe tells CNN, it is now in the hands of the FBI's counterintelligence team. The same one looking into Russia's suspected interference in the 2016 election. One U.S. official said investigators find the server connection, quote, "odd". But the official says there is still more work for the FBI to do here.

ROMANS: Internet records show that last summer, a server owned by the Russia-based Alfa Bank looked up contact number for a Trump organization server. And Alfa's server did more than any other companies, about 80 percent of the look ups to the Trump server. So far, there's no evidence the two servers communicated with each other and no allegations of wrongdoing.

In a statement to CNN, Alfa Bank says neither it nor its cofounder or president, quote, "have had any contact with Mr. Trump or his organization." The FBI declined to comment. The White House did not respond to our request for comments.

BRIGGS: But we know that James Comey, the FBI director, did meet yesterday with the "Gang of Eight", those leaders in the House and the Senate to discuss any Russian interference in the election and where this investigation goes from here. We've certainly not heard the last of this.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: Protests overnight turn deadly in South Korea after the impeachment of its first female president is upheld. How does this effect the U.S. alliance with Seoul? We are live there next.


[05:13:48]ROMANS: Breaking this morning: deadly protests in South Korea after the country's high court upheld the decision to impeach the country's embattled president.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has been there in the crowd for us. She has the breaking details. She is live in Seoul where it is evening now after a day of protests -- Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. This has been an historic day here in South Korea. We started off with the country's first female president. She's now become the first president to be impeached in this country.

Now, amongst the supporters of Park Geun-hye don't believer that she should have been impeached. There were allegations of corruption and bribery. The constitutional court upheld lawmaker's decision to impeach her, and there was a lot of frustration, anger and bitterness among the people here.

Now, we did see some pockets of violence as well and tear gas with the police. We know that two people have been killed during these protests.

But it is not like this around Seoul. It is not like this around the country. It is very important to note that millions of people agreed with the decision to impeach the president. Her approval rating was 5 percent. A lot of people wanted her to go, believing she had done wrongdoing.

[05:15:01] As for Park Geun-hye, she has now lost her presidential immunity. Prosecutors say she should be tried as a bribery suspect. So, it will be very interesting to see what happens to Park Geun-hye. Now, she is no longer president, but she is a civilian.

But this country is very divided. People here are not just saying they are for Park Geun-hye. They are against the person that they think will replace her, a liberal candidate, Moon Jae-in, who favors talking to North Korea and does not want the U.S. missile defense system THAAD to be in this country. That, of course, started arriving on Monday. It's difficult to see if they get a chance to overturn that decision.

But it would be interesting to see if that changes the dynamic between the U.S. and South Korea -- Christine.

ROMANS: That is so critical. That is very important democratic ally to the United States and a region that is often the source of concern.

All right. Thank you so much for that. Paula Hancocks for us in Seoul.

BRIGGS: So many implications on that story, especially with the United States. As you mentioned, she's the first female president who could be prosecuted criminally and now, the engagement in the entire region could be upended as well. We'll stay at it for you.

German investigators are trying to determine the motive behind a bloody axe attack at a train station in Dusseldorf. Police believe the suspect acted on its own. He is described as a 37-year-old man from the former Yugoslavia who is now living near Dusseldorf.

Authorities believe he may have mental problems. The suspect was seriously injured trying to flee. Seven people were hurt in the attack, three severely.

Well, in sports. Big 12, a massive upset on the hardwood. Top ranked Kansas beaten in the final seconds in their conference quarterfinal. What a day in hoops it was.

Andy Scholes with the details this morning in our "Bleacher Report" next. We'll see him next.


[05:21:16] BRIGGS: All right. Let's talk sports.

Just hours after their plane skidded off runway, Michigan's men's basketball team coming through with the dominating performance in the big ten tournament.

And I know you were watching, Romans.

ROMANS: I was watching. I can barely stay up.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, guys.

You know, on Wednesday, while trying to get to D.C., Michigan's plane had to abort takeoff and they skidded off the runway. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt. And the team postponed the trip to D.C. until yesterday.

They did not arrive at the arena until an hour and a half before the game with Illinois. They also, get this, guys, had to wear practice uniforms because the game uniforms were stuck on the plane while authorities investigate what happened.

But despite all of this, the Wolverines playing some inspiring basketball, easily defeating Illinois, 75-55. The team says the whole ordeal really brought them together.


DERRICK WALTON, JR., MICHIGAN SENIOR: Yesterday, we just pretty much -- you know, basketball was the last thing on our minds. We bonded together and talked about life and how important it is and life was almost taken from all of us.

JOHN BEILEIN, MICHIGAN HEAD COACH: The 16 guys on that team aren't as connected as anything I've had in 42 years. They love each other.


SCHOLES: TCU pulling off a stunner against top-ranked Kansas in the Big 12 tournament. Under 10 seconds to go, tied at 82. Desmond Bane gets obliterated while shooting a three. So, he gets three free throws and makes them all. Kansas did have one last second, a chance to tie the game. But it would be no good. TCU wins 85-82. The only way they get into the big dance is if they win the big 12 tournament. All right. This morning, coveted Patriots back up quarterback Jimmy

Garoppolo possibly breaking the news he has been traded. He posted this pic on Instagram at 4:00 a.m., saying, "So grateful for time in New England. Peace out, Boston."

The Browns have been rumored as a possible destination for Garoppolo. And speaking for the Browns, they pulled off the trade for Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler yesterday. The Texans sending the Browns a second round pick just to take Osweiler and the huge contract off of their hands, and many believe that trade opens the door for Tony Romo to go to Houston.

But the Cowboys did not release him as expected yesterday. They are now reportedly holding out to try to trade him. Either way, Romo with a good-bye video to Instagram.


TONY ROMO: We felt the support from all of you. It's been overwhelming. It doesn't go unnoticed. So, I want to say thank you and we have a lot to think about going forward. We'll see what happens. Until then, I'll keep listening to Bob Dylan.


SCHOLES: Hey, guys, if you couldn't tell, the song in the background was "The Times Are Achanging." So, Romo clearly knows he's on the move whether it's Houston Texans or the Denver Broncos. We'll just have to wait and see.

BRIGGS: Well, Scholes, if it's a trade, it is likely Houston, right? Denver appears to be not open to a trade.

SCHOLES: Well, reports are Houston doesn't want to trade for him either. It may be media ploy to call the Cowboys to release him. But we will wait and see. There may be a deal worked out for him. I would say Houston more likely than Denver, at least I'm hoping as a Texans fan because we never had a good quarterback.

ROMANS: Is this likely to be like a smackdown between the two of you over this? I mean, you want Romo in your team or not?

BRIGGS: The Broncos, we win Super Bowls. The Texans, they do what they do, OK?

SCHOLES: We need Romo then.

BRIGGS: Yes, you do. You do. I need my Romo.

ROMANS: Have a great weekend, Andy.

You're going to resurrect my high school nickname.

BRIGGS: Romo, I like it.

ROMANS: Oh, no. All right. No more Romo. The White House ready to change Medicaid provisions in the new health care bill to lure more conservatives. But will this amount to one step forward and two steps back?

[05:25:02] That's next.


BRIGGS: The White House is prepared to yield to conservatives and fast track the rollback of Medicaid for millions of people. Will that hurt broader efforts to pass the health care bill?

ROMANS: And with questions resurfacing about links between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank, what did the FBI director say about Russian meddling in the election when he met with top members of Congress? I love to be a fly on the wall in that meeting.

BRIGGS: Oh, wouldn't you?

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. Twenty-nine minutes past the hour on a Friday.

It's a snow day out here on the East Coast for many school districts around the coast.

ROMANS: We have busy morning.

BRIGGS: Kids home?

ROMANS: I don't know yet. I have not gotten the SOS yet.

BRIGGS: Good luck to the family.

Well, this morning, growing involvement by the White House in negotiations over the Obamacare repeal bill being met with growing resistance from Republican factions. In what looks to be a major pivot, the White House is signaling it is open to a big change in the House Republican bill.