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Comey Faces House Intel Committee Today; Gorsuch Confirmation Hearings Start; Health Care Huddle: Trump Meeting Ryan And Price; Two Incidents Outside White House. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: FBI Director James Comey set to testify on Russian meddling in the election today in a highly- anticipated hearing. Comey's expect to deny the president's unfounded claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That is something that could humiliate the president as he goes into what could be the most important week of his presidency yet with hearings for his Supreme Court pick beginning today and a vote over the GOP's plan to replace Obamacare looming. The most critical week yet.

BRIGGS: No doubt.

ROMANS: I feel like I've said that every week but this time I really mean it.

I'm Christine Romans. Welcome to EARLY START.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. It's 5:30 Eastern Time and it is Barron Trump's birthday.

ROMANS: Oh, happy birthday.

BRIGGS: So in case the president forgot, don't forget.

ROMANS: Is he 11?

BRIGGS: He's 11 today so, hopefully, there's some good wishes sent to the young man. A crucial week, though, ahead for President Trump with his legislative agenda, his Supreme Court legacy and, well, his credibility all on the line. The drama starts this morning with two big hearings on the Hill in just hours.

FBI Director James Comey will testify to the House Intelligence Committee. Now, he's expected to contradict the president, telling lawmakers that the Trump campaign was not wiretapped on orders from President Obama. Comey is also likely to be asked about alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election and whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

ROMANS: Later this morning, Democrats may take aim at Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch as his Senate confirmation hearings begin, but let's start with the FBI director's testimony. CNN's Ryan Nobles has the latest from Washington. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. This morning's hearings will mark the first time that lawmakers can get FBI Director James Comey to say publicly what his agency has learned about President Trump's claims that President Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower. The White House has refused to back down. This, despite both Republicans and Democrats stating that there was no evidence to back up the president's claim.

Now, in addition to pressing Comey on the wiretap issue, expect the members of Congress to ask if the FBI has been able to conclude if the Russians were working directly with the Trump campaign to help elect a Republican. This is something the administration has forcefully denied. The Republican House chair of the Intel Committee, Devin Nunes, has said he's not seen any evidence to suggest there was collusion. His Democratic counterpart, Adam Schiff, though, is not so sure.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Have you seen any evidence of any collusion between what I'll call Trump World -- associates of campaign officials -- Trump World and the Russians to swing the 2016 presidential election?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: I'll give you a very simple answer, no.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: There was circumstantial evidence of collusion. There is direct evidence, I think, of deception, and that's where we begin the investigation.

NOBLES: And this divide could be where the congressional investigation could break down. If the findings of the committee break down or for party lines, that's where there's some danger that the whole probe could be written off by critics as being too political. It's something the leaders of both the House and Senate Intel Committees have promised they will work to avoid.

And while Republicans and Democrats seem to not be on the same page about Russia's influence on the election, both parties have been clear about one thing. No one has been able to provide any evidence to support the president's wiretap claim and that is a point that could be emphasized during today's hearing -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Thank you, Ryan. On the Senate side of the Capitol this morning, confirmation hearings begin for President Trump's Supreme Court pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch. The big question hanging over the nomination, what will Senate Democrats do? Gorsuch needs 60 votes to win Senate confirmation, which means eight Democrats would have to cross the aisle and vote for him. Republicans say they're confident they can corral enough Democrats, partly by leaning on those facing reelection in states won by President Trump.

ROMANS: But many Democrats are still angry that President Obama's Supreme Court nominee never got a hearing last year -- could barely get even any meetings with Republican senators. They may look to retaliate and dig in their heels against Gorsuch. But Republicans are making clear they will do what it takes to get him on the high court, even if it means changing Senate rules to cut off the possibility of a filibuster. The hearing is expected to last four days. Republican leaders hope for a vote next month.

BRIGGS: Health care reform a top priority for President Trump today. He'll be meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Health and Human Services secretary and, interestingly, Ezekiel Emanuel, who was the key architect --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- of Obamacare. House Republicans scrambling to secure the 216 they need to pass their repeal and replace bill ahead of Thursday's critical vote. More than two dozen Republicans are leaning against the measure -- or leaning that way -- enough to kill the bill if no minds are changed. Now, the Trump administration signaling it may be willing to phase out the Medicaid expansion earlier. That would satisfy conservative critics. Meanwhile, you've got moderate Republicans worried about the impact of Medicaid changes on older, low-income Americans. So --

ROMANS: Yes, the very people who helped get him into office.


ROMANS: Those people who could see a big spike in their health care.

[05:35:00] BRIGGS: Threading the needle is going to be a tricky one here. Helping us break it down is Eugene Scott, "CNN POLITICS" reporter. Good morning to you, sir.

ROMANS: Good morning.


BRIGGS: All right, what changes have to be made first to satisfy those conservative House members before we get to the Senate?

SCOTT: Well, one of the main things that they are really concerned about is the idea that funding could expand that would require government and taxpayers to just put more money into this plan that they already think costs too much money. And one of the main criticisms from conservative lawmakers is that the debt is already higher than what they want it to be and that the way things are being proposed right now, it can only become more expensive in taxes.

ROMANS: You have Paul Ryan, over the weekend, seeming to nod to that aged tax crowd. The AARP movement that there's this demographic that's going to get hard under this, and said they'll be changes on that front which could maybe cost more money -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: We believe that we do need to add some additional assistance to people in those older cohorts. If a person in the fifties and sixties does have additional health care costs than, say, a person in their twenties and thirties, the tax credit adjusts for that. But you're right in saying, and we agree, we believe we should have any more assistance and that's one of the things we're looking at.


ROMANS: So maybe some changes coming this week and these House members who vote for this thing as it stands right now are going to get just creamed by the AARP with their lobbying effort heading into these mid-terms.

SCOTT: Absolutely and, I mean, you would expect them to because the AARP has many members and supporters who supported these House members as they supported Donald Trump, and there's been some concern that he's actually not following through and backing the people that helped back him and get him into office.

BRIGGS: All right. Also, this morning, 9:00 a.m., FBI Director James Comey testifies in front of the House Intelligence Committee, expected to say there is no evidence of wiretapping Trump Tower by the Obama administration but, also, that perhaps there's no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Two questions -- how far is Comey willing to go, in your estimation, and how does it really change the debate, if at all?

SCOTT: Well, the second question -- I don't think it changes the debate that much. Number one, I don't think Donald Trump is actually going to completely believe and stop saying that --

BRIGGS: Or apologize.

SCOTT: Or apologize or backtrack -- or, or, or -- regardless of what Comey says. Also, I don't think Democrats are going to stop believing and stop pushing forward the idea that there could have possibly been some collusion in the event that Comey says there was not. I think there will still be some suspicion between people on the left that something happened that was below the law.

BRIGGS: Adam Schiff says there's circumstantial evidence of that.

ROMANS: There's also the way that these investigations work. They are overlapping investigations.

SCOTT: Right.

ROMANS: Sometimes they take a really long time --


ROMANS: -- and they work slowly and carefully. So, you've got the media, and you've got the White House, and you've got Congress, so we'd like to have some answers and let's have this buttoned up. SCOTT: Right.

ROMANS: But we maybe need to prepare ourselves that this could be going on for awhile.

SCOTT: Yes, I mean, if not years. I mean, I think one thing the Democrats are going to ask is why was this information -- possible investigations into the relationship between Trump associates and Russian surface -- why didn't it surface during the actual election? I think there's going to be a lot of talk about that as well. I think what will also be interesting is seeing Comey make a strong defense for the integrity of his agency. I mean, we saw accusations happen in the last week about just illegal activity suggesting that intelligence agents were involved in, and I think he wants to defend himself.

BRIGGS: All right. If that's not enough, Neil Gorsuch --

SCOTT: Sure.

BRIGGS: -- Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick. Hearings begin today. They won't get questions today but an opening statement from him. And an opening statement really, yesterday, from Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal on the strategy for the Democrats in this hearing -- listen.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Donald Trump has, in fact, established a litmus test promising -- absolutely promising that he would nominate someone who will overturn Roe v. Wade. If he fails to be very specific and forthcoming and direct in disavowing that claim we have to assume, inescapably, that he has met the litmus test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, if he does fail -- final question -- are you prepared to potentially filibuster?

BLUMENTHAL: Not only filibuster but use every tool that we have if he is, in fact, out of the mainstream in that way.


BRIGGS: All right. They don't really have any tools really --

SCOTT: Right.

BRIGGS: -- because if they fight it the Republicans are going to get him through, and they've made it clear they will change the Senate rules and get him through. What do you expect Democrats to do this week?

SCOTT: I think they're going to try to highlight the idea that Gorsuch is actually dangerous for America and that he will definitely move things backwards in terms of the area of progressivism. And the reason why I think they're going to focus on that --

BRIGGS: But will they vote to confirm him after painting him as this guy?

SCOTT: I don't -- I don't think they're -- I don't think eight will. I don't -- I don't think eight will and they need eight -- they need eight to go over, right -- correct, to make sure that he is confirmed.

ROMANS: Right.

SCOTT: And I don't think they will because they need him to lose.

BRIGGS: But then, Republicans can change the rules in the Senate and if they get another opening they get whoever they want who will be further to the right -- much further to the right than Neil Gorsuch.

[05:40:00] SCOTT: Well, whether or not they will actually -- he'll get confirmed remains to be seen, especially considering I think there's some movement among Democrats to respond the same way that Republicans responded with Garland. Now, I think they could get creamed for that considering how much they gave Republicans a hard time during the election for taking that approach. But you have to remember, Gorsuch -- the Gorsuch rollout was a very successful one for Donald Trump, right?

BRIGGS: It's been his best move, by a mile.


SCOTT: It's been his best move.


SCOTT: And many people voted for Donald Trump because they were hoping that he would put a conservative up front. And so, Trump needs this to be a win considering everything else he's facing this week and I think Democrats are going to work very hard to try to --

BRIGGS: Yes, it looks untouchable. I'll tell you what --

SCOTT: I think -- well, we'll see. I mean, it's a long week and these -- and no votes are going to be made today, but I think --

ROMANS: I think you have to see if Democrats have some little nugget that comes up in the questioning that we haven't heard about him. Something new that we don't about, you know. I mean, that --

BRIGGS: We may not, though you can be certain Neil Gorsuch knows about it.

ROMANS: Well, yes, yes. Well, yes. But I'm just saying that --

SCOTT: Sure.

ROMANS: -- they'll have to use -- they'll use this moment as best -- as best they can and we'll have to see how it -- a very busy week. Oh my gosh, Eugene.

SCOTT: It's a very busy Monday, alone. ROMANS: I know.

BRIGGS: Yes, it's good stuff.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, everybody. Nice to see you.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Eugene.

ROMANS: All right, CNN is going to have live coverage of the House Intelligence Committee hearing. That's with the FBI Director James Comey. That begins in just a few hours. It starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern here on CNN.

BRIGGS: White House security under scrutiny this morning. A string of embarrassing incidents putting pressure on the Secret Service as two men set off alarms at the White House in one day. We'll have more, next.


[05:45:40] BRIGGS: Two new security incidents at the White House this weekend. Late Saturday night the Secret Service detained a man who claimed to have a bomb in his vehicle. No confirmation yet whether any device was found. President Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida at the time. Earlier Saturday, an unarmed man was arrested for jumping over a bicycle rack in front of the White House. He told authorities he was trying to deliver a document.

ROMANS: All right. Police are still hoping for a credible clue this morning, seven days after a 15-year-old Tennessee girl was abducted by a teacher at her high school. Elizabeth Thomas' alleged kidnapper, 50-year-old Tad Cummins -- you see him there -- he's believed to be armed and dangerous. Police say they have received 250 tips from 24 states but none of them have helped locate the girl. Thomas and her captor were last tracked by investigators to Decatur, Alabama.

BRIGGS: More than 400 homes evacuated in Boulder, Colorado because of a wildfire that appears to be human-caused. Another 800 homeowners put on notice they may have to flee if the wind shifts direction. Over 60 acres of woodland already scorched near the University of Colorado. The fire only 50 percent contained as of late last night. Much of Colorado battling drought conditions along with Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Nebraska.

ROMANS: All right, it is that time of the morning, about 47 minutes past the hour. Let's take a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Chris Cuomo joins us this morning. Good morning, my friend.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Hold on, I'm getting my face put on, Christine. It takes, like, a whole village.

BRIGGS: It does, indeed.

CUOMO: All right. It is good to see you this morning. I heard you guys talking about Gorsuch earlier on. You know, it's very interesting. This is such a big day. There's been a lot of hype for weeks now about what are we going to find out about Gorsuch. Is he become a political hostage, somewhat, to situations going around him, specifically with the executive order?

And, of course, what will FBI Director Jim Comey say? He's got two big questions coming his way. The beginning of the intrigue, will he answer? Remember, technically -- technically, he's not supposed to talk about ongoing investigations, specifically national security ones, so he could fit both of these situations in there. Will he talk about surveillance of Trump? Will he give a direct answer? Will he do the same on the Russian questions because there are huge ramifications for these things?

Dave, there was one thing I thought that was really interesting. You were going at it with Eugene about, you know, the idea of hey, if they screw up Gorsuch the Democrats could get a much more conservative choice down the road.


CUOMO: I don't know about that. For originalists, Gorsuch is a dream. I think that they have as much pressure on them to figure out how to get this done as the Democrats do. It will be a very interesting day, you guys. Teed it up very well.

BRIGGS: You think they'll find those eight votes, the Democrats?

CUOMO: You know, I don't know. I think Gene was circumspect for a reason. There's so much political pressure on these votes. Remember, there is no farce like what we see at these hearings where everybody does this tap-dance about asking legal questions when they want political answers --

ROMANS: Right.

CUOMO: -- so there's a lot of pressure on the Democrats as well, but you guys are asking all the right questions.

ROMANS: All right, Chris Cuomo, nice to see you this morning. Compliments will get you everywhere. Thank you, my friend.

More bad news for Uber. Another executive leaving that company. We're going to tell you why he ended his stint after just six months. Uber, what is going on over there? We're going to get a check on CNN Money Stream, next.


[05:53:30] BRIGGS: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson fresh off his first official visit to Asia, set to meet with President Trump later today. Tillerson spent the final leg of his trip in China paving the way for Chinese President Xi Jinping's first meeting with Mr. Trump, but that visit largely overshadowed by concern about North Korea's test of a new rocket engine. For more, let's go live to CNN's Will Ripley in Beijing. Will, good morning to you. It was an interesting interaction between Tillerson and the Chinese, one that raised a few eyebrows. Why so? WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Dave, yes, you're absolutely right. Well, for one, the meeting between Sec. Tillerson and Chinese President Xi Jinping happened at the very same moment that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that test of a new rocket engine that brings them one step closer to their ultimate goal of an ICBM potentially with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

We know that North Korea dominated the conversations, not so much with President Xi Jinping -- they only chatted for about 30 minutes. It was pretty cordial. They were laying the groundwork for that meeting that we expect to happen next month between President Trump and President Xi.

But when Sec. Tillerson was meeting on Saturday with China's two top diplomats, behind closed doors, they had very frank and candid discussions about what to do to rein in North Korea. The U.S. thinks that China has a lot of economic leverage that it's not using because China is really the only major country that trades with North Korea.

But, Beijing, they think that the U.S. needs to stop the joint military exercises that are happened with South Korea. They don't like that the United States is installing a missile defense system in South Korea. They think all of those are provocative acts that are just further enraging and motivating the North Korean regime. So the two sides pretty far apart right and we'll have to see what the new administration -- the Trump administration does moving forward in those conversations with the Chinese president.

[05:55:17] BRIGGS: Certainly, though, a departure from that tough campaign talk we heard from President Trump, then the campaigner. Let's talk Japan. Reports they held their first evacuation drills and preps for any missile launches from North Korea. What do you know about this?

RIPLEY: Well, it's just -- for a lot of people that lived through World War II, in Japan, this is bringing back some very dark memories because schoolchildren in the coastal village of Oga are now having to practice for North Korean missiles raining down on their village. This is the town that was just 200 nautical miles away from several North Korea ballistic missiles that landed in the waters off the Japanese coast. It's scary times for those people.

BRIGGS: And you wonder if those kids are aware of what they are testing. They look awfully happy. Will, thank you.

ROMANS: You know, we do lockdown drills at our school. You know, they make it --

BRIGGS: Yes, they do as well in Connecticut.

ROMANS: -- sort of a game. They don't make it -- they don't make it so dire.

BRIGGS: They make it fun. ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Dow futures pointing lower. The big test for the stock market this week, does trouble for the health care overhaul foreshadow trouble for tax reform or infrastructure? Any such suggestion could rattle stock markets. Shares in Europe were trading lower. Stock markets in Asia closing mixed overnight.

Another day, another bad headline for Uber. Jeff Jones is stepping down as Uber's president after just six months on the job. He came over from Target, the retailer. Jones headed Uber's ride-hailing operations, marketing, and customer support. He was second in command to the CEO, Travis Kalanick. The CEO says Jones did not see a future at Uber and decided to step down. Maybe what he saw there was a little chaotic.

Kalanick, himself, was the center of the last controversy after a tape of him getting into an argument with an Uber driver was released by "Bloomberg." He has since apologized and said it was bad manners and he needed some leadership help. The company is also facing sexism allegations from a former engineer. It hired former attorney general Eric Holder to help investigate those claims.

Leaders from the world's biggest economies have dropped a longstanding public endorsement of free trade following their first meeting with the Trump administration. The G20 issuing this statement at the close of its summit this weekend. "We are working to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies." Well, that seems pretty benign, right?

But what's important here is what was missing -- this phrase -- which was included last year. "We will resist all forms of protectionism." A complete role reversal shows the influence of the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Trump. Usually, the U.S. is goading countries to keep provisions on free trade and goading countries to include language against protectionism. Now it is the other way around, trying to keep the U.S. to fight the fight against protectionism.

OK. Disney's live-action version of its classic "Beauty and the Beast" saying hello to some big dough this weekend. (Clip from "Beauty and the Beast) If that doesn't get you going on a Monday morning.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: The film, starring Emma Watson as Belle, broke the record for the biggest March debut of all time -- $170 million. This is also the best opening weekend of 2017 so far. Even more impressive, the film raked in $350 million worldwide this weekend. This is counterprogramming to March Madness, is what I say.

BRIGGS: And it's apparently working, yes. I can't wait to see it. It looks fantastic.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. A little Gaston and Chris Cuomo.

ROMANS: Gaston.

BRIGGS: "NEW DAY" starts right now.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as wiretapping, I guess we have something in common.

ROMANS: All eyes on Capitol Hill for the FBI director's highly- anticipated testimony.

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: President Obama is owed an apology.

SCHIFF: What the president said was just patently false and he needs to put an end to this.

NUNES: There is no FISA warrant to tap Trump Tower.

RYAN: We're going to investigate each and every one of these things related to Russia.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I'll tell you this. Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: There's a great deal of skepticism about Judge Gorsuch based on his record.

CRUZ: A Democratic filibuster will not succeed.

TRUMP: We're going to have great health care. It's going to be passed pretty quickly.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think there's enough conservatives that don't want Obamacare Lite.

RYAN: We're on track and we're right where we want to be.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: All right, we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's March 20th, 6:00 here in New York. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow joins me, and I'm saying the date slowly for a reason. This is a big, big week. Donald Trump, President of the United States, facing probably the most consequential week of his presidency just two months into office.

In just hours, FBI Director James Comey is going to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. The president's credibility is on the line. How will Jim Comey answer the question about the president's unproven claims about being surveilled by his predecessor?