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FBI Director Testifies On Capitol Hill; Republicans Unveil Health Care Bill Changes; Gorsuch Set For Senate Grilling. Aired 5:30- 6a ET

Aired March 21, 2017 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Is it enough to help pass this bill? Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. Thirty minutes past the hour. Good morning, everyone. President Trump is back in Washington this morning after one his trademark campaign-style rallies in Kentucky last night. He talked about health care, tax reform, football, Colin Kaepernick.

BRIGGS: A lot of -- a lot of football.

ROMANS: A lot of stuff. He did not -- oh, yes, basketball. He did not touch on Monday's extraordinary testimony by the FBI director, James Comey. This, despite tweeting all day long about the dramatic Capitol Hill hearing, a hearing that featured some fireworks but no smoking gun connecting Russia to the Trump campaign. The FBI director did confirm, for the first time, there is actually an FBI investigation into whether Trump allies colluded with Russia in its election meddling.

BRIGGS: Comey told senators the FBI probe began in late July and that by a month after the election the Intelligence Community had come to a clear conclusion about Russian interference, an effort Comey says was driven by President Putin's disdain for Hillary Clinton.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: They wanted to hurt our democracy. Hurt her, help him. Putin hated Sec. Clinton so much that the flipside of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much. As the summer went on and the polls appeared to show that Sec. Clinton was going to win, the Russians sort of gave up and simply focused on trying to undermine her.


ROMANS: Republicans focused during their part of the hearing on leaks that led to the forced resignation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Press Secretary Sean Spicer asked later about surveillance of Russian officials who Flynn secretly talked to. Spicer raised questions about who knew that it was Flynn on the other end of those conversations and why did they leak it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Why was a name that should have been protected by law from being put out into the public domain put out there? What were the motives behind that? What else do we need to know? Who was behind that kind of unmasking? There is a ways to go and I get that you guys want to know the end of the book right now, but we're on the first chapter of this process.


BRIGGS: The other big news from the hearing, the FBI director's confirmation that there is no evidence to back President Trump's claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped and President Obama ordered it. Even so, President Trump still standing by the unfounded allegation. This press secretary saying Mr. Trump will not apologize to his predecessor, adding that questions remain about surveillance that may or may not have taken place during the campaign.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight, up against mounting odds and a ticking clock, Republicans unveil significant changes to their plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare. With a vote planned for Thursday, House Republican leaders, last night, rolled out a package of amendments to the American Health Care Act. These changes include work requirements and block grants for Medicaid, and more money to insure older Americans. More details on that in a moment.

BRIGGS: Republican leaders making the changes to appease both GOP conservatives and moderates but it may not be enough. The chairman of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus claimed last night it still has enough votes to block the bill. The president expected to ratchet up the pressure on resistant lawmakers when he huddles with House Republicans at 9:00 a.m. on Capitol Hill.

ROMANS: So, what exactly are the changes that Republican leaders are making to get this bill through the house? Well, they include giving states the option of taking their Medicaid money as one big block grant instead of per enrollee, as the bill says now. States could also require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work. And states would be barred from expanding their Medicaid rolls now, ahead of that planned phase-out of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion in 2020.

Now, the Obamacare taxes will be repealed this year instead of next. Those are taxes, by the way, on very rich people, and $75 billion would be set aside to increase the health insurance tax credits for consumers in their fifties or early sixties. I think responding to that -- a big concern from the AARP about what they call an "age tax."

BRIGGS: And that is pivotal for many of these lawmakers. Republican leaders face a steep climb just getting the bill through the House, but Speaker Ryan says he's playing the long game with an eye to passing a bill that can also make it through the Senate.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: We always have to make sure that every change we make conforms to the Senate rules which we have to play by to make sure that it can't get filibustered, and so that's what we've been doing. So all these changes that have been added, we're doing to make sure they're done in such a way that it can't get filibustered. We feel really good where we are.


BRIGGS: Now, after a frenzy of political horse-trading, conservative lawmakers say they've been told no more changes. Negotiations are over. Conservative senators, though hoping to make further changes, emerged from a White House meeting Monday afternoon disappointed. In fact, Sen. Mike Lee described the meeting as "terribly frustrating."

ROMANS: All right, let's bring in political analyst Ellis Henican. He's the author of the "Trump's America" column for Metro Papers. Good morning, again.


ROMANS: Moving forward, a vote in two days. The president talking about it a little bit last night. But mostly -- I mean, if the negotiation is over --

[05:35:00] HENICAN: They're not over.

ROMANS: They're not over.

HENICAN: Forget about that.

ROMANS: Oh, they're not over.

HENICAN: That's what you say when you don't want the other side to get anything else. No, they're still continuing, believe me.

ROMANS: Are they going to make it? You think they'll make it?

HENICAN: You know, this could be very dicey because if you turn to the left then you alienate the people on the right and vice versa. A very narrow path but don't forget, presidents and congressional leaders do have a lot of little plums to hand out to reluctant members.

BRIGGS: The House Freedom Caucus has more than 30 members. They will not vote in a block, it appears, so that could be good news for the president --


BRIGGS: -- but they still say they have enough to derail this bill. I'm curious, though. The president's line about health care last night didn't really make a hard sell on this bill or policy -- that's Paul Ryan. What he did say is it's the only way we get tax reform. I think that is clearly his new turn. Will that push work with Congress?

HENICAN: It might. I mean, it's one thing. And I think -- listen, it is very clear, although the president may not be concerned about every detail in the policy he knows the difference between winning and losing, and losing this thing this week would be a major blow.

BRIGGS: It's consumed --

HENICAN: A major blow.

BRIGGS: But will that work with House members? Hey, this is how you get tax reform.

HENICAN: Yes, but --

BRIGGS: Don't block tax reform.

HENICAN: I think that you can ultimately persuade the House members --


HENICAN: -- but don't forget the impact that's going to have on the Senate when the bill has to get over there --

ROMANS: That's right.

HENICAN: -- as well.

BRIGGS: Where he can only lose two.

HENICAN: I know. Not much more in there.

ROMANS: Well, let's talk about the FBI director yesterday -- a remarkable show.

HENICAN: It was.

ROMANS: And at one point there was a Sean Spicer press briefing and the Comey hearing was still going on. I mean, we were toggling back and forth --


ROMANS: -- these two remarkable moments. And in terms of history here on the sixtieth day of this administration you have this FBI director saying yes, we are investigating the campaign -- the campaign and its ties to Russia, although we don't see any collusion here yet, but we are investing this. And, oh, by the way, the president -- the former president did not wiretap --


ROMANS: -- the current president. I mean, two major headlines there.

HENICAN: And, oh, by the way, we're picking a Supreme Court nominee at the same time, as well. Did you notice that?


BRIGGS: OK, you made the pivot so I'll make the pivot with you. Neil Gorsuch -- his hearing is day two today. He just made an opening statement yesterday. Today, they get 30 minutes each to grill down on this guy --

HENICAN: Right. This will be a tougher day than yesterday was.

BRIGGS: -- who appears to be, some say, out of central casting. They need eight Democrats to confirm Neil Gorsuch. If they block him, Republicans largely say nuclear option. We're going to get him through one way or another. Will Democrats help to confirm him after trying to beat him down all week?

HENICAN: You know, I don't think Dems are there yet. There's an awful lot of passion in the Democratic Party of folks who feel like this is stolen property, right? This was a nomination that should have gone to the previous president.

BRIGGS: Merrick Garland.

HENICAN: I've heard Democrats make arguments that go something like this. Listen, if the burglar robs from your house you don't drive him to the pawn shop to sell the goods. I mean, that's essentially the argument that activists and the Democratic Party are making now.

ROMANS: But what kind of stand are they going to make?


ROMANS: I mean, what kind of stand are they going to make.

HENICAN: It's -- listen, in the end, this guy is highly likely to be on the Supreme Court of the United States --

BRIGGS: There are 10 --

HENICAN: -- but there's going to be a fight between here and there.

BRIGGS: There are 10 Democratic senators --


BRIGGS: -- who are up for reelection who come from Trump states.

HENICAN: From Trump states, you're absolutely right.

BRIGGS: So you do believe that eight of them will go along and vote with --

HENICAN: And -- listen, you can look at aspects of this guy's judicial career and you can say well, this is pretty conservative. It's kind of where the conservative justices are today. I don't know how far --

ROMANS: I think they're really going to try to hammer him on Roe v. Wade. They're going to try to get -- but see, in terms of case law there's not a lot there that shows what his positions are.

HENICAN: True, smart.

ROMANS: I think they're really going to try to hammer him on that. But when you look at his background, you know, he goes to an Episcopalian church -- kind of progressive church, but he is a Catholic -- you know, he was baptized Catholic. There's a lot of things about him that, I don't know, maybe if you think he's super conservative you could be misjudging a potential -- a potential, more progressive streak in there somewhere.

BRIGGS: He's not going to reveal much that he's really good at.

HENICAN: Yes. You know, he -- no, and we used to have a lot of experience in our country with justices who surprised us, who got on the court. We thought they were one thing and turned out to be something different. That hasn't happened as much lately --


HENICAN: -- and I think we may, in the end, be getting pretty much what we think we're getting.


BRIGGS: Before you go I want to get back to one of the extraordinary moments that took place yesterday, and that was the president was tweeting about this Comey hearing regarding Russia, regarding wiretapping, regarding all the leaks. He tweeted out this. "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process." That tweet was fact-checked in real time on the House floor -- listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Says the NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral -- the electoral process. This tweet has gone out to millions of Americans -- 16.1 million to be exact -- is the tweet as I read it to you. "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process." Is that accurate?

COMEY: Well, it's hard for me to react to that. Let me just tell you what we understand the state of -- or what we've said is. We've offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it's never something that we looked at.


[05:40:10] BRIGGS: Now, Christine's point earlier is just step back for a moment and step back 20 steps from this. What just happened right there? How unique is that moment?

HENICAN: Well, you know what I would say? Mr. President, welcome to our world. We have viewers every morning who are live tweeting this program and they express a lot of opinions and it's a wonderful dialogue. Welcome to the 21st Century.


ROMANS: The FBI director and the President of the United States in front of millions of people at a hearing --

HENICAN: Tweet, tweet. Tweet wars, right?

ROMANS: It's just fascinating.

BRIGGS: It was hard to believe that just took place.

HENICAN: It's kind of cool on this one.

BRIGGS: No question about it.

HENICAN: Don't you think?

BRIGGS: I guess you have to embrace the technology or shut it off, one way or another.

HENICAN: You know -- and Dave, by the way, is willing to take compliments on tweets, right?

BRIGGS: There's not --

HENICAN: Do you mind? Do you mind when they say nice things?

BRIGGS: There's not -- that'd be great, but that's not generally --

ROMANS: Well, plenty of people only say nice things to me. I don't know. I mean, Twitter is only a mutual admiration society.

BRIGGS: You were just --

ROMANS: Nice to see you, Ellis.

HENICAN: See you, guys.

BRIGGS: All right. President Trump still a billionaire but not worth as many billions as he used to be. We'll tell you why.


[05:45:25] ROMANS: All right, welcome back. President Trump may be the first billionaire in the White House but he's not as rich as he used to be. A new ranking from Forbes puts the president's net worth at $3.5 billion. That's down $1 billion from last year. He fell 220 spots on the list and is now tied with 19 other people as the 544th richest person in the world.

Forbes said that much of the decline is due to softness in the Midtown Manhattan real estate market. The magazine estimates 40 percent of Trump's net worth is tied up in Trump Tower and eight buildings nearby and Trump's wealth fluctuates with the real estate in that micromarket. Trump also gave $66 million to his presidential campaign last year and he paid $25 million to settle a lawsuit related to Trump University.

BRIGGS: Almost as if they're trolling the president.

ROMANS: I know.

BRIGGS: I wonder if he'll tweet about that this morning? Give him time.

Mystery solved, meanwhile. Not one, but two of Tom Brady's Super Bowl jerseys headed back to New England after being found in Mexico by the FBI. According to the NFL, the jerseys from Brady's most recent Super Bowl win and the past 2015 win over Seattle were in the possession of the same credentialed member of the international media.

He's been identified by the NFL Network as Mauricio Ortega, a former executive with the Mexican newspaper "La Prensa." Brady thanking law enforcement officials for their hard work on the case and, perhaps, President Trump is now happy with the FBI despite what happened earlier in the day.

ROMANS: Yes, right.

BRIGGS: He is a Tom Brady fan.

ROMANS: He is a Tom Brady fan. Let's take a look at what's coming up -- excuse me -- on "NEW DAY." Alisyn Camerota --

BRIGGS: Alisyn gets people choked up. She does that. She has that effect.

ROMANS: Hello, how are you?


BRIGGS: Welcome back.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much. As you can see, I'm getting back into it slowly. I'm still adjusting and getting my microphone on, but great to see you guys. We have, obviously, a very big show. We have a member of the House Intel Committee who is going to be here to talk about those stunning revelations -- thank you very much -- those stunning revelations that Director Comey dropped yesterday. So where do the investigations go from here?

And also, in terms of health care, late last night the Republicans made some revisions to the -- their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, so we will be talking to one of the architects of Obamacare --

ROMANS: Great.

CAMEROTA: -- about what these revisions mean for all of us.

BRIGGS: We can still see your mic cord a little bit --

ROMANS: Yes. BRIGGS: -- so have them come back in. You just need a little adjustment then we're all set.


ROMANS: Dave can handle it.

BRIGGS: We're looking forward to the show. Yes, I'll be right there, in fact. You can just tell them to take the morning off.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, I'll do that.

ROMANS: Thanks, Alisyn. All right, how much money do you have saved for retirement? People hate it when I ask that question because it's never enough, right?


ROMANS: New numbers this morning show a staggering number of you are not financially ready to call it quits. I personally am going to be working until I'm 100. We're going to show the numbers with a check on CNN Money Stream, next.


[05:52:35] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea -- I'll tell you what. What's happening there is disgraceful and not smart -- not smart at all.


BRIGGS: President Trump talking tough on North Korea during his rally in Kentucky last night. This comes as we learn a rocket engine tested by Pyongyang over the weekend could possibly be used in an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. CNN international correspondent Will Ripley joins us live from Beijing. Good morning to you, Will. How significant are these developments?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Dave. We know North Korea has been saying for quite some time that they're about ready to test that intercontinental ballistic missile. It could happen at any time. But what we don't yet know, even after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit here in Beijing, is what the Trump administration plans to do about it. We know that they think the last 20 years of policy in regards to North Korea has been a failure but we don't have specifics about what their new plan will be.

We're getting hints that, perhaps, they're thinking about more sanctions. Perhaps they want China to exert more influence over North Korea, but we don't, for sure, know because they haven't announced it yet. Secretary Tillerson, perhaps, still working on that proposal that he will present to President Trump. And then, that should be ready possibly by the time President Trump and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, meet in the United States early next month, we believe. BRIGGS: All right. We're also hearing North Korea expanding nuclear facilities. What can you tell us about that?

RIPLEY: Yes, this is what's particularly troubling. Of course, North Korea very secretive. They don't allow U.N. inspectors in and they haven't for more than six years, but satellite imagery shows that the Yongbyon nuclear facility has now doubled in size. This is according to the U.N.'s top nuclear inspector who is very concerned that North Korea can now develop even more -- produce even more nuclear warheads because they're enriching plutonium and uranium, the main components of nuclear weapons.

And then, of course, you mentioned that rocket test -- a new engine that can fit into an ICBM. So when you put the pieces together here, more warheads, more sophisticated rockets being tested possibly very soon, this is why this issue of North Korea is so urgent for the United States and the Trump administration right now, Dave.

BRIGGS: Of course. They said the military option on the table last week. Will, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be a no- show at next month's gathering of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. A State Department spokesman says Tillerson will, instead, be meeting with the Chinese president here in the U.S. Tillerson is also attending meetings in Russia next month. Democrats, among others, are raising questions about the administration's foreign policy commitments with Russia and China appearing to Trump fellow-NATO members.

[07:55:10] BRIGGS: The Secret Service under fire again this morning. Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, calling the response to last week's White House fence jumper "pathetic and alarming." The suspect went undetected for 16 minutes before he was located and arrested. After reviewing video of the incident, Chaffetz told reporters, "Every single redundancy in the system failed."

Ivanka Trump getting White House security clearance and an office in the West Wing, but the president's eldest daughter will not have an official title with her father's administration. The first daughter will be given government-issued communication devices and clearance to access classified information. She will not be considered a government employee and will not draw a salary in her capacity as an adviser. Will she help tone down the tweeting of her father? I think that's the question on the minds of --

ROMANS: I know because there are some --

BRIGGS: -- millions of Americans.

ROMANS: -- who have said that they want her to have -- be more visible and be closer to her father --

BRIGGS: Give her the phone. ROMANS: -- so that she can be kind of a -- you know, a moderating influence. All right, let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. The stock market climb has been slowing over the past few days but investors are looking to resume that rally today. You can see Dow futures right now, they're pointing slightly higher. Investors are hopeful that lawmakers can get past yesterday's bombshells and get back to working on tax reform, but if the Obamacare replacement fails that could derail some of those hopes. Stock markets in Europe, they're up. Shares in Asia closing mixed.

Two big headlines. Readings on the housing market are due later this week. Housing remains one of the hottest parts of the U.S. economy. The last reading on existing home sales showed the highest sales tally since 2007. The big question for housing going forward here, higher mortgage rates. Is that going to slow the market at all? And gosh, there's just not a lot of supply in some of these hot housing markets so people can't get into housing.

Wells Fargo -- the fake account scandal there was revealed more than six months ago but the bank is still struggling to win back customers. Applications for credit cards plunging 55 percent in February. That's the steepest decline since the scandal broke. Customers opened 43 percent fewer checking accounts. Interaction with bankers fell sharply. Wells Fargo's new head of community banking summing it up like this, we have more work to do.

Wells Fargo stock dropped on the news but look at this. This is the past six months. It's done well actually since the news broke last September and budget people lost their jobs. The stock is up 25 percent over the past six months and it's still trading near a record high. Banks have done well in general in the economy and because of the rate environment.

So how much do you have saved for retirement? If it's less than $1,000 you're not alone but that's not good news, folks. A long- running survey of retirement trends from the Employee Benefit Research Institute finds this stunning stat. One-quarter of U.S. adults and their spouses have less than $1,000 saved for retirement but people are optimistic about having enough to live on when they call it quits.

Sixty percent say they're somewhat or very confident they'll have enough. That's up from 2012 when it was about 52 percent. Look at 2007, right before the end of the world. Seventy percent thought they were going to have enough money. I'm going to tweet out this story from the EARLY START handle because it tells you if you're 30, if you're 40, if you're 50, how much money you should have.

BRIGGS: And how many kids you have, I'm sure, factors into that greatly.

ROMANS: Your kids are cost centers, Dave.

BRIGGS: None of us --

ROMANS: They're cost centers.

BRIGGS: -- have saved enough. We know that.

ROMANS: That's right. Thanks for joining -- including this country. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. Have a good one.


COMEY: The president's tweets about alleged wiretapping, I have no information that supports those tweets.

SPICER: It's clear that nothing has changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is incapable of admitting error.

COMEY: The FBI is investigating any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

SPICER: Investigating it and having proof of it are two different things.

COMEY: Putin had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: No one could have chosen better than Neil Gorsuch.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: The Senate Judiciary Committee will extend to you a courtesy denied to Judge Garland -- a respectful hearing and a vote.

RYAN: We feel really good where we are.

TRUMP: Thursday is our chance to end the Obamacare catastrophe.


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

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, March 21st, 6:00 here in New York.

Up first, the Trump administration trying to distance itself from two former campaign aides following the FBI's revelation that it is investigating whether Trump associates colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. The White House also not backing down on President Trump's bogus claim that he was wiretapped by former President Obama, despite no evidence.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So how will the FBI investigation and the blows to the White House's credibility affect its ability to sell the agenda to lobby for Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch in the Senate and persuade skeptical lawmakers today on changes to the GOP's health care bill? All important and we have it all covered on day 61 of the Trump presidency.