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House Set to Vote Today on Obamacare Repeal; Nunes: Trump Intelligence "Incidentally Collected"; Team USA Wins World Baseball Classic. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 05:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Frantic hours here of negotiation. Exactly seven years after President Obama signed his landmark namesake health care bill, Republicans are on the verge of repealing it. It is not a done deal yet. Can President Trump strike a deal that satisfies conservatives without sending moderates running for the exits?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. A lot going on today, it's Thursday, it's March 23rd.

[05:00:01] It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

History will be made today one way or the other. Either Republicans will take their first vote toward actually repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, or we could see a staggering blow to the seven- year GOP campaign against Obamacare and perhaps to the entire Trump agenda.

The White House and Republican leaders now deep into a furious last- ditch campaign to turn no votes by members of the ultra conservative freedom caucus into yes votes.

BRIGGS: One critical issue at this point, One critical issue at this point, ending so-called essential health benefits that Obamacare requires in every insurance policy. More on exactly what those are in just a moment.

Right now, there is still no deal. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows is suddenly sounding upbeat that one will be made soon.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: I'm really optimistic that we can get there. I mean, there are still a lot of details to work out, Sean. And so, to say we've got a deal, that wouldn't be accurate.

The president and I came to agreement in principle. I think what we are trying to do now is make sure that our agreement is actually something that can be executed in a way that passes the Senate.


ROMANS: While Meadows, a conservative, is changing his tune, some moderate Republicans are now sounding an alarm. After a late meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Congressman Charlie Dent, the chairman of the moderate in the House, announced he is now opposed to the bill.

So, with all the give and take, here is where it stands on this version of the bill to repeal Obamacare. According to CNN's ongoing whip count, 24 House Republicans have said they are flat out noes, another four say they are leaning against. That's 28 lawmakers in the definitely or likely no column. But that could change quickly, even fluctuate wildly frankly if the Freedom Caucus flips to support the bill.

BRIGGS: This is very fluid.

As for the president, himself, aides say he is not involved in all of the details of the legislation. One telling CNN, quote, "Either he doesn't know, or doesn't care or both. But they say he is deeply into selling the bill and, quote, "appears energized by that."

ROMANS: All right. Let's bring in CNN politics reporter Tal Kopan in Washington for us.

And I know that both count there is we've got to put a big asterisk, because they have been trying to work through the night to get this hammered out. Let's talk about the president's role here. What are you learning about how the president, the author of "The Art of the Deal" is twisting arms?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, it's been remarkable to see how much personal outreach he has been engaging in. You know, he's invited a number of lawmakers to the White House daily. Some meetings we know about. Some meetings we find out after the fact.

You know, moderates, conservatives, House Freedom caucus. He is sort of laying on the charm here. It is something that is traditional politician thing to do.

So, you know, it definitely stems from his -- as you said, "Art of the Deal" negotiating tactics. He knows how to talk to people in terms of negotiating. But as you also said, you know, he is not necessarily the policy wonk in the room.

So, he is trying to make deals, but, also, you know, it is a little difficult when you actually get down to the nitty-gritty in terms of what you can promise these individuals.

BRIGGS: All this talk about "The Art of the Deal", I had to do some digging on how he negotiates. One quote from the book, where he said, "My style of deal making is quite simple and straight forward. I aim very high and I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I'm after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases, I still end up with what I want." Tal, is what he wants simply a win here? Does he care what is in the bill? Can he keep moderates if he made a deal in principle with the House Freedom Caucus?

KOPAN: Yes. I don't -- you know, I don't pretend to know exactly what's in his head and heart. I think that the win here is one of the most important aspects of this bill.

And, you know, keep in mind, the reason leadership I think has been so full steam ahead here and has not blinked yet, you know, this is a game of chicken. It is a very different thing to say you are going to vote no then to vote no, because once that vote is on your record, you may face opposition from folks back home , from ads, primaries, that kind of thing. And you're going to have to defend that no vote.

And so, leadership is moving ahead sort of to call the bluff of moderates and conservatives and say, do you want to be on record not being with us?

ROMANS: But if you're not with them, the Koch brothers say, don't worry, we'll make sure we step up there. We've got a fund. We're going to have money to help you buy TV ads.

So, you can see the competing influences here. What we are hearing about the essential health benefits part of this. This is his big bargaining tool here. You've got the conservatives who want these out. They want a bill where insurance companies are allowed to write insurance plans that don't mean you have to have maternity care for everyone or mental for everyone or prescriptions.

[05:05:03] This is a hallmark of what makes Obamacare Obamacare, leveling the playing field so that, you know, the idea was, leveling playing field, so that, you know, families can't go bankrupt for unexpected health care costs that might be tied to something there that they didn't anticipate.

How important is this essential health benefits here to the conservatives? And can that even get through the Senate?

KOPAN: Well, that's where we are ending up. You know, this is sort of the last piece of the puzzle we heard about, but that doesn't mean we won't come up with something else down the road. There was chatter of goal posts being moved.

You know, it certainly seems to be important to the conservatives and it came up with a meeting with Trump at the White House yesterday. And he made a member he would try to find a compromise on this. But it is sending moderates out a little bit.

And, you know, keep in mind this issue also touches on mental health coverage which is a really important topic in Congress.

ROMANS: Opioids.

KOPAN: Opioids, yes, exactly. That is next, which is something that everyone wants to fight addiction. So, it is coming down to the wire and, you know, you mentioned getting

through the Senate.

There are two questions in the Senate. You know, one is this something that scares away moderates, which is already an issue for this bill. There are several Republican senators who do not seem on board with this and you need them to get to that 51.

But there is also a question of procedurally can it pass? Remember, this whole thing comes back down to the fact that Republicans are trying to do this procedural measure to lower the vote threshold and it's really complicating what their efforts are.

BRIGGS: Right. Because if you strip the essential benefits, technically, that has nothing to do with the budget. And some say the Senate rules would require 60 votes if you are to strip it out. But real quickly, I know you can't do this quickly, where are we with the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the election?

KOPAN: Well, there is still no conclusion out of the investigation. But some of our colleagues here at CNN are reporting that investigators believe there may be some evidence of coordination. Perhaps the word they would use.

So, we continue to see this drip, drip, drip. You know, in some ways, it harkens back to the Clinton investigation where there's sort of these new developments, but it is not always clear exactly what they mean. But, certainly, this is not over for the Trump administration and won't be for some time, it looks like. And the FBI is going to continue to investigate this.

ROMANS: Yes, these are such pivotal days. You know, the legislative agenda, you got the president trying to move his agenda forward and we are right at the tipping point. And also on the investigation just keeps going and going.

BRIGGS: All of this why he desperately needs some sort of win to move forward.

Tal Kopan, we will check in with you at 5:30. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Is the House Intel Committee compromised with its investigation now into Russia's election meddling? That's the concern after the actions of the committee chairman. We'll explain next.


[05:12:05] BRIGGS: Another stunning controversy unfolded on Capitol Hill. Now, there are big questions about whether the House Intelligence Committee probe of Russia's meddling in the election has been compromised. That's because House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes announced communications involving President Trump and his associates may have been incidentally collected by intelligence agencies conducting surveillance on foreign subjects after the election. Nunes said to be steaming at the intel he read, personally briefed the

president on this new development without informing his Democratic counterparts. We're told Nunes ignored pleas from other Republicans to wait to go public before he spoke to Democrats.

Listen to Nunes defend his actions.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It concerned me enough to notify the president because it was he and his transition team that were involved in this. And he needs to see those reports. These are intelligence reports that were widely disseminated. It's not fair for him not to know what's in these reports while the past administration and many agencies do know.


ROMANS: All right. The ranking member of the House Intel Committee, Democrat Adam Schiff, insists Nunes has cast a, quote, "profound cloud over efforts to investigate Russia's meddling." He has not sold the investigation can go on this way.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, you know, I think we have to have a real head-to-head frankly in the committee how we will run the investigation. I do think that probably more so than any other single act during the course of the investigation under score the need for an independent commission.


ROMANS: President Trump says he feels, quote, "somewhat vindicated" by what Nunes told him.

BRIGGS: Joining us now from Washington is CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton, a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Good morning to you, sir.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: It's such a complex story to try to pull back the layers on.

Let's start with this, on Nunes. What exactly is he suggesting? Is it that U.S. spy agency abused their surveillance powers? And if so, how?


You know, that's I think the fundamental question here. So, part of the problem with what Representative Nunes said was all of this was legal. He was concerned about the intercepts that he took to the president, but he said it was all done under FISA court order and it was all legal. And apparently, the targets were all foreign entities. So, if that's

the case, Dave, then you have something that happens in the course of normal collection. And it seems strange that he would think this would be the right thing to do to go to the president at this stage of the game.

ROMANS: Go to the president and go to the press and then not to be able to answer a lot of questions. He said this is not about Russia. He talked about, OK, so FISA court orders, unmasking certain individuals, one of whom could be the president.

[05:15:03] And he talked about incidentally collecting this information.

Decipher for us this I.C. community talk, because for some of us who are listening to this were like, what is he suggesting?

LEIGHTON: So, basically, Christine, incidental collection is something where you have a certain target. You go after that target but as you're trying to find that target, you may be picking up other conversations.

So, let's say, Christine, you and I have a conversation and Dave is in the conversation as well, but he is talking to you and not to me. It is possible that Dave would be considered an incidental collect right there. That incidental collection is part of what gets wrapped up in everything.

ROMANS: But one of us would have to be under a FISA court order. One of us would have to be a foreign national --

BRIGGS: One party of that communication.

LEIGHTON: That is right. So, let's say, Christine, you are a foreign party, you would be a legitimate target under a FISA court order. And because I'm talking to you, I would also potentially be wrapped up in that conversation. So, I would be considered under normal circumstances U.S. person number one. And as U.S. person number one, that is how I show up in the report.

The collection of Dave, that could be, we assume, as a U.S. person at this point as well, that is something that, you know, would be part of the incidental piece.

BRIGGS: But he seems to be taking issue with the unveiling, Dave, the unmasking of names. How may that have been done improperly?

LEIGHTON: So, that's very interesting because there is a report we talked about yesterday afternoon that basically said that Nunes himself figured out who these people were. Well, that doesn't mean they were unveiled. They were still in the report, U.S. person number one. If that is true, that is not really unmasking. It is just because he knows so much of the transition team worked, then he figured out who these people were.

BRIGGS: He was part of the transition team and head of the House Intel Committee.

ROMANS: Is it legal for him to reveal this information? I mean, it was just so remarkable to see him rushing to the White House to inform the president about these intelligence reports he has seen, that presumably the president could order up and have delivered and go to the media to talk about it.

LEIGHTON: Well, it is certainly questionable. You know, we don't know all the details. He does have some degree of basically leverage in the area where he can reveal some things. But he really shouldn't have done this and he should have coordinated with the Democratic counterparts before doing this.

BRIGGS: Yes. Procedurally, this was very hard to wrap your imagination around. Short game may have given the president political cover. He feels somewhat vindicated.

But here's what John McCain said he would like to see happen now.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What I think the reason why I'm calling for this select committee or a special committee is I think that this back and forth and what the American people have found out so far that no longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone. I don't say that lightly.


BRIGGS: Long game, this may not help the president at all. Is a select committee the logical next step here?

LEIGHTON: I think so. And the reason I think that, Dave, is because that's the only way to have an independent look at what's going on. The action by Chairman Nunes has basically called into question the way in which this committee could actually conduct an investigation like this and the whole impartiality of this committee is now really the big issue here. And, you know, having worked with the committee many times before, it is just a very, very sad thing to see that. But I think given the current situation, it is important they do have a select committee that does just this.

ROMANS: All right. Cedric Leighton, we'll talk to you again very, very soon. Thank you, sir, for getting up early for us and helping us --

BRIGGS: Unmask this story, right?

ROMANS: Unmask, decode, decipher all of this. Thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: Thank you, sir. We'll see you in a bit.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

BRIGGS: Well, let the celebration begin. Team USA champions of the world baseball classic. Andy Scholes has the details in this "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:23:52] BRIGGS: For the first time, Team USA on top of the world baseball -- world, really, Romans.

ROMANS: The world baseball world.

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


Yes, this -- the fourth World Baseball Classic wrapping up last night with the championship game. And amazingly, the U.S. never finished better than fourth place in the tournament. But now, they are champions for the very first time. The Blue Jays Marcus Stroman pitching six innings of no-hit ball. He can give his little shimmy after that strike out.

Stroman, he could have played for Puerto Rico. His mom is from Puerto Rico, she is Puerto Rican. But he chose to play for Team USA. They sure glad he did. U.S. wins this game 8-0. And huge crowd at Dodgers Stadium chanting "USA" as all of the players celebrated on the field afterwards.

All right. March Madness continues tonight. Will Michigan be able to keep their magical run going? The Wolverines have not lost since their plane skidded off the runway two weeks ago, winning seven in a row. They're going to hit the floor against Oregon a little after 7:00 Eastern tonight.

The action is going to continue on our sister station TBS at 7:39 Eastern with number one Gonzaga taking on West Virginia.

[05:25:01] The late games have Kansas taken on Purdue and Arizona going up against the only double digit seed left in the field, Xavier.

So, guys, Cinderella really didn't come to the ball this year. We don't really have one. So, if you're looking for the underdog, I guess you should cheer for Xavier.

BRIGGS: It sure feels like Michigan, though, even more so than Xavier.

SCHOLES: I can't call a Big Ten team Cinderella, though, Dave.

BRIGGS: I know, but considering what they went through and how they finish, the closest thing we got.

SCHOLES: Yes, I see.

ROMANS: All right. Andy Scholes, thank you.

SCHOLES: All right. Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

Can President Trump seal the deal? We are hours away from finding out whether Republicans can pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare? And if they can't, whoa, what does that mean for Trump's agenda?