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Health Bill Vote Postponed, GOP Leaders Scramble for Support. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: That is it for "THE LEAD," I'm Jake Tapper. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. The art of no deal. House Republican leaders postpone the vote on their health care bill, still short of the numbers they need to pass the measure, despite marathon negotiations. Can they win over enough critics to keep the bill alive?

Coordinated with Russia? U.S. officials tell CNN the FBI has information suggesting people with the Trump campaign may have approved the release of Democratic e-mails stolen by Russia during the presidential race. Is the evidence more than just circumstantial? As a top Democrat now claims.

Intelligence risk. A growing split between Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. The GOP chairman forced to apologize after sharing what he says is secret information with the White House, drawing fire from Democrats. How will the infighting impact the committee's probe into Russian election meddling?

And mysterious deaths. Questions swirling about a series of accidents and assaults involving critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The victims possibly poisoned, pushed out of high-rise windows, and even shot point blank. Is the Kremlin working to silence them?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The future of the Republican health care bill is in more doubt than ever right now. House leaders have been forced to postpone a final vote that was scheduled for today after hours and hours of negotiations with opponents of the measure failed to win over enough support to pass the legislation.

Also a CNN exclusive: U.S. officials are telling us the FBI is reviewing information suggesting that associates of President Trump may have communicated with suspected Russian operatives during the 2016 White House race. A source says people connected with the Trump campaign appeared to be approving the release of Democratic e-mails that were stolen by Russian hackers.

We're also following new developments in the controversy ignited by the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes. A Democratic lawmaker says Nunes apologized to the panel for not first briefing members before telling President Trump he'd seen evidence that his communications may have been incidentally collected by U.S. intelligence agencies.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests. Our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.

Let's begin with the political drama swirling around the Republican health care bill. Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is up on Capitol Hill with the latest.

Sunlen, right now, what, the speaker, Paul Ryan, does not have the votes he needs to pass this bill.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, he doesn't, Wolf. And that is exactly why we saw Speaker Ryan forced into delaying this vote that had been scheduled for today. That signals that this bill is in some serious jeopardy and the outcome very uncertain.


SERFATY: The Republicans' health care bill thrust into a precarious state of limbo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not going to pass the bill.

SERFATY: With no deal and no Plan B, Speaker Ryan is trying to buy time, forced to delay a vote long scheduled for today. A signal he still doesn't have the votes to pass the bill.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you a "yes" yet?

REP. TRENT FRANKS (R), ARIZONA: I'm not going to -- I'm not going to address that.

SERFATY: The biggest obstacle, the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, the chief critics and continued hold-outs.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: We have not gotten enough of our members to get to "yes" at this point under what we're currently considering, however, I would say progress is being made.

SERFATY: Republican leadership and the White House making a major 11th-hour concession, placating the group to get their support, agreeing to eliminate essential health benefits in the bill, an Obamacare provision that requires insurers to cover benefits like maternity, mental health and prescription drugs, among others. But after returning from a meeting with President Trump today...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were no new concessions.

SERFATY: House Freedom Caucus members say that's not enough.

REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: Doing essential health benefits without changing other parts of the bill would actually make the bill worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What other parts do you want changed?

AMASH: So you need to look at community rating and other aspects of the insurance mandates. So, you can't just change one part. They all interact.

SERFATY: The White House and Republican leadership have been standing firm, saying this is their final offer on the table. It's up to the House Freedom Conference to accept or reject it, which doesn't sit well with some.

REP. ANDY HARRIS (R), MARYLAND: Look, we've been told three weeks ago it was take it or leave it, so this is not -- this is not a new -- that would not be, you know, a revelation that that's what's being proposed.

SERFATY: Pedaling back on the Hill today.

REP. DAVE BRAT (R), VIRGINIA: In order to get the "yes," we have to bend the cost curve down. That's as simple as it is so we'll see what happens.

SERFATY: The House Freedom Caucus members say they want a document with ironclad assurances from the White House that, in the short-term, premiums and other costs will go down.

[17:05:13] MEADOWS: Obviously, we've come from six requests down to two.

We're not adding anything other than we're taking what was supposed to happen in phase two and bringing it into phase one.

SERFATY: But those last-minute concessions to conservatives risk the support among moderate Republicans who were previously a yes.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I never quite understood the mad rush. I think it's important that we get this right rather than get it done fast.

SERFATY: CNN's latest vote count previews a potentially ugly outcome, were the vote held today. Thirty Republicans oppose or likely oppose the new health care bill, but House leadership can only afford to lose 21 votes, meaning the real pressure is on now for leadership to stop any more defections and score the votes they need as the hours tick down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to get to the finish line, because the president is committed to get to the finish line.


SERFATY: There is a lot up in the air as of this moment. When this vote will exactly happen at some point tomorrow, White House officials, they are pushing for a Friday morning vote. But Republican leaders up here on Capitol Hill, they are not firmly committing to any time line yet. Much of that depends on a meeting that House Republicans will have tonight with their full conference. That's at 7 p.m., really leadership getting a sense of where their members are, where everyone is at this moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you. Sunlen Serfaty on the Hill.

Let's stay on the Hill. Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is joining us right now. The situation seems to be changing minute by minute almost, Phil. What are you hearing from members as of this minute?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, to give you a lay of the land, Wolf, clear there is still a lot of frustration. They are nowhere near a deal. But there is a lot much of movement going on behind the scenes. In fact, you're looking right now outside the speaker's office, where a number of House Freedom Caucus members just walked in to meet with the speaker. Who else walked in? Steve Bannon, the chief strategist from the White House also in the meeting.

This is an important meeting, and I can tell you for one primary reason. There has not been a lot of contact over the last couple of days between the speaker's office and the Freedom Caucus. The Freedom Caucus has been negotiating primarily with the White House. So the fact that they are coming over here is a big step forward or at least a step somewhere at this point.

Here's kind of the other key points here as we go forward. As food is wheeled in, it's very clear this is going to be a late night. There's going to be a lot of negotiating here. The key is this. It's the 7 p.m. conference meeting, Wolf, you heard Sunlen talking about. That is a make-or-make moment for the schedule as it stands going forward.

If there is a breakthrough leading into and during that meeting, then there's a very real possibility this bill will get a vote tomorrow. But the key aspects of a potential deal, the key aspects of the negotiations right now, both sides are firmly entrenched in where they stand. So, the path forward as we are now just a little under two hours away from that very important meeting, it's very unclear, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very unclear indeed. All right, we've got live pictures coming in from just outside that office. We'll stay in very close touch with you, Phil Mattingly on the Hill.

Let's bring in our court correspondents and our experts. John King, let me start with you. A few days ago, it looked like there were 25 or 26 "no's" or leaning "no's." Now it's up to 30 Republicans "no's" or leaning "no's." If there's more than 21, it's over in the House of Representatives. The legislation dies. It seems to be going, from the president's perspective, from the speaker's perspective, in the wrong direction.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The market's open. As long as the door is open to negotiation, nobody likes this bill to be clear. None of the Republicans love this bill.

What you're trying to do is get them to pass a bill in which there are irreconcilable policy differences between a Mark Meadows Freedom Caucus on the right and a Charlie Dent or some of the New Jersey moderates on the left in the Republican caucus, if you will. I just did that backwards at the table.

You just can't get them to agree on legislation. The only thing that can unite them is a -- "This is the best we can do. Republicans have a responsibility to govern. Everyone is going to have to swallow on this one."

But as long as the door is open to negotiate, no one is going to say this. This is one of the reasons the speaker is off and the leadership complained, probably, to the White House earlier this week, saying the president at some point has to say, "We're done."

But the president hasn't done that, and he couldn't do it today, because the bill would have collapsed. So he brought people in today in the last minute, trying to get this done.

Can you resolve this from a policy perspective to get enough Republicans to say, "yea," "this is something we love"? You cannot. So they have to use loyalty.

But why is John Boehner no longer speaker? Why has Paul Ryan been frustrated on much smaller things than this? Because you have a Republican conference that has legitimate policy disagreements. This is not politics. They have legitimate fundamental policy disagreements over what the federal government's role in health care should be. And they do not have them resolved.

They were trying to get this through quickly, at least to get it through the House. That is now in huge doubt. And what most people are saying is either this is a predictable Washington drama. They figure it out overnight, 5 p.m. tomorrow we're sitting around this table saying, "How did they do it?" Or this collapses. It's that part, it's the "if it collapses" part that opens the door.

BLITZER: Another 24 hours, or 48 hours or 72 hours, is that really going to make much of a difference?

[17:10:00] KING: It depends on what the argument is about. Can you resolve the policy disagreements in 24 hours? No. Can you give them a little bit, give -- somebody has to be told this bill is going to leave the House in a way that you fundamentally don't like it, but remember, this is the first step. Then it has to go to the Senate. Then it has to go back.

The argument the speaker is trying to make and the president is trying to make is we have a moral imperative, a political imperative to prove we can govern. Do not let the good be the enemy -- the perfect be the enemy of the good here. Let's move this forward.

So far they've been unable to do that, because especially -- not just, but especially the Freedom Caucus, the conservatives, remember they were elected to come here to say no. They ran campaigns during the Obama administration. "We will say no to everything he does. We will say no to our own speaker. We will say no to spending." They have yet to be in an environment where they have to govern, to say yes.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Actually get something to the president's desk they know he will sign. That's what's different than the Obama years.

And I would add, John, to what you're saying. You said, you know, this is just step one to get this out of the House. What I am hearing from some conservatives in the House and the biggest concern here is that they know it's going to change in the Senate. And not in a way that is to their liking, most likely.

And, so, there is this notion also of, you know, having to walk the plank on a vote that you are, you know, eating a crap sandwich, pardon the term. But like -- that you don't like -- as you said, nobody likes this bill. And, and you know it's not what's going to be the end product.

BLITZER: Because you know, Rebecca Berg, that if you make concessions to the House Freedom Caucus, the conservatives, some of the more moderate Republicans from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, they're going to move in the other direction. They don't like those kinds of concessions.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And the moderates, let's remember, those are the Republicans, for the most part, who actually have to worry about getting reelected. The House Freedom Caucus, these are guys from some of the most conservative districts in the entire country. They're not worried about getting reelected. Their concern would be either a primary, which for many of these people is kind of impossible, because they're so far to the right already. A primary or they're worried about, you know, ideological purity. Groups coming after them from the outside saying, "You didn't stick to your guns and defend your principles." That's what these guys are worried about.

But the moderate Republicans, they are in districts that they could very well lose in this next election if they don't tread lightly on this issue.

KING: And to that point, it's a critical one. You have the Koch brothers, the other Tea Party groups, the people who helped those people get here, saying, "Don't worry. Vote 'no.' Don't listen to the president. If the president doesn't give you what you want and need, vote 'no.' We will back you up financially."

So there is not -- the usual levers of power in politics, where "We'll cut off your money."

BLITZER: All right.

KING: "We will primary you. You have to do this," they're not there.

BLITZER: I want to come back to all three of you in a moment, but stand by.

Joining us right now Republican Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky who is against the bill. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R), KENTUCKY: Thank you for having me on, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Are there changes you're seeking that potentially could result in a "yea" vote from your perspective, but maybe that could doom the overall health care bill, because moderates won't like it?

MASSIE: Well, the biggest change we want should be acceptable -- acceptable to everyone, which is to make affordable health insurance legal again. And specifically, what I'm talking about is the essential health benefits and -- and dealing with preexisting conditions. Not forcing healthy people to, say, pay the same price for health insurance as unhealthy people. Those are the changes that we're hoping to make, so we can get back to health insurance that people can afford without subsidies.

BLITZER: How do you expect your more moderate Republican colleagues in the House, some of those who are, let's say, in danger in districts in Pennsylvania or New York or New Jersey, how do you expect some of them to vote for the bill that strips what they would regard as essential health benefit provisions or includes other changes that are welcomed by your caucus, but are poisonous to them?

MASSIE: Well, you know what? They all ran on repealing Obamacare. And in fact, they've taken votes for bills that are, you know, much more conservative than this. The only problem I think now is that this is actually going to be signed by the president for them.

But I would remind them that this vote is a very unpopular vote in their districts. I live in a conservative district, but I've got 275 calls opposing this bill and four calls supporting this bill. And that's half Republicans and half Democrats. There's literally no liberal or conservative constituency for this bill as it stands.

BLITZER: Congressman Massie, what's your impression of President Trump's deal-making skills through this process?

MASSIE: You know, if it were just about President Trump, we would all have caved a long time ago, because he is very charming and he's very persuasive. But there are fundamental problems with this bill that even he can't overcome.

So, you know, I think if -- if you took the insurance companies out of this and the folks that have been in the swamp for 20 or 30 years and just let Trump work on this with conservatives and moderates here in the House, we could come to a solution. The problem is you've got other people at the table that stand to lose money if health insurance prices go down.

[17:15:10] BLITZER: Who are you blaming specifically? Do you want to name some -- maybe you're referring to the speaker?

MASSIE: I'll blame our leadership here in the House. They have papered over these differences for weeks. They ran this bill through three different committees and cajoled people into not even offering amendments when, really, this could have been solved in regular order, but it wasn't. They swept it under the rug, these differences.

And here we are. It's a game of chicken. We're talking about a sixth of our economy, and they want to write the bill in three or four hours and have us vote on it tomorrow? I don't think that's responsible. And that falls on the shoulders of our GOP leadership.

BLITZER: Well, I assume you're referring to the speaker, Paul Ryan. Is it time, if this thing collapses, for him to go?

BLITZER: I'll give him a few other chances. If this thing collapses tonight, it will be a big win for Republicans. If it passes and becomes law, it's going to be horrible.

I'd give him a chance next week. Let's go home and come back and work on this next week, or the week after that. There's more than one bite at the apple. This premise that it has to happen today, because it's the anniversary, the seven-year anniversary of Obamacare, that's ridiculous. We're talking about a sixth of our economy. Let's slow this down and get the process right.

BLITZER: But as you know, the White House has said and repeated several times there's no Plan B as far as health care reform is concerned. Is that a mistake, either take this or leave it?

MASSIE: That's a negotiating position, I do believe. I think there's a Plan B, a Plan C and a Plan D. There's always another option. And the premise that you have to take it or leave it is false.

BLITZER: Paul Ryan, the speaker, has repeatedly also says -- said that he's not going to try to jam this bill down members' throats. But you believe that's what he's trying to do, right?

MASSIE: Well, if they bring this bill to the floor tomorrow, they're going to be jamming something down some throats, because I'll tell you what, the votes aren't there right now. They are short votes.

BLITZER: How short are they?

MASSIE: Well, you know, I've been saying all week they're short two dozen votes. And they said, "Oh, we're good. We like where we are." That's been false all week. He could have -- the speaker could have saved us some trouble by acknowledging that on the Sunday shows a week ago, and I would say they're at least 20 votes short.

BLITZER: Twenty short, because if they lose 21 Republicans, all the Democrats are going to oppose it. Let's say he loses 21 Republicans. Do you think there is another 20 besides the 21 who are going to vote against it?

MASSIE: I think so. I've seen him whipping members who are on nobody's "no" list. They know they're "no," because they have a whip count and nobody really lies about -- to the whip team how they're going to vote.

But that's never announced. So, there were more "no's" than even the leadership was willing to acknowledge until tonight.

Finally, we can dispense of this notion that they got the votes, right? Because here we are, and they don't have the votes.

BLITZER: If the health care bill, this current bill fails, who broke the promise to the American people that there would be the repealing and replacing of Obamacare?

MASSIE: Well, hopefully, nobody breaks a promise. If we can come back next week or next month and pass -- pass a repeal bill that conservatives can get along with.

Look, we've got the tale of two chambers here on Capitol Hill this week. In one chamber, you've got Neil Gorsuch, who everybody loves among the Republicans, he's sail -- know, he's sailing through as far as Republicans are concerned.

That's because Trump took the advice of people outside of the swamp on that nomination. Now he's taking the advice inside the swamp from the health care lobbyists and our leadership; and you see how that's turning out over here in the House. Not so good and not nearly as well.

BLITZER: Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky, thanks very much for joining us.

MASSIE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chalian, All right, David Chalian, very strong words you heard from the congressman, not just 21. He thinks there may be 40 or 41 Republicans who are ready to vote "nay.

CHALIAN: No love lost there for the leadership of this party.


CHALIAN: Whatsoever. This is why I think it's so critical, though, listening to Congressman Massie. If they can't get this volt done tomorrow, I think they're going to be in a real world of perk here. I don't see how it gets done because it's going to be death by a thousand cuts of this kind of talk and, so, I think that's why you see so much pressure right now coming from the White House, saying it's happening tomorrow, trying to will it with their words, when clearly they still don't have the votes. And I'm not sure they're closer. They might be moving further away.

KING: Well, once you get fractured like this that's what happens. But listen to how he just said that in that very telling interview with you, Wolf. He kept talking about repealing Obamacare. He's from a conservative district. The imperative of fiscal conservatives, free-market conservatives, is to repeal Obamacare.

"Repeal and replace" came up because Speaker Paul Ryan has some moderates from parts of where Obamacare was popular, where they would have to replace it. "Repeal and replace" came up with presidential candidates trying to win blue states, who didn't want to just say "repeal Obamacare." They had to say "replace."

[17:20:05] Repeal is the mantra of conservatives. The conservatives who, right now, have the most votes blocking passage here. Yes, they bought onto replace as part of the Republican message, but their ideological philosophical passion is to repeal. That is the difference.

And for all due respect to the congressman and his trying to be nice to the president there, remember Donald Trump as a candidate, as a candidate said, keep coverage for preexisting condition. Keep on your parents' health plan until you're 26. Keep several other important, popular and expensive provisions of Obamacare. So one of the reasons they're boxed in here is because of the campaign promises of the president.

BERG: That is one of the fascinating things, I think, about how this debate has progressed, is that no matter what, these conservatives like Congressman Massie have been so kind to the president, have not criticized him. And you know why? It's because they come from districts where the president won by a lot.

BLITZER: They're not -- they're not...

BERG: The buck or them will never stop at the White House.

BLITZER: They're not shy about criticizing the speaker.

We have just received breaking news. We've just received the new brand-new Congressional Budget Office report estimates on what this current legislation, the revised legislation, would mean for millions of millions of Americans with health insurance. We're going to give you that right after this quick break.


[17:25:47] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and experts as we follow the breaking news. Republicans still trying to put together enough votes to pass their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

And now the Congressional Budget Office has just put out a revised estimate, predicting the Republicans' new bill with all the changes will save about $150 billion less than the original bill, but still leave 24 million more people without insurance over the next decade, about the same number as in the Republicans' original bill.

Let's bring back our panel. John King, we've taken a look at the numbers, and they estimate in this revised version with all of the changes, 14 million more people will be uninsured under the legislation than under current law over the next year, but between now and 2026, 21 million would be uninsured. More would be uninsured in 2020, 24 million, 26, roughly the same numbers as the original version.

But there's also effects on premiums, and I'll point that out to our viewers. They estimate, the Congressional Budget Office, that single policyholders in the nonmarket group market would be 15 to 20 percent higher in their premiums under the legislation that is currently, potentially going to be voted on.

KING: In 2018 and 2019, and then they say ...

BLITZER: The next two years.

KING: Over the decade they would then go down, once the changes were worked into the system. The problem for a politician who's on the ballot in 2018 is, so you're going to go to the people who you said you're going to repeal and replace Obamacare. You told them it was going to make their life more affordable; they were going to have more choices that were going to cost them less money. And you're going to go to them in an election year and say, "I know your premiums just went up 15 percent this year, but trust me: they will go down."

That is why so many of the politicians understand this is an incredibly difficult vote to take. This version also, one of the selling points to conservatives in the previous bill was that this would reduce the deficit by $336 billion over the next decade because of some of the Medicaid tweaks they've made. The CBO now says that the deficit reduction would be smaller.

So, you still have that number throwing -- the Democrats will say throwing. Republicans dispute the number, but Democrats would argue you leave 24 million more people without insurance. Now you get a smaller cut out of the deficit and in the short-term premiums go up. You want to run for office on that?

BLITZER: You've heard the criticism from some Republicans, some at the White House says, "Well, don't believe the Congressional Budget Office. These numbers really aren't very, very reliable." Even though the director of the Congressional Budget Office is a Republican who was recommended by the then-Budget Committee chairman, now the secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price.

CHALIAN: Right. Well, if the White House didn't like the CBO numbers last week, they're certainly not going to like these numbers.

On the deficit point that John was making, I mean, it's not a small cut. It went from $337 billion to 150 billion. That is dramatically cutting in half the savings that they could sell to some fiscal conservatives.

BLITZER: Rebecca.

BERG: Right. And especially if you have the House Freedom Caucus as some of your biggest holdouts right now, that is not going to be a compelling case for why they should support this bill. They would rather the government isn't paying anything into this and they're reducing the deficit by much, much more. You're not seeing that in the CBO report.

BLITZER: The CBO report says premiums would go up, at least in the short term over the next two or three years. Eventually, they might go down. That's not what a lot of the....

CHALIAN: They need those -- that deficit savings, they need that to help pay for tax reform, the next big initiative that the administration wants to accomplish.

BLITZER: Stand by. There's a lot more happening, including a shocking murder victim, gunned down in public, and he just happened to be a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin.


[17:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: The breaking news this hour, house republican leaders postponing a vote on their health care bill as they scramble to get enough support from GOP critics of the measure to pass it. Let's get some more from our White House Correspondent Sara Murray. Sara, this is really the first major test of President Trump's ability to negotiate a major piece of legislation.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And this is, obviously, someone who ran an entire campaign, who's ran his entire career on being the ultimate deal maker. Now, those skills are being put to the test. And today, at least, the White House is not getting the outcome it hoped for.


MURRAY: Tonight, Donald Trump failing to deliver the goods on a health care deal. The president hosting conservative and moderate republicans today, but so far, unable to cobble together the votes to get health care over its first major hurdle. Before tonight, the vote was delayed, the White House projected optimism.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's going to pass. So, that's it.

MURRAY: As Trump's first major legislative initiative hangs in the balance, a slew of controversies are playing out alongside it. On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Devin Nunes; rushed to the White House, informing the president he had seen evidence that communications of Trump and his associates may have been collected by intelligence agencies after the election.

DEVIN NUNES, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Today, I briefed the president on the concerns that I had about incidental collection.

[17:34:59] MURRAY: Today, Nunes is doing damage control, after that impromptu visit set off a political fire storm. The congressman, privately apologizing to his committee colleagues for scrambling to brief the president and the press before his fellow congressmen.

NUNES: I try to treat everybody fairly, and the republicans and democrats, and -- but this is -- this is not an easy minefield.

MURRAY: But the move quickly drew fire from democrats, who called it a politically motivated attempt to give Trump cover for his unfounded claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped by President Obama. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi dug in, saying Nunes isn't qualified to preside over an independent investigation into the Trump campaign's tie to Russia. NANCY PELOSI, MINORITY LEADER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Chairman Nunes is deeply compromised and he cannot possibly lead an honest investigation.

MURRAY: For the White House, it became a side-show. On a day when the president hoped to notch a health care victory, Trump's visibly frustrated White House Press Secretary pushed reporters to search for proof to back up the surveillance claim.

SPICER: I would implore, urge, beg some of you to use some of your investigative skills to look into what actually did happen. But I think that there should be a similar concern, as opposed to figuring out whether he took a skateboard or a car here to exactly what happened and why it happened. And the reality is, is that whether he briefed us first or he briefed the democratic members -- and that's up to him to decide -- the substance of what he shared should be troubling to everybody.

MURRAY: And the president who's made a habit of making spectacular claims appears unconcerned they might dent his credibility. He insists he's still going to trust his gut; telling Time Magazine, "I'm a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right. When everyone said I wasn't going to win the election, I said, 'Well, I think I would.'"


MURRAY: Now, the wooing, the jostling, the deal making still continuing tonight. The more of moderate house republicans are headed over here to the White House for some meetings. Meanwhile, some senior administration officials are heading over to the Hill to try to get some deals done. The White House is still hoping that this vote will be able to happen some point tomorrow. They are hoping for tomorrow morning. We will see if that is the case. Wolf?

BLITZER: We will see indeed. All right, Sara, thanks very much. Sara Murray over at the White House. Now, a CNN exclusive report on information suggesting that Trump associates may have coordinated with suspected Russian operatives during the presidential campaign.

Let's get the latest information from CNN's Jessica Schneider, who is watching this story for us. Jessica, update our viewers on the latest developments.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've learned that FBI counterintelligence investigators have new information raising suspicions that coordination between President Trump's associates and the Russian government may have taken place, and lawmakers now say they've also received new details that raise concerns.


SCHNEIDER: The FBI is examining information that associates of President Trump may have communicated with suspected Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, U.S. officials tell CNN.

The FBI is reviewing information sources, including human intelligence, travel, business and phone records, and accounts of in- person meetings. One law enforcement official said the information already in hand suggests people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready.

The information, referring to hacks into DNC computers and the subsequent release of campaign staffers' e-mails. Other U.S. officials caution it's premature to so quickly come to that conclusion since a lot of the information gathered so far is circumstantial. But House Intel Committee ranking member, Adam Schiff, said the evidence he's seen is stronger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that there's more than just circumstantial evidence of collusion. What did you mean by that?

ADAM SCHIFF, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: I don't feel comfortable talking about the particular evidence, either that the FBI is looking at or that we're looking at. But I do think that it's appropriate to say it's the kind of evidence that you would submit to a grand jury at the beginning of an investigation. It's not the kind of evidence you'd take to a trial jury when you're trying to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt.

SCHNEIDER: Officials caution; they can't yet prove it. But the information suggesting collusion is now a large focus of the FBI investigation. Sources would not say who connected to Trump is being investigated, but the FBI is already investigating four former Trump campaign associates: Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page, for their contacts with Russians known to U.S. intelligence. All four have denied improper contacts. The White House insisted the information trickling out is too vague to prove anything.

SPICER: When you use a term like "associates", you don't even put a time frame around it. It's a little bit nebulous at best to suggest that somebody over and over again, making a claim the way you do, and the narrative continues without any substantiation.

[17:39:58] SCHNEIDER: The FBI won't comment. Director James Comey made that bombshell disclosure that the FBI is investigating possible Trump campaign ties to Russia during a Congressional hearing Monday. But he refused to answer when a student asked him a question about the investigation this morning at the University of Texas.



SCHNEIDER: Now, as the FBI investigates, sources say there are mounting obstacles. Because of the intense public focus, Russian officials have now changed their methods of investigation, making monitoring a lot more difficult. Wolf? BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you. Jessica Schneider, reporting. Let's get some more on all of this with Democratic Congressman, Jim Himes, of Connecticut. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Your colleague on the House Intelligence Committee, the ranking member Adam Schiff, he said earlier today that he's been presented with what he described as new evidence on the Trump campaign's ties to Russia that could merit a grand jury investigation. Do you know what he's talking about?

HIMES: Well, the ranking member and the chairman and the leadership of the two houses here in Congress are part of a group that is known as the "Gang of Eight". And the Gang of Eight are a group of people with whom the Intelligence Community and law enforcement share particularly sensitive information. So, I think that that is what Adam was talking about, because the rest of the members of the -- of the committee have yet to see this piece of evidence.

I will tell you that, you know, Congressman Schiff is a former prosecutor, a very, very careful guy. So, I take him at his word that this is something that presumably explains why FBI Director Comey used the words he did in our hearing when he said we are investigating links and cooperation between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

BLITZER: You're on the intelligence committee. Tell us about the apology you heard today from Chairman Nunes.

HIMES: Well, you know, it was good to hear the apology, but, you know, sadly, an awful lot of the damage has already been done. You know, the chairman has been quite constructive with us internally. He hasn't said no to us on a particular piece of evidence or list of things that we want to see. But going outside and taking steps that are in the interests of the Trump campaign or the Trump presidency really casts doubt on our ability to produce an impartial and objective work product.

And frankly, Wolf, really make the case as many people around here are starting to realize that what is called for and what has always been called for here is an outside bipartisan commission of people who are not in the political fray, like I am or like Chairman Nunes is.

BLITZER: Has Chairman Nunes made this information available to you and your colleagues yet?

HIMES: No, he has not, although he has agreed to do so. But look, let's make no mistake about what this information is. This whole thing, all you need to know about this whole thing is what President Trump said yesterday, which is that he feels partially vindicated by this.

Now, mind you, you know, I don't know what it is because I haven't seen. It is incidental collection of Americans. This happens every single day. Wolf, right now, someone in Yemen is watching the two of us on television and saying, you know, "What a couple of, you know, ugly infidels," and that, if we are listening to that Yemeni, that is incidental collection of us.

It happens all the time, and, you know, it's not a coincidence that today, this is part of the story as opposed to what Director Comey put out there, or frankly health care, right? We are talking about this, and make no mistake that this was a smokescreen set up designed to have us talking about the incidental collection of U.S. person information as opposed to the big stories of the day.

BLITZER: So, you think that Chairman Nunes just did this for political reasons, is that what you're suggesting?

HIMES: Well, let me say this. I've worked on the intelligence committee for a long time. It is almost inconceivable that you would receive an important piece of information that raises legal or constitutional questions, you know, anything that we might come across as part of our oversight duties, and that the first thing you would do would be go to the media, the second thing you would do would go to the very people who are being investigated to say, "Hey, look what I've got here," and not even share it with your colleagues on the committee, or quite frankly with your own staff.

That to me is so irregular. And lo and behold, a couple of hours later, Donald Trump gets to put the barest of fig leaves on the outrageous tweet about Barack Obama wiretapping. Now, by the way, incidental collection and wiretapping of the Trump Tower have absolutely nothing to do with each other, but guys like me are forced to spend time explaining that to people because of what happened yesterday.

BLITZER: The president that was apparently conducting an interview with Time Magazine asked Chairman Nunes who was providing his update yesterday, and this is what the president's reaction was in the Time Magazine interview. And I'll put it up on the screen. "Oh, this just came out. This is a Politico story. Members of the Donald Trump Transition Team possibly, including Trump himself, were under surveillance during the Obama administration following November's election. House Intelligence Chairman, Devin Nunes, told reporters -- wow. Nunes said, so that means I'm right." Your reaction to what the president told Time Magazine?

[17:45:04] HIMES: Well, Wolf, look at that. There's a reporter by a major -- a major U.S. magazine in the room, and breaking news, there's information out that in some bizarre way exonerates me. You know, look, I mean, this is just -- this was just straight from a vaudeville script to try to, you know, take the attention off matters that are very, very serious, like today's failure of their ability to do what they have been promising for seven years, which is to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and of course, the profoundly serious piece of information we learned on Monday with respect to the FBI investigation. But I mean, look, you know, the worst vaudeville script writer would have done better than what you just recounted to me.

BLITZER: So, just one final question. Getting back to Adam Schiff's recommendation, maybe it's time for a grand jury. In Comey's statement, the FBI Director James Comey's statement on Monday, he said, "As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed." Based on what you know, Congressman, do you believe crimes were committed and that you agree, do you agree with Congressman Schiff that it may be time for a grand jury right now?

HIMES: Well, let me clarify what Congressman Schiff said. He was not saying that this is the moment for a grand jury. He was characterizing the evidence he had and I would probably say something very similar. We're being very careful on my side of the aisle, and certainly Adam Schiff is being very careful not to draw conclusions this early in the investigation. Look, this is -- we are very early in this investigation. So, what Congressman Schiff was saying, not what wasn't that we should convene a grand jury. He was saying that, "The evidence I saw would be enough to cause law enforcement or prosecutors to convene a grand jury." A grand jury, of course, being the body that decides whether there's enough there to pursue an investigation. He wasn't calling for a grand jury. He was just saying that's the kind of evidence that is out there.

BLITZER: And you -- and you believe that he will share -- that Chairman Nunes will share the sensitive information with you and your colleagues, maybe as early as tomorrow, is that right?

HIMES: Well, the chairman did promise to share this information. But again, I'm going to be shocked if it's anything other than a prop that was used in the smokescreen that was set up by this whole episode. And I was really sorry to see it happen because, you know, I'm friends with Chairman Nunes. I like the guy. You know, obviously what he did yesterday badly damaged his own credibility and certainly damaged the credibility of the intelligence committee investigation, that we're really devoting a lot of time and energy to. So, yes.

BLITZER: One final question. Should he step down?

HIMES: You know, I'm not -- I'm not ready to say that right now. He has been, again, cooperative with us inside. There has been this troubling tendency over time to go out and make statements which are clearly about Devin Nunes as sort of Trump transition team guy as opposed to the leader of an objective investigation. And so, before I say that, I will say this. Unqualified and unconditional, this is precisely the reason why we should have an outside independent commission composed of people, you know, not like me who are in the political fray day to day and composed of people who can really say, "I'm not, you know, fighting democratic or republican battles here. I'm standing up for a really intense and important investigation about a profound attack on this country."

BLITZER: And he promise -- did he promise it won't happen again?

HIMES: You know what, let's -- he didn't make that promise, but he was -- he was contrite. He did apologize, but again, you know, this is more serious than an individual apology. This is a question of whether in one of the most historic challenges to our country's democracy, whether we're going to investigate this thoroughly and then produce a product that every American, republican or democrat, can have confidence. And sadly, yesterday's events did an awful lot to damage that ability.

BLITZER: Congressman Jim Himes, thanks very much for joining us.

HIMES: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, a shocking murder. The victim gunned down in public and he just happened to be a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin.


[17:50:00] BLITZER: Get back to the breaking news on the republican's healthcare legislation that's in deep, deep trouble right now. But there's other important news we're following, including some new details. We're just receiving about a brazen murder. The victim; another prominent critic of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. CNN's Brian Todd is with us.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this man's name is Denis Voronenkov. He was a former Russian lawmaker; killed today in Ukraine where he'd been giving evidence to authorities about Vladimir Putin's invasion of Crimea. This makes three people in recent weeks, either critics of Putin's or people with damaging information on him, who've become incapacitated or have been killed.


TODD: Gunned down in broad daylight; Denis Voronenkov, a critic of Vladimir Putin, killed today in Ukraine's capital Kiev. His horrified wife has to identify his body on the street. Voronenkov was a former Russian lawmaker who fled to Ukraine last year. Ukraine's president says his murder is, quote, "An act of Russian state terrorism." A Ukrainian prosecutor calls this, "An execution of a witness."

MATTHEW ROJANSKY, DIRECTOR OF THE KENNAN INSTITUTE AT THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: When he gets to Ukraine, he begins to give evidence about the Russian connection to former Ukrainian president, Yanukovych, and possibly the Russian invasion of Crimea and annexation.

TODD: In an interview last month, Voronenkov said he wasn't worried for his safety.

Denis Voronenkov, (through translator): I believe that whatever will happen, will happen. I don't intend to hide.

TODD: Earlier this week, another man inconvenient to Vladimir Putin, fell four floors from his Moscow apartment and was badly injured. It's not clear tonight if Attorney Nikolai Gorokhov fell accidentally or was pushed. Russian news outlets say he fell while helping movers carry a hot tub to his apartment.


TODD: Bill Browder is a finance seer who ran the largest hedge fund in Russia. He was the boss of a Russian whistle-blower named Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky died in Russian custody in 2009 after uncovering a massive fraud, which he and Browder alleged Russian officials committed against their firm. The victim of the fall, Nikolai Gorokhov, had represented Magnitsky.

BROWDER: He was going to show up in Moscow court with a bunch of new evidence, which consisted of e-mails and WhatsApp messages, showing that Russian organized criminals were communicating directly with the Russian police to try to cover up the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and cover up the corruption crime that Sergei had exposed.

TODD: And, yet another Putin critic who's had some bad luck in recent weeks. Vladimir Kara-Murza was in a coma last month then came out of it. The second time in two years he'd fallen into a coma after a suspected poisoning. Kara-Murza is an activist who's called for more open elections in Russia.

[17:55:08] ROJANSKY: I think what's not coincidental is that all of these folks are swimming in very dangerous shark infested waters. The message is out; if you are going to oppose very powerful interests in and around Russia, you're going to get hurt or you may get killed.

TODD: In 2015, prominent Putin critic Boris Nemtsov was shot in the back, just steps away from the Kremlin. How does Putin escape blame?

SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It could be a nod of, you know, get him and then there are layers and layers and layers, and there is no specific order or time or any kind of crushing evidence that links him.


TODD: Then, we've been in touch with the Kremlin about all these cases, and Vladimir Putin through his spokesman has denied involvement in just about all of them. They called the allegations that they were behind today's killing of Denis Voronenkov, absurd. They denied connections to Vladimir Kara-Murza's illnesses and the Boris Nemtsov's death. They have not commented on this mysterious fall of the lawyer from the apartment this week, but they have dismissed allegations that they were involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the man that lawyer represented. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, are we getting any information about the man who killed the former Russian lawmaker in Ukraine today?

TODD: Ukrainian officials, Wolf, say that the man was wounded in a shootout with Denis Voronenkov's bodyguard, and that the assailant later died in a hospital. The Russian News Agency TASS reports this man was Ukrainian, but we will now never know who might have hired him.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting. Thanks very much. Breaking news coming up. Political drama on Capitol Hill, the future of the republican health care bill is in limbo, as GOP leaders now scrambling big time for enough votes to pass it.