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EARLY START

House Republicans Set to Vote on Health Care Bill; Democrats Threaten to Filibuster Gorsuch; Two "Significant" Arrests in London Attack; Jewish Teenager Arrested for JCC Bomb Threats. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 24, 2017 - 04:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:30:02] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump tells House Republicans he'll walk away if they don't vote for and pass the health care bill today. But will the tactics work to bring conservatives and moderate Republicans under one roof as the clock ticks? Ticks. Tick. Tick.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: It is a loud tick.

ROMANS: Yes, it really is. A clock or a bomb?

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

Donald Trump has called himself the closer. We're about to find out. It is 4:30 Eastern Time.

It is the political version of win or go home. President Trump laying down ultimatum to House Republicans: Talks are over, vote on the health care bill today and pass it or you will be stuck with Obamacare and be forced to explain why you didn't vote to repeal it.

All this after leaders postponed votes scheduled for Thursday when it became clear it just did not have the votes. Both the White House and House leaders said to be frustrated with the ultra conservative Freedom Caucus after both spent the day trying to grind them down apparently to no avail.

ROMANS: One senior administration official said the president tried to address Freedom Caucus concerns with the bill. And they just kept moving the goal post. The official said of Mr. Trump, he's just done. Another official said he wants to win and move on to tax reform.

Now a familiar trend emerging with the White House laying the groundwork to place the blame potentially on others, from House Speaker Paul Ryan to the Freedom Caucus, to his own White House staff for roping him into the leadership's bill.

A Republican source says Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told his members to vote their conscience. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: Realistically, I'm still optimistic. I don't put grades or numbers on anything. I know that would make for a better headline. But I'm still optimistic that everybody is negotiating in good faith to try to get there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Hurting the case for the bill, an updated score from the Congressional Budget Office, worse than the first. The CBO says the revised bill will cost more and leave just as many people, 24 million uninsured, also has relatively no impact on premiums.

CNN's whip count of votes against the House bill now shows 27 Republicans flat-out noes, four more leaning against. They've got 31 lawmakers maybe or definitely opposed to this bill.

ROMANS: And the vote is just hours away. For all these big questions, Dave, will the president's ultimatum force the Freedom Caucus to fall in line? Would the president really reject the vote later if Republicans can't round up the votes today? What might be the fallout if this dealmaker president can't close the deal?

Our coverage begins this morning with our friend, Phil Mattingly, on Capitol Hill.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, it was as abrupt as it was not subtle. A message from one of President Trump's top advisers to the entire House Republican conference -- a House Republican conference that simply would not get into line for this health care bill. The time to negotiate was over. Time to vote was now.

In fact, the president, according to Mick Mulvaney, his budget director, was demanding a vote on Friday. Even though both the president's team and Speaker Ryan's team know they don't have the votes. But it is a strategy that is backed by House leadership.

Just listen to what House Speaker Paul Ryan had to say after that late night conference meeting.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it's collapsing and it's failing families. And tomorrow, we're proceeding.

MATTINGLY: What's clear right now: they don't know that they have the votes. In fact, they are pretty sure they don't, at least going into this huge, enormous, very consequential day. Something needs to change. The hope was that in President Trump's decision to back all of these individuals into the corner and really give them no other option, that they'll eventually come along. Will that work? Well, we'll see in a couple hours -- Dave and Christine. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Thank you, Phil. Keep up the hard work.

Even if the House passes this Obamacare repeal bill, it still has a long road to go. Next to the Senate. The only changes allowed there are those affecting the budget, because House Republicans chose to move the measure under reconciliation rules, to pass the Senate with 51 votes instead of 60. If the Senate passes the bill, which is a major doubt, it goes to conference committee to work out differences.

At this point, major differences between the House and Senate versions. You can imagine if both houses sign up. Then it goes to the president for his signature.

ROMANS: Oh, even if that happens, while we're playing this hypothetical, this is still just bucket one of what Republicans promise a three-phrase process. In bucket two, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price will make administrative changes to the way insurance is regulated. Bucket three, Congress is supposed to pass other standalone bills to make further health market reforms.

Those changes will need 60 votes. That means you cannot do this without Democrats.

All right. Let's bring in our panel, CNN politics reporter Eugene Scott with us here in New York. And in Washington, political economist, Greg Valliere, chief strategist for Horizon Investments.

And, Greg, let me start with you.

GREG VALLIERE, POLITICAL ECONOMIST: Yes.

ROMANS: There are two headlines potentially tomorrow. This thing went down in flames, poor choice.

[04:35:01] They shouldn't have started with this. It didn't work.

The other headline is: they pulled off a miracle. Am I missing? Could there be another headline?

VALLIERE: I don't think so. And, Christine, I've got to tell you, if they pull off a miracle, and you can't rule it out, I cannot possibly see this making it through the Senate. We can glaze everybody's eyes this morning talking about the Byrd Rule.

Dave hinted you can't get a lot of this stuff done in the Senate without violating the Byrd Rule. I just think chances of getting a bill of really slipped dramatically in the last week or so.

BRIGGS: Yes, we talked about stripping essential benefits. That would be hard to argue. It is a budgetary constraint over in the Senate.

ROMANS: That's the Byrd Rule. BRIGGS: That would likely be stripped. And that's what the House

Freedom Caucus have asked for. Sean Spicer asked many, many times about, is there a plan B? He had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: If it doesn't pass, there is a plan B?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, there is no plan -- I mean, this is -- there's a plan A and plan A. We're going to get this done. I'm not looking, as I mentioned, we don't have -- we're not looking at a plan B. We have plan A. It's going to pass and we're going to go from there.

REPORTER: Is there an acknowledgment that perhaps there does need to be a plan B if this vote doesn't happen tonight?

SPICER: No, plan A.

REPORTER: Is there any sort of plan if the bill does not pass tonight? What is the plan B?

SPICER: No, we will -- it's going to pass. So, that's it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: OK. Whether or not pushing the vote to today is plan B, it's hard to figure. But again, to Christine's point, Eugene, if this vote fails today, then what? Because Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, says whether the vote is today or tomorrow or five days from now, the president will get a victory? So, what if they don't have them today?

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: I think it's really important to realize that while it seems like there is a timeline because there's a vote that needs to happen by 7:00 p.m., we are still within the first 100 days. I think this is something that the administration is not going to give up, because this is something that people, I believe, will continue to press him on throughout at least his first term in office.

So, I think it is possible that a plan B could arise later on. I don't think right now, though. I mean, I think that's the point that Spicer was trying to make.

ROMANS: One of the interesting things, Greg, about I guess the strange bedfellows of this bill is you got these ultra conservative members of the House who are actually doing the Democrats for 'em in a weird way by potentially keeping Obamacare in place. You know what I mean? It's kind of a stretch, but you've got Democrats who are watching sort of this unraveling of the coalition against Obamacare with almost glee.

Obviously, we are talking about millions of people who are going to be affected one way or the other. But let me ask you about these final sweeteners. In this deal, apparently, they were these final sweeteners. Repeal of the essential health benefits.

This is stuff like requiring maternity care, you know, requiring emergency services. You know, requiring, you know, kind of the basic standards of health care in all of the plans. It requires the states to determine the list of essential benefits by 2018. It pushes the states some of the funding for mental health, substance, et cetera, et cetera and delays repeal of the Medicare surcharge.

So, this charge the caucus was moving the goal post. You know, what is it that they want?

VALLIERE: Well, the optics are horrible. And I think they want a dramatic reduction of the government's role in health care. That's not going to fly with moderate Republicans in the Senate.

You didn't even mention, Christine, the other huge deal breaker for people like Rob Portman which is dramatic cuts in Medicaid benefits.

ROMANS: Yes.

VALLIERE: So, you add it all up guys and I just cannot possibly see a bill that can make it through the Senate.

ROMANS: Well, the conservatives are calling this Republican welfare bill, Eugene, which I think is so interesting because, what moderates see is health care for their citizens, you know? The two different world views.

SCOTT: Yes, absolutely. I think we are seeing within the Republican Party the diversity of the opinion on how the government should best respond to health care. I think we saw a New Jersey Republican yesterday actually say that he just thinks Obamacare is actually better than this replacement plan, which is a surprising response and just I think exemplifies how hard it is to get the Republicans on the same page.

BRIGGS: But hanging over all of this, Greg, is Donald Trump. But if he pulls this off, we counted him out so many times. He was at 1 percent, 1 percent and he is now in the Oval Office.

How can we count him out now?

VALLIERE: Well, I do think he has some victories ahead. I think he's going to win with Gorsuch. I think that nomination will be confirmed. I do think we get tax reform. It's going to take a while.

But I think it's way too early to write the obituary for tax reform even if the health care bill goes down in flames.

BRIGGS: But I'm saying on this bill, who is to say he can't get those reluctant lawmakers in the end when they're deciding party unity. Am I voting for President Trump or am I -- am I going to give him one vote to get him over the top?

VALLIERE: I don't think you win in this town with threats. He's made a lot of threats to Republicans. You're going to lose your seat. Things like that.

I'm not sure that is effective.

[04:40:01] And as John Boehner, who is now in retirement, in Florida, will tell you, you can't get the Freedom Caucus. And I think Trump is going to learn that deal-making in New York City is different from deal-making in Washington, D.C.

ROMANS: There is somebody who can make some threats, somebody -- I use air quotes. The markets on tax reform in particular. I mean, that's going to be another powerful player in this. I mean, if you stall on tax reform and you start to take a few really bad days in the stock market, suddenly, you can get some coalition in the House, Greg?

VALLIERE: Absolutely. The markets could provide quite a verdict in the next few days if they think tax reform is now in trouble. I'm not sure they are there yet. But a defeat of the bill, that's not a good story for the markets.

BRIGGS: Yes, some suggested they need the money from this health care bill to do tax reform, but one of many questions.

ROMANS: All right, guys. Don't go away. Thanks so much for being here.

Speaking of money, 20 minutes to the top of the hour.

The poorest American families could lose federal benefits worth one- third of their income if the House Republican bill becomes law. This is according to a new report from the Urban Institute and Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center.

Here is what it would look like four years into the Republican plan. Look at this carefully. The average family earning less than $10,000 would lose about $1,400 in government subsidy. So, having to spend that on insurance would be a net reduction of more than 30 percent of the family's income.

On the other side, families earning $200,000 a year would gain more than $5,000 in tax credits, compared with Obamacare subsidies, because they don't get Obamacare subsidies, because they're rich. The good news for those in the middle: families with younger and middle aged parents making more than $50,000 a year would be better off.

So, still crunching the numbers. All of these think tanks. But optics again for 2018, if you are making -- rich people have benefit in health care and you're hurting poor people and the middle class. That's going to be a problem in 2018.

BRIGGS: So, a backdrop to all of this. Well, as if Republicans and Democrats didn't have enough to work out, the top officials on the House Intel Committee now disagree over how much evidence really exists linking the president's associates and Russia. We hear from both, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [04:46:23] BRIGGS: The investigation into the Trump administration's ties to Russia is triggering a very public dispute between Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Adam Schiff, the committee's ranking Democrat.

Listen to each describe the evidence they have seen of possible collusion between the president's associates and the Kremlin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't feel comfortable talking about the particular evidence either that the FBI is looking at or we are looking at. But I think it is appropriate to say it's the kind of evidence that you would submit to a grand jury at the beginning of an investigation.

REPORTER: There's new evidence of collusion from Schiff, you said you have no idea what he's talking about?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't. No.

REPORTER: You haven't seen any new evidence of collusion?

NUNES: Not that I'm familiar of. No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So, Nunes has apologized for rushing to tell the president's communications may have been incidentally collected by U.S. intelligence agencies, before he told members of his committee. Nunes will not say where he received the information.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, among the growing number of Democrats, now calling for an independent, nonpartisan commission to handle the investigation of Russia's election meddling.

BRIGGS: So, you've got Nunes who is apologizing for not sharing information with Schiff, but Schiff appears to have information he hasn't shared with Nunes. Am I reading that correctly?

ROMANS: It is complicated. It needs a nice airing in the light of day. But we have to let this play out.

BRIGGS: Oh, it's a tricky one.

All right. Senate Democrats are lining up to fight the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania on the record opposing the president's Supreme Court nominee. Schumer is vowing to launch a filibuster to stall the process. Gorsuch must earn support of at least eight Democrats to break a filibuster.

Republicans are threatening to use the so-called nuclear option to change Senate rules if necessary so Gorsuch could be confirmed with a simple majority of 51 votes. ROMANS: CNN has learned least six Secret Service members are facing

disciplinary action for a security breach at the White House earlier this month. The suspect jumped the fence and roamed the White House grounds for 16 minutes until he was spotted and apprehended. The president was in the White House at the time. Special agents and uniformed officers from the Secret Service are involved.

All right. Investors have paused the Trump stock market rally as they wait for the vote on health care. The tone is turning a little more optimistic this morning. We're going to tell you why in CNN Money Stream, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:53:14] BRIGGS: New this morning, two significant arrests in the London terror attacks. It comes after another victim of the attack passed away, bringing the death toll to four. Among them, an American from Utah celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary.

We're also learning new details about the attacker, who authority say was known to police and inspired by ISIS.

Let's go live to Scotland Yard and bring in CNN's Nina dos Santos.

Nina, good morning to you. What are we learning this morning?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave.

Well, the significant thing we're learning is the real name of Khalid Masood, the 52-year-old attacker who's been named. Originally, his birth name was Adam Russell Ajao. We know that he was born here in the southeast of England and spent time in the midlands where much of the rests and the arrests have been taking place over the last few days and that he was a convert to Islam. So, he had only embraced that faith halfway through his life.

He has a string of convictions. The earliest one going back to 1983. The last conviction back in 2003. He was well known to have extremist views, and at one point, MI5 was investigation, but he didn't seem to be part of the current intelligence picture.

We know that two more people have been arrested as you said overnight. Significant arrests. That brings the total number of people in custody to nine in total.

Also, a huge amount of evidence is gathered. Sixteen searches have been taking place. Five of them I should say still ongoing at this hour.

We are learning more about the victims. We now know overnight that a 75-year-old local man from south London also perished in this incident. That brings the total victim count to four. He has now been named as Leslie Rhodes.

And, of course, as you mentioned, one American tragically lost his life, 54-year-old Kurt Cochran who's here on holiday seeing the sights with his wife celebrating their wedding anniversary -- Dave.

[04:55:11] BRIGGS: Heartbreaking. We'll check in with you next hour. Thank you, Nina.

ROMANS: All right. Police in Israel looking for a motive after arresting a Jewish teenager in connection with a series of bomb threats at Jewish institutions and community centers across this country. The 19-year-old Israeli-American was arrested following a months-long international investigation by the FBI.

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us live from Jerusalem.

And what we are hearing is, you know, there's relief of the arrest, but people are sad and perplexed that this was the culprit.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It was quite stunning to get the police because we certainly didn't -- to get the message from police because we certainly didn't expect the notification that came that it was a 19-year-old American-Israeli Jewish teenager who police say was behind scores of bomb threats not only in the U.S. but police say this started with the first threats in New Zealand and then Australia, and that's where it focused on the U.S. in a joint investigation by Israeli police and the FBI to pinpoint who exactly was behind these threats.

Police have not yet released the name of the suspect. That at this point remains under gag order, but they do say they have also detained his father as part of this investigation. And both will be held for at least another week as police try to figure out what was behind this.

We had a chance to speak with his defense attorney who said he suffered from a brain tumor that affected his behavior. She says it kept him out of school since the first grade and also kept him out of the army. He was deemed unfit to serve in the Israeli military which would be standard for somebody who is 19 years old.

We did speak to some of his neighbors who say he was polite, but introverted, always with his computer. One neighbor says she spoke with him only in English which gives you background. He was a dual citizen, an American-Israeli teenager. Now the question of where he will face charges? Will he be extradited? That is up to the prosecutors here and in the U.S. to work out -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Certainly, a bizarre story. But again, relief some of these JCCs around the country that at least they know who is behind so many of those terrifying threats.

Thank you for that, Oren Liebermann for us this morning in Jerusalem.

BRIGGS: The Kremlin is denying claims by Ukraine it was behind the shooting death of a former Russian lawmaker. Denis Voronenkov was gunned down outside a Kiev hotel in broad daylight, just the latest in a line of Vladimir Putin's critics to be injured or killed. Ukraine's president is blaming Russia, calling the fatal shooting a terrorist attack. Moscow claims that claim is absurd. ROMANS: All right. Fifty-seven minutes past the hour. Time for some

money.

CNN Money Stream this morning. Wall Street hopeful ahead of the House vote on health care. The market is stalled the past few days. Uncertainty in Washington has stalled investors.

Futures are moving higher right now. Global stock markets are higher as well.

Stunning statement from Ford. It is expecting profit to drop 50 percent this quarter. Ford says it expects sales to decline worldwide, including a drop in the Asia Pacific region and weaker pricing in other markets. It also expects Brexit to hurt its European operations which finally swung to a profit last year. Ford only forecasts a modest decline for the year and says it will be able to deal with tariffs or taxes slapped on imports from Mexico if the Trump administration decides to go down that road.

After much speculation about who would replace him, Disney's CEO Bob Iger is sticking around until 2019. The company says Iger will stay at the helm until July 2019. That will mark 14 years with the company. Iger says Disney's best days are still ahead and he looks forward to naming a successor.

Translation, the company does not have a successor at the moment. That is not worrying Wall Street. The stock ticks higher on the news. They're bullish on Bob Iger. Shares of Disney are up more than 20 percent the last six months.

It allows Iger to enjoy the success of two more "Star Wars" films. "Episode 8" is due this December, and yet to be named Han Solo feature set to hit theaters in May of 2018. That follows "Rogue One", which is basically a feature length teaser for the next two films. I like "Rogue One."

BRIGGS: And one a year. We'll get a lot of that.

All right. EARLY START continues right now.

(MUSIC)

ROMANS: The ultimatum from President Trump: get the health care deal done today. The president tells House Republicans he'll move on if they don't vote. Will the ways of Washington grind the deal-making president to a halt?

EARLY START has live team coverage right now of this important story.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs on a busy Friday. Friday, march 24th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

The political version of win or go home. President Trump laying down an ultimatum to House Republicans: talks are over, vote on the health care bill today and pass it, or you will be stuck with Obamacare and be forced to explain why you didn't vote to repeal it.