Return to Transcripts main page

NEW DAY SUNDAY

Cincinnati Nightclub Shooting: One Killed, 14 Injured; White House to Tackle Tax Reform After Health Care Failure; U.S. Military Investigating If Airstrikes Killed Iraqi Civilians; Insiders: Trump Learned Lesson on Dealmaking; Pence: Gorsuch Will Be Confirmed "One Way or the Other"; Oregon Reaches First Final Four in 78 Years. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired March 26, 2017 - 07:00   ET

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


[07:00:05] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go. Let's go.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: For him, for him. Yes.

Thank you, Andy.

BLACKWELL: All right. Thanks, Andy.

PAUL: Hey, we've got some breaking news to talk to you about.

BLACKWELL: We start at the top of the hour right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAUL: Breaking news this morning, here is the scene of the Cameo Nightclub in Ohio where police are actively searching for at least two people after 15 were shot at a nightclub. They confirm one person is dead, and authorities say some of the folks who were injured were able to drive themselves to area hospitals.

So glad to have you with us. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell.

Here's the update now. The shooting happened overnight near that club you saw there, Cameo, you see there, the map here. This is near Cincinnati.

Officers were on scene. They were acting as security as before the shooting there at the club. They were there as it happened obviously, and they responded very quickly.

Authorities describe the scene as chaotic, and they know that there were at least two shooters, not sure if there were more than two.

Listen to officials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CAPT. KIMBERLY WILLIAMS, CINCINNATI POLICE: As far as what it looks like inside at this time, by the time individuals were -- the shots were fired, individuals ran outside, so there's not a lot of people inside the club. I do believe it was a large crowd earlier this evening when it started. But just a lot of chaos, obviously, when the shots went off and people were just trying to get out of the way, get out harm's way. We are sure there was more than one but not sure if there was more than two at this point.

PAUL NEUDIGATE, ASSISTANT POLICE CHIEF, CINCINNATI POLICE: We are in the middle of a horrific situation that occurred at the nightclub with multiple victims and it's going to be a long night for homicide units to investigate this incident, but right now, things are stable. We are in the investigative phase while the hospitals continue to stabilize the victims.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: The assistant chief there said this is one of the largest shooting cases he has worked in his 27-plus years as well.

We are just getting word that they have now confirmed there's only one shooter, just one shooter now that they are looking for, and CNN, regarding the victims being told they are all being treated, and we have some in serious condition, at least one with critical injuries. But this story is constantly updating here.

Live pictures for you of that scene. It looks like the scene is quiet now, but again, police are searching for at least one shooter. And they say one of the problems they have had is that because everybody ran away --

BLACKWELL: Yes.

PAUL: -- they are urging people, if you were a witness to anything, please call them, because they need some more details and they need some more information, they do not at this time have a description of that shooter.

We will keep you posted throughout the morning as we get more developments, but again, just learning one shooter is who they are looking for now.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's turn to politics now.

This week, President Trump ready to put health care in the rear view mirror, at least the failure, they'll get back it, the administration says. And they are looking ahead now to the next item on the agenda, that's tax reform. This comes after Republican sources tell CNN the president got a stinging lesson on deal-making in Washington.

PAUL: Yes, this morning we are learning new details from inside the White House and on Capitol Hill about what President Trump learned from this health care chaos, which handed the new administration, of course, a major setback. BLACKWELL: Now, yesterday in West Virginia, Vice President Mike Pence

blamed Democrats and he acknowledged a few of the Republicans that caused the GOP bill to be pulled without a vote.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president and I are grateful for Speaker Paul Ryan and all the House Republicans who stood with us on this effort to begin the end of Obamacare, but as we all learned yesterday, Congress just wasn't ready. You saw it. With 100 percent of House Democrats, every single one, and a handful of Republicans actually standing in the way of President Trump's plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles in Washington.

And, Ryan, there are some fascinating details coming out about how the president handled this first big negotiation of his administration.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, we are really starting to get some insight into the heated sometimes combated and ultimately fruitless effort to push through the first stage of reform to the Affordable Care Act, and our White House and Capitol Hill teams have pieced together examples of those heated moments between the administration and congressional negotiators, moments that gave President Trump his first real glimpse at what governing is really like in Washington.

On Thursday night, members of the House conservative Freedom Caucus were meeting with White House officials. They were hoping to iron out a deal that would allow the Freedom Caucus to support that bill. Well, that meeting only featured men.

[07:05:01] And according to two sources inside the room, South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford who, of course, was in a middle of a big scandal as the state's governor after an extramarital affair and stood up, and warned the room, "I am here to tell you sometimes that testosterone can get you in trouble." Well, that meeting ended with no deal and it became clear that this health care reform effort was very unlikely to pass.

Well, now, the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan are left to pick off the pieces. And yesterday in a tweet, President Trump warned that Obamacare is likely to explode, but he said, don't worry because he is prepared to build a great health care plan, he says for the people -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Ryan Nobles in Washington, thanks so much.

NOBLES: Thank you.

PAUL: Let's talk now with CNN political communicator, Errol Louis, and CNN politics reporter Tom LoBianco.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.

So, Errol, let me ask you, the repeal and replace of Obamacare was supposed to be the first thing they did, and it was to set the stage for tax reform and infrastructure. If the president didn't get it repealed, and he is waiting for Obamacare to explode, how, then, do you set a budget and tax reform? How do you move forward if you don't have solid numbers?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a great question, because if you can't do repeal and replace, which is roughly one-sixth of the economy, and then you decided you are going to move to tax reform, well, that's 6/6, that's 100 percent of the economy. That's every interest group, that's not just a handful of powerful interest groups.

So, he has certainly has got his work cut out for him. Now, fortunately, you know, in a way, that's maybe a little more straightforward than with health care reform, what the administration promised during the campaign is very specific, to have basically three tax brackets down from seven, to cut the business tax rate down to 15 percent, and he really made some very specific promises that presumably Congress can act on. Time, of course, is short. It's going to be very, very tough for every line of code in the very complex tax code, there's a lobbyist or an interest group behind it.

So, he's got his work cut out for him. Health care, I think, has got to be something they don't want to repeat. So, we'll see if they can do a little bit better next time.

PAUL: So, Tom, let's listen to how Vice President Pence characterized Donald Trump's handling of the healthcare fiasco.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: We all know the truth about this failed law that every day Obamacare survives is another day that America suffers. That's why the president worked tirelessly over the last several weeks to get Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. You saw his resolve to work with whoever he needed to work with, to call whoever he needed to call to get our plan across the finish line this week on Capitol Hill. I've got to tell you, I was inspired by President Trump's determination and commitment to keep his promise to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: We did see him just days before going to talk to House members himself personally. There were a lot of closed-door meetings. How might he deal now though with tax reform in a different way? What has he learned, let's say, from the way he negotiated Obamacare and -- or the ACA, I should say, and how he will negotiate tax reform? Will he be even more hands on, less delegation?

TOM LOBIANCO, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, you know, it sounds like right now, he's still licking his wounds a little bit, based on our White House teams reporting yesterday. It sounds like he might have been out on the golf course a little bit. You know, it's hard to say exactly what he would do differently at this point.

You know, one thing that he did, which was very different than what Barack Obama did was the personal lobbying. But the problem is everything we heard coming out of the meetings is he didn't understand the details, and he had a take it or leave it approach. He was not involved in the nitty-gritty of this. That's not how you build the long-term relationships that get you to places on big items like tax reform and health care reform. I mean, those are both monster bites. These are not small items we are talking about here.

The other thing that you have to consider, too, is you have to get all your stakeholders around. I mean, this is just basic legislating, OK? So, you can't have the Heritage Foundation, and you can't have the Koch brothers coming out against you and ling up and threatening to throw money at opponents in primaries, because you have to remember the people that you are working with here are facing re-election for their jobs in, you know, a year and a half from now, right? Their election, their campaigns are happening as we speak.

So, there's a lot -- you've got to readjust. You've got to recalibrate and just go back to the drawing board as Pence said and just overhaul the way you did things before.

[07:10:06] PAUL: All righty. Errol Louis, Tom LoBianco, always grateful to have you onboard. Thank you.

LOUIS: Thank you.

PAUL: Now, after President Trump's health care law, Senator Bernie Sanders gives his take on the Democrats' next move and the bombshell Trump Russia revelations. You can watch "STATE OF THE UNION" this morning at 9:00 Eastern. That's where he will be.

The U.S. military, by the way, investigating whether coalition strikes killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians in Mosul. We have details on that ahead.

BLACKWELL: Also, we continue to follow the breaking news this morning out of Cincinnati. A deadly nightclub shooting there. One person killed, 14 people injured. A massive hunt right now for the shooter. We just learned in the last few moments that they believe there is one shooter responsible for this. As we get more, you'll learn more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:15:04] PAUL: We want to share some new details that we're getting regarding Iraq this morning.

The U.S. military is investigating whether coalition airstrikes killed Iraqi civilians in western Mosul specifically.

BLACKWELL: Officials say at least 200 civilians may have been killed as a result of the air raids there, and the "Los Angeles Times" reporter who visit the later described the scene to CNN.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

"LOS ANGELES TIMES" REPORTER: There are some areas where homes were completely destroyed in rubble and we had to pick our way through, and we could see parts of people still stuck under the rubble, hands, feet. And there were some remains wrapped in blankets, most of them they retrieved, they put in blue body bags. And they unzipped some of those because they wanted to show us that some of the victims were women, including at least one pregnant woman, and children, and there were some babies as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh.

Nick, we know the Pentagon is now responding to questions about this. What are you learning?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is incredibly patchy information here. You've got to bear in mind that this series of alleged civilian deaths occurred in one of obnoxious places in the world, frankly, right now. ISIS being pushed out of the last urban stronghold they control in western Mosul, and many civilians caught in the crossfire, a lot of heavy firepower being used by both sides at this point.

What we know from the Pentagon, what they accept, is that an airstrike did occur in an area corresponding in their words to allegations of civilian casualties on the 17th of March. And this is the main instant which appears to get ting a lot of conversational discussion at the moment in terms of allegations.

They also say, the Pentagon, that they are looking at a total potentially of 300 civilian casualties that occurred between the period of the 16th and 23rd of March. So, that was a week in which violence was occurring in Syria, where one of those strikes happened, but also in western Mosul, too.

Now, the Iraqi military, to add to some of the confusion here says that in the place in which this alleged airstrike occurred, they send a team to the area, and they have seen 61 bodies have been pulled from the rubble, but they see no evidence of an air strike, and they say ISIS put civilians, including women and children, into this building. There were ISIS fighters were there, too, and the building was bomb trapped, and a car bomb went off and not sure how that is related to this.

They lay the blame for this squarely at ISIS' feet. Now, we've spoken to a local emergency worker who's at the scene there, who says the bodies brought in from the rubble may be as high as about 80. Separately, there are other air strikes or explosions between the 22nd and 23rd of March, that's just in the past few days or so. We have one local Iraqi official say it could be as many 200 dead from that. What's important though is this kind of accident, or this kind of awful events turns civilian populations against the anti-ISIS campaign potentially. So, about lots of loss of life but possibly also loss of a psychological victory here, too -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Our Nick Paton Walsh reporting for us this morning. Nick, thanks so much.

PAUL: CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, with us now.

What is your reaction, General Hertling, to what we're just hearing?

GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Christi, anytime that there's an incident of this type in combat, it's always investigated by the U.S. military. And as you know, any commander on the scene, either Iraqi or U.S. coalition force would have their gut churning this morning at the implication of civilian deaths. It's unfortunate, it's terrible. It's a part of combat.

But as Nick Paton Walsh just mentioned, it could be part of propaganda by ISIS as well. They have certainly been known to do these kinds of things as other terrorists groups have been in the past as well, and the investigation will show.

And what would be interesting is the military will have location of bombing targets, because all of the weapons -- or all of the ordinance that is dropped from aircraft are precision made weapons in an urban environment. So, they know where those weapons have went. They will have gun camera film to show the bomb dropping, they will show what they were targeting at the time, and any kind of decision to hit a building with a bomb is taken up the chain of command and determined with an analysis of what is the implication for the ground force, and what kind of civilian collateral damage might be nearby.

So this, unlike anything ISIS does, will be investigated by the U.S. military. There may be several reasons for a bomb to be dropped in that area, but as Nick mentioned just now, it could certainly be a house borne IED, which I'm very familiar with, especially in that western part of Mosul, where the fight has taken place right now.

PAUL: OK, and that's where I wanted to get to, because you have a unique perspective here. You know this area that we're talking about in western Mosul very, very well. Help us understand how something like this would happen, or what the people are dealing with there.

HERTLING: Well, as the fight transpired in Mosul, you saw eastern Mosul was an easier fight than what was happening in western Mosul. I always considered the northwestern part of Mosul to have the propensity for the most difficult and most challenging fight for Iraqi security air forces. The houses are very well packed together.

It is an area that can be defended by ISIS with very few forces, and there's a lot of people there. So, they will use the Iraqi civilians, they will be used as human shields. The Iraqi security forces already reported that the fighting in northwest Mosul is some of the toughest fighting they have had over the last two years to this date.

So, when you had this propaganda machine as a last ditch effort by ISIS to say, hey, look at all these civilian bodies that are showing up, it does turn the local population against the coalition force. But this is unfortunately the kind of action that you have to have in an urban environment, where there is precision air strikes, precision cannon artillery and tough going by the infantry men on the ground.

PAUL: All right. General Hertling, always appreciate your perspective. Thank you so much.

HERTLING: Thank you, Christi.

BLACKWELL: Well, President Trump's first big legislative push hit a Republican roadblock. But with tax reform and a budget fight ahead, how does he, how does Speaker Ryan unite the factions within the GOP and claim the first win of this administration?

PAUL: We are also following breaking news out of Ohio. One person has died, 14 are injured after a shooting at a Cincinnati nightclub and there is now a manhunt under way at this hour for the lone shooter. We'll take you live to the scene. Stay close.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:26:13] BLACKWELL: All right. Back to politics now and the civil war within the Republican Party.

President Trump's plan to repeal Obamacare was blocked by a group of conservative House Republicans. They thought the GOP bill did not go far enough. And in an attempt to bring some of them in, the president then lost some of the moderates. And they didn't budge despite a full-court press from the president and his staff.

How will the president use these lessons on Washington deal-making going forward?

Let's bring in Jack Kingston, CNN political commentator and former Republican Georgia congressman.

Jack, I want to get to the president in a moment but don't want to run out of time before we talk about the House speaker, Paul Ryan. You were in the House, and I want to lean on your institutional knowledge here. When the grand bargain fell apart between then President Obama and then Speaker Boehner, there's some factions, and you will remember these, who are not going to budge.

Is there a deal to be made with some of the members? Are they willing to compromise at all?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think some of them aren't because vote purity has become such just a proud thing, a trophy for members to have. And so, you are always going to have five to ten people who are just not going to go along with the program.

The unfortunate part is they are not governors. They're not in the executive branch. When you are in the legislative branch, and this would include all the legislators throughout the land, you just don't have the identity that you can go out and be independent about it.

I always thought you were a vegetable soup. You were just part of the soup. You wanted your ingredient to be a positive good one. But it was still soup. It wasn't like you were out there on your own.

So, what Paul Ryan has to do is just bring these people along constantly, find what they're interested in, see how he can help them achieve their own individual goals so that it fits into the big goal of everybody. It's very, very difficult.

BLACKWELL: Yes, some of the Republicans snatched the legs right out from under the speaker then early in his speakership. How much has this loss damaged Paul Ryan potentially?

KINGSTON: He can come back from it. The thing they have to be convinced of is that the weaker they make the speaker, the worst deal he has to come up with. He's dealing with the Democrats, or the Senate, or the White House. A weak speaker is not going to be as conservative as these guys would like to see him.

So, they need to actually back him and realize that they get 51 percent or 70 percent of what they want, and it's a win. And so, what Paul Ryan really has to do right now is continue to push pressure on moderates and conservatives in his party to work together, and realize that this -- we can't have another setback like this. You are going into half-time without any points on the board, and it doesn't mean the game is over but it doesn't look good for the home team

BLACKWELL: Yes. And they've got a lot of big agenda items coming up this session with tax reform and the budget, about debt ceiling.

Let me turn now to the president and I want your reaction to something we discussed at the top of the last hour. We learned from the former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, back in May of last year when they were searching for a running mate, he said this about Trump's approach to the job, that "He," President Trump now, "needs the experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn't want to do. He sees himself as the chairman of the board than even the CEO, let alone the COO."

Can the president get these meaty and gritty issues, these agenda items accomplished, like tax reform without getting into the weeds? Can he say that way and expect the administration, his aides to carry the shift there?

KINGSTON: You know, I think he has to lean on the vice president and has to lean on his top aides. I think the vice president is excellent and he knows the Hill, he knows state politics, having been a governor and a member of Congress, and he knows the issues and he's very good friends with great policy wonks.

[07:30:08] Mick Mulvaney, Tom Price and Paul Ryan, Jeb Hensarling -- these are guys who actually like to read and they like to write bills. So, the talent is there. I think the question is, OK, how are we going to break this town so the president can focus on international relations, and he can work on ISIS, he can work on national security issues, whereas Mike Pence will focus more on the domestic issues and has to have a strong partner with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to do it.

BLACKWELL: Why didn't that happen this time? I mean, we all knew as the announcement was made that Governor Pence was brought in, that he had those 18 years in the House, that that was going to be his role, that he has those relationships. And right out of the gate, they didn't use his strength at least to the degree that it would have brought success. He, of course, talked to some of the members and had some meetings, but why didn't that happen?

KINGSTON: I think they underestimated it. Frankly, I think what the House and the Senate should have done immediately after the election in November, they should have started working on this, and they should have started having special committee meetings, and in November and December, and had a bill ready by the first day of the session in January, and then had a lot of hearings and a lot of input and vetted a lot of things.

You know, when you are dealing with one-sixth of the economy, there's a lot of committees of jurisdiction. You can have lots of hearings, get lots of inputs and do lots of tinkering around the edges, and still get something done. So, I think it really was a beginner's mistake and everybody has a hand in it.

BLACKWELL: All right. Jack Kingston, we'll see if the strategy changes. You can't kind of just gloss over the tax code if that's where they are going next. Thanks so much.

KINGSTON: Thanks, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Sure.

PAUL: We are getting more on our breaking story in Cincinnati, Ohio. An active manhunt under way right now for one gunman who shot 15 people at a nightclub. We have a live report for you from the scene. Stay close.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:36:07] BLACKWELL: Let's push forward now on this breaking news out of Cincinnati. There's an active manhunt for one shooter after 15 people were shot at a nightclub there. At least one person has died.

PAUL: Yes, this shooting happened about six hours overnight, at a Cameo Nightclub there in Cincinnati. A police captain described the scene as very chaotic.

Kristen Swilley from our affiliate WCPO joining us live from Cincinnati from the scene.

Kristen, what are you learning this morning at this hour?

KRISTEN SWILLEY, WCPO REPORTER: Yes, like you guys said, 14 surviving victims at this point that we know of, one person confirmed dead, and those 14 people taken to five separate area hospitals. And while we have had some large-scale shootings, not something like this in this area, and certainly quite some time, and again, at this point, we had a fire truck down there, there's been tow trucks. Just constant emergency vehicles moving in and out of the scene at this point.

But we are being kept pretty far back at this point because that investigation is still very much going on. Right now they are trying to lock down potential witnesses, and some of the witnesses are also possible victims. So they are getting them treated in that emergency capacity at this point and they're trying to get information out of them over whether or not -- we do know there's one confirmed shooter, but it could be more, guys. There's still so much to pick through and so much information they are trying to still gather.

At this point, we do know the assistant police chief out there in Cincinnati did tweet out that they don't believe there's any reason to think that this terrorism-motivated, or anything related to that. But there's also no word on a motive at this point. So, still a lot of unanswered questions.

PAUL: So, have they been able, Kristen, to give you a description of a shooter, who they might be looking for?

SWILLEY: And there really hasn't been. Again, a lot of those people, we -- again, 15 people that were hit, one person of those died, and there really isn't an opportunity to see any sort of other witnesses around. And police at this point don't have a suspect description to pass along to us either, to even help the public out.

So, that's one thing that's sort of scary about this entire thing for the general public at this point is we don't know who were looking for and exactly how many people we are looking for. We believe we have one suspect at this point, but we're not going to know if there was more than one gun used. Of course, until they get more of those bullets off of the scene, and then talk some more with those witnesses, like I said, many of which are in emergency care at this hour.

PAUL: Real quickly, do we know if there was surveillance cameras inside the nightclub that could help?

SWILLEY: I asked the district captain about that, about cameras both even side and outside potentially, and they are still looking into that at this point. We haven't gotten an update yet on whether those were present, was trying to see anything online, what they have don't in the past.

With the security camera video, I did see anything, it's something that's typically request. So, we are not sure on that. But we do know there were four security officers immediately in front of the club that rushed in immediately, and so hopefully early eyewitness video from them, and some eyewitness information from them, rather, and they'll be able to go from that. But no exact word on any security cameras at this point.

PAUL: All righty. WCPO reporter Kristen Swilley with us, Kristen, thank you for the update.

BLACKWELL: All right. Still to come, Republicans threatening to go nuclear if Democrats don't get onboard with Neil Gorsuch's confirmation to the Supreme Court. So, what are the Democrats -- why are they opposing this nominee? We'll talk about this, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAUL: So, look at this, this week's "Staying Well" features the technique called aerial yoga, that uses a suspended hammock to get you fit in the air. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to roll on your back.

JANE DE ALBUQUERQUE, CO-OWNER, LAUNCH AWARENESS YOGA CENTER: Aerial yoga is using a hammock for support in aerial posture.

When you're in the air you can work muscles without that compression on the joints. When you're in the fabric, you feel free and you can go upside down and float and swing, and, you know, have a great time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody comes up and out.

DE ALBUQUERQUE: On the mat, we are grounded to our feet, hands and strikes a great balance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kick your feet into the hammock.

DE ALBUQUERQUE: One of the main thing the hammock does it supports you in inversions which a lot of people can't get into in yoga. And so, you can go upside down in the silk, it supports you and no compression on the spine.

It doesn't matter your size, skill level. The hammocks are rated to handle over 1,000 pounds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Straightening out your leg in front of you and then lifting up onto your toes, shifting your weight forward.

DE ALBUQUERQUE: When you have low back pain, that's caused from a weak core. And it can be the back that's weak, or it can be the abdominal muscles that are weak. And so, in the hammock, they're engaging those muscles all the time. So you're building that core strength and upper body strength just by hanging on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like I got a really good workout.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:45:15] PAUL: The Senate battle brews on Capitol Hill as the president's Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, is awaiting confirmation vote. The Colorado judge wrapped up testimony at last week's hearings eventually unscathed, some believe, by Democrat's top questions.

BLACKWELL: The Vice President Mike Pence yesterday urged Democrats to get onboard or face the nuclear option in the Senate. Now, this comes after a number of Democrats threatened to block his nomination. Gorsuch's appointment is expected to be a huge win for the Trump administration, a win that some say would -- they rather need desperately. Let's leave it there.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst Page Pate, and CNNpolitics.com reporter Tom LoBianco.

Good morning to both of you.

PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning.

BLACKWELL: So I want you to hear what the vice president said yesterday in West Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me be clear, President Trump and I are confident, the United States Senate will confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch one way or the other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: One way or the other there, I mean, the one way would be with the 60-feet threshold to break a filibuster, the other would be with just 51, this nuclear option we've been discussing.

Considering what we're hearing from Chuck Schumer, Democratic leader in the Senate, are we headed likely toward that nuclear option?

TOM LOBIANCO, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, you know, there are a couple things to consider, and first of all, if you want to do that, all right, first of all, before now, Republicans have been saying they were confident they could get the votes to confirm Gorsuch, and that implied you would get eight Democrats, moderate to conservative Democrats, most likely vulnerable Democrats in the 2018 election to cross sides.

It appears increasingly that is unlikely, and now you have firmer markers now, and you have Schumer making it formal now they are going to filibuster here.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

LOBIANCO: It's a big question for Mitch McConnell in particular, do they blow up the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees? That was the one thing on nominees that Harry Reid left in place in 2013. It goes right to the core of the institution of the Senate and what makes the Senate different than the House, what makes the moderating influence.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

LOBIANCO: It's not certain yet. That's -- it's a big question mark right now.

BLACKWELL: You mention the 2013, when the Democrats used the nuclear option for federal judgeships, other executive nominees short of the Supreme Court.

Page, let me bring you into this, and I want you to listen to Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader there in the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I say if this nominee cannot earn 60 votes, a bar met by each of President Obama's nominees and George W. Bush's last two nominees, the answer isn't to change the rules. It's to change the nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: So, when you lower that threshold from 60 members to 51 members, Page, what is your assessment of the type of nominees we'll see after that change comes along?

PATE: Well, I don't know that the nominees will be any different, Victor. I mean, it's obvious going forward that we are going to have a Republican president who is going to choose the most conservative, youngest possible person to put on the Supreme Court so that his legacy can continue election after election and term after term.

So, I don't think if we go down to 51, that's really going to change. I mean, we saw with Merrick Garland more of a consensus nominee. I think President Obama chose someone who was not the most progressive, not the most liberal, hoping that he could pick up 60 votes in the Senate. But, of course, he never got a vote.

So, I think going forward, if they choose the nuclear option, they're down to 51 votes, we're actually going to see more partisan nominees instead of less.

BLACKWELL: You know, Page, you brought up an important variable here, Merrick Garland, who waited months and months for a hearing that never came. How much of this opposition that we're seeing from Schumer and the Democrats is about Merrick Garland and not so much about this jurist? What do you know about Gorsuch? Is his history, his rulings, are they worth all of this, or is this about Garland?

PATE: Well, I don't think we learned anything at all really during the confirmation hearings. I mean, Judge Gorsuch was saying things I think were rehearsed comments, clearly very scripted. He didn't tell us anything really about his judicial philosophy, or how he would consider certain cases. So, I know the Senate Democrats going into the hearing was upset about what happened or what didn't happen with Judge Garland, so they feel there's a need to preserve the Supreme Court seat.

But the other side is, preserve it for what? A worst nominee from their perspective? President Trump is not going to pull the nominee simply thinking he doesn't want to pursue the nuclear option. He's already said he's willing to pursue the nuclear option.

[07:50:03] So, I don't know that you are going to get a better nominee for the Democrats out of this president.

BLACKWELL: Let's hear from Chuck Schumer once more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: You can bet if the shoe were on the other foot and a Democratic president was under investigation by the FBI, the Republicans would be howling at the moon about filling a Supreme Court seat in such circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: So the investigation continues, Tom. Does this also extend to policy? I mean, are the Democrats going to be the obstructionists that we saw the Republicans, the role they played during much of the Obama administration?

LOBIANCO: Well, the dynamic here is that you have sort of a -- I don't know if you want to call it a Tea Party of the left that's grown up but an emboldened liberal base among Democrats. I mean, look at the women's march a day after the inauguration, fired up and look at these town halls and they are really pushing Democrats to fight on this, and there's a lot of Democrats out there that don't want to fight on this, potentially this first Supreme Court pick. They think maybe we should keep our powder dry for a second Supreme Court pick who, as Page pointed out earlier, another nominee could be more conservative, could be more -- further to the right than Gorsuch.

So that's a big calculation. Those are the two things that are squeezing the Senate Democrats right now.

BLACKWELL: Yes. There's no coincidence that the vice president was in West Virginia yesterday, trying to put some pressure on the senator there, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said, you know, he's in a state that Donald Trump won by pretty wide margin there, pretty conservative state and to be a Democrat there, he has to watch his seat the next time around.

We've got the 13 senators who have already said they will be voting against this nominee, but, Page, do you see there's any bloc, anything that stops Gorsuch from getting on to the bench?

PATE: Well, there's a possibility that Mitch McConnell will not be willing to go nuclear. I know they are threatening that but at end of the day, if you call his bluff, he may not be willing to get rid of the rule that allows the filibuster, because remember, right now, there's a Republican president but there will eventually be another Democratic president. So, I don't know if push comes to shove, he'll actually pull that nuclear trigger. That's a possibility.

BLACKWELL: Yes, majorities change and their majority isn't that broad. Page Pate, Tom LoBianco -- thank you both.

PATE: Thank you.

LOBIANCO: Thanks.

PAUL: All right. Let's talk some college basketball. Final four tournament. Andy Scholes has a preview.

Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys.

Now, you don't think of the Pacific Northwest as a hotbed for basketball, but that's the center of the hoops university this morning. All the details coming up in today's "Bleacher Report".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:57:12] PAUL: Oregon won the very first NCAA tournament in 1939.

BLACKWELL: Did they, now?

PAUL: I'm just reading it. Let's just be clear. They have got a shot at their second national title.

BLACKWELL: Andy Scholes with more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

(LAUGHTER)

SCHOLES: We're all learning and educating everyone that Oregon won the first NCAA tournament. They hadn't been back to the final four since that time that they won the very first time, so I call that quite the drought.

And a lot of things have changed in the past 78 years, way back when they won the last championship, they weren't called the Ducks. They were known as the Webfoots. I think the Ducks sound a lot better.

Now, Oregon pulling off the 74-60 over the one seed Kansas. The players pretty excited to be headed to the final four. The Duck was out there. He was celebrating by making duck angels in the confetti, as we see right there.

The team having a blast cutting down the nets. They even let Nike CEO and alum Phil Knight have a turn. He's, of course, Oregon's biggest donor.

For the first time ever, Gonzaga is heading to the final four. The Zags have been the darling of the tournaments for nearly two decades now, but they have never gotten past the elite eight and there was a real funny moment in this game late in the second half. Gonzaga was running away with it. The only thing that could slow them down the ball girl that was mopping the girl.

Check this out. Josh Perkins has to slow down or else he might have dunked on her, Zags easily beat Xavier 83-59. Head coach Mark Few, he's head the Bulldogs in the tournament for 19 straight years and he says he's happy to finally have his teams cutting down the nets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK FEW, GONZAGA HEAD COACH: It's been a long hard journey to get this program here. We've had a great ride all the way through it, and I'm just so happy for these guys up here, everybody in the locker room and all the former players that put the Zag jersey on, and just couldn't be happier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: All right. Two more final four berth on the line this afternoon. Got some day games. Familiar foe South Carolina and Florida are going to battle it out for the third time this season. They tip off at 12:20 Eastern and the winner moves on to face Gonzaga and two of basketball's most storied programs, Kentucky taking on North Carolina. The winner of that game most of the on to face Oregon.

And, Victor, you've the one at table that still has a lose interest in terms of your bracket.

BLACKWELL: I just have to have the bracket up right now.

PAUL: Oh, of course you do.

SCHOLES: How convenient.

BLACKWELL: I'm in 13th place though.

PAUL: Lucky number 13.

BLACKWELL: Yeah.

SCHOLES: Hanging in there.

BLACKWELL: OK. So Christi, you are down --

PAUL: Twenty-fifth.

SCHOLES: Keep scrolling.

PAUL: You're ahead of me though.

SCHOLES: I did have Oregon in the final four. That's my claim to fame for this tournament.

BLACKWELL: You're 15.

PAUL: See?

SCHOLES: But I had Arizona winning it all.

PAUL: Congratulations to both of you.

BLACKWELL: Thank you very much. PAUL: And congratulations to you. Thank you, Andy. Your bracket is

still intact.

Thank you so much for spending your time with us.

BLACKWELL: "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.