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White House Seeks A Reboot; House Freedom Caucus In The Crosshairs; State Department Condemns Arrest Of Russian Protesters; Putin Critic Navalny Arrested; Carnage In Mosul. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2017 - 05:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: -- will White House infighting stall the effort to reboot? We are told there's growing friction between aides loyal to Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and those aligned with Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. A senior aide says some are using to help those failure to build their own power.

And even if Republicans manage to make peace among themselves, will they build a bridge to Democrats to get bill passed? These of course the same Democrats who President Trump blamed shortly after the failure to repeal the Obamacare while he absolved House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Then over the weekend, the president seemed to back away from that tone with a tweet that called on people to watch Judge Jeanine Pirro on Fox News where she went on a rant calling for Paul Ryan's resignation. Priebus was asked about that on Sunday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president want Paul Ryan to resign as speaker?

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it was more coincidental, Chris. I did not talk to the president about the tweet. I'm just telling the truth, there was no preplanning here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would he say watch her?

PRIEBUS: Because he loves Judge Jeanine and he want to do Judge Jeanine a favor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So does he want Paul Ryan to step down?

PRIEBUS: No, he doesn't.


BRIGGS: The president and Ryan spoke on Sunday and a Ryan spokesman says Mr. Trump was clear his tweet was not meant to be a shout at the speaker. The senior aides' staff aligned with Reince Priebus believes Steve Bannon was, quote, "very quick to spread stories around about Ryan, which is not helpful in the effort to build relationships in Capitol Hill."

Joining us to discuss all of this, in Washington, political economist, Greg Valliere, chief strategist for Horizon Investments, and here in New York, CNN politics reporter, Eugene Scott.

Good morning to both of you. Eugene, I got to let you take a bow, the tar heels on the way to the final four. I know you need a moment.


BRIGGS: Well done. They look good, but because I'm a Duke fan, I'm going to start with Greg. All right, the blame game is in full order this morning, Greg, who do you think the president blames for the failure of this health care bill?


BRIGGS: Who does he not blame? Maybe that's a quicker question.

VALLIERE: I guess we'd start with the Freedom Caucus. He's angry at them. I think deep down -- and he's a little angry that Ryan may have sold him too optimistic a scenario.

There is a moderate Republican he's angry with, but I tell you, guys, he's got to move on quickly and all the talk this weekend that, we'll do tax reform now. Not quite that's easy.

I've been saying to you guys in the morning for the last several weeks it's going to be late this year at the earliest before we could get tax reform done.

BRIGGS: I want to circle back on the tax reform in just a minute, and stay on this blame game for just a few and the president tweeted on Sunday, "Democrats are smiling in D.C. That the Freedom Caucus with help of Club for Growth and Heritage have saved Planned Parenthood and Obamacare." Mark Meadows pushing back. He is the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, here is what he had to say on Sunday.


REPRESENTATIVE MARK MEADOWS (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: It's like saying that Tom Brady lost at halftime. You know, we're not -- we may be in overtime, but I can tell you at the very end of the day the most valuable player will be President Trump on this because he will deliver. He's committed to the American people and we are committed --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got to say --


BRIGGS: Not certain about the sports analogy that he's Tom Brady. I think he's more Ben Roethlisberger but we could go on, Eugene, who is at fault? We know he blamed the Tuesday Group, Democrats, the House Freedom Caucus, and perhaps Paul Ryan, who do you feel is to blame? SCOTT: Everyone has made it very clear that this was Paul Ryan's idea and he was the main face behind it but pretty early in we saw the president say I'm 100 percent behind this bill and so the reality is at this moment to have walked away from it, it seems a bit disingenuous especially because had it passed the president would have taken full credit for it.

BRIGGS: All right, Ted Poe is the first casualty of all of this bailing from the House Freedom Caucus saying in a statement, "No is easy, leading is hard, but that is what we are elected to do. Leaving this caucus will allow me to be a more effective member of Congress." But Greg, what Mark Meadows is saying the health care repeal is not dead. Could they revisit it?

VALLIERE: I think that train has left the station. Maybe you can get a bill the Freedom Caucus would like but the Senate Republicans wouldn't like it. So I think we just go around and around chasing our tail. The next big fight with the Freedom Caucus is the budget.

And for all this talk that tax reform will come quickly, people forget there's a nasty budget fight coming that will last two or three months culminating with the need to raise the debt ceiling, which the Freedom Caucus doesn't want to do. So there are more fights come. Health care didn't end it.

BRIGGS: All right, well, every president needs a bad guy, a straw man, Eugene, but you also a governing coalition, who is that for President Trump? Who can he count on to usher through some of his agenda?

[05:05:09]SCOTT: Well, I think he's going to look towards members of Congress who were a part of his transition team, people he has quite a bit of a relationship with, and that he's worked with for a while.

The challenge would be that many people are looking at those same lawmakers with a bit of skepticism right now as we figure out what happened between Trump associates and Russia during the 2016 campaign.

So he's going to have to tread lightly in terms how he collaborates with his allies, but those are the people he should probably look to first.

BRIGGS: Greg, the backdrop of this is White House infighting and palace intrigue, who comes out ahead in this battle? There's the Bannon group, Priebus group, appears to be several factions within?

VALLIERE: I think Pence is still very, very powerful. He has great contacts on the Hill, not sure about Priebus, and you know, there is one other big fight they have to resolve and that is, do they go to Democrats? Do they go to Schumer?

And say, can you guys help us? I think the Democrats are not real interested in throwing him a life preserver right now, but that still another fight that has to be resolve along with taxes and the budget. So it doesn't get easier from here. SCOTT: Speaking of Pence, I was watching his rally this weekend and I was wondering what are his favorability ratings. I think there's going to be a lot of tension on him because many voted for Trump who were really voting for Pence. And so it will be interesting to see if he steps in and is able to attract the support that has appeared to have left Trump.

BRIGGS: There are reports that it was Mike Pence who encouraged the president not to own this health care bill, but you know, that will go on. Back to your prior point, though, Greg, will Democrats work with President Trump on any of his agenda?

VALLIERE: Well, maybe on infrastructure, but I think on health reform they might like to preserve Obamacare, maybe make a modest change or two. I would say the majority of Democrats would echo what Schumer said yesterday, they'll look at this stuff. But again, I don't see why they want to throw him a life preserver right now while he's in trouble.

SCOTT: Right, especially in the area of the budget, right, as he moves forward trying to get the budget passed, he definitely can't look at many Democrats to look for support and some of the cuts to arts and education and services to low income elderly people.

BRIGGS: So he may have to do tax reform on his own. Here's what the "Wall Street Journal" editorial has to say about that upcoming battle, quote, "President Trump campaigned on breaking Washington gridlock, increasing economic growth, and lifting American incomes.

The health collapse undermines those pledges. Mr. Trump lacks the political base of most presidents so he is hostage more than most to performance. Above all that means presiding over faster growth, which is the only real way to help Trump voters.

If the GOP can't deliver on tax reform, the Freedom Caucus will have done far more in saving Obamacare." Greg, you write on this as well. How does the health care bill failure impact the tax reform?

VALLIERE: It doesn't make it easier because it takes a lot of revenue away. It makes it even harder to make the math work. You know, for the markets this morning, it's just not about tax reform getting delayed by a lot. I think more fundamentally the markets have to worry is this guy in over his head.

BRIGGS: We shall see when the markets open in just a couple of hours, all eyes on that. Guys, get a cup of coffee, we will see you at 5:30.

Hundreds of peaceful protesters meanwhile arrested in Russia including a noted critic of President Vladimir Putin. We're live in Moscow next.



BRIGGS: The State Department is condemning the kremlin for the arrests of hundreds of Russian protesters including a key opposition figure to President Vladimir Putin. Thousands of people hit the streets on Sunday in Moscow and nearly 100 other Russian cities and towns for anti-corruption demonstrations. The detention of opposition leader, Alexey Navalny (ph) coming less than a week after another well-known Putin critic was shot and killed in Kiev.

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Frederik Pleitgen with the very latest. Fred, you yourself were caught up in these protests?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. You know, we walked along with the crowds that were going in there in Central Moscow with these protests, and you could really see how many people were being arrested in that demonstration.

It was interesting because it seemed as though the police had what I would call was a no tolerance or zero tolerance policy. Anybody who chanted anything against the government or anyone who held up a sign or anything got arrested pretty quickly.

We also got pushed around while we were sort of trying to do some reporting from the scene and that was really one of the things that we did see a lot of. A lot of people -- turnout was actually much bigger than many people thought.

A lot of folks, though, getting hauled into those vans and then getting detained, many of them has not been released yet -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes, speaking out against the government there, especially Vladimir Putin, has become a deadly proposition, Fred. What's the latest with Alexey Navalny, who led these protests?

PLEITGEN: Yes, absolutely. And that's one of the things that we've been following because he was taken into detention before he could make any sort of speech at those protests yesterday. The latest that we have is that he is actually still in detention, but he is now in court and has actually been tweeting from court.

He's also been trying to start a live stream from the court that he's in here in Moscow. Of course, he wants to get released today, but it really is unclear whether or not he is going to be sentenced to some sort of disorderly conduct or starting troubles here in the streets of Moscow.

So he could be in jail for a couple of days if the court rules against him. We also have to keep in mind, this is a guy who wants to run against Vladimir Putin in the upcoming election in 2018, it's very much unclear whether or not he's going to be able to do that.

He has another case pending against him as well for alleged embezzlement, a case that he says he's being wrongfully charged as well.

[05:15:04]BRIGGS: All right, we'll check in with you in about half hour. Thanks, Fred.

The military campaign to defeat ISIS triggering carnage in Mosul. Dozens of civilians in the Iraqi city killed in a U.S.-led attack against the terrorists. A senior Iraqi military officer confirming a coalition airstrike hit a truck filled with explosives setting off a deadly blast. The Pentagon is still investigating.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, has the very latest for us. Good morning to you, Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Yes, that strike took place on the 17th of March in the Mosul (inaudible) or the new Mosul neighborhood where there's been a lot of fighting. Now the U.S. says that yes, they did conduct an airstrike in that area on that day.

The Iraqis say they had called in an airstrike because of an ISIS truck bomb in the area, but apparently there was many as 130 people, civilians, hiding out in a nearby building, which was destroyed as a result.

Now yesterday, the Iraqis said that they had pulled 61 bodies from the ruins of that building. This is really just part of a pattern that has been going on in Mosul and also Syria where there has been a series of U.S. airstrikes resulting in large civilian casualties.

It's not clear if there's been a change in U.S. rules of engagement. Previously I'd heard from Iraqi officials who complained that when they would call in U.S. airstrikes, the U.S. would reject those requests out of fear of civilian casualties.

The question is, is the Trump administration taking a somewhat more pro-active approach when it comes to hitting ISIS targets and perhaps not having such a great priority on preventing civilian casualties -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Of course, there is some reporting suggest there could have been some type of booby trap. Ben, thank you.

Turning to sports, next, the final four all set and two of the teams left standing have never been here before. Andy Scholes has your matchups in this morning's "Bleacher Report" next.



BRIGGS: Your final four all set. New faces joining a perennial power there. Andy Scholes has this morning's "Bleacher Report." What a weekend of games, my friend?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was, Dave. And you know what, we got Gonzaga and South Carolina, who have never been to the final four. Now we've got Oregon, who's only been once, but nothing new for North Carolina, this is going to be their 20th trip to the final four.

The Tar Heels and Wildcats playing an epic game yesterday. A 120 seconds left, Malik (inaudible) hits a three to tie the game for Kentucky. Roy Williams does not call a timeout. It turns to be a great decision. UNC comes down and Luke Mave hits this shot right there with 0.3 seconds on the clock. Tar Heels win an absolute thriller, 75-73.

They are heading to the final four for the second straight year and you have to check out the locker room celebration, the players showering Coach Williams with water. But meanwhile in the Kentucky locker room, the players were understandably devastated with the loss.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn't the locker room that the guys -- I love my brothers, man -- just playing it back and forth in my head is going to be difficult to get over.


SCHOLES: South Carolina will be playing in the final four for the first time in their history next weekend after beating Florida 77-70. Before this year, the Gamecocks had not even won a tournament game since 1973 and their head coach, Frank Martin, is one of the most intense coaches in the game.

Sometimes he just looks rather intimidating on the sidelines, but his players are not intimidated by him. Check out the coordinated water attack in the locker room after the game. No one expected South Carolina to get this far and Coach Martin called this a dream come true.


FRANK MARTIN, SOUTH CAROLINA HEAD COACH: Anyone that's in sports dreams of moments like this. It's not something that you start dreaming it the year you win 25 games. You dream it every single day.


SCHOLES: Next Saturday it's going to be South Carolina taking on Gonzaga, Oregon won the very first NCAA tournament way back in 1939, but they haven't been back to the final four since until now. North Carolina is the one seed still left as is Gonzaga but would say any of these four teams could win it all this year.

BRIGGS: No question. You say no one expected South Carolina, we didn't, but some of our CNN viewers had South Carolina winning it all.

SCHOLES: They must have gone there or live there.

BRIGGS: Safe bet they went there. So our viewers stepping up my friend. It should be a great final four in Phoenix. See you in a bit.

SCHOLES: All right.

BRIGGS: All right, a lot of questions facing the president as the White House maps out a new strategy following the health bill implosion. What's on tap for the Trump agenda? Is health care really dead?



BRIGGS: How does the Republican Party regroup after failing to follow through on repealing Obamacare? The president and Congress in need of a new strategy. Could Democrats hold the key to advancing the agenda on Capitol Hill?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs. It's 29 minutes past the hour. Christine Romans is off today.

This morning, The White House is hoping for a fresh start in the wake of last week's disastrous health care defeat. The administration seeking to retake the initiative with a new legislative agenda and a new strategy.

At the top of the list tax reform and infrastructure, but will White House infighting stall the effort to reboot? We are told there's growing friction between aides loyal to Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and those aligned with Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.

A senior aide says some are using the help those failure to build their own power, and even if Republicans manage --