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GOP Near "Breakthrough" on Health Care Reform?; Curiel on the Case; U.S. Seeking Arrest of Julian Assange; Paris Gunman Well Known to Police; China's Air Force on High Alert. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 21, 2017 - 04:30   ET


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Can Republicans actually get a health care deal done in the next week? There is optimism, and there's skepticism in the party. Are they trying to satisfy their base or are they actually bridging their internal gap?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Time will tell.

And in one of the crazier coincidences you'll ever see, a federal judge attacked by Donald Trump over his Mexican heritage will now hear a case involving the president's policies on Mexico.

[04:30:11] Will the White House weigh in?

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody, on this Friday morning. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSIK: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

KOSIK: I'm Alison Kosik. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

And yes, we've heard this before, Republicans insisting they're getting close to a breakthrough on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. But the devil, always in the details. And getting enough Republicans on the same page remains the big challenge, especially since most House members haven't even seen the reworked bill.

The leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, that's Mark Meadows, and the head of he more moderate Tuesday group, Tom MacArthur, have been working on a compromise agreement that they believe will deliver 18 to 20 new "yes" votes from Republicans.

BRIGGS: But a Republican House member, familiar with the talks, tells CNN, he's skeptical the Freedom Caucus can actually deliver those votes. President Trump sounding hopeful the third time around will be the charm for the health care reform bill.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The plan gets better and better and better, and it's gotten really, really good. And a lot of people are liking it a lot. We have a good chance of getting it soon. I'd like to say next week, but it will be -- I believe we will get it and whether it's next week or shortly thereafter.


BRIGGS: Many, though, are questioning why the GOP would attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare again, just weeks after the flaming out on the issue, much of the disagreement centering on whether to gut protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

KOSIK: No comment from the White House after it was announced Judge Gonzalo Curiel will hear the case of a California man who claims he was illegally deported to Mexico. If Curiel's name sounds familiar, it's because he is the same judge who was attacked last year by then- candidate Trump for his handling of the Trump University lawsuit case.

Mr. Trump claimed Curiel could not be impartial because of his Mexican heritage. Mind you, he's from Indiana. The lawsuit was ultimately settled.

BRIGGS: Now, Curiel, who was chosen randomly, will preside over the case of 23-year-old DREAMer Juan Manuel Montes, easier said than done -- who claimed he was protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or DACA. Montes tried to sneak back into the U.S. on February 19th, he was caught by Border Patrol agents.

Now, his lawyers claim he was improperly deported one day earlier. But Homeland Security officials dispute that, insisting Montes left the country without preauthorization, therefore voiding his status.

KOSIK: U.S. authorities are seeking the arrest of Julian Assange. CNN has learned the Justice Department has already prepared charges after investigating the WikiLeaks founder for years. But how will U.S. prosecutors pursue their case with Assange still holed up overseas?

Here's CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alison and Dave.

We have learned the U.S. authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Now, the Justice Department probe of Assange and WikiLeaks dates back to at least 2010 when the site first gained attention for posting thousands of files stolen by the former U.S. intelligence army analyst known as Chelsea Manning. Well, prosecutors over the years have struggled with whether the First Amendment precluded the prosecution of Assange.

But now, they believe they have found a way to move forward. During President Barack Obama's administration, Attorney General Eric Holder and officials at the Justice Department determined that it would be difficult to bring charges against Assange because WikiLeaks wasn't alone in publishing documents stolen by Manning. Several newspapers, including "The New York Times" did as well.

The U.S. view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, the former NSA analyst, disclosed a massive cache of classified documents. WikiLeaks has long defended itself as publishing in the public's interest and compares itself to media organizations.

Now, as we know, Assange is sitting in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and it's unlikely that the U.S. can get him anytime soon. So, this is viewed largely within the Department of Justice as sending a political message.

Back to you, David and Alison.


KOSIK: All right. Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

And Attorney General Jeff Sessions calls the arrest of Assange a priority. U.S. officials were hoping a new regime in Ecuador would expel the WikiLeaks founder, so he could be prosecuted, but Ecuador's new president has promised to continue harboring Assange.

BRIGG: Meantime, officials in Hawaii are pushing back on the attorney general for a comment about one of the judges who put a hold on the president's travel ban. Earlier this week, Mr. Sessions expressed shock that a judge in Hawaii could block President Trump's executive order. Judge Derrick Watson wanted to block the second version of the ban.

[04:35:01] Listen to what the nation's top prosecutor told conservative talk show host Mark Levin.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.


BRIGGS: Now, the Justice Department says Sessions only meant there was a problem when a flawed opinion by a single judge can block the president, adding, for the record, quote, "Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific."

Hawaii's Democratic Senator Brian Schatz not amused, tweeting, "Mr. Attorney General, you voted for that judge and that island is called Oahu. It's my home, have some respect."

KOSIK: President Trump will visit the Treasury Department later today. There, he will sign executive orders aimed at targeting Dodd/Frank financial reform law. The president will direct Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to review regulator's authority on banks in trouble. He'll also ask him to label insurance firms, private equity companies and hedge funds as risky, and he will direct Mnuchin to review tax regulations from last year.

Ahead of that meeting, the treasury secretary is giving some reassurance to investors about tax reform. At an event Thursday, Mnuchin said this, "Whether health care gets done or health care doesn't get done, we're going to get tax reform done. We hope that this won't take until the end of the year. It will be soon, very soon," end quote.

Oh, yes, Wall Street was happy to hear those words. The Dow zoomed 174 points higher right after the comments, and holding on to the gains through the closing bell. The average is now positive for the week, recovering from two days of 100-point losses. Futures, we are seeing them in the green this morning. That was music to Wall Street ears.

BRIGGS: You know, you're right, Alison. Sometimes we're in a bubble in the New York area, but all I hear from business leaders and those on Wall Street is just give us tax reform, that's what we're optimistic for, that's why we supported you.

KOSIK: That's why we saw the market go up so much and now, they're waiting to see action.

BRIGGS: That's the one thing we need.

All right. In a confrontation with conservative firebrand Ann Coulter, Cal Berkeley blinked. The university reversing its decision to cancel a speech by Coulter because of protest concerns. Officials set a new venue and new date for her appearance. Coulter, though, rejecting the new invite and blasting the school for putting unreasonable restrictions on the event. She plans to speak at Berkeley on the originally planned date, that's April 27th, whether the university approves it or not.

Breaking news from Paris this morning. New details about the gunman who opened fire on police just days before the French go to the polls in a critical election, and this may have some impact on that election. We're live in Paris.


[04:42:02] BRIGGS: Breaking overnight, a second suspect in connection with Thursday's deadly shooting in Paris, surrendering to Belgian authorities. There are new details about the gunman who shot and killed a police officer on the Champs-Elysee. Authorities say he was well known for his radical Islamist activities, all this as the French prepared to head to the polls for the first round of presidential elections. One of the candidates with some stunning comments this morning.

Let's go live to Paris and get the very latest from CNN's Melissa Bell.

Good morning to you, Melissa. What are we learning this morning? MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Much clearer picture

has been emerging over the last couple of hours, Dave, as a result of what we've been hearing from France's interior ministry. First of all, the fact that the man who was killed here last night after attacking (VIDEO GAP)

BRIGGS: Clearly some difficulties with our live shot there. We'll check back with Melissa Bell on the very latest. We do have Melissa Bell, our connection is back.

Melissa, continue, please, on what you have learned new today.

BELL: This man, who was killed here last night, who had taken on the police, we know from sources that he was a French national, that he was known for his radicalization and that before that, he'd spent time in jail, specifically for attacking the police as well. He'd already tried to shoot police officers back in 2001. So, he was a known quantity. We're going to learn more about him over the course of the day.

But one of the big questions overnight has been, what is the link with Belgium? Because one of the surprising things about this attack was the speed with which ISIS came out with a claim of responsibility -- a claim of responsibility that within a couple of hours of the attack taking place here at about 9:00 p.m. local time, a couple of hours later, that very clear statement, saying that a soldier of the caliphate had been responsible, and naming him as Abu Yousef, the Belgian. What was the link of the man killed here, and to be a French national with Belgium?

Well, clearly, we're now getting a better idea since France's interior ministry has confirmed that they had indeed been warned by Belgian authorities to look for a second suspect and a search warrant was transmitted and that a Belgian national has handed himself into Belgian authorities. So, perhaps a clearer idea of the fact that there were possibly two people involved in this attack and a clearer idea as well of the link that may have existed with the attacker himself and the man mentioned in that ISIS claim of responsibility, as having links with Belgium.

BRIGGS: So this, Melissa, just days before they head to the elections, head to the polls for the presidential election. Any impact on those elections?

BELL: That is the big question. This was already an incredibly unpredictable campaign with the specter of the far right clearly looming over it. The far right's Marine Le Pen has wasted no time in seizing on this issue and in particular on the fact that that man was known to authorities for his radicalization.

[04:40:06] She has been saying for several days now that she believes that all those who on the official list of surveillance, some 10,500 people who are being actively watched by authorities, she wouldn't simply round them up and put them in jail, she would actually throw them out of the country. She's repeated that this morning, and she's just been speaking live on French television, using, even by her own standard, very inflammatory language.

And you can understand that this attack absolutely plays into her view that law and order to France, to fight Islamist terrorism more effectively than previous governments have done. And what she's saying, this was the Champs-Elysees, highly symbolic, we are being attacked in our own homes by the terrorists and we need to take the fight to them and be much stronger in our response against radical Islam.

Now, clearly, it's something we're also going to hear addressed by the other candidates in this race, in particular, the man who is the main challenger to her, according to the polls, the centrist, Emmanuel Macron. How is this all going to play out? We'll get a sense, Dave, that 8:00 p.m. local time here in Paris on Sunday night.

BRIGGS: Yes, a lot of undecideds there will fear, drive them to the polls to vote for Le Pen. A lot of questions there.

Melissa Bell, great reporting. Thank you.

KOSIK: China's air force on high alert. Cruise missile-capable bombers preparing to respond to any provocation from North Korea. A U.S. defense official telling CNN an extraordinary number of Chinese military aircraft are now being readied for combat. President Trump expressing confidence that China is working very hard to rein in Kim Jong-un.

CNN's David McKenzie tracking the latest developments live from Beijing.

Good evening to you.

So, you know, obviously, the rhetoric from North Korea, the rhetoric from the U.S., very bold. But anything specific that you're hearing causing the Chinese to have this escalation?


You know, the Chinese don't usually talk about military matters to the press or anyone else frankly publicly. And they haven't today. They've not commented from the foreign ministry, they haven't commented from the defense ministry. Though this reporting is intriguing of the U.S. official saying these Chinese bombers are on high alert.

Now, it could be that they're readying for exercises that could have nothing to do with the increased tension on the North Korean peninsula, on the Korean peninsula. But certainly that official is saying, it could be to be ready should the situation quickly escalate.

We did see these extraordinary comments from President Trump, a real departure from past relationships with Xi Jinping, the president of China, really saying that China is doing a good job at this stage, pressuring North Korea to halt its nuclear program. At least one expert I spoke to here in China said that that might not last, should they pull the trigger on a nuclear test. They say that President Trump might be setting China up for a fall so that he could blame China if they don't make any progress in ending this nuclear program.

China's in a tough spot here, it wants to pressurize North Korea in stopping the nuclear program. They don't want a North Korea with nukes. But they don't want to push too hard, because if the regime collapses, that's a really bad deal for China, because it could put U.S. troops right on their doorstep.

KOSIK: Very difficult situation. CNN's David McKenzie live for us from Beijing -- thanks very much.

BRIGGS: See what the Chinese can do about that North Korea oil.

Meanwhile, an American charity worker locked up in Egypt for three years is back on U.S. soil. And "The Washington Post" is reporting the Trump administration worked quietly with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to free Aya Hijazi, the 30-year-old was cleared on any wrongdoing on Sunday. The Obama administration had previously pressed for Hijazi's release, but it wasn't until Mr. Trump met with President al-Sisi earlier this month that things turned around.

Mr. Trump praised al-Sisi's leadership and offered the U.S. government's backing. "The Post" reports Hijazi and her brother will head to the White House to meet with Mr. Trump.

You can expect a victory lap for the president on that one.

KOSIK: That's an issue that's been hanging around for a while, absolutely.

All right. Verizon experiencing a drop in customers for the first time ever? And part of the reason is what this guy is doing over at T-Mobile. We're going to show you his reaction to Verizon's results, when we get a check on CNN Money Stream, next.


[04:53:52] BRIGGS: The turmoil in Venezuela spiraling out of control as opposition groups to President Nicolas Maduro planning to follow Thursday's mass demonstrations with more sit-ins and marches. They blame Maduro for a staggering economic crisis and now the government is blaming the opposition for hiring armed bands to attack a women's and children's hospital.

Stefano Pozzebon joins live from Caracas with the very latest.

Good morning.


Yes, you're right, the tension here doesn't seem like it's going to end anytime soon. As you say, Dave, the foreign minister Rodriguez tweeted and denounced that the opposition hired bands were attacking a women and children's hospital in the west, a very popular barrio of El Valle. What we are seeing here, the protest is spreading out. It's not only

just the small sectors of Caracas, it's popular barrios, popular neighborhoods in the outskirts and other cities in Venezuela as well.

[04:55:07] Victims that we had one in Caracas and another one in a small city on the west end border with Columbia. So, it seems like the whole of Venezuela is getting ready for three more days of actions, today, tomorrow and then, of course, Monday.

Back to you, Dave.

BRIGGS: Still too early to tell what Friday will bring. We'll continue to check in with you throughout the morning. Thank you.

KOSIK: Breaking overnight in Germany, prosecutors arresting a suspect in the bomb attack on a soccer team that happened earlier this month. The alleged attacker is said to be a 28-year-old German Russian who may have carried out the bombing for gambling reasons.

Investigators now dismissing a possible Islamic terror link to the bomb attack that injured one player.

BRIGGS: A Tennessee teacher accused of kidnapping his 15-year-old former student will appear in court today following his arrest in northern California. After five weeks on the run, a tip led authorities to 50-year-old Tad Cummins in a remote area of Cecilville, California. Officers rescued a student, 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas. She is described as healthy and unharmed.

Cummins faces state and federal charges, including aggravated kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of having sex. It could be several weeks before he's extradited to Tennessee.

KOSIK: All right. Switching gears to weather, drought conditions in Florida -- they are getting worse. Eighty percent of the state is now affected and no help for crews battling wildfires during Florida's peak fire season.

Let's get to meteorologist Derek Van Dam. Good evening.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Alison and Dave.

Still nine fires burning across parts of Florida. Over 200 firefighters battling these blazes. Of course, we have an ongoing drought taking place across the state. The central part of the state hit hardest. This is the national drought monitor, indicating about 34 percent of the state under severe drought conditions.

Unfortunately, no rain in sight today or tomorrow. Maybe by the end of the weekend we'll get a passing shower as a weak frontal boundary starts to settle south. That same frontal system is bringing the chance of severe weather today. This time we focus our attention on Oklahoma City, Little Rock, and into Dallas, perhaps Memphis. Large hail, damaging winds and can't rule out the potential of an isolated tornado as well.

Now, in terms of temperatures, we have quite the roller coaster over the next seven days. Check this out. We have daytime highs starting to cool down from what has been a rather warm period across the mid Atlantic. So get out the sweaters, be prepared for a cold snap, and then we start to warm up by the mid next week.

The seven-day forecast for New York city, temperatures really not staying much different than what we experienced today, although we do have a brief cool-down as we head into the day on Saturday.

Back to you.


KOSIK: OK, Derek, thank you very much.

Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream. Dow futures ticking higher this morning. The S&P 500 is set to go higher as well. Stock markets in Europe are mixed, but there's a drop in Paris ahead of the country's first round of elections this weekend. Shares in Asia closing mostly higher overnight.

So, it's been a wild past few days for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. I want you to look at these swings. Last Thursday, it was down 138 points. Then, closed for Good Friday. Then, stocks popped Monday. And then after that, two straight losses and a big gain on Thursday. Five triple-digit moves in a row.

Before that, there were only 12 of those moves this year.

Verizon losing wireless customers for the first time ever. A whopping 307,000 people left the carrier in the first quarter. And investors, they followed along.

We watched the stock plunge at the open, but then clawed back, finishing down 1 percent. That was happening as the broader market was posting solid gains, though. The company's earnings, also missing estimates, thanks in part to lower overage fees. Verizon says more customers are using unlimited plans, but listen to this, a big reason for the disappointing results, competition from Sprint and especially T-Mobile. They both appear to be taking their toll on Verizon.

In fact, T-Mobile's CEO had a field day with this. He took the opportunity to bash Verizon on Twitter, something he does frequently, but he tweeted a direct message from the CEO about overage fees, saying this, "stop gouging your customers and start doing more for them. Seriously. However high-izon, is he." Get it? Haha.

BRIGGS: #verhizon. Yes.

KOSIK: Very funny. And what was yesterday? Wwhat was the date?

BRIGGS: 4-20.

KOSIK: I think that could have been it as well. BRIGGS: Well-played, sir.

EARLY START continues right now.


KOSIK: Another health care push from the Republicans, the optimism and skepticism appears about equal. Are Republicans pushing too hard to give president Trump a win before the 100 day mark?

BRIGGS: And they meet again, the same judge who Donald Trump assailed over his Mexican heritage last year will hear a case involving the president's immigration policies. Will the White House respond?

Good morning and thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.