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Senators Head to White House for Classified Briefing on North Korea; Secret Service Ensured Senator Get to White House Safely; Possible Breakthrough on Repealing, Replacing Obamacare. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 26, 2017 - 14:30   ET



[14:33:59] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Right now, we're back up on live pictures here. This is something you don't ever see on Capitol Hill. Virtually every single United States Senator about to get a ride in the form of seven different charter buses and head from Capitol Hill down to the White House for a major briefing over at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in an auditorium that, for the purposes of today, will become essentially a makeshift SCIF, a classified area, so they can talk on North Korea.

I have Sunlen Serfaty standing outside one of these buses with one of those Senators.

We don't want him to miss his ride. So, Sunlen, go ahead.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORERSPONDENT: That's right. I'm here with Senator Chris Coons, who has to get on that bus very shortly and ride over to the White House.

Quickly, before you go, tell us what you expect and hope to learn from this briefing today.

SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D), DELAWARE: I'm hopeful we'll get a thorough briefing on the Trump administration's plans for confronting North Korea's dangerous ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons program. There are not a lot of good options and President Trump and his national security team are trying to engage our allies in the region, Japan and South Korea, and to make this more of China's problem than our problem. I'm looking forward to how he hopes to do that. And I'm optimistic that this will be a constructive and bipartisan session.

[14:35:11] SERFATY: Last we spoke, yesterday, there was a little bit of skepticism and questioning about why this was happening at the White House, why now you guys are loading buses. What are you feeling about that?

COONS: Well, in the seven years I've been a Senator, every time the administration wanted to give us a classified briefing, they did it over here in a specified setup classified setting that we have in the Senate for these kinds of briefings. I'm not sure why we're being called to the White House, but when the president asks us to come and wants to give us a briefing on an important matter of national security, I think we should go. So I'm looking forward to the briefing.

SERFATY: Thank you, Senator. I know you need to board that bus right now.

And you heard him. There's been a lot of criticism up here on Capitol Hill among Senate Democrats that there's a lot of showmanship going on here. One Democrat telling me this feels like a dog-and-pony show from the White House.

But many Republicans are talking about the purpose of this briefing being most important, laying out intelligence and laying out the options that the administration has on the table.

And that's something we heard from Republican Senator John McCain a few moments ago.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: I will hear what the president's plans are to address a major challenge to the security of the United States of America, which is a nuclear-armed North Korea with an intercontinental ballistic missile capability.

SERFATY: Do you expect to hear a firm strategy coming out of today?

MCCAIN: I know that I will -- there's no such thing as a firm strategy, because it depends on what the North Koreans do. But I will certainly hear what our options are and what our capabilities are and what their capabilities are. This is an intelligence briefing.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator McCain, what do you think the North Korean regime is going to see this as, all of the Republicans and Democrats going together at the White House?

MCCAIN: I don't know what they will think. What they need to think is that the Chinese will stop their economy in every way unless they stop this progress towards acquisition of a nuclear weapons and the means to deliver it. China is the key to this.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you expecting President Trump to try to get all 100 on board with some kind of military option when he drops by?

MCCAIN: That's not the purpose of the briefing. The purpose of this briefing is to tell us the situation and the intelligence we have or the options that we have.


SERFATY: Thank you, Senator.


SERFATY: So there you heard Senator McCain, who earlier this week had dinner with President Trump at the White House, specifically at the White House. Also included in that dinner was Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina. He defended this briefing earlier today being at the White House rather than being here at the capitol. He said it's because it's a very big deal, something to show how serious this is, and that it comes with appropriate symbolism of this important moment with this threat coming from North Korea -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Quickly, Sunlen, we heard in that last question to the Senator, when he comes by -- he, being the president -- I haven't seen anything specific that that's even a definite. Do we know?

SERFATY: I have to tell you, I've spoken to a number of Senators and they are all under the expectation that the president will drop by, but the White House has been mum on this issue. They say he potentially could drop by, but that decision has not been made yet. When I spoke to Senators today, they said this is one of the reasons why this is being held on the White House complex on that EOB, executive office building, so potentially this could provide an opportunity for the president to brief them -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Got it.

Sunlen, we'll be watching for them. Thank you so much up there on Capitol Hill as the Senators are jumping in their buses and away they go to the White House.

When we come back, we'll talk about Secret Service. How you get these buses full of 100 or so Senators down Constitutional Avenue and up Pennsylvania and into the White House, the process. And also what to expect from this meeting, and what if the president doesn't drop by? We'll talk about all of that coming up.


[14:43:31] BALDWIN: Back on this upcoming meeting, live pictures of Washington, D.C. as the charter buses are taking about 100 U.S. Senators down from Capitol Hill and just across Constitution and up Pennsylvania onto the White House to have this massive discussion, perhaps with the president -- might there be a drop-by? -- over by the White House on North Korea.

I have Jonathan Wackrow with me, CNN law enforcement analyst and former Secret Service agent; and Chris Cillizza is back, our CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large.

On the logistics of this, Jonathan, if I may - just begin with you -- not every day, in fact, I don't know when there's been day when you have all the Senate heading - normally, it's the White House, the president going to the SCIF on the Hill, not the other way around. But logistically, Secret Service-wise, how do you pull this off?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Take a step back for a second. Members of Congress coming to the White House in groups is not uncommon. It's something that both the capitol police and Secret Service work very closely on. Now, taking --


BALDWIN: Just like 12, 13, 14, 15.

WACKROW: Exactly.


WACKROW: There are times when -- the congressional picnic is a great example where you have members coming from Capitol Hill down to the White House. So it's not uncommon.

The key factor here is coordination and logistics between two very great law enforcement agencies, the Secret Service and the capitol police, working to ensure that all the members of the Senate are protected, from portal to portal, meaning from Capitol Hill to the White House and then back, so there's a lot of coordination that goes into that. There's screening, the motorcade route. And then, more importantly, once everyone is together on the White House grounds, what do you do if there's a tactical situation if someone attacks the White House, comes over the northern fence line. Happens all the time. What do you do with members of the Senate? What happens if there's a medical issue or if you have to relocate or get everybody out? These things don't -- you know, don't happen quickly. They take a lot of coordination and there's a lot of logistics. Everyone and every stakeholder in the security process have certain roles and responsibility It's defining that on the front end between Service and capitol police on how to execute during those emergency situations.

[14:45:46] BALDWIN: And also, I keep throwing around this acronym SCIF. It's a secure room, right --

WACKROW: Exactly.

BALDWIN: -- where you have classified briefings?

WACKROW: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: How do you make -- apparently, it's some auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Building, next to the White House, that they are turning into a SCIF.

BALDWIN: Yes, so --

BALDWIN: I see the look on your face.

WACKROW: I know the facility. Listen, it comes down to technical security countermeasures. What they are looking to do is ensure conversations had within that location are not susceptible to eavesdropping, you know, electronic surveillance, et cetera. The Secret Service has a very, very comprehensive program on how to make locations secure. Now, in this instance, I don't know how they are doing it, nor should we be talking about how they're going to do it. If you think about how the president travels around the world, these temporary locations are set up everywhere. So here we're on -- we're at the White House. It's a secure complex. The Secret Service, in conjunction with military partners, are going to ensure that conversations or documents reviewed by the president and the Senators are not susceptible to foreign espionage. BALDWIN: OK.

Chris Cillizza, a couple of questions for you now.

Let me just begin with -- listen, we have -- I don't know how many cameras CNN has. A lot of networks have cameras on Capitol Hill, at the route, at the gate of the White House. And I know the president is a TV guy. He knows how to get eyeballs on the TV screen. I know critics are calling this a dog-and-pony show. How do you see it?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I've now worked longer in this town than I'd like to admit, despite my youthful appearance, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So youthful.

CILLIZZA: But I have not seen something like this. Yes, there are motorcades all the time, but all 100 Senators packing onto tour buses, like tourists, frankly, and escorted down a long way, no a long way, with no traffic, to the White House. Do I think that the show of it appealed to Donald Trump? You bet, 1,000 percent. I also think them, the world's greatest deliberative body, all coming to him in his home also appealed to him.

Now, to your point, you made this point about, is Trump going to come, is he going to do a drop by, what's he going to do?


CILLIZAA: If he only drops by to do -- sort of pop in and say hello, I guarantee you that 99, maybe all 100 of those Senators will be annoyed. I think many are already annoyed because this same group of people are going to be briefing House members later today on Capitol Hill. So the question is, why did the Senators need to come to Donald Trump? They are going to the House members, so that will be an annoyance. My guess is he will spend some amount of time. He does have some smart legislation liaisons, people who deal every day with Congress, with respect to spending time in Congress, in his White House. Those people have to tell him, look, if you're going to bring all 100 folks here, you had better show some face.

BALDWIN: Yep. Yep. Making all this effort, getting on these buses.


BALDWIN: You've got to have a little something.

We'll watch out for it. We've got a stakeout. We're sure Senators will talk after the fact.

Chris Cillizza, as always, thank you. So useful in Washington.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

[14:50:08] BALDWIN: And Jonathan Wackrow, thank you, as well. More breaking news on Capitol Hill. This involves the fate of the

Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. How about this? We're now hearing of a breakthrough as the clock is ticking towards the president's 100th day this Saturday.

Stay here.


BALDWIN: More breaking news on Capitol Hill today, but this has nothing to do with buses. This has everything to do with health care. House Freedom Caucus members say they are ready to support a plan that would get the ball rolling again as Republicans try to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Phil Mattingly, all over this, our CNN correspondent, up there on the Hill.

What are the changes that the conservatives have said "yes" to?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORERSPONDENT: This is what they have fought for and why it's they've refused to get on board in iteration one and iteration two. I think we're on iteration three now with health care.

Basically, what they got -- and there's an amendment now that they have said that they will support as a group. That's means 80 percent of the three dozen members. It gives states the ability to apply for waivers to opt out of two crucial Obamacare regulations. The first is on essential health benefits. We've talk about this a lot. It's something that covers mandatorily doctor visits, ambulance visits, maternity care. If states prove they have something better in place and that it will help lower premiums, states can opt out of that. They can also have the opportunity to opt out of something called community rating. It's an important piece of Obamacare. It basically says individuals can't be discriminated against cost-wise on insurance plans. Instead, they have to do it as an entire group or community. Based on this bill, the opt-out would be based on a state having a risk pool.

I will note, while those are the changes in play, while the Freedom Caucus is behind this, Brooke, the moderates are not on board yet. I just came from a closed-door meeting. They are not sold on this plan yet. It's a positive step forward, but we're far from out of the woods yet in this process. It will keep going -- Brooke?

[14:55:00] BALDWIN: And cover it, you will.

Phil, thank you so much, on Capitol Hill.

Next, those U.S. Senators are now arriving at the White House for this briefing on North Korea in this rare, surreal scene. We've got that for you.

Also, the White House today laying out the president's new tax cut proposal, which is raising a lot of questions. We'll get into exactly what was discussed there today at the briefing, coming up. You're watching CNN's special live coverage.




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[14:59:55] ANNOUNCER: "Soundtracks, Songs that Define History," tomorrow at 10:00 on CNN.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: Breaking news here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

At any moment now --