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GOP Struggles to Unify On Health Care; Trump's Strongmen; Rockets Cruise to Victory Over Spurs in Game 1. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 2, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And one of the things I advise people as soon as your kid is out of diapers, take the diaper money, put it into a 529 plan.

[05:00:05] And keep adding, every raise, put more money in. There are financial advisers who say, for ten years, you should be saving $500 per month per kid so you don't end up --

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm a little bit behind on that goal.

ROMANS: Yes, I'm going to work on you on that.

And a final quick note here, a Hollywood writer strike has been averted. The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, they have a tentative three-year deal. Late night shows could have been interrupted as soon today if no deal was reached.

A lot of people wondering if that writers strike is going to happen, it looks like they have a tentative deal.

BRIGGS: All right. Great news.

EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: House Republican leaders making another big push on health care. Even as there are questions building over coverage for people with preexisting conditions. And the president's own comments on the issue. Are they undermining the bill?

BRIGGS: And the White House defending President Trump for extending a hand to authoritarian leaders. All this hours ahead of a high stakes phone call with Russian Vladimir Putin.

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, May 2nd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And the administration going all out this morning, straining for every last vote to get a health care bill through the House. The Vice President Mike Pence, former House leader himself, you see him there walking the hallways. This image is a sure sign there's still work to be done, before the Obamacare repeal and replace bill is ready for a vote.

The focus remains moderates. Republican leaders hope they can sell those unhappy with the bill on the fact that if it passes, well, it can be significantly reworked in the Senate.

BRIGGS: Not much of an argument, right? Although the White House keeps touting progress and suggesting a vote is near, the whip count very tight with many members on the fence, including some of the whip team itself. The White House has its work cut out.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has more from Capitol Hill.



Well, there certainly was some hopeful and optimistic rhetoric out of the White House early on Monday that they could get this bill through this week. But that has given way to a harsh and stark reality up here on Capitol Hill. Put simply, they simply don't have the votes for this bill yet.

We had Vice President Mike Pence up here on Capitol Hill last night, trying to save this bill, meeting with members. And as he left Capitol Hill, he was asked by reporters, do you have the votes? And he answered with just two words, "Stay tuned", which really speaks to the fluidity of this at this moment.

On Monday, we saw a slew of House Republicans stand up against this bill, say they anticipate voting no against this bill and that's really put it in some serious jeopardy. According to CNN's latest whip count, 21 House Republicans say they'll vote against the bill, meaning that Republicans can only afford to lose two -- just two more Republican votes or this bill will ultimately fail.

And, of course, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has not scheduled a vote on the bill, which speaks to where it is this moment and later this morning, the full Republican conference will meet, which give us the truest indication of where this is all headed -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Sunlen, thank you.

As GOP leaders struggle to round up votes, President Trump once again addresses the issue of preexisting conditions, but again, seeming to miss a key component of the bill. The president told "Bloomberg" the bill "is not in its final form right now. We are protecting preexisting conditions and it will be every bit as good on preexisting conditions as Obamacare. I want it to be a great deal for the people." BRIGGS: But experts and advocates disagree with that claim, at least as the measure stands in its current form. It does still require insurers to provide policies to people with preexisting conditions. But it would allow states to opt out of several key Obamacare insurance reforms, including regulations that prevent insurers from pricing patients right out of the market.

ROMANS: All right. Let's discuss the latest developments with our panel.

CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich, Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast", and "Bloomberg News" White House reporter, Shannon Pettypiece, she's joining us from Washington.

Good morning, everyone.

BRIGGS: Thank you for being here.

ROMANS: Shannon, let's talk first about this health care bill. Are you convinced the president even likes this health care bill the way it is, and the preexisting conditions piece of it, that seems to be the problem for him.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes, no. He was pretty clear in this interview with Bloomberg News that he doesn't like the bill in its current version. It's not in its final form. He wants more protections for preexisting conditions. So, he's essentially asking members of the House to vote for something that he himself doesn't even support.

So, despite all this pressure this week from the White House on members of Congress to vote, despite key administration officials coming out and saying there's going to be a vote this week, the president still doesn't seem like he's on board with this bill.

BRIGGS: So, Jackie, let's focus on that number you see at the bottom of the center. Eighteen undecided, that is the future of health care for President Trump. What's the political calculation right now if you are on the fence?

[05:05:02] You've got a highly controversial bill, a highly controversial president. What's going to make up your mind in those waning hours?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, certainly not what the president is talking about right now, because here's what has happened to moderate Republicans. They have expressed this to me on the Hill. They will vote for something because their leadership asked them to.

It goes to the Senate. The Senate changes it. It comes back and the same members that leadership cow to, frankly, the Freedom Caucus, the conservative members, will walk away, leaving the moderate members who are the most vulnerable members of the Republican caucus when it comes to Election Day hung out to dry because they took a vote that they didn't really love at the beginning of the process. So, the fact that the president is now out there saying, oh, there's

preexisting conditions in this bill. Just makes it tougher for GOP leadership to sell the current version that they have in front of them.

ROMANS: You know, and we're going to be talking about this I'm sure all week. You know, do they have the votes or not have the votes. What's the final version going to look like?

Is it -- is it, Shannon, is a good sell for the moderates to say don't worry what's in it now, the Senate can fix it up?

PETTYPIECE: Right. This is the thing that people hate about Washington. This is the swamp, where you have everyone patting themselves on the back for passing some bill that no one believes in, but everyone in Washington all proud of because they were able to jam something through the House and jam it through the Senate, and ram the two together, and then everyone back in America looking at this and saying, you know, well, what is this? You're kidding me. This?

And so, I mean, I think it has gotten to the point where maybe they need to go back to the drawing board. This bill got off to a bad start. It was not, you know, really thought out and strategized well with all the interest groups here. And maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board.

BRIGGS: Yes, they are. It's a thin margin. They can lose 22 and they are right on that threshold, Jackie. Let's shift to foreign policy and the president continuing to embrace strongmen, authoritarian leaders, with inviting Duterte to the White House, with calling Kim Jong-un a smart cookie and saying he'd be honored to meet with him, and both of this country's biggest newspaper is writing about that subject. "The Washington Post," who President Trump wrote an op-ed for on Sunday and "The New York Times."

Let's start with "The Washington Post". "A subtle U.S. policy would recognize the need for U.S. Philippine cooperation. Instead, President Trump has offered Mr. Duterte an unqualified embrace. In so doing, Mr. Trump sends Asians the message that there's no difference between China's immoral foreign policy and that of this U.S. administration."

We can put "The Times" up as well. But let me ask you, what's the risk for this administration and for this country in embracing these leaders?

KUCINICH: Other presidents have I guess turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in some of these countries. But to embrace them is another ball game entirely, particularly, what's going on in the Philippines. What's going on, and we've seen it, you know, many presidents have embraced China despite their record.

But if the United States doesn't stand up for human rights, who is going to?

ROMANS: You know, candidate Obama, back in 2007, I did recall, you guys, he did say, you know, look, you have to be willing to talk to people to figure out problems. He was talking about Iran's leader, Ahmadinejad.

BRIGGS: Yes, he took a lot of heat for that.

ROMANS: He took a lot of heat. You know, there is precedent for that. But, you know, Shannon, at "Bloomberg", your news organization interview, I hope we have the sound. He was pretty clear. He took a moment when he was talking about Kim Jong-un, he even took a moment, a breath, a pause to say the word honored.

Let's listen to that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would be absolutely -- I would be honored to do it. If it's under, again, under the right circumstances.


ROMANS: What I hear there is a president who doesn't often choose his words carefully, choosing his words carefully. Do you agree?

PETTYPIECE: Yes, absolutely. Yes, and I'm so glad you played that sound, because, yes, that was the sense of this interview. It wasn't one of these rambling thoughts looking out the window, you know, thinking about something. He knew what he was saying. He even said, you know, there's breaking news for you. He knew he was going to say something controversial. He decided to do it any way.

I mean, I think this president is figuring out their own foreign policy doctrine, figuring how they are going to work with other leaders around the world. And those who have dealt with North Korea for many years in Congress and in the State Department, look at this and kind of know how this is going to end.

But, you know, each president, as you mentioned with Obama, they have to chart this path on their own. He's going to try to do it his way. Maybe it will work out great, maybe he will have a tough lesson and we'll be in a different place two years from now.

BRIGGS: So, today, the president speaks again with Vladimir Putin, the third phone call since he took office. And, Jackie, this is the backdrop of the president appearing to double, triple, quadruple down on the wiretapping allegations with John Dickerson of CBS.

[05:10:06] Listen.

ROMANS: Listen to that.


TRUMP: You saw what happened with surveillance. And I think that was inappropriate, but that's the way-- JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS HOST: What does that mean, sir?

TRUMP: You can figure that out yourself.

DICKERSON: Well, I -- the reason I ask is you said he was -- you called him "sick and bad".

TRUMP: Look, you can figure it out yourself.

DICKERSON: You're the president of the United States. You said he was "sick and bad" because he had tapped you -- I'm just --

TRUMP: You can take any way -- you can take it any way you want.

DICKERSON: But I'm asking you. Because you don't want it to be fake news. I want to hear it from --

TRUMP: You don't have to --

DICKERSON: -- President Trump.

TRUMP: -- ask me. You don't have to ask me.


TRUMP: Because I have my own opinions. You can have your own opinions.

DICKERSON: But I want to know your opinions. You're the president of the United States.

TRUMP: OK, it's enough. Thank you.


ROMANS: With Andrew Jackson in my mind.

BRIGGS: With Andrew Jackson.

ROMANS: Andrew Jackson in my mind.

BRIGGS: What does this interaction reveal to you?

KUCINICH: The president still hasn't let this go. He doesn't like that he was wrong because by all the evidence that we have seen, he's not correct in saying that about President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. That is inaccurate based on all of the evidence that we have seen.

But the other thing, the interesting thing is how he sort of wants to obscure fact from opinion. By saying this is your opinion, it sort of takes facts off the table. And makes it easier for him to make his point, which isn't accurate.

ROMANS: I think it really shows his world view, though, on it. I mean, it really shows he thinks something happened and so something happened in his mind.

KUCINICH: He doesn't want to be wrong.

BRIGGS: Sean Spicer said in his press briefing the president continues to stick by this assertion.

Jackie, if you hit this button, you'll get a cup of coffee.

KUCINICH: Oh, man.

BRIGGS: OK. We'll see you in 30 minutes. The coffee will be here in a moment. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Shannon, thank you and talk to you in a couple minutes. Thanks.

BRIGGS: President Trump considering a hike in the gas tax. But what could -- could that hurt the people who put him in office? We'll discuss that, next.


[05:16:05] ROMANS: President Trump says his infrastructure plan is almost finished and raising the gas tax could help pay for it, could help fund this $1 trillion proposal. On Monday, the president said he's considering raising the tax on gasoline.


TRUMP: The truckers have said that they want me to do something as long as the money is earmarked to highways.


ROMANS: Now, the federal gas tax has not been increased since 1993. And though average gas prices rose slightly in the past year, high supply and low demand have kept gas prices at a decade long lows.

Now, a spike in gas prices or gas tax would hurt American consumers. Low prices have put extra cash in their pockets. You know, Republicans typically oppose raising this tax, but Trump's bill to repair America's highways, bridges and airports has a $1 trillion price tag. The White House previously said the majority of funding would be private financing.

However, Trump said he was open to more federal funding, that's where the tax comes in. The federal gas and diesel taxes raise more than $29 billion for America's highways back in 2015.

BRIGGS: The White House has turned down multiple offers to receive ethics training for its staff. According to a letter written by the head of the Office of Government Ethics, the administration refused help with new executive order establishing a White House ethics pledge. The letter says the OGE learned the president signed the pledge order through media reports. ROMANS: The ethics office also pointing out they were not consulted

when the First Daughter Ivanka Trump was hired as a presidential adviser. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters last month she would follow all ethics restrictions that apply to federal employees.

BRIGGS: All right. Up next, it's good to be king. LeBron James grabbing a cold one during the Cavs playoff game last night. And why not?

ANDY Scholes with the details next in this morning's "Bleacher Report".


[05:22:24] BRIGGS: All right. Let's talk some sports. Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, his fans at Fenway Park were using racial taunts toward him during last night's game in Boston.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.


You know, Adam Jones said last night's game one of the worst cases of fan abuse he's heard in his career. Jones said fans at Fenway used the "N" word towards him and one even threw peanuts at him. Now, according to "USA Today", that fan was ejected. Jones says 59 to 60 other fans were also ejected from the game.

Now, Jones addressing the incident afterwards saying, quote, "It's unfortunate that it people need to resort to those type of epithets to degrade another human being. I'm trying to make a living for myself and for my family."

Now, Jones is one of 62 African-American players on opening day rosters this year. He added that fans that act this way should be banned from stadiums or given hefty fines for their actions.

All right. Military athletes will no longer be allowed to go from service academy straight into professional sports. A new rule from the Pentagon requires players to serve out their mandatory two-year active duty stints after graduation. The previous policy had allowed athletes to request to be placed on reserve status to pursue a career in sports. The change takes effect with this year's graduating class.

All right. The Rockets and Spurs opening their second round series last night. It's a rivalry that goes way back and it starts at an early age for fans in Texas. Check out these little ones. A.C. Covero (ph) on the left setting the tone for the series from the get go with the steal of the pacifier. As you can see Lucy Jo (ph) did not appreciate that. She was not a happy camper last night's game one either.

The Rockets red hot, leading by 30 points at the half. They handed the Spurs their worst home playoff loss ever, 126-99. Afterwards, the media a little scared to ask Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich questions.


GREGG POPOVICH, SPURS HEAD COACH: I was just kidding about more questions. No, go ahead. I got nothing to do. Just make sure the wine is back there.


SCHOLES: And speaking of beverage, check out LeBron after getting fouled last night. He goes and grabs a beer from a vender and pretends to drink it. The entire crowd having a nice laugh. LeBron and the Cavs easily handling the Raptors in game one of their series, 116-105.

Guys, LeBron joked afterwards he's not really a beer guy. If it would have been a glass of wine, he might, in fact, have taken a sip.

BRIGGS: Looked like he got a sniff of it.

[05:25:02] ROMANS: And now, someone put that eBay for $500. I'm just kidding.

BRIGGS: But you can't a baby and let someone come in your crib and take your pacifier. You have to draw the line.

ROMANS: That's awesome.

BRIGGS: You've got to teach that baby to stand up for herself.

Thank you, Scholes.

ROMANS: I love a little cute little babies because guess what? There aren't very many in Washington where the news is not cute and cuddly, but they might use a pacifier.

The Republicans trying desperately to get the votes on the Hill. The president, right?


ROMANS: Under fire for making nice to authoritarians. All of this is just ahead when we got the headlines, next.


BRIGGS: All right. Another big push on health care from House Republicans. Questions swirl over coverage for people with preexisting conditions. Is the president hurting his agenda with his comments on the bill?