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Health Care Vote Today; Explosive Testimony from Comey. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 4, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:09] REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: We're going to pass it. We are going to pass it. We will pass this bill.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: House Republican leadership is confident it has the votes to pass a health care bill today. Now, with the vote just hours away, can the GOP finally get President Trump the win he's been waiting for? It is a huge day on Capitol Hill.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

Christine Romans is mildly nauseous, James Comey might say. She should be back tomorrow.

Good to have you.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. Happy to be here.

She had the flu.

I'm Alison Kosik. Good morning to you. It's May 4th and it's 4:00 in the East.

And this morning after a series of false starts, the GOP could be on the cusp of a big win on health care. The House is set to vote today on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare and Republican leadership says they do at least have the votes to pass it. Momentum shifted when two influential moderates who had been no votes slipped into the yes column after meeting with the president and getting new commitments on coverage for people with preexisting conditions.

BRIGGS: Yes, it's true, folks. We have seen this before, but Republican leaders have been saying since the first repeal effort collapse, that they wouldn't bring health care to the floor unless it could pass. So, it certainly seems likely they believe they have the votes this time.

So, let's bring in our Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill with the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: $8 billion, that is what it took for Republicans to finally get over the hump. The hump that has basically been the inability to pass the thing they campaigned on year after year after year, cycle after campaign cycle after campaign cycle, repealing and replacing Obamacare. We've seen multiple failures over the course of the last two months. Today, there will be a vote on the repeal and replace plan.

Now, guys, that $8 million came in the form of an amendment that was directly targeted at trying to assuage the major concerns that had held up this latest version of the proposal up to this point, that is price protections related to those with pre-existing conditions. Now, those regulations in Obamacare have been considered extremely important and they are very, very popular, so much so that states could opt out all together, that's a lot of Republicans particularly those in moderate and centrist districts, those who will face very real electoral problems in 2018 not willing to come on board -- at least until Wednesday morning. That's when President Trump and two previously no vote members came together to agree on an amendment, to send 8 billion more dollars to a fund to try to help finance any premium increases that those individuals might see.

Now, that in and of itself being enough to get members to the requisite 2016 votes they need. It's a bit of a surprise, but there was a full-court press from President Trump. Vice President Pence, House leaders going member by member, the undecideds, the noes, the lean yeses and noes to try to get them to a place where they can actually finally pass this bill.

They say they're there. I'm told they're right on a razor's edge. They are very, very close one way or the other. But the feeling is, they wouldn't put it on the floor if they didn't think they could pass it. At least at this point in time, they think they can pass it.


KOSIK: OK. Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

Democrats obviously not sold on the changes intended to shore up pre- existing condition coverage. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slamming the amendment, adding $8 billion to federal funding of high risk pools. In a tweet he said, "Proposed Upton amendment to AHCA, the Affordable Health Care Act is trying to cure stage four cancer with cough medicine."

BRIGGS: Tell us how you really feel.

At the White House, Press Secretary Sean Spicer fighting back, trying to ease concerns about the pre-existing conditions issue.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why change the pre- existing condition?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're not. No, no, we are strengthening. I think -- look, we have done everything to do to not only strengthen but to guarantee --

ACOSTA: Strengthening it --

SPICER: Absolutely.

ACOSTA: -- but the governor can say, you know, here is my waiver and no more preexisting condition.

SPICER: Sure we can. Jim, I want to -- but I think the fundamental point that seems to be getting lost is that if you Obamacare right now, in case after case, you are losing it. So, if you have a pre- existing condition and you have a card that says Obamacare, but no one will see you or you can't afford it, then you don't have coverage.

ACOSTA: Why not fix that?

SPICER: We are. We are guaranteeing but I don't know how much -- we have literally --


ACOSTA: -- going to have be altered? Why not just keep that protection --

SPICER: The president has made it very clear that pre-existing conditions are covered in the bill under every scenario.


BRIGGS: So, you heard Mr. Spicer there saying that some people with Obamacare coverage are losing it. He is talking about more insurance companies pulling out of Obamacare marketplaces.

Now, just yesterday, Aetna announced it is withdrawing from Virginia, saying it's on track to lose $200 million this year alone and the biggest remaining insurer in Iowa says it also may leave the program, leaving most counties in Iowa without a single insurance option on Obamacare in 2018.

[04:05:06] KOSIK: And despite what GOP lawmakers claim, experts say pumping $8 billion into high risk pools will not match Obamacare's protections from pre-existing conditions. So, how do high risk pools work?

Well, states opt out of the requirement that insurers have to cover everyone, that will wind up jacking up premiums for Americans who have pre-existing conditions. So, in theory, the pools are designed to help the sick afford coverage.

But critics say that the new funding won't go far enough, especially if many states apply for waivers. Give you an example here, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimate an adequate high risk pool would cost about $25 billion per year, so that $8 billion will only cover a few hundred thousand people. Thirty-five states ran high risk pools before Obamacare and Republicans defend them as a way to cover the sick separately and lower premiums for healthy consumers. But the thing is, these pools have a checkered past. They were typically underfunded. They charged higher premiums and they had long waiting lists. In 2011, the pools covered 226,000 people. It's a fraction of the Americans with preexisting conditions. And premiums only paid for half of the $2.6 billion they racked up in claims and that forced states to cover the $1.2 billion difference.

So, you look at the $8 billion injection. It's on top of -- more money -- it's on top of the $130 billion already thrown in, has already provided states to help lower the cost of the new bill. You know, you look at all of these numbers and the fact of the matter is Obamacare isn't perfect, but many will also say --


KOSIK: -- that this new bill looking to go to the House floor, it ain't perfect either.

BRIGGS: It doesn't appear to be.

But the big question no one knows is how many states will apply for the waiver, how many states will be granted that waiver? How many people will be priced out of pre-existing conditions and forced into these high risk pools? We have no idea.

KOSIK: But there does seem to be a consensus that the $8 billion that you're seeing them throw into this final hour is just not enough to cover those.

BRIGGS: That seems like a lot of money when you consider the grand scheme of things.

KOSIK: To cover the entire country.

BRIGGS: A lot of questions remain. Clearly, including, how about a CBO score? That's not coming before a vote.

KOSIK: Absolutely.

BRIGGS: But, meanwhile, President Trump plans to commemorate today's National Day of Prayer by signing an executive order that allows churches and other organizations to become more politically active. The Religious Liberty Order directs the IRS to use, quote, "maximum enforcement discretion over the Johnson Amendment." Since 1954, the Johnson Amendment has barred tax-exempt organizations including churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

The president's order also provides regulatory relief to organizations that object on religious grounds to providing Obamacare mandates like contraception to their employees. Some religious leaders oppose the order, fearing it will make it easier to inject politics into the places of worship and perhaps divide their members of their church. Time will tell how this one is received, Alison.

KOSIK: OK. The president back in the Big Apple, back in New York City for the first time since taking office. He's going to be holding talks with Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The two leaders exchanged heated words in a February phone call which briefly strained the relationship between the two allies.

And tonight, Mr. Trump delivers a speech on board the USS Intrepid to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the battle of the Coral Sea. In that World War II naval conflict, U.S. and Australian forces halted an advance by the Japanese military.

BRIGGS: FBI Director James Comey back for more testimony on Capitol Hill today. This time, though, it will be behind closed doors. Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers will be taking questions from the House Intelligence Committee. It comes the day after the FBI chief delivered explosive testimony before a Senate committee on the bureau's Russia investigation and on his decision to publicly announce the re-launch of the Clinton e-mail server probe just days before the election.

We get more from CNN's Jim Sciutto in Washington.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: At times, defiant, other times, reflective. The FBI Director James Comey said the idea that his decision to go public with details of the renewed Clinton email probe impacted the election result made him, quote, "mildly nauseous." But he said repeatedly, he has no regrets.

Comey argued he was battling for the very credibility of the FBI, saying he doubted the top officials in the Department of Justice could carry out the investigation without the perception of bias. This even before the highly publicized meeting between then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on a Phoenix tarmac during the height of the campaign.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: And then the capper, I'm not picking on the Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who I like very much, but her meeting with President Clinton on that airplane was the capper for me, and I then said, you know what? The department cannot by itself credibly end this.

SCIUTTO: Pressed by Democrats on why he confirmed the investigation of Clinton but not a concurrent probe, Trump campaign ties to Russia, Director Comey argued it was a matter of time. Too early in the Trump investigation, not so for the Clinton probe.

On multiple occasions, Comey contradicted President Trump on Russian interference in the U.S. election expressing high confidence that Russia carried out the hacking and confidence as well that Russia preferred Trump to win.

Comey also defended his decision to notify Congress on October 28th, just days before at the election, that the FBI was reopening the investigation into Clinton's e-mail practices after the discovery of new e-mails from long time Clinton aide Huma Abedin, on the computer of her then husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner. It was that discovery that led Comey to write his now infamous 11th hour letter to Congress.


KOSIK: All right. Jim, thanks very much.

And former national security adviser Susan Rice declining to testify at a Senate committee hearing next week on Russian interference in the election. A source familiar with Rice's discussion tell CNN that Rice's first thought that the invitation from the judiciary subcommittee was bipartisan. Then, she heard from the ranking Democrat on the panel that he had not signed off on the letter sent by Republican Chairman Lindsey Graham, so she decided not to testify.

The source says Rice considered the invitation in an attempt to divert attention from Russian election hacking. At one point, President Trump alleged Rice broke the law by requesting the normally routine unmasking of Americans involved in a hacking investigation.

BRIGGS: President Trump vowing to broker peace in the Middle East as he welcomed Palestinian Authority president to the White House Wednesday. The president said he'd like to step in as a mediator, an arbitrator, or a facilitator. But he wants Abbas to stop payments to Palestinian terrorist families and help end what he called incitement to violence and hate.

In classic Trump form, the president suggested this wouldn't be so hard.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's something that I think is frankly maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years but we need two willing parties. We believe Israel is willing. We believe you're willing, and if you both are willing, we're going to make a deal.


BRIGGS: President Abbas expressed hope Mr. Trump could help bring peace, praising the president for his negotiating skills.

KOSIK: An emergency meeting of the royal staff has been called by the senior member of the Queen of England's household. And we're learning from CNN's Max Foster that there's an understanding that something significant is going to be discussed, but there's no cause for alarm and there's no specific word what the meeting is about despite rampant speculation overnight on the Internet.

BRIGGS: To say the least. Speculation has gotten out of control over this one but looks like a false alarm at this point.

Ahead, the family of Alton Sterling lashing out after learning two officers won't face federal charges in his shooting death. You'll hear from them, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [04:17:20] KOSIK: The family of Alton Sterling disappointed and angry after the Justice Department decided not to bring civil rights charges against two Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officers developed in Sterling's fatal shooting last year. The family is still hoping for justice from state prosecutors.

BRIGGS: Why did the government pass on the sterling case? What comes next?

We get more now from CNN's Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave, nearly ten months after Alton Sterling was shot and killed outside the Triple S convenience store here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, federal prosecutors have determined that those two officers will not face federal criminal charges for civil rights violations in this Alton Sterling case.

Prosecutors said there simply wasn't enough evidence to show that these two officers acted willfully. At the federal level, the bar for bringing these kinds of civil rights violation charges is very high. Because of that prosecutors said they would have to be able to show these officers willfully acted the way they did in wanting to shoot and kill Alton Sterling, that they say that there simply wasn't enough evidence.

They met with the family on Wednesday of Alton Sterling, for several hours, outlining some of the evidence they had come across and afterward, the lawyer and family members of Alton Sterling said that they were stunned to hear one particular development -- the words from one officer, Blane Salamoni, as he approached the scene. This is what Salamoni said according to the lawyer and Sterling's family.

CHRIS STEWART, STERLING'S FAMILY ATTORNEY: We learned that Officer Salamoni walked up to Alton Sterling and put a gun to his head and said, "I'll kill you, bitch."

SANDRA STERLING, ALTON STERLING'S AUNT: Salamoni put that gun to his head and said, "I'm going to kill you." So how do you think he felt after hearing that "I'm going to kill you"?

LAVANDERA: So, you can tell that that was an incredibly emotional part of that meeting with federal prosecutors. So, what happens now? This case is definitely not over. The state attorney general here in Louisiana will now take over its own investigation and continue looking into the possibility of filing state criminal charges. Family members definitely pushing for criminal charges here against these two officers, despite what federal officials have said here in Baton Rouge.


BRIGGS: Ed, thank you. Yes, we certainly have not heard the last of that story to Ed's point. KOSIK: All right. Stephen Colbert responding after a viral campaign

to get him fired over a joke about President Trump. Hear from Colbert, next.


[04:24:18] BRIGGS: "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert responding to online backlash that includes the hashtag #firecolbert, after a stunning rant against President Trump during his monologue on Monday night. Colbert's remarks criticized as lewd and offensive.

He began last night's show with a mea culpa of sorts.


STEPHEN COLBERT, "LATE SHOW" HOST: I'm still the host.


Now, folks, if you saw my monologue on Monday, you know that I was a little upset with Donald Trump for insulting a friend of mine. I had a few choice insults for the president in return. I don't regret that.


[04:25:03] I believe he can take care of himself. I have jokes. He has the launch codes. So, a fair fight.

So, while I would do it again I would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be.


BRIGGS: Sort of an apology.

Those words made reference to Trump, Vladimir Putin and a sex act. The friend that Colbert referenced is his CBS colleague John Dickerson. The president abruptly ended their Oval Office interview after being pressed on his claim that Obama wiretapped him, which was a bizarre interaction if you have seen it. If not, you should check that out online but clearly Colbert went way too far --

KOSIK: Yes, a little over the top.

BRIGGS: -- in his language. Yes.

KOSIK: Just a little.


KOSIK: All right. Google investigating a sophisticated phishing attack that targeted Gmail users. The worm appeared as an e-mail invitation, I got one of these, prompting the user to open - you got one -- prompting the user to open Google docs allowing access to e- mail accounts and contacts. Now, Google is saying it stopped the attacks in an hour and roughly 1 million Gmail accounts were affected. Officials say contact information was accessed and used in the attack, but no other information was exposed.

It's easy to go ahead and say, well, I want to click on that but don't.

BRIGGS: It was everywhere, quickly spreading.

All right. So, badly in need of a legislative win, President Trump may get it today. The bill to repeal and replace Obamacare headed to the House floor and last minute changes get it over the hump. We'll discuss.