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Senate Barely Advances Health Care Bill; Top Aides Urge Trump to Dial Back Sessions Criticism; Lawmakers Vote Overwhelmingly for Russia Sanctions Bill; North Korea Reacts to New Sanctions Bill; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 26, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:10] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Senate health care debate is underway but after just one vote it is clear Republicans have a long road ahead if they want to pass a new health care law.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am disappointed in the attorney general.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A stinging public rebuke of the attorney general, but President Trump now being urged to tone down his TV and Twitter attacks on Jeff Sessions.

ROMANS: And a hero's welcome for John McCain, back on the Senate floor. The must-see moment where McCain urged his colleagues to get back to business. It was great to see him.

BRIGGS: It sure was.

ROMANS: Yesterday on the floor of the Senate.

BRIGGS: What a moving moment that was.

ROMANS: It really was. What -- I keep saying, toughest guy I've ever met.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Great to see Senator McCain back. It is Wednesday, July 26th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Just hours after, Senate Republicans cleared a major health care hurdle. Green-lighting a floor debate, senators decidedly rejected the first GOP proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare. Now it would have combined an earlier Senate bill with $100 billion additional dollars for Medicaid to appease moderate Republicans and a proposal to allow bare bones health insurance plans to satisfy conservatives.

The rejection, an early sign of the chaos expected as GOP leaders work to find a plan their conference can agree on. ROMANS: So today senators are expected to cast a vote on a repeal

only proposal.. It too is expected to fail because many Republicans reject a repeal without a replacement ready.

Just voting to begin debate proved dramatic enough. The Senate voting to do so by a margin of zero. Literally zero. Vice President Pence -- Mike Pence had to break the tie after these chants from the Senate gallery.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Kill that bill. Kill that bill. Kill that bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sergeant-of-arms will restore order in the chamber.


BRIGGS: Despite needing the vice president to cast the deciding vote, President Trump calls it a big step in the right direction. The bottom line: the path to an actual plan on health care far more complex than just agreeing to debate.

Our coverage begins with CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, it was just days ago that the Obamacare repeal effort was dead in the U.S. Senate. There was no path forward, there was no way to bridge the divides. Well, on Tuesday, became clearer, it is very much alive by the slimmest of margins.

Senate Republicans voting to move forward on debate. A key procedural vote. But one thing is clear as well. There's no clear path forward. Things are only going to get more difficult. Take a listen to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to say.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MAJORITY: It's an open amendment process. This is just the beginning. We're not out here to spike the football. This is a long way, but we'll finish at the end of the week hopefully so we're pleased to have been able to take the first step in that direction.


MATTINGLY: Now, guys, that was Senator McConnell just after the vote, and the reality when you look forward at the roadmap is things are complicated. There are going to be several amendments in fact unlimited amendments by the time this process is all over so long as those amendments are germane and fall under the budget reconciliation rules.

That means Democrats right now are drafting and crafting amendment after amendment after amendment to make Republicans take a very difficult vote, very potentially politically disadvantageous votes as well.

And one other key point here. Republicans don't have an end game here. That was what they initially wanted to talk into this process with. A very clear, kind of final amendment that everybody would agreed to. That is something that has failed repeatedly up to this point.

Now how did they actually get to this point? A lot of promises, a lot of assurances, and a few guaranteed amendment votes. But those amendments all likely to fail so the question still becomes -- how does this all end? And the reality, particularly when you listen to, say, Senator John McCain on the floor after the vote, is they don't know yet and it's not clear that they have the votes.

We'll have to wait and see over the next couple of days to see if they finally get there, but make no mistake, guys, this was a huge win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a huge win for President Trump and most certainly a step forward in a process that up to this point I don't think anybody was totally sure they were going to finish -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. You heard Phil mentioned John McCain, the Arizona senator, making a dramatic return to the Senate. The senators greeted their esteemed colleague with a standing ovation. His first time back since he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

BRIGGS: In a moment no one who saw it will soon forget. McCain with a scar over his eye from brain surgery making a pitch to restore order and civility to the Senate chamber.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Our deliberations can still be important and useful, but I think we'd all agree they haven't been overburdened by greatness lately.

[04:05:05] And right now they aren't producing much for the American people. Both sides have let this happened. Let's leave the history of who shot first to historians. I suspect they'll find we all conspired in our decline, either by deliberative actions or neglect, we've all played some role in it. Certainly I have.

Sometimes I've let my passion rule my reason even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than winning. Even when we must give a little to get a little. Even when our efforts managed just three yards and a cloud of dust while critics on both sides denounced us for timidity, for our failure to triumph.

I hope we can again rely on humility on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other, to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us. Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them.

(APPLAUSE) MCCAIN: They don't want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood. Let's trust each other. Let's return to regular order.



BRIGGS: Let's hope, huh?

We don't consider ourselves the bombastic loudmouths on television.


BRIGGS: In case you were wondering. We should note, when he delivered his speech, McCain said he would not support the Senate's health care bill, quote, "as it stands today." Six hours later McCain voted to advance the GOP bill. He did say that his governor had given him some standards by which he would vote for the bill. Presumably those were met.

ROMANS: All right. Well, Attorney General Jeff Sessions facing an uncertain future. White House officials are urging President Trump to cut out the public shaming of Sessions. Sources tell CNN chief strategist Steve Bannon, chief of staff Reince Priebus and other senior officials have talked up the attorney general. They're reminding the president of Sessions' long standing political loyalty -- loyalty to this president. And that he has been one of the most effective Cabinet members for advocating the president's agenda.

BRIGGS: Still the president on Tuesday delivering another public critic of his AG.


TRUMP: I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office. So I think that's a bad thing not for the president but for the presidency. I think it's unfair to the presidency. I told you before I'm very disappointed with the attorney general, but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.


BRIGGS: The president there alongside the prime minister of Lebanon.

Jeff Sessions also getting public support from former Senate colleagues after President Trump went off on Sessions in his latest tweet storm.

We get more from CNN's Jessica Schneider in Washington.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the president is repeatedly unleashing on his attorney general but he refuses to say if he has any plans to fire him. President Trump told reporters at his press conference with the Lebanese prime minister that he was, quote, "disappointed" in Jeff Sessions and reiterated that if he knew Sessions was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation he never would have picked him for the position.

Those comments from the president, they really capped off a week where President Trump repeated railed against one of his top officials. Last week, he vented his frustrations about Sessions to "The New York Times" and he's repeatedly taken to Twitter calling Sessions, quote, "beleaguered" and then asking why Sessions isn't investigating Hillary Clinton.

That of course has left Attorney General Jeff Sessions' fate in limbo. Sessions did indicate last week he has no plans to resign and over the past 24 hours or so numerous lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have stated their support for the former senator, but the question does remain, will the president remove Sessions from his post even though Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump? We'll see. Stay tuned -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much, Jessica.

You know, the president's relentless attacks on Sessions, his attorney general, are being viewed by some as a form of cyber bullying and it's renewing claims by critics that the president's behavior is unpresidential and beneath the dignity of the office.

President Trump firing back at those critics at a rally last night in Youngstown, Ohio.


TRUMP: Political correctness for me is easy. Sometimes they say he doesn't act presidential. And I say, hey, look, great schools, smart guy, it's so easy to act presidential, but that's not going to get it done.

[04:10:03] In fact, I said -- it's much easier, by the way, to act presidential than what we're doing here tonight, believe me. And I said --


TRUMP: And I said, with the exception of the late great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that's ever held this office. That I can tell you.


ROMANS: Mr. Trump also making the claim that no president has done anywhere near what he's done in his first six months in office. He says it's not even close. We've heard that from him before. He's also boasted he's passed more legislation than anybody else.

BRIGGS: He said that again last night. It was an interesting speech. He also said we all believe in the rule of law and support the incredible men and women of law enforcement. But he might not realize that the attorney general is the top cop in the United States. He certainly does not support that law enforcement office.

ROMANS: Mr. Trump renewing pressure on companies to manufacture in the U.S. His target this time, Apple. We'll tell you how the company responded.


[04:15:22] ROMANS: President Trump promises Apple will build three big beautiful plants in the U.S. Speaking to "The Wall Street Journal," the president says he told Apple's CEO Tim Cook, quote, "Unless you start building your plants in this country, I won't consider my administration an economic success," adding that Cook promised to go forward with three big beautiful plants.

The president didn't elaborate on the location or the size of these plants. Apple did not comment. Trump criticized Apple on the campaign trail for outsourcing production to Asia. And this renews pressure on Apple to shift some manufacturing to the U.S. You know, the iPhone is assembled by hundreds of thousands of workers in China, while most of Apple's 80,000 U.S. employees are in retail.

But Apple is the world's most profitable company probably because of cheaper overseas manufacturing. And experts estimate U.S. made iPhones would jack production cost by $80 a phone.

But one of Apple's biggest suppliers Foxconn is considering opening a factory in Wisconsin and Apple started a $1 billion fund to create U.S. manufacturing jobs. Now there are critics who say Apple has the cash reserves to produce a lot more domestically. It is so profitable to produce its high margin iPhone overseas that it has $250 billion just sitting in cases overseas.

You could open a few factories just as charity with that, you know?


BRIGGS: Yes, you could.

ROMANS: In the U.S.

BRIGGS: Yes. It is clearly the focus of Mr. Trump.

ROMANS: It is.

BRIGGS: Moving business here.

OK. Eye-opening results in the largest study ever, linking football to the degenerative brain disease of CTE. Now the Boston University study involved the donated brains of 111 deceased former NFL players. 110 were found to have CTE. That's more than 99 percent. The disease is believed to be caused by repeated trauma to the head. The brains came from players at every position, may died as young as 23, as old as 89. The coauthor of the study concluding, quote, "There's no question that there's a problem in football."

ROMANS: That is a sobering, sobering statistic. Police are now recommending criminal charges against five Florida

teenagers who laughed and mocked a drowning disabled man, videotaping him instead of helping him. (INAUDIBLE) Police initially concluded the teens broke no laws but because of the public outrage triggered by this case they're now suggesting misdemeanor charges for failure to report a death.

The statute they're citing has never been used in this kind of scenario. It's usually involved for cases involving caregivers, nursing homes, hospitals. But authorities are hoping the courts will rule it also applies in this very tragic case.

A new Russia sanctions bill gets overwhelming approval from the House. But will the inclusion of North Korea slow things down? We have live reports from Moscow and Seoul next.


[04:22:36] BRIGGS: Welcome back. The House of Representatives passing a new sanctions bill targeting Russia by a vote of 419 to 3. It gives Congress the power to block the White House from weakening or repealing sanctions.

The legislation, which also hits Iran and North Korea, now move to the Senate. We have reaction from Russia and North Korea. We begin in Moscow with CNN's Clare Sebastian.

Good morning, Clare. What's the reaction there?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Well, as we've said before, in the last few days this is not a nuance issue here. We have comments this morning from the deputy foreign minister who call this a serious step towards the destruction of prospects for normalizing relations with Russia.

This is something we've heard repeatedly from Russia that this will simply serve to further worsen relations that are already frankly on fragile grounds. The question of course is what will Russia do about this. Well, we've heard increasing rhetoric in recent days and weeks about the issue of retaliation and this morning we heard from another prominent lawmaker, Konstantin Kosachev. He's the head of Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament.

He took to Facebook, I'm just going to read you what he said. He said Russia should, "quote, prepare a reaction because there must be one. Asymmetrical but painful for the Americans." Now he goes on to say that this would not just be a reaction for this latest bill that could introduce new sanctions on Russia but for previous actions including the confiscation of Russia's diplomatic compound that happened in December in the expulsion of the diplomats. You'll remember that was an Obama-era package of sanctions over alleged election interference. Russia at the time did not retaliate. So the sense now is that they really are running out of patience and that they may be in the mood to do so -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Clare Sebastian, live for us in Moscow. Thank you. ROMANS: All right. North Korea is one of the three nations being

targeted in the House sanctions bill. Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, says the measure may undergo a few tweaks before it gets out of the Senate. This comes as North Korea threatens a nuclear strike on the heart of the U.S. if any attempt is made to remove Kim Jong-un.

That's a response to a comment last week from CIA Director Mike Pompeo who said the Trump administration needs to find a way to separate the North Korean leader from his growing nuclear stockpile.

CNN's Will Ripley live in Seoul with the latest for us. Bring us up to speed, Will.

[04:25:01] WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, nothing infuriates the North Koreans more, as you know, than any suggestion that their supreme leader Kim Jong-un could be pushed out of office. That's the excuse that the government gives its people for investing a considerable amount of its resources developing nuclear warheads and the missiles that could some day, possibly within a year, carry them to the mainland U.S.

There are signs that there could be another missile test imminent Thursday. July 27th is a major holiday, the signing -- the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War. North Korea calls it their victory day. They often hold military parades to try to show their military strength and intelligence has shown that there is material -- launch material moving toward a launch site in North Korea.

So it's something we're going to be monitoring very closely. North Korea using familiar rhetoric promising a nuclear attack against the U.S. in response to those remarks from Director Pompeo who said that the North Korean people might like to see their supreme leader ousted from power. That contradicts what Secretary Tillerson said back in April when he said the U.S. does not want regime change.

But I can tell you I was in the country at that time. The North Koreans don't believe that one bit. As for this new round of sanctions, there have already been six rounds and you've seen, Christine, it hasn't slowed North Korea from continuing to test missile after missile this year.

ROMANS: All right. Will Ripley for us in Seoul. Thank you for that, Will.

BRIGGS: Numbers don't mean much, but when you look at that margin, 419 to 3, and a similar bill, 98 to 2 in the Senate, this is Congress with a stern rebuke of the president. They believe Russia interfered in our election amongst other things.

Ahead President Trump sounding upbeat as the Senate begins debate on health care.


TRUMP: We're now one step closer to liberating our citizens from this Obamacare nightmare.


BRIGGS: One step is true, but it will take a giant leap to get from debating a bill to passing one. We'll discuss.