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New Executive Order Offers Obamacare Alternatives; Trump Poised to Decertify Iran Nuclear Deal; California Fire Death Toll Climbs. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired October 13, 2017 - 04:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, President Trump aggressively moving to dismantle a key part of Obamacare while the Democrats call it sabotage.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening today, yet another move to walk back Obamacare administration policies.

[04:30:01] President Trump will announce a new strategy towards Iran. He's expected to decertify the Iran nuclear deal.

ROMANS: The deadliest week of wildfires in California's history. The death toll is rising, 400 people are still missing.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

Breaking overnight, a stunning move by the Obama administration that could come as soon as today. The White House announcing President Trump plans to cut off the cost sharing subsidies that help lower income Americans buy health insurance on the marketplaces. Eliminating these direct payments to insurance companies has the potential to drastically increase costs for some Obamacare customers.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Chuck Schumer releasing a scathing statement. It is a spiteful act, a vast pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America. Now, millions of hardworking American families will suffer just because President Trump wants them to.

ROMANS: Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who is retiring at the end of his term tweeted, cutting health care subsidies will mean more uninsured in my district. POTUS promised more access, affordable coverage, this does the opposite.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defending the move, saying in this statement: The bailout of insurance companies through these unlawful payments is yet another example of how the previous administration abused taxpayer dollars and skirted the law to prop up a broken system.

There, Sanders is referring to a judge's ruling that the subsidy payments are illegal because Congress never appropriated money for them. BRIGGS: While that ruling is on appeal, the Trump administration

continued making the payments from month to month until now. This move is just the latest effort by the White House to dismantle key parts of Obamacare. Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order broadly instructing his administration to develop policies increasing health care competition.

Here's the president on Thursday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will sign an executive order taking the first steps to providing millions of Americans with Obamacare relief. This will cost the United States government virtually nothing. And people will have great, great health care. And when I say people, I mean by the millions and millions.


BRIGGS: Great, great health care. Specifically the executive order calls for a study on expanding so-called association health plans. These plans allow small businesses to band together to buy health insurance. The new rules would make it easier for associations to form across state lines.

ROMANS: The executive order would also make short term health policies more attracted, by lengthening their duration from the current three months to a year. But the short term policies don't have to comply with Obamacare rules on preexisting conditions and essential health benefits. And critics say Thursday's order may create a loophole in health insurance market with lower premiums and skimpier coverage. That would siphon younger healthier Americans away from Obamacare, basically going backwards. Meanwhile, older and sicker Americans would face potentially skyrocketing premiums.

So, ending key subsidies will speed up Obamacare's implosion, costing millions of Americans health coverage. Insurers rely on these cost- sharing payment. I mean, the president calls them a bail out to insurers, they're paid to the insurers who are subsidizing low income Americans. They've lowered the deductibles for nearly 6 million low income Americans. It doesn't affect premiums but makes a huge difference for some Obamacare enrollees.

For example, for those just above the poverty line, it lowers the average deductibles to 255 bucks a year. Compare that to $3,600 for traditional silver plan. Without that subsidy, they will see those people, those 6 million people will see huge increases next year.

These subsidies will cost the U.S. $7 billion in 2017. The president has threatened to stop payments for months. It's part of his aggressive push to dismantle Obamacare. That uncertainty, you know, just going month by month causes many insures to hike rates by 20 percent next year. Some of them dropped out entirely. But insurers who didn't price in the loss of these subsidies can sue or they can raise rates. And that's a new problem for Obamacare, less than 3 weeks before open enrolment.

BRIGGS: President Trump also expected to decertify the Iran nuclear deal today despite the international community's assessment that Tehran is in compliance. The president's plan will put the burden on Congress to figure out a way forward, and it's raising concerns about a potential backlash that could set the stage for a another nuclear crisis.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Oren Liebermann, live from Jerusalem, one of the countries, one of our allies that certainly supports decertifying this deal.

Good morning to you, Oren.


And it seems right now, the only country perhaps that is truly in favor of decertification of the deal, Prime Minister Netanyahu being one of the deal's harshest critics as he has been and one of the loudest lobbyists against the deal as he has been over the last few years, including that speech before Congress in early 2015.

So, what is decertification? It's essentially President Trump saying that Iran is not in compliance with the deal. It doesn't change the deal, it doesn't cancel the deal as Netanyahu has wanted, but essentially leave it up to Congress on what happens next. Is it reimpose sanctions? Is it keep the deal as is?

And let's be clear, if Congress does nothing over the next couple of months, then the deal as is stays in place, and it keeps going as is.

There has been lobbying here. European diplomats have lobbied the White House as we've learned and also members of Congress to stay in the deal, because that would leave it up to Iran to stay in compliance with the deal. Israel, although it hasn't lobbied against the deal, has essentially left it up to anti-pro lobbyists to do it for them. That's what we'll see, we suspect, over the course of the next couple of months, a lobbying effort in congress, much like we saw before the deal was signed a couple of years ago.

Critics of the deal say or rather critics of decertification say for the U.S. to step out of the deal means first it loses negotiating clout, essentially. Especially, as it comes to what do you with North Korea's nuclear program? But it also leaves it up to Iran what to do. Ehud Barak, former Israeli prime minister and defense prime minister said, look, it's a bad deal, but if the U.S. steps out, it means Iran can follow the deal for now and leave it whenever it feels like it -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes, it's essentially -- yes, that's the sense you get. It's a bad deal but maybe you should stay in. We'll check in with Christiane Amanpour at 5:00.

Oren, thanks.

ROMANS: All right. The president's chief of staff, John Kelly, making a rare appearance in front of the camera to do some damage control. The retired Marine Corps general knocking down reports he will soon be leaving the administration and that he's miserable in his new job.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I will just offer to you that, although I read it all the time pretty consistently, I'm not quitting today. I don't think I'm being fired today. And I am not so frustrated in this job that I'm thinking of leaving. Unless things change, I'm not quitting. I'm not getting fired, and I don't think they'll fire anyone tomorrow.


ROMANS: Kelly was also asked if whether he considers controlling the president to be part of his job description.


KELLY: As far as the tweets go, it's funny, I read in the paper -- you all know, you write it -- that I've been a failure at controlling the president or a failure at controlling his tweeting and all that. Again, I was not sent in or was not brought to this job to control anything but the flow of information to our president.


BRIGGS: Now, if you want a reason why the president sent Kelly out for his first on the record press briefing -- well, take a look at some of the headlines from the last week. "Vanity Fair", I hate everyone in the White House, Trump seethes as advisers feel the president is unraveling. "The New York Times", Bob Corker says Trump's recklessness threatens World War III. And CNN: Tense and difficult meeting preceded Tillerson's moron comment.

Christine, it was such an unusual day, not just to see the chief of staff at the podium, but he's ripping the media to their face and the media's saying oh, thank you. That was respectful, they could take it. It was just --

ROMANS: I know, it was called the breath of fresh air.

BRIGGS: Yes, even though he's ripping the media, they appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. Thirty-eight minutes past the hour.

This is now one of the deadliest fire sieges in California's state history. State officials say 31 people have been killed in four northern California counties, 400 people still missing. Sonoma County officials are conducting searches for people in burn areas. Ten of those killed identified yesterday, ranging in age from 57 to 95 years old.

BRIGGS: This satellite image just published by NASA gives some sense of the huge extent of the fire, some high clouds obscure parts of the burn area. But you can easily see the long trails of smoke that run from north, the south, near the coast.

For more, let's turn to CNN's Dan Simon on-the-scene in the heart of California's wine country.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, we are in the hills above Calistoga, the town that is known for its wineries and spas. And firefighters are doing everything they can to keep that town safe. We spent sometime with the crew, went for a ride along.

At one point, things got very dangerous. We saw the flames hop over this natural barrier here, Highway 29. And the flames inched their way towards the community, saw a lot of urgency. Firefighters did everything they could to get those flames out. They did, but the situation remains dangerous for that city.

Calistoga still under a mandatory evacuation order. And the whole situation remains precarious because on Friday night, the winds expected to kick up. Expected be about 40 miles per hour. In the meantime, in terms for those reported missing, that numbers continue to fluctuate.

[04:40:03] But right now, it's at about 400. That is a scary number to be sure, but authorities hope it will be pared down as people report that their loved ones have been found safe -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Dan Simon, thank you for that.

To money now, the House Speaker Paul Ryan defending the elimination of the state and local tax deduction. A major hurdle for passing the GOP tax plan. At the Heritage Foundation yesterday, Speaker Ryan criticized that deduction, saying it encourages high state taxes and that it's an issue we have to get over.

This is popular tax break. It deducts state income and property taxes from your federal return. It affects nearly one third of filers, mainly high class Americans in these high tax states like New York, New Jersey, California, and Speaker Ryan's home state of Wisconsin.

So, House Republicans from many of these states are fighting to keep this tax break. It's unclear whether the GOP plan will completely eliminate the defection or strike a compromise. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that House Republicans are working to keep part of the deduction how? By possibly cutting off the deduction at certain income levels.

It's really interesting how immediately that state tax deduction became a flash point in this debate, and privately some of the tax negotiators have been saying, look, there's not really a constituency for people who live in these high earning, high income states complaining they want to keep their tax deduction.

BRIGGS: But there's a suggestion that some part of that hits the middle class.

ROMANS: Yes, and that's --

BRIGGS: And that's what Rand Paul was pushing back on yesterday.

ROMANS: Will there be guiderails to make sure that people, you know, that you keep money in middle class pockets, but, you know, upper middle class people get --

BRIGGS: No concern for them.

ROMANS: All right. Three weeks after a deadly hurricane slammed Puerto Rico, President Trump facing backlash after tweeting that FEMA can't be there forever.


KELLY: This country, our country will stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done.



[04:46:12] BRIGGS: The House of Representatives approving a $36.5 billion disaster aid package to help victims struggling to recover from a string of devastating hurricanes and wildfires across the country. But the president appearing to put a deadline on how long federal agencies would help Puerto Rico, tweeting: We cannot keep FEMA, the military and first responders who have been amazing under the most difficult circumstances in PR, Puerto Rico, forever.

ROMANS: That tweet not sitting well That tweet not sitting well with the mayor of San Juan who shot back on Twitter, saying, quote, as your comments about Puerto Rico are unbecoming of a commander-in-chief, they seem more to come from a hater in chief.

Meantime, the governor of Puerto Rico largely stayed away from criticizing the federal response tweeting, the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are requesting the support that any of our fellow citizens would receive across our nation.

BRIGGS: All right. The two men now running the Weinstein Company after Harvey Weinstein was fired could be next out the door. Co- founder Bob Weinstein and President David Glasser have come under increased scrutiny for what they may have known about allegations against Harvey Weinstein that go back decades. At least two dozen women have now come forward accusing the disgraced movie mogul of sexual misconduct, ranging from harassment to rape.

Actress Kate Beckinsale posting in Instagram about a meeting she had with Weinstein when she was just 17. She said he opened the door in his bathrobe. I was incredibly naive and young, it didn't cross my man that this older and unattractive man would expect me to have any sexual interest in him. After declining alcohol and announcing that I had school in the morning, I left, uneasy but unscathed.

ROMANS: Actress Rose McGowan has been suspended by Twitter for the tactic she's been using to support Weinstein's alleged victims. Twitter says McGowan's ability to tweet has been temporarily disabled because she tweeted personal phone numbers. That has sparked a movement calling for a one-day boycott of Twitter today in support of McGowan, #womenboycotttwitter.

Meantime, CNN has learned Weinstein is being investigated on both sides of the Atlantic.

We get more from CNN's Brynn Gingras.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, at this point, detectives are looking into accusations. We've heard from police in London that a report of sexual abuse involving Weinstein has come into their department. And then here in New York, the directive the top brass gave to the Special Victims Unit is to identify, to locate and to interview victims who have made accusations. Now, that order was in direct response to "The New Yorker" article which names one woman as at least, Lucia Evans.

Now, she claims she was force to give oral sex in his New York office back in 2004. And NYPD detectives are looking for her, trying to talk to her family members. They want to see if there is a case there.

They're also looking, I'm told, to identify a woman who was not named in that "New Yorker" article. I'm told by investigators that would include talking to Ronan Farrow as part of their work since, of course, he wrote that piece.

Now, at least two dozen women have spoken out publicly about incidents happening with Harvey Weinstein. But at this point, no one has come forward and filed a criminal complaint at least with police here in New York. And NYPD, the district attorney, they are both encouraging victims do come forward.

Of course, it does not end there. Investigators have to look at each incident separately. They have to see if the statute of limitations applies in each incident, see if there's enough evidence to even bring to prosecutors. I'm told going back to that 2004 incident with Evan, Weinstein could be subject to arrest if there's evidence. In other words, the statute of limitations would not apply here -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: All right. Thank you, Brynn.

The Trump administration celebrating the release of a family held for nearly five years by a group linked to the Taliban.

[04:50:03] American Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle were kidnapped in 2012 while traveling in Afghanistan. She was pregnant when they were taken. The couple had two more children while in captivity.

ROMANS: U.S. intelligence agencies have been tracking the hostages and shared information with the Pakistani military when the family was moved into Pakistan's tribal area. Officials say they were freed in a rescue operation that included a shootout. But the family is still in Pakistan.

A senior U.S. official tells CNN, the husband refused to board a U.S.- bound plane because he's concerned about facing law enforcement here. Bit of a mystery there.

BRIGGS: It is a really interesting story the more you peel back the layers, there's a lot more left.


Fifty minutes past the hour.

The president's frequent trips to Mar-a-Lago, they cost taxpayers. How much? We have some details on CNN "Money Stream" next.


[04:55:22] ROMANS: All right. House Speaker Paul Ryan leading the charge for tax reform. He's calling on House conservatives to get a bill to the Senate by next month. He's telling them to prepare for an uphill climb, warning that Democrats and lobbyists will be offering stiff resistance.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, Dave and Christine, it's no secret that former Republicans and their agenda, the only thing that matters right now even though there's an awful lot going on around the periphery is tax reform. That's what House Republicans are talking about, that's what Senate Republicans are talking about and that's what both chambers wish the president would only talk about, completing tax reform. How serious, how desperate are they to get this done?

Take a listen to this from Speaker Paul Ryan.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Half this country is living paycheck to paycheck, and if that means we've got to stay here until Christmas to give them the relief they need and deserve, then tough, we'll do that.

MATTINGLY: Now, guys, to give you some background on that. Threatening holidays is the biggest thing you can do as a leader in Congress. Threatening vacations, threatening recesses, threatening Christmas, that shows how serious they are.

And it seemed like I'm somewhat sarcastic here, but I'm actually being serious. That is the time line Republicans want to finish everything. They want to get everything done by Christmas. And there's no question about it, the difficulty to getting to that point, well, just look at the process.

Right now, the Senate still needs to pass its budget and then the two chambers need to reconcile their respective budgets, then the committees in both chambers need to actually start working on a tax reform bill and then both chambers need to pass a tax reform bill, and then they need to reconcile that, and then both chambers need to pass whatever they reconcile.

That is why the timeline is what it is. Whether that actually stays and sticks, whether they actually get this done, still a very, very open question. But if you know how serious they are? Well, look at the Christmas threat from the speaker -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Indeed. Thanks, Phil.

The Interior Department flies a special flag whenever Secretary Ryan Zinke is in the building. According to "The Washington Post" a security staffer goes to the roof and hoists the secretarial flag when Zinke enters the agency's Washington headquarters. When he leaves, the flag comes down. It was apparently a military tradition resurrected by Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander.

A department's spokesperson defends the personal flag practice, telling "The Post", it is a major sign of transparency.

Christine Romans also has a similar flag here at CNN.


BRIGGS: Yes, we raised it. You didn't know?


BRIGGS: Every time you walk into the building.

ROMANS: Little cocktail flag.

Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream" this morning.

Global stocks mostly higher after Wall Street fell. However, U.S. stocks still very close to record highs. These little ups and downs of the past few days. I wouldn't worry about it too much because you've had a stellar run here.

You can blame bank stocks for that drop. They feel after earnings from Citigroup and JPMorgan.

Now, both of the banks beat expectations, but they set aside more money for credit card related losses, raising concerns about consumer credit. Don't feel too bad about the banks. Banks are expected to report record profits. JPMorgan alone earned $6.7 billion last quarter. The Secret Service paid Mar-a-Lago tens of thousands of dollars over

just a few months. That's according to documents obtained by CNN. The total $63,700 in taxpayer dollars, mostly in hotel costs. The tab is from the president's frequent visits from the so-called winter White House. Now, while the Secret Service routinely pays private businesses, government ethics hawks worry that Trump personally profits from these visits.

The Trump organization, the White House did not respond to requests for comment. One of the big criticisms here is the government pays the rack rate, the highest possible rate for those rooms at Mar-a- Lago.

Russian-linked meddling in 2016 didn't end with Facebook and Twitter. It even extended to YouTube, Tumblr, and Pokemon Go. A CNN investigation found one Russian linked campaign used those platforms to exploit racial tensions among Americans. The campaign titled "don't shoot us" posed as part of Black Lives Matter. The campaign's Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts are currently suspended, but the group's YouTube channel and Website are still active.

I hope people understand, your friends are sharing things on Facebook, you see things on social media. You have to really scrutinize what you're watching.

BRIGGS: Let's hope that's the take away. People will be more suspect to scrutinize things and ads and stories more in this election cycle.

ROMANS: I've even seen these mocked up fake Amber alerts, that people send out fake Amber alerts. It's like someone is just having making fun -- someone who's exploiting your gullibility.

BRIGGS: Scrutinize what read and those social media networks.

EARLY START continues right now with the latest moves from the Trump administration.