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Countdown to Shutdown; Bannon Confirms Subpoena from Mueller; Lawmakers Grill Kirstjen Nielsen. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:12] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A government shutdown is starting to look like a real possibility. A Republican plan to keep the lights on doesn't have enough support in the party, and there's no immigration deal in sight to please Democrats.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: If the White House is permitted to maintain that kind of a gag rule on a witness, no congressional investigation could ever be effective.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Frustration in Congress after Steve Bannon refuses to answer questions in the Russia probe. But he'll have to be more forthcoming after a subpoena from the special counsel.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: That you could even say in your testimony that the regions were preferenced by him because they're so hard working --


BOOKER: Excuse me, let me finish.

NIELSEN: Happy to.


ROMANS: The eye roll seen around the world.

The homeland security secretary facing anger and pushback after again saying she can't remember whether the president used a vulgarity about African nations.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. I'm not sure how your health would hold up, but mine would not hold up well after an hour of questioning from the White House press corps. The president did OK.

ROMANS: Yes. BRIGGS: We'll discuss that in a little bit. It's Wednesday, January 17th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East, three days until a government shutdown.

And on Capitol Hill, the two sides actually further apart. House Republicans last night introduced a short-term spending bill that would fund the government through February 16th. It includes six years of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP, and delays various unpopular Obamacare taxes. Republicans hope the add-ons put some pressure on Democrats to support this bill.

But right now, even some Republicans oppose it.

ROMANS: The chairman of the hard right House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, says there are enough noes and undecideds among his members, that the measure will not pass with just GOP votes.

Meantime, Democrats face their own tough choices. Many of them coming out against stopgap funding without a long-term fix for DACA, those Dreamers who were brought here illegally as children. But some Democrats, especially those facing tough races in the fall, worry about taking the blame for a shutdown over fighting for Dreamers if there's no real agreement in sight.

BRIGGS: On that front, White House chief of staff John Kelly meets with congressional Hispanic Caucus later today.

From Capitol Hill, CNN's Phil Mattingly sorts through all of this on the search for a funding deal.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, Christine and Dave, we're basically at the point now of waiting, waiting to see what's going to happen in the House. Waiting to see what's going to happen in the Senate.

I give you some context here. There are really two questions right now: can House Republicans on their own get the requisite number of votes to pass a short-term continuing resolution, basically a government funding bill, likely into mid-February? If they can, then the drama moves over into the Senate where, obviously, Senate Republicans are going to need Democrats to come on board, at least nine, potentially more than that depending on absences, to decide whether or not the government will remain open past Friday night.

As to where the lines are currently drawn -- well, take a listen to the two leaders in the Senate.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: With no imminent deadline on immigration and with bipartisan talks well underway, there is no reason my Congress should hold government funding hostage over the issue of illegal immigration.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: A very fair, bipartisan deal remains on the cable. It's the only game in town. We're making steady progress on building additional support in both houses of Congress. There's a deal to be had this week.

MATTINGLY: If you paid attention closely, you can see where the positioning is right now. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making very clear if Democrats don't come along, Republicans will most certainly attack them for leading to the government shutdown and for a government shutdown that is basically entirely because of an immigration issue.

What Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is saying is, Democrats have made very clear they need, they want a resolution to DACA. And as it currently stands, there is a bill that's on the table -- a Gang of Six bill, a bipartisan proposal.

Here's kind of the outlines of that, though: President Trump has made clear that proposal's not sufficient. Republican leaders, while quiet about it, have also said, according to aides, that they agree with the president on this. That means when it comes to DACA, there's no deal in the offing at any point in the near future. That means all focus will be on the continuing resolution.

And for the near term, that means all focus will be on House Republicans. Right now, House Republican leaders trying to figure out a way to craft the bill that can get their defense hawks that are worried about another continuing resolution without raising the current spending caps, as well as enough for conservatives to get the requisite number of votes to move it forward.

That's the first step. Then comes the Senate. Right now, we wait -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much. Three days to shutdown.

The Trump administration not giving up its efforts to end the DACA program. The Justice Department plans to ask the Supreme Court to intervene after a federal judge last week blocked the president's attempt to end protections for immigrants brought here illegally as children. It is rare to ask that the Supreme Court weigh in before the appeals court has its say.

[04:05:03] Attorney General Jeff Sessions claims the decision by a California-based federal judge defies both law and common sense. The judge ordered the administration to resume taking DACA renewal applications. And homeland security officials say they are complying.

BRIGGS: A long day of questioning on Capitol Hill for former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. There is more to come. According to multiple sources, Bannon informed the House Intelligence Committee he has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury. Bannon faced 10 hours of congressional grilling on Tuesday, and things got combative when lawmakers pressed him about the transition.

ROMANS: Bannon's lawyer cutting off the questioning, forcing the committee to issue a subpoena compelling his testimony. But sources say Bannon was still not forthcoming. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat, claims Bannon was instructed by the White House in advance not to respond on certain topics.

Schiff calling Bannon's refusal to cooperate unprecedented.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: This was effectively a gag order by the White House preventing this witness from answering almost any question concerning his time in the transition or the administration, and many questions even after he left the administration. The scope of this assertion of privilege, if that's what it is, is breathtaking. It goes well beyond anything we have seen in this investigation.


BRIGGS: Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes says Bannon risks being held in contempt of Congress if he does not answer questions. Bannon's attorney told the committee his client will answer questions when he goes to the special counsel because then executive privilege will not apply. Bannon is one of several Trump associates coming before the panel. Among the others, Cory Lewandowski, Hope Hicks and deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn who sources say testifies today.

ROMANS: All right. Emotions running high on Capitol Hill as lawmakers grilled DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about President Trump's vulgar description of Haiti and Africa. Nielsen again insisting she did not hear the president say "s-hold" or "s-house" in the Oval Office meeting. She says a lot of lawmakers used vulgarities, vulgarities were flying, she says.

New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker not buying any of it.


BOOKER: When ignorance and bigotry is allied with power, it is a dangerous force in our country. Your silence and your amnesia is complicity.

I hurt. When Dick Durbin called me, I had tears of rage when I heard about this experience in that meeting. And for you not to feel that hurt and that pain, and to dismiss some of the questions of any colleagues, saying, I've already answered that line of questions when tens of millions of Americans are hurting now because of what they're worried about what happened in the White House, that's unacceptable to me.


BRIGGS: Indeed a flair for the dramatic.

Senator Lindsey Graham blaming White House staff for the president's rejection of a bipartisan immigration deal. Graham says the president is getting and following some bad advice.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This has turned into an s- show, and we need to get back to being a great country where Democrats and Republicans work together to do something that we should have done years ago.


ROMANS: Democrat Dick Durbin worked with Graham on the bipartisan immigration deal. He believes adviser Steven Miller played a role in convincing the president to reject the plan. He says, quote: It's hard to find any effort to kill immigration legislation that doesn't have Steve Miller's fingerprints on it.

The White House posing back, insisting President Trump is running the show on immigration, not his staff.

BRIGGS: Nine of 12 members of the National Park System Advisory Board quit Tuesday, citing concern over the Trump administration's priorities. That according to a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke obtained by CNN.

Most of the members resigning had terms expiring in May. Their letter says they've not been able to meet with Zinke and the Interior Department during his first year on the job, saying, quote, their requests to engage have been ignored. Former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles, a Democrat, who wrote the letter, says previous administrations met with the board immediately.

The Interior Department has yet to comment.

ROMANS: All right. A clean bill of health with president Trump with room for improvement. The president's doctor also weighing in on his cognitive health more than a week after the president calls him a very stable genius.


[04:13:33] ROMANS: All right. The patient is 6'3", 239 pounds, 71 years old, blood pressure, 122 over 74. The patient, of course, is Donald Trump.

And while Dr. Ronny Johnson pronounced him in excellent health, he did say there were a few issues to address. They discussed diet and exercise during the president's physical last week and set a goal for the president to lose 10 to 15 pounds.

BRIGGS: The president also asked for a cognitive test, pushing back against questions about his mental fitness. Jackson said the test gave him no concerns.

Chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta was at the briefing, he has more from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Dave, I got to say, first of all, I've never seen anything quite like this. I've been covering these sorts of stories for some 16 years now. And having the White House doctor come out, speak to the press, take basically every last question they had to ask for about an hour was a pretty remarkable thing.

All sorts of things were asked. But the two big areas, Christine and Dave, were his heart health and his mental health. With regard to his heart health, we know that the president is borderline obese. We know he has high cholesterol and we know he has evidence of heart disease. And over the last year since he's become president, those numbers have worsened a bit, which is why the doctor increased the dosage of his cholesterol-lowering medications.

But Dr. Jackson also very clear about the fact that they did test to evaluate the function of the heart right now. Forgetting those risk factors, how is the heart right now? And he says based on things like an echocardiogram and a stress test, his heart's doing well.

[04:15:04] In fact, he said has no concerns for the rest of this term. And he says he would have no concerns if the president was elected to another term.

They also pointed out that the president asked himself for a cognitive exam known as the Montreal cognitive assessment exam. Think of this as a screening test for dementia. On this particular test that takes about 10 minutes, there are various things about your spatial relationships, how well you understand that, your orientation, your communication skills. And he said the president scored a perfect score, 30 out of 30 on that.

DR. RONNY JACKSON, PRESIDENTIAL PHYSICIAN: Absolutely no concerns about his cognitive ability or his -- you know, his neurological functions.

GUPTA: So, for Dr. Jackson, he sort of really laid that issue to rest, saying that is not a concern for him. They will follow up on these things every year and the years to come -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: The president sleeps four or five hours a night. And every morning, he wakes up and resets. Doesn't take stress from one day to the next. I think it's an interesting characteristic trait, yes.

BRIGGS: Trait, yes.

ROMANS: All right. The future of the Internet could be decided in court. This is the biggest consumer story out there, folks. Twenty- one states have filed a lawsuit to stop the FCC's repeal of net neutrality, the Obama-era rule that forces Internet provide force treat all web traffic equally.

In a statement, the New York attorney general says the repeal puts profits over consumers, allowing companies to control what we see, what we do, what we say online. A rollback, critics say, could mean higher prices and slower speeds for consumers. But FCC chair Ajit Pai says it stops the federal government from micromanaging the Internet. The FCC voted to overturn the rules last month. A spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are looking for legislative solutions. Senate Democrats need one more vote to overturn the FCC ruling. But even if the resolution passes the Senate, it faces an uphill battle in the House and then a likely veto by President Trump.

The White House, of course, supports the FCC's repeal.

BRIGGS: A contraceptive app is coming under criticism after more than three dozen users experienced unplanned pregnancies. The natural cycles app, considered a certified contraceptive in Europe. It uses an algorithm considering several factors to predict when a woman should use traditional contraception.

A hospital in Sweden says at least 37 women checked in for abortions after using the app as birth control. It has 700,000 users worldwide. Natural cycle calls the unplanned pregnancies an, quote, an inevitable reality.

Your thoughts? What does the fine print say on that app?

ROMANS: There's an app for that, but boy, we know that --

BRIGGS: You probably should not use it, or trust in it blindly.

ROMANS: Another winter storm is heading to the Northeast this morning. It could make a mess of your morning commute. More next.


[04:22:16] ROMANS: North and South Korea held talks overnight. The big focus was on the Olympics. But South Koreans are voicing concern that Pyongyang is using the talks to buy time for its weapons program.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live in Seoul for us.

Bring us up to speed, Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, the talks are in their third round, at this point, the third day. And what they've agreed today is that the North Koreans will come across the land border, across the DMZ, to come to the South Korea, although the South still has to agree to that. They've also said they'll have a 230-person cheering squad.

But what we're hearing from over in Canada is a very different tune. Even allies of South Korea, even though they're interested in what is going on the peninsula, at this point are saying there are concerns, that they should be cautious in talking to North Korea. Japan's foreign minister saying the international community needs to be clear eyed, saying that the motivations of North Korea behind these talks is not clear at this point, but it has to be thought about saying it's not the time to ease off the pressure of North Korea.

A similar thing from the U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Although he also said that potentially it is time to talk. But North Korea needs to show that they are ready to talk, needs to take steps in that direction.

Now, China and Russia are not at the 20-country summit in Vancouver. Clearly, they are two pivotal players in the Korean peninsula in resolving the nuclear crisis. But we did hear from China's foreign ministry. A spokesperson saying this meeting shows that there is a Cold War mentality, and that this kind of meeting and these decisions are just going to split the international community -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Paula Hancocks for us this morning in Seoul, following all of these twists and turns for us -- thank you so much.

BRIGGS: FBI agents arresting a former CIA officer accused of stashing top-secret information. Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a 13-year agency veteran, taken into custody at JFK Airport in New York Tuesday. Court documents say FBI's searches of Lee's hotel room in 2012 turned up notebooks with names and phone numbers of CIA assets and undercover employees, as well as operational notes and addresses of covert facilities.

ROMANS: The 53-year-old Lee made an initial court appearance in Brooklyn on Tuesday and did not enter a plea. He faces up to ten years in prison if convicted of illegally retaining national defense information.

BRIGGS: All right. To the weather now. Another winter storm bears down this morning. States of emergency have been declared in Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. Seventy million people under winter storm warnings now from Texas all the way to Maine. The storm churning toward the Northeast set to make for a messy morning commute.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us live from the CNN weather center.

Pedram, good morning to you. What do we know? What's headed here?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Dave, you know, this is a very quick-moving system.

[04:25:01] It's coming through unfortunately right around rush hour. As you said, the morning commute is going to be impacted by this. And we're talking about parts of 23 states, as you said, from the North, all the way down there south toward portions of Alabama, Texas. Alabama, of course, Georgia, then back toward Texas, as well, getting in under the winter weather advisories that are in place.

But really when you look at this carefully, what we're looking at is for the snow showers to push through the metro Atlanta area, eventually through, say, Greenville, South Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina looks to be the bull's-eye for this storm for anywhere in the country. They could get the highest totals there, upwards of four to six inches in spots. But notice as we go in toward the afternoon and evening hours, this

system is already pushing off the eastern seaboard. Anything that comes down is going to happen over the next few hours. We think one to two inches from Atlanta, points just to the south, Montgomery, same story. Raleigh could get the highest amounts, four to six inches. Working toward the northeast again, notice the amounts are generally going to be very limited, two to four inches widespread. New York City should stay out of the bulk of it, maybe one inch for New York. Boston could get a couple of inches. Coastal Maine, maybe four to six inches.

So, again, not a blockbuster event, but all of this, of course, is going to be coming down for a lot of folks during the morning commute. So, we know the commute going to be impacted.

How about the wind chill advisories? In place, wind chills down to as cold as zero degrees in a few spots across the South. Birmingham sits at a goose egg this hour. Atlanta at 8 degrees.

Notice where the cold front is, where it's going to get significantly colder in Charlotte. Forty is what it feels like at this hour. And, again, work your way in broad, not the perspective. It is much colder in part of the south than even across parts of the Northeast at this hour. So, big-time arctic chill moving in, guys.

BRIGGS: Wow, it's been a wicked winter. All right. Pedram, thanks.

Millions of parents saying, just let the kids go to school.

ROMANS: I know.

BRIGGS: Please!

ROMANS: Not another snow day.

BRIGGS: Too many snow days.

Ahead, a deal on government spending increasingly in doubt. Republicans can't agree on their own proposal. Now, more Democrats say no deal without a plan for Dreamers. The deadline now only three days away.