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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Advisor Flynn Had Recent Contacts with Russia; Rep. Lewis: Trump Not a 'Legitimate' President-elect; Tillerson Suggests Aggressive Policy on South China Sea; Rep. Lewis: Trump Not A "Legitimate" President; House Joins Senate In Voting To Repeal Obamacare; Defense Secretary: ISIS Leader's Days "Are Numbered". Aired 5-6p ET
Aired January 13, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Russia calling. There is new information that retired General Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's national security advisor, was in contact with the Russians at the very same time the Obama administration was preparing to retaliate for Russian cyberattacks.
[17:00:30] Still on the attack. Trump unleashes barrage of tweets, saying, "Sleazebag operatives" are behind the claims that Russia has compromising information on him. And Trump calls Hillary Clinton, quote, "guilty as hell," saying she should not have even been allowed to run for president.
Not legitimate. Democratic Congressman John Lewis says that Russia helped destroy Hillary Clinton's candidacy and conspired to get Trump elected. He says that Trump is not a legitimate president-elect.
And closing in. In its closing days, the Obama administration says the hunt for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is intensifying, and that his days are numbered. Are U.S. forces closing in?
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SCIUTTO: Breaking news tonight, the House of Representatives takes the first step towards dismantling Obamacare. A mostly party-line vote follows a similar move in the Senate, allowing Republicans to use the budget process to roll back major parts of the healthcare law.
Also breaking, Congressman John Lewis says he does not consider Donald Trump a legitimate president. In a new interview, the civil rights icon charges there was, quote, "a conspiracy by the Russians and others to help get Trump elected," adding, quote, "That's not right, that's not fair."
That comes as Trump tweets that Hillary Clinton should never have been allowed to run for president, calling her, quote, "guilty as hell."
The Trump team is confirming that his national security advisor, retired General Michael Flynn, was in touch with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. and discussed setting up a phone call between Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin, even as the Obama administration was preparing new sanctions against Russia.
And in its waning days the Obama administration is warning that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's days are numbered. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says the hunt is getting warmer, making it clear there is fresh intelligence on the ISIS leader.
I'll speak with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. And all our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
We begin tonight with new questions over the recent contacts between a Trump advisor and Russia, which occurred just as the Obama administration was hitting back for Moscow's effort to undermine the U.S. election.
GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: And it's a great transition.
SCIUTTO: Tonight, confirmation that President-elect Trump's national security advisor, General Michael Flynn, was in contact with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. the very same day the Obama administration announced retaliation for Russia's unprecedented cyberattack of the 2016 election.
In late December, the Trump transition team says that Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak exchanged a series of text messages and a phone call.
On Christmas day, December 25, Flynn texted the Russian ambassador, quote, "I want to wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I look forward to touching base with you and working with you, and I wish you all the best."
The ambassador texted him back, wishing him a merry Christmas in return.
Then on December 28, the Russian ambassador texted Flynn again and said, "I'd like to give you a call. May I?" That phone call happened on December 29, the same day the White House announced sanctions on Russia and ordered some 35 Russian diplomats to leave the country immediately.
Trump's transition team said the men did not discuss sanctions on Russia. Instead their conversation was focused on arranging a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Trump after the inauguration.
Today the White House says its reaction depends.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You can imagine why these kinds of -- why these kinds of interactions may take place, why the incoming national security advisor may have a need to contact the representative of a foreign government that's based here in Washington, D.C. Depends on what they discussed. It depends on what he said in terms of whether or not we would have significant objections about those conversations.
SCIUTTO: Flynn's ties to Russia have been scrutinized since the moment Trump tapped him to be his closest advisor on national security. Flynn was seated right next to President Putin at a Russian media gala in December of 2015, though, before he took on a formal campaign role.
[17:05:05] SCIUTTO: Today the intelligence services reiterated to members of Congress their belief that Russia sought to undermine the U.S. presidential election. And now a leading House Democrat says he does not see Donald Trump as a legitimate commander in chief. Explosive words, really.
Let's turn now to CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.
I mean, we are a week away from the president-elect taking the oath right here.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sure.
SCIUTTO: This is an explosive charge.
ACOSTA: It underlines just how difficult this time we're entering into is going to be, Jim. This is a very significant development, because it goes right to the heart of the sensitivity that you hear from the transition team, that Democrats don't consider Donald Trump a, quote, "legitimate president."
The question now is whether other Democrats will follow the lead of Democratic Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon who says he will not attend the inauguration of Donald Trump one week from today, because he does not consider the incoming president to be, quote, "legitimate." Lewis told NBC this will be the first time he has not attended an inauguration in his three decades in Congress.
Asked why he doesn't view Trump as legitimate, the congressman from Georgia cited Russian interference in the election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.
CHUCK TODD, HOST, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS": You do not consider him a legitimate president? Why is that?
LEWIS: I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
I don't plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I've missed since I've been in the Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong.
I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected. That's not right. That's not fair. That's not the open democratic process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: This is the second time this week that Lewis has taken on the incoming Trump administration. Earlier this week, Lewis testified against Jeff Sessions in his confirmation hearing for attorney general, questioning whether the Alabama senator will protect the civil rights of minorities.
The Trump transition team has not commented on Lewis' remarks, but, Jim, this gives us echoes of what we saw in the early days of the Obama administration, when Republicans did not view him as a legitimate president. We're in the cycle of incivility that just doesn't want to seem to end.
SCIUTTO: And who was one of those Republicans? President-elect Donald Trump.
ACOSTA: That's right.
SCIUTTO: The birther controversy. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Joining me now is Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thanks for taking the time tonight.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you very much, Jim.
SCIUTTO: So you heard what is really an explosive charge from John Lewis, long history in the House given, he says, Russian influence on the election. Do you agree with that statement?
BLUMENTHAL: The irony is that the claim about illegitimacy, the conflict that we're seeing develop here between Republicans and Democrats, the era of incivility in our politics, is exactly what the Russians want to accomplish, what they successfully accomplished during the election, undermining our process. And John Lewis is absolutely right about that effect. Whether it impacted the outcome of the election, historians are going to debate it, and so are the analyses of the electoral results.
But what's really important now is to go after the Russians. To do a really nonpartisan investigation, not to re-litigate the past election, but to make sure that we punish and deter this kind of interference, and that we harden our defense against it. And that requires...
SCIUTTO: But that gets to...
BLUMENTHAL: ... a commission or a select committee. SCIUTTO: To be fair -- to be fair, Senator Blumenthal, that gets to
an issue of whether and how much Russia influenced the election. But it's a very explosive charge. Is it appropriate for a member of Congress to say in such definitive terms he does not believe that president-elect is going to take an oath here in seven days is a legitimate commander in chief?
BLUMENTHAL: Certainly, no one is more respected by me, anyway, than John Lewis, and I'm going to be attending the inaugural. I'm going to be differing with President-elect Trump, soon to be president. It is certainly legitimate for any member of Congress to express an opinion in the way that he has about the legitimacy of the incoming president.
But my view is that I will be moving on to work with President-elect Trump where we have agreements, where we can come together on infrastructure, rebuilding, and other policies. And at the same time, fight hard and work hard to accomplish what I think America needs, where we differ. And that's going to be my goal going forward.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, because you said a number of times, and you said here, just about the seriousness of Russian interference in the election. You heard our reporting earlier that Trump's incoming national security advisor, General Flynn, was reaching out to the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and the timing was interesting, to say the least, the very same day that President Obama was imposing new harsher sanctions on Russia for election meddling.
Do you think that that is an appropriate time to communicate with the Russian ambassador?
BLUMENTHAL: Communication, per se, is appropriate. But it does depend on what the communication was. And General Flynn and President-elect Trump owe the American people an explanation as to what exactly was the substance of that conversation. They owe the facts to the American people.
And that conversation is very alarming, because it reflects on whether there was communication before the election between Donald Trump and the Russians. Remember that he refused to answer that question at the press conference just about 24 hours ago when he was asked. He owes that explanation, as well, to the American people.
And the conversation post-election is important, because it reflects on what may have happened before the election. And that goes back to John Lewis' point about the legitimacy of the Trump presidency, because the facts that need to be investigated -- and I'll say it again: there should be a non-partisan independent commission that looks at what the Russians did so that we can harden our defenses against this kind of attack in the future, but also heighten the sanctions that have been imposed. Expelling 35 diplomats simply is not enough. There need to be the kinds of sanctions against the Russians that we imposed on Iran.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because you raise an issue there about whether there were earlier communications between the Trump campaign at the time and Russians. We know from our own reporting at CNN that this is an issue. It's a question that the FBI is still looking into.
Have you seen evidence that there were communications between the Trump campaign and any Russian officials prior to the election?
BLUMENTHAL: I have been the beneficiary of classified briefings. I can't go into what was told me in those briefings, but I think it is a very, very appropriate and necessary area of further investigation as to what those conversations may have been between Donald Trump or his campaign and the Russians.
He should answer that question. He has not done so. He refused to do it in the last press conference that he had. He owes those facts and explanation to the American people.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, because of course, the other issue that Democrats in particular have talked about unduly influencing the election was FBI director's activities, particularly with regard to the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
We reported yesterday we learned that the FBI now has an investigation by its inspector general as to Director Comey's activities in advance of the election. And we heard the Democratic members confronted him directly when he was briefing Congress. Do you still have faith in the FBI director?
BLUMENTHAL: Again, there is a need for investigation there, too. I'm very pleased that Director Comey has welcomed that investigation.
And, again, it should be an investigation that ultimately produces both recommendations and conclusions that are transparent and made fully disclosed to the American people. There is a need for that investigation, no question about it, because the rules and normal practices and tradition of the FBI and of Department of Justice prosecutors are that they do not comment, especially that close to an election. And there should be a full inquiry and investigation which, again...
SCIUTTO: Our understanding is that in that room with -- with the director during these closed-session briefings, that some Democrats, among them Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the reporting is, confronted him directly and said that "You let the country down," in effect.
And what's interesting is "The Wall Street Journal" also calling today for Director Comey to step down. That's an oddly, perhaps rarely bipartisan, at least in those two areas, loss of confidence in the FBI director. I'm curious. I just want to hold you to this question. Do you still have confidence in the FBI director?
[17:15:07] BLUMENTHAL: My confidence in the FBI director will depend on the results of the investigation. I'm not leaping to conclusions before I know all of the facts. That investigation is underway by the inspector general of the Department of Justice, and I will be guided by what those facts are.
SCIUTTO: Senator Blumenthal, please stay there. We have some new information coming in. We're going to come right back to you after this short break.
[17:19:51] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. And we are back with Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
But first China reacting very strongly to secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, who suggested a more aggressive strategy by the U.S. in the contested waters of the South China Sea. That's where China has built and now militarized artificial islands, huge ones.
Our Brian Todd has been looking into this. So Brian, what are you learning about these remarkable comments from the secretary of state nominee?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT Well, Jim, we're getting strong signals that a President-elect Trump security team is going to get in China's face over those islands. It's raised a key question, will the Trump administration maintain the current strategy of essentially buzzing these waters with American warships and planes to signal their displeasure over the islands? Or will they try to block China from accessing them and risk a possible conflict?
TODD (voice-over): They've staked a claim to thousands of acres of what were sand bars and reeves. They've used sophisticated equipment like these ships, pumping sand through those thin tubes to create islands.
Then they built air fields with towering radar stations, constructed ports, deployed weapons there, even built barracks. China's military buildup of these islands in the China sea has angered the Obama administration. The U.S. has sent ships and planes very near the islands, sometimes drawing Chinese warnings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the Chinese Navy. This is the Chinese Navy. Please go away quickly.
TODD: Tonight a government-run Chinese newspaper is warning of a possible war with the U.S. over the manmade islands. It's spurred by this comment from secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson at his confirmation hearings.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: We are going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island building stops and second, your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed.
TODD: The Chinese newspaper says, quote, "Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, then trying to block China's access to the islands would be, quote, "foolish." And "Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories."
Pentagon officials tonight are calling on China to reduce tensions. How could the U.S. deny China access to those islands?
(on camera): If the U.S. wanted to deny access, how would they do it?
GREGORY POLING, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Presumably you start, you would want to start with a naval blockade. People would think Cuba missile crisis in the modern era. But this is a lot of space to cover.
I would assume that you're talking about blocking access to the seven islands they're trying to occupy here out of these dozens. You'd also have to deal with their air capabilities. This is not just a naval blockade. China has four different air strips built on the largest of the islands out there. They have hangar space for a full regiment of fighter aircraft at each one of these. That's an awful lot of capability.
And finally, this is not without cost. These are not defenseless features. What you're looking at here are advanced air defense and antimissile systems. This is an antiaircraft gun.
TODD: Tonight analysts are worried about escalation.
ROBERT DALY, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: The biggest fear is accidental conflict, of accidental conflict. The South China Sea, even under the best possible set of circumstances, is going to get more crowded and more contentious. There are going to be more commercial ships in the area, and there are going to be more military assets.
TODD: Tonight a key question: did Rex Tillerson speak directly for President-elect Trump when he said the U.S. would not allow China access to those islands?
I spoke to a Trump transition official who didn't answer that directly but did seem to walk back ever so slightly from Tillerson's comment. This Trump official said denying access doesn't have to mean a naval blockade, but there are other -- there are other options, including economic ones.
Now, when I pressed him on what those might be, the transition official said there are no details yet, that all this will have to be worked out. But Jim, this official stated unequivocally that Tillerson did not misspeak in that hearing when he said it.
SCIUTTO: Denying access in this area, big deal no question. Brian Todd, thanks very much.
We're back now with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. A reminder: he's a member of both the Armed Services and Judiciary Committee.
So Senator Blumenthal, those comments from the secretary of state nominee, I've spent time in the South China Sea, spent a lot of time in China. They take that very seriously. You could hear that in the comments from the state party newspaper. In your view, is the Trump administration really, the incoming Trump administration really talking about perhaps military moves or other moves to block access to these islands?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, I have no inside information about the views of the Trump administration. My guess is that there's some disarray within the Trump administration about exactly what Rex Tillerson may have meant.
But the important point for me, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, considering the nomination of General Mattis, is that there needs to be a stable, sane voice of caution and reason within the Trump administration that assesses what the costs of conflict may be in that area, and the dangers of accidental conflict and miscalculation, which is precisely the point that General Mattis made in his testimony yesterday to our committee in his nomination proceeding.
[17:25:08] And it strengthens, I think, his nomination and the need for quick action on his nomination so that an expert military professional is providing some guidance about what denial of access could mean in the way of a response from the Chinese.
SCIUTTO: You're on the Armed Services Committee. What would a confrontation with China mean for the U.S.? Could that be contained? Certainly enormous dangers of escalation, and a reminder, as the Chinese newspaper said, it's a nuclear power.
BLUMENTHAL: Neither side wants a military confrontation. And both sides are actively engaged in both competition economically and militarily. Both are building more fleets and greater military forces, and both are engaged in economic competition.
So, the danger really is that there may be a miscalculation, an accidental conflict, almost like occurred in the Middle East when planes flew very close to each other. That kind of accidental conflict is very much a danger, especially if there's loose talk and the kind of extravagant claims that may be made as to what would happen in denial of access or any other action in that area by American forces.
SCIUTTO: Senator Blumenthal, thanks very much for your time tonight.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Coming up, intriguing new details about the hunt for the leader of ISIS, and the prediction that his days are numbered.
[17:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Let's get back to this hour's breaking news. Democratic Congressman and Civil Rights legend, John Lewis, telling an interviewer that he will skip Donald Trump's inauguration next week because he does not consider Trump to be a legitimate president. Let's bring in our political analyst, experts, and reporters now. Mark Preston, I mean, really, really explosive comments here. And just for the sake of our viewers, I'm going to play those comments again. Let's have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN LEWIS, JOHN LEWIS, UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN FOR GEORGIA: I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC MEET THE PRESS DAILY HOST: You do not consider him a legitimate president? Why is that?
LEWIS: I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I don't plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I miss since I've been in the congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Mark Preston, certainly difficult comments to put -- to claw back, right? And what kind of effect is this going to have?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Look, I think it's very unfortunate that he would say that Donald Trump is not a legitimate president. That he can say, "I'm not going to attend the inauguration." I think he can say, "I'm going to be part of the loyal opposition. I don't believe in anything that he believes in." But to go out and say that he is not a legitimate president, I think, certainly at this time, we have a nation so divided, a social fabric right now that has been shredded up in so many ways. Someone like John Lewis who transcends politics, you know, somebody that we look to, to try to bring people together in healing, I think it's unfortunate that he used that language.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: But let's provide -- let's think about the context, though, for a lot of democrats who remembered that Donald Trump trafficked in the birther stuff, the stuff about whether or not -- whether Barack Obama was actually a legitimate president, because maybe he wasn't born in United States, and did this repeatedly for years during the entire eight years of Barack Obama's presidency. For a lot of democrats, they feel this is pay back. Look, it's politics and that's what is happening here, I believe, in part.
SCIUTTO: Ron Brown, (INAUDIBLE) Ron Brownstein, is that a fair comparison? Because as we know, there were many republicans who perhaps didn't say it in such definitive terms, but they certainly behaved like President Obama was not legitimate, and President-elect Trump, one of them for five years, propagating a myth about his -- where he was born.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST AND THE ATLANTIC SENIOR EDITOR: Yes, look, Donald Trump was at the forefront of that, right? With the birther, further than any elected official, I believe. So, look, I think what John Lewis says, just reflects the reality that Donald Trump will take office with more resistance, facing more resistance and public opinion, than any newly elected president in the history of polling. We have some new poll numbers out today from gallop showing the approval rating for the transition in the low 40s. The important point of that, is that, historically, the initial approval rating for the incoming president, in gallop going back to 1952, has been several points lower than the approval for the transition.
And that means two things, one, is that it is virtually certain at this point that Donald Trump will come into office with by far the highest disapproval rating of any newly elected president. The highest ever was 25 percent. He's going to be somewhere in the 40s if not the 50s, and he's also going to be almost certainly the first president ever to take office with a job approval rating from less than half of the country. So, you know, whether John Lewis go too far in his language?
BROWNSTEIN: There's a direction here that it reflects.
SCIUTTO: OK. But let's be clear those -- what those numbers say and what they don't say. You know, those numbers don't say that 66 percent of the population think he's illegitimate. They just don't approve of his actions in the transition. Jeffrey Toobin, you know, I just got to ask this question. Do those numbers really matter? You know, I mean, the approval ratings --
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's the point.
SCIUTTO: -- I mean, who knows in a week, two weeks, two months, does it matter?
[17:34:55] TOOBIN: Well, I think at least initially, it doesn't matter at all, because the paradox here is that even though his approval ratings are so low, he has a clear majority in the House of Representatives, a clear majority in the senate, and has the ability, it seems, to push through a dramatically conservative agenda that, you know -- he says, "I won the election so everybody supports -- you know, everybody supports everything I'm for," and, you know, it's hard to argue with that even though it's not true, according to polls on each issue, but he is heading to be an extremely consequential president, a someone who is going to turn the country in a very different direction, even though, personally, he appears to be pretty unpopular.
SCIUTTO: Rebecca Berg, though, let's set the numbers aside because at the end of the day, approval ratings (INAUDIBLE) -- we know polls didn't do so great before the election, either, but let's set the numbers aside. There are two major issues which gets at the legitimacy question, right? And then one is, Russian hacking, what effect did it have, if any -- the other is what effect did the James Comey's, the FBI Director's handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation have. Now, you have two, you know, simultaneous running investigations of those two questions going on. You're going to have house hearings on Russia, you name it, new sanctions, and now you have the FBI investigating itself, in effect, on this. That's going to be, I don't want to say hanging around his neck, the President-elect, but it's going to be a cloud over the administration for some.
REBECCA BERG, REAL CLEAR POLITICS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Oh, absolutely. And so, I think this is going to be a problem for months and maybe years to come. And this is why this is such an unusual presidency from the very beginning, because even with George W. Bush, when he took office in 2001, he had just had a recount in Florida, an election decided by the Supreme Court ultimately. And even his approval was higher than Donald Trump's is now, and he was able to move beyond that, democrats and republicans to an extent, were able to accept the outcome of that election. This is very different.
SCIUTTO: And he had an event, of course, 9/11, that unified the country, sadly, under the worst circumstances. Listen, listen. Hold your thoughts folks because we have the luxury of time. We're going to come back with the panel, and we have some new information coming in, right after this break.
[17:40:00] SCIUTTO: We're back now with our political experts as we cover the breaking news. Just a short time ago, the house joined the senate in taking the first step towards repealing Obamacare. It was a mostly party line vote and republicans still have not put out a specific plan for how they're going to replace the Affordable Care Act. I want to come to you, Mark. As you look at this, just the simplest of questions, does the GOP have a plan to replace?
PRESTON: Absolutely not. Absolutely not, because if they did, they would have been able to roll it out on day one. They don't have it. Paul Ryan last night in the CNN Town Hall, said he would -- he thinks he's going to get it done within the first 100 days. If I was a betting person, which I am, I would say, I don't think that's probably going to happen within the first 100 days.
SCIUTTO: So, they're claiming, and Paul Ryan, as you said, with Jake Tapper last night, said, "Simultaneous, simultaneous." Does that - does that look plausible to you?
BERG: It's going to be very difficult, especially if they want to fulfil this promise right off the bat to repeal the health care law. And they've suggested that they have, it would give Donald Trump a win potentially in his first 100 days, that he could point to and say, "Look, I'm already fulfilling my promises from this campaign and taking the country in a new direction." So, they have a lot of political incentive to get the repeal aspect of this done, but they are worried about the backlash, potentially, if they don't have the parts of the law in place that Americans actually do like.
SCIUTTO: Rob Brownstein, that's the issue there, because there are 20 million people, who some of them -- many of them, Trump voters, right? And the issue is, if you take away a benefit that they have now and there's no real way to replace it, they got kids, they got families, you know, how do they -- how do they thread that needle?
BROWNSTEIN: And it's very difficult. I mean, there are two structural problems. The first one, is as you say, of the 20 million who gained coverage, many of them are Trump voters. In the states that decided this election, in the Midwest, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Iowa, non-college whites, whites without a college education, were the majority of those who obtained coverage under the law. But there's something even more fundamental here, Jim, that is a real stumbling block that smart conservative analysts recognize, which is that one of the cornerstones of the Affordable Care Act was to promote more sharing of risk. It basically imposed more costs on younger and healthier people to reduce both the cost and the financial risk on older and sicker people.
Well, every one of the republican alternatives would move back in the other direction, toward unravelling that sharing of risk, and the losers in that potentially are older voters at a time when a majority of Donald Trump's votes came from whites over 45. It's very hard to unravel the risk sharing and not hit the very constituencies at the core of the new republican coalition, and that is a puzzle they have not sorted out yet.
SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, republicans keep promising to bring premiums down. How do they do that as a practical matter while keeping benefits such as ones that president-elect has talked about, for instance, no, you know, no problem with pre-existing conditions, et cetera? Is it possible to square that circle?
[17:44:44] TOOBIN: Well, if it were possible or easy, we would have heard a plan by now. I mean, everybody knows -- I mean, the president-elect has been saying for months that he wants to keep, you know, the fact that kids can stay on their parents' insurance policies till they're 21 -- 26, that you can't be turned down for insurance because of pre-existing conditions that you may have. But the reason that those could be in the Obamacare plan is that there was this risk sharing, that Ron was talking about. Without force -- having a mandate that requires people to have insurance to pay into the system, you don't have enough money, and the republicans also want to cut taxes and they want to cut the Obamacare taxes. So, I mean, to keep paying for all these benefits in Obamacare, you need money somewhere, and it's a not clear where that money is coming from.
SCIUTTO: Realistically, how long till you see conceivably a replacement?
BERG: Well, that's the million dollar question, isn't it? It could be months and it could be longer. I mean, what republicans are going to run into, is first, the challenge of crafting legislation, because crafting a law this complex takes a long time. There's a lot of detail that you have to look at there, and then a lot of policy research that goes into that. Then once they have a plan, they need to get some democrats on board, likely, because if they're not using the reconciliation process, they're going to need 60 votes in the senate to get anything through. And then beyond that, if you're able to get democrats on board, you need to look at all the interest groups in any sort of health care legislation. It's a very, very complicated matter and that's why it was so difficult for the Obama administration to do this the first time around. It's kind of your really heavy lift for republicans and so this could take a while. It could take longer than I think they're anticipating. SCIUTTO: So, Mark Preston, what do democrats do, they sit on the sidelines and say, hey, guys, good luck, right?
PRESTON: You know, in many ways, politically, sitting on the sidelines is not as bad idea, because what you're doing is you're forcing republicans now who have campaigned on promises being forced now to try to put action into legislation. And coming here to Washington, D.C., it is hard to govern. It is not easy. That building behind us is a very difficult place to work.
Donald Trump, too, mind you, has talked a lot about things that he's going to get done. He himself has never governed himself. So, this is going to be very, very difficult. Politically, democrats -- by the way, they can't do much anyway. They kind of have to sit back. They don't have the votes, and politically, in some ways, that might be the best thing for them.
SCIUTTO: Folks, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks very much, as always. Sorry we're running out of time. We'll get to you next time, Ron. Coming into THE SITUATION ROOM just now, new details about what the leader of ISIS is doing and a bold prediction that his days are numbered.
[17:50:00] SCIUTTO: We are learning new details about the hunt for the leader of ISIS. I want to bring in CNN Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, is the defense secretary telegraphing that they're getting close to Baghdadi?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't really know at this point, Jim. Look, the clues are there. But the question may be whether U.S. troops can capture or kill him before President Obama leaves office.
STARR: The hunt for ISIS Leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, may be intensifying. Defense Secretary, Ash Carter, offering uncharacteristic detail.
ASHTON CARTER, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: He moves around. We -- I'm just confident, I don't want to say any more than that.
STARR: Carter says the U.S. doesn't know exactly where Baghdadi is, but he is making clear there's fresh intelligence. Military and intelligence officials will not say if the new information comes from overhead surveillance by drones or aircraft, intercepting communications, or detainees, who have been willing to talk.
PETER COOK, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We anticipate that Baghdadi and other senior ISIL leaders have been moving around.
STARR: Iraqi Shia militias now insist he is hiding west of Mosul, not far from the Syrian border. U.S. Special Operations Forces who've been looking for Baghdadi from the air and on the ground, have gotten clues from raids against top ISIS operatives.
COOK: As we continue to recover sensitive intelligence in locations, in Iraq and Syria, we're going to continue to use that intelligence and use what we learn about their movements.
STARR: The top U.S. commander noting Baghdadi is increasingly isolated by the killing of those around him, making him vulnerable.
STEPHEN TOWNSEND, UNITED STATES ARMY GENERAL AND COMBINED NEW TASK FORCE COMMANDER: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, probably wishes he had more command -- direct command and control over his formation than he does right now.
STARR: And according to the defense secretary, it's only a matter of time.
CARTER: His days are numbered and that's durable (INAUDIBLE) the rest of leadership.
STARR: And still another clue, a U.S. official says that the United States is aware of some of Baghdadi's movements in recent weeks. Jim?
SCIUTTO: That's remarkable. And they've had success recently with a number of lower level ISIS leaders. Barbara Starr, thanks very much for keeping us on top of it.
Coming up, breaking news. Democratic Congressman John Lewis says that Russia helped destroy Hillary Clinton's candidacy and conspired to get Donald Trump elected. He says that Trump, in his view, is not a legitimate president.
[17:55:00] SCIUTTO: Happening now, the Russia Connection. New confirmation tonight of conversation between Donald Trump's choice for National Security Adviser and Moscow's top envoy to the U.S. Why the timing of their call is raising eyebrows.
Guilty as hell. Trump is lashing out at Hillary Clinton, again. The President-elect, posting a new series of hostile tweets, as the civil rights icon declares that Trump, in his view, is not a legitimate Commander in Chief.
Family Feud. While game show host, Steve Harvey, gets FaceTime with Donald Trump, President-elect brushes aside reporters' questions about Obamacare.
Tonight, Trump's party is moving toward repealing the Affordable Care Act, but feuding over just how to replace it.
And first daughters. After growing up in the White House, Sasha and Malia Obama are getting tips on life in the real world, from two sisters who understand very much what it's like. We'll look at the moving message from Jenna -