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Interview With Oklahoma Senator James Lankford; New Details on Deadly Military Raid; Dow Soars Past 21,000 Reaching Record High. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 1, 2017 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And now sources telling CNN the Pentagon and the White House are debating changes to how such missions are green-lighted. Will generals get more authority?

Spy expenses. Financial ties are revealed between the FBI and the former British spy behind the dossier on Donald Trump's ties to Russia. We're finding out the FBI reimbursed some of his expenses. How much was he paid and for how long?

Market mover? Wall Street goes wild as the Dow cracks 21000 for the first time. President Trump is taking credit for soaring stocks. Will he also be blamed if it current rally collapses?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, President Trump and the White House are basking in the mostly positive reviews of the president's speech to Congress. Mr. Trump met with key congressional Republicans today to discuss turning the agenda he outlined into policy.

In an effort to keep the spotlight on what some say was Mr. Trump's best speech, the White House has delayed a revised executive order on travel, as top administration officials push to have Iraq removed from the ban.

Meanwhile, CNN has learned the Pentagon and the White House are discussing changes to the way military counterterror missions are approved. In his speech, Mr. Trump praised the recent operation in Yemen that left the U.S. Navy SEAL dead, saying it yielded valuable information.

And tonight sources are telling CNN the FBI reimbursed some of the expenses of the former British spy behind the dossier containing allegations of ties between President Trump and Russia.

We're covering all that and much more this hour with our guests, including Senator James Lankford. He's a member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees. Our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, the White House is trying to pivot on the heels of the president's speech.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They are indeed, Wolf.

They're trying to get Republicans in line and behind his agenda that he talked about on health care and on tax reform and other things. He had congressional leadership over here for a lunch today at the White House for a meeting with them. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're just here to start the process. It begins as of now and we think we're going to have tremendous success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So, of course, that tremendous success depends on whether they can get the rank and file behind him here, particularly on health care.

Some of the proposals he talked about last night, tax credits in particular, some Republicans and fiscal conservative view it as an extra entitlement here. He needs to get his party on board before they even start thinking about trying to urge some Democrats to also get behind them.

But this was a private meeting today. That short clip there is all that we saw from the meeting, but talking to people in the room and others, we're told it was a very productive meeting in terms of getting health care on the agenda. Look for the first steps of that to start next week on Capitol Hill, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're also learning more, Jeff, about the new revised travel ban that the president was originally supposed to sign today. What can you tell us?

ZELENY: Wolf, this is something that has been promised and promised and promised really over the last three weeks or so.

But the president was expected to sign that executive order again today, essentially a do-over, if you will, from the one that was blocked by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier. But they decided to hold off on that after the speech last evening because the speech was getting such positive reviews. They didn't want to step on that, I'm told.

But, Wolf, happening here at the same time here, three top officials in the administration, the secretary of state, the defense secretary and the national security adviser, all are trying to urge the president and the White House to change this ban a little bit by removing Iraq from it, from those seven countries that are included in there. They say they do not want Iraq to be included in there. No word yet

tonight if it will be, but, Wolf, we're still expecting it later this week. But remember the urgency for this that the president talked about repeatedly? Suddenly, it doesn't seem quite so urgent if it was delayed again today because of the speech last night.

BLITZER: We will see when it's released.

The president also told a group of reporters yesterday, including me, and I'm quoting him now, "The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides."

Your White House colleague Sara Murray, she is getting some new reporting about those comments and it's pretty startling. Update our viewers.

ZELENY: She is indeed, Wolf.

Sara Murray talked to a senior administration official today who said that was a bit of misdirection. What that means, the president may certainly believe this, and he's talked about immigration reform for a while, but it is certainly not one of his leading priorities here.

[18:05:00]

But Sara is reporting that the president wanted to raise that as sort of a -- something to have a discussion about going into the speech last night, but it certainly is not one of his priorities.

Now, this could be a win/win for the White House. They want to show that the president is thinking in those terms. As he told you, he is not closed to this possibility. But the reality here is, he was not elected on a mandate for comprehensive immigration reform.

We heard his language last night on cracking down on existing laws and borders. This is something I would say is definitely not on the front burner. It did not come up at all today, we're told, at the legislative meeting here at the White House.

It's something that potentially may be an aspiration for him, but he talked about it more at the meeting with you yesterday, Wolf, than he did last night in the speech.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed.

All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you.

Meanwhile, U.S. defense sources are telling CNN that military commanders and the Trump White House are discussing potentially very significant changes in how counterterror raids are approved.

This follows a controversial raid in Yemen in which is a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed. The widow of Chief Petty Officer Ryan Owens was a guest in the first lady's box for President Trump's speech to Congress last night. The president's tribute to her late husband and her emotional response drew more than two minutes of applause. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, the president praised the mission in which Owens died and said it produced lots of vital intelligence. What exactly -- based on all the information you're getting, what exactly did they get?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening, Wolf.

Now, it's worth noting right off the top the intelligence remains classified, so this is what senior defense officials are telling us they got. They say that they got vital information and a good deal of it.

They say the information centers around some key areas, that they got information about other al Qaeda safe havens in Yemen. They may able to execute raids, additional raids, against those targets. We will have to see.

They got information about how this al Qaeda group is recruiting, training, how it is working on explosives. And all of those things are very vital to understand, because this al Qaeda group in Yemen is one of the few that really has been able to conduct attacks overseas.

It is said to have been responsible for the "Charlie Hebdo" attack in Paris a couple of years ago against that cartoonist office and responsible for the Christmas Day, 2009, attempt in the United States to get a nondetectable bomb device on board an airplane landing in Detroit.

The concern has always been this group is really trying to reach out and attack and attack in the West. It's one of the reasons the U.S. military is going after them strong.

BLITZER: Let's say they did get excellent intelligence that could set the stage for another special operations raid. There is a discussion now, who actually approve the raid? Tell our viewers about that.

STARR: This discussion is seeing if the Trump administration can and will move beyond the Obama White House.

Under President Obama, many military commanders felt their hands were tied. Every time they wanted to do something, they had to get the president's approval, they had to lay it out in detail for it. He asked a lot of questions. You hear the phrase micromanagement.

Now the question is, is President Trump less of a micromanager? The way it's being portrayed is, he's more willing to trust his top commanders, trust his defense secretary, he will still sign off, they say, on everything he has to sign off on. But he's willing to delegate just a little bit more.

Of course, here is the risk. If you have a mission go badly, as this one did in Yemen, he is still the commander in chief. Will the buck stop with him or will he say it stops with the Pentagon, Wolf?

BLITZER: Good questions, indeed. All right, Barbara, thank you very much, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Let's get some more on all of this with Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He's a member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Glad to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Have you been briefed on the strength of the intelligence that was collected in that raid in Yemen?

LANKFORD: You and I have spoken on these issues before. I don't ever talk about what we have actually been briefed on and what we're walking through right now.

But obviously when you go on the ground to be able to actually go into a location, you're obviously very aware that there may be valuable information there. There is a reason you do an on-the-ground attack, rather than actually do some sort of attack from the air and just drop munitions and be able to take things out.

BLITZER: Your Republican colleague Lindsey Graham today warned President Trump against overselling the gains in that Yemen raid. Do you agree with the senator?

LANKFORD: Well, I would say, we don't know fully what is gathered there.

Obviously, it takes a long time to be able to get all the full information of what comes out a raid like that. When you gather information, there is translation, they work through the process, so they have different tiers of what they're trying to get immediately based on immediate attacks, and then they begin to work their way through the process.

[18:10:04]

And it takes a very long time. And, as you go, you hit troves of information and veins of good information that take you different directions.

BLITZER: Have you seen the information that leads you to believe that now a revised travel ban, including banning at least six, maybe seven Muslim majority countries, is necessary for U.S. national security?

LANKFORD: Those are decisions the president makes actually dealing with it.

I would tell you, as we've spoken before -- and I don't know exactly what the travel ban is going to list. Obviously, we're all waiting on that and what that's going to include.

But when you're talking about Yemen, when you're talking about Somalia, when you're talking about Syria, when you're talking about a terrorist nation like Iran, those are high-risk countries regardless, especially in a situation where there is a failed government like Yemen and Somalia and Libya.

BLITZER: What about Iraq? Would you include Iraq in that list?

LANKFORD: I would not for me personally, because we have a longstanding relationship with Iraq and with the new Iraqi government.

It is more reliable of the documents that we're receiving there because of our intensive relationship. But when you're dealing with Yemen, al Qaeda has been very active in trying to move attacks from Yemen into the Western countries, including trying to target the United States.

That's long been aspirational for them and that's very well-known and that is a completely failed state with no functioning government currently.

BLITZER: But we are told that Iraq was originally included in the first executive order because so much of Iraq, including the second largest city, Mosul, at least a huge chunk of Mosul, is still under the control of ISIS. And people fleeing Mosul, for example, they may wind up in Syria, they may wind up in Turkey, but there really can't be much serious vetting of these individuals.

LANKFORD: It depends on how much you trust the documents.

If you can have reliable documents coming back and forth and we have a trace on those individuals, that's true. But we're not talking about opening up all individuals being able to move. This is not like they're moving from Canada back and forth to the United States. There is a lot of vetting that already occurs right now.

Every individual that petitions to be able to come to the United States from Iraq is not accepted currently. This is a total block on those individuals to do additional examination, or whether you are going to try to keep the high standards that we already have

now. If they're coming from Mosul, if they don't have reliable documents, if they can't show a nexus to be able to come to the United States and a reason for that, they're blocked right now. What President Trump is proposing is a stop for a moment to be able to do a serious evaluation of is our vetting system high enough for countries like Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Libya, other countries where we do not have functioning relationships?

BLITZER: Let me move on to another key issue.

A senior administration official tells me that President Trump now believes, as President Obama believed at the end of his administration, that North Korea represents the greatest immediate threat to U.S. national security. Do you agree?

LANKFORD: There are a lot of immediate threats. That's the difficulty for any of us trying to narrow this down,

whether it be cyber-security, whether it be narco-terrorism, whether it be ISIS.

But when you deal with North Korea specifically, they have been very clear on their development and their testing of nuclear weapons. They have been very clear about their ballistic missile program, and they have been very clear that they're trying to create a weapon that will reach the continental United States.

And I don't know of another leader with nuclear weapons that is as unstable as the North Korean leadership is. It's a great unknown. When you try to predict what someone is going to do or what is a deterrent to a North Korean leader as unstable as he is, we don't know what a really good deterrent would be on that.

So, that does make him a very strong, very serious threat to the United States at any moment.

BLITZER: Certainly does. Thanks very much.

I want you to stick around, Senator Lankford. We have more to discuss. We have got to take a quick break.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:18:05]

BLITZER: A bombshell statement by President Trump on comprehensive immigration reform, but did he really mean it?

We're back with Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Senator, President Trump told a group of journalists yesterday in the White House, including me, this, and I will read the on-the-record quote from the president. "The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides."

But our White House reporter, Sara Murray, is now reporting that a senior administration official source calls that simply, in the words of this official, a misdirection play designed to give the media a storyline to generate some positive news coverage for the president. But it wasn't really serious.

What is your reaction when you hear that?

LANKFORD: When we deal with immigration reform, there is a lot of things that the executive branch can do. Obviously, there is a law in place that has be enforced.

But, ultimately, if you're going to do real immigration reform, that has to be a cooperation between the House, the Senate and the White House. It's been the barrier that we have had for several years. And we try to do the simplest things, like even people that have graduate degrees, graduating from the United States, keeping them a green card so they can stay here, when we have tried to do those reforms in the past, they have been blocked, saying, no, we need to do larger reforms as well.

There are a lot of things that need to be done in immigration reform that can be done. There's a lot of common ground issues already in immigration reform.

The challenge is going to be is trying to focus on what can be done and not try to create this into something that can't be done politically or shouldn't be done politically. I think we should actually work towards legislation on this. And that's probably going to this fall at the earlier.

We have got to deal with the Affordable Care Act. We're dealing with tax policy. We have got regulatory reform. Then we will probably be able to get to immigration at the earliest this fall.

BLITZER: Would you support comprehensive immigration reform if it included a pathway to legal status, not necessarily citizenship, but to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants, allowing them to work, pay taxes, raise families, without fear of being deported?

[18:20:05]

LANKFORD: Yes, I would have to see the exact text and how that works and for who that's extended to and how that's extended.

I would never support something that leads to citizenship. Quite frankly, in my own personal perspective, in my own faith, in my own journey, there is something very, very special about American citizenship.

And I don't think you begin that with an illegal act at the beginning of developing that relationship. And that is the ultimate cutting in line that we have people like in the Philippines that wait 30 years to be able to come through the legal process to be able to get there.

That is definitely off the table for me. How we would deal any other relationships, who would be able to earn that kind of legal recognition status, I would have to be able to see the exact proposals on that.

But we absolutely have to be able to do something in a lot of areas of our legal system. Even the 50,000 people a year that get citizenship based on the visa lottery system is nonsensical just because we have this open lottery system, rather than, as what the president talked about last night, a merit-based system, very similar to what the U.K. does, or what Canada does, or what Australia does, where their target is, do we need those jobs, how does that work, what's the best interests, are you coming to be able to do research and development?

Those things other countries do, we have not done in the past. That's a wise thing for any nation to be able to focus in on immigration.

BLITZER: What about the so-called dreamers, the children who were born here as little kids, raised in the United States by their parents? Would you allow a pathway to citizenship for these so-called dreamers?

LANKFORD: Yes, again, there is a lot of complications on how we would do that. I would have to look at it as a package.

I would not exclude them as individuals. Some would say no way, I would never do that. I would not exclude them in that conversation, because there are some of those individuals that clearly should be able to work through our system and to able to come on as Americans because they have grown up and been here their whole lives.

We as Americans hold people to account for actions they have done, not actions that their parents have done. And so that always been a challenge for us dealing with the Law in whatever that may be.

But just because you're a dreamer doesn't mean you actually come through the process. I was talking to some law enforcement folks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, just last weekend that was in the process of deporting a dreamer because they were one of those individuals that was involved in a gang, in narcotics trafficking. They're now 19 years old, been here since they were 11 months old. But they're now being deported because they violated law.

You can't have any kind of blanket rule on that.

BLITZER: You and the president, based on what I know, Senator, you both seem to be pretty much on the same page on all these very sensitive issues. But we will see what happens down the road.

Senator James Lankford, thanks very much for joining us.

LANKFORD: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, does his well-received speech mark a pivot in President Trump's presidency?

Plus, we have details of payments by the FBI to the former British spy behind the dossier on President Trump and Russia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:27:30]

BLITZER: CNN has learned that the FBI reimbursed some expenses of the former British spy behind the dossier containing allegations of ties between President Trump and Russia.

Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is working the story for us.

Evan, you're learning new information. Update us.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

The British spy who produced a dossier detailing these allegations of ties between President Donald Trump and Russia got paid by the FBI for some of his expenses. Now, sources tells us the bureau had a short- lived arrangement with Christopher Steele, who is a former MI6 operative, before the 2016 election.

The agreement ended in part because Steele became frustrated that in his view the FBI wasn't doing enough to investigate Trump and the Russia allegations. Steele initially had been hired by a Washington research firm that was working on behalf of Trump's political opponents initially in the Republican primary and then later by the Democrats.

"The Washington Post" was first to report that the FBI had sought to reach a payment arrangement with Steele. We don't know how much the FBI actually paid Steele and for how long, but we do know that the FBI spent months last summer trying to verify parts of his dossier.

Investigators compared it to some of their own work related to Russia's attempts to influence the U.S. election. And the FBI worked with U.S. intelligence agencies to try to check aspects of Steele's work.

The FBI was able to match some of the communications that the dossier describes as happening between some of the people described and on the dates that the dossier said that they happened.

Steele was well-known to the FBI and to other U.S. government agencies because he used his Russian sources to come up with some of the information that the FBI used in its corruption probe of FIFA. That's the world soccer governing body -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, with the latest news. Evan, thank you very much.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and analysts.

And, Bianna Golodryga, let me start with you. What do you make of that reporting?

And let me turn to Bianna as I ask her that question.

That latest reporting, does it give more credence to the allegations that have been so widely reported over these past several weeks?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS: Well, Wolf, it suggests that there may in fact have been some there there.

There was a reason why the U.S. intelligence agencies brought this to the attention of not only the president at the time, President Obama, but the president-elect, President Trump, as well to tell them that this is the information that we have gathered. We don't find that all of it to be credible. We can't release it all.

Obviously, CNN broke the story, not releasing a lot of the details, because you can't confirm them. But this just sort of validates the theory that there is in fact some there there, and that this dossier may have legs. [18:30:11] You know, I have to say one of the most rewarding things

for the president, I thought, coming out of the speech was that, except for now, we haven't been talking about Russia at all today. He didn't talk about it last night in his speech. Russia wasn't talked about at all today throughout the news channels and newspapers, because people were focusing on the depth and the issues that he talked about last night, as opposed to deflecting from Russia. So that to me, if anything, signaled a success for the president, at least for a day.

BLITZER: That's a good point. And Gloria, not only Russia; we didn't hear much about North Korea, or Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, other international issues. A little bit here and there, but not much at all, which suggests he really wants to move away from the international arena. He wants focus on domestic issues.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and we all know that, as a candidate, it's so much easier to come up with solutions to foreign policy, say, "I would do this. I would do that." Then, when you're president, you get confronted by the reality of that presidential daily brief, and you know that the world is a lot more complicated than that.

The line that the president used last night which struck me was he said, "My job is not to represent the world. My job is to the represent the United States of America."

So that was the larger "America first," you know, theme that he has used over and over again.

But yes, you're right, Wolf. Right now his challenge is in domestic policy. And he spent most of the speech talking about the issues that are going to come before the Congress, because his captive audience right there happened to have been the Congress, and he was talking to the Republicans in particular in the Congress, whom he has to work with to get a lot of this stuff through.

BLITZER: Jackie, one of the most powerful moments, several moments was near the end, when he mentioned the death of the Navy SEAL, Ryan Owens, referred -- and specifically mentioned to his wife, who was sitting up there in the gallery with the first lady, this was -- and with his daughter, Ivanka Trump. This was a powerful moment, and the president was very strong in talking about his bravery and the accomplishments, read a statement from the defense secretary and talking about the importance of the intelligence that was gathered.

But interestingly enough, Senator Lindsey Graham cautioned the president today that Owens is a hero, regardless of how much information was collected, but don't oversell the raid.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. First, we should say that Carryn Owens should be -- the bravery it took to be there and to stand there and receive that -- just to be in the spotlight like that, I mean, it was really impressive and just -- our hearts obviously go out for her loss. But Lindsey Graham is right, and John McCain said a very similar

thing. His sacrifice is important, and no matter whether it was, you know -- if intelligence was gained or not.

And there are still investigations going on into this raid, inside the military. So there are things that we just don't know yet, and you don't want to risk disappointing this family after the fact. Particularly after that powerful moment that we saw last night.

BLITZER: It was -- it was truly a powerful moment, and our hearts go out to that woman, the wife of this Navy SEAL.

By the way, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, they are going to be in a town hall here on CNN later tonight: 9 p.m. Eastern. Dana Bash will be moderating this, 9 p.m. Eastern. I think they'll have a lot to say on this and all sorts of other issues.

David Swerdlick, they're now reconsidering who should authorize these kinds of Special Operations raids in Yemen or elsewhere. During the Obama administration, it was always -- had to go to the president before they go out there and take a risky mission like this and get it underway. But now maybe the generals themselves should authorize it. There's a serious debate under way.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. It's an important debate, and it's not that surprising, right? This was talked about a little bit during the campaign, not a lot. There are folks on the Republican side of the aisle, there are folks in the national security establishment who believe that those closer to the fight, depending on how close they are, are in better shape to make these kinds of decisions about when to act on intelligence.

That said, in light of some of the rancor and blame game going on about the Yemen raid, I think whatever the administration does, they've got to go out there and say, "Look, we still recognize the president has to say that the buck stops with him," that ultimately, the commander in chief is responsible.

BLITZER: Well, the president -- President Obama, he always insisted that he wanted to personally authorize these kinds of operations. In effect suggesting, "You know what? The generals are great and all that, but I need -- as the commander in chief, it's got to come up to me."

BORGER: And Trump, Donald Trump just the other day said, "Well, the generals made the decisions," which looked like he was passing the buck, to a degree, to his generals. But, of course, we know that the commander in chief is the one who bears the ultimately responsibility, even if you don't make the final decision.

[18:35:03] BLITZER: Let me get Bianna to weigh in, as well. Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, well, Mattis, of course, was put in a box if you want to describe it that way last night. With the president calling him out, saying that, "See, this was, in fact, a victory because General Mattis, my defense secretary, said that it was."

So obviously, Gloria is talking about something that we reported yesterday and the day before. That seems to contradict what the president was saying and trying to validate last night.

Let's not forget our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of this lost SEAL. But somebody was killed in this raid. So in that alone, it proves that it wasn't necessarily the success that that thought it to be.

BLITZER: All right, Bianna. Everybody else, stand by. There's much more coming up.

Can the president unite Republicans behind a plan to replace Obamacare? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:30] BLITZER: Key Republican lawmakers were over at the White House today, strategizing with the president about replacing Obamacare. Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, has the latest.

Phil, Republicans are starting -- they appear to be coming together, at least around some critically important details.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, on topline details, Wolf, there are certainly areas of agreement. But just a few minutes ago, Senate Republicans broke up a closed-door meeting that they had with two of their House counterparts, really kind of an exchange of ideas, a question-and-answer session that one source said was a good exchange but only a first step. It is very clear that in this process, as it moves forward, there are still a lot more questions than answers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight I am also calling on this Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump attempting to sell lawmakers on his healthcare plan.

TRUMP: Action is not a choice. It is a necessity. So I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster.

MATTINGLY: Congressional leaders huddling with the president today to chart a path forward on the proposal, hoping to seize on the momentum of Trump's big night.

TRUMP: We're just here to start the process. It begins as of now, and we think we're going to have tremendous success.

MATTINGLY: This as Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price started meeting with wary conservatives to assuage their concerns. But many of those same conservatives are still held up on the Republican leadership pathway forward, disputing that Trump did anything like endorse that plan last night.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I get that there are folks today in the media that are trying to spin that he was supporting one legislative package versus another.

MATTINGLY (on camera): That's also the House Speaker that's saying that explicitly.

CRUZ: Well, the president was not laying out a piece of legislation. He was laying out the principles for reform. And it's going to be up to Congress to work out the details, and I think we can get it done.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But GOP leaders say that's exactly what the president did.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I thought it was a home run. He articulated exactly the response that we're working on that we all believe is necessary to repeal and replace Obamacare with a much better system.

MATTINGLY: And with these words...

TRUMP: Through the use of tax credits.

MATTINGLY: ... Trump appearing to endorse one of the most contentious aspects of House Speaker Paul Ryan's proposal. Trump's outline a long way from his January pledge of insurance for everybody, and a more detailed view than even just a few days earlier.

TRUMP: I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.

MATTINGLY: Trump's vague sign-off coming just as House Republicans prepare to launch their first legislative action. Two top committee chairs, Kevin Grady and Greg Walden, making the trek across the capital to sell their path forward to the Senate.

The House leadership proposal repeals the individual mandate, puts an emphasis on health savings accounts and financing for expanded high- risk pools, but it also relies on refundable tax credits to aid those not on employer plans and reforms Medicaid. Those two issues remain the thorniest for the moment.

House GOP aides tell CNN that Trump's influence on those specifics won't just be welcome but exceedingly necessary in the weeks ahead. For now, though, on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, a welcome step forward.

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here are my principles as you look at replacing Obamacare. Here is how we'll make a better healthcare system in America. And that's exactly the kind of leadership that will guide the Congress and guide the legislative process to a better future.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And Wolf, if you want an idea of how delicate this process is, there are two House committees that are working through the repeal language. And one of those committees will get a view on where the staff currently is tomorrow: behind closed doors with no electronic copies allowed and no ability to take copies out of that room.

The reason why? They are concerned about leaks, leaks that have sprung a lot of the conservative concern we've seen up to this point. Just how Republican leaders try and handle this entire process, it is as delicate as it gets. And there is a recognition right now that anything that could go sideways right now could sink the process on the whole. That's why everybody is being exceedingly careful, Wolf.

BLITZER: As they should be. All right. Phil Mattingly, our congressional correspondent, thanks very much.

Gloria, so Republicans, they're not yet all on the same page.

BORGER: No. They're not -- some of them aren't even in the same book. And -- and they're -- they're scrambling to try and get some kind of a plan that not only conservatives and more moderate members and pro-Trump members can agree with, but also that the House can agree with the Senate. And they're doing it behind closed doors because they don't want any of this to come out until they're finally done.

[18:45:19] That's why you have Dr. Price making house calls both in the -- all right. That's a little too much.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sorry.

BORGER: Sorry. In the House and in the Senate, and I think that in the end, it really is going to be up to the president. And don't forget, this is going to be his first big domestic agenda item, and he's going to call people in and say, I need this because I can't lose on my first vote. And I'm going to go sell it to the American public.

And if he tells Republicans he's going to do that, that's going to have a lot of sway with them because they need a president to go out there and explain it and tell people why they need it, and how Republicans are going to keep their health insurance.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He wants to do healthcare before he does tax cuts and a whole bunch of other things.

KUCINICH: Right.

BLITZER: But, you know, it's not going to be cheap, Jackie. This could add to the national debt, the expenditures, at least in the short-term. And there are going to be a bunch of fiscal hawks out there, Tea Party activists among others who are not going to be happy.

KUCINICH: Absolutely. But at least today, they all seem to be holding their fire. You saw Ted Cruz do that, kind of a wait and see, we'll handle this. It's going to be fine. It's not going to be fine. It's going to be a fight. It's going to

be -- no matter what the issue is, be it healthcare, be it tax reform, be it infrastructure -- I mean, that bill, Donald Trump is going to need Democrats to help that through, if it comes this years or next year.

So, yes, while there was some sort of coalescing and a bit of sigh of relief after the speech last night, they know -- if you get someone off the record, they know there's a long way to go.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, another very important part of the speech was right at the very beginning when he made a point of condemning the recent anti-Semitic incidents at cemeteries, at the Jewish day schools, Jewish community centers, also condemned the Kansas shooting that's now being investigated as a hate crime. He acknowledged in his speech also that ISIS is terrorizing Muslims. He expressed a commitment to working with Muslims in the battle against terror. How important was all of that?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS & FINANCE ANCHOR: Well, it is important, but it's also about time. I mean, Wolf, we shouldn't be talking about this. This should not be an issue. He should have been saying this from day one, the first time he heard about a cemetery being desecrated or a bomb threat being called in. He's the president, he leads by example, and people follow his words.

So, yes, it's important that he says that but it's important that he tells people that they should wear seat belts too. He shouldn't be rewarded for waiting three weeks after multiple cemeteries where desecrated, after one man was killed, another man severely wounded and after many people seemed to be inspired by his silence.

BLITZER: Why did he wait, David, so long?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think this goes back to Trump having a lack of comfort with talking about politically marginalized groups in a way that he can affirm people's feeling. As Bianna said, the people need the president to lead by example and at the same time, not alienate people who he's, you know, sort of gin up to this idea that talking about these things as political correctness.

But Bianna is right ultimately. He should have given a full-throated denunciation of these --

GOLODRYGA: This goes beyond political. This goes beyond political correctness. In what world is it OK to call bomb threats in? In what world is it OK to see cribs being ushered out out of day schools became of bomb threats?

I just interviewed a Holocaust survivor on Monday and asked him about this, and he says it brings up fears of what he saw growing up. I'm not comparing the two, but I am saying there is a reason why a lot of people in this country are concerned and concerned about what they view, the lack of actions that's the president took initially.

SWERDLICK: No, can I just clarify? When I say that, what I'm saying, Wolf, is that there are those among Trump's supporters who feel like talking about issues related to minority religions or minority ethnic groups is a form of political correctness and giving into the left in these type of discussions. Not that in any way -- Bianna, I totally take your point. Not in a way that it is political -- it is mere politically correct to talk about full throated denunciation of anti- Semitism.

KUCINICH: Also the aspect, though, that he takes things personally. He thinks that he's being accused of anti-Semitism rather than wanting to address the problem and making people in the country feel better. And you saw that during his press conference a few weeks ago.

BORGER: So then grow up, because honestly this is about the country. It's not about him.

And I think we saw the initial White House concern when Mike Pence went to one of the desecrated cemeteries and helped clean it up with the governor. And so, we saw that the White House had some concern then, but it's not good enough to have the vice president just do it. And I think that became obvious to them when you saw more and more of these things occur and it should have been obvious from day one.

[18:50:02] BLITZER: Yes.

You know, Bianna, one of the most frustrating parts of all this, all these phone calls, these threats to Jewish community centers, synagogues, to Jewish day schools, the desecration of the cemeteries, they have no real leads so far. But apparently, no one has been arrested yet, no one has been charged, no one has been picked up. They've got all sorts of suspicions and that's so frustrating.

GOLODRYGA: It is frustrating and completely unnecessary. You know, people are worried about fiscal responsibility at home should be outraged not only from a moral and ethical standpoint but for the fact that our FBI and our law enforcement now have to waste time trying to track these callers down and taxpayer dollars doing that.

BLITZER: You know, we reported that at least some of the calls, David, have come in from overseas and they have to investigate those calls obviously very clearly as well.

SWERDLICK: Yes. No, this should be investigated, but he should give a full-throated denunciation of it regardless of following it up by saying we need to look into it.

BORGER: And so should the attorney general of the United States and say we're going to use the full force of everything we have at our disposal to investigate this and prosecute these people.

BLITZER: All right guys. Stand by.

Just ahead, Wall Street celebrates a record high. Does it have President Trump to thank?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:55:42] BLITZER: Potentially good news for your 401(k). New tonight, a record high for Wall Street. The Dow closing above the 21,000 mark for the first time.

Let's go to our business correspondent Richard Quest. Richard, how much credit does President Trump deserve for the Dow -- for the Dow reaching this milestone?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I think most of the credit, frankly. Yes, there's the prospect of the Fed raising interest rates and what President Dudley told us yesterday, but President Trump's expectation of policies in the foreseeable future is what is driving this.

But it's not just tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure. It's not so narrow as that, Wolf. There is a renewed optimism. There is a confidence that business is moving forward. We saw it in a survey from J.P. Morgan. We've seen it again and again that there's no question about it, confidence is higher in the business community than it was, say, a year ago or two years ago, and that is one of the reasons that's propelling the market higher as well.

BLITZER: You went up 300 points. But if you take a look at November 8th, the day of the election, the Dow was about 18,300. Now, it's well over 21,000 already.

Richard, were there details in the president's speech to Congress last night that further reassured investors?

QUEST: One trillion dollars, Wolf -- a number that was put on the infrastructure plan. Also, the fact that tax reform is going to come.

Now, the president said and he may have said repeal and replace Obamacare comes first, but again and again, as long he's keeps hammering this idea that tax reform is coming and, indeed, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said that afterwards in a CNN interview, as long as that message comes forward, then the market will -- this march has got confidence at the moment. The market has got legs and the legs will probably run the rally further.

BLITZER: As you know, the president, President Trump, he's take something credit for all of this, but what happens when there's a downturn in the markets?

QUEST: Downturn or correction. Well, if it's a correction, that's good, that's healthy, we look forward to that. It is a full-scale downturn because his plans don't come to fruition, he has a very easy get out of jail card. It's very simple. He blames Congress. He simply says, I came along, I had a plan, they wouldn't pass it and now look at the results.

His plan as such will raise the deficit but the market likes it. It will have infrastructure, the market's pleased about it. Even the Democrats are pleased about that.

Overall, there is a general feeling of confidence. I was on the stock market today when it went to 21,000. I was on the floor of the exchange. I asked the traders and again and again the message was simple. We believe that there's better things coming and we have faith that they're going to arrive.

BLITZER: And I remember just for some perspective, Richard, you do as well, when President Obama was elected what -- eight years plus ago the Dow Jones was below 7,000, when he left office above 18,000 back in November, now, it's 21,000. He deserves some credit for that market going up in a dramatic swing like that as well.

QUEST: Oh, no question. I mean, the former president rescued the U.S. economy, which is why when Donald Trump took credit for the fact that his budget deficit was lower or that the federal deficit was lower in January than when Obama took office, it was spurious and frankly rather nonsensical. When President Obama took office, the deficit ballooned because of the need for spending to prevent a Great Depression. What Bill Dudley said to me yesterday was a really great risk of Great Depression.

Now, President Trump takes office with growth of 1.6 percent. Maybe not as good as he wants, unemployment down 4.6 percent. The garden is rosy, the blooms could get better, and now it's really up to him to execute on the plans he's put forward.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

QUEST: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. That's it for me. That's all the time we have. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.