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'Deep Concerns' within GOP Over ACA Replacement; White House Rejects CBO Estimate of Huge Health Coverage Drop; White House: Trump 'Proud' of GOP Healthcare Bill. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 14, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Proud of the bill. The White House declares the president is proud of the Obamacare replacement plan, even as objections to it grow. Tonight, questions about whether the White House is trying to pass the buck if it fails as the top Senate Republican hints the bill may have to be changed.

[17:00:26] Extremely confident. The White House says President Trump is extremely confident that evidence will be found to vindicate his claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama. But the Justice Department wants more time to come up with that evidence for congressional investigators.

Still waiting. Members of the Intelligence Committee say they're still waiting for that evidence and are now talking about expanding their investigation into Russia's campaign meddling. Will an informal Trump campaign advisor get called to testify?

And snowed in. Millions buried under two feet of snow, thousands of schools closed, thousands of flights canceled. Will travel be snarled for days to come?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's been a stormy couple of days for President Trump, and that's a sign from the snow blanketing Washington and the northeast.

The GOP plan to replace Obamacare is slipping and sliding and threatening to run off the road after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said it will leave 24 million more Americans without health insurance a decade from now.

The plan, pushed by the president, is expected to save more than $300 billion in that time, but Democrats are now calling it reverse Robin Hood, saying it will rob the poor and benefit the wealthy. And Republicans are worried. One senator saying it's not what President Trump promised or what Republicans ran on.

The White House says President Trump is extremely confident his wiretapping claims will be proven, but so far the administration has offered no evidence to back his charge that he was wiretapped by President Obama. The Justice Department has asked the House Intelligence Committee for more time to find something and has been given another week. And tens of millions of Americans are affected by a major winter storm

that's bringing snow and ice from Washington to New England. Fifteen million people are still under blizzard warnings. Some areas have up to two feet of snow. More than 8,000 flights have been canceled. High winds are contributing to power outages.

I'll speak with Republican Congressman Sean Duffy. Then our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Deeply split over their party's Obamacare replacement plan, Republicans are now showing anxiety after the grim assessment of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office.

Let's begin with our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill. Manu, what's the mood up there?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight the tension is rising as moderates and conservatives are balking at that House Republican plan.

Now, this comes as House and Senate Republican leaders are still pushing very hard for the plan, saying that that nonpartisan analysis over the budget -- over the the healthcare bill does not fully account for the full scope of the Republican healthcare plans.

But the question tonight, Wolf, is can that convince skeptical Republicans?


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The American Healthcare Act.

RAJU (voice-over): The Republicans promise to repeal Obamacare, now at risk of collapsing. The party had already been badly divided over the House GOP leadership's plan to replace the law. And now new alarm after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office offered a brutal assessment of the Republican legislation: 14 million more people uninsured by next year. And 24 million by 2026.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: Simple answer, of course I'm concerned. The 14 million people are losing insurance; I'm concerned. That's not what President Trump promised, OK? That's not what Republicans ran on.

RAJU: While the CBO projects the bill would reduce the deficit by $337 billion, it would do so only after cutting Medicaid by nearly $900 billion. That has unnerved some Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid to provide coverage to low-income Americans.

(on camera): How concerned are you about the Medicaid cuts, 880 billion over ten years?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I -- I'd like to wait and see what the House comes up with with their process. But obviously, in a state like mine that had Medicaid expansion, we have deep concerns.

RAJU (voice-over): The tension is palpable within the GOP. Senator Lisa Murkowski, under pressure to back the House plan, bristled at questions about whether she can support it.

(on camera): Can you support the House healthcare bill at this moment?

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: Would you give me a minute to get to my constituents, please?

RAJU: Yes or no, do you support the House healthcare bill?

MURKOWSKI: Would you please be respectful?

RAJU: I'm being very respectful.

[17:05:07] MURKOWSKI: I've been in there for two hours. Come on.

RAJU (voice-over): Senate GOP leaders downplayed the CBO analysis and said the bill would be a dramatic improvement from Obamacare, but said senators would likely change the House bill.

(on camera): Do you believe that this bill needs significant changes in order to be salvaged in the Senate?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I mean, it will be open to amendment in the Senate like all reconciliation bills are. We're anxious to get past the status quo.

RAJU (voice-over): In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan says the CBO report won't change his plans to push forward on votes in the chamber this month.

RYAN: I'm excited about this analysis.

RAJU: But just as he aligns himself with the president, newly- released audio could reopen some old wounds. From a private October conference call where Ryan all but abandoned Trump in the aftermath of that leaked tape where Trump boasts about groping women.

RYAN (via phone): I am not going to defend Donald Trump, not now, not in the future. Look, you guys know I have real concerns of our nominee.


RAJU: Now, Wolf, Ryan officials and White House officials downplay that released audio, saying that it's ancient history, but interestingly, released by the conservative news outlet Breitbart, which of course, has ties to the White House and, of course, was run by the former [SIC] Trump advisor Steve Bannon, adding a layer of intrigue as conservatives try to -- to derail Paul Ryan's healthcare bill.

But, Wolf, Paul Ryan speaking with the president earlier today by phone, the effort to try to unite their party as their party has been badly divided over this bill going forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A layer of intrigue indeed. Manu, thank you very, very much.

Between the healthcare plan and the wiretapping charge, President Trump is juggling a couple of very hot potatoes this week. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president certainly has his hands full right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The White House is still shying away from providing many answers on two burning issues for this administration: healthcare and the president's unfounded claim that he was wiretapped by former President Obama. But calls are mounting from both parties to the president to start addressing these questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CBO score, Mr. President, reaction?

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a rare moment when President Trump passes up on a chance to speak his mind. But that's what he did when asked about the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Republican proposal to replace Obamacare.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSES PRESS SECRETARY: This is the American Healthcare Act. The president is proud of it.

ACOSTA: The White House is pushing back on the CBO score of the House GOP healthcare plan that found 14 million more Americans would be uninsured by next year, 24 million by the year 2026. As one top GOP source put it, the headlines are terrible.

SPICER: CBO coverage estimates are consistently wrong.

ACOSTA: But the White House did concede scores of Americans, perhaps millions, will be without health insurance if they're no longer mandated to buy it under Obamacare.

(on camera): Would you concede that there will be some coverage losses, perhaps in the millions, that there will be millions of people who will not have health insurance as a result of what you're doing?

SPICER: Well, again, sure, except you have to look at the current situation.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Press secretary Sean Spicer tried to explain how the Republican plan satisfies the president's promise to cover every American.

(on camera) The president is OK with...

SPICER: No, he's not.

ACOSTA: ... millions of people who won't have health coverage? SPICER: No, no. Right now they're not getting that. And by giving

them more choices at a lower cost, more Americans can either buy healthcare for their family or themselves, or in a lot of cases for their business without paying the penalty.

The system now is not working. The costs are going up. The choices are going down, and deductibles are going up. That is not an option.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrats insist that's not acceptable.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I see all this hocus-pocus language that they talk about. Well, you're not going to be able -- we're worried about costs. But then they don't seem like they're that much worried about coverage. And, so, what I'm saying to them is that the American people need coverage.

SPICER: The White House is also on defense over the president's baseless claim that he was wiretapped by former President Obama. The House Intelligence Committee is now giving the administration until March 20 to produce evidence to back the president's charge, warning the panel may resort to a compulsory process, which could mean a subpoena. Spicer indicated the Justice Department will turn over something.

(on camera): Possible there may be nothing?

SPICER: No, that's not -- I think there is, at least from where we stand...

ACOSTA: Something will be presented?

SPICER: I feel very confident of that.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrats are demanding proof or an apology.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: We will call upon the president to recant and to apologize to former President Obama. I mean, you do not make those kinds of allegations, criminal allegations against a former president.

ACOSTA: Even Republicans are ready to see what evidence the White House has.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: If I was the president, I would clear this up, because it serves as a major distraction, frankly, for some of the big issues he wants to accomplish and we want to accomplish with him.


[17:10:04] ACOSTA: The White House is predicting the president will be vindicated after making the claim that former President Obama wiretapped him. But the White House is not committing one way or the other to whether the president will make some kind of statement when the administration presents what it considers to be evidence to support the wiretapping claims to Congress. That, like so much that we're dealing with over here, Wolf, is a to-

be-continued situation over here, Wolf. We're still waiting for that evidence, just about every day, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's see if there is that evidence. We'll be waiting together with you. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

Let's discuss all of this and more. Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin is joining us, a member of the Financial Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: It's good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you support this Obamacare replacement bill that the Congressional Budget Office has now estimated would lead to 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance by the year 2026?

DUFFY: Let's get into that. First, Wolf, I think we have to recognize Obamacare is in a death spiral. On average costs are going up 25 percent...

BLITZER: Let's get to Obamacare in a moment.

DUFFY: I'll get to...

BLITZER: Congressman, it's a simple question.

DUFFY: I've got to -- I've got to get to your point.

BLITZER: Do you -- hold on a moment. Do you support...

DUFFY: I can...

BLITZER: ... the current legislation that the speaker has put forward? And then we can move on.


BLITZER: So if had to come up for a vote now, how would you vote?

DUFFY: Compared to leaving Obamacare in place? I'll vote for this instead of Obamacare, absolutely.

But if -- Wolf, I'm going to the point that you said that you talked about the 24,000 -- or 24 million people who are off coverage. I do think you have to look at how many people have lost coverage like in Arizona, where costs are going up by 116 percent. Or my neighboring Minnesota, where they're going to increase by 50 percent. So I look at the 200 -- the 24 million people that CBO says will lose coverage; and I think we have to look at what is CBO good at? CBO is good at scoring legislation and its impact on a budget. But they're not good at looking at how legislation will impact consumers.

They actually told us that the exchanges in Obamacare would bring 22 million people into the exchanges when actually, it was only 10 million people.

I look at this being phase one, but if Tom Price gets to phase two, and then we have another piece of legislation that gets us to phase three, we will have choice and competition; reduced prices so people can pick healthcare that works for them and their family.

BLITZER: All right. We can get to phase two and phase three in a moment. But you're criticizing the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office led now by a Republican, put in there by then-Congressman Tom Price, now the secretary of Health and Human Services. This is what you said about the Congressional Budget Office as a very good source of information back in 2011.


DUFFY: Let's be clear with the American people. Let's be honest with the American people that, if we don't reform Medicare, the CBO says it's going broke in nine years. We have to fix it.


BLITZER: You cited the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, then. You said it was critically to accept their assessment. Why not now?

DUFFY: Well, so I'm consistent with what I just told you. They're good at assessing the cost of programs as it relates to our budget. They don't do a good job of assessing programs and how it relates to people actually getting coverage. In here, I don't think they can look at what phase two looks like and phase three looks like, like healthcare reform, which means they don't know what's going to happen with competition, reduced prices and increased access for the American consumer.

And so no, I don't think they can do that. Well, and they have a history, especially with Obamacare, of getting that wrong.

BLITZER: But you haven't even outlined phase two or phase three. As a result, how can they offer any assessment?

DUFFY: No, they can't. I agree with you, Wolf: they can't offer an assessment. But so if they just look at phase one, I'm telling your viewers that's not the end of the analysis. Phase two with Dr. Tom Price driving markets through...


DUFFY: ... a lot of the ability he has by regulation and then in favor...

BLITZER: I just want -- I just want to be -- I just want to be precise. I want to be precise, because a lot of viewers don't know what phase two is or phase three.

Phase two would give the secretary of health and human resources an opportunity to change regulations put in place by the Obama administration. We don't know what those changes would be. We don't know if the courts would say those changes are OK.

DUFFY: Right.

BLITZER: Phase three would require the Senate to vote for major changes. It would require also 60 votes in the Senate.

DUFFY: That's right.

DUFFY: Right now, the Republicans have a 52-48 majority. You would need at least eight Democrats if all the Republicans held firmly to support phase three. It doesn't look right now like phase three is going anywhere.

DUFFY: Well, I would disagree, because I think in phase three, we do have some pretty good things like competition across state lines. More competition between insurance companies, doctors and hospitals, we think, will reduce prices.

We get tort reform in there. You have Democrats oftentimes sell out to the -- to the litigation lobby. They may not be there for that.

[17:15:02] But also allowing an association -- so if you're a member of the realtors' association, you can partner with your other realtors across the country, getting buy-in power and negotiate that insurance.

BLITZER: So -- so let me...

DUFFY: So we do think Democrats and a lot of these things will buy in, Wolf.

BLITZER: So let's say there are problems, judicial problems, legal problems with the regulations as far as phase two is concerned, and phase three never gets passed in the United States Senate. Then you would accept the Congressional Budget Office assessment...


BLITZER: ... that 24 million Americans would be without health insurance in ten years?

DUFFY: I wouldn't, Wolf. Again, it brings me back to the point under Obamacare, their assessment was wrong as well. They thought you'd have 22 million people in the exchanges and you only had ten. This is not their expertise. This is not what they're good at. They're good at looking at what does legislation have as an impact on the budget. Not what free markets do to drive down costs and what will consumers do to get into the healthcare market. That is not their expertise. And that's why I'm giving you some pushback on that.

BLITZER: All right.

DUFFY: But Wolf, you have to look at this. Let me give you one other point. You have to look at what's -- you're talking about 22 to 24 million people.

There's 350 [SIC] people in America, and you've seen 70 percent of Americans get their insurance from their employer. And instead of getting a raise, their employers had to put their money into premium increases. Because of Obamacare, healthcare across the spectrum is skyrocketing. And Americans don't get raise because of health insurance premiums and Obamacare going through the roofer.

If we can fix this, not only do we deal with that 24 million people that you're talking about, but we give 70 percent of Americans who are getting their job in the private sector a raise again, because it doesn't have to go to premium -- this is a big deal, not just for the poor, but for everybody.

BLITZER: It's a huge deal right now, and the key words, if he can fix it. Right now, you would need a 216-vote majority in the House. There are a few vacancies. Normally, it's 218. But you need 216 right now to pass phase one, this legislation that you clearly support, although you'd like to see some changes.

I spoke earlier in the day with a key member of the House of Freedom Caucus, Congressman Tom Garrett of Virginia. He said he couldn't support this bill in its current form. A lot of his colleagues say they can't support it. Are you sure you have those 216 votes? Because no Democrats are going to support it, and you're going to lose a whole bunch of Republicans.

DUFFY: You're right. We might lose a few, but you know, I think if you look at what's happened with modern media, we have 24-hour cable news shows and a lot of information on the Internet. And, so, this is the traditional sausage making that happens in legislation.

I think, you know, the Freedom Caucus and others want some changes to the bill. I think you're seeing Donald Trump just starting to engage, I think he's going to Kentucky next week as well. If you start to look at an option of I can have the Paul Ryan plan with some tweaks to it, or I could do nothing and keep Obamacare, I think you're going to see a lot of Republican members join forces and get a product done that fixes healthcare, because the status quo is absolutely unacceptable.

And I would again say where -- if Democrats want to keep Obamacare, where are they with some kind of plan to fix Obamacare? They haven't come up with any plans to make Obamacare work. I would love to hear them, but they have none. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, or Mitch -- not Mitch, Harry Reid in the Senate, they haven't provided us any details on how you fix this stuff. We're going to have some work to do to get there.

BLITZER: Chuck Schumer now in the Senate, not Harry Reid.

DUFFY: Thank you. Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: Let me take a quick break. We're going to resume this. There are other developments happening right now. The White House says they're very confident the president will be vindicated in this accusation that President Obama ordered a wiretap, an illegal wiretap against him during the campaign. That and a lot more with Congressman Sean Duffy right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:23:25] BLITZER: We're back with the Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. He's a member of the Financial Services Committee.

Congressman, you probably heard the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, today say he believes that the administration, the president will be completely vindicated when their wiretapping claims, the evidence that they have, are released. All that evidence. He said President Trump is extremely confident the administration will be able to provide that evidence.

Here's the question. If they're so confident about that evidence, what stopped them now the last ten days to release that evidence publicly so all of us can move on?

DUFFY: It's a good question, Wolf. And I don't have a good answer for you there. I think they should provide the information and the evidence as quickly as possible. To wait another week, I think, just prolongs the story. Let's get about the business of America and making America great again. And as long as we're talking about wiretapping and especially without evidence, I think it is a complete distraction.

But if I could say this, though, Wolf, you know, there could be evidence there. I haven't seen anything to say that there would be. But we've heard Dennis Kucinich, a former congressman, when he was a high-ranking Democrat, had his phone lines tapped as he was talking to a Libyan leader. We know that General Flynn had his phones tapped. We know that the IRS has been weaponized, going after conservatives.

But I have seen no information, and this is a far stretch if a presidential candidate is having his phones tapped during the campaign or during the transition, that is serious and the allegations should be met with evidence from the White House.

BLITZER: Just to clarify, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, he was a congressman from Ohio, a Democrat. What was going on, he was meeting with the son of Moammar Khadafy. Khadafy, as you know, was still in control of Libya, an enemy of the United States. He was meeting with Khadafy's son.

[17:25:14] And clearly, the U.S. intelligence community had an interest in monitoring what Khadafy's son was doing -- was doing. That's why there was a wiretap of that conversation. They weren't wiretapping Dennis Kucinich. They were wiretapping Moammar Khadafy's son. Do you have a problem with that?

DUFFY: Well, my concern is that you're still wiretapping a high- ranking Democrat congressman by the secret intelligence community in the U.S.

What's more egregious, though, Wolf, is that they released the transcript of that call. And now, I mean, when we use this information -- and I support our intelligence community gathering information to keep us safe. But they have to be very cautious when they're gathering information on a U.S. congressman and then releasing the contents of that information, or with general Flynn.

That's where I have some pause. I want them to have all the tools, but if they don't be careful on this stuff, they're going to see the American people and those in Congress push back on them and take away some of their abilities, which in the end, doesn't keep America safe. It makes us more at risk to terrorists and evil people around the world.

BLITZER: You make a fair point that when Americans, when their voices are picked up as part of a surveillance, wiretap by the U.S. Intelligence community, or the FBI, someone who is a target, whether Khadafy's son, or the Russian ambassador to the United States. If they're monitoring his phone calls, you've got to be careful how the information involving the American citizen is released...

DUFFY: Definitely.

BLITZER: ... if it should be released or should be protected. That's a separate issue. But I assume you don't have any problems with the FBI or the U.S. intelligence community monitoring phone conversations involving high-ranking Russian officials or Libyan officials for that matter.

Yeah, no, no, that's within their space. But when they then tap into a senator or congressman or an appointee of the next administration, that information is released, I do have a problem with that.

But we are off topic. I would agree with you, Wolf, that I do want this issue clarified, and I think it's incumbent upon Donald Trump and his team to provide the necessary evidence showing that he was tapped, when and how and who do it. And I think they should be held to account if that evidence is provided.

And if not, I think President Trump is going to have to walk back those comments, and it might hit an issue of credibility for him.

BLITZER: By the way, as far as former congressman, Dennis Kucinich, this is the point he has been making about why all of a sudden his voice was picked up in that phone -- in that conversation with Khadafy's son. There has been no comment from the U.S. government as far as I know.

But we'll leave it on that note. Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much.

DUFFY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, an update on the winter storm affecting tens of millions of people in the northeast and turning travel into a nightmare. How long will it take for things to return to normal?


BLITZER: Today the Trump administration signaled the president remains fully behind the Republicans' healthcare reform bill. The White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, telling reporters the president is proud of the bill, and he criticized the new prediction it will result in 24 million fewer people with insurance over the next decade.

[17:33:04] Let's bring in our experts. And Gloria, I'll start with you. The White House downplaying the CBO report, saying the Congressional Budget Office reports about Obamacare were consistently wrong, they say, but they're not doing a lot to really sell the plan publicly, especially after these brutal CBO numbers.

Is this the beginning of the White House trying to distance itself from the bill?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's -- it's hard to say at this point, Wolf. I think what they're looking for is a win, and what Sean Spicer was out there doing was trying to paint lipstick on a pig, as they say, and trying to -- you know, trying to say, "Look, the CBO isn't always right."

And when he was asked, do you believe in universal healthcare, as the president has once said, he said, "Yes, we believe in choice and a plan." And that's not quite what the president has said.

And, so, you have Paul Ryan, who believes the people ought to have access to healthcare but don't have to buy it. It shouldn't be mandated. You shouldn't be forced into buying healthcare. Versus Donald Trump, who has said, everybody should just have healthcare.

And, so, there is an ideological difference here. They're trying to paper it not only between the White House and Paul Ryan, but also among all factions of Republicans -- conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans -- Paul Ryan Republicans and Donald Trump Republicans. And that isn't going to be easy for them to do, and that's why you're going to see the president starting to go out there and sell it and also start to negotiate with both the House, and if possible, with the Senate.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, the president is doing a campaign rally tomorrow in Tennessee organized and paid for, by the way, by his political campaign. But that's his only big event in the past few weeks.

Here's the question. Why aren't we seeing the president all over television, all over-the-road selling this bill the way President Obama sold Obamacare back in 2009?

[17:35:08] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is a central question here. And I'm not sure that we have a good answer for that. I mean, there is nothing like a president's bully pulpit that can really drive a point home or can explain something. And this president simply, for the last two weeks or so, at least the last nine or ten days, has been held up inside the White House. He has not been talking about healthcare very much, with the exception of some small meetings and some small private settings. And he's not then actually making this case publicly. I'm told he will do that tomorrow at this campaign-style rally in

Nashville. But it is entirely different than trying to convince people. And you almost get the sense that his heart isn't entirely in this.

We have seen, you know, exactly what he can do in terms of selling something, the soaring, you know enthusiastic supporters surrounding him. And, you know, he's just been sort of isolated. But interestingly, this is a rally for his supporters. This is not necessarily trying to win other people over.

The question here, though: can he convince some of these conservative House Republicans who come from Trump districts to vote for this plan? I think he can actually. So that's why I think it's far too early to say this deal is dead in the House. But that's the real challenge here: those Trump supporters, will they side with him in the end or their own member of Congress, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, Sean Spicer today wouldn't even call it Trumpcare.

Dana Bash, the White House and the Senate suggested there would be amendments to improve this legislation, but our Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill is reporting the speaker is not backing down, isn't planning to change the bill. So, where does all this leave the relationship right now between the White House and Paul Ryan?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the answer to that depends on whether or not the president can get a win of any kind. The problem is, it's sort of the chicken or egg argument, in that, if you talk to leaders in the House and other backers of this bill that Paul Ryan put forward and the White House backed, they are convinced that this can get through with exactly what Jeff was just talking about, with presidential leadership, Trump as the salesman, because they say, you know, he can sell like nobody else can. But that he hasn't done it to the point where he really is putting the screws on and the pressure on all of those House Republicans who come from Trump districts.

And the question that I'm hearing from sources on Capitol Hill, those who, again, support this bill is why? Why isn't he doing this? Because the longer he waits, the more calcified the opposition gets. Never mind from Democrats; I guess, at this point, never mind from conservative Republicans; but growing number of moderate Republicans.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is the congresswoman from south Florida, from the Miami area, she just announced that she's not going to support this in the House, because she doesn't want to support something that she thinks could hurt her constituents. But when it comes to the process, she doesn't want to support something that probably won't pass in the Senate.

So, time is ticking, and -- and this is -- once you have a plan out there, history shows that you have to sell it immediately, because if that doesn't happen, then the opponents have far too much time to poke holes in it. BLITZER: Quick reminder, Dana, you and I will be co-hosting an

important, very important, very timely CNN town hall with Dr. Tom Price. He's the secretary of Health and Human Services. That's tomorrow night, 9 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. That will be important and timely.

Let's take a quick break. New developments coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're back with our political and counterterrorism experts.

Phil Mudd, as you know, the White House says President Trump feels extremely confident -- those are the words of the press secretary -- he'll be vindicated in the wiretapping claims he's made against President Obama. Do you believe that?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't. You know, I don't have any belief in that. I think quite the opposite. Look, let's take a number of pieces of this, Wolf.

No. 1, the current president of the United States accused his predecessor on Twitter of violating federal law. If that weren't enough -- and I don't believe that for a moment; you'd have to have a huge conspiracy in the White House to do that. Not a single White House person has spoken about this in a Washington that leaks every day.

You'd also have to have an ironclad FBI that never spoke about an illegal operation up in New York City at Trump Tower. And a Department of Justice that oversees the FBI that would have authorized that illegal operation.

If you want to tell me that conspiracy of the FBI, the Department of Justice and the White House in a Washington that leaks every day has held this story tight while the president made this accusation for two weeks, no way.

Just one quick second, Wolf. We're going to get a bait and switch on this. Let me tell you what will happen. What's going to happen in the report is we're going to find the American intelligence services were collecting the Russians. When the Russians were on a phone, an American called in. And that American was picked up on the communication. And at the end of the day, the White House will bait and switch us. They'll claim that that collection of Americans on a Russian phone is an indication that those Americans were wiretapped and, Wolf, that's nonsense.

BLITZER: We heard something along those lines from Congressman Sean Duffy, trying to explain that.

Dana, Spicer, Sean Spicer also saying that when President Trump tweeted about being wiretapped by President Obama, he was referring more broadly to surveillance. Does everything the President says need to be left open to that kind of interpretation? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I hope not. But

certainly, it sounds like, in this case, that is what his spokesman is saying. Much like his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski says that then candidate Trump shouldn't be taken literally.

Well, he's the President of the United States. When he uses a word and a term like wiretapping, which is very specific and has legal ramifications, particularly when he's talking about an accusation of his predecessor, we have to take him literally and seriously. And we have to take the words that he uses at face value because, if we can't do that, then that leaves open so many other questions about how this country is run. So if he didn't mean that, then he shouldn't use the word "wiretapping."

BLITZER: All right, guys. I want everybody to stand by because there's more news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. A major snowstorm heads into New England after snarling travel to and from some of the country's biggest cities.

Stay with us. We'll have a live it up date, the latest forecast right after this.


[17:50:52] BLITZER: Tens of millions of people are feeling the brunt of a late winter storm now hammering the northeast. Thousands of schools have been closed. Thousands of flights have been canceled.

Our Brian Todd has been on the road all day, right in the middle of the storm. He's in northern New Jersey right now.

Brian, what's it like out there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still very cold and windy, Wolf. The storm leaving its remnants here in the town of Watchung, New Jersey. We just learned moments ago, Wolf, of a third weather-related death from this storm, a 16-year-old girl in New Hampshire dying in a vehicle-related incident there.

Here in New Jersey and neighboring Pennsylvania, roads are still closed like this one. A lot of treacherous conditions on the highways and restrictions on the highways. We're told by a State Police that on and off ramps like this one, still very, very dangerous as this storm continues to leave its mark on the east coast.


TODD (voice-over): Whiteout conditions leading to dangerous scenes like this. On I-95, a driver loses control, spins out, and ends up in the median.

Tens of millions of people affected by the massive storm as it slams into the major metropolitan areas of the mid-Atlantic and northeast. Blizzard conditions with heavy snowfall and bitter cold causing thousands of canceled flights and shuttered schools throughout the region. The brunt of the storm bearing down on New England and upstate New

York where two feet of snow is expected. 2,000 National Guard troops have been activated to help with relief efforts. Governors across the region have declared states of emergency and enacted travel bans.

GOV. TOM WOLF (D), PENNSYLVANIA: And I just want to make clear we're not out of the woods yet. Winds are going to increase. And also, I think we have to be concerned about the cycle of freeze and thawing, so we still need to be careful. Blowing snow could make driving hazardous, so if you don't have to travel, don't travel.

TODD (voice-over): Despite this warning, some motorists are hitting the roads and causing problems for snow removal teams.

What's the toughest part of today?

DONALD POLK, SNOW PLOW DRIVER: Traffic in the way, won't stay behind us and let us do our job.

TODD (voice-over): Prior to pounding the northeast, the same storm system took its toll in the upper Midwest, causing this 20-car pileup in Chicago.


TODD: And in nearby Pennsylvania, not far from where we are, lot of restrictions still on the highways. Officials there have limited the speed limit to 45 miles an hour on 11 different interstates in Pennsylvania. They're restricting trailers and buses from going on some highways.

Still, a lot of treacherous conditions here, Wolf, as nightfall approaches in some of these roads. Temperatures dropping, some of the roads are going to freeze up again. They'll remain very dangerous through the evening, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. Just be careful out there. All right. Brian, thanks very much.

Let's turn to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, at the CNN Weather Center. Jennifer, what's the latest forecast?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Brian made a good point because a lot of these areas turn from snow to rain. All of that is going to freeze overnight. It's going to be a slushy mess throughout the overnight hours and especially into tomorrow morning's commute, so be extra careful.

It's starting to wind down across many of the major cities. Boston seeing that change over from snow to rain. But look at all of this white. Upstate New York all the way to northern Maine, still getting hammered with snow. And we still have a couple of hours to go, so this is going to last on into the evening hours.

Mostly rain now for Boston. A little bit of an icy mix just to the north and west. But look at some of these snowfall totals. Hartford, Connecticut, about a foot of snow. Philadelphia, eight inches. Central Park, right around seven inches.

But just about four, five miles outside of the city, there are reports of about 13 inches of snow. And so it only took a couple of miles west for you to get into those really, really high snowfall totals.

D.C., just under three inches, and same story there. If you go to the west, look at this, Damascus, Pennsylvania, 30 inches of snow. Endwell, New York, almost 30 inches and so on. And so we still have a little ways to go, like I mentioned. Additional snowfall expected.

We could see an additional foot of snow across some of these northern areas, in northern New England, throughout tonight into tomorrow morning. Boston, only expected to get a little bit more because, like we mentioned, that is still changing over.

[17:55:03] Even though the snow is winding down, we are still dealing with windy, windy conditions -- 26 mile per hour winds in New York City right now, 35 mile per hour winds in Boston. And as this continues to make its exit, we'll still get the snowfall across the northern tier throughout the overnight hours. Starting to wind down by tomorrow morning, Wolf.

Of course, those airlines will be playing catchup for much of tomorrow and maybe even into the next day. And road travel will be treacherous for the next couple of days as well.

BLITZER: All right. Just be careful out there. All right. Jennifer, thank you.

Coming up, the White House declares the President is proud of the ObamaCare replacement bill even as Republican lawmakers voice their doubts.