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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump to Lawmakers: Get Health Care Done or Lose in 2018; Gorsuch: Nobody is Above the Law Including the President; North Korea Video Depicts U.S. Carrier in Flames. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired March 21, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Art of the sell. President Trump goes up to Capitol Hill to find votes for the GOP health care bill, warning Republican critics that if they don't come up, they don't come through, they could lose their seats in the next election.
[17:00:11] No promises. The president's Supreme Court nominee says he made no promises to the president about his future rulings. In a day- long confirmation hearing, Judge Neil Gorsuch also warns that no one is above the law, including the president.
Airline threat. The U.S. and Britain ban most electronics on certain flights from Middle East and North Africa. What's behind the ban and how big is the threat?
And fake attack. In an over-the-top propaganda video, North Korea blows up a U.S. aircraft carrier and says it's ready to carry out a merciless nuclear attack. How close is the North getting to the real thing?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: A day after the White House was rocked by the FBI director's testimony on election meddling and the president's false wiretap claim, the Trump administration tonight is urgently focused in on its top agenda item, health care. In a closed-door meeting up on Capitol Hill, the president warned House Republicans that many would lose their seats in 2018 if they don't vote for the Obamacare replacement bill.
Despite or because of the arm twisting, lawmakers described the president's visit as spectacular and a tour de force. Some conservative opponents now say they're leaning yes, but as of right now, there may not -- repeat, not -- be enough votes to pass the measure in the House.
And the White House indicates the president may be forced to seek yet more changes before Thursday's vote. President Trump's Supreme Court nominee today tried to signal that he's his own man. In a marathon confirmation hearing, Judge Neil Gorsuch was closely questioned about abortion, torture, and the president's travel ban. He refused to tip his hand on how he would rule on specific issues, but he stressed that he would not be influenced by political pressure, insisting he'd apply the law fearlessly, saying there's no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge.
And Gorsuch said flatly that no one is above the law, including the president.
I'll talk to Republican senator Mike Lee. He's a key member of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
Beset by troubles, the White House is very anxious right now to try to check off the top item on the president's to-do list, health care. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, the president is taking this as a personal challenge.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is a personal challenge indeed, and he's also using some personal salesmanship to make that case.
He traveled to Capitol Hill today to meet directly with House Republicans; and just a short time ago he had 16 key Republicans down here at the White House. Wolf, I am told by talking to these Republicans he is using the power of his personality more than actual specifics about the bill. But, Wolf, there's no question: it's the biggest test yet of the power of his persuasion.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a great meeting, and I think we're going to get a winner vote. We're going to be -- we're going to have a real winner.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump on Capitol Hill today, desperately seeking a win on health care.
TRUMP: It was a great meeting. We had terrific people. They want a tremendous health care plan. That's what we have, and there are going to be adjustments made; but I think we'll get the vote on Thursday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say that you're...
ZELENY: But tonight the White House still isn't sure it has enough votes to pass its replacement of Obamacare. So, the president took his case directly to House Republicans, delivering a blunt message behind closed doors.
One person in the room told CNN Trump said this to Republicans: "I honestly think many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if you don't get this done."
It's the first big test of whether the president can make good on a signature campaign trail promise. While navigating one self-made distraction after another, the White House is trying to move beyond fall-out from the ongoing FBI criminal investigation into whether the Trump campaign worked with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election. FBI Director James Comey making clear the investigation is open-ended.
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I can promise you, we will follow the facts wherever they lead.
ZELENY: The president showing rare restraint at a rally Monday night in Kentucky, not mentioning his discredited wiretapping accusation against President Obama or the Russia probe. Instead, he focused on health care.
TRUMP: As we move toward the crucial House vote on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of Obamacare's very painful passage, this is our long-awaited chance to finally get rid of Obamacare. We're going to do it. What's the alternative?
[17:05:04] ZELENY: The House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative cluster in Congress, believes there is a better alternative. Leaders say they have enough votes to stop it.
Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina, called out personally by the president for his opposition to the bill, said he was more worried about rising insurance premiums than his own reelection.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: But in the end of it, the day, it is really about bringing premiums down. It's not about me or any member of Congress.
ZELENY: The conservative group Club for Growth, is running TV ads urging Republicans to vote no on the health care measure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now Congress is pushing Ryancare, a bad idea doubling down on disaster.
ZELENY: The White House says the president hasn't ruled outvoting against fellow Republicans who try and block his bill, which could have a ripple effect on the rest of his agenda.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, I think there's going to be a price to be paid, but it's going to be with their own voters.
ZELENY: But that is still an open question what the price to pay with the voters would actually be, because there are so many conservative groups like Heritage Action and Club for Growth that are opposed to this bill yet at this hour. And we haven't even talked about the Senate yet. Republicans are still against it. Some key Republicans like Senator Mike Lee of Utah coming out against it yet this afternoon.
So, all of this is linked together, of course. But Wolf, one Republican we talked to in that meeting up on Capitol Hill, he said that the president said this. "You can blame me if you want. I just want your vote." So, he's trying to give them some cover here, Wolf, but at this hour, 48 hours before the vote, unclear yet if they have enough votes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And I'll be speaking with Senator Lee momentarily. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.
Our other top story, President Trump's U.S. Supreme Court pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has been facing the Senate Judiciary Committee all day long, trying to signal he'll be independent without signaling how he'd rule on any of the controversial issues.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, the questioning continues and continues.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure does, Wolf. And Neil Gorsuch is now approaching hour eight of questioning today. Democrats today on this committee really zeroing in on many hot button issues of the Trump administration, trying to test Gorsuch on his independence from President Trump.
JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: There's no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge.
ZELENY (voice-over): Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch steering clear of politics.
GORSUCH: A good judge doesn't give a whit about politics.
SERFATY: Cross-examined by Democrats today, skeptical about his ability to to be independent from President Trump.
GORSUCH: When I became a judge, they gave me a gavel, not a rubber stamp.
SERFATY: Democrats attempting to pin him down on some of the president's most controversial views.
GORSUCH: I will apply the law faithfully, fearlessly and without regard to persons (ph).
SERFATY: Like the president's so-called travel ban and if he thinks a blanket religious test is consistent with the first amendment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A Republican congressman recently said the president can do for his Muslim ban is to make sure he has Gorsuch on the Supreme Court before the appeals.
GORSUCH: Senator, a lot of people say a lot of silly things.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's more than silly. That's a -- he wants -- this congressman wants you on the court so they can uphold a Muslim ban.
GORSUCH: Senator, he has no idea how I'd rule in that case.
SERFATY: on Trump's promise as a candidate to appoint anti-abortion justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), JUDICIAL COMMITTEE: Do you view Roe as having super precedent?
GORSUCH: It has been reaffirmed many times. I can say that. Yes.
FEINSTEIN: Yes, dozens.
SERFATY: Gorsuch saying he has not revealed his intentions to the president.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: In that interview, did he ever ask you to overrule Roe v. Wade?
GORSUCH: No, senator.
GRAHAM: What would he have done if he had asked?
GORSUCH: Senator, I would have walked out the door. It's not what judges do.
SERFATY: Gorsuch also showing distance from the president on the reinstatement of torture.
GORSUCH: We have a convention against torture and implementing legislation which ban torture.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president have the right to authorize torture if it violates the laws that have been passed by Congress?
GORSUCH: Senator, no man is above the law.
SERFATY: Meantime, Democrats are seizing on some new allegations about Gorsuch.
GORSUCH: No, Senator, and I'd be delighted to actually clear this up.
SERFATY: a former law student of his writing this letter to the Senate judiciary, claiming Gorsuch suggested in class that women use companies for maternity benefits, then leave after the baby is born.
GORSUCH: I do ask for a show of hands: "How many of you have had questions like this asked of you in the employment environment? An inappropriate question about your family planning." And I am shocked every year, Senator, how many young women raise their hand.
[17:10:07] SERFATY: And late in the day, Gorsuch did display some uncharacteristic frustration at this whole process, really lamenting that other Supreme Court nominees, their hearings have only been about 90 minutes long. Of course, drawing from many Supreme Court nominees before then, saying there's a lot about this confirmation process that he regrets, including putting his family through all this. A not so subtle dig, Wolf, really a dig saying this is essentially no walk in the park.
BLITZER: Yes, a tough day. Thanks so much, Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill. Joining us now, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah. He's a member of
the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to get your thoughts on Judge Gorsuch's hearing today. But first, let me ask you about the health care breaking news we're following. You described your meeting at the White House yesterday as terribly frustrating. And today you tweeted you couldn't support the current legislation, the current bill.
The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, says there's nothing more conservative than what is in this current bill. Is he wrong?
LEE: I think he's wrong, especially if what he's suggesting is that we have conservative policies in this bill that will bring down the cost of health care.
Look, one of the things that has caused the cost of health care to spike so significantly is the regulatory section of the Affordable Care Act, which has put insurance companies in a position where they've increased their premiums and the cost of health care across the board has gone up.
This bill does far too little about that. It does very little at all that would bring premiums down. And that's the concern I have with it, is what this would do to the cost of health care. We've got to bring that under control. This bill doesn't do that to a degree sufficient for me to vote for it.
BLITZER: So, take us into the room when you met with the president. What was President Trump's response when you told him you couldn't support this current bill?
LEE: I want to be clear. This meeting I had yesterday was not with the president. This was with White House staff.
BLITZER: So, what was their response?
LEE: Well, they tried to argue with me, and I'll let them speak for themselves. They wanted me to vote for the bill. They kept talking about how the bill was going to pass. And my response, ultimately, to that is if they've got enough votes to pass it without mine, if they don't want my vote, if they don't need my vote, then they're free to push forward with it.
If they want my vote and my support, I outlined some of the things they could do to bring about my vote. And among other things, it would have to address this problem of the insurance regulations under Obamacare.
BLITZER: Did -- has the president reached out to you personally?
LEE: No. No, not personally, but I've had extensive discussions with members of his team.
BLITZER: Did the president's visit to Capitol Hill today signal, for all practical purposes, this is now Trumpcare?
LEE: I don't know that I would make that characterization. I doubt very much that the White House wouldn't. In any event, I'm not their spokesman. I'm not going to try to be so on your show.
BLITZER: If it fails on Thursday, what is it called, Ryancare, Trumpcare? First of all, do you have a sense whether it's going to get the 216 votes on the House floor that it needs to pass and then move over to the Senate?
LEE: Look, I don't see them getting to 216. The White House apparently does. Now, if they see a path that I'm not aware of, then perhaps they'll go through with it. As I see it right now, they can't get there. They're not going to get it passed in the House of Representatives.
So, if in fact that happens, I think it's incumbent upon all of us to come together and try to find responsible step-by-step solutions that will help bring down the cost of health care.
BLITZER: You may have a point, because President -- after President Trump's visit to meet with the Republicans up on Capitol Hill today, the House Freedom Caucus chairman, representative Mark Meadows, said there are still more than 21 "no" votes in his group alone. Do you think the speaker should pull the bill?
LEE: That's entirely up to the speaker. That's up to his discretion. Again, apparently, the White House and the speaker are convinced that they've got enough votes; they will have enough votes between now and then. I doubt that that is true. But that said, this is their body. This is up to them to decide how to proceed and whether or not to have this vote.
But I do ask the question, why the rush? If they're not sure they have the votes, why not hold off? Why not hold off until they can get more buy-in from more members of Congress?
BLITZER: The speaker, Paul Ryan, said this today when he was asked if the Freedom Caucus supports this bill. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: In this day and age and in this business, in politics, if you get 85 percent of what you want, that's pretty darn good. We know we can't get 100 percent of what we want every time around here in this particular case because of the Senate rules. We don't want to put something in this bill that the Senate is telling us is fatal to the bill being brought up in the Senate.
So, that's why we're going to pass the best possible legislation we can. We've got it there. The president helped negotiate these changes. Sent it over to the Senate, and then the Senate without jeopardizing the bill can make improvements to the bill.
(END VIDEO CIP)
BLITZER: So, if this bill does pass narrowly, let's say on Thursday, do you think you in the Senate, you and your colleagues can make those kinds of changes that you want and get that past the Senate, where the Republican majority is a lot slimmer than the House, 52-48?
[17:15:15] LEE: Look, each body can make its own changes. And there's no question here that the Senate does have the ability to make amendments after the House passes something.
I want to make very clear I like Paul Ryan. I have tremendous respect for Paul Ryan. I very respectfully but strongly disagree with two points that he made just there.
One was that this is somehow 85 percent of everything that conservatives like. Look, Wolf, if you put on a list everything that conservatives want and everything that's in this bill, you don't get anywhere close to 85 percent by my tally.
Secondly, the fact that he's opining on Senate rules and saying that they've put in there every conservative reform that can possibly pass the Senate rules, is No. 1, it is not his job and No. 2, not accurate. I don't know how he can purport to know that when he doesn't, and I think he's mistaken on this.
BLITZER: Well, if it's not 85 percent, what percent is it?
LEE: I don't know. But the point is if you put these things on a list, there are a whole lot of things that conservatives want that are simply not in this bill. Among everything else, in addition to every other reason, Wolf, we have as Republicans campaigned for seven years on repealing Obamacare. I don't think it's too much to ask for us to do that, to repeal Obamacare, to repeal every ounce of Obamacare that we possibly can, and move forward with a step-by-step process, one that will help make health care more accessible and more affordable to the American people.
BLITZER: Even if it were to pass, let's say, the House and the Senate, and obviously, those are very, very questionable, do you think you'd ever see phase two, which is regulatory reform, administrative changes, and phase three, which is yet more legislation which would require 60 votes to beat a filibuster in the Senate? Do you think phase two and phase three have a shot?
LEE: Yes, I'm very glad you asked that question. As to phase two, there are some things that can be done from a regulatory standpoint. But as to both phase two and phase three, what we can accomplish is a lot more significant. If we roll all three phases into phase one, why not do that? Why not expand the ability of the administration to offer regulatory relief by incorporating legislative changes that can enhance their ability to bring about that relief?
And as to phase three, why not put that into phase one, into this bill? This whole bill would be a whole lot better if they did that. The fact that they're putting all of this off onto phase three to me suggests that this is not likely to materialize. If they intended this to materialize, why wouldn't they, for example, have put the refundable tax credit in phase three?
BLITZER: They argue that phase three, they now need 60 votes, but do as much in phase one as you can, because that would only require 51 votes in the Senate. So, they say they're trying to be practical.
LEE: With respect, I think they are overstating their case when it comes to the Senate rules. I don't think it is a foregone conclusion by any stretch of that word to say that none of this could possibly, in any conceivable universe, be put into a package now that could survive the Senate rules.
BLITZER: We have a lot more to discuss, Senator. I'd like you to stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. We'll resume all of this right after a quick break.
[17:22:39] BLITZER: Our breaking news: President Trump's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, is going through an all-day confirmation hearing up on Capitol Hill, making it clear he has made no promises to the president about his future rulings.
We're back with Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah. He's a key member of the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, during your questioning, you made a joke today about politics at play here. Let me play this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: You as a textualist understand as well as anyone where the word "politics" come from. You break the word down into its two Greek roots. You've got "poly, which means "many," and "ticks," which are blood sucking parasites. It works out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On a serious note, though, Senator, do you think the Democrats will actually filibuster Judge Gorsuch, which means it would require 60 votes to get him confirmed?
LEE: Look, that will be up to them and what objections they might choose to raise. That's entirely in their court.
What I do know is that this is a phenomenal judge. This is a judge who's served really well on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. That's a court that includes Utah. It's a court I've argued in front of many times. I've even argued in front of Judge Gorsuch. This is a judge who is exceptionally well-prepared for the Supreme Court, just as he's exceptionally well-prepared for every case that he hears argument. And I think that he's going to be confirmed one way or another. BLITZER: Well, when you say one way or another, do you think
Republicans would actually use what's called the nuclear option and break the filibuster by insisting that a 51 majority is all you need to confirm the nomination of a Supreme Court nominee?
LEE: We don't know that that's even going to be necessary to consider that at this point, because there is still a very -- possibility, I would say perhaps even a likelihood, that we'll have more than 60 Democrats [SIC] who will vote for him, and who will even support cloture on moving forward.
And so, that's what we're looking for, is letting Judge Gorsuch continue to make his case to the American people and especially his case to the people in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
BLITZER: Before I let you go, Senator, a quick reaction. Yesterday we heard the FBI director, the National Security Agency director, both say there is no information that supports the president's tweets on wiretapping claims that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower to listen in on his conversations. Does the president, President Trump, now owe President Obama and the American people, for that matter, an apology for that very grave accusation?
[17:25:08] LEE: Look, I still don't know what he was talking about. I think it's very clear that there was not a Title 3 traditional wiretap.
What I still wonder, what I've wondered from the very beginning and am still wondering, is whether there might have been an order pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in which there was some incidental U.S. person communication swept up, including some communication involving one or more members of the Trump campaign. I would like to know that.
BLITZER: He had four tweets, as you know, Senator, that Saturday morning, what, 17 days ago, one of them, "Terrible, just found out Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism. Is it legal for a sitting president to be wiretapping a race for president prior to the election? Turned down by court earlier? A new low. I could go on."
He was very clear in what he was saying. And now after the -- a thorough investigation by the Department of Justice, the FBI, the National Security Agency, they say there's no evidence to back up any of that.
LEE: Yes, look, if there was absolutely no truth to any of it, if there was nothing, either in terms of a traditional wiretap or something under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, then yes, he shouldn't have said it. But again, I'd like to know what he actually meant.
One of the things that I've worried about for a long time is abuse of the FISA court process. I talk about this a lot in a book I wrote called "Our Law Is Our Constitution." I talk about the fact that, in every presidential administration, at least starting with FDR and all the way up through Nixon, there was documented proof of the administration utilizing the intelligence gathering apparatus of the federal government to engage in political espionage. This shouldn't be allowed to happen. We know that it has happened at times in the past.
And since that study was done that I cite in my book, there's been a lot of technological advancement, advancement which, if left unregulated and unrestricted, could be used for nefarious political purposes. And I think we all have reason to be concerned about that.
BLITZER: But -- but, Senator, I'm going to wrap it up, but just for the record, not only the FBI, the Department of Justice, the National Security Agency, but the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate, the Republican leadership in both of the intelligence committees in the House and the Senate, they've all said exactly the same thing. There's no evidence to back up anything. So, it's a little confusing why you're not yet ready to accept that conclusion.
LEE: Yes, what I've heard them say -- and there could be more that I'm not aware of, Wolf. And if that's the case, then -- then forgive me. What I've heard them say is there was no wiretap. I understand that there was no Title 3 wiretap. What I still want know is whether there was incidental communication that he was referring to that could have been swept up under Section 702.
BLITZER: But that's not what the president said in those tweets, but I'll leave it on that.
LEE: He was precise. Yes, he was precise.
BLITZER: More than imprecise. "How low has President Obama gone?" He tweets "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad or sick guy."
He was -- he was very, very precise in those four tweets and, as of yesterday, the White House still, after all of this, is not moving away from that. They're standing firm. But I'm not going to press you on that any more. We'll leave it at that note.
Always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Senator Mike Lee, thank you.
LEE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, a new propaganda video from North Korea shows a U.S. aircraft carrier being blown up. Is it hinting at something U.S. military planners actually need to worry about?
BLITZER: In a couple of hours, President Trump will be speaking at a dinner for congressional Republicans. Earlier in the day he was up at Capitol Hill telling Republican lawmakers in the House they will lose in 2018 if they don't pass the new health care bill that comes up for a floor vote on Thursday. [17:33:31] But the president and House Republican leaders may not, at
least as of now, have all of those votes.
Let's get some insights from our experts. Dana, do they have the 216 votes in the House? You just heard Senator Lee, the Republican senator, say he doesn't think they have 216 needed to pass the legislation.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to the whip count that is being done by our team, the answer is, as of right this minute, no. It does not look like they have the votes, because to have the votes, Republicans can't lose more than 21 Republicans, and it looks like they are going to lose more than that.
Having said that, you just showed a pretty extraordinary photo or video of the president of the United States for the very first time flexing his muscle with regard to legislation. This is kind of the moment that us -- I mean, I'll speak for myself. Political dorks, definitely including David in this -- have been waiting for.
What is a President Trump, the man who's "The Art of The Deal," going to be like when the rubber is hitting the road? And now we're getting to see it. Going up to Capitol Hill, having this private meeting with House Republicans, telling them that they've got to do this, warning them that they will pay a political price for not doing it. Kidding, not kidding, calling out the Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, saying that he's going to come after him. And that's sort of with the broad meeting, and we know that he's having private discussions with smaller groups, individual discussions, twisting arms.
And it's not just about "Do this for me." It's because -- and it's pretty clear that this is a message he's sending. These guys all come from the reddest of red districts, Trump land. And so he knows...
BLITZER: Even Congressman Mark Meadows after the meeting said he hasn't changed his mind. He's opposed, and he said there are more than 21 members of his own caucus that are opposed. The question to David Chalian -- you're our expert -- will it pass on Thursday?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I don't have my crystal ball here, but I don't think it's dead yet. You're two days away, and as Dana says right now, Mark Meadows' whip count matches our whip count at the moment, which is no. If the vote was right now, it wouldn't pass with the votes right now.
And I want to underline one thing Dana said that I think is really important. The smaller group meetings that are going on now is going to be critical. Because Mark Meadows, what happened yesterday, the announcement that there was not going to be one voting bloc, the House Freedom Caucus with all in the same position, they're not going to take a formal position on the bill. That means that that entire conservative block is now up for grabs to be picked off one by one.
So, as each of these smaller groups from that conservative faction come down to the White House, Donald Trump is going to find which ones he can pick off to piece together the puzzle to 216. BLITZER: But even if it does pass narrowly in the House, there's no
guarantee it's even going to pass, get the 51 votes it needs in the Senate. It could die there.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's -- this is not a popular bill. I mean, it's not even popular with Republicans. This is a bill that the Congressional Budget Office says will get 24 million people to lose health insurance. That's not a popular. It's a massive tax cut for wealthy people. It's likely to, at least in the short turn, to increase premiums. That's not something that a lot of politicians rush to do.
BLITZER: Clarissa, let me change the subject with you. You're our senior international correspondent. You know about this ban now on electronics on certain flights from North Africa and the Middle East coming into the United States. You can have a cell phone but not a laptop. What's behind this?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. So there's a couple of things behind this.
But first of all, just to clarify, this is ten different airports, eight Muslim-majority countries. You will no longer be able to take anything unless you are on an American airline. But from what I can tell, no American airlines are actually flying to these places. You will not be able to take anything bigger than a cell phone. That means no tablets. That means no large cameras, no laptops, perhaps most annoyingly for frequent fliers.
We are hearing, CNN's Barbara Starr and Rene Marsh have spoken to a U.S. official who says that because this is a threat developed from AQAP -- that's al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or in Yemen, that they are coming close to perfecting the art of essentially being able to put bomb-making materials in the battery compartment of commercial electronic devices.
BLITZER: And that equipment might not be detected if it goes through...
WARD: Which is a scary thing. And you may have noticed, sometimes you'll be asked to turn on your computer, actually, to show that there is a battery in it and that it works.
TOOBIN: Have they perfected the art of buying a ticket on an American airline? I mean, why is this protecting anyone if it's just certain airlines?
WARD: I think that the American airlines do not fly to these specific places.
TOOBIN: To Morocco?
WARD: Some of them, Iman, Cairo, Istanbul, Jeddah, Riyadh, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Casablanca, Dubai.
TOOBIN: Istanbul? WARD: I know. These seem like major, major hubs.
WARD: But it's primarily Middle Eastern, North African, Arab airlines that are flying to these places.
Also, there's the very real concern of can't they still detonate the bomb even if it's in the hold? Not to mention the geopolitical sensitivities following the travel ban.
WARD: These are countries that are very friendly to the U.S. So it's an uncomfortable conversation. But already the Brits are following up, saying they're going to introduce their own ban, as well.
BLITZER: I've been hearing now for a while, this is the nightmare scenario, getting a bomb into one of these devices and it's undetectable.
All right, guys, stand by. There's a lot more coming by. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[17:43:27] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and experts. And David Chalian, you know, it's interesting. After the FBI and the NSA statements yesterday as far as the president and his claims about President Obama wiretapping him, Trump Tower during the election, the White House press secretary, he said they're still standing by whatever they're standing by, but the president has been silent. He's not even talking about it anymore.
CHALIAN: Yes, well, what do you do when you've been exposed as a liar from the top intelligence folks in the country? You either recant it or you try to talk about other things. But that's the position he finds himself in right now, because he's not going to recant it. That's not in Trump's playbook. He's not going to apologize for it. So, he would much rather talk about other things than the fact that he's been exposed for telling a lie.
BLITZER: Jeff, why doesn't he just admit he made a mistake: "I'm sorry, I apologize. Let's move on"? What's so bad about that?
BASH: Can't wait to hear this.
TOOBIN: Are you really asking me this?
BLITZER: Yes, I am. Because if you make a mistake -- if you make a mistake or if I make a mistake, we say -- we admit it, I'm sorry, let's move on.
TOOBIN: Wolf, have you been watching? I'm telling you. Wolf, you are a smart guy. Donald Trump, it's like he's never going to do that. Why? What is the pathology involved? BASH: Wrong degree. Wrong degree.
TOOBIN: Far be it from me, but the idea that that is a possibility is -- this guy was, like, exposed as sexually assaulting women. He didn't apologize for that either.
BLITZER: Well, isn't this an abuse of power, to launch those four tweets, what, 17 days ago really smearing the former president of the United States?
BASH: That's a good question. I'm not -- I'm not sure. I mean, there are a lot of things you can say about it. I guess there's a way you can call it an abuse of power, sure, but it was -- it was a very, very bad idea. It was a very big mistake. It was a derogatory and denigrating and, to use your word, lying, about his predecessor, which is, for so many reasons, a terrible thing to do.
And the open question is whether or not this silence means -- OK, forget about apologizing, but whether it means there's a lesson learned. That, OK, we know that you want to distract. We know you want to change the subject at times and use your Twitter account to do that. But maybe think for five seconds before you do it and make that distraction and that changing of the subject an attack on your predecessor that happens to be false.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But there is, maybe, Clarissa, an even more serious problem that the White House has right now, this cloud hanging over the White House. The FBI Director saying that there's a criminal investigation now underway -- it's been underway since July, we learned yesterday -- about ties, links, contacts between Trump associates from the campaign and Russia. That's potentially a lot more serious.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very serious. I mean, of course, the Russians reacted today in the fashion that we would expect, which was kind of a bored eye roll followed by a statement from the Kremlin spokesperson saying, we're really getting very tired of commenting on this. They're trying to find confirmation somewhere to their own conclusions, they're not able to do it, and so they go around and around in circles.
But I do think, judging by the fact that it did not get a lot of coverage in Russia, that you are starting to see an attempt to maybe draw back a little bit, disengage a little bit. I think the Russians know how this movie ends, and it probably doesn't end with the lifting of sanctions.
Some of the more interesting coverage I have seen has been coming from the U.K. and other close allies of the U.S. who have been focusing on this dark cloud. And what they want to see right now from the U.S. is for the Trump administration to come forward, publicly disengage from Russia in some way, and turn towards their traditional alliance with Europe.
BLITZER: Clarissa Ward, congratulations. You are the winner of the Overseas Press Club -- WARD: Thank you.
BLITZER: -- award for your outstanding, courageous reporting from Syria, another prize for you. Well, well deserved.
WARD: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks so much. Don't go too far away. Coming up, a new propaganda video from North Korea depicts a U.S. aircraft carrier being blown up. So what's behind the latest round of threats from Kim Jong-un?
[17:52:02] BLITZER: Kim Jong-un's regime has released an over the top video showing a U.S. aircraft carrier being blown up, declaring that North Korea is ready to carry out a merciless nuclear attack, their words. Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the experts we spoke to say that this is a clear sign that tensions with North Korea are at a very worrisome point tonight. Kim Jong-un has a million-man army, but he clearly feels threatened by the U.S. and the military strength that America is showing in these joint exercises with South Korea that are taking place right now. Tonight, Kim seems to be determined to counter that threat.
TODD (voice-over): Through his propaganda arm, North Korea's combative young dictator ramps up his threats against America. With martial music and a breathless female narrator, a new video from Kim Jong-un's regime shows a fictional image of a U.S. aircraft carrier getting blown up. The narrator calls the carrier pathetic and says it would die with a dagger in its neck. The narrator calls the plane a moth that would, quote, "fall by getting hit by a rain of fire."
DEAN CHENG, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: We're looking at a situation where the Korean peninsula's tensions have significantly elevated. This kind of imagery coming out of Pyongyang is clearly meant to stoke that fire, to really try and intimidate the Americans, to say, you know, we, the North Koreans, aren't intimidated and we are prepared to hurt you.
TODD (voice-over): The narrator refers to joint U.S./South Korean military exercises now being conducted. She calls America a warmonger. Kim's regime views those drills as rehearsals for an invasion of North Korea. The video also comes just after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited the region and said the Trump administration would consider a preemptive military strike on North Korea if the threat from Kim is elevated. CHENG: With all of the discussion about how the U.S. is focused on
dealing with North Korea, preparing sanctions, potentially other moves, I think what Kim Jong-un is doing is he's not testing. He's signaling. He might be doing this in preparation of some kind of pushback.
TODD (voice-over): The video also comes on the heels of recent missile and rocket engine tests by the North Koreans. U.S. and military intelligence officials are not commenting tonight on this theatrical threat from Kim.
In recent months, his regime has released propaganda videos showing North Korean commandos assaulting the South Korean President's official residence, the Blue House. One chilling video depicted a nuclear explosion on the Washington Mall. Analysts say these releases are also meant as a signal to North Korean citizens.
LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER UNITED STATES MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: This reinforces what the North Korean government wants them to believe that they have a mighty military, and they're ready to take offensive action, if necessary, to defend the equities of the North Korean people.
TODD: But one analyst warns tonight, Kim Jong-un may be getting close to a point where these propaganda videos are not just rhetoric. That will come, this expert says, if North Korea successfully tests an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the U.S. which they could be close to doing. At that point, he says, any video from Kim wouldn't be just propaganda. It would be a direct threat to America -- Wolf.
[17:55:09] BLITZER: And, Brian, you've just received a frightening assessment of North Korea's nuclear weapons capability, right?
TODD: That's right, Wolf. I just corresponded with former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright. He is with the Institute for Science and International Security, one of the top experts on North Korea's nuclear arsenal. He has just updated his figures.
Albright says, right now, they believe North Korea has between 13 and 30 nuclear bombs. And by 2020, they could have between 25 and 60 nuclear bombs.
BLITZER: That's very frightening indeed. All right, Brian, thank you.
Coming up, more breaking news. President Trump goes to Capitol Hill, hunting votes for the GOP health care bill and warning Republican critics that if they don't come through, they could lose their seats in the next election.