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Trump Scrambles For Support Hours Before Vote; Soon: Trump, GOP Critics Meet Ahead Of Health Vote; Nunes Apologizes For Not Briefing Committee On Spy Claims; U.S. Officials: Info Suggests Trump Associates May Have Coordinated With Russians; Key Dems Will Filibuster Trump's Supreme Court Pick. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We will know. Maybe soon. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan begins right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We do begin with breaking news on multiple fronts, on a chaotic and sure to be dramatic day in our nation's capital.

First, the fate of the president's health care bill right now is hanging in the balance. The vote is supposed to be sometime today. But still no word, no announcement on when that will be, which means it could be a very late night.

Minutes from now, the president will host a group of skeptical Republicans at the White House to make a last-minute play to try and strike a deal. Will it be enough?

At the very same time, House Speaker Paul Ryan has just cancelled a planned meeting with the Republican conference and pushed back his scheduled news conference. We don't know why, but in general, it's not what you generally would do as speaker if you have the votes locked in.

Separately, the White House dealing with a new bombshell, CNN reports the FBI has information that associates of Donald Trump may have possibly coordinated with Russian operatives during the campaign, this as the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee is facing intelligence backlash right now. Democrats accusing him of compromising their bipartisan investigation into the president's possible ties to Russia.

Moments ago, word of an apology. A lot to get to. First this -- no deal, at least not yet. President Trump hoping to twist some arms in the 11th hour ahead of tonight's vote, again, if it happens, by CNN's latest count, 28 House Republicans say they will vote no or are leaning that way.

Remember, of course, Republicans can only afford to lose 21 of their fellow Republicans and still pass this bill. It's changing moment by moment. Let's get over to where all the action is right now.

Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, the speaker canceled his meeting with members. He pushes back his press conference. Where are things headed right now?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you very well remember from your time up here on Capitol Hill that those are two big signals that indicate that the House Republican leadership simply aren't where they need to be yet. That no deal has come together yet.

So the intention is to push towards a vote tonight in the House, but there's nothing scheduled. That gives us a big clue on where things stand right now. There are a lot of moving parts at this hour.

You have members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who are heading to the White House to meet with President Trump. They're among the chief holdouts. They have been very disgruntled about this bill and are pushing for more changes to be made.

We know that House leadership has been making some changes, some appeasements, this group centering around dropping the essential health benefits in this bill, but that move although it could bring in more conservatives loses both with some moderates up here on Capitol Hill. So that's a concern.

Speaker Ryan met with moderates up here on Capitol Hill last night so brief them about these potential changes to essential health benefits, one member describing it to CNN as a tense meeting. Of these potential changes he said, quote, "A lot of people don't realize what the implications of that are.

So we're going to railroad this thing through and there's going to be even more people peed off, our constituents, our stakeholders." So that's a very strong word although be it coming from a moderate Republican.

But speaking about leadership, railroad this thing through. Certainly a lot of moving parts, a lot of things have to happen tonight, Kate, if they even do have a vote.

KEILAR: Yes, it sounds like that moderate Republican is already, quote, peed off, if you will, Sunlen. Great to see you, Sunlen. Thank you very, very much. We'll be back to you.

A lot going on, but the focus is on where do lawmakers stand right now. Let's talk to one of those key lawmakers right now. Republican Congressman David Brat of Virginia, a member of the House Freedom Caucus as Sunlen was just discussing.

The caucus, Congressman, has become a linchpin here at the moment. You, I'm told, are going to be joining the caucus members over at the White House in just a few minutes. What's your message to the president?

REPRESENTATIVE DAVID BRAT (R), VIRGINIA: Yes, well, we've had the same message. I just heard the moderate claims, et cetera. Everybody on the House and the Senate voted for repeal one year ago, right. So that was full repeal of all of these insurance regs. We all voted on that when it didn't matter.

So now you have free market folks, right. I thought economics. I have a PhD in economics, you know, 30 years ago, and I'm arguing in the context now, we're not purists. We're arguing in the context where even my Democrat colleagues tell me the basic structure of Obamacare stays in this bill, right.

And so what we're saying is if we want President Trump to have a successful agenda, one thing matters more than anything else, and the price of health care has to go down. That's what we're debating.

And so any package of these essential health care benefits along with other regs, right now a young person cannot go out and buy an inexpensive health care policy because there's all these regs that burden them up, right.

KEILAR: Congressman, you're a "no" now. What gets you to "yes"? I don't want to get bogged down because I don't want to lose our viewers.

[11:05:07]So you and I are on the same page, the essential health benefits, that provision, if that goes, is that a "yes"?

BRAT: I don't want to be negotiating specifics, but any package of insurance regulations, that's an example of one.

KEILAR: To the point of specifics, Congressman, I mean, I think Paul Ryan wants to know what is going to get Dave Brat to yes.

BRAT: I'm in the middle of telling you but it takes ten seconds, any combination of regs that you get rid of that lowers the price of health insurance gets me to a yes. Right now, the CBO scores, price is going up 15 to 20 percent through 2020. That's three years from now. There's political elections. That doesn't matter.

What matters more is, President Trump cannot preside over a new death spiral. If you have prices going on up and costs going up and we're not sending the cost curve down, insurance companies are still in trouble and we haven't solved the fundamental problem of health care in this country.

And part of it is it's all connected and enforced by the federal government. That was never the logic of this country. It used to be, if you looked at your health premiums ten years ago, before we federalized everything, I guarantee you they were half the price they were now. We have to get back to that so firms can hire more people again and Trump has a total win-win.

KEILAR: Congressman, they're trying to get to yes, I'll get to that in a second. Who are you negotiating with? Who is the freedom caucus negotiating with right now? Is it the speaker or the White House?

BRAT: It's a combination of everybody. Right now Trump is the consummate business guy, right? He wants the price to go down, and he understands what's at stake here. So he is in the room and in a few minutes, we'll be over there again. We were there yesterday with all the health care policy guys. Vice President Pence, the president has been making calls to all of us constantly.

KEILAR: If he says essentially health benefits, if you're talking about this package of regs, if it comes to the ten essential services in Obamacare, if that's out, are you a "yes"?

BRAT: Again, I'm not going to negotiate any single piece right now through the media. Right? We're all talking with the president and we have --

KEILAR: I totally understand. I totally understand. Here's why I ask. Because what I'm hearing from House leadership aides is the following, that the Freedom Caucus members, some conservatives, you guys can take yes for an answer is what I'm hearing. First, it was tax credits, then it was Medicaid policy, then it was these essential benefits, and now it's coming to all of the Title I regulations. Are you moving the goalpost?

BRAT: No, that's the normal narrative, when you want to apply political pressure. I taught economics for 20 years. I've been on the press. I've been with you guys over a month, there's nothing new here. If you don't bend the cost curve down, Paul Ryan said after Philadelphia, he's going to go external and that's the whole premise of our project.

If you don't bent the cost curve down, he's out in public on there. He's a free market guy. So right at the end of the day, everybody is putting a little political pressure on but no one is moving the goalposts at all.

There are many conservative groups, right. You got the House Study Committee. They push for a couple of things. We're ensuring that the big picture has to be right, the price of health care has to go down. We're not utopian on this. We're negotiating in a framework that's anything but free market.

KEILAR: Even though you're not going to tell me right now, are there a couple of things in your mind that you can tell the president, if he gives it to you, you're a yes? It needs to happen in hours if it's going to pass the vote tonight.

BRAT: I'm giving it to you. Any package of health regulations that can be struck from the bill that lower the price of health care and we're to a yes. But lower means lower, right? That's it.

KEILAR: Well, and that's also -- there's the key right there. Are you comfortable moving forward with any vote tonight if you don't have an updated cost estimate from CBO?

BRAT: Yes, no, we're waiting. CBO is not what matters. What matters is bending the cost curve down. If we see policy, right, we all get policy so CBO score isn't essential.

KEILAR: But you were just citing the cost estimate from CBO in talking about why the cost curve wasn't going to bend. So do you need to see the CBO report to trust that any changes to this bill will bend the curve?

BRAT: When you have a macro structure that follows Obamacare logic, I didn't need CBO to tell me prices were going to go up in the first place, I knew that, right? So I didn't need them to tell me prices are going to up when you retain federal mandates on all insurance products.

That's the point I'm making, right. If you get rid of those, guess what, prices go back down. I taught free market economics for 20 years. So it's very easy. This bubble up here is used to federal intrusion and federal mandates on everything. And so we've got to make it simple again.

[11:10:01]This country is great because we did free markets. The rest of the world is going free markets. We're moving toward more federal regulation of every part of your life. We're moving in the wrong direction. We got to get right and President Trump is the consummate business guy who knows how to get it right.

KEILAR: Let's see if that will get you to yes tonight. You got to head over to the White House now, Congressman. So thanks very much.

BRAT: Thank you, Kate.

KEILAR: Dave Brat, a no right now. Let's see what happens after this.

Also this morning, it was a judgment call. That's how the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is defending himself and his decision to brief the press and the president before Democrats on his committee. What is this all about?

You remember, Devin Nunes says that he learned communications from President Trump and his team may have been incidentally collected by U.S. intelligence and some of them may have been unmasked. Here is Nunes after he left a meeting with his committee just moments ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did this come from the White House? Did this information that you got come from the White House?

REPRESENTATIVE DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: As you know, we have to keep our sources and methods here very, very quiet. I've told the American public several times that we want people to come to us to bring us information if they have it.

Over the course of this investigation, we've had many sources who have come to this committee. And as you can imagine, some, many, don't want you to know, they don't want anyone to know who they are. And I think you guys in the press understand this, you have your own sources.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: All right, CNN's senior Congressional reporter, Manu Raju, is live on Capitol Hill. Manu, you were there for the first briefing yesterday and there you were again for the briefing today. Has anything become more clear in the past 24 hours about what we've heard from the chairman of House Intel?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: We really have not learned much more. Even Democrats who sat on this -- who are sitting on this committee and just met with Mr. Nunes did not actually see the information that Mr. Nunes revealed publicly yesterday about those communications being picked up by U.S. intelligence officials of Trump transition team discussing what appears to be the formation of the new government, according to sources that I have talked to.

But these members have not really heard much. As you played in that clip right there, I asked Mr. Nunes repeatedly, how did you get this information, did it come from the White House? Did it come from the Trump administration? He would not say.

But one thing he did say, Kate, was I'm sorry, he apologized to Democrats on the committee for briefing the president of the United States before his own committee. Take a listen.



RAJU: He apologized? For what?

SPEIER: He apologized for not informing the ranking member. And my question to him was, why did you hold a press conference, if this was crucial information to get to the president, why did you hold a press conference before going to the White House?

RAJU: And his response to that?

SPEIER: He didn't respond.


RAJU: So the question, Kate, is where does this go from here? Jackie Speier, the Congresswoman there, announced that Democrats would be reviewing this information that Mr. Nunes revealed publicly yesterday tomorrow in a private classified briefing.

I asked her, are you confident that Mr. Nunes can run this committee investigation? And she said she's not confident. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, just told our colleague, Tom LoBianco, that it's time for him to step aside as chairman of the committee.

So this investigation which was happening initially along bipartisan lines now breaking down along partisan lines. What does that mean for the larger investigation into Russia, Russia meddling in these contacts that occurred between Trump officials and allegedly Russian officials, what happens next? We don't know what happens to the House side and the Senate continues its own investigation -- Kate.

KEILAR: Yes. Can this committee regain its footing now after what's really broken down in the last 24 hours? Manu, thanks so much. Manu is all over it. Let's discuss this with the Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro. Of course, he is a member of the very same House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.


KEILAR: All right, so Jackie Speier is talking about a little bit what happened in the meeting, the committee, you guys met earlier this morning. Devin Nunes came out to talk about it. What's your take? What happened in that meeting this morning?

CASTRO: Well, obviously I don't want to disclose all of it. I agree with Jackie, the chairman at least this morning was gracious and did apologize especially for not informing the ranking member. That said, all of us had very grave reservations about what he did yesterday.

I made a statement saying that you can't serve two masters here, either you are going to be the chairman of this committee, who is going to lead the committee to find the truth or you're going to be a surrogate or advocate for Donald Trump.

And I'm also somebody who has argued all along that this should not even be dealt with by the Congress, there should be an independent commission set up to undertake this investigation.

KEILAR: I want to get to that in just one second, but speaking to your statement, we heard similar from Adam Schiff, the top Democrat who said, you either need to -- you either need to run an independent committee or you're a surrogate for the White House.

After this apology, does that clear the air? Is it better now? Has he healed the wound that was created yesterday by not talking to the Democrats on this committee before he went to the press?

CASTRO: Well, we still want an independent commission. But listen, we're going to make the best of a less than ideal, sometimes even bad situation here. We're going to do everything that we can to make sure the investigation continues to move forward, that we call the witnesses who have been named in all of these news reports, and that we hear out all of the evidence.

KEILAR: So while you haven't seen the evidence, did the chairman share with you where he got the information that he briefed the press and the president on last night?

CASTRO: He did not.

KEILAR: Did he give you any indication what direction, if it was an anonymous source from the intelligence community or elsewhere?

CASTRO: He did not. And at the committee hearing earlier this week, I raised the possibility regarding leaks that the White House could be a main source of those leaks. There are people who have a kind of version of political Munchhausen by proxy syndrome, who want to be the source of leaks and when everything blows up, they want to be the savior. You know, so it could be --

KEILAR: Do you think that's a real possibility?

CASTRO: Absolutely.

KEILAR: Did the chairman share what it was in the intelligence reports that led him to believe all of this as then president-elect and other members of the his transition, they were caught up in incidental collection? I ask because the past 24 hours have been very confusing as to what he actually saw that led him to that conclusion.

CASTRO: And I'm sorry that I can't shed more light on it. We are still for the most part in the dark about what he saw. I think there is going to be some effort to make sure that the rest of the committee is able to see eventually what he says he was able to see. But right now, we just haven't seen it.

KEILAR: When the chairman apologized, did he explain why he went to the press and the president before speaking to you?

CASTRO: He said that it was a judgment call and that he believed that it was important for the president to see that information when he showed it to him.

KEILAR: Where do you think this goes from here? You've got some Democrats saying, I know you're calling for an independent commission, you've got some calls for that. But regardless of whether you get an independent commission or a joint select committee or it stays with this committee, do you have confidence that Devin Nunes can remain the chairman of the committee?

CASTRO: Well, you know, after yesterday, my confidence and the confidence of others was, of course, shaken. But like I said --

KEILAR: Is it broken, though?

CASTRO: Well, it was very shaken. You know, we can keep pushing for an independent commission, and -- but most of all, what we need to do is keep moving forward and make sure all the evidence comes out. I've heard the calls for him to resign or step down. The only thing that I would caution is that you could actually get somebody worse. There are other people who could be appointed who I think would actually be worse. So we also need to be careful about that.

KEILAR: It's like the lesser of two evils, the worse of two bads. You don't think Congressman Nunes is good as chairman?

CASTRO: Well, I said as of yesterday morning, actually, that he had been working in a bipartisan way with Democrats, that the hearings had been scheduled. We had received certain witnesses. There has been talk about receiving more witnesses. So things were moving forward. As I mentioned in my statement yesterday, his actions were an abrupt departure from that posture. KEILAR: Just one quick final question. Can you tell us anything about CNN's latest reporting? Congressman, obviously because of your post on the intel committee, U.S. officials are saying the FBI has information indicating that Trump associates communicated with Russian operatives possibly to coordinate releasing damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the election. Have you seen anything pointing to that at this point?

CASTRO: That's what the investigation is all about and so I can't verify that or confirm that for you now. But by the end of this investigation, we should be able to answer that question solidly yes or no.

KEILAR: Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks for coming in. Appreciate it.

CASTRO: Thank you.

KEILAR: All right, here's a quote for you, "I'm president and you're not." President Trump defending his credibility, doubling down on wild theories including Ted Cruz's father being involved in JFK's assassination.

Plus high drama at the White House, the president scrambling for support around the Republican health care bill. He is going to meet with skeptical Republicans moments from now. One of them we just talked to.

[11:20:05]Are they going to be able to get a deal? Are they going to get a deal in time? What is the timeline now? We could find out any moment.


KEILAR: Now to new details of the FBI investigation into potential links between individuals associated with Donald Trump's campaign and the Russian government or Russian operatives.

Shimon Prokupecz joining us now. He broke the story along with Pamela Brown and Evan Perez. Shimon, great work as always. Lay it out for us. What have you picked up?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes. So U.S. officials are telling that the FBI has an information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

FBI Director James Comey as you know made the announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign. The FBI is now reviewing different kinds of information which includes human intelligence, travel, business, and phone records, and accounts of in-person meetings.

[11:25:07]This information is what the FBI counterintelligence investigators are pouring over right now. But we're told so far there is no conclusive evidence of coordination. The FBI would not comment and the White House would not comment. Trump officials have previously denied there is any evidence of collusion.

KEILAR: So does all of this right now, Shimon, as far as you can tell, give us some ore insight into what FBI Director James Comey was talking about or knew or maybe was suggesting and couldn't talk about when he testified Monday?

PROKUPECZ: Well, it does in some ways. You know, he went into some of what the counterintelligence officials would need to sort of conduct this kind of investigation. He explained some of the standards that they would go by. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't you need some action or some information besides just attending a meeting, having been paid to attend a conference, that a picture was taken or that you traveled to a country before you're open to investigation for counterintelligence by the FBI?

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: The standard is I think there's a couple of different at play, a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.


PROKUPECZ: Kate, we're also told there is a piece of information that suggests, quote, "People connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release their information. Some U.S. officials have spoken to us say it's too early to tell what that means since at this point it's mostly circumstantial -- Kate.

KEILAR: And circumstantial or more, this is something obviously members of Congress will definitely be looking more into. Shimon, great to see you, thanks.

All right, we also have some breaking news right now, key Democrats are saying right now that they will filibuster the president's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

This comes, of course, after days of testimony, sometimes heated, Gorsuch going before the Senate Judiciary Committee. For much more on this, where things stand and what Democrats are threatening now, let's bring in Jessica Schneider. Jessica, what are you picking up?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, those hearings still happening right now, of course, Judge Gorsuch is no longer speaking. But two Democrats are now saying definitively that they will vote no on Judge Gorsuch, the first one being Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

That no vote not completely unexpected since he has been leading the movement against Judge Gorsuch since before the confirmation hearings. But here's the surprising one, somewhat, Senator Bob Casey has announced a no vote.

Now this is a loss for the Trump administration, since Casey is a Democrat from Pennsylvania, a state that went for Trump by less than a point. Given that Republicans thought that they might be able to recruit Casey to the yes column for Judge Gorsuch.

Of course since Casey is also up for reelection in 2018, but Bob Casey, Senator Bob Casey saying no today, he will not vote for Judge Gorsuch. Chuck Schumer also saying that Judge Gorsuch will face a filibuster, meaning that Republicans need to recruit at least eight Democrats or of course change the rules to that nuclear option where they would be just a simple majority.

But that nuclear option, Kate, something that Republicans say they're reluctant to do. In fact, yesterday, Senator Lindsey Graham said that he would fight against changing the rules. So Republicans up against a lot right now. They do have to get eight Democrats to avoid that filibuster and right now two Democrats definitively saying no -- Kate.

KEILAR: Yes, that nuclear option always is great when you're in the majority but then when you're not, a very different perspective. Great to see you, Jessica. Thank you very much, something to watch very, very closely. That is hugely important to the president, to the Congress, to the country, as that seat remains vacant right now.

Coming up next for us, as Republicans get ready to meet President Trump at the White House, he's scrambling to try to lock in the votes around his health care bill. One Republican lawmaker just said the following, quote, "This bill is collapsing."