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Health Care Vote Raising Questions About Tax Reform; U.S. Officials: Info Suggests Trump Associates May Have Coordinated With Russians; Nunes: Trump Intel May Have Been "Incidentally Collected"; House Intel Committee Holding Meeting. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- the idea that that wouldn't have been able to happen 30 years ago, but now it is happening.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: True. True.

CAMEROTA: That's a win for everybody. Thanks so much for joining us. Time now for CNN NEWSROOM with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.

Hi, guys.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, guys. Thanks so much. A lot of news this morning. Let's get right to it.

POPPY HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. The breaking news this morning in the London terror attack, ISIS is now claiming responsibility.

Also new, the man responsible for plowing his car into crowds of people and stabbing a police officer to death, he was British-born and apparently already on the radar of law enforcement.

HARLOW: Prime Minister Theresa May revealing this morning, the British-born attacker had been investigated before for ties to violent extremism. Our Nic Robertson is in Birmingham, England with more on what we know about the attacker and his ties to ISIS.

Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the Amaq News Agency, which is associated with ISIS, say that they claim him as one of their soldiers. They did exactly the same with the attacker in Nice last year, the two attacks very similar.

What ISIS, on this news organization, is saying is that this has been done in response to their calls for attacks on the coalition. So this is very much in keeping with what we've seen ISIS do before, they're claiming him as one of their soldiers.

What have we learned from the authorities here about the attacker? British-born, as you say. Prime Minister Theresa May, today, say that the British intelligence services, MI5, in fact, investigated him being periphery to another incident several years ago. They decided that he wasn't relevant going forward.

Not under recent or current investigation, but what police say they're doing now is looking at his motivation, looking at his preparations, and looking at his associates. To the point of his associates, overnight, last night, armed police raided the building behind me. They used a battering ram to get in through the door. Three people were taken away. There were three people arrested.

Eight people arrested total, from six different locations. And it's just a mile away from here, we've learned in the last half hour or so, that the vehicle that was used in the attack was rented from a garage not far from here. The owners of that garage say they are working with the police to help them.

BERMAN: All right. Nic Robertson for us, in Birmingham this morning. The investigation continues. We are following more leads as it develops this morning.

Plus, we have more major news this morning. "I'm President and you're not." New words from a new interview this morning from President Trump that are indisputably true, he is President and you are not. Beyond that is where it gets murky.

He also says, "I can't be doing so badly." But today, exactly how he is doing depends on two major developing stories.

HARLOW: Two huge stories. First U.S. officials telling CNN exclusively, the FBI has information that indicates associates of President Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives, possibly to coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

At the same time, a health care showdown on Capitol Hill. Today is the day, the day of the vote! Republicans running against the clock as they scramble to save their plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, a vote on the house GOP plan now just hours away.

Let's go to Capitol Hill. That's where we find our Congressional Correspondent Sunlen Serfaty.

What does the latest CNN whip count tell us?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, signs are not indicating that this is headed towards a good place. Beyond just the whip count, Poppy, our health producer, Deirdre Walsh, reports that according our House leadership source, House leaders have postponed the meeting that they were intended to have right now at this time to meet with their full conference, likely to brief them on the changes to the bill.

We know that will not happen at this time, likely potentially later on the day. But the delay of that conference meeting really indicating how much is still fluid, how much is still up in the air around this today.

Yes, the intention is to push towards a vote at some point, but we don't even know what time that is. We don't know what's in this bill. The framework has not been agreed to. The Rules committee hasn't even passed this through. And the CBO has not scored this thing yet.

So basically, a lot has to happen in a very short amount of time up here on Capitol Hill, if indeed they are going to vote today on this. We know the President is getting more personally involved. He's been calling members on their cell phones as they're trying to make this deal and is out with a new Twitter video this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Americans were told that ObamaCare would bring down prices and increase options. You were told that you could keep your plan and keep your doctor. You were given many, many false stories. The fact is you were given many lies.

[09:05:09] Go with our plan. It's going to be terrific. You're going to be very, very happy. Call your local representative, call your senator, let him know that you're behind our plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: Now, leaders up here worked well into the night trying to make changes to this bill. Some changes, at this point, centering around essential health benefits. Those changes would appease the conservative House Freedom Caucus, but those changes are also really alienating moderates, and in fact, making them lose votes with moderates.

Charlie Dent, leader of the Tuesday group, said he was a yes before; now, he's a no after these changes. So, John and Poppy, a lot of moving parts, a lot yet to do before they get a bill that potentially can be brought to the floor.

HARLOW: Right. And those essential health benefits, things like mandating coverage for mental illness or maternity care, those are big deal items that can move this either way. Sunlen, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our panel. Ron Brownstein is with us, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic." David Drucker joins us, our political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for the "Washington Examiner." Rebecca Berg is here, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics."

Thank you all for being here. David Drucker, let me begin with you.

You've got Mark Meadows, the House Freedom Caucus, coming out, feeling a lot more optimistic as of late last night. But then you have Sunlen's reporting that, look, you've got this Paul Ryan, GOP House Conference delayed, no CBO score yet, and we don't even know what is in this bill or out of this bill and they're supposed to vote on it today. Give us a reality check.

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: You know, look, we've seen this movie before from Republicans where they can't seem to come together to put together a deal that brings the votes for a bill that can pass. Under President Obama, in some ways, it was understandable because they were always trying to do a deal that could satisfy a Democratic president. But here is a big test for them.

This is a lot bigger than health care, as big as health care is for many Americans and as big of a political issue as it has been inside the Republican Party since ObamaCare passed. There's a Republican President and full Republican control of Congress. And if they can't come together to pass health care reform, then it's going to put in real serious question their ability to govern. It's going to put in serious question President Trump's abilities as a dealmaker, which is supposed to be, if for nothing else, what he's supposed to be really good at. And it will imperil everything else that comes after it.

I've talked to a lot of voters, I've talked to a lot of people who believe that they should have put health care off. They should just, you know, put it to the side, go to tax reform, go to infrastructure spending. It's not going to be easier. Those are very subjects, and the opponents that would have brought this down are going to feel emboldened and Republicans are going to continue to deal with this.

And I think that the public is going to wonder what the heck is going on up here if the people in charge can't find a way to get a deal done. Republican voters, in particular, actually want action. They want something done, and they won't be happy if Republicans can't figure it out.

BERMAN: Well, I think another way of saying that, David Drucker, is that, for Paul Ryan and Donald Trump, this is their everything, at least today. But, Ron Brownstein, you know, the parameters of this are getting more and more complicated. The idea that the deal may be struck on essential benefits, which is something that the more conservative members of the Freedom Caucus' people, they want struck from the bill today.

But there are moderates like Charlie Dent, who we heard from overnight, like some of these New Jersey representatives who, you can tell, will be upset by that. Charlie Dent said that he thinks the bill lead to loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans. Talk about this sort of tension here.

RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Yes, no. And, look, the one flaw in David's, I think, otherwise admirable analysis is that, this bill has the potential to make worse all of the things that Republican voters, among others, dislike the most about ObamaCare.

I mean, the history, since Republicans have taken over Congress in 1995, has been that they have a lot of peerless appalling moments in the House but almost always pass the bill by moving it to the right. And that's what eliminating these essential health benefits would do in a dramatic way.

I mean, one of the strongest arguments against the initial version of this bill was that it imposed what is called an age tax because it raised prices and diminished access for older, working age adults through some of the insurance deregulation. This would compound that effect. And it would add a new challenge because, by eliminating maternity

benefits as a required benefit, essentially, the only people who buy that are the ones who need it, which quickly makes it either unaffordable or unavailable. And thus, you have the potential within, I think, a very short time for critics to be saying this bill imposes a mom tax.

So there's a lot of challenges here for Republicans of holding moderates, not only in the House but even more pointedly in the Senate.

HARLOW: A mom tax.

BERMAN: Yes, Poppy Harlow's ears perked up.

HARLOW: Oh. No, I'm seeing the headlines.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

HARLOW: I mean, if that happens, you know, is this DOA?

BERMAN: The problem though, is you have to have those headlines by 8:00 tonight.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: I mean, this mom tax may only appear in the next few hours. They may vote.

HARLOW: No, exactly. I mean, it's stunning how quickly this is moving, if it does, indeed, proceed to a vote.

[09:10:04] Look, Rebecca, the White House said, unequivocally, yesterday, there is no Plan B, there is a Plan A. There is always a Plan B. So what happens if Plan A doesn't work?

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, I think, Poppy, the negotiations you're seeing right now in advance of this potential floor vote this evening, this expected floor vote this evening, that is the Plan B.

So they submitted their first offer, we could call it. The leadership submitted this bill originally and have been making tweaks and changes to it throughout the process to try to appease some of these conservative critics and get them on board.

If they're not able to strike a deal before this vote this evening, I would argue that there really isn't a Plan B because you have Republicans, more centrist Republicans and even members of Republican leadership, who, no way, are going to go all the way to the right that the conservative Republicans on the Freedom Caucus would want on this bill.

And so this could just be a standoff, a staring contest, between these factions of the Republican Party. If they can't strike a deal on this now, on health care, on an issue that they have been talking about for years and years on the campaign trail, I think it's quite possible that, actually, this isn't happening. And then Donald Trump and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have to explain to voters why it didn't.

BERMAN: Again, let's just remind people the breaking news. There was supposed to be a meeting right now with the House Republican conference at 9:00. It's not happening. It's been postponed. Speaker Ryan postponed it. We don't know why.

You know, maybe because they have the deal that he wants to propose to them at a later date. It may be because things are in disarray. It's just that uncertain right now.

David Drucker, the Koch brothers, you know, famous Republican donors, big pockets, big money. They've been to a lot of the conservative groups that donate to campaigns, soft money and hard money. They've come out pretty strong against the bill as it stands right now. They're even saying they're setting up a fund that will not give money to anyone who votes for it. What's the impact of that?

DRUCKER: Well, what we've seen from the outside conservative groups is that they have maintained the posture they have had throughout the Obama years, where they would go against Republican leadership that was trying desperately to put together deals that could bring all of their members along and get signed into law as the most conservative bill possible under a Democratic regime. And they're not backing down under Trump.

What's interesting about this, John, is that, you know, when you have a negotiation on health care in particular with Trump and Paul Ryan and the House Freedom Caucus, the most liberal guy in the room is Donald Trump. And so they're trying to do a deal that satisfies his promises to cover everybody, which is sort of antithetical to the conservative's drive to have this thing be as market driven as possible.

And this kind of outside pressure puts pressure on that. And I think then, the question is, here, can Donald Trump, you know, President, maximize the strong relationship he has with conservative voters that Republican leaders don't have and have never had over the past 10 years? Or are we going to find out that the President's relationship with those voters only goes so far?

And part of that will depend, and we still haven't seen this from the President, on whether or not he's really willing to go to the mat and challenge the conservatives that are opposing him. He has indicated that he's willing to do that. But in my discussions with people that live in these districts, what they've seen so far yet is that the President hasn't actually put that political capital to use to try and put these members on the defensive. If he does, they think it could work, but he's got to be willing to give it a try.

BERMAN: Guys, we got to end this conversation. But as we go, I want to take a vote. Who among you thinks that this will pass tonight? Raise your hand if you think this passes tonight. BROWNSTEIN: I think it passes eventually.

BERG: I don't think so.

DRUCKER: I'm with Ron. Eventually but not --

BERMAN: Wow. Not tonight but eventually.

DRUCKER: Eventually but not tonight.

HARLOW: All right.

BERMAN: All right. We'll take that to the bank. Go ahead --

BROWNSTEIN: But take it to a bad place in the Senate.

HARLOW: There you go.

BERMAN: Ron Brownstein, Rebecca Berg, David Drucker, great to have you with us. Interesting. It could be a long night that lasts several days, according to them.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: All right. Wall Street growing a bit jittery about all the uncertainty that we just heard right there on Capitol Hill. The big question this morning, what does this mean, and what does it mean beyond that?

We are joined by CNN's chief business correspondent, star of "EARLY START," Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's all about the legislative agenda, you guys. And while this has stalled here, there's concern about the President's political capital. That means tax reform, infrastructure, even rolling back more regulations.

Does that slow down? And Wall Street would not like that, quite frankly. I like to say that still waters run deep on Wall Street. If there's nothing's happening, nothing is moving, oh, but everything is happening.

Investors are trying to figure out just how much juice this President has and this administration has. What they want, the Holy Grail, to cut their taxes, and maybe do some sort of, you know, a foreign capital repatriation, being able to bring some money home at a very cheap tax rate.

That's what they want. And that's why the stock market has been driven so much higher. Look at the stock market since the election, really big run-up, and then this week, a little bit of a pause here. Hitting the pause button.

You know, the Dow is up 2,400 points since the election.

HARLOW: Yes. ROMANS: It's had a really big run. The Dow, as you know, Poppy, is a

leading indicator.

HARLOW: Sure.

ROMANS: So it has already priced in like the best possible scenario for this President.

[09:14:58] HARLOW: It has already priced in the tax cuts, the corporate tax cuts, that this President promised and can get done with a Republican-led congress. However, he can't get it done without health care done. So is this the market saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is the market saying we need to see results now. This is reality part of the phase. It's all been hope until now. This is the reality part of the phase. I don't want to say this is a sell-off or pullback, this is a pause. When you look at how far this market has come, it's been pretty incredible. They need to see, can he get 3 percent economic growth? Is the job market going to continue to run? Those are the good questions.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Taking a break and seeing other people.

ROMANS: They are taking a break, that's exactly right.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Cheating analogy this morning. It's like 9:15 a.m.

BERMAN: Arty, still to come, CNN's exclusive report on the FBI investigation on the links between the Trump campaign, possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

HARLOW: And the House Intel chair facing backlash from not just Democrats, but some Republicans as well, as he literally ran over to the White House, talked to the president about this, quote, "incidental collection." Growing calls now for an independent investigation.

Also the president challenged on his credibility. His answer, "I am the president, you are not." That's a quote. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:20:41]

HARLOW: So CNN has learned new details about this FBI investigation into potential leaks between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

BERMAN: Want to bring in CNN crime and justice producer, Shimon Prokupecz. He broke the story alongside CNN's Evan Perez and Pamela Brown. Shimon, bring us up to speed. SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: John, U.S. officials tell CNN the FBI has information that indicates associates of Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

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

The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place. Though officials caution the information was not conclusive.

The FBI would not comment, nor would the White House. Though, Trump officials have denied there is any evidence of collusion. If you recall, in addition to Comey saying the investigation includes looking at connections to Trump associates. But he also explained the legal standard for the FBI to look into this. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 you travel to a country before you're open to investigation for counterintelligence by the FBI?

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: The standard is a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PROKUPECZ: One law enforcement official said that information suggests, quote, "People connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were given the thumbs up to release information when it was ready."

Other U.S. officials who spoke to CNN say, it's too early to tell from the information gathered so far since at this point it's mostly circumstantial. The FBI cannot yet prove the collusion took place, but the information suggesting collusion is now a large focus of the investigation.

HARLOW: Shimon, what do we know about who specifically is being investigated?

PROKUPECZ: Well, Poppy, our sources would not say who connected to the Trump campaign was being investigated, but we do know the FBI has already been investigating four former Trump campaign associates.

As you know, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page, for their contacts with Russians known to U.S. intelligence. All four have denied improper contacts. We've learned that one of the issues the FBI now faces is that communications between Trump's associates and Russians have stopped in recent months given the focus on Russia. We've also been told some Russians have changed communication methods making surveillance more difficult.

HARLOW: All right, Shimon, thank you for that great reporting, along with Evan Perez and Pamela Brown. We appreciate it.

In the middle of all of this, House Intel Chair Devin Nunes running to the White House late yesterday apparently steaming mad about what he had seen, what he says is information about the president that may have been incidentally collected.

Now his actions are fueling calls for an independent investigation from both Democrats and Republicans. Listen to Nunes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It concerned me enough to have to notify the president because it was him and his transition team that were involved in this. It's not fair for him not to know what's in these reports while the past administration and many agencies do know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, CNN's Athena Jones live in Washington on what has become a political debate on top of this investigation.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John, that's right. This has raised a lot of eyebrows, a lot of concerns and it's raised as many questions or more questions that it's answering. We know now that the House Intelligence Committee is meeting at this moment.

We know that the actions of Chairman Nunes raised the ire of the top Democrat on that committee who is now saying that the fact Chairman Nunes felt the need to run over and personally brief the president about this information.

[09:25:08]Before alerting the top Democrat on the same committee, the House Intelligence Committee, raises concerns about whether that committee can conduct an independent investigation as they're tasked with doing.

This is one of the committees looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any contacts between Trump associates or surrogates and Russian officials. Listen to what that top Democrat, Adam Schiff, had to say about all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The chairman will need to decide whether he's the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he's going to act as a surrogate of the White House because he cannot do both.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: He cannot do both. So Adam Schiff in that same press conference talked about how this makes the case, an even stronger case that there may be a need for an independent commission, a select committee, to look into this.

That is something the Democrats have been calling for, Republicans have been balking at. What's so interesting here is it appears as though Chairman Nunes thought he was giving the White House some information that could partially help out the president.

The president himself said he felt somewhat vindicated because this showed maybe some of his accusations had been correct. Let's remind all of our viewers that the president accused his predecessor, President Obama, of wiretapping Trump Tower.

Even Chairman Nunes said there's no evidence of that. In the end this attempt to help out the White House really caused more confusion and anger among Democrats.

BERMAN: And of course, the president says it happened in October, Chairman Nunes says it was during the transition. A lot more to look into here. Athena Jones, thank you very much.

In just a few minutes, we'll talk to a member of the House Intelligence Committee to find out what she thinks about this, if she still thinks that her committee really has the power to look into this responsibly.

HARLOW: And why she thinks Nunes is working on behalf of the White House when he went over there. We're going to ask her if she has any evidence of that.

Arty, still to come for us, ISIS claiming responsibility for the terror attack in the heart of London yesterday. Now the British prime minister says this attacker, no stranger to authorities.

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