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GOP Meeting Now, Health Bill Vote Postponed; Kellyanne Conway Arrives At Capitol; Health Bill Vote Postponed; GOP Scraps Health Care Vote; Bill In Jeopardy; Aired: 7-8p ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER HOST: Our breaking news coverage continues with Kate Bolduan filling in on Erin Burnett OutFront.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN HOST: OutFront next, breaking news. Republicans huddling right now behind closed doors after an embarrassing setback, calling off their planned vote on the very big healthcare bill. Can President Trump get this deal done?

Plus, a top democrat says he has seen new information on possible collusion between Trump Associates and Russia, enough that it would warrant a grand jury investigation.

And why was President Trump in the driver's seat of a big rig today? Let's go OutFront. Good evening, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, we have breaking news. No vote. The republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare was planned to be up for an historic vote tonight. No more. The reason, republicans simply don't have the votes. CNN's latest count has 30 house republicans either definite nos or leaning that way. The math is simple.

Republicans can only afford to lose no -- can afford to lose no more than 21 from their party because, of course, democrats aren't voting for it. So, now what? The house speaker is huddling right now with his entire party behind closed doors to figure that out. A sign of just how high the stakes are for the president tonight, a full-court press from the White House. Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, all over at the Capitol, trying to twist arms, as well.

The Freedom Caucus, a group of conservatives is the linchpin right now. The 40 members have frustrated the White House and congressional leaders, as they have -- as they have the numbers to either push this thing through, or force the bill to fall apart completely. The question right now though is at what cost? Moments ago, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus says they haven't given up yet.


REP. MARK MEADOW, (R) FREEDOM CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: I can tell you at this point, we are trying to get another 30 to 40 votes that are currently in the no category to yes. Once we do that, I think we can move forward with passing it on the house floor. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The White House says there will be a vote tomorrow, but is that just wishful thinking at this point? Sunlen Serfaty is OutFront tonight on Capitoll Hill. Sunlen, what can you tell us about this critical meeting that's happening right now?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's such a critical meeting, Kate, happening behind closed doors. We have been watching lawmakers go in right at this moment. The republican leadership is trying to get a sense in essence from their conference, how many votes they have, where their members are and as the White House is pushing for this vote to happen tomorrow morning, the leadership is not committing to that timeframe, much of that will depend on what happens in that room tonight. The republicans' healthcare bill thrust into a precarious state of limbo.

REP. JUSTIN AMASH, (R) MICHIGAN: They're not going to pass the bill.

SERFATY: With no deal and no plan B, Speaker Ryan is trying to buy time, forced to delay a vote long scheduled for today. A signal he still doesn't have the votes to pass the bill.

AMASH: Are you a yes yet?


SERFATY: The biggest obstacle, the hard-right house freedom caucus the chief critics in continued holdout.

MEADOWS: We have not gotten enough of our members to get to yes at this point. Under what we're currently considering. However, I would say, progress is being made.

SERFATY: Republican leadership in the White House making a major 11th hour concession, placating the group to get their support. Agreeing to eliminate essential health benefits in the bill, an Obamacare provision that requires insurers to cover benefits, like maternity, mental health, and prescription drugs among others. But after returning from a meeting with President Trump today --

AMASH: There were no new concessions.

SERFATY: House freedom caucus members say, that's not enough.

AMASH: Doing essential health benefits without changing other parts of the bill would actually make the bill worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What other parts do you want changed?

AMASH: So you need to look at community rating and other aspects of the insurance mandates. So, you can't change one part. They all interact.

SERFATY: The White House and republican leadership have been standing firm, saying this is their final offer on the table. It's up to the House Freedom Caucus to accept or reject it. Which doesn't sit well with some.

REP. ANDY HARRIS, (R) MARYLAND: Look, we've been told three weeks ago it was take it or leave it, so this is not -- this is a not a new -- that would not be a, you know, a revelation that that's what's being proposed.

SERFATY: Huddling back on the hill today --

REP. DAVE BRAT, (R) VIRGINIA: In order to get to yes, we have to bend the cost curve down. That's as simple as it is. So we'll see what happens.

SERFATY: House Freedom Caucus members say they want a document with ironclad assurances from the White House that in the short-term, premiums and other costs will go down. But those last minute concessions to conservative, risk the support among moderate republicans who were previously a yes.

REP. CHARLIE DENT, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: I never quite understood the mad rush. I think it's important that we get this right, rather than get it done fast.

SERFATY: And tonight, the Congressional Budget Office is out with a new estimate of the cost and coverage of the changes of the bill. The revisions mean the bill would actually cost more and still leaves 24 million fewer people uninsured in the next decade than under the current law. And to note, this -- the cost estimate is just based on manager's amendment. Those changes that were made earlier in the week, Kate, not these latest revisions. These latest potential appeasements to members of the house conservatives to woo them to get on to the bill.

BOLDUAN: And we don't -- we don't have a final bill, we don't have a final cost estimate. Great to see you, Sunlen. Thank you so much. We're keeping an eye on all the lawmakers walking past Sunlen heading into that room. We're also keeping an eye here. Republican congressman, Mo Brooks, he is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, he is going to be joining us in just one second. He just wrapped up a huddle with the house speaker before he's about to head into that big republican meeting. Let's get though over to Jeff Zeleny who is the White House. Jeff, is the White House still confident they can seal this deal tonight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, they are still confident they can seal the deal, not only, and they're not sure when that will be. They still hope the vote will come tomorrow. But, of course, that is up to the scheduling of the republican leadership. Not here at the White House. But it is one of the reasons all the top advisers here have spent the last several hours or so on Capitol Hill, meeting with some of these lawmakers and the message we are told from some of those republican lawmakers is the White House top officials are saying we are going to sit back and let you all work it out.

So, really, this now has become a moment for the house republicans to come together. The conservatives on the right, the moderates in the middle. There is concern across the party here. But, you know, all of them know that their re-elections could potentially depend on it. There is some frustration that the, sort of the whole rush to get this done today for the symbolism of the seventh anniversary of Obamacare may have rushed things too much.

But the reality is, the president has given his officials, his top advisers an objective to get this done, regardless of when that is and even frankly regardless of what is in the bill. But Kate, so important to remember, this is not the end. This is the beginning. If the house passes a bill, which is still an if at this point, it must go to the senate. Then they must reconcile. And then have two more stages of this. So this is just showing you how very difficult this is. But it's not an overstatement to say that the entire agenda of this president is now resting upon how this vote will go. Because if it fails, it means so many more difficult days ahead.

BOLDUAN: I just heard a collective eye roll from all of our viewers. This is just the beginning?

ZELENY: Just the beginning, I know, I'm sorry. I'm sorry folks.

BOLDUAN: It's all right. Not to you. It's not Jeff. It's not his fault. Great to see you, Jeff. All right. Let's get back over to the Capitol. OutFront now, republican congressman from Alabama, Mo Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus. Congressman, thank you so much for the time. You're a busy man.

REP. MO BROOKS, (R) ALABAMA: My pleasure, Erin.

BOLDUAN: You have been a no vote on this bill. You just left a meeting with the speaker. And I'm told also, Steve Bannon and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were in that meeting as well. What did they tell you?

BROOKS: Well, there are three aspects of this bill that are important. The focus was on primarily the third one. And I can go into number one and number two if you wish. But the third one deals with the cost of premiums to Americans. We're supposed to be doing this in order to make health insurance and healthcare more affordable. Unfortunately, this legislation, this massive republican welfare plan, does not do that, according to the congressional budget office, and the joint committee on taxation, health insurance premiums if this republican healthcare plan passes, will go up 15 to 20 percent over the next two years.

And so, the intensity of the discussion that we just had was, how are we going to do what needs to be done to lower the cost of premiums, not increase them? Because increasing them is the exact opposite direction for a lot of struggling American families, who are trying to make ends meet.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, are you any closer after that meeting to a yes tonight?

BROOKS: No, ma'am, I am not. And if I could have a second, let me explain why. I mentioned there are three things. One is we have to lower the cost of premiums and this legislation as it currently exists does not do that. But second, this is the largest republican welfare program in the history of the Republican Party. And we're being asked to vote for it. And ultimately that undermines the work ethic and increase these taxes.

BOLDUAN: So Congressman, essentially what I'm hearing from you is they got to throw whole thing out. You think -- they've got to throw this whole thing out and start over to get you to yes.

BROOKS: Well, this is what I would advocate and I have advocated. We need to pass the same repeal bill that passed the house and the senate just two years ago, that went to Barack Obama's desk. He vetoed it. Donald Trump would sign it. It needs to have an effective day sometime in the future. Now, this is important to break this action into two. Repeal and then whatever you're going to have to improve the system. No democrat is going to vote for anything that has any semblance of repeal in it.

Even if it's only a partial repeal. Once you pass the repeal, all of a sudden, all those democrat votes become active participants in whatever we're going to do to improve healthcare in the United States of America, hopefully, at lower cost to American citizens. So now you have a much bigger block of congressmen and senators that you can work with as you try to cobble together the votes that are necessary to get it through the House of Representatives, which is relatively easy.

And then to do the eye of the needle kind of thing with the United States senate, where they are hamstrung by these archaic, arcane rules that for the life of me I don't understand why they still agree to them.

BOLDUAN: Well though, Senator, they do kind of like those rules until they're on the losing end of it. But, regardless, where we are right now, it's -- you've made no progress or they've made no progress with you, is what I'm hearing. Because right now, there's no talk of throwing this entire bill out. They want to work around the edges to just try to win over some votes. When you head into this meeting then tonight, what are the chances, if you could guess that y'all are going to come out with a deal?

BROOKS: That is very difficult for me to evaluate, as I understand, the republican conference, it's going to be more of -- this is the status of where we are, rather than, we need to renegotiate the terms and conditions of this republican welfare bill. Then those kinds of negotiations will be taking place with the leaders of various groups, within the GOP conference. Each leader represents a certain interest in the legislation. For example, there will be some that will represent the desire to decrease the premium costs so we can fulfill the needs of the American people.

BOLDUAN: So, at the end of the day, if this fails, because you're going to demand changes. If this fails, who's to blame? You're not going to blame yourself. Are you going to blame the house speaker or are you going to blame President Trump? BROOKS: Oh, I'm not going to blame anybody. If this legislation does

not fail, it fails because the position we were put in by Obamacare in the first instance. And Obamacare is failing -- and we don't have --

BOLDUAN: But you all promised -- but you all promised this for cycle after cycle that you guys get this done. You got the numbers, if you all could come together.

BROOKS: Well, that's why I suggest that we go ahead and vote to repeal Obamacare with the same legislation that we had two years ago, a republican house and a republican senate passed that legislation. It went to president Obama and naturally, he covets Obamacare and he vetoed our legislation. But let's pass the same legislation, send it to Donald Trump's desk, and I'm pretty confident that President Trump will sign that legislation. And then we can start working on what is necessary to improve our healthcare system, via separate legislation, where the democrats are now freed up to participate, cooperate, and help us improve what's going on.

BOLDUAN: Let's see if that's -- I'll be -- let's see if that becomes the plan B in the fall back from the speaker. Mo Brooks.

BROOKS: Well, I hope it does.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much for your time.

BROOKS: Thank you, Erin.

BOLDUAN: Thanks for -- thanks for the time, before you head into this meeting. All right. OutFront now, the megapanel, I'm calling it. They're going to be here with me the entire hour, because I can't do this myself. Former adviser to four presidents, including Reagan and Clinton, David Dergen, CNN Senior Political Repoter, Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN Senior Political Analyst Mark Preston, former republican congressman Jack Kingston is here, former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, Amanda Carpenter, and former democratic member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Bakari Sellers.

Mo Brooks is not moving. That's about the state of play for that member of the House Freedom Caucus. David, but he's in the - he's deep in the details. Pull us back for a second. What is at stake tonight, as they head into this meeting, for republicans and the president?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER ADVISER TO FOUR PRESIDENTS: Well, one sixth of the American economy and the welfare of millions of Americans, first and foremost is at stake. You know, this is why it's so complicated. This is -- we're dealing with a massive piece of the American economy and trying to reorganize it. That's why so many presidents have failed it because at this complicated. It's hard to rally. But I think that Donald Trump's presidency to a significant degree rests upon pulling us out tonight.

He -- pulling out before it's over to get a vote out of the house at least. Because, you know, he's supposed to be the -- have the art of the deal, right? That's his -- that's his play and his strength. So, he needs to show he can do that. But it's also going to cast a pall over the rest of his legislation. And if that happens, that brings possible problems on the economic front. We've had a huge Trump rally. The stock market has gone up 10 percent since he was elected.

And a lot of that was on a bet that he would be able to get his tax cuts through, get his infrastructure plan through, and get it through this year. If that all get shoves into next year, that's (INAUDIBLE) in terms of the economy.

BOLDUAN: (INAUDIBLE) Congressman, in your former life, you were in charge of whipping these -- whipping members of congress, essentially. That's why it's called the whip. I mean, let's be honest.



BOLDUAN: You helped wrangle the votes, you helped wrangler, get everybody in line. How much are you sweating tonight? Just seeing how this is playing out?

KINGSTON: Well, I'm sweating because of two things. Number one, you're hearing people like Mo Brooks say, reopen the entire bill and --

BOLDUAN: I mean, that's going back to square zero.

KINGSTON: Yes, yes. Major surgery. Then on the other hand and I've seen that before. Sometimes as you said, you can nibble around the edges, make a few things different, but then there's also the question with that leadership has where you just power your way through. You put it on the -- on the house floor and see what happens. At one time when I was in the house leadership, we had a five-vote margin. And we honestly had to go to the floor many times, not knowing if the bill would pass or not.

But sometimes, it takes that kind of pressure and realization moment for people to come to Jesus, if you will. And then they say, OK, do I really with my very safe district and 10 terms behind me want to make some freshman walk the plank, so that I can have vote purity with an outside rating group, or do I want to just, you know, put my own politics behind and make them secondary and let's get this thing done.

BOLDUAN: Republicans, will they find religion in the face of this -- face of this healthcare bill? Guys, stand by. We've got a lot more to come to. OutFront next, house republican meeting behind closed doors at this very moment. Can they hammer out a deal to save the healthcare bill? All eyes on empty hallways and packed rooms.

Plus, a top democrat says he has new information on collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and Russia that would merit a grand jury investigation. Senator Lindsey Graham is my guest.

And it's been a tough week for the president. Is he leaving town? Jeanie Moos has the story (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Breaking news. House republicans behind closed doors right now battling it out over healthcare. The vote, postponed. The president's major legislative promise hanging in the balance. Trump Adviser Kellyanne Conway just seen arriving on the -- at the Capitol just moments ago in those basement hallways. Looks like she's heading into that big meeting. Dana Bash is live on the Hill outside that big meeting. Dana, what are you hearing now from republicans?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, they are meeting -- that's right, right behind these closed doors, this is a meeting that was supposed to happen hours ago and it was a vote that was supposed to happen hours ago. Everything delayed, because they don't have the votes. And that is the bottom line. But the hard cold truth of what's going on that the republican caucus is still fractured. What they are hoping that they can do is to figure out a way to find enough consensus to at least move forward procedurally tonight and then at least begin debate tomorrow morning.

I'm told that there is a lot of pressure coming from the White House, from officials there who hope that at least by scheduling votes that that will kind of get the ball moving and a little bit of tension with some house republican leaders who have done this before, who have experience in pushing too hard before the votes are there, only having to pull the bill. And with something like this, the president and the republican's top legislative priority, the promise that they made in election after election since Obamacare was passed into law, it is not something that republican leaders here want to mess with in terms of having that kind of defeat.

So, where are we right now? The republican House Freedom Caucus, that conservative group that has been sort of in a block, saying that they want this bill to move in a more conservative way, to move up some of the repeals, of for example, the benefits that are essential, that are part of Obamacare, they went to the White House today, as you know, and then they just met with Steve Bannon, the president's chief counselor and the president's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, as well as the ONB Director Mick Mulvaney. They're trying to get them to yes. Here's what the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told me about this earlier today

Do you confident there are the votes to pass this now?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I think we need a couple more to get together. The president had made great progress with individuals. We just need to make sure everybody is there and we'd be able to solve this problem.

BASH: They don't have it yet, that's the bottom line, Kate. The scramble is on and they just don't know what's going to happen coming out of this meeting. It is so crucial, the outcome of the discussion going on behind closed doors to determine whether or not they're even going to start the debate, as their plan is tonight, and again, as the White House is really pushing thousands republican leaders to do, Kate. BOLDUAN: Yes. What breaks up this logjam is unclear at this moment.

Dana, thank you so much.

BASH: It is.

BOLDUAN: Dana's there. We'll get back to her as things are changing on the Hill, fast. The panel is with me. Back with me right now. So, Mark, as Dana's talking about. We're seeing Kellyanne Conway is on the Hill, Steve Bannon is on the hill, Reince Priebus is on the hill. They're all were huddling with Speaker Ryan and they're heading into this meeting. What does that tell you?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It tells you that they are scrambling to try to get something done and try to get to the -- to 216 votes. You know, I think the biggest problem right now for President Trump is that he has to legislate, right? And he's been able to get things done by fiat. He's been able to use executive order, which every president does in their first couple months in office. But he always talks about being a good dealmaker and negotiator.

Well, he's at the point now where he has to negotiate with, you know, over 200 republicans right now.


PRESTON: Yes. He's not talking directly to David Gergen saying, I want to buy this property. He has to -- let's put it this way. He is out of his league when it comes to figuring out how to deal with Capitol Hill.

BOLDUAN: Then what, Nia? Where are things right now? I mean, the chances that they come out of this room with a deal, if you listen to Mo Brooks, is zero.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. I mean, they're talking about flipping 30 to 40 votes from no to yes. Oh, that sounds really, really easy. So it's unclear. I mean, one of the things I think that's happened over the last 24 to 48 hours is that you had big money people come out, the Koch brothers, essentially come out and say, listen, House GOP, the freedom caucus, if you want to stand on purity and vote against this thing, then they have your back. The Koch brothers have their back. And also, the chattering classes of conservatives.

People like Laura Ingraham, people like Ann Coulter. And interest groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth. They're all -- they're all against this. So, with Trump, you never saw him on the front end try to negotiate, try to build a consensus, or try to build an eco-chamber around this thing. They thought that he could come in and muscle this thing and really by the force of his personality and the crowds that we saw, of course, in Kentucky, they thought that would work, it hasn't work.

BOLDUAN: There are a million sticking points on this right now, depending on who you talk to. But with the House Freedom Caucus, one of the big sticking points, first off, leadership aides say they moved the goalposts. The sticking point has changed. But one of the things is now, they call them title 1 regulations. Got to love the term, but it gets to some of the most important stuff, the most liked stuff in Obamacare, like pre-existing conditions. Now, if they're putting that on the table, everyone needs to remember exactly what the president has said about this, Amanda, and I want to get your take.


LESLIE STAHL, CBS NEWS JOURNALIST: When you replace it, are you going to make sure that people with preconditions are still covered?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, because it happens to be one of the strongest assets.

STAHL: You're going to keep it?

TRUMP: And also with children living with their parents for an extended period will going to --

STAHL: You're going to keep that?

TRUMP: Very much try and keep that. Adds cost but it's very much something we're going to try and keep.


BOLDUAN: That's not the only time he said it. Could that honestly be on the table right now?

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SENATOR TED CRUZ: Here's the thing we're seeing play out right now and was revealed in the interview you conducted with Congressman Brooks earlier. There's still debate rages between republicans and conservatives between repeal, straight repeal which they campaign that and repeal and replace. Repeal and replace was kind of a message thought out by leadership because they didn't want to do too strongly against Obamacare.

Trump kind of bought into that and then he won. Nobody thought he was going to win. And then he got with Paul Ryan and came up with this plan. And I think Paul Ryan thought, OK, we can do repeal and replace, do this complicated budget process and I will get Donald Trump to bring over the conservatives. That part never happened. Donald Trump never brought the conservatives over. Paul Ryan never dealt them in. And so, they're still on the outside saying, we want repeal and that's the sticking point. Full repeal, not repeal and replace.

BOLDUAN: So Bakari, what are democrats doing at this moment? Are they just at happy hour?

BAKARI SELLERS, FORMER MEMBER, SOUTH CAROLINA HOUSEOF REPRESENTATIVES: It's too large of an issue. And it was -- it is a part of the legacy of Barack Obama but even more importantly what nobody's mentioned is that Paul Ryan and the republican leadership had seven years to dream this up, and they came out with a really bad piece of legislation. So you're starting with something that's really poorly written. 17 percent in the latest Quinnipiac poll approved this piece of legislation.

It's more unpopular now than Obamacare ever was. And so when you look at this bad piece of legislation, the freedom caucus talking about taking away essential benefits. You're talking about maternity care, rehabilitative care, you're talking about emergency services. All the things that make Obamacare well liked, the bill is going from -- the bill is going from bad to worse. And lastly, from the democratic perspective. One of the things that you -- whether or not and maybe Congressman (INAUDIBLE) they can talk about this.

Whether or not you like Nancy Pelosi or you do not, you saw how strong a leader Nancy Pelosi was. Her pure leadership skills. Paul Ryan does not have that. Paul Ryan has a caucus that's running all over the place. And not only that, but you didn't see one democrat, you don't have one democrat that's in the yes column for this piece of legislation. I think in the past --

BOLDUAN: And I'm supposed to be shocked by how?

SELLERS: But in the -- but in the past, you've had moderate democrats who were in swing districts who would come out and support a president or support a GOP leadership. You don't see that, that's strong leadership by Nancy Pelosi.

BOLDUAN: Or you're being a little altruistic thinking, any democrat would come over with republicans on a repeal and replace of Obamacare.

SELLERS: I'm proud of my people.


KINGSTON: Democrats got replaced by republicans now who are twisting in the wind.

BOLDUAN: OK. Stand by. Congressman Kingston, he's going to take us inside the room and tell us exactly what the arm-twisting feels like. Coming up next. The panel is going to stick with me. The top democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says, there's new evidence pointing to Trump Associates coordinating with Russians.

And President Trump defending his wild, baseless claims, saying, quote, "I'm president and you're not." Well, that is -- well, that's true, I guess.


[19:30:45] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, more breaking news tonight: the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee claiming now he has new evidence that may show collusion between associates of President Trump and Russia. Congressman Adam Schiff says it's the type of information that would merit a grand jury investigation.

This as U.S. officials tell CNN the FBI also has information that may indicate associates of Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to coordinate the release of an information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT at the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says he has seen new evidence on possible collusion between associates of President Trump and Russian operatives.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We continue to get new information that I think paints a more complete picture of at least what we know at the outset of our investigation.

ZELENY: Congressman Adam Schiff tells CNN's Manu Raju the new details, which he would not disclose, could merit a grand jury investigation.

SCHIFF: It's the kind of evidence that you would submit to a grand jury at the beginning of an investigation. And given the gravity of the subject matter, I think that the evidence certainly warrants us doing a thorough investigation.

ZELENY: Tonight, this new development, as the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee telling colleagues, he's sorry, not for going to the White House to brief the president on surveillance, but for failing to tell Democrats first.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The bottom line is, is that I try to treat everybody fairly and Republicans and Democrats. But this is not an easy minefield.

ZELENY: Congressman Devin Nunes issued an apology behind closed doors today, helping to quell the uproar sparked by he has revelation Wednesday that communications among members of the Trump administration may have been unwittingly swept up by U.S. surveillance. He declined to say where he learned the new information or whether the White House helped orchestrate the bombshell.

NUNES: We have to keep our sources and methods here very, very quiet. The president didn't invite me over. I called -- I called down there and invited myself, because I thought he needed to understand what I saw and that he needed try to get that information, because he has every right to see it.

ZELENY: That answer didn't sit well with Democrats.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I think he has demonstrated very clearly that there is no way there can be an impartial investigation under his leadership on that committee.


ZELENY: At the White House today, Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to brush off questions about how Nunes ended up at the White House on Wednesday.

SPICER: I think that there should be a similar concern as to as opposed to whether he took a skateboard or a car here to exactly what happened and why it happened.

ZELENY: Yet the substance of the information shared with the president still largely remains a mystery, even though he says he feels partially vindicated.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I somewhat do, I must tell you, I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.


ZELENY: Now, to give you a sense of how difficult this investigation might be going forward, they cannot even agree on what the new evidence is. The Republican chairman of this committee said that, look, I have not seen any new evidence at all. He said he had no idea what Adam Schiff, the Democrat, was talking about. And he, of course, said this new evidence paints a whole new picture of this investigation.

So, this is one censor that this bipartisan investigation has been complicated with politics, of course. But Kate, important to remember, the Senate investigating on its own, the FBI also has its own investigation as well on the White House connections to any possible Russia links -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Jeff, thank you.

OUTFRONT tonight, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

Senator, thanks so much for the time.


BOLDUAN: So, you have seen CNN's new reporting, senator, that U.S. officials are saying that the FBI is looking into Trump associates and that they may have colluded with suspected Russian operatives to release information damaging to Hillary Clinton during the campaign. You, of course, have oversight over the FBI and your subcommittee.

Have you seen anything that points to this?

GRAHAM: No, I haven't. I've heard from Director Clapper that during his time, he saw no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Now, we know that Director Comey says there's an ongoing criminal investigation, we have your report.

And the one thing I would tell the country is I want to make sure we get to the bottom of whatever this is, that go where the evidence takes you, that, you know, I hope the House and Senate can hold it together, and Congress can do their job.

[19:35:03] But the main thing is, let the FBI do their job without political interference.

BOLDUAN: Senator, you said you hope the House and the Senate can hold it together. That gets to this. The House intelligence community chairman, Devin Nunes, he apologized today to Democrats on his committee for not briefing them before going to the press and the president about what he is seeing in this centennial, possible incidental collection of Trump.

Is that apology enough?

GRAHAM: I don't know. It would be up to the Democratic members of the House. The hearing they held was pretty impressive, I thought. Good questions. I want to get to the leakers, too, but also, you know, I'm glad now I know.

It was Senator Whitehouse and myself who asked a question to the FBI director, is there an ongoing criminal investigation? Was a warrant issued? Was there being a wiretapping of the Trump campaign?

That hearing produced answers to both questions. There is an ongoing criminal investigation. The FBI director, the NSA director saw no evidence of wiretapping. So, the House committee did their job well there, but when Nunes went to the White House, he really fractured this relationship. And I think Schiff as, at times, tried to suggest there's circumstantial evidence about collaboration that I thought was inappropriate.

I hope they can come back together and hold it together. The Senate's doing really well with Burr and Warner.

BOLDUAN: On health care, on the news that -- the news on this is changing minute by minute.

GRAHAM: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Can you tell me if you know where we are right now?

GRAHAM: No, I have no clue.

BOLDUAN: When do you -- when do you honestly think you're going to have a bill in front of you in the Senate?

GRAHAM: Here's what I honestly think. The process in place to produce a bill gives a Turkish bazaar a bad name. What does it sound like? People are being threatened to vote yes. They're being bribed to vote yes. It sounds a lot like Obamacare to me.

I have very little confidence that the process that I see playing out in the House is going to produce a very good result. And I promise you this, that if the bill comes to the Senate, we're not going to do it the way the House did. We're actually going to be able to amend the bill, we're going to actually be able to read the bill and take a thoughtful approach to trying to repeal and replace Obamacare.

BOLDUAN: What does this say about the house speaker? You have little confidence they're going to send you a bill you can look at? GRAHAM: I think it's sort of gotten out of hand. I really do. I

like Paul Ryan a lot. He's got brilliant ideas about health care.

BOLDUAN: Who do you think is running the show?

GRAHAM: I don't know.

BOLDUAN: Do you think it's Ryan? Do you think it's Trump?

GRAHAM: I think they're trying to -- the people running the show are the ones holding out their votes.

BOLDUAN: I want to turn to the Supreme Court. The confirmation hearings you and the Judiciary Committee held this week. Top Democrat in the Senate now, Chuck Schumer, he says he's going to filibuster, Democrats are, Neil Gorsuch.

GRAHAM: Right.

BOLDUAN: You said today that you would do whatever it takes to get him on the court.


BOLDUAN: Does that include the nuclear option? The Washington speak, Senator, for changing the rules --

GRAHAM: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- to make it easier to force through a nominee?

GRAHAM: So, here's what I believe. If you filibuster Judge Gorsuch, you're telling President Trump and every other Republican, we don't care that you won. He's the most qualified person present, Trump could -- chosen, beyond reproach, in terms of his qualifications. It would be basically setting aside the election and denying President Trump his ability to appoint a Supreme Court justice and I will not let that happen.

BOLDUAN: But answer me this -- will you sign on to the nuclear option for Supreme Court nominees?

GRAHAM: I'm telling my Democratic colleagues, if you do not allow up or down vote on this guy, after what I've done in the past, then you don't care about the traditions of the Senate, you don't care about President Trump being treated fairly. I didn't vote for him. I didn't vote for Obama. I haven't voted for a president who won in 12 years.

But the one thing I will not do is allow President Trump to be denied what every other president's had the ability to do, is to nominate qualified people. So, yes, I'm not going to play the game two different ways.

I hope I never have to get there. But I want you to know that I am not going to play the game where they get everything they want and we never get anything. That's not going to happen.

BOLDUAN: That's a threat. I'll take that as a yes.

Senator, thank you so much for your time, as always.

GRAHAM: That's a promise. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT next, the breaking news: what's happening right now, seriously, behind closed doors right now on Capitol Hill. We have new details on the health care vote that was or wasn't.

Donald Trump goes on the record defending many indefensible claims. Could he, would he ever admit he's wrong?

And the president behind the wheel. Just where is he going and is he qualified to drive? Jeanne Moos looks for answers.


[19:43:19] BOLDUAN: Breaking news: at this very moment, House Speaker Paul Ryan is meeting with the entire Republican caucus. The promised vote canceled. The fate of their long-promised answer to Obamacare, completely up in the air. The president's agenda, on hold.

And just moments ago, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon seen leaving that meeting. The chief of staff, Reince Priebus, is saying tonight, they're still feeling positive. A lot of work to do -- understatement of the year.

Phil Mattingly is OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill right now with all of this.

Phil, what are your sources telling you about what actually went on inside that meeting?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the messenger is very clear, Kate. The president wants a vote, he wants a vote tomorrow, and there will be no more negotiating. That's what Mick Mulvaney told the Republican conference, according to a source in the room and made very clear, it was a message backed up by Speaker Paul Ryan and majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, as well.

They're making very clear here, despite what's been going on the last couple of days, despite the various options that have been put on the table, the negotiating is over, the deal is exactly what was more or less proposed last night, stripping the essentially health care benefits, the manager's amendment we've been talking about for a couple of days, and there will be no more.

Now, I'm told by a source in the room that was met with cheers, but the big question, obviously, remains, where does that leave the Freedom Caucus and where does that leave those moderates who are very uncomfortable that this proposal was put out in the first place?

That said, it was made very clear, Kate, that the president himself was not just asking for a vote tomorrow, he's more or less demanding a vote tomorrow. The pressure is now on. They're making clear, this is over. It's time to move forward on health care, Kate?

BOLDUAN: We are done negotiating. Phil, great stuff. Thank you so very, very much.

Panel's back with me now.

Funny thing about that demand. The president doesn't run Congress, Mark Preston.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. And I think it's really interesting that there's an edict that has been dropped.

[19:45:00] And he doesn't run the House of Representatives. He doesn't run the United States Senate. There are three branches of government.

And I think it's very telling right now where the White House feels that they are. And that is backed into a corner without the votes to get anything done.

BOLDUAN: And if they're backed into the corner, what is this now? A game of chicken? I dare you to go to the House floor and not vote for this thing as a Republican on a Republican bill?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Do you want to be the person to stand in the way of this dream that Republicans have had to repeal and replace Obamacare? And listen, I mean, is the House Freedom Caucus, are they going to hang together, are they going to be able to peel people off? We'll see. Nobody knows.

I mean, this is like being able to poll the winner of a game in the first quarter. We don't really know.

BOLDUAN: Yes, call it, David. Exactly. Seriously.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Listens, if they really called off negotiations, no more negotiations, I don't see how they pull this out. I could see it if they were down to single digits. They only needed five or six. I think they could pull that out.

But if you're really talking 30 to 40, as Congressman Brooks was earlier, I've never seen a White House pull out 30 or 40 votes at the last minute. And on a bill that is not popular with the public. That's very important.


GERGEN: As Bakari pointed out, it's 17 percent for in a Quinnipiac poll. When President Obama got his Obamacare through, it was in the low 40s approval. It wasn't great, but it was a heck of a lot better than 17 percent.

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: But there is a lesson to draw from Obamacare, which makes my angry, there's no more negotiations, I've said in the past that we'll let it die and we'll move on. Excuse me, Republicans have campaigned on repealing Obamacare for seven years. Barack Obama did not give up on his health care bill three months into his presidency.

Is President Trump really going to give up on health care three months into your presidency? No. They will not admit right now there's plan "B," there better be plan B, C, D, all the way to Z, until you get them done.

BOLDUAN: Do you think they let this go to the floor and fail?

JACK KINGSTON (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: No. I think they let it go to the floor. "Art of the Deal," page 178, this is a tactic. The president says I'm out of it. What he's done is he's put in Steve Scalise's lap, Patrick McHenry is the assistant whip. They're going to be working all night long to make sure they have the votes.

BOLDUAN: So if this fails, it's the whips' fault.

KINGSTON: At a certain point, it becomes the House affair. Steve Bannon has star power, Kellyanne Conway, but they're not members of the House. And that's why it's so important. Get them out of the room and let Steve Scalise get to work.

BOLDUAN: Bakari Sellers can't wait to get in.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have to point this out, because the Republicans and Donald Trump had this misconception of where the blame falls. If this does not --

BOLDUAN: On you, apparently.

SELLERS: Apparently, they're going to blame me. But I know they're going to say, because Mo Brooks said it, this is Barack Obama's fault.

No, the American people are smarter than this. When this bill does not pass, this is Paul Ryan and Donald Trump's baby. You had seven years. Today is the seven-year anniversary of people actually getting quality health care in this country. And there's no Democrat that will tell you that we don't need to fix Obamacare, because we do. We need to make sure we're infusing money in the state pool to insurance companies stay. Something the Republican Party can work on doing.

But Obamacare has saved lives. And they're having a hard time dealing with that. And I'm just relishing in the fact that Paul Ryan could not give his smug speech today on the seven-year anniversary.

BOLDUAN: So when it comes down to it, do you think the threat, if this is a part of "The Art of Deal," page 100-whatever. Do you think the threat that they have leveled, you could lose your seat, we could lose the whole majority, do you think that's anything here?

PRESTON: I think it's very dangerous for him to be playing chicken with Congress. To David's point, he has a very big agenda in front of him. To be making enemies right now with members of Congress who ideologically don't agree with it, personally may not agree with it, perhaps their constituents don't agree with it, to say negotiations are off is not going to get you there.

Let me bring up one quick name that most of us will remember, I think we'll all remember, Paul Ryan could really use Tom DeLay right now -- somebody who knew how to twist some arms and whip some votes right now.

SELLERS: He would have to get permission from his probation officer.

BOLDUAN: OK! I now have to drop the hammer. Bakari gets the hook.

OUTFRONT next, just released e-mails on Donald Trump's claims about his inauguration crowd and the lengths people went to make him happy. We'll be right back.


[19:52:54] BOLDUAN: Tonight, stunning new evidence the Trump administration was working with the National Parks Service to push the now-debunked claim that he had the largest inauguration crowd ever.

According to e-mails that were just released, Press Secretary Sean Spicer requested aerial photos of the crowd. The Park Service complied, sending images that were cropped to focus on just the first few blocks of the mall, where of course the crowd was largest.

This is coming as the president is speaking up to "TIME" magazine and defending a number of other debunked claims from wiretapping to widespread voter fraud.

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Time and again, the president's statements seem to collide with the truth on his allegation that he was wiretapped by President Obama, after the chairman of the House Intelligence committee said communications of Trump and his associates may have been collected by intelligence agencies, Trump told "TIME," "So that means I'm right." But, hold on!

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Just to be clear, there's still no evidence that President Trump himself was wiretapped?


FOREMAN: The chairman said the intelligence agencies were surveilling foreign targets. On tweeting, specifically on the four tweets that started the wiretapping uproar, the president echoed his own press secretary. "When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes. What I'm talking about is surveillance."

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was very clear in his tweet that it was, you know, "wiretapping".

FOREMAN: But even if you buy that, only some tweets have the quote marks. Others, including the most damning one, did not. On the unemployment rate --

TRUMP: It is such a phony number. These numbers are an absolute disaster.

FOREMAN: Just as he did in the race, Trump insisted government figures on jobs, they are not real statistics. Never mind that Trump's own team praised them earlier this month following a positive jobs report.

SPICER: I talked to the president prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly, they may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now.

FOREMAN: On the election, he did not back down from his unproven claim he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because of millions of people who voted illegally. He merely repeated an early defense. "I mean, mostly, they registered wrong.

[19:55:01] In other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly and/or illegally and they then vote." Still, there's no evidence whatsoever that millions voted illegally.

And on dirty tricks, during the campaign, Trump cited a story suggesting Ted Cruz's father kept company with President Kennedy's assassin.

TRUMP: His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being, you know, shot.

FOREMAN: Cruz howled, saying that was not his dad.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: This man is a pathological liar.

FOREMAN: The story came from "The National Enquirer," which never offered any proof. And though Trump cited it as true at the time, now he says, "Well, that was in a newspaper."


FOREMAN: Throughout this article, that seems to be a common defense for the president. Whenever he appears closed to being cornered on some misstatement or untruth, he simply says in effect, "I read it somewhere, I heard it somewhere, somebody told him," and that is true, even if the fact itself is not -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Tom. Thank you.

The panel is back. They've got something to say about this.

Amanda, that was a doozy of an interview with "TIME" magazine. What's your takeaway?

CARPENTER: I mean, I'm just trying to figure out how it came about. Like let's pretend you're congressman and I'm press secretary. Hi, "TIME" magazine called. They want to do an interview with you about how you don't tell the truth. Who says yes to that? Donald Trump. Because he doesn't care, his staff doesn't care. They make jokes about how things were phony in the past but they're really now. They think it's a big joke.

But it has real ramifications when you tell a lie that leads to FBI investigations that makes the government consume precious resources that should be dedicated to keeping the homeland safe. That's where it's no longer a joke and he needs to take it seriously.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, one of the things Tom Foreman brought up and I've been harping on this as well. You hear the president when he's confronted with something that has been proven false, a claim that's been debunked. His reaction is, "I didn't say it, I'm just quoting it." It happens now and it's happened before. A walk down memory lane.


TRUMP: I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on FOX.

There's this doubt. People have doubt. Again, this was not my suggestion. I didn't bring this up.

ANCHOR: Why did you put it in your tweet if you don't believe it?

TRUMP: They said it, I didn't say it.

I don't know. I was given that information. I was given -- actually, I've seen that information around.


BOLDUAN: That's like me saying, Congressman, I am not asking you a question, I'm just looking directly you, and I'm going to string some words together and put a big question mark on the end of it. I mean, is this now the epitome of distinction without a difference?

KINGSTON: Well, I just think this is the Donald, this is the style. And I think as he matures in office, he'll do what all presidents do and he will probably find himself a little bit more guarded in the things he says.

I want to say this. And I say this not sarcastically, but to run for the president of the United States, 320 million people in America, with you have to a very, very large ego. And one characteristic of people with big egos is they rarely see themselves as being wrong.

I was in the Oval Office with George Bush and he had just had a doozy. It involved a Supreme Court nominee, David will remember well, Harriet Miers, and in a small meeting he said, you know, "I rarely make mistakes, but this time, I got ahead of the American people." He didn't say, it was a bad choice, he said, "I got ahead of the American people" and didn't explain it to them.

And all I'm saying is that there's a different kind of view sometimes when you have that much of, you know, a view maybe of yourself. And I'm just saying, that's --

BURNETT: They all do it! They all do it, the congressman says.

But, here's one point that we can't forget to point out. This isn't a bit of a surprise to a lot of people. The country voted him in, knowing he did not tell the truth all the time. I mean, let's go right back to the conspiracy with Ted Cruz's father. They knew this.

SELLERS: They don't all do it. And that's dangerous when we start talking about presidents lie, because they don't all lie and they all don't mis --

KINGSTON: President Obama did.

SELLERS: They don't all mischaracterize the truth.

The problem is this White House and this president have eroded the credibility gap faster than any president in recent history. The problem is with that, when something happens and we need the president to look the American people in the face and tell the truth, who will believe him? I, for one, do not trust the president of the United States or the White House. I think there are millions of Americans, tens of millions of Americans, Democrats, Republicans, and independents who feel that way, with as well, and that's danger.

BOLDUAN: Give me one final thought, Nia. Can they keep this up?

HENDERSON: I think they will, because this is Donald Trump. I mean, he just seems so tragically insecure and small in this interview. It's almost sad to read, to see how gullible he is. That he will essentially make things up to protect his own ego. I mean, that to me, it was a devastating kind of account and walk through his mind.

BOLDUAN: Guys, great to have you. Thanks so much.

We're keeping our eye on Capitol Hill. Breaking news happening left and right. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

"AC360" starts right now.