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Trump Fails to Make a Deal on Health Care; Trump Vows to Move on After Obamacare Repeal Failure; Trump: "Let Obamacare Explode"; French Far-Right Candidate Calls Russia "Great Nation"; Florida Wins With Overtime Buzzer-Beater. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired March 25, 2017 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:00] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I should be honest about that.


BLACKWELL: All right.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Andy, thank you.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The art of no deal. President Trump in a stunning defeat abruptly cancels the vote on the Republican health care bill, facing what would have been an embarrassing loss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans could not get their act together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president told the House speaker, I'm pulling the bill.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I will not sugarcoat this. This is a disappointing day for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was an embarrassment for the White House and House Republicans.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to stop it from day one.

I never said repeal and replace Obamacare. I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days. I have a long time.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Democrats should take credit for killing a really, really bad piece of legislation.

TRUMP: The losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Now, they own Obamacare. They own it.


PAUL: Welcome to Saturday. And thank you so much for keeping us company here. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.

President Trump taking a "been there, tried that" approach to his agenda, vowing to just move on after one of his biggest campaign promises gets pushed on to the shelf. But will the false start on repealing Obamacare put the brakes on the rest of his agenda?

PAUL: Well, this morning, President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are coming to grips with the setback under the first piece of business under the new administration. The Republican bill to rollback key provisions of Obamacare, of course, abruptly abandoned yesterday before it could even come to a vote. Despite full control of Washington, the president and Speaker Ryan, they just couldn't wrangle enough votes within their own party.

So, you know, the blame game has already started.

This morning our team of political correspondents and experts standing by to break it all down for us.

I want to begin with CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux live from Capitol Hill.

Suzanne, what are you hearing about the state of folks there?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, Christi, good morning to you. I mean, already, the lawmakers are back in their district having to explain what happened here to their constituents.

But what we can say is that President Trump made it very clear yesterday, even before the vote was pulled here, that he was ready to move on. That he had very little appetite for this. We saw yesterday that he was sitting there officially signing off on opening the Keystone Pipeline. That he met with his treasury secretary to lay out the steps regarding tax reform.

Some of the big item agendas that he wants to move forward with -- infrastructure projects, tax reform, immigration, building that wall and making trade deals. That is what he's putting for, trying to put the repeal and replace Obamacare behind him.

At the same time, look at the Republican Party. It is fractured, divided, in disarray. The House Freedom Caucus, the conservatives, feel very much emboldened by taking a stand against the repeal legislation. The moderates of the party, Republican Party, very much feeling like they need to make sure that the conservatives don't take control, don't have as much influence in the party looking forward.

As for the leadership itself, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, they are faced with the challenge of bringing the party together, not only bringing the party together to find common ground, but also trying to find some issues where they can work with the Democrats.

Here's a little bit of the fallout from yesterday.


REP. ANDY BARR (R), KENTUCKY: I'm going to say to all of us, members of the Freedom Caucus, members of my Study Committee, and the Tuesday Group, I think we -- and the White House -- we all need to kind of reflect on this moment and recognize that in a diverse legislative body, you know, you have to come together at some point and recognize that 80 percent is not bad. It's a step in the right direction.

REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: From the beginning of the process, I think that the way it was set up did not bring the disparate part of the conference together. So, we need to start from the beginning, making sure that all of the concerns are addressed.

REP. STEVE WOMACK (R), ARKANSAS: This is going to be an ongoing leadership challenge for the governing majority.


MALVEAUX: And Republican lawmakers are now home, meeting with their constituents for the weekend. But they'll have two weeks next month to really kind of lay out why and how it was that the repeal did not go through, despite the fact that they are in control of Congress, as well as the presidency.

In the meantime, Christi, sources and lawmakers are telling me that essentially a president has about 200 days, the first 200 days of very narrow window, to kind of push forward the biggest legislative items on his agenda. And that window, of course, is quickly shrinking, Christi.

PAUL: All right. Suzanne Malveaux with the latest for us there -- thank you so much, Suzanne. Good to see you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right. You can call it the blame game, you can call it finger-pointing, it's happening. Nobody wants to put this business loss on to his or her shoulders, in part because of what we just heard from Suzanne there.

Let's go now to CNN's Ryan Nobles in Washington.

[07:05:02] Ryan, what are you seeing?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, you can make no mistake about this. This is still a major setback for the Trump administration and the president's agenda, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act was one of his biggest campaign promises. And this was also his first attempt to drive through an important piece of legislation and it failed.

But the president and his team are shaking it off and moving on to the next thing. And they're pinning the blame not only on any Republican, but instead, Democrats in Congress. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because now they own Obamacare. They own it, 100 percent own it.

And this is not a Republican health care. This is not anything but a Democrat health care. And they have Obamacare for a little while longer until it ceases to exist, which it will at some point in the near future.

And just remember, this is not our bill, this is their bill.


NOBLES: Now, Democrats don't have a problem owning Obamacare, they never have. But at this point, the White House has not shown a strong desire to take another wrung at reform. Instead, the president is prepared to just let Obamacare stay in place and says -- calls it to explode before taking any action.

And while publicly, the president is defending the efforts of House Speaker Paul Ryan and deflecting the problems across the aisle, there is some angst within the administration that Ryan and House leadership chose to tackle health care first, instead of an issue that could find broad Republican support like tax reform for instance. Regardless, this was a reality check for the administration about how Washington works, much different than a private corporation. It's something the president is going to have to get used to -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Ryan Nobles, thank you.

PAUL: All right. Let's continue the conversation with CNN political reporter Eugene Scott and senior congressional reporter for "The Washington Examiner", Susan Crabtree.

Thank you both for being with us.

I want to touch on something that Ryan was just talking about, and the CBO report, we should point out, says that Obamacare is not collapsing under its own weight. But Representative Chris Coons said yesterday, he does believe it's in jeopardy by Republicans.

Eugene, listen here real quickly.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: There's rulings that the secretary of health and human services can make that would deny some of the reimbursement standards for insurance that would remove some of the impact of the mandate. They've already been trying to make changes to the Affordable Care Act that will make it harder for it to survive.


PAUL: Is there any indication, Eugene, that there are deliberate actions being taken to accelerate the failure of ACA? And even if so, what does that mean for people who have it and are concerned about their health care?

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: There are definitely Republicans who have issues with Obamacare and have before it even passed and definitely are working on legislation to make changes to those problems that they've noticed. Whether or not they will actually be able to do that remains to be scene, based off of what we just saw this week.

One of the big challenges and John Boehner can tell you this, has been getting Republicans on the same page when it comes to Obamacare and what needs to be done to fix it. Whether or not they will find a solution that will fix the problems that hurt Americans most is not yet clear. But it's not looking likely based on what we've seen so far.

PAUL: Well, yeah, I hear President Trump saying we're just going to let it go for a while. Let it be.

Susan, what does it mean for the tax reform then? What does it mean for the infrastructure bill that they're looking ahead to?

SUSAN CRABTREE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I talked to several congressmen yesterday who were in a very grim mood on Capitol Hill, as you can imagine. They say this makes it harder to pass a tax reform. It makes it harder to tackle immigration reform. I can't see them doing that in this climate.

That is -- to me, this is not really the art of the no deal. That's an overused metaphor. This is the failure of the art of the sell. You cannot tackle something as complicated as Obamacare in 64 days.

The president did not use his power at the bully pulpit to go out and crisscross the country, hold town halls, bringing the American people on his side. He seemed to think this was a business negotiation where he still had the power of millions of dollars behind him where he could power through and convince people to go on his side. He did not reach out to the House Freedom Caucus early on. He did not talk to the Tuesday Group and get them on board.

It was all last minute. And it just seemed to fall apart. And he's wondering what happened.

Well, it took President Obama at least a year to get his version of Obamacare through. He went through regular order. They had hearings. There was some secrecy involved, yes, but they did go through some regular order.

And now, we're seeing calls on Capitol Hill to please don't abandon this.

[07:10:03] This is -- you said, for four election cycles, Republicans said this is their top priority. They ran against Obamacare.

And so, they have a responsibility to repeal and replace it and fix it. This is not on just Democrats. Now, Republicans own part of this problem. And, yes, premiums are skyrocketing across the country, especially in

rural areas where choices are grim for people. And so, they have a responsibility to get -- they got knocked down. They have a responsibility to get back off the ropes and tackle this again.

PAUL: OK. But let's listen to something that Paul Ryan said about this yesterday as well about this.


RYAN: We were a ten-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do. You just had to be against it. And now, in three months' time, we try to go to a governing party where we actually have to get 216 agree with each other on how we do things. And we weren't just quite there today.


PAUL: They weren't quite there today, meaning yesterday. How do they get there, Eugene?

SCOTT: Well, I think one thing they have to focus on is realizing that diversity within the party is something that is a good thing. And they need to work together and try to figure out how they can find unity, despite that.

But the reality is, if we look at some of the ideas that President Donald Trump campaigned on during the election, some of his strongest pushback has actually been from other Republicans so far. When you look at the travel ban, when you look at the border wall and now when you look at repealing Obamacare, he has had to fight Republicans, it seems like, more than he's had to fight Democrats. And whether or not they're going to figure out a way to get on the same page so that they can get this agenda forward, that they seem to believe they have a mandate to carry out, it's not yet clear.

PAUL: All right. Susan, you have the last word here. What do you think President Trump may tweak himself to try to get through some of the other agenda items that he has, first and foremost on his plate?

CRABTREE: It seems like he does want to move on to tax reform and infrastructure. That may be the best part of this. But they have to promise to get back to Obamacare in the view, because that's what they ran on. That was the number one priority.

So, yes, I do think that the House Freedom Caucus and others are maybe doing a little grandstanding here, just like they did in 2013 with the government shutdown. I heard members of Congress tell me yesterday that they think that they just had to get that you out to show that they were pure, that they were conservative. And that now, they will go back to the negotiating table and pick out how to proceed from here because they do not want to run on repealing and replacing Obamacare, and they don't want to run on this failure.

PAUL: All right. Eugene Scott, Susan Crabtree, good to have you both here. Thank you. SCOTT: Thank you.

CRABTREE: Thanks so much for having us.

BLACKWELL: All right. The president is backtracking. You'll remember, he promised to repeal and replace Obamacare immediately after becoming president, starting on day one. Well, now, he says that day one and immediately really didn't mean in the first 65 days.

PAUL: Also, finger-pointing and calls for an independent investigation on Capitol Hill, after the House intel chair cancels next week's public hearing on Russian hacking.


[07:17:26] BLACKWELL: All right. Just a little more than two months in office now, but already, President Trump is dealing with the growing turmoil over allegations and associates of his campaign colluded with Russians and failed health care vote.


TRUMP: And I never said -- I guess I'm here, what, 64 days -- I never said repeal and replace Obamacare. You've all heard my speeches. I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days. I have a long time.


BLACKWELL: All right. President Trump's approval rating at the low of 37 percent here, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.

Let's bring in Nick Adams, founder of Foundations for Liberty and American Greatness.

Nick, good morning to you.


BLACKWELL: So, you heard everything we just reported. You've watched over the last 65, 66 days. What's your take on on how the president is doing?

ADAM: Well, look, it's very clear, Victor, that Republicans have certainly mastered the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It was a really disappointing day yesterday for Republicans all across the United States of America. But, more importantly, a really disappointing day for everyday, regular ordinary Americans I think that were hoping for a different outcome.

It's really unfortunate what happened. Of course, the Democrats didn't help. But I do think that this is a failure on the part of Republicans.

BLACKWELL: Well, I mean, we've heard from Republicans many times say that Democrats didn't help. We didn't see many of the Republicans vote for the Affordable Care Act.

I guess, what you even expect the Democrats to vote for the repeal, replacement of Obamacare.

But let me move to something else here. What could the president have done better? You said it was difficult and disappointing. You're a supporter of the president. What could he have done differently?

ADAMS: Victor, look, I think the president did an extraordinary amount. I think he pulled out just about every single stop. I don't really know that we can level any criticism at the president for this.

I think this falls squarely at the feet of those House Republicans. Clearly, it's a difficult task to unite such a widely disparate group of people. It wasn't possible this time, but I think that President Trump's prediction is going to turn out to be accurate and prescient. And that is that with time, Obamacare will implode and Democrats will also seek to change the law.

BLACKWELL: So, let me take two elements you said here and I'm just going to produce here from the desk here on the fly here.

[07:20:02] Guys, pull up full scene one. We want to compare the number of events that President Trump hosted versus the number of events that President Obama hosted, taking the case to the people for respective health care events. President Trump, seven events on healthcare in which he talked about Sweden, he talked about the media, talked about other issues. President Obama held 28 events.

Now, President Trump held his events during a contracted period. But the Republicans set the schedule here. You say he did everything he could have. How do you defend that, knowing that he wasn't out using that bully pulpit to explain this plan?

ADAMS: Well, Victor, look, some people need to go somewhere 28 times, and some people can get the job done in just one event.

BLACKWELL: But he didn't get it done, so maybe he should have gone 28 times.

ADAMS: That's exactly right. Clearly, neither case turned out to be accurate. But the point is that I think President Trump did work tirelessly on this. He was working in a different time period to the time period that you've just shown the viewers. I think it's unfortunate.

But again, I really don't think that we can really lay this at the feet of President Trump. I think President Trump is a winner and House Republicans have really become losers to use an expression that President Trump has very much brought into the mainstream.

BLACKWELL: You say President Trump is a winner, post-January 20th in his inauguration, point to a win.

ADAMS: Well, I think he's winning every single day.

BLACKWELL: Give it a win? Is it a travel ban? Is it the health care bill?

ADAMS: No, I think it's a vibe. I think it's fantastic that we have a president more interested in kicking butt rather than kissing it.

BLACKWELL: It's a vibe, is that what you just said, a vibe? A vibe doesn't go into a "W" column. Point to a policy win. Point to a win that affects people's lives. This segment was supposed to end in three minutes but I'll give you more time if you need it.

ADAMS: Victor, I think that president Trump is making America safer. I think President Trump --

BLACKWELL: This is rhetoric. Point to a win.

ADAMS: -- about being patriotic. But there have been lots -- victories come in many forms, Victor. You know this of all people.

BLACKWELL: OK, give it to me.

ADAMS: Well, I'm giving it to you. You just don't like what I'm saying. But I think it's very clear that President Trump is winning for the American people again. Finally, they have a choice again. Finally, the elites have been returned to their rightful place which is at the bottom bookshelf of a dusty library.

And we are seeing the beginnings of what is going to be a fantastic presidency. Things don't happen automatically. But I'm convinced, Victor, that we're going to see great things.

BLACKWELL: OK. Nick, I gave you an opportunity to point to a policy win. You pointed to patriotism, a bookshelf and a vibe. Nick Adams, we'll have you back on.

ADAMS: I'm looking forward to it. You've got your version. I've got the truth.

BLACKWELL: All right, well, thank you very much.


PAUL: All righty then. The White House and House Republicans say the health care battle is over, at least for now. President Trump declaring it's going to explode. But what about the millions of Republicans who say they're suffering under Obamacare? Who should be responsible for saving it?

BLACKWELL: Plus, a partisan split in the House Intelligence Committee over the Russian investigation. The top Democrat accusing the chairman of trying to choke off information to the public. Should there now be this independent commission that according to the latest poll two-thirds of Americans want?


[07:25:53] PAUL: Well, mortgage rates moved down this week. Here's your look. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAUL: Welcome back. So good to have you with us. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.

PAUL: Let Obamacare explode. That is the directive from President Trump after the GOP health care replacement plan died before it even hit the House floor.

BLACKWELL: President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan vowed to move on. Both concede their job of rewriting a tax code just got significantly more difficult.


RYAN: I will not sugarcoat this, this is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard. Obamacare is the law of the land. It's going to remain the law of the land.


BLACKWELL: Blame game has already started with the White House publicly pointing the finger at Democrats and not Speaker Ryan. Trump telling a reporter, quote, "I like Speaker Ryan. He worked very, very hard."

PAUL: The next move on Obamacare remains on President Trump. Minutes after House Speaker Paul Ryan shelved the GOP replacement bill, we should point out, Trump repeated that Obamacare is on the verge of collapse. Even went so far as to say, let Obamacare explode.


TRUMP: I've been saying for the last year and a half that the best thing we can do politically speaking is led Obamacare explode. It's imploding and soon will explode. And it's not going to be pretty. So, the Democrats don't want to see that. So they're going to reach out when they're ready.


PAUL: Tami Luhby is CNN money senior adviser, with us.

Tami, thanks for being here.

You wrote in an article, "While Trump is trying to shift the responsibility to the Democrats, it's his administration that will largely have to decide whether 20 million people who gained coverage under the sweeping 2010 health reform law will remain insured."

Do you believe that, the people that were going to lose health care was of the -- if not the biggest element in this not passing?

[07:30:06] TAMI LUHBY, CNN MONEY SENIOR WRITER: Right. I mean, 20 million people have coverage under Obamacare. Under the Republican plan, CBO estimated that 24 million were going to lose it. Those are big numbers. Those are -- those are very difficult for Congress to get over.

So, now, really, President Trump says that Obamacare is about to explode. And he just wants to let it explode. That would be the best thing because it would bring Democrats to the table. But is he really able to tell 20 million people, sorry, I'm not doing anything for you? You know, it's going to be difficult for him and for lawmakers.

PAUL: Well, here's the other thing, the Republicans had seven years to come up with a plan. Why do you think -- and, of course, President Trump came into the mix and had his own ideas about the plan. Why do you think they were not able to after that amount of time able to plot something workable?

LUHBY: Well, I think as President Trump said, health care is complicated. Who knew? So, you know, there's a lot of things going on.

But right now, the first things that the administration have to do, the number one thing they have to do if they want Obamacare care to survive -- they don't necessarily want Obamacare to survive, but if they don't want millions of people to lose their coverage for 2018, they need to take some steps to shore up the market. There's some subsidies that people with deductibles and co-pays.

Congress has not appropriated money for that next year. And insurers say they're going to walk if Congress doesn't do that. They have only a couple more weeks before the insurers have to file their plans with the state. So, they've got to start making some moves fast.

PAUL: One of the other changes they wanted to make was repealing the essential health benefits, talking about maternity and mental health and substance abuse. And Sanjay Gupta said this is one of the things that is most important to the people. Had they not come out with that particular facet, would they have had better chances?

LUHBY: You know, it's difficult to say, because there was also all of the people who said that they didn't want Obamacare light. A lot of people, Congress, Ryan and his group were squeezed between two points.

You have the conservatives, the Freedom Caucus, who wanted to repeal Obamacare. That's what they had run on. That's what they wanted. You know, they just wanted it out, they wanted the essentially health benefits out. They wanted a lot of big changes.

But on the other side, you had the moderates, the Tuesday Group and others who said, you know, we can't go back home and face many people in our districts who lost coverage. What are we going to say to them? So, the essentially health benefits was important for them, a lot of districts particularly suffering from substance abuse, the opioid epidemic, the essential health benefits help those people. And they can't -- the moderates felt they couldn't go back home and tell people that, yes, we did a deal that's, you know, going to strip these benefits away from you.

PAUL: All right. Tami Luhby, thank you for taking time to be with us.

LUHBY: Sure.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen calls Russia a great nation. How a win for the far right candidate falls right into President Putin's playbook.

PAUL: Also, a growing feud has erupted in the middle of the Russian investigation. Now, at least one Democrat investigating the Trump campaign ties to Russia says the chief of the House investigation should step down.


[07:35:20] PAUL: So, this week, staying well features a technique called aerial yoga, have you tried this yet? It uses a suspended hammock to get fit in the air. Here's a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to roll on your back.

JANE DE ALBUQUERQUE, CO-OWNER, LAUNCH AWARENESS YOGA CENTER: Aerial yoga is using a hammock for support in aerial posture.

When you're in the air you can work muscles without that compression on the joints. When you're in the fabric, you feel free and you can go upside down and float and swing, and, you know, have a great time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody comes up and out.

DE ALBUQUERQUE: On the mat, we are grounded to our feet, hands and strikes a great balance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kick your feet into the hammock.

DE ALBUQUERQUE: One of the main thing the hammock does it supports you in inversions which a lot of people can't get into in yoga. And so, you can go upside down in the silk, it supports you and no compression on the spine.

It doesn't matter your size, skill level. The hammocks are rated to handle over 1,000 pounds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Straightening out your leg in front of you and then lifting up onto your toes, shifting your weight forward.

DE ALBUQUERQUE: When you have low back pain, that's caused from a weak core. And it can be the back that's weak, or it can be the abdominal muscles that are weak. And so, in the hammock, they're engaging those muscles all the time. So you're building that core strength and upper body strength just by hanging on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like I got a really good workout.


PAUL: Well, the famous Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, you know, the scene of an "Oceans 11" type heist, just hours ago, it happened. Las Vegas police say several armed burglars snatched smashed their way through the glass at a high-end jewelry store and they were able to get away, escaping through the parking garage.

BLACKWELL: Now, imagine this, if you've ever been to one of these big casinos, Bellagio is placed on lockdown agency the investigation continue. There were no injuries. We're told police are searching for those suspects.

PAUL: And just a short while ago, French far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen called Russian a great nation, saying, quote, "It's important to build balanced relations with both countries and I think it's perfectly possible to do so with both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump."

BLACKWELL: The remarks come after she met with Russian President Putin at the Kremlin yesterday. And she has vowed to take France out of NATO and out the European Union, a move that, if elected, further pushes Putin's agenda in Europe.

[07:40:01] CNN's Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi and Victor, there are strong signs now that the far right nationalist surge in France is gaining momentum. Many Americans are worried about it.

And Vladimir Putin is embracing it. He met in Moscow with French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen who could turn America's alliance on France on its ear.

(voice-over): Vladimir Putin's latest attempt to manipulate another country's levers of power. He meets in Moscow with France's far right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, a woman who, if she wins, could turn a key U.S. ally upside down. Le pen says she'd like to lift sanctions on Russia, to recognize Putin's annexation of Crimea.

And she makes another bold declaration.

MARINE LE PEN, FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the world of Vladimir Putin. It's the world of Donald Trump and the United States.

TODD: Analysts say it's a stunning image for a top candidate in a Western democracy to unabashedly embrace Moscow, at a time when in America, President Trump's campaign is being investigated over whether aides coordinated with Russian operatives.

HEATHER CONLEY, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think what's unusual is how much Russia is now playing into our daily news cycle, our daily consciousness. Russia is very much at the center of our attention, and that's exactly where President Putin would like to be.

TODD: Why is Marine Le Pen a favorite French candidate of Putin's?

BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, "FRAGILE EMPIRE": Because Le Pen wants to break Euro/Atlantic institutions. Le Pen wants to bring France out of NATO. She wants to bring France out of the Euro, she wants to break a bloc which Putin sees correctly as preventing Russia achieving the dominant position in Europe as a great power.

TODD: And now, there's serious concern that Putin will meddle in France's election like he allegedly did in America. CNN has learned French officials are worried that Putin's hackers will phish for damaging information using similar tactics to how U.S. intelligence says they targeted Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Russian hackers are believed to have targeted France before with a devastating cyberattack in 2015 of a top French TV network.

Putin denies trying to tilt the French elections.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): We do not want to influence events in any way.

TODD: But Marine Le Pen has already gotten a boost from Russia, a loan, three years ago, of about $10 million to her party from a bank owned by a close friend of Putin's.

DAVID KRAMER, THE MCCAIN INSTITUTE: The very fact that Marine Le Pen is in Moscow this week and is there to drum up support from Putin, has received a $10 million loan from the Russians in 2014, that Putin is trying to boost the far right forces in France, all this does suggest that Le Pen is rather beholden to Putin and the Kremlin and Russia.

TODD (on camera): Analysts say Putin's attempts to help far right candidates with his world view win power in Europe is just one way Putin is moving towards his ultimate goal, staying in power himself. He's got an election coming up next year that experts say he's fairly paranoid about, even though he has manipulated the political machinery so heavily enough that there's virtually no chance he'll lose -- Christi and Victor.


PAUL: All righty. Hey, thank you so much.

Now, the Trump/Russia investigation is getting a little dicey. Democrats furious after the House Intel chair cancelled next week's way.

BLACKWELL: And March Madness living up to its name -- madness. Florida's overtime buzzer beater sinks Wisconsin. Andy Scholes has highlights coming up.


[07:47:41] BLACKWELL: The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee is renewing his demand for an independent into Russia's role into the election and whether or not they colluded with Trump associates.

Congressman Adam Schiff telling Americans in his weekly address, they deserve to know the truth.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Congress should establish an independent commission that has the staff, resources and single-minded focus necessary to investigate this matter. Most important, as the events of this week demonstrate, an independent commission will be able to conduct its work insulated from any political interference.


BLACKWELL: Well, this comes after Chairman Devin Nunes postponed next week's hearing on Russia, and walked back his claims that the president and his aides were surveilled.

Let's talk about this, Eugene Scott, CNN politics reporter, and Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News.

Good morning to both you, again.

And, Eugene, let me start with you where some this partisan started because this did not begin this way. We saw them, right, with these joint news conferences. But it was when Chairman Nunes went to the White House with whatever it is that he has not revealed that started this divide.

I want you to hear how he justified that interview with FOX News. Let's play SOT number nine. Let's watch.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I felt like I had a duty and obligation to tell him, because as you know, he's been taking a lot of heat in the news media. And I think to some degree, there are some things that he should look at to see whether in fact he thinks the collection was proper or not.


BLACKWELL: This is also a man who was on President Trump's transition team. He cannot be naive enough to think that this would not inject partisanship, inject politics into the investigation, and this is being characterized as a shill for the White House.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Indeed, and we saw Representative Jim Himes actually come on CNN earlier this week and bring that to viewers' attention. He said this wasn't the first time that people on the committee and within Congress, period, have had concerns about Devin Nunes. Devin Nunes allegedly was one of the people that the Trump administration center out to talk to media, to push back on some allegations and claims that were being reported about the Trump administration.

[07:50:01] Even before this incident, this past week, where other lawmakers believed that Nunes compromised the integrity of the investigation. And all of this has been alarming to people, because as we've reported repeatedly, Nunes was on the executive committee of the president's transition committee. So, whether or not he can conduct this investigation with integrity seems to be up in the air for some Democratic lawmakers.

BLACKWELL: For Democrats, Errol, we heard from John McCain who is from the Senate side supporting this independent commission, this independent investigation. Do you think the country gets there?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would certainly hope so. I think Senator McCain has it exactly right. We've certainly seen from the antics of Representative Nunes and I think the word "shill" is not too strong a word frankly for what he's been doing.

We can see that the Trump administration and its close allies and its shills are going to defend almost any amount of outrageous material that we've already seen that shows close financial connections, troubling lack of candor and NSA leader that had to step down because of the lies that had been told already.

We're at day 65 of this administration. Clearly something is wrong here. Clearly an independent investigation needs to be undertaken.

Congress has the ability to do it. They should have done it a long time ago. Nunes is not the man to lead that investigation.

BLACKWELL: Errol, let me stick with you and what we heard, which actually got lost somewhat earlier in the week because of all that was going on with health care.

What we heard from Congressman Schiff about some of the evidence that he's seen. Let's watch.


SCHIFF: To take evidence that may or may not be related to the investigation to the White House was wholly inappropriate and, of course, cast grave doubts into run a credible investigation and the integrity of that investigation.

REPORTER: Do you believe that he can still run this committee or should he step aside?

SCHIFF: Ultimately, that's a decision that the speaker needs to make. And I think the speaker has to decide, just as well as our own chairman, whether they want a credible investigation being done here, whether they want an investigation that the public can have confidence in.

(END VIDEO CLI) BLACKWELL: That wasn't the sound bite what I was looking for. What I was looking for, there is more than circumstantial evidence now of collusion between the Trump campaign staffers, associates and Russia. We have not heard that from many entities. That, I guess, is the whole game then.

LOUIS: Well, that's right. That's the question on the table.

Let's recall that just a couple weeks ago, the president himself set the wheels in motion here with the inflammatory and baseless charge that he had been wiretapped by the prior president. He called for a House investigation and now he's got a House investigation. Many of us said at the time, it was widely noted, that this was probably a bad idea for the president to invite more scrutiny into an area where he is clearly vulnerable. That we know that there are millions of dollars worth of tainted money that is coming out of the Russian system, out of the dictatorship, from close allies of Vladimir Putin, into the Trump empire itself, as well, as many of his close political top aides.

So, for him to ask for this investigation and then to perhaps think that he can control it by controlling Representative Nunes was really sort of fanciful thinking. It's the ball is rolling and the evidence is popping up all kinds of different places. Lots of news organizations digging into this now and that might end up being the investigation that the independent investigation that the country needs and deserves.

BLACKWELL: Eugene, quickly, any evidence that Chairman Nunes' position as chairman is in any real jeopardy?

SCOTT: It doesn't seem like it, not from his office or from the Trump administration. But the fact that so many people are calling out the fact that it's difficult for people to believe that someone who is a Trump associate can investigate with integrity the relationship between Trump associates and Russia is up in question does give people reason to believe that it could be in jeopardy.

BLACKWELL: Eugene Scott, Errol Louis, thank you.

SCOTT: Thank you.

LOUIS: Thank you.

PAUL: All righty. March Madness down to the elite eight and Andy Scholes has a warning. If you went to bed, you missed it.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, finally, an awesome ending to a March Madness game. But if you missed it, don't worry. We're going to have the incredible overtime buzzer beater coming up in this morning's "Bleacher Report."


[07:58:55] PAUL: Florida made it happen, people. Andy Scholes is here. SCHOLES: Yes, good morning, guys.

We call it March Madness, but we hadn't seen much madness up until last night's Florida-Wisconsin game. There had been 59 games NCAA tournament, no overtime, no buzzer beaters. That was before Florida and Wisconsin gave us an epic final few minutes last night. This game, by the far, the best game of the tournament so far.

Check this out, down three, closing seconds, the Badgers' Zak Schowalter going to hit the three right here to tie the game and he's going to give Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers double check celebration. Aarons was sitting in the stands at Madison Square Garden cheering on Wisconsin. The game would go to overtime.

And then four seconds left, Florida down two, guard Chris Chiozza is going to go the length of the floor and throw it up at the buzzer. Gators everywhere are rejoicing as they win a thriller. Florida is now heading to the elite eight where they'll face SEC rivals South Carolina.

Two games tonight with final four on the line. Xavier with super fan Bill Murray trying to keep their Cinderella story going against Gonzaga, and you got Oregon taking on Kansas in primetime. Both of those games in our sister station TBS.

In the NBA, get this: Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker making history last night, becoming the youngest player ever to score 70 points a game.