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Sources: Yates to Testify She Gave Forceful Warning on Flynn; Trump and Putin Discuss War in Syria; Clinton: I'm Back to Being 'Part of the Resistance'; GOP's Latest Health Care Bill on Verge of Collapse. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 2, 2017 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: That's it for "THE LEAD" today. I'm Jake Tapper. Thanks for watching. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. I see him.

[16:59:55] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Compromise. A CNN exclusive. Sources say former acting attorney general Sally Yates will testify that she gave a forceful warning to the White House that Michael Flynn's Russia contacts may have left him compromised. That comes as President Trump gets on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, discussing Syria and North Korea.

Part of the resistance. Hillary Clinton says she was winning until voters were scared off by Russian interference and FBI Director James Comey's letter about her e-mails. Clinton says she's now part of the resistance while reminding President Trump she did win the popular vote.

We need a "shutdown." Complaining about Senate rules that have left many of his campaign promises out of the budget, the president says the country needs a good shutdown. Once again, the White House scrambles to explain.

And verge of collapse? President Trump says it's time for a vote on the latest Obamacare replacement Bill, but right now Republicans don't have the votes, and one source says it's not certain the votes will ever be there.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. In an exclusive, CNN learns that former acting attorney general Sally Yates is ready to testify that she gave a forceful warning to the White House about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn weeks before he was ousted.

Sources say Yates warned that Flynn was lying about his Russia contacts, possibly leaving him vulnerable to being compromised.

President Trump spoke by phone today with Russian President Vladimir Putin, their first call since the U.S. missile strike in Syria. The administration describes it as very constructive, saying the two leaders agreed the suffering in Syria has gone on far too long. They also discussed North Korea. President Trump says he thinks it's

time now for a vote on the latest Obamacare replacement Bill, but so far Republicans don't have the votes to get it passed. And one source says it's not certain the votes will ever be there. Many lawmakers worry the erosion of coverage for pre-existing conditions could leave them vulnerable in the mid-term elections.

And blunt talk from Hillary Clinton. She says she was winning the election until voters were scared off by Russian interference and the letter from the FBI director, James Comey, about her e-mails. Clinton says she's now, quote, "part of the resistance." She says President Trump should stop fretting about her 3-million-vote win in the popular vote.

I'll talk to senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're also standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with our breaking news. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has exclusive information.

Jim, tell us what you're learning.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. Sources familiar with her account tell CNN the former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, is prepared to testify before the Senate judiciary subcommittee next week that she gave a, quote, "forceful warning" to the White House regarding then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, this nearly three weeks before he was fired, contradicting the administration's version of events.

In a private meeting January 26, Yates told the White House counsel, Don McGahn, that Flynn was lying when he denied in public and private that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia in conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. His misleading comments, Yates explained, made him potentially vulnerable to being compromised by Russia.

The Yates-McGahn meeting took place January 26. On February 10, more than two weeks later, President Trump said he was unaware of reports on Flynn. Three days after that, on February 13, "The Washington Post" published a story that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn resigned that had night.

The next day on February 14, White House spokesman Sean Spicer described the Yates meeting in January in far less serious terms.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So just to be clear, the acting attorney general informed the White House counsel that they wanted to give, quote, "a heads up" to us on some comments that may have seemed in conflict with what the -- he had sent the vice president out in particular. The White House counsel informed the president immediately. The

president asked him to conduct a review of whether there was a legal situation there. That was immediately determined that there wasn't.


SCIUTTO: Now, Yates' testimony on May 8 will be the first time the former acting attorney general will publicly speak about that White House meeting. A source familiar with the situation says that Yates will be limited on what she can tell the committee, because many of the details involving Flynn remain classified.

Yates's previously-scheduled appearance in front of the House Intelligence Committee was cancelled by Chairman Devin Nunes, the move sparking outside from Democrats who believed he was trying to shield the White House from damaging revelations -- Wolf.

[17:05:06] BLITZER: We also learned today that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were driven out to Langley, Virginia, the CIA headquarters, for a top-secret briefing. Tell us about that.

SCIUTTO: That's exactly right. It's not the first time they've done this. They're been going out there in groups to review classified documents related to their ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the election, as well as alleged possible Russian collusion between aides to Donald Trump and Russian officials and other Russians known to U.S. intelligence during the campaign. They go up there, because these documents so classified they have to view them physically in the space of the CIA.

We've just learned a few minutes ago that they've now returned. One other point I would make is that early on in the Hill investigations, they had complained about how much access they were getting to these materials. Those complaints are now gone. They appear to be getting the access that they want.

BLITZER: All right. Good reporting, as usual. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Even as investigators look into the contacts between Trump associates and Russia, the president today spoke by phone with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Let's turn to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, what are you learning about that phone call?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it sounds like this phone call was about Syria, mainly, and partly on North Korea, not those allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. According to a read-out from the White House, both President Trump and Vladimir Putin talked about the war in Syria and efforts to bring that violence there under control. We can put this up on screen. Here's a portion from a readout provided to us from the White House.

"President Trump and President Putin agreed that the suffering in Syria has gone on far too long and that all parties must do all they can to end the violence. The conversation was a very good one and included the discussion of safe or de-escalation zones to achieve lasting peace for humanitarian and many other reasons."

Of course, that talk there is about establishing safe zones. That's something the President Trump talked about during the campaign to address the situation in Syria. And also halt some of that flow of migrants coming out of Syria.

Now, we should point out that the two leaders also talked about the situation in North Korea. But according to the Kremlin readout of this call -- I think it's interesting -- both men, according to the Kremlin, talked about meeting at the G-20 summit that is coming up in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7 and 8. Wolf, that would be their first face-to-face meeting as world leaders.

And we should also point out on the subject of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, while it appears that they did not talk about this during that phone call, I talked to a senior administration official earlier today, because Vladimir Putin was quoted in international reports as saying that the Russian federation has never meddled in elections outside of Russia, in foreign elections. And according to this senior administration official, this administration just doesn't believe it when Vladimir Putin says things like that, but that they don't want to get into a, quote, "tit for tat" with Vladimir Putin every him he makes this claim abroad. According to this one official, it would not be a, quote, "useful war of words."

BLITZER: All right, Jim. Thank you. Jim Acosta over at the White House.

I want to bring in our CNN national security analyst, retired general Michael Hayden. He's the former director of the CIA and the NSA, the National Security Agency.

Thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: Well, what's your reaction to this exclusive report we just heard from Jim Sciutto about Michael Flynn and that Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, told the White House, warned the White House that they have information contradicting what he was saying, that he was lying and that he could be compromised by the Russians.

HAYDEN: Yes, this has always been a curious time line, Wolf, and Jim put it all together. But we've seen pieces of this before.

It appears as if Flynn was fired, not because of what he had done, but because what he had done was going to be made public by "The Washington Post" the next day, and that seems to have accelerated whatever decision-making was going on in the White House.

You know, the president has blamed a lot of people for Mike's departure. He blames Sally Yates. He blames an alleged intelligence community leaker; even brought in Ambassador Rice at one point as one of the bad actors in this play. But it was the president who accepted the resignation, and frankly, I think it was the president who passed the message that it was time for General Flynn to go.

Overall, this is a very sad story, because Mike has had a very successful military career. But one wonders why this White House nursed this along for such a long period of time.

BLITZER: Eighteen days between the time Sally Yates informed the White House he was lying and that he could be compromised by the Russians. It took 18 days and and not until "The Washington Post"...

HAYDEN: Right.

BLITZER: ... exposed that, all these problems, that they finally decided it was time for him to go. Why would it take 18 days? Wouldn't they -- would they not necessarily believe her?

HAYDEN: No, I think they believed her, but I think they -- No. 1, it's a new administration. People were still finding their chairs and their desks. And I think it's fairly commonly understood in Washington, Wolf, there's a lot of friction and factionalization inside the White House, particularly early on. So I think you have all these different power centers vying with one another.

And at the end of the day, particularly when "The Washington Post" story was going to force the issue, it looks -- this is fact-free; this is from the outside looking in -- it looks as if Vice President Pence and the folks around him kind of put their foot down, saying, "We've got to make a decision here now."

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on this phone call today between the president and Putin, President Putin. They spoke about the U.S. missile strikes on Syria. They both agreed it's time to try to end the suffering in Syria. They spoke about North Korea.

Do you think that there still can be a cooperative effort between the U.S. and Russia on dealing with Syria, given Putin's strong support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad?

HAYDEN: I'm really skeptical that there's any real convergence in American and Russian interests there, but there may be an agreement, Wolf, in which each party decides to stay out of the other's way.

There are lots of wars going on in Syria. Two big ones, our war, largely with our Kurdish allies, against ISIS over here. That's immediate and it's about combat power.

You've got another situation over here. That's about the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition. There the Russians have a very dominant role on the battlefield.

We'll settle this one with combat power, at least in the near term. This is always going to be a political solution over the long term. I think what we might be able to get, and I was curious about those safe zones that might be set up, or deconfliction zones. That might be our coded language for telling the Russians to settle Assad down, make sure he doesn't use those weapons of mass destruction again, and maybe even stop his incessant attacks against the Syrian opposition. In other words, make this quiet. We'll leave it alone. We know it's

going to be a long-term political solution. We know you're going to be part of that, and in the meantime, we're going to go over here and make war on ISIS.

And Wolf, what, three or four weeks ago, Secretary Mattis went out of his way three or four times in a press op in the Pentagon to point out job one for us is ISIS, not the Assad regime.

BLITZER: In addition to the White House statements saying it was a very constructive meeting. They said "The conversation was a very good one and included the discussion of safe or de-escalation zones to achieve lasting piece for humanitarian and many other reasons." That's what you're talking about.

HAYDEN: That might be the coded language asking -- telling the Russians, we're not going to push over here. You're going to be a player when this gets solved sooner or later, but right now you need to put a cap on this guy.

BLITZER: General Hayden, thanks very much for joining us.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

Joining us now, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, let me get your quick reaction to CNN's new reporting that the former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, is prepared to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee that she gave the White House a forceful warning that then national security adviser Michael Flynn was lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States and potentially could be compromised by the Russians. Your reaction.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Wolf, I think more and more it's going to come out in the public eye that there was activity in Russia and the United States. Who was involved? Did they influence the elections and all of that is information where we need an independent investigation. I'm glad judiciary is having the opportunity and I think we need an independent commission to look at all the facts.

The it took 18 days between she alerted White House that he could be lying and he could be compromised until he was fired, fired only after "The Washington Post" had that report. Do you believe the president of the United States during those 18 days was actually aware of her warning?

CARDIN: I think he probably was, but he was trying to find a way I think to save general Flynn. I don't think he wanted to have to dismiss him, but it got to a point, as has been reported, that it was going to become public in "The Washington Post." I think the vice president was pretty agitated that he was misled. I think the president then had no choice.

BLITZER: The president, as you know, also spoke with Russian President Putin this afternoon. According to this White House readout, the two leaders spoke extensively about Syria.

You're an advocate for imposing further sanctions on Russia because of their activities in Syria, as well as their election meddling here in the United States. That effort appears to be on hold for the time being, because the chairman of your committee, Bob Corker, wants to wait for more information about Russian activities.

Is there any hope your Bill can get passed in the immediate future?

CARDIN: Well, there are three parts to my legislation. One deals with a better defense from FSH and the clear propaganda. I believe we have a very good chance to pass that legislation during this month in the United States Senate. and I was very pleased that the FY-17 omnibus appropriations Bill will contain resources to help Europe defend against these attacks by Russia. So we're moving part of the Bill soon.

[17:15:06] I do think we need to move with stronger sanctions against Russia for what they are doing in cyber and what they're doing in Ukraine, and we should do that sooner rather than later.

In regards to Syria, Russia has committed support for a regime that is committing war crimes, and we really need to first calm the situation down. Look, I'm glad that the president talked with Mr. Putin about what's going on in Syria, but I must tell you: I don't have a lot of confidence that Mr. Putin will live up to his commitments.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Senator, the two leaders, the president and Putin, they also discussed North Korea during their phone conversation. What influence does Russia have in that sphere?

CARDIN: Well, I think all countries want to make sure that we avoid a nuclear confrontation. North Korea is a very, very dangerous situation. I believe Russia wants to resolve that diplomatically. They don't want to see an act of war.

So it's in Russia's interests and the United States' interests and China's interests to get North Korea to change their calculation, give up their nuclear weapons, find other ways that they can protect their own security, rather than having a nuclear weapon, and allow North Korea to develop their economy for their people. That should be in Russia's interests. They could play a constructive role.

But, once again, looking at Russia's history, we've got to be very careful about how they get engaged in any of these issues. They're very much interested only in what helps their own county.

BLITZER: Senator Cardin, there's more I want to discuss on the breaking news. I want to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:21:02] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including Hillary Clinton's getting more political than at any time since the election. During a rare interview today with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Clinton talked about what she blames for her loss last year. She also declared she's back to being in her words, quote, "part of the resistance."

Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent Brianna Keilar. So what else, Brianna, did Hillary Clinton have to say?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, she criticized Donald Trump for his foreign policy. She criticized his tweeting habit, and she picked at one of his biggest sensitivities, that he lost the popular vote, even though he won the presidential election.


KEILAR (voice-over): Hillary Clinton emerging as a leading antagonist to President Donald Trump.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm now back to being an activist citizen and part of the resistance.

KEILAR: Speaking with CNN's Christiane Amanpour today in New York, Clinton criticized the president's recent strike on a Syrian air base used by both Syrian and Russian forces.

CLINTON: We later learned that the Russians and the Syrians moved jets off the runway, that the Russians may have been given a head's up even before our own Congress was.

KEILAR: And while she didn't denounce Trump for saying he would sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, she did question the president's larger foreign policy goal.

CLINTON: Negotiations are critical, but they have to be part of a broader strategy, not just thrown out on a tweet some morning that, "Hey, let's get together and, you know, see if we can't get along."

KEILAR: At times she downright trolled Trump.

CLINTON: I did win more than 3 million votes than my opponent.


CLINTON: Well, fine. You know, better that than interfering in foreign affairs if he wants to tweet about me. I'm happy to be the diversion.

KEILAR: She reflected on what it would have meant to win the White House.

CLINTON: Oh, I think it would been a real big deal.

KEILAR: Asked if sexism played a role in her loss, Clinton said yes but placed more blame on FBI director's decision to send a letter to Congress stating he was re-examining the investigation into Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state. Director Jim Comey's letter went out October 28.

CLINTON: If the election had been on October 27, I'd be your president, and it wasn't.

KEILAR: And she blamed Russia for its role in hacking into the e-mail account of her campaign chairman, refusing to speak Russian President Vladimir Putin's name.

CLINTON: He certainly interfered in our election, and it was clear he interfered to hurt me and to help my opponent. And if you chart my opponent and his campaign's statements, they quite coordinated with the goals that that leader who shall remain nameless had.

KEILAR: As for her own role in last November's loss...

CLINTON: I take absolute personal responsibility. I was the candidate. I was the person who was on the ballot. I can't be anything other than who I am, and I spent decades learning about what it would take to move our country forward.

KEILAR: Clinton promised more in a book she is publishing in the fall.

CLINTON: I am writing a book, and it's a painful process, reliving the campaign.

So did we make mistakes? Of course we did. Did I make mistakes? Oh, my gosh, yes, you know. You'll read my confession and my -- my request for absolution, but the reason why I believe we lost were the intervening events in the last ten days.


KEILAR: And those intervening events will likely be revisited tomorrow when Director Comey testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democrats are expected to press him on the letter that he sent to Congress on October 28. And you'll recall, Wolf, that he ultimately cleared Clinton two days before the election, but by then, Democrats say the damage was very much done.

BLITZER: You can see that Hillary Clinton remains very, very bitter and angry about that.

Brianna, stay with us. I want to bring in our other political specialists.

[17:25:07] And David Axelrod, what's your reaction to what Hillary Clinton said that that letter -- she was on the way to winning until that letter of October 28?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that may be true. The fact is that there's plenty of data to suggest that she was in much better shape before Comey intervened in October, and -- and so she has had a legitimate beef there. Jim Comey, for reasons of his own, and I think it was to try and protect his own agency from charges of playing politics, ended up playing politics, and it hurt her.

That said, Jim Comey didn't say to the Clinton campaign, "Don't campaign in Michigan," you know. Jim Comey didn't say, "Don't go to Wisconsin once after the Democratic convention," and those are states that she lost by very, very narrow margins.

And so there are a few things that, if they had just done a little bit differently, would have been, I think, decisive and would have allowed her to win despite Jim Comey. So a little more introspection. Maybe we'll have to wait for the book, but a little more introspection is probably in order.

BLITZER: Chris Cillizza, do you think she's right, that if the election had been on October 27, she would have been elected?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Probably. The great tragedy for her is that the election was set for a long time...

BLITZER: Was November 8, yes.

CILLIZZA: ... on November 8. I mean, I think David Axelrod is right. I don't think there's any question that Jim Comey coming out with that letter. Everyone thought, "Well, this must mean that they've uncovered something else." Turns out they hadn't. And I think Jim Comey was really, as David noted, tried to cover for the FBI looking political.

But there were lots of other things they did not do. They really -- the message was essentially, "I'm running against this guy," and they thought that that would be enough, because they believed Donald Trump had disqualified himself with any number of controversial, misogynistic, a number of things he had said about women and about other groups.

The American public wanted change so badly -- you look at the exit polls, born right out -- wanted change so badly that they were willing to overlook all of those things. That was the fundamental strategic mistake the Clinton campaign made and, I think, ultimately why they wound up losing.

KEILAR: And without having set up her e-mail and her server the way she did while secretary of state, there would have been no Jim Comey problem.

CILLIZZA: And just to add to Brianna's point, if she had handled it better, even after she set it it up -- mistake to set it up the way she set it up.

KEILAR: Correct.

CILLIZZA: But even if she had come out and said, "Look" -- in the early going, "Look, isn't a big deal. I did this. I probably shouldn't have done it." She eventually sort of kind of came around to that view, but it was a long process.

BLITZER: But you know, David Axelrod, the criticism that Comey gets from Democrats is that October 28, he says he's reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of that e-mail server. He later testified that there was an ongoing FBI criminal investigation into allegations of improper connections between the Trump campaign and Russia that started at the end of July. He never told the public about that investigation.

AXELROD: No, that sticks in the craw of many, many Democrats.

The fact is that the -- because of the public nature of the e-mail issue, this was front and center throughout, so he wasn't revealing an investigation.

And we should point out that one of the reasons that Jim Comey was so prominent in this investigation was because Bill Clinton thought it was a good idea to get on an airplane with the attorney general, and the attorney general received him and, thus, raised questions about her own ability to make judgments about this case. And had -- and she removed herself and put a lot of weight on the FBI and moved the FBI up in prominence and gave Comey more of a platform.

So, you know, this -- this is -- it was a -- it was a mess. As Brianna pointed out, it started with the e-mails. Bill Clinton's decision was harmful, but Jim Comey clearly mishandled this and mishandled it to the disadvantage of Hillary Clinton. And given what was going on, on the Trump side, with the FBI, it is -- it's going to always be a source of irritation to Democrats.

BLITZER: Yes. That meeting between Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, that was a major, major blunder.

Everybody stand by. We're getting new information from Capitol Hill. As the Republicans try to rescue their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, but do they have enough votes?


BLITZER: President Trump says it's time for a vote on the latest GOP health care bill, but despite a full-court press by the White House and the Republican leadership, the numbers still don't add up, and the bill may be about to collapse.

[17:34:08] Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us from Capitol Hill. Phil, what does the scorecard look like right now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not good news for House Republican leaders, and they are working person to person, member to member, trying to persuade those who have already come out and said "no" and even more of those that are undecided to come back over to their side. It gives this bill a real chance for passage this week. The reality remains, though, nobody is sure if that's possible at all.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight House Republicans on the verge of another colossal health care failure.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very close. MATTINGLY: This despite rosy proclamations from top GOP leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going in the right direction.

MATTINGLY: There's one implicit message. House Republicans still don't have the votes to pass a repeal and replace of Obamacare.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're excited about this policy. We're making very good progress with our members, and our president has been instrumental in that.

MATTINGLY: And a CNN tally makes clear: with 22 "no" votes already on the record, leaders have zero space to maneuver.

[17:35:09] TRUMP: The entire world is watching.

MATTINGLY: President Trump tried to ratchet up the pressure today.

TRUMP: How is health care coming, folks? How is it going? All right? Are we moving along? I think it's time now, right?

MATTINGLY: Echoing, sources tell CNN, the message from House GOP leaders in a closed-door conference meeting that this is their chance.

RYAN: You know me, I don't walk and talk. Good morning.

MATTINGLY: The Republicans doing their best to beat back defections, almost all of which were related to changes to pre-existing conditions protections in the bill.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA), MAJORITY WHIP: The ability for people with pre-existing conditions to have continuous coverage as the rule of the land, across the country, no matter what happens, and then if a state wants to request a waiver. Even if that state requests a waiver and gets a waiver, continuous coverage is still the law of the land; can't be waived for people with pre-existing conditions.

MATTINGLY: But that defense not swaying enough of their own members, including one of the party's top health care experts.

REP. FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: You know, from day one, I've supported the rights of those with pre-existing illnesses to be covered, and in my view this undermines that effort, and I can't be a part of it.

SCALISE: This as Democrats are now seizing on a viral moment to cement their opposition. An emotional plea from late-night host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel, whose son was just born with a serious heart condition.

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT HOST: If your baby is going to die, and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make. I think that's something that, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right? I mean, we do.

Whatever your party, whatever you believe, whoever you support, we need to make sure that the people who are supposed to represent us and people who are meeting about this right now in Washington understand that very clearly. Let's stop with the nonsense.


MATTINGLY: And Wolf, that moment, that message has really kind of crystallized, actually, what several House Republicans have told me they're hearing from back home, that the pressure right now is not just on the politics. It really is on policy and the reality that they are hearing from their constituents who fear what this bill will actually do.

Republican leaders have made very clear. They believe this bill will not cut back on the protections that exist in Obamacare; and all they need to do is convince and educate their members of that fact. The reality remains, though, at least at this point in time, there are not enough votes there to move forward on this bill.

BLITZER: What a powerful statement from Jimmy Kimmel. Very, very powerful indeed. I'm sure it will have an effect. Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

Our political specialists are still with us. I'm going to ask them to stand by. We're going to get full analysis of what we just heard. Where does this repeal and replace Obamacare stand? Right after this.


[17:42:34] BLITZER: We're back with our political specialists.

And Chris, you heard the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, suggest that there is money going to build this border wall with Mexico right now, as opposed to the fact that that there isn't money for any new wall. There's some money for border securities, repairing some existing fencing, but no new wall.

CILLIZZA: That's right. It's the difference between building a wall and building the wall. This is not the same thing.

Look, this is borne of the fact that Donald Trump is not happy. You heard it with the Air Force football team. He suddenly went off on this tangent about how they won in the budget bill. He's not happy about the way it's being portrayed. Mick Mulvaney is out there trying to make this better.

The truth of the matter is we know for a fact, because Mick Mulvaney told us last week, that Republicans backed off the $1.4 billion that Donald Trump had said was necessary to be in that spending bill for a down payment on the wall that he talked about in the campaign.

To your point, Wolf. What is being talked about here, what Mulvaney is seizing on, there are portions of our southern border that have chain-link fencing along the border. There is some money; there was money allocated for border security. Some of that money the Trump administration is planning to take to put up 20-foot steel walls in those spaces. But Mulvaney very importantly could not tell us where or how much wall would be built there. So these are two different things. This is a political -- an attempt to pivot politically. BLITZER: If -- if the Republicans fail again to even get a vote on

repealing and replacing Obamacare, you know the president is going to be really angry.

KEILAR: Of course he's going to be very angry. He would have had two failures on this issue.

BLITZER: Maybe three, because they wanted it last week, too.

KEILAR: That's right.

BLITZER: As part of the budget.

KEILAR: So repeated failures on this.

But I think what you're seeing is this is a very difficult problem. Donald Trump said that himself. You have a number of members who are torn between this promise to repeal and replace, which was the rallying cry of Republicans, and then this concern that states could be given the freedom to do something that would actually increase the cost of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, something that is not going to go over well.

So there's some people at this point who are still trying -- House Republicans who are still trying to decide where they are in this, because it's a difficult problem.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, you saw that powerful presentation from Jimmy Kimmel about his baby. The president, the former president, Barack Obama, tweeted, "Well said, Jimmy. That's exactly why we fought so hard for the ACA" -- the Affordable Care Act -- "and why we need to protect it for kids like Billy. And congratulations."

Is it going to have an impact, what we heard from Jimmy Kimmel?

AXELROD: I think that it will.

Wolf, I have to speak on a personal point here because I was the father of a baby with a very, very serious condition, intractable epilepsy. And I lived in that era before the Affordable Care Act, when if you had a pre-existing condition, you couldn't get insurance. And we had terrible expenses, and it was terrifying to try to keep your child alive and deal with the bills.

And this is a problem that crosses all the lines in our society, class, race, geography, party. And so by taking on this issue of pre- existing conditions, by trying to go back to that day, Republicans are touching a third rail.

And Jimmy Kimmel brought me to tears last night. And every person who has gone through this experience was crying as well, and it was very, very powerful. I wouldn't be surprised if it did turn a few votes in this deliberation that's going on today.

BLITZER: Yes, it brought a lot of us to tears. It was indeed very powerful. All right, guys. Stand by. There's more coming up. A former

Charleston police officer pleads guilty to violating the civil rights of an unarmed Black man he shot and killed. We're going to get reaction from the President of the National Urban League. Marc Morial is standing by.


[17:50:51] BLITZER: We are following a sobering new warning that the economic and social progress made by Black and Hispanic Americans since the Great Recession is at risk right now because of the Trump administration. The warning from the National Urban League's annual report on the state of Black America. The president and CEO of National Urban League, Marc Morial, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Marc, thanks very much for joining us.

MORIAL: Always.

BLITZER: All right. So what's the highlight of this 2017 report?

MORIAL: Oh, the main highlight is report important. 2016 numbers demonstrate some progress in education, some progress in health, and overall slight improvement during the Obama years when it comes to the economy. But serious challenges remain and concerns about the direction of the Justice Department, concerns about the direction of education policy, and great concerns about whether, even though budget cuts have been averted for now, whether there's a long-term plan to cut investments in urban communities.

BLITZER: Because you're right in your statement, in part, during the Obama era, the economy added 15 million new jobs. The Black unemployment rate dropped, and the high school graduation rate for African-Americans soared. Now, that progress and more much is threatened. Why is it threatened?

MORIAL: I think, importantly, if you look at the earliest moves in education, the accountability rules, which holds states accountable to ensure that every child learns, were in effect repealed by the Congress. That was the framework. That was the infrastructure that we worked on.

All the way back in the Bush years into the Obama years, people who were committed to education or equity in excellence got those laws or got those rules put on the books. They've been repealed, so there's a great concern that, now, the states will not -- will not -- ensure that equity and excellence is a priority. So in education, we have a concern, so we've got to highlight that concern.

BLITZER: Very quickly, what would be the impact on repealing and replacing ObamaCare?

MORIAL: Millions could lose health insurance. And we are opposed to any repeal. We are opposed to a replacement. And we support the Affordable Care Act, Wolf, until and unless someone puts on the table a better plan. Not another plan, but a better plan. We have not seen that yet, so for now, let's keep the Affordable Care Act.

BLITZER: While I have you, let me get your reaction. The breaking news, Michael Slager, the North Charleston police officer, as you know, was seen on camera shooting an African-American man in the back. He's now entered a guilty plea on a felony federal charge of excessive use of force. It's part of a plea deal which will dismiss the state level murder charges. Your reaction?

MORIAL: So justice appears to have been done, but what we've got to do is wait for sentencing to ensure that a sentence commensurate with the loss of a man's life at his hands is appropriate. So I think justice may have been served if, in fact, this is going to lead to what I would call a good, strong sentence, which is a deterrent to actions like this in the future.

BLITZER: Because you remember, last year, Slager's state trial ended in a mistrial. The jury couldn't reach a verdict. So what does that tell you about the difficulty of going after police officers who may have been involved in something like this?

MORIAL: It's too difficult, Wolf. We've got to change the system. We've got to reform the system. Every public official should be accountable. A police officer is a public employee, is a public official. They've got to be accountable to the citizens that they serve.

BLITZER: Getting back to your report, what's the most important thing you want President Trump to do?

MORIAL: I want President Trump to, at this point, put forth an infrastructure plan that benefits America's urban communities. Robust -- not only roads, bridges, and airports, but also community facilities, schools, water systems, neighborhood health centers. I would like him do that. And I would like him to commit and have his Justice Department commit to enforcing the civil rights laws with Session.

BLITZER: Are they in touch with you?

MORIAL: We've been in touch with them. We met, as you know, with Attorney General Sessions. We had an earlier meeting with the civil rights leaders and him. And I hope that the report that we've shared with your viewers today is a report we can present to the President and his cabinet.

[17:55:03] BLITZER: Marc Morial, as usual, thanks very much.

MORIAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, in a CNN exclusive, sources now say the former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates will testify that she gave a forceful warning to the White House that Michael Flynn's Russia contacts may have left him compromised weeks before he was fired. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news, forceful warning. CNN is learning what a key witness in the Russia investigation is prepared to say in public about fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and his ties to Moscow. Stand by for our new reporting.

[18:00:02] Calling Russia. President Trump talks to Vladimir Putin for the first time since U.S. relations with Moscow took a dramatic turn for the worst. We're getting new details about their conversation and whether they're seeing eye to eye.