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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes; Will Republican Health Care Reform Effort Fail Again?; Trump Upset Over Democratic Victories on Budget; Putin Talks With Trump; Hillary Clinton Speaks Out; Clinton Blames Russia, Comey & Herself for 2016 Loss; North Korea: U.S. Bombers Pushing Crisis "Close to Nuclear War". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 2, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Calling Russia. President Trump talks to Vladimir Putin for the first time since U.S. relations with Moscow took a dramatic turn for the worse. We're getting new details about their conversation and whether they are seeing eye-to-eye.

Blaming Comey. Hillary Clinton talks at length about her election loss, including the FBI director's role and her own responsibility. Tonight, she is billing herself as leading member of the anti-Trump resistance.

And defending the deal. Republicans launch a full-court press to portray a new budget compromise as a GOP win, even as Democrats claim victory, this as the president throws another curveball by declaring that a government shutdown might be a good thing.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news this hour, we're learning about pivotal testimony in the Trump-Russia investigation.

Sources tell CNN that former acting Attorney General Sally Yates is ready to tell cn that she gave a forceful warning to the White House about Michael Flynn nearly three weeks before he was fired as the national security adviser. We're told Yates' account of her warning that Flynn was vulnerable to be blackmailed by Moscow will contradict the administration's downplayed version of events.

Also breaking, the White House says President Trump had a very good conversation with Russia's Vladimir Putin in their first phone call since the U.S. strike in Syria escalated tensions. The Trump team says the two leaders discussed the need to end violence in Syria and talked of working together against terrorism and the North Korean nuclear threat.

Also tonight, Hillary Clinton says Russia's election meddling is partly to blame for her loss to President Trump. In a new interview carried live on CNN, Clinton also took direct aim at FBI Director James Comey and Mr. Trump himself, declaring she is now part of the resistance, her word, resistance, to his administration.

This hour, the president and his party may be on the brink of another huge health care defeat. House Republican leaders still don't have the votes to pass the latest bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. But the White House is not giving up, and the situation remains very fluid right now.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, an Intelligence Committee member. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. He has got new reporting on the Trump-Russia investigation.

Jim, what are you learning about Sally Yates' upcoming testimony?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, sources familiar with her account tell CNN that former acting Attorney General Yates is prepared to testify before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee next week that she gave a 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 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 that he was unaware of reports on Flynn. Three days after that, on February 13, "The Washington Post" published a report that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: 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' previously scheduled appearance, you may remember, in front of the House Intelligence Committee was canceled by Chairman Devin Nunes, the move sparking outcry from Democrats at the time. They believe that he was trying to shield the White House from damaging new revelations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Has Michael Flynn commented? And is there really any chance he will testify?

[18:05:00]

SCIUTTO: Well, you will remember that, when he resigned, Flynn defended himself on these conversations with the Russian ambassador, saying -- quote -- "These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and to begin to build the necessary relationships between the president, his advisers and foreign leaders. Such calls," he said, "are standard practice in any transition of this magnitude."

"Unfortunately," he went on, "because of the fast-pace event, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador."

I should add that, later, the attorney for Michael Flynn said that they are talking to the congressional committees who have these investigations under way, and while his statement at the time did not mention directly the possibility of immunity, he said -- quote -- "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it should the circumstances permit."

Of course, he didn't specify details of that story, but General Flynn's attorney there saying that he is willing to speak more about these conversations and other subjects of those investigations.

BLITZER: We look forward to Sally Yates' testimony that's coming up. All right, thanks very much for that, Jim Sciutto reporting.

SCIUTTO: Thanks.

BLITZER: Now to the breaking news on President Trump's phone conversation with Vladimir Putin.

I want to bring in our CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, we are getting readouts of the call from both Washington and Moscow.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are getting those readouts, Wolf.

Just a short time ago, President Trump and Vladimir Putin did speak with each other on the phone for the fourth time. They talked about Syria and North Korea, but it's not clear if they discussed the other sticking points of the relationship, like Crimea or sanctions.

This comes tonight as Vladimir Putin is doing his best to deflect what appears to be growing criticism of him at home and abroad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): For Vladimir Putin, the backdrop is ideal, Sochi, the Black Sea resort where Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics.

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel at his side, Putin dismissed allegations that his hacking teams interfered in the American election.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We would never interfere in the political process of other countries. You dwelled upon the example of the U.S., which hasn't been confirmed by anything or anyone. It is just rumors utilized by the American media industry.

TODD: A senior Trump administration official tells CNN that's false, saying there was evidence of Russian meddling in the election. Analysts say, don't expect Putin's hackers to stop now.

BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, "FRAGILE EMPIRE": First, because people talk about it, and it makes Russia seem more powerful than it is, and secondly because it does appear to be shifting the conversation online and Russian propaganda does appear to be able to sway the online discussion and support to a certain degree populists and extremist candidates who are better suited for working with the Kremlin.

TODD: Putin's denial of interference comes on the same day of his first call with President Trump. It's the first call between the two leaders since the U.S. launched a missile strike in Syria, an operation which sparked real tension between Putin and Trump, the strike prompted by intelligence that the Syrian regime killed its own citizens with chemical weapons, a consensus that today Putin still refused to accept.

PUTIN (through translator): Those guilty must be found and punished. But this can only be done after an impartial investigation.

JAMES GOLDGEIER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: He is just trying to throw up a little smokescreen around this. He is not interested at all in some kind of resolution to the situation, some kind of real understanding of what occurred.

TODD: The U.S. intelligence community is confident the Syrian regime conducted the chemical attack and that Russia played a role in trying to -- quote -- "distract the international community."

As Putin faces more scrutiny abroad, an extraordinary scene at home, people on the streets risking their lives in a show of defiance. One protest in Moscow had a title, We're Sick of It.

Despite the unrest, analysts say, don't expect much change when Putin runs for reelection next year.

GOLDGEIER: He controls enough of the lovers of power and controls the media enough and has sufficient support outside the major cities that he should be able to manage this election campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Even if Putin does win by a large margin next year, his popularity could decline after that if the economy does not improve and if Russian standard of living continues to stagnate.

Then, analysts say, expect Vladimir Putin to pull one of his signature moves, deflecting attention from his problems at home by telling Russians that America is out to get them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much, Brian Todd reporting.

Let's get more on all of this.

Democratic Congressman Jim Himes is joining us. He is a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Hi, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why did 18 days pass between that warning to the White House from the former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, and General Flynn's dismissal?

HIMES: Well, you can bet that that's going to be a question that our committee will pose to the White House.

That is, of course, the issue here. Now, I haven't seen Sally Quinn's (sic) testimony, but the story is out. And if the White House knew, because the deputy attorney general told it, that Michael Flynn was a potentially blackmailable, blackmailable by the Russians, individual who was at the very heart of the U.S. government in the White House, boy, why didn't they do something an awful lot faster?

[18:10:15]

My -- I'm not going to speculate as to why that would be. I'm going to wait to hear what Sally Quinn (sic)...

BLITZER: Sally Yates.

HIMES: Sally Yates has to say.

But, yes, they're going to -- the White House is going to need to answer, because in that 18-day period, of course, there was an awful lot of risk at the most sensitive level of our government.

BLITZER: The House Intelligence Committee, you remember, has invited Sally Yates to testify. When will that happen? HIMES: You know, we don't have a firm date on that yet. We are back

on track after a couple of weeks of being pretty uncertain about where we were on the House side.

We do have a hearing schedule, as you probably know, with FBI Director Comey and Admiral Rogers of the NSA, and we are working through the process now of trying to reschedule, because, remember, five weeks or so, we were supposed to have that open hearing that apparently will be held next week over on the Senate side.

So, we will look to get our chance to talk to them as well.

BLITZER: The Comey and Rogers hearing, that will be behind closed doors though, right?

HIMES: It will. It will.

And remember, Wolf, that -- and Sally Yates will be constrained by this fact as well. Anybody who was in the government, who was or is in the government, like Comey and Rogers, are going to be highly constrained about what they can say, because so much of what they know and have done is classified.

That, of course, will not be true of people who weren't in the government, people we will want to like Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Carter Page. So, it is important that people understand that, sadly -- and we are going to work hard to make as much of it public as we can, but, sadly, a lot of this is going to have to happen in a classified and therefore closed environment.

BLITZER: let's talk about some other issues.

As you know, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, she spoke with our Christiane Amanpour in New York City today and she had this to say about the FBI Director James Comey's October 28 letter reopening the investigation into her e-mails and private server.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey's letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me, but got scared off.

As Nate Silver, who I -- doesn't work for me, he's an independent analyst, but one considered to be very reliable -- has concluded, if the election had been on October 27, I would be your president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, what's your reaction to that?

HIMES: Wolf, it is a little trying to assign blame in an 11-inning baseball game with all sorts of players and all sorts of circumstances. Who knows? Obviously, the revelation of Director Comey at end of the campaign was not helpful to Hillary Clinton. But I'm not going to speculate as to whether it was the cause or a big cause. Who knows?

I mean, we got an awful lot of work to do around here in sort of figuring out what happened with respect to Russia, whether there were any connections to the Trump campaign. So, I'm just not going to weigh in on that issue.

BLITZER: President Trump apparently still believes that President Obama ordered surveillance on him over at Trump Tower during the campaign, something the FBI director, James Comey, has already refuted, among so many others.

Will you ask Comey to do more to set the record straight for the current president?

HIMES: Well, look, let's start with the fact that the president's statement or tweet that he was surveilled by the Obama administration is just out-and-out nonsense.

And there's no one in this town, perhaps other than inside the White House, who is willing to vouch for that idea. And, as you know, Director Comey in open hearing along with Admiral Rogers basically had some version of, no, we can find absolutely no evidence that that was true.

And, of course, you know, look, this is one of many reckless charges that the president has made. We got the whole story about how Susan Rice was unfairly or improperly unmasking names. All of these charges, which you know sort of on the face are a little absurd, look, if you believe them to be true, offer some evidence.

And no evidence has been offered, and an awful lot of people like me who have access to information that the general public does not have also seen no evidence backing up any of these outrageous and very serious charges.

BLITZER: Yes, it's not just Democrats. The Republican chairmen of the Intelligence Committees have said they haven't seen any evidence to back it up. The Senate majority leader hasn't seen any evidence. The speaker of the House hasn't seen any evidence. So, it's not just Democrats.

Another issue, the White House says President Trump had today a very good, those words, very good conversation with Russian President Putin. Do you trust President Trump to hold Putin accountable in these kinds of conversations?

HIMES: Well, the thing I care most about in this conversation, Wolf, and I have been saying this for years, the only way the atrocious Syria conflict ends is when Russia, the United States and, by the way, some other parties that we really don't want to be in a room with, like the Iranians and many of the parties that are fighting it out in Syria today, the only way that ends is when those people come together in a room and agree on some form of peace agreement, that, by the way, we're not going to like.

[18:15:23]

The Russians are going to push some form of survival for President Assad. But there is no other way. We can rain as many missiles as we want on Syria. We can do whatever you want.

This -- so whether I trust him or not, I don't know. That is subject to what we're going to learn in this investigation, and opens up a whole host of other issues.

But I'm heartened to hear, with 400,000-plus dead Syrians, a brutal refugee problem, I'm heartened to hear that Vladimir Putin and the president of the United States are at least talking about finding an end to this conflict.

BLITZER: Congressman Himes, there is more to discuss. I need to take a quick break. We will resume our conversation right after this.

HIMES: OK.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:21]

BLITZER: We're back with House Intelligence Committee member Jim Himes.

Congressman, I want you to stand by.

I want to take a quick look at the latest Twitter bombshell from President Trump, embracing the idea of a government shutdown.

We're joined by our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, another confusing message from the president.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, another usually day here at the White House, just as Republicans in Congress are close to passing a spending bill and sending it to the president's desk.

President Trump is pining what he calls a good shutdown, forcing his top aides to describe exactly what that means.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is what winning looks like.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Even though President Trump is crowing that a new government spending bill represents a win for the White House...

TRUMP: After years of partisan bickering and gridlock, this bill is a clear win for the American people. ACOSTA: ... he is clearly irritated he did not get everything he

wanted, namely funding for his signature proposal, a new wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. And he is threatening to shut down the government to get what he wants.

The president is warning he won't take no for an answer during the next budget battle in the fall, tweeting: "Even elect more Republican senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51 percent. Our country needs a good shutdown in September fix mess."

That's just one week after he complained Democrats were prepared to do the same thing: "As families prepare for summer vacations in our national parks, Democrats threaten to close them and shut down the government. Terrible."

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: A good one would be something that fixes Washington, D.C., permanently.

ACOSTA: White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney tried to defend the president's desire for a shutdown, despite the fact the administration just reached a compromise.

(on camera): Isn't that what the American people want? They want their government to work and pass budgets that the can be a compromise, that both sides can agree on? How could a shutdown be good?

MULVANEY: That's exactly what I think they want and that's exactly what we have given to them with this agreement. My point to you in response to a couple of different questions was that the president wants to see Washington better, get better, get fixed, change the way it does business.

(CROSSTALK)

MULVANEY: It is. It absolutely is, which is why it is so frustrating -- which is why it is so frustrating to have the Democrats go out and say they won and we lost.

ACOSTA (voice-over): In his own attempt to spin the compromise as a win, Mulvaney said some of the money was going to -- quote -- "new wall." But it is really just beefing up existing fencing.

MULVANEY: You can call it new wall, you can call it replacement, you can call it maintenance, call it whatever you want to. The president's priority was to secure the southern border.

ACOSTA: Democrats were quick to bounce on the shutdown talk.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: We don't like government shutdowns, and we avoid them at all costs.

ACOSTA: This rare episode of compromise isn't exactly sitting well with some Republicans, who complain they gave up too much to reach a deal. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think the Democrats

cleaned our clock. I think there are things in this bill that I just don't understand. This was not winning from the Republican point of view.

ACOSTA: The president was also busy speaking by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the subject of Syria. The White House said both leaders agreed that the suffering in Syria has gone on for too long and that all parties must do all they can to end the violence.

CNN has learned the president is learning toward tapping former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to be ambassador to NATO, all issues that reporters wanted to put to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who abruptly left the briefing without taking any questions after Mulvaney spoke on the budget.

QUESTION: Hey, Sean!

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And Sean Spicer never came back to the Briefing Room of that.

The president, we should point out, also tried to spin the new border security money as a victory, saying at an event earlier today -- quote -- "We are putting up a lot of new walls."

That's not the case. That's in reference to the large fencing that is already in use to enhance existing border security measures. It's not the kind of wall the president promised to build during the campaign, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's back to Congressman Jim Himes.

Congressman, is President Trump's tweet calling for a government shutdown in September simply a negotiating tactic?

HIMES: Wolf, I think it is time for us to blow the whistle on this and say that serious people trying to unpack the meaning of a Donald Trump tweet is a demeaning exercise.

No, I think that, you know, when he gets alone with his device, he sends out things like accusations that the former president was surveilling him. Look, a couple of things are happening here.

One, the president is discovering that we don't have a system where he gets everything that he wants, that we have a tough, brutal, sometimes ugly political system with fragmented power that results occasionally in success, but looks like what we got on the budget, where everybody gets a little bit of what they want and everybody says they got everything they want, but the president never gets everything that he wants. [18:25:10]

And the problem with the tweets that he is sending out and all of the nonsense, the stuff is most perhaps consistent with the behavior of a 5-year-old, is that it hurts his party here in the Congress.

Look at Sean Spicer, who I assume is an adult, has to storm out of room because he is getting legitimate questions about the president's meaning. And, of course, around here, you have got Republicans who I know want to serve their constituents and who understand that they don't get everything that they want.

And yet they get asked the question to -- they get asked to explain Donald Trump's behavior. And it is just not explainable.

BLITZER: You think President Trump would actually in September veto a spending bill, House and Senate Democrats and Republicans came up with a compromise that was a perfect from his standpoint? Do you think he would actually veto that?

HIMES: You know, I don't think so.

I have watched this president now for several months, three, and this is a man of endlessly flexible goals and ideology. He was going to cancel NAFTA. He changed his mind very, very quickly. He was going to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Now, we're not doing that.

I mean, it just goes on and on. We were going to have a repeal of health care on day one. No, we're not.

And so I think the key -- and I'm no psychologist -- but the key is that the people around him need to convince him that he did well. So, so long as I think he comes out of any negotiation, and even if the budget looks like, in my opinion, it would have looked like had we had a President Obama -- and, again, I don't love everything in it, but it is a pretty good budget -- so long as he comes out of that process thinking that he won, I think we're going to be fine.

BLITZER: Congressman Jim Himes, thanks for joining us.

HIMES: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Republicans in another urgent scramble for support among their own. Can they prevent the latest health care bill from going down in flames?

And Hillary Clinton declares herself a member of the resistance. We will talk about her new interview about President Trump and why she says she lost the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Within an hour or two of the "Hollywood Access" tape being made public, the Russian theft of John Podesta's e-mails hit WikiLeaks. What a coincidence. So, I mean, you just can't make this stuff up. (END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The latest effort by House Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare increasingly appears to be going the way of previous efforts, which ended in very embarrassing failures. Republican leaders are scrambling right now for support, but tonight they're still falling short.

[[18:32:12] Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is up on Capitol Hill with the very latest. Sunlen, Paul Ryan, the speaker and his team, they apparently have very, very little wiggle room right now.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Wolf. If one more House Republican comes out against this bill, that kills its chances of moving forward in its current form. So behind the scenes, you have House leaders really ratcheting up intensity and the importance of this moment in making the argument to their members that now is the time they have to get this done.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a health care vote this week?

SUNLEN (voice-over): With their second health care bill in serious jeopardy, House Republican leaders have launched a full-court press to shore up support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're getting very close.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: How close?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very close.

REP. TOM MACARTHUR (R), NEW JERSEY: We're trying to get there, but until we have 216, we can't -- we can't take the vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you close?

MACARTHUR: Yes.

SERFATY: Pushing hard to hold a vote this week.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How is health care, coming, folks? How is it doing? All right? We're moving along? All right. I think it's time now, right?

SERFATY: But despite public claims of confidence...

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

SERFATY: ... behind closed doors today, sources tell CNN GOP leaders admitting to members they still don't have the votes to pass the bill.

REP. GLENN THOMPSON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: When we have confidence that we have the votes, obviously, we'll have the -- we'll have that bill up.

SERFATY: Based on CNN's latest count, 22 House Republicans say they're opposed to the bill. That means the GOP is just one more "no" vote away from the proposal being short of the 216 votes it needs to pass. All Democrats expected to be against it.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA), MAJORITY WHIP: We're working, too, for the vote; and we've got a number of members that had questions that we're getting answers to.

SERFATY: Leaders are now painstakingly going member to member, trying to cobble together the votes they need and assuage concerns. Part of that unease among members centering around President Trump's muddled message over promising coverage for pre-existing conditions.

TRUMP: And it'll be every bit as good on pre-existing conditions as Obamacare.

SERFATY: A source telling CNN those remarks cause confusion over what he meant, adding the uncertainty isn't helpful.

REP. PATRICK MEEHAN (R), PENNSYLVANIA: There are elements of it, particularly my concern about the ability to guarantee the coverage for those who are, you know, with pre-existing conditions.

SERFATY: The latest version of the bill allows states to opt out of an Obamacare provision that bars insurers from charging people more based on their medical history, and set up high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions.

Congressman Fred Upton, the former chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, giving the bill a significant blow today, saying it torpedoes key protections.

REP. FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: 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.

[18:35:03] SERFATY: Republican leaders looking to reassure their members and prevent even more loss of support for the bill.

SCALISE: 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.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC'S "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": Billy was born with a heart disease.

SERFATY: Meantime, Democrats are drawing attention to an impassioned plea from late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who shared the story of his son, who was recently born with a heart condition. KIMMEL: 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 are Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right? I mean, we do.

SERFATY: Former President Obama tweeted today, "Well said, Jimmy. That's exactly why we fought so hard for ACA and why we need to protect it for kids like Billy. And congratulations."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: So certainly a powerful moment there by Jimmy Kimmel, really speaking to the emotion of this moment, in the midst of all this fierce politicking up here.

So what's next on all of this? There is, at this time, no floor vote scheduled. Really speaking to where they are in this process. And on Thursday, the full House Republican conference, they will huddle again on Thursday morning to get a sense of where they are. That of course, Wolf, the same day they are also scheduled to leave Washington for a week-long recess -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill. Thanks, Sunlen.

Let's get some more with our specialists and our analysts. And Gloria, there's absolutely no room for error for the Republicans right now.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No room. Zero. Zip. Which is why it doesn't look good. You know, when you -- when you have no room for error, it seems to me that it's -- that it's a real problem. I mean, things do pass by one vote.

But if you look at this question of pre-existing conditions and you look at someone like Congressman Upton, who has been really involved in rewriting health care, and when he comes out and says to the Republican Party, and the caucus and says, "I can't be with this, because I care about pre-existing conditions, and this torpedoes that," that's a very strong signal to other Republicans that there is a problem here.

And the notion that this does cover all pre-existing conditions is wrong. What the congressman said in -- in the piece is that you have to have continuous coverage.

So say, for example, you stop your coverage, and then you want to start again. Then you're going to have to pay a lot more in certain states who decide to -- to offer pre-existing conditions. You may have to pay a lot more for your coverage, and you wouldn't be able to afford it.

BLITZER: And that explains, David Chalian, why some folks involved in the negotiations are calling it fine-print time. They're reading the fine print, and they're suggesting that the president of the United States is not familiar with the fine print when he says that the pre- existing conditions, guaranteed. DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. Well, we know that

President Trump is not a details guy who's going to get into every word of the bill. I think that's probably true for other presidents, as well.

What is problematic here is what you're saying. What I'm hearing from folks on the Hill is that his comments, saying that pre-existing conditions are completely guaranteed, even better than they were in Obamacare, that's simply not true in this amendment. In fact, it's part of the reason this amendment exists and the House Freedom Caucus and the conservatives got on board with it.

So that simply wasn't true, and that did complicate things on the Hill as they were scrambling to get these final votes, because they're looking for the votes for moderates, Wolf. And so when the moderates hear the president say that and then he's fact checked that that's not wrong, that slows down their ability to get on board with the bill.

BLITZER: Rebecca, will there be a vote this week?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there could be, Wolf. It's not over yet. They don't have 21 people, 22 people against this bill among Republicans. And these whip counts tend to be a very fluid situation.

So you have the House whip team -- these are the vote counters among Republicans -- going out and trying to convince people to either change their minds or come on board. And in the past, we've seen these counts change. And so that still could happen. They still could cobble together a coalition.

But I would agree with Gloria, that someone like Fred Upton, who is a loyal party member, who tends to go along with leadership and support what they want to do, if he is coming out against the bill as it looks currently, that suggests to me that they're going to need to make some changes before they can pass the bill.

BORGER: They can always rewrite it yet again. I mean, you know, it is fine-print time. But that's what legislation is.

BLITZER: Well, they're going on recess next week. So...

BORGER: Well, but they may need to take some more time with it. Right? I mean, it may not be over, because they won't bring it to the floor unless they have the votes.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see what happens in the next couple of days.

A different subject. Phil Mudd, you saw our reporting about the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, that she's prepared to testify that General Flynn, when he was national security adviser, she warned the White House that he potentially could be vulnerable to blackmail by -- by the Russians.

Talk to us a little bit. You used to work in the CIA. What does that mean, that he could have been subject to that kind of blackmail? [18:40:12] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, she's

wrong. Let's cut from the soap opera and get to reality. The deal is, if you go in as the Russian ambassador to Russia -- or a Russian intelligence officer and talk to the Trump team, you know the candidate, you know the president is sympathetic to Vladimir Putin. You know the secretary of state has a relationship with Russia. You know Mike Flynn is sympathetic to Russia. Why would you upset the apple cart by suggesting any element of blackmail?

I think she is too dramatic. The story is much simpler. Mike Flynn lied to the vice president. This is a story about integrity. It's not a story about the spy business. And if she goes down and says this is all about the potential that he could have been blackmailed, this becomes more political, I think, than...

BLITZER: Here's the -- here's the issue. She told them that he lied to the vice president...

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: ... 18 days before he was fired. Why did it take 18 days? And he wasn't fired until "The Washington Post" had a story posted that he had lied.

MUDD: Because I think the White House is sitting there saying, first, "What do we do? We've got 87 things going on, and now we realize maybe the national security adviser is dirty." And second, "Is this going to go ugly?" You see this in government all the time. Until the dirt gets out in public, we're not going to move. I don't think it's an issue of blackmail.

BORGER: But she's the acting attorney general. She goes to the White House counsel, and she has seen these intercepts. And we don't know what's in these intercepts. So there may be more...

MUDD: We can guess.

BORGER: ... than we know. There may be more than we know.

She goes to White House counsel and says, as the acting attorney general, "There are things here you need to pay attention to."

MUDD: Yes.

BORGER: "Because he may have been compromised."

BLITZER: All right.

BORGER: So why did it take so long?

BLITZER: Well, we're going to find out when she testifies, presumably.

Everybody stand by. Just ahead, Hillary Clinton speaking candidly about her election loss and critiquing President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Negotiations are critical but they have to be part of a broader strategy, not just thrown up on a tweet some morning that "Hey, let's get together and, you know, see if we can't get along. And maybe we can, you know, come up with some sort of a deal." That doesn't work. (END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:48] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news tonight, very blunt, candid remarks from Hillary Clinton about her election loss and the man who defeated her.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour interviewed the former Democratic presidential nominee at a Women for Women event in New York City.

David Chalian, Secretary Clinton not only blamed Russia for her loss, she went back and she blamed WikiLeaks, Russian involvement. Listen to what she said about Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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. Within an hour or two of the Hollywood Access tape being made public, the Russian theft of John Podesta's e-mails hit WikiLeaks. What a coincidence. So, I mean, you just can't make this stuff up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: David, have you heard Secretary Clinton speak like this about her loss?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No, I have not heard Secretary Clinton speak like this about anything almost. In terms of just putting out there, it almost sounded like the way I would imagine, I'm not a friend of hers, Secretary Clinton talks to her friends over lunch about her real feelings about this election. She gave sort of the lip service to accepting responsibility but that wasn't where she was talking.

She wasn't talking about her own e-mail server problems or problems in the campaign. She said she will save that for the book. What she clearly blames her election loss on -- Jim Comey and Russian interference with WikiLeaks. And right there you heard that she also is basically accusing the Trump campaign of collusion of some sort. She believes that's where this investigation is going.

BLITZER: She also seemed to taunt President Trump. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I did win more than 3 million votes than my opponent. So, it's like, really?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I see a tweet coming.

CLINTON: Well, fine. You know, better that than interfering in foreign affairs, if he wants to tweet about me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She seems, Rebecca, to be enjoying that.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: She does seem to be, Wolf. And if talking about how she won the popular vote makes her feel better, it seems to be making her feel better there, that's fine.

But it does seem a little bit like, you know, a baseball team going out after they lose the game and bragging about how they had more hits than the other team. None of that matters. She lost the game. Donald Trump is president. She lost the election. The rest is noise.

BLITZER: Gloria, she calls herself now part of the resistance.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And in way, she is leading to a degree because she is out there all the time now. I think she sounded to me like somebody who's writing a book and having kind of a cathartic experience as she goes over this very difficult history. But who still is having a little bit of trouble coming to terms with it.

And by the way, I don't blame her, because if I had lost that election, I would have a lot of trouble coming to terms with it.

[18:50:02] But, you know, you can ask the question about why she wasn't in the state of Wisconsin and polling that wasn't done there and et cetera, et cetera. And she wasn't going to talk about that today, but she does sound like somebody who's having a hard time.

BLITZER: Anxious to get Phil Mudd's reaction.

It was a fascinating interview.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes. Well, excuse me, I blame her. I'd give her 20 bucks, go to Target, get a beer, look in the mirror and you can figure out why you lost the election.

President Nixon enters in January of '73, not a huge favorite among the American population, approval ratings in the 60s. This opponent enters approval ratings in January of this year the 40s. Horrible candidate.

She loses the electoral vote. She loses Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, and she wants to say it's Jim Comey? I disagree. Look in the mirror and you'll find the reason you lost. She wasn't a great candidate.

BORGER: I don't -- CHALIAN: I just think -- separate and apart from her blaming the

Russians and Jim Comey, which was clearly on her mind, what I thought was so interesting and compelling about what she was saying today is we've seen her in public life for a quarter of a century, somebody who was constantly calculating how she's going to be perceived. Is she saying the thing that's going to be perceived as the right thing to do, not get slammed for in the press?

Now, she kind of took the stage with an "I don't care" attitude. And I feel like we got some of the most raw, authentic Hillary Clinton. I'm not saying it's going to win her any new supporters, but I think we got some of the more raw --

BLITZER: She was speaking, clearly speaking. She's got nothing to lose. She's going to speak out.

Everybody, stand by.

BORGER: What do you got to lose?

BLITZER: There's more coming up.

U.S. bombers, we're now told, are flying over the Korean peninsula, sparking a new threat of nuclear war from the Kim Jong-un regime.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:06] BLITZER: The growing U.S. military presence right now in the Korean peninsula has North Korea making new threats of nuclear war.

Our correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us.

Barbara, the Kim Jong-un regime is especially upset by military exercises being conducted right now.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That regime is upset about -- just about everything right now on the Korean Peninsula, Wolf, and that is making the Pentagon work to try to, let's say, ratchet down the tension a bit. But will that really work?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): B-1 bombers have flown over the Korean peninsula twice in the last ten days, a move that has drawn sharp criticism from North Korea amid rising tensions in the region. The latest flight involved 2 B-1 bombers flying from Guam across the peninsula, part of joint drills with South Korea and Japanese forces.

North Korea expressing fury.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Due to the U.S. military provocations that are becoming more explicit day by day, the situation in the Korean peninsula which is already sensitive is being driven to a point close to nuclear war.

STARR: Even as President Trump said he would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-un.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely -- I would be honored to do it, if it's under the -- again, under the right circumstances.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: Obviously, it's the wrong thing to say. It gives some prestige to Kim Jong-un with his own people and in the world, standing in the world and, obviously, he is one of the most dishonorable people on earth.

STARR: This just days after Vice President Pence warned that President Trump is determined.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the Armed Forces of the United States in this region.

STARR: All of this leaving the U.S. military reeling. Behind the scenes, half a dozen military officers with direct knowledge tell CNN there is a new effort to control the flow of U.S. military information. The worry, the president's contradictory statement, and other once routine public information, is fodder for North Korean claims of Pentagon war-mongering.

Officials say the Pentagon won't publicly acknowledge it, but will try to ratchet down its profile. That may be a tall order. Several long scheduled events are in the works. A test of U.S. ICBM is scheduled for this week. At least two tests of U.S. missile defenses are set for the end of the month. A routine exercise practicing evacuation of civilians from South Korea is expected. And U.S. F16s are moving temporarily from Japan to South Korea because their home airfield is undergoing maintenance.

Pentagon officials say they want a higher profile for diplomatic pressure.

The man nominated to be ambassador to China thinks that nation must do more.

GOV. TERRY BRANSAD (R), U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA NOMINEE: We ought to do everything we can to convince them to be much more aggressive in dealing with the threats from North Korea. And if that doesn't happen, then I think we need to look at what can we do to try to apply more pressure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And for the first time now, that U.S. military missile defense system known as THAAD is now operating inside South Korea and would have limited capabilities to shoot down an incoming North Korean missile, all of this ratcheting up the tension even more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's not forget, there's still 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea and another 50,000 in Japan, not very far away.

Barbara, thank you very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.