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Interview With Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz; President Trump Says No Oval Office Taping; Senate Republicans Finally Reveal Health Care Plan; North Korea Tests Rocket Engine as U.S. Watches for Nuke Test. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 22, 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: But, hours later, Conservative opposition is threatening to derail the legislation.

And new tests. Kim Jong-un's regime takes another provocative step as it works to develop nuclear weapons, raising tensions with the U.S. even higher. Tonight, the bizarre incident is underscoring the conflict and the Trump administration's frustration.

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 tonight, after six weeks of misdirection and deflection, President Trump admits he does not have any secret recordings of his conversations with James Comey, Mr. Trump finally answering the question he raised last month when he hinted there might be tapes, a message that many people read as a veiled threat to his fired FBI director.

Tonight, the White House says the president doesn't regret his initial tweet, despite all the fallout. Mr. Trump's talk of tapes ultimately led to Comey's bombshell testimony about being pressured by the president and the appointment of the special counsel, who is believed to be investigating the president for possible obstruction of justice.

Also breaking, at least four conservative Republican senators have announced they are opposed to the draft health care bill released by the Senate leadership just hours ago. Republicans can't afford to lose the votes of more than two members of their caucus and still get the measure passed in the U.S. Senate.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiling the legislation today after weeks of secret negotiations. Several dozen demonstrators gathered outside McConnell's office to protest the bill, many of them with disabilities. Some were forcibly removed by Capitol Police, including people in wheelchairs.

This hour, I will talk about these breaking stories with Senator Brian Schatz, a member of the Democratic leadership. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by. First, let's go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray.

Sara, the president dragged out this mystery about the tapes for a month-and-a-half. Tell our viewers the latest.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are not getting any real straight answers today on why the president kept this going for weeks or why he even brought it up in the first place, but at least one firm answer coming from the president himself. He does not have any tapes of those he conversations with Comey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): After 41 days of dodging the question...

QUESTION: When will you tell us about...

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over a fairly short period of time. You are going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer, don't worry.

MURRAY: Today, President Trump is finally admitting he did not tape his conversations with the FBI director he fired, James Comey, an answer Trump delivered, fittingly, via Twitter.

"With all of the recently recorded electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking, and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are 'tapes' or recordings of my conversations with James Comey. But I did not make and do not have any such recordings."

The off-camera press briefing today offering little information as to why the president kept this mystery alive.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president's statement via Twitter today is extremely clear. I don't have anything to add beyond the statement.

MURRAY: The saga beginning back in May, when Trump fired off this Twitter mission. "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."

That is after a "New York Times" report included details of Trump's dinner conversation with Comey, including that Trump asked him for a pledge of loyalty. Trump's tweet is a move Republicans close to the White House have come to view as a severe misstep, an angry outburst that set off a chain reaction Trump couldn't unwind.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I have seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.

MURRAY: The tapes tweet ultimately inspired Comey to leak the memos documenting his interactions with Trump.

COMEY: I needed to get that out into the public square, and so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.

MURRAY: All of this creating the situation Trump most hoped to avoid, a special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. Trump's tapes tweet set off a firestorm among members of Congress, who demanded that the tapes be turned over by tomorrow, June 23.

Today, some members of Trump's own party made clear they're not amused by the president's antics.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think he will learn that his words matter.

MURRAY: As for the Russia investigation, Trump is decrying it as a witch-hunt.

TRUMP: They have phony witch-hunts going against me. They have everything going, and you know what? All we do is win, win, win.

MURRAY: Today, Trump called into question once again whether Russia was behind the effort to interfere in the election, tweeting, "By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 election, it all took place under the Obama admin. Why didn't they stop them?"

[18:05:05]

Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies agree Russia orchestrated cyber- attacks during the 2016 presidential race. The White House says Trump probably believes it was Russia.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think he's made it clear and been consistent that, while everyone agrees the result of the election wasn't influenced, he thinks that it probably was Russia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Sarah Sanders also dismissed the Russia investigation as just a way to try to delegitimize President Trump's victory.

It's that kind of mind-set that has intelligence officials worried that this administration is not taking Russia's meddling in the 2016 election seriously -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you, Sara Murray at the White House.

Now to Senate health care bill in jeopardy already just hours after Republican leaders took the wraps off the legislation that was shrouded in secrecy.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, four Republican senators already say they opposed the bill in its current form and there could be more.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, Wolf.

Look, this moment, this moment right now for Republican senators, all 52 of them, is really their last moment to try and get changes in this draft legislation. Obviously, this has all played out behind closed doors. But for those who recognize there could be a vote as soon as next week, they know holding out now is the pathway to those changes. The big question remains, though, will they ever come back and actually vote for this?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): After weeks behind closed doors, the Senate Republican health care draft was revealed, but not embraced.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We debated many policy proposals. We considered many different viewpoints. In the end, we found that we share many ideas about what needs to be achieved and how we can achieve it.

MATTINGLY: As Democrats lambasted the bill.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: You have heard of the movie "Dumb and Dumber," but the Republican health care movie is mean and meaner.

MATTINGLY: And protesters were dragged away by Capitol Police. Opposition to the initial draft and its secretive process boiled inside the Republican Party.

Almost immediately after the release of the GOP Senate plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, frustration from four conservative senators about how little the bill repeals and replaces.

Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, and Mike Lee say the plan doesn't go far enough to change the current law, Senator Paul telling Wolf:

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: That's not a real complaint. We are not fixing Obamacare. The problems of Obamacare will remain and may get worse. We are going to dump a bunch of taxpayer money. It's going to wind up in the coffers of very, very wealthy insurance companies.

MATTINGLY: On the other side of the party's ideological spectrum, concerns from moderate Republicans Dean Heller and Susan Collins the bill goes too far, a Collins spokesperson saying she -- quote -- "will be particularly interested in examining the forthcoming CBO analysis on impact on insurance coverage, the effect on insurance premiums and the changes in the Medicaid program."

Tonight, the party is scrambling for votes.

(on camera): Do you feel like in a week enough people can get together for 50 votes to actually get this through?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: I hope so. People have different opinions, and they have a lot of ideological opinions as well. And -- but it's time to put that aside and move.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But moving fast may be difficult as senators try to digest exactly what the draft does.

Among the key provisions, the draft repeals Obamacare's taxes and individual mandates, provides more generous subsidies to purchase insurance than the House-passed bill, and it takes a different path to cutting back Obamacare regulation, a key priority for conservative aims to drive down premiums, dropping the House effort to grant states waivers from rules that provided price protections for those with preexisting conditions, as well as the 10 essential health benefits required by Obamacare.

And while it institutes a slower phase-out of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion than its House counterpart, a key ask for moderate senators, like the House bill, the Senate version fundamentally reshapes the Medicaid program, and it goes further, instituting what amounts to dramatically deeper cuts than the House version by significantly slowing federal spending growth over time.

Republicans defending the proposal as necessary to sustain the program. Tonight, Democrats are infuriated.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The Senate Republican health care bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Only, this wolf has even sharper teeth than the House bill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, that Democratic opposition kind of underscoring the high-wire act Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has right now, again, can only lose 52 votes. You move the bill a little bit to the right and, all of a sudden, you face the possibility of losing moderates.

You move it to the center, and there go the conservatives. That is what they are trying to figure out behind closed doors right now. One noteworthy item, I spoke to Senator Ted Cruz just a short while ago and he said pretty firmly he expects significant changes in this bill in the coming days. We will have to see what those changes are, Wolf.

[18:10:05]

BLITZER: We certainly will. All right, Phil, thanks very much, Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill.

Let's talk a little bit more about all the breaking news.

Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii is joining us. He's the chief deputy whip for the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ (D), HAWAII: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: A day before the House Intelligence Committee deadline to turn over any tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, President Trump tweeted this today.

I will put it up on the screen. "With all the recently reported electronic surveillance intercepts, unmasking, and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are tapes or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make and I do not have any such recordings."

Why do you think it took the president 41 days to say that?

SCHATZ: I have no explanation for the president's behavior generally, but in this specific instance, it is especially baffling.

It is certainly not news that the president is making mistakes, that he's been intemperate. I think what shouldn't be lost on the American people is that his first tweet around tapes was essentially designed to intimidate James Comey.

The other thing that we need to remember is that he was not truthful about this and he sort of played a game as though it was some sort of unserious matter, where he could create response and get everybody sort of waiting for his final conclusion.

This is not a game. This is a very serious matter. But I never doubted that he would be intemperate and I never really suspected that he was telling the truth here. So, none of this is particularly newsworthy. I thought this is where it would end up. For me, the big news today and the big news for the American people is that you have -- you finally have text for a Senate health care bill, and it has moved significantly to the right.

BLITZER: We are going to get to health care in a moment. But let's finish up on this, that original May 12 tweet on the president raising the issue on tapes. Some suggest that was witness tampering, intimidation, potentially obstruction of justice.

What do you think?

SCHATZ: I don't know. I don't know if it meets those standards in terms of what Bob Mueller is going to investigate.

But it is very clear that he is not careful. It's very clear that he doesn't understand the rule of law, he doesn't understand the separation of powers and that he is not respecting this process. He really does view anybody in the executive branch as his employee. And that's not the way our democracy works. That's not the way a republic works.

In fact, I think he views anyone who is in the Republican Party as his employee, which is why he was improperly interacting with Republican chairmen of the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

So, this person knows no boundaries, but this is final confirmation that he wasn't telling the truth all along.

BLITZER: CNN's Dana Bash is reporting that in a closed meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee, both the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Mike Rogers, confirmed that the president suggested they put out statements denying any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

What does that mean for the investigation into possible obstruction of justice?

SCHATZ: Well, I think there are two questions. The first is whether you have enough evidence to pursue an investigation of obstruction of justice. And the answer to that question is absolutely.

There is plenty of evidence at least to pursue this question. The second part of this is whether it meets a certain evidentiary standard. And for me, that is for Bob Mueller to make a determination about in due course and as an independent counsel.

So, I don't think we are there yet. But certainly there is enough evidence that he basically wanted all of these investigations to stop and he wanted to clear his name improperly. Where this ends up, I think it's too early to tell. But certainly there is plenty for Bob Mueller to investigate.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the Republican health care bill that was finally released today. I have a copy, 142 pages, very, very complex, not easy reading by any part.

Have you read the bill yet?

SCHATZ: I read it as soon as it came out. I was on the Senate floor while the debate was going on, poring through it. And now I have read it twice.

And really what strikes me is that it moved to the right. I think there was a sense that, maybe in order to accommodate the folks who have concerns about their Medicaid populations, that it would be, as President Trump was talking about, less mean.

But they went totally in the opposite direction. They have cut Medicaid really deeply. And although they phase out Medicaid expansion more slowly, which I suppose is a little bit of a give, they do something pretty radical, which is they basically change the nature of the Medicaid program and made massive cuts.

And, remember, this is not to make the program more sustainable. This is not to fund other government priorities. This is specifically for the purpose of giving a tax cut of about $800 billion to the wealthiest Americans.

[18:15:00]

So, there is no reason to make a wealth transfer from regular people to rich people. But this is what they're doing in this bill.

BLITZER: Right now, the bill doesn't have enough votes to pass. You know four Republicans already say they oppose the bill as it's currently written.

If the effort fails, will you and fellow Democrats offer to work with Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare?

SCHATZ: We will.

And we've said all along, as long as they take repeal off the table, then we are willing to work in a bipartisan process to try to improve the law. We all understand that the Affordable Care Act is not working perfectly. In fact, any major piece of legislation like this has to be tweaked over time, has to be improved over time.

We are anxious to get into a bipartisan process. But this thing is done on a totally right basis. It's 13 men working in secret. The first people to know about it were Republican lobbyists and then the rest of the Republican Conference and then Democrats and the rest of the American public.

So, this process was really bankrupt from the start. But if we are able to defeat this thing, we are anxious to get to work and do a bipartisan bill.

BLITZER: Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, thanks so much for joining us.

SCHATZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, more on the breaking news, including the president coming clean about the White House tapes that don't apparently exist.

Our guests and specialists are standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:41]

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, we are getting new reaction to President Trump finally confessing that he doesn't have any recordings of his conversations with James Comey. He had hinted the tapes existed in a tweet six weeks ago.

And the president had been dragging on the suspense, at least until now.

Joining us now, Jake Sullivan, who served as a senior adviser to both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Jake, thanks very much for joining us.

JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: Thanks for having us.

BLITZER: What was your reaction when you saw that tweet was released just before 1:00 p.m. Eastern, the president saying that he didn't have -- I did not make and I do not have any such recordings? SULLIVAN: Well, once again, nothing should surprise us about what this president does, but we shouldn't stopped being shocked, because this is not normal behavior.

He has known for weeks that there were no tapes, that he didn't make tapes, and yet he strung the American people along, misleading them, going all the way back to May 12. Finally, he comes clean today. It is time to move on from this tapes thing.

But there is one important aspect that we need to remain focused on. Why did he send that original tweet in the first place? He did it to intimidate Jim Comey to try to continue to obstruct the investigation that Jim Comey was conducting. And that needs to be looked at by Bob Mueller, the special counsel.

BLITZER: And, presumably, they are looking at that.

But in this tweet today, he also raised the possibility that there was some sort of surveillance, that maybe the U.S. intelligence community was monitoring what is going on. He says, "With all of the recently recorded electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking, and illegal leaking of information," he presumably is suggesting, well, maybe someone is engaged in surveillance of him.

SULLIVAN: I think the technical term here, honestly, Wolf, is jerking us around. That is what the president is doing again today with this tweet.

In fact, when his press spokesman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked directly does the president believe that the intelligence community is in fact surveilling him, she said not that I'm aware of, meaning he knows there is no surveillance by the intelligence community. There are no tapes. And his continued insinuation here is just more effort to mislead and misdirect.

And, frankly, it is a self-inflicted wound, because him putting out this first tapes tweet was the cause, the proximate cause of Bob Mueller getting named as special counsel. So, Trump is now reaping what he said.

BLITZER: You served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. How do you think U.S. allies are reacting to what they're seeing unfolding here now?

SULLIVAN: I think that U.S. allies are looking at this and they're seeing a circus.

They are seeing the commander in chief, the president of the United States, the person who is supposed to be the leader of the free world, acting completely irresponsibly, misleading people, misdirecting people.

And, frankly, I'm worried also about the men and women who serve in our intelligence community and serve in our armed forces, because what the president is showing is that he has total disregard, contempt even, for people who put their lives on the line for this country to protect us every day.

BLITZER: Here is another point that I think we should mention. The president tweeted this today as well. We will put it up on the screen.

"By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 election, it all took place under the Obama admin. Why didn't they stop them?"

All right, why didn't you stop them?

SULLIVAN: Well, the thing that most strikes me about that tweet is the important word if. He is still casting doubt on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election, after 17 U.S. intelligence agencies reached a high-confidence consensus judgment that they did.

Why is the president of the United States when our democracy is under attack refusing to do anything about it? Why, for that matter, is Attorney General Sessions refusing to even be briefed on it?

That to me is -- whatever you believe about collusion, the fact is, we all know the Russians did this, that they may do it again, and that President Trump is doing nothing about it.

BLITZER: Yes, I think you make a fair point that if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 election -- and everybody has agreed, except apparently the president that Russia was working very hard in trying to impact the 2016 election.

SULLIVAN: And what that tells us he is not raising hell inside the administration to say, you know what? We are going to batten down the hatches. We're going to not let this happen again. We're going to get to the bottom of what happened.

He is still pretending as though maybe it was that 400-pound hacker he talked about during the campaign, not the Russians, which everybody knows it was.

[18:25:02]

And that raises real questions. Why does he keep casting doubt on this? Why won't he actually recognize that the Russians did this and do something about it? And people can judge for themselves.

BLITZER: Remind our viewers, you did work for Hillary Clinton during the campaign as her chief national security adviser.

Another tweet from the president today. "Why did Democratic National Committee turn down the DHS, Department of Homeland Security, offer to protect against hacks long prior to election? It's all a big damn hoax."

How do you respond to that?

SULLIVAN: Well, once again, saying that this is a big damn hoax is a very strange thing, when the entire U.S. intelligence community came to a collective judgment that the Russians carried out a sophisticated and bold cyber-attack on the United States, including on the Democratic National Committee.

BLITZER: But the first part of the tweet, there is something there, because when the Department of Homeland Security went to the I.T. experts at the DNC and said maybe we should look at your server, maybe we've got some work to do, they turned that down initially.

SULLIVAN: Well, I actually don't know what happened in those conversations between DHS and the DNC.

I'm not familiar with the conversations that they had. What I know is that the Russians had breached the DNC and taken out the e-mails even before DHS ever went to them, and then released those publicly on the eve of the Democratic National Committee, for the purpose of interfering in our election.

BLITZER: Jake Sullivan, we got to leave it on that note. Thanks so much for joining us.

SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: All right, good.

Just ahead, more reaction to the tale of the tapes. Why did the president let his misleading tweets stand for six long weeks?

And what do Senate Republican leaders do now, with their health care bill already facing stiff opposition and more no votes, no votes likely in the hours ahead?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:31:31]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We are following breaking news including Republican opposition to the just unveiled Senate Republican health care bill. Tonight, at least four Republican senators say they oppose the measure as it is written.

Also President Trump is finally admitting he does not have secret recordings of his conversations with James Comey, the FBI director he fired. The president's tweet last month suggesting he had tapes ultimately led to appointment of special counsel now believed to be investigating the president for possible obstruction of justice.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and analysts. Gloria Borger, why did it take the president 41 days to set the record straight when he now says I did not make and do not have any such recordings?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Because he is playing with everyone. I mean, maybe he thinks it is some kind of a game and maybe he knew that there was a deadline tomorrow set by Congress that he had to answer that question. But I think he was playing a little game of reality TV here.

And I think now, however, he has done two things. We know that there are not tapes and that means that perhaps the special counsel will have to investigate what he was doing with that tweet when he basically said Comey better hope that there are no tapes. Was that intimidating? Was that threatening?

You know, the line out of the White House is apparently that he was trying to be strategic in making sure that Comey told the truth. I think we have to find out what the reality of that was.

Secondly, he set up a whole new conspiracy theory by saying maybe there are tapes. No tapes that I know about. Is he effectively accusing the American intelligence agencies of taping the president of the United States? If I were in intelligence or at the FBI or the CIA I think I might be a little unhappy about that.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, Bianna, because Senator Rand Paul was with me here in the SITUATION ROOM in the last hour and he seemed to suggest, yes, there may be some surveillance going on by the U.S. intelligence community of the president and maybe even Senator Paul himself. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think all of us are worried about too much spying on American citizens particularly without any kind of warrant or probable cause.

BLITZER: So do you think that it is possible that there are tapes but the president doesn't know about those tapes, recordings of the conversation that he had with Comey that the surveillance may have been secret? Is that what I'm hearing from you?

PAUL: What I'm very concerned about is there was an article in the "Washington Post" last year talking about how President Obama was minimized meaning that they listened to his conversation, knew who it was and blacked out his name. I don't think the intelligence community should be listening to any president Republican or Democrat.

So yes, I am concerned. I think the rules need to be explicit that they don't listen to the president and that they don't listen to members of Congress and that the president doesn't listen to members of Congress.

We have to have much more control over privacy because it has gotten out of hand. What happened to General Flynn can happen to any ordinary citizen and that shouldn't happen in America where they listen to your private phone call and take you down by releasing things to the media.

BLITZER: So what evidence do you have, Senator, because this is a pretty startling accusation that the intelligence community may be spying on the president of the United States?

[18:35:03]PAUL: We know that they spied on Flynn because the media reported the contents of his conversation. That is what got him in trouble with saying one thing privately and maybe another thing to the administration, but they only that because someone eves dropped on a private conversation. I have no evidence that they are listening to this president or have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: But Bianna, I pointed out that the U.S. intelligence community law enforcement were monitoring Russian officials who were having a conversation with Flynn. They weren't monitoring Flynn, Michael Flynn, the fired National Security adviser, there is a difference.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Yes. There is a major difference. There is nothing illegal with what the intelligence community did vis-a-vis Michael Flynn. Obviously this has been an issue that Rand Paul has had deep concern about for many years. Remember his famous filibuster over this.

With regards to the president and his tweet, this comes across more as a plain and simple red herring, Wolf. I mean, there were reports that this tweet was constructed with his communications department earlier today to release.

So this wasn't something that he just did on a whim. Again, if he was concerned about tapes he shot himself in the foot twice now because he didn't have to kick everyone else out of the room.

He didn't have to kick Senator Sessions or his aides out of the room. They would have been able to back him up on his claims as opposed to now being his word versus former FBI Director Comey's word.

BLITZER: You know, Jackie, the last hour also spoke to Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee. He said this about the president's statement today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Look, I'm glad the president has responded and told the country that he didn't make tape recordings of James Comey. Of course, we are going to need to get an official statement from the White House that answers our full question because the fact that he didn't make the tape or doesn't know of tapes doesn't mean the tapes don't exist. So we are still waiting for an answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Still waiting for an answer. So apparently the tweet that he released today at least for Schiff and company not enough.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And we will see if the White House plays ball with that because what they were asking for was something from White House counsel, Don McGahn, and the deadline is tomorrow with Schiff and Conway, the chairman who is overseeing the Russia investigation for that committee.

So we will have to see what they do, but it is due to them. That is Congress trying to conduct oversight over this, but whether the White House points to tweets speaks for itself we will have to see. BLITZER: Because Schiff wants a letter by the end of business, David, tomorrow from the White House, the White House counsel, White House chief of staff, someone from the White House saying flatly what the president said today no tapes that they know of at least some official statement like that with the president's tweet not good enough. How much damage has been done in all of this discussion over six weeks of tapes to the president's credibility?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think a good deal, Wolf, in part because we still don't exactly know what he meant by initial tweet or the tweet today was still even a little ambiguous. I confess I'm sort on the fence between prevailing wisdom and sort of Michael Smerconish theory of maybe the president was talking about tapes he might have had versus tapes that Comey might have had. But either way it is either a quasi-threat or quasi-bluff. Neither one is good.

BLITZER: All right, hold on, everybody hold on for a moment. We will take another quick break. More on breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:43:10]

BLITZER: More breaking news tonight, at least four Republican senators are now publically saying they oppose the newly released Senate Republican health care bill making its passage uncertain. You see the four.

David Swerdlick, we just got a tweet, another tweet, the president is busy tweeting all day today on the health care bill. He tweeted this, "I am very supportive of the Senate health care bill. Look forward to making it really special. Remember Obamacare is dead."

They have problems the Republicans. They need 50 Republicans, 52-48, majority. Four Republicans already saying the version as it stands now they won't support it.

SWERDLICK: Yes. Obamacare is dead. Long live Obamacare, right? I mean, you have a bill right now where you have conservatives, who are feeling like it is not doing enough to fully pull out root and branch repeal Obamacare and on the other hand, moderates who are worried about the 20 plus million people who are going to be kicked off of Medicaid.

The president by that tweet I think sees the broad strokes that he has to get this at least through the Senate and get to the conference committee stage or it will look like Republicans cannot get this.

BLITZER: The key element in this Republican legislation, the House version, the Senate version, future of Medicaid. Listen to what the president often said during the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts.

I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.

You are going to end up with reat health care for a fraction of the price.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you buy that?

BORGER: No. Not at all. If you look at the Senate bill, it has more dramatic cuts to Medicaid all be it stretched out over a longer period of time. I think if you look at the conservatives that you just saw in the end conservatives may cave and go with the president because they can say they voted to repeal Obamacare.

If I were the president, I would be worried more about the moderates. I would be worried more about Susan Collins, who is worried about Medicaid expansion or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who is worried about opioid addiction. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia, same thing.

I would be worried more about the moderates. And they can make the conservatives happy and I'm sure the conservatives have a lot of leverage, which is why they came out early as a group. But in the end, if they cave, you know, you still need to -- it's those three moderates you have to worry about.

BLITZER: Those conservatives, Jackie, though, including Rand Paul, they make the point that this legislation that the Republicans drafted that is now public does not repeal Obamacare because so much of it they allege remains in effect.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's true. But I agree with Gloria. All noes are not created equal here. If you are Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, you are not going to stand in the way of a win which would be repealing Obamacare.

Now, if you are some of these other members, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, who, you know, might end up in trouble and have to worry about taking care of people at home because they have these different priorities because of where they're from, it's a very different situation. But here is the thing -- when you talk about negotiating when you say this is great let's do this thing no one is going to talk to you and pay attention to your concerns.

So, right now, in the Senate, there is a lot of jockeying going on within Republicans to see what they can get, what kind of policy wins they can make that they can take back home for their constituents and otherwise.

BORGER: I would add Rob Portman of Ohio to that list. And I think it's a little bit more difficult. What I'm saying is it is a lot more difficult actually to please the moderates here, because their concerns are kind of intractable when you -- when you look at Medicaid. It's impossible.

KUCINICH: I think on the House side.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes. Bianna, I just come to you, but I want to show our viewers some video of protesters showing up on Capitol Hill outside the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell's office, some of them in wheel chairs and some of them eventually dragged off. They are really, really worried about this legislation.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Yes, there is a Democratic campaign ad in the making. If Republicans went after the throw grandma off the cliff campaign ad, I mean, this is right here for you. Obviously, these police officers some of them had no choice but to move these people. But the optics are terrible right there.

And you talk about some of these more moderate senators. I mean, they were upset about the process from the get-go, too. I mean, there is a lot of bad blood in the sense that they are being forced upon this right now. They didn't like the process. They were left out in the dark.

When it comes to the four conservatives saying, no, I mean, I agree with the panel as well. You have Governor Kasich's top aide tweeting today that if somebody thinks that Ted Cruz isn't going to end up voting for this, that he has a rainforest to sell them in Arizona.

So, a lot of this is theatrics. None of this is new obviously to Washington, but it is most concerning to constituents at home and one in five Americans, don't forget, receive Medicaid. It is a very popular program.

BLITZER: The president promised during the campaign, he would not cut Medicaid.

And, Bianna, David, makes a good point. Chris Murphy, the senator -- Democratic senator from Connecticut, he tweeted this. He thinks it is theatrics, as well.

Senate will try to follow House script. One, Senate Rs act concerned. Two, pass meaningless amendments. Three, clean bill is fixed. Four, fall in line.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. No, Senator Murphy makes a good point. I think that is in line with the point that Gloria and Jackie were making and Bianna as well, that yes, they've got a posture like they are negotiating, but in the end, expect most Republican senators to go ahead and vote for this. Someone like Senator Cruz, for instance, you know, doesn't have the same clout that he had when he was calling for government shutdowns a few years ago. He's lost the presidential race. He's fighting for his own reelection. Times are different now. They probably will fall in line.

GOLODRYGA: And, Wolf, older Americans are going to take the brunt of the hit from this bill right now. They are getting double whammies. They're going to see higher deductibles, lower subsidies, higher premiums as well. And as we know, Americans are living longer so they are becoming a larger portion of insurance recipients.

BLITZER: Yes. But, you know, the argument that the Republican leadership in the Senate, Gloria, is going to make, you know what? Let's pass something. It's still got to go back to the House. You need a House-Senate Joint Conference Committee to come up with a compromise. There is still opportunity to work on this, fix it, make it as good as possible. But if it dies in the Senate, then it's over. Obamacare lives.

BORGER: Right. And I'm sure that's an argument that Mitch McConnell will make to lots of Republicans. But these -- a lot of these Republicans are on the record about this already.

[18:50:00] This is -- these are senators who have already made known how they feel about Medicare reimbursements, et cetera, et cetera, in the states. And they are concerned about opioid addiction and they have gone out there and talked to their constituents about this.

And so, I don't think it's -- I don't think it's that simple. You know, if it's ideological and this can look more like or less it's -- you know, or less like Obamacare, then maybe Ted Cruz and Rand Paul will end up being happy with that. But I don't think it's really easy for these senators to say, oh, by the way, I got $10 million more over five years for opioid addiction. It's not going to help.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Jackie. If they don't vote next week, is it dead?

KUCINICH: I don't think so. I think -- because there are senators who are calling for a little bit more time to look over it. Now, they'll go home and hear from their constituents.

But I would not underestimate Mitch McConnell.

BORGER: Yes, he wants to force a vote. He really does.

BLITZER: And he's got a lot of power among those Republicans.

And, guys, everybody, standby.

Just ahead: high tension between the United States and North Korea right now. Is the Kim Jong-un regime on the verge of another nuclear test?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:32] BLITZER: We're following two breaking stories on Capitol Hill today. Senate Republicans finally released their long-awaiting bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. The effort already facing stiff opposition from some Republican senators. Moderates have also expressed concerns as well.

Plus, President Trump finally coming clean on his suggestion that he recorded conversations with the fired FBI Director James Comey. The president says he did not tape those discussions. More on that coming up. But, first, troubling new developments in North Korea tonight as the

United States watches for a sixth underground nuclear test that could happen at any moment.

CNN's Brian Todd is watching all of his unfold.

Brian, the Kim regime apparently working on a missile that could deliver a nuclear strike even to the United States.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have been working on that, Wolf, and the North Koreans have been improving on that missile. Tonight, we have word that the regime has just conducted another test of a rocket propelled engine, a rocket engine, which could be used to propel actually an intercontinental ballistic missile towards the United States.

This comes as we get details of a scuffle between U.S. and North Korean officials in New York, which has ratcheted up the tension.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, U.S. officials tell CNN Kim Jong-un's regime has just test-fired a rocket engine, which could be used for a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile -- a worrying reminder that North Korea has vowed to deploy a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the United States.

With rumblings that another North Korean nuclear test could come at any time with no warning, President Trump and his team are growing increasingly frustrated that China who they counted on to tamp down Kim Jong-un's weapons build up hasn't been able to help.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do like President Xi. I wish we would have a little more help with respect to North Korea from China, but that doesn't seem to be working out.

TODD: The president has invested heavily in a personal relationship with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, hoping Xi would lean on the North Korean dictator. Some analysts believe it was a losing bet.

JAMIE METZL, FORMER NSC OFFICIAL: China has paid lip service to pressuring North Korea. But at the end of the day, China is not willing to put enough pressure on North Korea to change North Korea's behavior.

TODD: So, tonight, tensions between Washington and Pyongyang are left boiling. Kim's regime claims three delegates it sent to a U.N. conference in New York were, quote, mugged at New York's JFK airport by U.S. homeland security officers. The North Koreans accused the U.S. officers of taking a diplomatic package away from the delegates.

DHS officials tell CNN there was a confrontation, but the package in question didn't have diplomatic protection, and they say the aggression was started by the North Koreans. "The Los Angeles Times" reports those North Korean delegates took an unauthorized side trip while they were in America. BARBARA DEMICK, LOS ANGELES TIMES: They went to Arizona on some sort

of shopping expedition. I was told it was technology related. I don't know precisely what technology, and I still don't know what was in the packages. But they did bring something back.

TODD: North Korean officials declined to comment to CNN about the incident. In a statement, DHS says its agents, quote, multiple media items and packages from the North Koreans, but they won't say specifically what those items were. The North Korean regime says Friday's incident shows the U.S. is a, quote, felonious and lawless gangster state.

Experts say it's North Korean diplomats who sometimes act like gangsters.

MARCUS NOLAND, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: There is a long history of North Koreans using diplomatic pouches to smuggle drugs and endanger specie parts, things like rhino horn or ivory.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Homeland Security officials say the North Koreans were not held by U.S. authorities after that incident, but they did refuse to board their flight out of New York. It's not clear tonight where those North Koreans are. Neither homeland security officials nor the North Koreans are saying anything about them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Brian, this incident at JFK came, what, just a couple of days after the American college student Otto Warmbier was returned to the United States in an unresponsive state. Could Warmbier's case have had anything to do with the incident at JFK?

TODD: Well, Wolf, a U.S. official I spoke to said there is no indication he has that those two incidents are connected. But one North Korean analyst we spoke to says it is certainly possible that U.S. officials decided to get tough with those North Koreans that night at JFK because they were upset at the condition that Warmbier was brought home in. It was just a couple days after that.

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd, thanks 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.