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Interview With Virginia Congressman Scott Taylor; Investigations Into Possible Trump-Russia Ties Continue; Trump's Budget; Trump Talks Obamacare With Insurers, GOP Leaders; Security Warning Issued to Jewish Institutions Across U.S. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 27, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president's bottom line, with plans to add billions to the military budget and slash billions from just about everywhere else. As Mr. Trump prepares to address the Congress and the nation, do his numbers add up?

Russian division. Should a special prosecutor investigate possible ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign after a GOP lawmaker dropped a bombshell and said yes? The House Intelligence Committee chairman is suggesting the push for a probe smacks of McCarthyism.

War plans. The Pentagon lays out options for a swift destruction of ISIS, delivering its eagerly awaited review to the commander in chief. We're learning new details about the timetable and what it could mean for U.S. troops.

And it's complicated. President Trump holds meetings on health care and seems to acknowledge that repealing and replacing Obamacare isn't an easy task. Will he offer new specifics in his big speech tomorrow night?

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

Tonight, the Trump administration is promising the president's first budget plan will put America first with a 10 percent increase in defense and security spending that Mr. Trump is calling historic. But on the eve of the president's debut speech to Congress, some lawmakers in both parties already are questioning the numbers.

Some key Republicans say the boost in military spending may not be big enough, while many Democrats are raising flags as the White House vows to offset the increases with drastic cuts to most other federal agencies.

Also tonight, the president's allies are pushing back at calls for a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump camp's reported ties to Russia. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes is warning against the witch-hunt. And he said there is no evidence of contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russian operatives.

But the top Democrat on that committee says no conclusions have been reached.

And the Pentagon has sent President Trump a new blueprint to wrap up the U.S. battle against ISIS. A senior U.S. official system it includes an ambitious timetable to destroy ISIS in less than 10 months.

I will ask Republican Congressman Scott Taylor about all of that. He is a member of the Appropriations Committee and former Navy SEAL.

And our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by, as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go to CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, we're a little more than 24 hours away from the president's speech to Congress. What is he saying about his budget plan?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we should point out at this hour senior administration officials are briefing reporters on what to expect in President Trump's speech to the joint session of Congress tomorrow night.

Tonight, though, the White House signaling President Trump is sharpening his budget acts to make major cuts to non-defense spending here in Washington. Only the Pentagon appears to be spared in the Trump administration's budget plans.

White House officials say the president is expected to propose -- we can put this up on screen -- a big $54 billion in defense spending. And, Wolf, just to put that into context, that increase is larger than what the federal governments spends every year at the State Department and the EPA.

But the president says today federal agencies should brace themselves for leaner times. Here's what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to do more with less. We're going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House cautions the full budget proposal won't be out until May.

And one top congressional source on the Republican side of the aisle tells me to expect the White House to make some concessions on some of these budget cut items that are being talked about.

There is one huge challenge ahead that everybody seems to acknowledge at this point and that is what to do about Obamacare. Republican leaders and the White House are still not on the same page, despite the fact that the president has talked about getting rid of Obamacare very early on in his administration. That does not appear to be shaping up that way, at least not at this point.

Wolf, one sign of that today was when the president acknowledged to people here at the White House, some health care CEOs, that he said nobody knew that health care could be so complicated -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He also said he's not going to be able to deal with proposed tax cuts, corporate tax cuts, middle-class tax cuts, tax cuts for the wealth, the estate tax, any tax cuts until he figures out how to deal with health care, right?

ACOSTA: That's right.

That is why the Obamacare question is so crucial in all of this, because it is very likely that they're going to have to use some sort of budget reconciliation maneuver in the Congress to force this through, because obviously Democrats are not going to go along with repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

That very much puts the onus Republican leaders, on the White House to come up with some kind of solution for Obamacare, because it really sort of the linchpin that holds all of these proposals together and potentially holds up, as you said, Wolf, a lot of these other plans for reforming taxes and these spending items.


I talked to a top source today who said the White House is talking about some of these budget cuts today, but they may not get everything they're seeking when all this plays out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta over at the White House, thank you.

Now to the latest on the investigation into Russia's election meddling as the White House pushes back against calls for a special prosecutor. We're getting a new glimpse at the partisan divide on the House Intelligence Committee.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

What are you learning, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, these are ostensibly the joint leaders of the House investigation, the ranking Republican, the ranking Democrat.

But just as the investigation gets under way, they clearly have vastly different views as to where this probe stands, and just hours apart on Capitol Hill we heard those different views in very stark reality.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): On Capitol Hill today, a tale of two realities. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a Republican, denying evidence of communications between Trump advisers and Russians during the campaign. REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: As of right now, I don't have any

evidence of any phone calls. That doesn't mean they don't exist, but I don't have that.

SCIUTTO: Just hours later, the ranking member of the same committee, a Democrat who has seen much of the same intelligence, contradicting that assessment.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: We have I think reached no conclusion, nor could we in terms of issues of collusion because we haven't called in a single witness or reviewed a single document on that issue as of yet.

SCIUTTO: At issue, recent reporting from the CNN and "The New York Times" that investigators are examining communications between Trump associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence. The administration pushing back hard on "The New York Times"' characterization of the Russians as being part of Russian intelligence.

The bipartisan Hill investigation is just beginning its work, gathering documents and agreeing just this afternoon on the scope of the investigation. It has not yet called any witnesses. Still, Chairman Devin Nunes telling reporters he has already been giving indications from unidentified officials in the intelligence community that -- quote -- "There is no there there."

NUNES: There will be no evidence of that, nor is there any evidence I have been presented about Trump advisers speaking to Russians. But we do know for a long time that the Russians have been very interested in manipulating elections, manipulating the press. They're very good at propaganda.

And so that's what caused me a year to go to come out and criticize the intelligence agencies for the largest intelligence failure since 9/11 because of a lack of good intelligence we were getting on Putin's plans and intentions.

SCIUTTO: The Nunes comments echoed by White House spokesman Sean Spicer defending the administration's aggressive effort to refute the story.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think Chairman Nunes this morning over and over and over and over and over again made it very clear that no evidence that has been brought to his attention suggested that reporting was accurate.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Schiff told reporters, however, there is "a lot of spadework to be done" not only on possible phone calls between Trump advisers and Russians tied to the Kremlin, but also other potential links and communications during the campaign.

SCHIFF: How the Russians operate, how they seek to exert their inference covertly, whether that they do that through third parties, individuals, businesspeople, directly, electronically, through encryption, there are a whole host of issues that need to be investigated.


SCIUTTO: Nunes and Schiff disagreeing sharply as welcome on White House communications with intelligence agencies and reporters, pushing back on this "New York Times" story.

They say -- Nunes saying this is just part of the normal back-and- forth between the administration and reporters. Adam Schiff there calling it completely inappropriate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us, thank you.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us, Republican Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia. He's a member of the Appropriations Committee. He's a former U.S. Navy SEAL, although they say once a Navy SEAL, Congressman, always a Navy SEAL. You may not be on active duty right now, but you're still a Navy SEAL.


BLITZER: Thanks for your service.

Let's talk a little bit about what is going on right now. Is it an appropriate thing for the Republican chairman of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Richard Burr, Devin Nunes, to be engaged in these coordinated contacts with the White House trying to rebut reports, for example, reports that appeared in "The New York Times" about contacts campaign operatives and Russian officials?

TAYLOR: I think, first and foremost, let me say there is a little bit of partisanship here, of course, and I think it's up for the American people to judge that. And it's up for them to answer those questions.

I don't see any issue with it at the moment right now. I think that when you have the FBI that's investigating the issue, they have said they had a broader thing than just Flynn to support that obviously.


You had the Senate Intelligence Committee come out in a bipartisan fashion. In fact, my senator, Senator Mark Warren, the ranking member, came out. And then of course the Republican did as well too. I support that as well.

It's their prerogative for oversight and they believe that something is there. They should look at it.

BLITZER: But if they're engaged in oversight right now on a sensitive issue like this, and they want the public to have full confidence in the bottom line, in their report that eventually emerges, wouldn't it be best for the chairmen of these committees to tell the White House, you know what, let's not coordinate our conversations right now?

We could talk about the budget. We could talk about other issues, but when it comes to this investigation that's ongoing on such a sensitive issue, it's best not to have this kind of contact.

TAYLOR: I think that's absolutely reasonable. I think it's reasonable to ask that question.

BLITZER: Just to err on the side of caution, because there's been such lack of confidence in the way Congress oversees various aspects of the government.


BLITZER: This is such a sensitive issue. You want to err on the side of caution and make sure there isn't this kind of problem.

TAYLOR: I think that's completely reasonable.

BLITZER: Go ahead with your point.

TAYLOR: I think it's completely reasonable to ask that, for sure, and for them to take caution in that, for sure, to make sure that there is the confidence of the American people.

At the same time, I would say that Rep. Schiff as well, he was actually on this program, CNN, not this program, but on Tapper's program, saying basically the same thing when it came down to the Clinton Foundation investigation. He said those same things. There is no evidence here. There is nothing there. And he wasn't calling for that either

There is definitely partisanship at play here. And I think that that should also be discussed as well.

BLITZER: That explains why Darrell Issa, who was the chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, over the weekend came out in favor of a special prosecutor, an independent investigation, completely independent. He's a Republican.

Are you with him on that?

TAYLOR: I'm not yet. Not yet.

I have been very clear on several programs I'm not there yet. I'm confident in the FBI. I'm confident in their investigation. I'm confident in Senator Mark Warren and Burr, who believe they have a reason to look further into it.

And we will see what happens. If they get more, some other information, which as you heard both the chairman, Nunes, as well as Schiff come out and say there is nothing there yet. One of them said there is nothing yet. The other one said there is nothing there yet.

If something comes, then we will talk about it then.

BLITZER: The FBI, as you point out, they have their own full-scale investigation under way right now.

Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, who worked in the campaign, very close to the president, should he recuse himself from this kind of investigation, given how close politically he has been to the president and the president's team?

TAYLOR: I think yes, if it gets to that point. And we're not there yet, obviously. Like I said, I'm not for that yet. I don't believe that we're at that point.

If we get there, then I think, yes, given the confidence of the American people, I think it would be right and I think that he would do that.

BLITZER: Because the argument is that if nothing wrong occurred, no one on the president's campaign did anything wrong in having inappropriate contacts with Russian operatives, what's the problem? Go ahead and have your investigation, check it all out, and the administration if they did nothing wrong will be cleared.

TAYLOR: What I will tell you is, I don't want this to devolve into a witch-hunt, obviously.

And there is some partisanship at play here. We just discussed that. But what I will tell you is, I have confidence in the FBI, I have confidence in the Intelligence Committee for their prerogative to conduct oversight. And if they see that something is there and it does move toward a special prosecutor, then I believe that Mr. Sessions would recuse himself.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about some other sensitive issues while I have you.

And I just want to remind our viewers you served in Iraq. You're a Navy SEAL, not on active duty right now.

The president's new national security adviser, Lieutenant H.R. McMaster, he is now suggesting something different than what the president suggests. He's suggesting avoid the phrase radical Islamic terrorism because it could backfire against U.S. troops in harm's ways.

The president, he says don't avoid that phrase. He says it all the time.

Where do you stand?

TAYLOR: I think it's an interesting question. I have never been asked it before.

But I think I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't think you need to be pounding it and pounding it and everything like that. But I think you need to call this what it is. And it is radical Islamic terrorism.

I have great respect for McMaster. And I think he will serve the president very, very well. But I think that we need to call the enemy what it is.

BLITZER: Because when you when to -- you served in Iraq, what, in 2005.

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: You were in some of the key battles that were under way right now.

Were you trying to win that war at that time? Because the president is now also saying the U.S. military, they no longer win, they no longer can win. And he's really frustrated by that.

TAYLOR: I think it's not that simplistic, obviously.

Of course, when we're there, you're there to win and you're there to the use the flexibility that you're given and rules of engagement to be as lethal as possible. That's your job there, when you're at war, of course.

I think there is definitely some concern in my community, the SEAL community, or there was, excuse me, and the broader military about rules of engagement.


If we're going to send people over there to do something, we need to allow them to do their job, not with one hand tied behind their back. I understand what the president is saying on one hand, for sure. And I agree in some respects that, look, if you let somebody over there, you let them do their job. You don't send them over there and not.

And then, of course, it take longer, more people die, and it's more expensive.

BLITZER: We're going to pick up that thought.

I am going to go to Barbara Starr at the White House. She's got some new information.

You're sticking with us, Representative Scott Taylor. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.


BLITZER: We're back with Republican Congressman, former Navy SEAL Scott Taylor.

Congressman, I want you to stand by, because we're learning more about the Pentagon's new preliminary battle plan for defeating ISIS and its very ambitious timetable.


I want to go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, the president ordered this blueprint a month ago. Now it's been sent to the White House. What are you learning? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the ideas are

preliminary and they may wind up being very expensive and very risky and racing the question, will military power alone ever be enough to defeat the ISIS ideology?


STARR (voice-over): The Pentagon plan, according to a senior U.S. official, lays out how to rapidly destroy ISIS in less than ten months.

TRUMP: I have also directed the defense community to develop a plan to totally obliterate ISIS.

STARR: Part of the 30-day review, significantly increasing the U.S. military presence and risk to U.S. troops inside Syria. Options being explored include sending U.S. artillery units into Syria for long- range support for local units moving on the city of Raqqa and putting U.S. spotters near the front lines to look for ISIS targets.

It's already happening inside Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we go ahead and bring out the smoke for 40 mike-mike, they can take it now, move up and try to mark that location.

STARR: The plan also includes diplomatic and financial options. But the Pentagon leaves stepping up the military campaign, something President Trump has long advocated.

TRUMP: I know more about the ISIS than the generals do, believe me. I would bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them.

STARR: But top U.S. generals warn, even with more than 50,000 ISIS operatives killed, the international reach of the threat is a worry.

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We estimate probably over 100, 120 countries have provided 45,000 foreign fighters just to Syria and Iraq alone. So, that's one element that makes it a trans-regional threat.

STARR: National security adviser, Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, breaking with his boss, cautioning the term "radical Islamic terrorism" isn't helpful for U.S. goals.

President Trump seemingly, with a vote of no confidence so far on the military campaign.

TRUMP: Everybody used to say we never lost a war. We never lost a war. Your remember. Some of you are right there with me, and you remember, we never lost a war. America never lost.

And now, we never win a war. We never win. And we don't fight to win.

STARR: The coalition has liberated about 60 percent of ISIS-held territory in Iraq and is pushing to get ISIS out of its stronghold in Raqqa, Syria.


STARR: But what the Pentagon cannot say tonight is just how expensive, how costly and how risky any of these options may be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thanks very much, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

We're back with Representative Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL.

Is that realistic, that ISIS is going to be obliterated within 10 months?

TAYLOR: Well, let me preface this by saying, look, I have the honor to serve the district that has more military veterans than anyone in the nation.

BLITZER: In Virginia.

TAYLOR: In Virginia.

So, any time something happens, our people are there. In fact, they're already there. I think it's ambitious. I want to hear the plan. I want to hear -- I'm cautious about -- when you hear ground troops in Syria, that is one of the thing that really scares me in terms of right now there are all these great powers, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, us, other folks that are playing in that battle space.

So, how do you deal with deconfliction, because you don't want it to escalate into some other world conflict, quite frankly.

So, I would like to hear that. I would like to hear the plans. I have confidence, however, that being said, in General Mattis, McMaster as well too. And I think that they will serve the president well. But I certainly want to hear more about the details of the operation.

BLITZER: And Chairman Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

TAYLOR: And Dunford as well.

BLITZER: But there are what, about 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq right now, supposedly advisers, although they're in very dangerous situation and they're all wearing boots and they're on the ground and, what, a few hundred in Syria right now, very special operators.


BLITZER: Very, very dangerous.

You're fully experienced. But if you're to defeat and destroy ISIS in Mosul, and Iraqi troops are there, but in Raqqa, their so-called capital of their caliphate, you are going to have to send in a lot of ground forces to do it. And the U.S. is going to have to be involved. Would you support that?

TAYLOR: As I said, I need to hear more information.

Like I said, you have these great powers playing in that battle space. And before, you never had something like that, where you had, again, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, as well, too, and some other folks that are in that battle space.

How do we deconflict? What does that look that? That's something that I'm confident that the generals can do. But I want to hear about it before I would say that that makes sense.

Yes, you talked about boots on the ground. I think it was misleading, obviously, of the last administration to say no boots on the ground. They're all boots on the ground that are there. They're all combat troops that are there.

BLITZER: And they're all in harm's way.

TAYLOR: Absolutely. They're in harm's way.

And creating that vacuum that's there, we had to do that. I think it was a mistake to pull out the troops there and that stabilizing force. But that was then. This is now. And what do we do next?


And I think it's important that we have stabilization there, for sure. But I would like to see what the plan is, what the goals are, what it looks like, and what the timetable is.

BLITZER: We talked about this, but I want to press you.


BLITZER: When he says we don't fight to win anymore, when you were deployed, you fought there and you wanted to win.

TAYLOR: Look, I'm not defending the president and his words, because I think they're a little bit loose.

But the reality is, when you're there, of course our guys are fighting to win, and some of them dying, of course.

At the same time, I do understand what I think -- what I believe he's talking about is the overall big picture, that we go in there and we do it with one hand tied behind our back. The rules of engagement are very tight. And that basically just prolongs the problem.

It costs more in treasure and lives. Like I said, if you are going to send folks there, if we're going to make the decision -- and I will tell you, I believe that all of Congress should be in on that decision as well to. We can't be hiding behind the weeds.

We should be in on the decision of authorization of military force. If that's the case, show that you stand behind them and make that decision hard to send troops there. But if you send them there, you let them do their job. BLITZER: Because I know you went to Iraq back in 2005. There were

heavy battles in Fallujah and elsewhere. I happened to have been -- I went there myself in 2005 with General Abizaid, who was the head of the U.S. military Central Command.

If someone would have said to me then, 12 years later, the U.S. will still not have won in Iraq, and Syria is a mess, when the president says it's worse now than ever, do you agree with him, despite the enormous financial, personal stakes that the United States committed there?

TAYLOR: Well, understand, international relations is a chess game. It's not checkers. Right?

One move changes the whole game. If you had asked me this question five years ago, you would have a completely different answer. I think that the last administration did create a vacuum in Iraq, did create instability more so. Yes, going into Iraq in the first place creates that. Then it was stabilized.

BLITZER: How do you guarantee? Let's say Mosul is liberated, the second largest city in Iraq. And ISIS has been in control now for, what, almost three years. Let's say Raqqa is liberated in Syria. Then what? Who is going to deploy troops there to maintain that liberation? It's going to go on for...

TAYLOR: Those are details that I would like to see before I say that I support it or not, because, listen, as much as Russia is -- we have been talking about Russia in the media.

They are going to have a seat at the table too, because they have boots on the ground. They have had boots on the ground there a long time and they're the big power there. Turkey is there, again. Iran is there in a different way.

But all these things, yes, I would like to know more details on how that's going to look and how we're going to move forward.

BLITZER: One final question, Congressman, before I let you go.


BLITZER: And I ask you this question because you are a Navy SEAL, you were a Navy SEAL.

William Ryan Owens, a Navy SEAL, he was on a special U.S. military operation in Yemen, and he was killed. His father is now saying he didn't want to meet with the president. He wants answers. He wants an investigation. Why was his son deployed to Yemen? What was the purpose of that operation? He's owed answer, he says, by the Trump administration. Until then, he has no desire to sit down and meet with the president.

You reaction?

TAYLOR: As I understand that, this has not -- this has happened before.

And let me preface this by saying, every Gold Star family is sacred. I don't care -- it doesn't matter what politics. It doesn't matter. Every single Gold Star family -- and, unfortunately I know too many of them. Every one of them are sacred.

I understand the desire to have answers. I understand that. That being said, there are multiple investigations already under way that are mandatory that are happening. So, I support that taking place, and it's already there.

That being said, that man has -- there aren't many families out there that understand what he's going through right now. So he can say whatever he wants to say and people should listen to him.

BLITZER: He's a Gold Star dad. And he deserves that right.

TAYLOR: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And our condolences and our hearts go out to that family as well. And I know you do as well.

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia, thanks very much for coming in.

TAYLOR: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: And thanks once again for your service.

TAYLOR: Thank you, sir.

Just ahead, when the president speaks tomorrow night, will he get specific about plans to replace Obamacare? It's a promise that is clearly easier said than done.


TRUMP: I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.



BLITZER: The White House says President Trump's first budget plan will propose a $54 billion increase in defense and security spending while cutting roughly the same amount from most other federal agencies.

[18:34:02] Let's discuss with our panel. Gloria, I want you to listen precisely to what the president said today about his budget plan.


more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people. We can do so much more with the money we spend.

With the $20 trillion in debt -- can you imagine that? -- the government must learn to tighten its belt, something families all across the country have had to learn to do, unfortunately, but they've had to learn to do it. And they've...


BLITZER: So he wants an increase, what, a $54 billion in defense security spending, wants to build the border wall.


BLITZER: That's -- I don't know how much that's going to cost, but it's going to be a lot. Wants to cut taxes, corporate taxes, taxes for the middle class, taxes for rich people, taxes across the board. Wants to cut that. Wants to spend, what, a trillion dollars for infrastructure...


BLITZER: ... roads, bridges, airports. Where is all this money coming from?

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: And he wants to reduce the national debt.

BORGER: Good question, Wolf. I don't know the -- I don't know the answer to it. You're asking the same question that a lot of Republicans are asking, which is "Where is the money coming from?" These are the same Republicans who were upset at George W. Bush, because he turned out to be a big spender and added to the deficit.

And, by the way, fixing Obamacare may cost him a bunch of money.

So they're asking the same question you are, and there are lots of them who have seen a plan that has been circulated about fixing Obamacare that would have tax credits to people, not based on income but based on age, which some conservative Republicans are now saying is the start of a new entitlement program.

And all of this, remember, with the president's promise not to touch Social Security or Medicare.


BORGER: And so you're dealing with two-thirds of the budget is Social Security/Medicare defense, basically.

BLITZER: And Medicaid, too. He says he's not going to touch Medicaid.

BORGER: Medicaid. Well, there's a question about that, if you talk about...

BLITZER: That's what he promised during the campaign.

BORGER: ... changing Obamacare.

BLITZER: I heard him say Medicare, Medicaid...

BORGER: Right, right.

BLITZER: ... Social Security, not touching.

BORGER: So if you think of a big pie, there's only a sliver of the pie left to deal with. And you can't do that through waste, fraud and abuse or growing the economy as much as you would need to grow it to -- to fix those problems.

BLITZER: What we heard today from some of his aides, he's going to cut spending at the Environment Protection Agency, at the State Department, foreign aid. But the numbers still are way, way low.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You could cut the entire EPA and the entire State Department, and it still won't be a fraction of -- of what would need to be cut without entitlement reform.

I mean, the fact that that is -- it seems to be off the table, because that's what he promised. He promised to protect that. And he's been resistant, even though you hear some congressional Republicans say differently. Without entitlement reform or raising taxes, which he doesn't want to do, that's how you pay for things. That's how -- that's how you reduce spending. And since he's not willing to do that, well, then the debt is going to go up.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. A lot of these things work better as talking points when Republicans didn't control the White House and both houses of Congress. Now they're having this challenge of actually having to figure out that, as Jackie is saying, discretionary spending doesn't get you there in terms of reducing the deficit.

BLITZER: No. If you eliminate these so-called entitlements: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and you -- and you want to increase defense spending and cut taxes, you're going to have a problem with a lot of these government agencies, meeting their responsibilities.

All right. Let's talk a little bit about Darrell Issa. Rebecca, he says an independent investigation is required now of alleged contacts between Trump campaign advocates and Russian officials. And the question is, will other Republicans step up and agree with him?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Darrell Issa is actually sort of walking his comments back. He mentioned a special prosecutor in his interview on HBO. But actually, just today in an interview on CBS is sort of walking off of that, saying there would only need to be a special investigator if there were allegations that would make that appropriate. At the same time, Darrell Issa is in one of these very competitive

districts; and he barely won his election this past election cycle. He is going to be one of the most endangered Republican members of Congress. And if Donald Trump is, you know, still very unpopular going into this next election, if Republicans aren't able to close the deal on healthcare -- and we've seen the reaction, the visceral reaction from voters in town halls across the country to that potential plan -- members like Darrell Issa are going to need to show their constituents that they are a check on Trump, that they are aggressively taking him on. And it's not going to be easy for them.

BLITZER: David, Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says, "You know what? I haven't seen any evidence yet of inappropriate contact between Trump folks and Russian officials." But he's still going ahead with his bipartisan investigation.

SWERDLICK: Right. And today, Congressman Schiff, who is his counterpart on the Intelligence Committee, the senior Democrat, said that that was a premature way to approach it, that that's sort of going out there and saying, "Here's what we think is going to happen" before you have the investigation.

Clearly, there's a split between Republicans and Democrats on what they see as happening down the road with this House committee. It's a little different in the Senate, where senators Burr and Senator Warner, the two top folks on that -- their intelligence committee, are working a little bit closer together on investigating.

BORGER: Well, there are problems, though.


BORGER: You know, because Warner has raised, you know, some questions about whether Senator Burr should have been communicating with journalists and that -- you know, that...

BLITZER: At the request of the White House.

BORGER: At the request of the White House, and Senator Collins has raised some questions about it. So while that started out as more bipartisan, you're right. I think it's in danger of kind of dissolving.

BLITZER: Stand by. Everyone stand by. Just ahead, President Trump's theory behind the big Oscars blunder. We'll share that with you when we come back.


[18:44:29] BLITZER: President Trump huddled today with heads of major U.S. health insurance companies, as well as Republican congressional leaders, focusing in on the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

CNN correspondent Phil Mattingly is working the story for us. Phil, the president will be talking about this tomorrow night in a speech to Congress. PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. "Repeal

and replace," those words will be in the speech tomorrow night, according to administration officials. But here on Capitol Hill, Republican officials made clear they want more. The time for campaign rhetoric is over; the time for action is now.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump ramping up his pledge to undo the cornerstone achievement of his predecessor.

TRUMP: Obamacare is a failed disaster.

MATTINGLY: Meeting Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell behind closed doors to map a path forward.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is a rescue mission. We have to step in and prevent Obamacare from getting worse, from collapsing, and we will replace it with a law that's better.

MATTINGLY: And huddling with insurance executives in the White House.

TRUMP: If things aren't working out, I'm blaming you anyway.

MATTINGLY: Shortly after a sit-down with Republican governors to key constituencies as Republicans struggle to get behind a single plan. Insurance executives are uneasy about an unstable marketplace. GOP governors increasingly split over how to handle Medicaid reform in any new proposal.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: If nothing what happens, problems happen for people in this country and in our states.

MATTINGLY: Those meetings, a precursor to Trump's primetime speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow night. Aides tell CNN a robust plan to repeal and replace the law will be a central component of the remarks.

TRUMP: We have a plan that's going to be I think fantastic. It will be released fairly soon. We'll be talking about it tomorrow night during the speech.

MATTINGLY: But on Capitol Hill, senior GOP aides tell CNN that that alone may not be enough. Instead, as House Republicans prepare to unveil their first bills on repeal next week, they want an explicit backing of their proposals. The first hints which leaked out at the end of the last week would replace Obamacare subsidies with tax credits, increase the amount insurers could charge older Americans and likely cost others coverage altogether.

Democrats, who have shown no interest in coming across the aisle to aid in the effort, say the GOP plans will ultimately fail. SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I predict the discord in

their party will grow as Republicans turn to Washington after this last week of angry town halls. I believe the odds are very high we will keep the ACA. It will not be repealed.

MATTINGLY: This as Obamacare is consistently poling better than ever, something Trump directly addressed today and sought to play down.

TRUMP: There's nothing to love. It's a disaster, folks.

MATTINGLY: But the numbers reflect the pressure on GOP officials that is only growing from town halls to their own ranks.

Governor John Kasich, who had a one-on-one sit-down with Trump to advocate maintaining the Medicaid expansion his state received under Obamacare, hammered Ryan's strategy.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I mean, there's going to be a problem in the House of getting anything out of there that still provides coverage to people. That's why the Republicans have to reach out to some of the Democrats. I don't know whether this is going to happen.


MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, just to underscore the urgency of this moment here on Capitol Hill over the course of the last couple of hours, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee, the two most conservative groups in the House Republicans have come out opposed to that leaked draft we got ahold of last week.

Now, Republican leaders say that draft has changed over the course of the last couple of days, but this is where the president is going to need to play and play big, not just in his speech tomorrow night, but also in personal phone calls, lobbying himself and most importantly explicitly getting behind the position of House Republican leaders. As one GOP aide told me, Wolf, it's time for him to get into the game.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly is our congressional correspondent -- Phil, thanks very much.

Gloria, how much detail you think we should expect to hear from the president tomorrow night on healthcare when he addresses Congress?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think we're going to hear a tremendous amount of detail. I think what the Republicans wanted to do, as Phil is pointing out, is say, I am with them and we're on the same page here, and you're not going to lose your benefits and we're going to take care of you in a better way.

And I think however, you're not going to get as much detail because you still have Republicans balking at the plan that's being circulated and he needs a lot of those conservative Republicans. If the president steps up to the plate and starts lobbying, I'm sure he can get some of them back in his camp. But he has to convince these skeptical Republicans that what they're voting for is not going to become a new entitlement program because that's the last thing in the world that they want.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What we haven't seen from Donald Trump yet is Donald Trump the master marketer, Donald Trump the brands maker on healthcare. And we know that Donald Trump understands politics. He knows how to make the sell. I think Republicans want to see that from him tomorrow.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But they need a product to sell.

BORGER: Then he knew.

BLITZER: That anyone knew.

Let's change the subject, David. The president responded to the huge Oscars controversy telling Breitbart News in an interview, quote, "I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn't get the act together at the end. It was a little sad."

Your reaction?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: My reaction is that that's absurd.

[18:50:01] I mean, not only did the mistake with the ballot, or the cards not have anything to do with politics as far as anything that's been reported out, but this wasn't even an event where there was someone like Meryl Streep getting up at the Golden Globes and making a full-throated statement about Donald Trump. Politics last night was pretty limited to the Iranian director who made a statement that he was boycotting because of Trump's policy, a little strange.

BLITZER: Jackie, on another issue, Senator Udall today, he had an interesting proposal. He said he wanted to put together a plan. He hoped the White House would go along with it, to put President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch up, but also include President Obama's failed nominee, Merrick Garland up for confirmation at the same time. It -- to a lot of people, they remembered an episode of "The West Wing".


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chief justice says he wouldn't step down, because the president wouldn't be able to fill the seat with another liberal lion. She's the liberal lion.

Ashland resigns. She takes a seat, OK? And we offer the Republican Senate Judiciary Committee the opportunity to handpick a conservative for Brady's seat. We put them both up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More wishing. Want some?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then we got what after we hand the Republicans a seat on the Supreme Court with a red bow on top?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a balanced court. They can't let Brady's seat go to a liberal. So let them keep it. Meanwhile, we name the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the nation's history. I'm taking it to the President.


BLITZER: Senator Udall's spokesperson told us he wasn't reviving that episode of "The West Wing". But, you know, people are talking about it now.

KUCINICH: You know, I don't think they could really even organize a viewing party for "The West Wing" at this point.

BORGER: In the West Wing.

KUCINICH: In the West Wing. Let alone put a plan like this together. But, you know -- it's a fun thought I guess.

BLITZER: Gorsuch looks like he's going to get through. He's going to be Supreme Court justice.

BORGER: Yes, he does. And there are Democrats who are going to oppose him because they believe it's a stolen seat, as they say, that this is something that belonged to Merrick Garland and now, it's going to be given to Neil Gorsuch. But I think in the end, he'll get confirmed.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, everybody, stay with us.

Just ahead, security warning to Jewish institution across the United States as vandals strike yet another Jewish cemetery.


[18:57:20] BLITZER: Security warning is out tonight for Jewish institutions across the United States, in a wave of vandalism and bomb threats.

CNN's Alison Kosik is in Philadelphia, joining us with the latest.

Alison, a Jewish cemetery there was desecrated by vandals. What's the latest?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this happened Saturday night, Wolf. Vandals went through the Jewish cemetery and knocked over 100 tombstones, splitting some headstones into two.

Now, investigators including the FBI, they're not yet saying this is a hate crime, though they're investigating it as such. Interestingly enough, there is another cemetery across the street, a Christian cemetery that remained untouched. But detectives say vandalism was limited here at the Jewish cemetery behind me.

This is just one of many incidents against Jewish institutions that we've seen over the past two months. Less than a week ago in St. Louis, we saw a similar vandalism at a Jewish cemetery. Last month, we saw a bomb threats being called into JCCs across the country. Same thing happening to day, bomb threats being called into Jewish community centers across the country.

The Anti-Defamation League telling us that there is a high level of anxiety in Jewish communities across the country.

But interestingly enough, this also bringing a lot of people together here in Philadelphia, A lot of people from different faiths including the Muslim community. Wolf, I talked to a few of Muslim-Americans today who came here to the cemetery to clean up the mess -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Alison, the Jewish community association, Jewish Community Center Association of North America just put out their latest numbers. They said there were 21 incidents of bomb threats called into 13 JCCs, and eight Jewish day schools around the United States, only today, and that brings the total number over the past few weeks to 90 incidents in 73 locations.

This is a major fear right now for the Jewish community.

KOSIK: It really is -- I mean, those numbers are really disturbing. And the Anti-Defamation League told us today that Jewish day schools for the first time received some of these, these threats today, especially schools in the D.C. area. They were included.

The ADL, though, said none of these threats appeared credible. And everything was cleared and everything kind of went back to normal. But the ADL is urging all Jewish institutions across the country to review their security procedures in light of all of these disturbing events -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. So far, no arrests. But authorities are working on it, in a major, major way.

Alison Kosik, thanks very much for that report.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.