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Critical Week For Trump As Russia Wiretapping Hearing Begins; Confirmation Hearing For Supreme Court Pick Begins Tomorrow; House Lawmakers To Vote On GOP Health Plan Thursday; Tracing Origin Of The False UK Wiretapping Claim; GOP Healthcare Holdouts Spotted At Mar-A- Lago; Japanese Town Prepares for North Korea Missile Attack. Aired 2- 3p ET
Aired March 19, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: I will see you next week.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me on this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. President Trump entering a pivotal week and facing critical questions on several fronts. It all starts tomorrow on Capitol Hill. When FBI Chief James Comey testifies before congress.
The focus, the Trump campaign's possible ties with Russia during the election. And the president's unfounded claims that he was wiretapped by President Obama. This morning, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are rejecting those claims.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower, no, there never was?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: No evidence to support the president's claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor.
PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We have not seen evidence of any even, like, that you just describe.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did you know of any evidence to support that allegation?
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Jake, not that I have seen, and not that I'm aware of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Also happening this week, the president's Supreme Court pick faces his first test tomorrow. Neil Gorsuch steps into the spotlight as his confirmation hearing gets underway. And then on Thursday, House lawmakers will vote on the republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But the question remains, can Trump win over health care holdouts inside his own party? Just in to CNN, three of those holdouts were spotted meeting with the White House Senior Staff yesterday in Mar-a- Lago, Florida. House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted this morning he's not worried about the bill passing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: The president is being -- bringing people to his table, and I'm very impressed with how the president is helping us close this bill, making the improvements that we've been making, getting the votes. And so, we feel very good where we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. We're covering all of these angles. Let's begin with CNN's Washington Correspondent Ryan Nobles. So Ryan, a huge amount on tap.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about that, Fredricka. And, you know, keep in mind the FBI has an ongoing investigation into the Russian meddling in the election to understand and see if there's anything criminal to pursue.
The investigation includes examining interactions with people connected to President Trump, and this all started back in June as the primary campaign was wrapping up and a report that the server of the Democratic National Committee had been hacked.
NOBLES: The initial hack was soon connected to the Russian government. And wasting little time, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager linked the hack to then-candidate Donald Trump.
ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: They possessed those emails that Russian state actors were feeding the emails to the hackers for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.
NOBLES: Then, just as the Democratic National Convention was about to start, WikiLeaks unloaded a trove of DNC emails. Among them, damaging private conversations. It did not take long for the republican nominee, Donald Trump, to embrace the hack and Russia's potential involvement.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.
NOBLES: As the Clinton campaign worked to contain the political damage, Trump refused to back down from his kind words about Russia and its controversial leader, Vladimir Putin.
TRUMP: I've already said he is really very much of a leader. Far more than our president has been a leader.
NOBLES: Days before the second presidential debate in October, two major bombshells. First, the Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence issued a statement blaming Russia for the hack. And second, WikiLeaks released another batch of stolen emails, unloading the inbox of top Clinton adviser John Podesta. At that debate, once again Trump attempted to take the focus off Russia.
TRUMP: That was -- she doesn't know if it's the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.
NOBLES: WikiLeaks wasn't done. More DNC emails were released on November 7th. The next night, a new president.
TRUMP: I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.
NOBLES: As he started to build his new administration, Trump still resisted blaming Russia.
TUMP: It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace. I mean, they have no idea.
NOBLES: President Obama ordered a full review of how Russia meddled in the election which concluded it was working to help Trump.
BARACK OBAMA, 44TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Based on uniform intelligence assessments, the Russians were responsible for hacking the DNC.
NOBLES: Just 22 days before Trump took office, President Obama imposed new sanctions on the Russian government. On that same day, incoming National Security adviser Michael Flynn spoke on the phone with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. It was later revealed he also texted the ambassador and met with him in person at Trump Tower, an administration official has told CNN. Trump associates including Vice President Mike Pence called the meetings introductory.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose a sanction against Russia.
NOBLES: But that turned out not to be true. Flynn specifically spoke about the sanctions. But Flynn wasn't the only one. Some Trump associates also held meetings with the ambassador at the Republican National Convention but insist there were only introductory gatherings. Attendee J.D. Gordon told CNN. Then Senator Jeff Sessions was one of them.
But appearing before a senate hearing on his confirmation, he said this when asked about possible contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, I didn't have -- did not have communications with the Russians. And I'm unable to comment on it.
NOBLES: But after taking office, Sessions, now Attorney General, admitted that he, too, as a senator met with Kislyak twice during the campaign. But he said it was in his capacity as a senator, not a member of the Trump campaign. Sessions decided to recuse himself from any investigation related to the campaign. Amidst all of this, the president himself took to Twitter, making this
shocking claim. Quote, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during this very sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"
The accusation was made without any evidence to back it up but led the White House to ask congress to add this wrinkle to their broad investigation into Russia's role in the election. But at this point, even republicans contend the evidence just isn't there.
NUNES: I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.
NOBLES: Monday, congressional leaders will attempt to unpack the many layers of this controversy. With a goal of making the situation clear for the American people.
NOBLES: And the White House continues to insist there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, setting the stage for Monday's hearing where high-ranking officials such as FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers will testify. Fred?
WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much for that. Let's talk more about this now. Ron Brownstein, CNN Senior Political Analyst and Senior Editor for "The Atlantic"with us, also David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst and former adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.
Welcome to both of you. OK. So, this chorus of no evidence is getting louder on the eve of pivotal testimony from the FBI Director James Comey. Just take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NUNES: A president doesn't go and physically wiretap something. So, if you take the president literally, it didn't happen.
COTTON: No evidence of any wiretapping of Trump Tower?
NUNES: No. There was no FISA warrant that I'm aware to Trump -- to tap Trump Tower.
SCHIFF: I hope we can put an end to this wild goose chase because what the president said was just patently false, and the wrecking ball it created now has banged into our British allies and our German allies. It's continuing to grow in terms of damage. And he needs to put an end to this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, wild goose chase, a wrecking ball. Ron, is there anything bigger than the president's credibility that is at stake here? RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And David can probably attest to this even more than I can which is what the president -- the words of the president matter. I mean, the clich+//0 is it sends armies on the march. It sends markets rising and falling. And you have a president who ran for election making a series of wild and unfounded allegations on a regular basis, who felt that he did not suffer any consequence for that, and has carried that with him into the presidency.
I would just point out that on election day, one quarter of the people who vote for Donald Trump said they weren't sure that he was qualified or he had the temperament to succeed as president. They want to change, they didn't trust Hillary Clinton. And they were willing to give him a chance. But when you look at the approval ratings that he is facing today, under 40 percent in gallop today, which is far below any new president at this point.
I mean, his biggest enemy at this point is himself. The agenda is polarizing. But I think it is much more -- he is facing much more concern about those core questions that were there all the way through and were not fully resolved on Election Day about his personal fitness to be president. And as these consequences compound, I think those doubts do, as well.
WHITFIELD: So David, you know, the president remains defiant that he was wiretapped. He's sticking to that. And that President Obama is to blame. This is Trump on Fox just last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You know, he's been very nice to me personally. But his people haven't been nice. And there's great animosity out there. There's great anger. Leaking is just one example of it. In some cases, a very serious example of it. But leaking and the level of anger is hard to believe. So, while he's nice personally, there doesn't seem to be a lot of nice things happening behind the scenes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So David, two weeks ago he called them sick, bad guy in his tweet. You know, this seems -- this is very personal. What is behind President Trump's now-history of dislike or disdain of President Obama?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that they started out as, you know, rivals politically. We're trying to take down the Obama -- take down the Obama regime and the elections. They have this brief period during the transition where President Obama treated him with respect, and it was returned by the incoming President Trump.
But since then it's fallen apart. And it's been very bitter. So, I think the first question, most immediate question in the hearings tomorrow. And James Comey is the -- this is the first time he will take the stand. And he's the one most able to clear this up. We've had a variety of people stepping forward saying, I just have the same -- I've seen no evidence. Comey can say there is no evidence or there is evidence. But he can
settle it once and for all. But I must tell you, Fredricka, hanging over this is even larger question of whether there was collusion between the Trump forces and the Russian forces to swing the election in Trump's favor. That's the big question because that would be -- that's a very, very serious issue.
WHITFIELD: And --
GERGEN: You know, that's a -- those violates all sorts of lines, and what we've heard from the leading democrat on the House Committee today is that there is circumstantial evidence, circumstantial evidence of collusion, and he thinks there is -- in his opinion, direct evidence of deception. So, that takes us into new territory. We'll have to see whether the FBI Director tomorrow is willing to go that far.
WHITFIELD: Right. And so Ron, there are several investigations on the hill, something like five committees that are tackling all of these different areas as it pertains to Russia and the Trump administration. So, is it your belief that Comey will be able to answer to collusion? We know there's classified reports. How much will he be able to say?
BROWNSTEIN: It's open session. So, I -- my only expectations are pretty limited about what we're going to learn on the underlying, and as David correctly points out, larger question looming over all of this is as to whether there was collusion during the campaign. My guess is that we're not going to learn too much tomorrow.
You know, there's an interesting aspect of all of this which is that all of the -- the claim of wiretapping, all of the indications are so far that it did not happen. If it did happen, if there was, in fact, a surveillance order granted by a FISA court in effect, what President Trump would have done would have been to expose and thus, undermine an ongoing, existing investigation. I mean, this is -- this is such a strange allegation because if it is -- if it is true in some ways, it was more --
WHITFIELD: Could have been revealed already.
BROWNSTEIN: -- damaging for him than if it was false.
WHITFIELD: Right. So if --
GERGEN: Yes. I --
WHITFIELD: Oh, go ahead, David.
GERGEN: I think Ron is absolutely right. I do think Comey can -- Ron, can be definitive on whether there was any wiretapping.
BROWNSTEIN: Right. Yes.
GERGEN: He -- and I think you're right, he may be very limited in what he can say or wants to say about ongoing investigations. But if he gave us a sense that these investigations are wrapping up quickly or alternatively that they're going to go on for some time, that will also give us a better sense of how grave are the allegations, how complicated is this. If it's a long investigation it may have more impact over time. It may be bigger than we think right now.
WHITFIELD: All right. We'll see if Congressman Schiff says, "Will it be put to rest?" We'll see starting tomorrow. Ron Brownstein, David Gergen, thank you so much. Appreciate it. All right. Straight ahead, tomorrow's all important hearing tomorrow of Capitol Hill, CNN brings you a special preview tonight at 11:00 pm Eastern Time hosted by our John Berman.
You don't want to miss that. Now coming up, how a baseless claim about the UK spying on President Trump leveled on Russian TV made its way straight to the president's lips. Details on that, next.
WHITFIELD: It's been two weeks since President Trump tweeted that President Obama was behind the wiretapping of Trump Tower, spurring what's been called an international incident. It reached another level on Thursday when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cited false claims that a British spying agency through the orders of President Barack Obama was behind those wiretaps. Spicer quoted Fox News Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On Fox News, on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement, quote, "Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn't use the NSA.
He didn't use the CIA. He didn't use the FBI. And he didn't use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ. What is that? It's the initials for the British intelligence spying agency."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: A day later alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox, and so you shouldn't be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: And new today, we've learned former CIA officer and former State Department Counterterrorism official Larry Johnson had a hand in the British intelligence agency rumor. Brian Stelter sat down with Johnson. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
BRIAN STELTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But let me -- let me ask you about this claim.
LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Sure.
STELTER: Because -- so, my sense is that on Monday, Napolitano says this on TV, says he has intel sources who believe this is true. You're saying you were one of those sources, but you didn't know --
STELTER: -- that Napolitano was going to you like that.
JOHNSON: Yes. Well, apparently what happened is I communicated when Donald Trump tweeted what he did on Saturday, two weeks ago. The next day I was interviewed on Russian -- "Russia Today." Now, I had known about the fact that the British through GHCQ were passing information back channel.
This was not done at the direction of Barack Obama. Let's be clear about that. But it was being done with the full knowledge of people like John Brennan and Jim Clapper. And I had been told this by two different people I know within the intelligence community, you know, in January, they were very concerned about this because they saw it as an unfair meddling of -- in the politics, but it was a way to get around the issue of American intelligence agencies not collecting.
STELTER: So, you had this secondhand? So, you didn't --
JOHNSON: Well --
STELTER: -- get this information directly, you were hearing it from others?
JOHNSON: I'm hearing it from people who are in a position to know. That's correct. Now, I spoke on "Russia Today" two weeks ago. This thing didn't surface until Judge Napolitano brought it out. Now if "Russia Today" was influential --
STELTER: You're saying he's not that influential?
JOHNSON: I'm -- yes. I'm telling that's the truth. I mean, who watches it? The fact that I spoke about it two weeks ago and it didn't even surface -- it wasn't even a blip anywhere in the U.S. news media. But let's --
STELTER: Do you think it's appropriate for Judge Andrew Napolitano to go on Fox and say this stuff based on this kind of third or fourth- hand sourcing?
JOHNSON: I think the judge should have had a different approach to it. You know, what's ironic is, you know, I was a Fox News analyst through most of -- through 2002, end of January, 2003. I never spoke to Judge Napolitano then and really had never spoken to him -- I hadn't spoken to him until he actually called me on Saturday.
So, you know, the -- there's I guess a -- I supposed a little bit of irony here. But the substance of what he's saying -- again, he didn't get it right, accurate either. I'm not saying that the British GHCQ was wiretapping Trump's Tower.
WHITFIELD: All right. CNN media analyst Bill Carter joins me right now. Bill, good to see you. All right. So, this is -- this is a real mess, isn't it? There's a lot of secondhand kind of information floating about here. And it really can be very confusing to various audiences of various types of media.
BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: It sure can. I think you really see sort of layers here of, you know, Fox News and a source to Fox News and then a source to Fox News that believes this, none of it really amounts to credible evidence. In fact, Napolitano seemed to say at the very beginning that it was if and if and if and then he finally he made the charge formally and said it was Fox News had learned not that he had learned.
And then Fox News comes out and says, no, we never learned that at all. So, it really completely undermined of whatever credibility there was. And interestingly, this gentleman who, you know, had some basis to apparently float this rumor. According to him he had his own sources. He has -- he has his own background that is, you know, question to believe.
Sort of a gas pipe that's all over the place and (inaudible) but he's most famous for attacking Michelle Obama saying there was a (inaudible) video back in the 2008 campaign. So, he's also a guy that I don't think has built up a whole lot of credibility to be the main source on a story like this.
WHITFIELD: What does their say about the kind of credibility that perhaps the president is giving to some people who are disseminating information that doesn't really check out?
CARTER: The president has never been one to really be aligned closely to the facts. He doesn't have a very close relationship with that. So, you know, he tends to go with what he thinks serves his interests best. And in this case, you know, he's looking for some way to get out of this box he put himself in with this, you know, charge that has no credibility, no base to it.
So, he's now seeing, well, maybe this Fox story could help me out. So, we'll have our -- we'll have Sean Spicer float that one. And maybe that will give me some wiggle room. I think he's just looking for wiggle room at this point. So, he doesn't have to come out and apologize, which he'll never do anyway.
But there may be calls for him to apologize for being wrong and calling Obama a sick guy. And I think now he just wants some wiggle room. And maybe any of these little strands he's going to grab for. WHITFIELD: All right. Bill Carter, thank you so much for you and
your team bringing us that information and that interview. Appreciate it. All right. New developments in the push to repeal and replace Obamacare. We've just learned three leading conservatives who previously opposed the GOP healthcare bill met with Senior White House staff at Mar-a-Lago in Florida yesterday. That's coming up next.
WHITFIELD: Hello again. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. All right. The president's critical week ahead isn't just about congressional hearings and the confirmation process for his Supreme Court nominee, Trump is also awaiting a key healthcare bill vote. There's an all-out push within the GOP from the president to the speaker of the house to get the American healthcare act passed.
The vice president addressed conservative critics of the plan Saturday in Florida. He said lawmakers are adding a number of amendments to the bill that include ending state Medicaid expansion immediately for state that didn't expand under Obamacare. Also, giving states the option of Medicaid block grant funding that's designed to allow states to reform the program as they see fit.
A state-imposed work requirement for able-bodied adults on Medicaid, and there's also the possibility of premiums and co-pays. The clock is ticking and a number of republicans say they are undecided or voting no. House Speaker Paul Ryan says he is confident he has the votes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Yes, I feel very good about it. Actually, I feel like, exact -- it's exactly where we want to be. And the reason I feel so good about this is because the president is become great closer. He is the one who has helped negotiate changes to this bill with members from all over our caucus. I call it getting the sweet spot.
You've got to get 218 republicans who come from all different walks of life to come together to agree on the best possible plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
[14:30:01] And the reason I feel very good where we are, we all, all of us, all republicans in the house, senate, and the president made a promise to the American people that we would repeal and replace this faulty collapsing law, and we're going to make good on that promise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN White House correspondent Athena Jones is in Palm Beach for us.
So, Athena, we're learning now that three leading conservatives who have opposed the Republican health care bill in the past were at Mar- a-Lago yesterday. And what do we know about what was discussed or if anyone changed their mind? ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. Well, that's
right. But just to lay the groundwork here, we've been reporting for some time that there was a good deal of disagreement among House Republicans about whether the bill put forward by the House speaker goes far enough in meeting their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. You have House conservatives who say that it doesn't go far enough. Senate conservative, many of them have similar concerns.
And so that's why you're seeing this process of putting together a package of amendments. It's also why you saw three Senate Republicans who have been pretty outspoken about their opposition. Senator Ted Cruz, Martin Meadows, and Mike Lee come down here to Mar-a-Lago yesterday, meet with the president's key strategist, Steve Bannon, and with chief of staff Reince Priebus and others, for a meeting that lasted three hours to talk about their concerns about this repeal effort.
We know that this meeting was described by a Republican aide who told my colleague Lauren Fox that the meeting was intense and productive. They described Steve Bannon as receptive to the concerns of the House conservatives, and they described Reince Priebus as one who was pushing the plan that has been championed by Speaker Ryan.
We know some of the things that were brought up. They want to see Medicaid expansion phased out sooner. That is -- that is an idea that House conservatives also back. They want to repeal more regulations including the idea that insurance programs should offer essential -- certain essential health benefits. They also want to repeal the requirement or the 26-year-old, the people can stay -- children who can stay on their parents' plan up until the age of 26. We already know that's a provision that the president supports. He's been vocal about his support of that.
But the point is, it was an extended meeting, and the White House has said they are very much open to working with them with members of Congress to try to make sure that they can win enough votes for passage since this is a major campaign promise -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Athena Jones, thank you so much.
All right. The issue of coverage versus access was a hot topic for Human Health and Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price. This morning on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," he seemed to back the president's claim that everyone can get health care coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. TOM PRICE, HUMAN AND HEALTH SERVICES SECRETARY: Every American will have access to the kind of coverage that they want. Remember what the president talked about in his joint session? He said that we've got to make certain that those with pre-existing illness and injury are covered. We need to make certain we provide the states the kind of flexibility that they need to fashion their Medicaid program for their vulnerable population in a way that actually works for patients. To make certain that we had tax credits for folks so that every single
American has the financial feasibility to purchase coverage, to address the purchase across state lines, to make certain we're driving down drug costs. To make certain that we addressed the lawsuit abuse that exists in our country in the area of health care that drives up the costs for so many individuals.
So the plan in its entirety is one that we believe will be -- will be strong, will be efficient, will make it so that every single American has access to the kind of coverage that they want, not that the government forces them to buy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk about this. Joining me right now David Gergen, back with us, CNN senior political analyst and former presidential adviser to four presidents, and Ron Brownstein, back with us, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic."
All right. Good to see you back. All right. So, Ron, you first. The whole issue of affordability versus access. Tom Price is saying that everyone has access, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone could get it, does it, in that plan?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's like the old saying that the rich and poor are equally free to sleep under the bridge. Right? I mean, the question is whether -- affordability obviously is the key to access. And when you have these voices, the conservatives voices of the Republican Party saying the bill does not go far enough in repealing Obamacare, what they're essentially saying is it doesn't withdraw the expansion of coverage fast enough.
The context here is the Congressional Budget Office, you know, last week calculated that the Republican repeal plan would increase the number of uninsured by 24 million by 2026, doubling the share of Americans without insurance and essentially wiping out all of the gains of the ACA and leaving us back where we were before.
I think David lived through this in the Clinton White House. My experience has been covering, since the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, whether it was the Newt Gingrich era, the Tom Delay era, or the John Boehner era, they have found a way to get the bill, whatever the bill, through the House usually by moving it to the right. And I will be surprised if they're unable to do that this week.
And then that will focus the issue exactly where it should be, on those handful of Senate moderates, particularly from states that expanded Medicaid, that would suffer big losses of coverage even among the core older blue-collar and lower income white voters at the center of the Republican coalition, whether they are willing to stand against what will be changes that will make I think the bill even more difficult for their states as the price of getting it out of the House.
[14:35:16] WHITFIELD: So, David, when Paul Ryan says we're exactly where, you know, I want to be, does he mean that, that it's going to be an easy sell particularly for those 25 or so Republicans who are saying no, flat-out, or they're leaning no?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I think he's gilding a little bit -- a little bit but to come back to Ron's point, Fredricka, there's a widespread assumption in the political community that Paul Ryan would not be bringing this to a vote on Thursday unless he -- unless he thought he was pretty safe in getting a vote. So I think the likelihood is that we will have a favorable vote coming out of the House.
And you have to say that on this particular issue Donald Trump has weighed in in the final weeks in a fashion that seems to be fairly effective. You know, we often talked about President Obama didn't -- was a reluctant warrior sometimes when it came to negotiating with the politicians. But Trump has thrown himself into this.
Having said that, by taking the bill to the right, one thing -- Ron could address this point. Once they get a bill through the House, if that happens Thursday, a bill that goes to the right, that becomes the Republican proposal. It had been signed off on by both the president and by the House leadership. And that proposal is by tightening up on Medicaid even more rapidly, making these other changes to the right, the numbers of people who will be without insurance are going to go up, not down.
And they're going to have to defend the bill in a public that is beginning to have a lot of second thoughts about the repeal, whether they really want this particular replacement.
BROWNSTEIN: You know, and Fred, I think this really clarifies one key dynamic here. You've had almost all of the interest groups in the health care space say they oppose the bill. The American Medical Association representing the doctors, the American Hospital Association --
BROWNSTEIN: AARP. And -- but very few of them are doing much of anything. In fact -- and particularly the hospitals which have the most at stake, you know, part of what the Affordable Care Act did was reduce the amount of uncompensated care that hospitals provided. The millions and millions of dollars that they provide in care for people who lack insurance. The expansion of Medicaid has been extremely helpful to them on that front --
WHITFIELD: Well, is it unusual that they would -- is it unusual that they would not want to put their fingerprints on it?
BROWNSTEIN: Right. It is unusual. I think they are -- you know the --
WHITFIELD: Because they believe it's a gamble, too?
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, there's some evidence that they're kind of reluctant to cross the Republican leadership and President Trump. They were certainly very heavily involved in the 1993 fight over the Clinton proposal and the 2009 over Obamacare. And if these groups indeed are opposed to what is happening, you know, once it gets out of the House, there's a very thin line between that and it becoming law. And essentially as handful of Republicans primarily from states where you have the governors, as well, opposed the repeal.
And as David said, what they're going to have to do on Medicaid is take it away from more people more quickly, which adds more pressure, particularly in these blue-collar states. You know, if you look at states like the states that tip the election, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, in all of those states --
WHITFIELD: People who supported President Trump.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And all of the states, the majority of people getting coverage were the non-college whites at the core of his coalition.
WHITFIELD: So quickly, David, button it up?
GERGEN: Absolutely. The fight is going to get much tougher after the House vote on Thursday. If it passes the House, the fight is going to get really, really tough because there are a lot of interests that would hate the bill that would come out. And there's going to be serious sharp division in the country about it.
WHITFIELD: Yes. Because there are many who are saying even if it passes the House, it's likely dead on arrival in the Senate. But anything can happen. And these days, anything does happen.
All right. Ron Brownstein, David Gergen, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: So Senate Democrats are getting ready to grill President Trump's Supreme Court pick. Coming up, how much opposition Judge Neil Gorsuch will face at his confirmation hearing tomorrow.
[14:43:07] WHITFIELD: All right. Tomorrow President Trump's pick for Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, will be on Capitol Hill for the start of his confirmation hearing. He could be in for several days of intense questioning. Trump tapped the Colorado Appellate judge to replace the late Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch's confirmation would be a big win for the White House after multiple frustrations and setbacks on confirmations and challenges on Trump's travel ban.
Democrats are skeptical of Gorsuch and may try to block him with a filibuster while Republicans are confident he will be confirmed.
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SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: You know, I think it's 50/50 whether the Democrats filibuster. They don't have any good arguments against Gorsuch, but they're furious that we're going to have a conservative nominated and confirmed. I'll tell you this, Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed. He will either
get 60 votes and be confirmed, or otherwise whatever procedural steps are necessary. I believe within a month or two, Neil Gorsuch will be an associate justice of the Supreme Court.
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WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now to discuss this is CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue.
So will it be easy confirmation for Gorsuch?
ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Fred, because the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, they really represent the first and the last chance for Congress to grill a potential nominee. You know, if Gorsuch is confirmed, he gets life tenure. He's almost untouchable. So tomorrow we'll see the senators use their opening statements to really look at his records. And that's going to last for about three hours. And then we'll hear from Gorsuch.
He's really eloquent. He's likely to talk about the limited role of a judge. And then on Tuesday, that's when the tough questions start. You know, the Republicans, they're going to examine his paper trail, and the Democrats are really in a tough position here, Fred. They're furious that Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, didn't get in. But they also know they're replacing a conservative with a conservative. They're returning the court really to the status quo before Scalia's death.
[14:45:07] They may choose here to save some firepower. Just in case Trump down the road gets another nominee, maybe somebody who is, you know, more liberal. So we'll see what happens tomorrow.
WHITFIELD: All right. So you mentioned the Monday and a Tuesday. But you know, it wasn't that long ago that a hearing for a Supreme Court justice might be 90 minutes long. You know, in today's political climate they go days long. So what's the expectation as to how long it could go this week or into a following week?
DE VOGUE: Well, you're absolutely right. They used to be much shorter. Right now we're looking at Monday and then Tuesday and Wednesday for the questions, and then probably it will come to a close on Thursday. That's the goal right now for the Republicans.
WHITFIELD: All right. Ariane de Vogue, thanks so very much.
DE VOGUE: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right. School kids practicing a missile drill, an entire town bracing for an attack. We'll tell you why this city in Japan is preparing for the worst.
[14:50:27] WHITFIELD: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he is on his way home after a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this morning. Xi urged more coordination on what he called regional hot spots. It's being called a friendly meeting, but CNN has learned that away from the cameras the conversations between the two turned very candid.
Hours before the meeting took place, North Korea claimed success in testing a new type of rocket engine. The U.S. has repeatedly called on Beijing to use its leverage to help rein in North Korea. Tillerson said on his trip that the U.S. is prepared to consider military options if provoked by North Korea.
All right. As a threat from a North Korean attack grows, one town in Japan is actually preparing for that threat becoming a reality.
Ivan Watson has the story of how people in a coastal town are getting ready for a missile strike.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Japanese school children at play, overseen by teachers who sometimes join in the fun. Until they're suddenly interrupted.
At the sound of the siren, children hit the deck. And wait for further instructions. "This is a drill," a loud speaker announces. "A missile has been launched."
This is Japan's first missile evacuation exercises, a simulation preparing people for the threat of a possible North Korean missile strike against this country.
(On camera): The Japanese government is trying to demonstrate that as North Korea's missile program grows more sophisticated, communities like this could become a target.
(Voice-over): When it's all over, a government official thanks the volunteers and promises the Japanese armed forces will do all they can to shoot down North Korean missiles.
But earlier this month, neither Japan nor its U.S. and South Korean allies could stop North Korea from successfully firing at least four missiles in a single day, three of them landed in the sea less than 200 nautical miles from this small coastal town.
In this sleepy fishing port, locals are waking up to a growing threat.
"It's scary," says this fisherman who'd just hauled in freshly cut octopus. "You never know what the North Koreans might do next."
For some here, the missile exercise brings back painful memories.
"During World War II, we performed evacuation drills," 89-year-old Reinosuke Ishigaki tells me. "We put on gas masks and dug tunnels to hide and in the future, we might have to do that again."
The principal of the main elementary school here says his students need to be prepared for a manmade disaster.
"Usually we perform drills for natural disasters," he says. "But the potential threat from a missile is beyond imagination."
In addition to its fresh air and sea foods, this remote corner of Japan is famous for Namahage, a fairytale monster that kept kids awake at night. But now there's a very real threat that may leave everyone here losing sleep.
Ivan Watson, CNN, Oga, Japan.
WHITFIELD: And we have so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. Stay with us.
[14:58:38] WHITFIELD: All right. Hello again, and thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
President Trump entering a pivotal week, again facing critical questions on several fronts. It all starts tomorrow on Capitol Hill when FBI chief James Comey testifies before Congress. The focus, the Trump campaign's possible ties with Russia during the election, and the president's unfounded claims that he was wiretapped by President Obama.
This morning, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are rejecting those claims.
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REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, but there never was.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: No evidence to support the president's claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor.
RYAN: We have not seen evidence of any of the like that you've described.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did you know of any evidence to support that allegation?
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Jake, not that I've seen, and not that I'm aware of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Also happening this week, the president's Supreme Court pick faces his first test. Tomorrow, Neil Gorsuch steps into the spotlight as his confirmation hearing gets underway. Then on Thursday, House lawmakers will vote on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. But the question remains, can Trump win over health care holdouts inside his own party?
Just into CNN, three of those holdouts were spotted meeting with White House senior staff yesterday at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted this morning he's not worried about the bill passing.
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RYAN: The president is being -- bringing people to his table, and I'm very impressed with how the president is helping us close this bill, making the improvements that we've making, getting the votes, and so we feel very good where we are.
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WHITFIELD: All right. We're covering all the angles with our team of reporters and political experts.