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Republicans Reject the Tea Party; McConnell Wins Big

Aired May 21, 2014 - 05:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. A big victory for the establishment, the Republicans. Taking down Tea Party challengers across the country and putting themselves in position, perhaps to take the Senate from the Democrats this November. We are breaking down the big primary races, live.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. A lot to talk about this morning. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. It is 31 minutes past 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

Some Republicans breathing a sigh of relief this morning. Others wondering what happened. Voters have said no to Tea Party challengers almost across the board in six primary elections choosing to go instead with tried and tested, picking incumbents over newcomers. The implications could be huge for the general election this fall.

BERMAN: Let's start with perhaps the biggest surprise. Not that he won, but just how easily Senator Mitch McConnell beat back a challenge by Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin. Bevin really lost handily to the five-term senator from Kentucky in that state's Republicans primary. But now, a big, big fight begins. McConnell will face the Democratic secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes this fall. She easily won her primary. She's backed by many prominent national Democrats. McConnell and Grimes already trading serious bars.


MCCONNELL: My opponent is in this race because Barack Obama and Harry Reid want her to be in this race. There's a reason, my friends, a reason every Hollywood liberal is sending her a check.

GRIMES: Together, we will take this fight to Mitch McConnell and hold him accountable for his 30 years of failed leadership.


HARLOW: A defeat for the Tea Party also in Idaho. Considered by many to be the centerpiece of this year's fight for control of the GOP. CNN projects Republican congressman Mike Simpson has won his primary there turning aside a challenge from the Tea Party backed lawyer, Bryan Smith. Simpson is the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Also Governor Butch Otter also appears to be victorious in his fight to run for another term. Results so far show him leading by a significant margin against State Senator Russ Fulcher who campaigned as a more conservative candidate.

BERMAN: A lot of action in Georgia. It will take a runoff to figure out which Republican will run for the seat of retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss. But some of the Tea Party choices in that race will not be taking part. CNN projects businessman David Purdue and Congressman Jack Kingston topped the crowded field and held off Secretary of State Karen Handel. She received backing from Sarah Palin among others.

The eventual victor will face Michelle Nunn in the fall. She's a nonprofit executive and also the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn. National Democrats believe she may be the best chance for retaking the Senate seat that her father once held.

HARLOW: And Oregon's incumbent Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley will face pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby in the fall. She topped an opponent who claimed to be more conservative despite the recent revelations of harassment complaints from an ex-husband and a former boyfriend. She blamed Democratic dirty tricks for that information coming into light.

BERMAN: The governor's race in Arkansas will pit two former congressmen against each other. Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson both handily won their primaries as did Democratic Senator Mark Pryor. He will face Congressman Tom Cotton in the fall as he tries to retain his seat.

HARLOW: And Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law will not be returning to Congress in Pennsylvania. Former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolis lost her Democratic primary in suburban Philadelphia despite some last- minute campaigning and robocalls for her by the Clintons.

As for the governor's race there, CNN projects Democratic voters have chosen Tom Wolf to go up against incumbent Tom Corbett. Wolf is a businessman and put millions of dollars of his own money into this race. Corbett is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican governors up for re-election this fall.

BERMAN: So what does this all mean? CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser joins us live from Washington.

And Paul, we said the word dozens of times this morning, establishment.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: No doubt about it. This really was a clean sweep for the establishment. You mentioned those marquee battles last night in Kentucky, in Georgia, in Oregon and Idaho. The establishment coming out on top. We saw a similar story line earlier this year in primaries in Texas and in North Carolina.

What's going on here? Why are they doing this? They are running smart campaigns, the establishment candidates, the incumbents. They are also getting lot of help from outside groups. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance, that pro-business group, spending $4 million to back candidates who won last night.

You know, it was a very different story in 2010 and 2012 elections when the Tea Party candidates won a lot of high-profile contests. But come November, they lost out to the Democrats. And Republicans will argue they lost five Senate seats because of weak candidates come November. It could be a different story line this time around in November.

Here is the lay of the land in the battle for the Senate. Right now the Democrats have a 55-45 majority including those two independents who caucus with the party. But guess what guys? 21 of the 36 Senate seats up for grabs in November, the Democrats are defending with better, I guess you could say with more establishment friendly Republican candidates. The GOP's odds of winning back the Senate, yes, they've definitely improved.

And in the primaries to come, the polls indicate that the establishment candidates have the upper hand right now over the Tea Party types.

HARLOW: And when it comes to the bluegrass states in November, the fighting has already begun. The ads have already started rolling out this morning. You were telling us earlier in the show, this could be the most expensive race we have seen?

STEINHAUSER: You are right. You're absolutely right. So one pro- McConnell group starting today is going to spend $500,000 to run ads attacking Alison Lundergan Grimes there. The record right now for Senate race, most expensive Senate race was two years ago in Massachusetts, around $82 million was spent. This race could top that when we get -- by the time we get to November.

Hey, we got a preview last night, an appetizer. Take a listen to McConnell and take a listen to Grimes.


MCCONNELL: Kentuckians are not going to be deceived. Alison Lundergan Grimes is Barack Obama's candidate. They know it. And they'll issue the same verdict on this candidate that they've issues twice before on him.

GRIMES: Mitch McConnell, he wants to tell you who I am. Well, I'm here to tell you tonight, my fellow Kentuckians, I am not an empty dress, I am not a rubber stamp and I am not a cheerleader. I am a strong, Kentucky woman who is an independent thinker.


STEINHAUSER: You know what's also interesting. Within minutes last night of the race being called for McConnell in Kentucky, some of those anti-establishment Tea Party groups that were backing Matt Bevin, the challenger, you know what they did? They came out immediately and said time to unite around McConnell.


STEINHAUSER: So it's really interesting what's going on here. Stay tuned. A lot of action to come, guys. HARLOW: It is just beginning indeed. Appreciate the report this morning. Thanks so much, Paul.

BERMAN: Thirty-eight minutes after the hour right now. Some other big news to tell you about. CNN has learned this morning the U.S. intelligence officials are pouring over new possible threats from al Qaeda. The so-called threat stream is evolving and now includes potential evidence of operational cells working towards an attack in this country.

Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has the very latest.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, John, a senior U.S. official tells me over the last six months they have seen an increasing series of al Qaeda based threats suggesting the possibility of attacks against U.S. and Western targets overseas and U.S. targets here even at home. None of the threats have been validated. They don't think that there are operational al Qaeda cells here in the United States, but they are very concerned about what this may mean about the growing strength of al Qaeda.

One place they are looking is right back in Pakistan where al Qaeda began. They believe there are operatives there potentially planning attacks against U.S. and Western interests. They also believe in Syria. This is now a place where there are a growing number of Americans, perhaps 70 to 100 who have gone there to fight and al Qaeda operatives in Syria have been aiming to try and get those people back into the United States or into Europe.

There is also the situation in Yemen. The U.S. embassy has been closed there for several weeks. And it looks like it's going to remain closed for several more days due to what officials are saying is an active threat stream -- Poppy, John.

HARLOW: Our thanks to Barbara Starr for that. Meantime, we could soon learn the Obama administration's legal justifications for targeting U.S. citizens in terror operations abroad. Under pressure the White House will release a secret memo explaining their rational. Last year, officials acknowledged killing four Americans in drone strikes since 2009.

Now what about the timing of all of this? The president has nominated one of the memo's authors to a federal appeals court seat. The Senate is expected to vote on that nomination today.

BERMAN: Today Phoenix VA medical facility is getting a visit from a top White House aide. Rob Nabors has been charged with helping reform the embattled department and will see the facility accused of falsifying records to conceal deadly long waiting lists. And as the scandal grows well beyond Phoenix, the House is taking up new legislation the Republicans say will help.


CANTOR: We also are going to be bringing up a bill this week having to do with the mess at the Veterans Administration and to try and provide the tools to the administration to hold senior managers accountable. I mean, the American people are frustrated, especially when those who have served our country in uniform have been treated the way they have and god forbid who have perished because of the mess at the VA.


BERMAN: Officials say that 26 facilities are now being investigated.

HARLOW: All right. Time for a quick check at the markets this morning. Looking slightly higher across Europe and trading ahead of the open here in the United States. McDonalds in focus facing a new wave of protests today. Workers are set to demonstrate outside of the company headquarters, right outside Chicago, asking for higher wages. This follows a global strike at fast foods chains last week asking for them to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Fast food workers in this country make an average of $9.09 an hour. That is above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Though if you are supporting a family, that wage still puts you below poverty level. McDonald's is holding its shareholder meeting tomorrow. We are expecting even more protests then tied to everything from wages to food health to how much the CEO is paid.

BERMAN: Forty-two minutes after the hour right now. And new details this morning on how Donald Sterling allegedly tried to cover up the racist remarks that got him banned for life from the NBA. We'll have the details, you want to hear them, next.


HARLOW: Well, the NBA claiming Donald Sterling tried to cover up the racist comment that got him banned from the league for life. According to the "L.A. Times" the NBA alleged that Sterling asked V. Stiviano to lie to league investigators and say she altered the recording and that it wasn't him making those racist remarks on the tape. Team owners will vote June 3rd on terminating Sterling's ownership of the L.A. Clippers. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last night in a press conference, it is full steam ahead.


SILVER: My confidence level is high. We know we're doing the right thing and I know I have the owners behind me. And the timing is laid out in the NBA constitution. We're following it to the letter in terms of numbers of days that Mr. Sterling has to respond and then when the hearing will be held. And as I said, I know we are doing the right thing here.


HARLOW: Well, the NBA also accuses Sterling of destroying evidence in this case.

BERMAN: We'll see what happens there.

All right. Let's take a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." The knowledgeable and fragrant Chris Cuomo joins us right now.

HARLOW: Fragrant?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY: Well said. Well said. Well, it also says right here, John Berman, that it was a big night for the GOP. The Grand Old Party has reason to celebrate. Beat back Tea Party rivals in primaries in six states. We'll break it down.

The implications both overnight and for what happens in the Senate in the upcoming elections. You're looking at the man right there, Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. He took care of his more conservative challenger in the primary. But what about in the general? He has an interesting race. We'll take a look at that.

We're also going to talk with Jason Carter. He won Georgia's Democratic primary for governor. Happens to be the grandson of former president, Jimmy Carter.

Plus, a story stirring outrage across the country. A wealthy businessman convicted of his seventh DUI sentence to, wait for it, an orange face. No, sentences to work release. Got permission to attend the Super Bowl. How is this fairness under the law? Is it proof of two-tier justice? We're going to take that on.

Also, in a story we'll touch on today, John Berman and Poppy Harlow, barely a day goes by that John Berman does not tell me to grow a pair and now a mayor is echoing his sentiment in California saying that bullying has made our kids soft.

John Berman, is he a relative? Do you have family in California?

BERMAN: No, no. But that's an interesting story. I'm still just about the guy, the drunk driving thing, Chris.


BERMAN: That's downing. I can't wait to hear the lawyer's explanation for that.

CUOMO: It is at this point falling under the category of traveshamockery. Hopefully his lawyer will be able to explain why it's OK.

HARLOW: People have been asking if this is case of affluenza.


HARLOW: So we saw --


BERMAN: Got to get a vaccine for that.

Forty-eight minutes after the hour. Thanks so much, Chris.

HARLOW: Thanks, Chris. BERMAN: Coming up, ex-NFL players accusing the league of putting their lives in jeopardy with dangerous, dangerous drugs and treatment.

HARLOW: Also new research this morning explaining why e-cigarettes could be good for your health, next.


HARLOW: Wedding bells will ring for many same-sex couples in Pennsylvania today. Now that a federal judge has thrown out the state's ban on same-sex weddings. The judge said the law belongs on the ash sheet of history calling Americans better people than these laws represent. His ruling took effect immediately. The governor is considering an appeal. But the state attorney general has said she will not challenge this.

BERMAN: The NFL is accused of putting profits ahead of player's health in a new lawsuit. The suit filed by a group of retired players claims the league illegally supplied them with powerful painkillers and other drugs that kept them in the game but led to serious medical complications later in life. Some players claimed they were never told they had broken bones and instead were given pills to mask the pain. Other players say they developed heart, lung, kidney problems as a result. So far no comment from the NFL on this lawsuit.

HARLOW: And a new very interesting study out this morning saying e- cigarettes might really work when it comes to helping smokers quit. The research suggests that those battery powered vaporizers can be significantly more effective than other method. Twenty percent of e- cigarette users reported quitting smoking compared to just 10 percent of those who opted for nicotine patches or gum. Still, though, some big questions remain about the health impact of inhaling significant amounts of nicotine.

BERMAN: More recalls for General Motors. Millions of them and there could still be more to come. That's what Poppy Harlow reports. What's going on with GM? That's next.


HARLOW: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is money time. Stock futures here in the U.S. pointing up slightly after a down day on the street yesterday with the Dow falling 138 points. A lot of that to blame on retail stocks. Staples, Dick's Sporting Goods, Urban Outfitters, TJ Maxx, all those retailers reporting worse than expected earnings yesterday.

One stock you're going to want to watch today, Netflix. The company is expanding their service in Europe to include Germany, France and four other countries in Western Europe. That the group there in yellow. Netflix actually first launched in Europe in 2012. You can see those countries in red where it already operates. Europe has more Web users in the United States by far but so far streaming video has been slower to catch on than here.

Meantime, General Motors in the news again putting 2.4 million more cars on its recall list. 1.3 million of those are newer model crossover SUVs being recalled for a seatbelt defect. 1.1 million are older model cars being recalled because of a transmission cable issue that has been tied to at least 18 crashes. All told GM has now recalled 13.6 million vehicles in the U.S. alone this year.

The most serious being that ignition switch defect that led to 13 deaths. The company learned of that defect years before, a decade before it issued a recall. That is why we are seeing, John, all of these recalls really coming -- getting out in front of it so that they don't face the issues of fines and the investigation they are now with that other defect.

BERMAN: You also get the sense that if they're going to have so many recalls in one year --

HARLOW: What's another million?

BERMAN: Get it all out of the way now in this calendar year. It won't make the bottom like that much worse.

HARLOW: Yes, they are being very aggressive and pro-active and outfront in front of this. We'll -- it hasn't hurt their sales yet. Really interesting.

BERMAN: And you say there could be more to come.

HARLOW: There will be two more to come, we know.

BERMAN: All right. Poppy Harlow, great to have you here this morning.

HARLOW: Good to be with you.

BERMAN: "NEW DAY" starts right now.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: I never let up. Ever.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, the establishment strikes back in the biggest day of voting so far, the Tea Party is beaten back. Who won? Who lost? Will it mean a shift in power in November? We break it all down.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: New allegations that Donald Sterling asked his mistress to lie to NBA investigators and new information about whether or not he and his wife really are separated. We have the very latest.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Not so happy, the video that went viral across the world, young Iranians dancing to "Happy" has now landed them in jail. Forced to apologize on state TV. Pharrell is now weighing in.

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY starts right now.