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Democrat Nearly Wins Majority of Votes in Georgia House Race; Former NFL Player Aaron Hernandez Commits Suicide in Prison; Interview with Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Aired 8:-8:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Against the distant second place finisher, the Republican, Karen Handel. Karen Handel will join us live in just minutes with her explanation of what happened there.

President Trump claiming, though, victory after this high profile race. He called it a win for himself and the GOP somehow.

A lot at stake on this day 90 of the Trump presidency. We have it all covered for you. Let's begin with Joe Johns live at the White House. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. The president put a healthy amount of political capital into this election and Republicans ended up sidestepping what could have been a humiliating outcome in a solid Republican district. Democrats this morning hoping what happened last night is a window on next year's midterm elections.


JON OSSOFF, (D) GEORGIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: You all ready to flip the sixth?


JOHNS: The closely watched special election for Georgia's sixth district headed for a run off with both sides claiming victory after 30-year-old political newcomer Jon Ossoff fell just short of an outright win in a district held by Republicans since 1979.

OSSOFF: There is no doubt that this is already a victory for the ages.


KAREN HANDEL, (R) GEORGIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: On June 20th, we keep the sixth district red and kick a little Ossoff.


JOHNS: Ossoff will face-off against Republican Karen Handel in June for the seat formerly held by Trump's health secretary Tom Price in a contest seen as a referendum on Trump's presidency and a preview of next year's midterm elections. President Trump taking credit for the results, hailing the run off as a win despite Ossoff's strong showing, tweeting "Despite major outside money, fake media support, and 11 Republican candidates, big R win with run off in Georgia. Glad to be of help." The president was personally invested in the election, bashing the Democratic contender in a barrage of tweets and even recording a robo-call to encourage Republicans to get out and vote.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ossoff will raise your taxes, destroy your health care, and flood our country with illegal immigrants.

JOHNS: President Trump beat Hillary Clinton in this Republican stronghold by one percent last November, compared to Mitt Romney's decisive victory in 2012, prompting Democrats to target the seat, pumping $8.3 million into Ossoff's his campaign. This election comes as the president signs an executive order targeting highly skilled foreign workers that he says are taking the jobs of Americans.

TRUMP: We are going to defend our workers, protect our jobs, and finally put America first.

JOHNS: Mr. Trump also touting the successes of his presidency.

TRUMP: No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days.


JOHNS: The president expected to appear here at the White House today with New England Patriots football team to celebrate and congratulate them for their Super Bowl victory. Their appearance here expected on the same day the tight end -- the former tight end for the New England Patriots and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez was found dead from suicide in prison. Back to you.

CAMEROTA: We know you'll be following how all of that unfolds. Joe, thank you very much.

Let's bring in now CNN political analyst David Gregory and Patrick Healy. We also have David Sanger, national security correspondent for "The New York Times." Gentlemen, great to have you.

Let's start with the big picture of what happened last night in Georgia. In this Congressional race. Patrick, let me start with you. The Democrat Jon Ossoff got more than 48 percent of the vote in this Republican district that was home to Newt Gingrich, Tom Price, et cetera. And by the way, he is not a household name, Jon Ossoff, 30 year old, political neophyte. How did this happen?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, first-time candidate. He came out of the gate running against Donald Trump. He made it clear that his message was going to be make Trump furious. That was one of his tag lines. And that a vote for Jon Ossoff was a vote against Trump. In Kansas last week you had a special election where the Democrat needed Trump voters, in Georgia it was sort of a clear referendum on how people felt about Trump, about tom price who Trump brought into the cabinet. The reality is the Democrat did not get over the 50 percent threshold,

but he so over-performed what a typical Democrat would do, and especially a first-time candidate, it's significant. You know, it gives the Democrats at least more fire in the belly right now. There is going to be more money churning through the system. They've got special elections coming up.

And right now the Democrats, they need to be pulling out some kind of wins. This might not be a clear win, but it's certainly a moral victory which they haven't had for some time.

[08:05:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You've got to see what happens in the runoff. This has been an all Republican place since 79. It was the home of Gingrich. You do have a little bit of a demo shift here, right? You have college educated whites that didn't vote for Trump as emphatically. You have women, that's a pretty active vote in this district. His support with them has been dropping off.

But, David, the president said, despite major outside money -- true, there was a lot of money by Democrats put in this, and it was outside. Fake media support -- untrue, because nobody was talking up Ossoff. Everybody was talking about what's going to happen there because Trump is weighing in so heavily and the fact that Ossoff is a neophyte made it more of a proxy battle. The only thing that seems fake is Trump coming out and saying this was good for Republicans, that they gave away 48 percent of the vote to somebody that nobody knows.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, right. And this is Trump at his most hyperbolic when he's talking about himself and elections, right? So I think that could be discounted. This is a blow against Republicans and Trump at this particular moment in time. I think we always have a tendency to over-read these special elections. They are not great harbingers of the future, at least not completely accurate.

But what's true here is Democrats are excited. They are fired up and they are going to make Trump the issue. That's true today and it's going to true a year from now. And when you have a president who has got historically low approval ratings, he's vulnerable. His party is vulnerable. History tells us that, present day tells us that.

The flip side of it is, however, that we know this is a soft district for Trump generally -- I mean specifically and generally more upscale college educated white voters are more typically Republican, less Trump Republican in terms of the election last year. And Democrats still are fighting a battle about how progressive they are going to be moving forward and whether that's going to attract more moderate or moderate right voters who are not going to be comfortable with what they see as a liberal agenda. That's what Trump was trying to hammer on in some of his robo-calls and some of his outreach.

CAMEROTA: David Sanger, how do you see what happened last night?

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You know, what strikes me is that Tom Price won this district just back in November with over 60 percent of the vote. So the fracturing tells you how much not only Mr. Trump is being reevaluated, but how much some of the agenda. I mean, Price basically stood for the health care agenda here.

It's also interesting when you sort of breakdown of how each of those four somewhat pro-Trump Republicans did there. And none of them seemed to bring in a whole lot of enthusiasm. Nobody was able to go grab the mantle that he had. Maybe the field was just too crowded.

CUOMO: David Sanger, let me stay with you. North Korea, what we're seeing with the vice president, again an exclusive interview with Dana Bash, strong words for North Korea. You know this issue very well. Is there a remarkable difference so far in your mind between strategic patience and what we're seeing with the Trump agenda?

SANGER: No, there isn't. And that's what's really fascinating here. The news that the Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier group actually went ahead and did what was previously scheduled to do with the Australians and didn't turn around a day or two ago despite what the White House was saying tells you that a lot of the words were about intimidation but no real change in policy.

The policy itself still seems to be a combination of economic pressure and pressure on the Chinese, and then, as we have written and did again this morning, this fascinating, covert program to try to sabotage the missile launches. Those are all signatures of the Obama era. So this will only change, I think, if it turns out that the Chinese don't actually execute. And then the president is going to have to make some big decisions about whether or not he will be more frontal in the way that he confronts the North Koreans.

GREGORY: Can I just add? I can't say that any better than David did. I just want to add to the greater context here. Look at the continuity on North Korea, despite tactical differences, and on Iran with Tillerson saying that the Iran deal seems to be working after candidate Trump said that they were going to scrap it.

I think the difference here tactically is that President Trump wants to come across as unhinged, as totally unpredictable, as a little, you know, too crazy to deal with, frankly. And I think he wants to project that to the Chinese and certainly to the North Koreans. I think he prizes that a little bit. He mentioned this during the campaign. And we'll see how it plays out because ultimately you can have continuity and different tactics, but, as David says, if it is another test you have to make a difficult decision.

CAMEROTA: So Patrick, quickly, all of this set against the backdrop against the 100 day mark that is approaching, and President Trump obviously has his eye on the 100 day mark and what he has accomplished.

[08:10:04] He said yesterday that he's accomplished more than any president ever or something like that, but that is demonstratively not true. But in terms of how he rates, he's certainly signed more executive orders than his predecessors. So how do we rate his accomplishments?

HEALY: Yes. And some would say those executive orders aren't worth the paper they're written on and they're just paper. Compared to President Obama, President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, there was more taken in Congress, at least one piece of significant legislation for each that moved through.

CAMEROTA: That they all had. But he has not yet.

HEALY: That they all had but he has not yet. He put a lot of his chips on himself and Paul Ryan and their sort of idea about getting health care reform through without really having, you know, ultimately coalition and being willing to make the deals with the far right or moderate Republicans.

But also you have a government that hasn't been filled out. You have a federal bureaucracy where President Trump and his White House haven't filled major key deputy positions, sent names up to the Hill. The one win they've had is Judge Gorsuch, and I think from the beginning people felt he was a candidate who would be abel to get through a Republican controlled Senate.

CAMEROTA: OK, gentlemen, thank you very much. Panel, great to talk to you.

Coming up in moments, we should let you know we will be speaking to Karen Handel, the one who came in second in that high profile Georgia House race, and we'll see how she explains how well the Democrat did.

CUOMO: We're also going to have the Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez. What does he make of Georgia? Is that type of money infusion sustainable?

All right, we also have breaking news. The Massachusetts Department of Correction confirming to CNN that convicted murder and former patriots star New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in prison a few hours ago. "EARLY START" anchor Dave Briggs joins us now. What do we know, Dave?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Good morning, guys. This is a suicide. Officials say corrections officers found Hernandez dead in his cell early this morning at approximately 3:05 a.m. Hernandez was rushed to the hospital where he was declared dead an hour later, just after 4:00 this morning.

Officers say Hernandez hung himself with a bed sheet that was attached to the windowsill in his single unit cell in the prison's general population. Hernandez reportedly tried to block with door with various items so corrections officers could not enter the cell. Hernandez's suicide comes just five days after he was acquitted on a 2012 double murder in Boston. Relatively inconsequential being that he was serving a life sentence without parole for the 2013 murder of former semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. He is survived by his four-year-old daughter.

I covered this team for several seasons. I've reached out to current and former players, none of whom have any comment about this. But the team spokesman Stacey James says "We are aware of the reports. I don't anticipate that we'll be commenting today." Now, they will be at the White House, as Joe John said. Our reporters will certainly ask the players for some comment about the suicide.

CAMEROTA: OK, Dave. Thank you very much for all of that reporting.

Well, President Trump says he's done more in his 90 days than any other administration. Is that true? Does Republican Congressman Tom Cole agree? He joins us next.


[08:17:02] CUOMO: A nail biter in Georgia's special House race. This upstart Democrat, Jon Ossoff, nearly pulled off a huge upset in a deeply Republican district.

Now, the race heads to a run off with major implications for the GOP's majority in the House.

For reaction, let's bring in Tom Cole of Oklahoma. He serves on the Appropriations Committee and Budget Committee.

Congressman, thank you for being on NEW DAY as always.

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Hey, Chris. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: Now, you said the goal was to keep Ossoff under 50 percent. But for him to get 48 percent of the vote when nobody really knows who he is. He doesn't even live in his own district, what does that tell you about the relative strength and challenge you might have going into mid-term?

COLE: Well, it tells me first that this race was much more about the president than it was about any of the candidates. And, frankly, it is interesting to me. You look at the totals. If you add up the Republicans, it sort of mirrors what the outcome was in the general election between Hillary Clinton and President Trump. So, I think that was the basic dynamic.

The real question for us going forward is we make this a race between the two candidates themselves. That works very much to our advantage. We took a big step in the right direction last night. We did what they had to do. They didn't win.

Now, we've got two months. He's certainly very much in the race. I think his base remains energized. He's going to continue to be well funded. Republicans now have to get united.

But we've got a very capable candidate and I think we've got the time and the resources to get the job done.

CUOMO: Right, the argument comes down to who is we and why does he have a base, right? We should be the party that's headed up by Donald Trump. There seems to be some indication here that this was a unique effort he put into this race. It was more than we've seen him do in the previous ones. He went off Ossoff personally and intensely on Twitter. He was making robocalls on this.

Do you think he hurt the ticket? COLE: No, I don't. I think, look, we needed everything to go right

last night and frankly it did and the president was a big part of that. You know, he's still got the biggest megaphone on the planet if you're president of the United States.

So, pointing out that Ossoff did not come from the district, waking up Republicans, we were facing a very energized Democratic electorate, that that they needed to get out and vote, those were extremely helpful things.

So, again, I think we did what we needed to do last night. Going forward, you know, again, there is still a lot of work to do. But I think we probably have a little bit more momentum and we probably blunted Democratic momentum last night.


CUOMO: Congressman, Tom Price was a walk over there. He won with 60 percent of the vote and now you have a new Democrat getting almost 50 percent?

COLE: Well, you have to look at the district. You're correct.

[08:20:01] This is a Republican district but it is not a strongly Trump district, just as there are Democratic districts that are Trump districts.

So, I mean, the constellation of his electorate is not a traditional Republican coalition. You know, Mitt Romney won this seat by over 20 points as well.

CUOMO: Right.

COLE: So, it does tell you this is the kind of seats that Democrats would and should focus on and where they need to win. Last night, they weren't able to do that. We'll see how we did on June 20th.

CUOMO: The president said nobody has done more in their first 90 days. We have just a rough scorecard of major initiatives. It is not a good scorecard other than Neil Gorsuch, which, you know, obviously, not a legislative achievement, but having a SCOTUS nominee in there is big.

The other ones, other than withdrawing from TPP, which is a very undetermined outcome at this point, he has not had a great start. Do you agree with the president that he has had the best 90 days?

COLE: Well, I think it is a mixed bag, but I think some of that responsibility lies on the Republicans in Congress, not on the president.

Look, I don't think he gets nearly the credit he deserves, nor congress, frankly, for the deregulatory thrusts here. We have moved 15 congressional review bills through Congress. That's a record by far, undoing a lot of the regulations of the Obama era. I think the president does get credit and frankly so does the Senate for Gorsuch. That was not an easy thing, but it was done and it was an important victory for us.

I think he's got a great national security team in place. But clearly, the big failure of the opening part of the hundred days has been our inability in the House to get repeal and replace of Obamacare across the floor. We're going to give another crack at that.

You know, again, I don't blame the president for that. I blame the Republican conference, frankly. We failed. He didn't. He worked hard. He negotiated well. He met with members.

So, this is one Republicans in the house need to look in the mirror and get their act together and get this legislation moving. I think we will.

CUOMO: The president agrees with you about that, he was saying in a speech that people need to get after their congressman and that you guys dropped the ball and people need to get after you.

Let me ask you something on another very important issue. What happened in Syria raised an issue tht is often forgotten in the halls of Congress, which is it is on you guys to declare war. The authorization for the use of military force, now that the foreign agenda and in particular and potential military is in the air as a move, that AUMF is from 2001. Do you think there is a chance that we're going to see Congress have a meaningful debate about what is authorized in terms of force around the world?

COLE: I certainly hope so. I have been arguing this for years and literally with Democrats in a sort of bipartisan coalition. You know, frankly, the leadership of both parties in the House has not wanted to have a vote on the use of military force. And they don't -- the reason they want to try to protect their members, Democrats and Republican leaders. The reality is we're paid to vote.

CUOMO: Right.

COLE: And the Constitution is pretty clear on this.

So I don't think there is any excuse for Congress not taking this up.

The president ought to submit on his own something President Obama didn't do, really, for many, many months and years really, a new, you know, request for the authorization and use of military force. We should debate it and pose the approach limits, if there are, and go from there.

Now, to the president's defense on Syria, I think, frankly, he was enforcing President Obama's red line. And he had the right to do that. That was a one strike thing. I don't think that required congressional approval.

But we're in sustained military activity against ISIS. I think that does require a new authorization because ISIS didn't exist in 2002 and we certainly weren't fighting in Syria and didn't expect to be.

So, if you are fighting against a new enemy in new places, it seems to me you need a new authorization for the use of military force.

CUOMO: Sure it does. Congressman Tom Cole, thank you very much for being on NEW DAY as always.

COLE: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Be well.


CAMEROTA: So what does last night's Georgia congressional race mean for President Trump? Well, coming up, we'll have Karen Handel in that run off. How does she explain the Democrats huge margin there?


[08:28:13] CUOMO: The high profile congressional race in Georgia is heading to a runoff. Democrat Jon Ossoff came within two percentage points of outright winning the seat in a red district.

We're going to talk with the Republican contender Karen Handel in just moments. She made it out of a huge pack to get into the runoff.

But, first, let's get some reaction from DNC Chair Tom Perez.

Tom, good to have you on the show.


CUOMO: The president raised his hand and says we did it. We kept the Democrats from getting the seat outright and that's what victory was defined as.

Do you agree with his celebration?

PEREZ: Well, he spiked the football quite early, Chris.

And here's the reality. This is a heavily gerrymandered district that Tom Price won by 23 points last time around. And here you have Jon Ossoff and pundits were saying, Jon's high watermark would be 43 percent and he gets 48 when you add up the other Democrats who are in the race, that brings up to about 49 percent of the vote.

And, by the way, there is about 30,000, 35,000 Democrats who voted in the presidential election who didn't vote here. So, we know who we're ID'ing. We have an army of volunteers, a couple of thousand volunteers that are helping Jon Ossoff.

I am going to be in Georgia tomorrow. We have energy.

And in Mrs. Handel, you've got a candidate who is a very far candidate. She was the person who stopped supporting breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood. She is the person who supports Donald Trump's effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I wonder if Donald Trump and she are going to campaign on that issue in her district. You know, Club for Growth called her a career politician who spends a lot of money.

So, I'd rather be Jon Ossoff than Karen Handel right now.