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CNN TONIGHT

Republican Karen Handel wins a special congressional election in Georgia's 6th district; Aired 11:00-12:00mn ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:00:17] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is our breaking news at this hour. CNN projects Republican Karen Handel has defeated Jon Ossoff in that high stakes special election down in Georgia.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

Handel's win in Georgia's six denies Democrats their hopes for their first major victory of a Donald Trump era.

Let's get right to CNN Kaylee Hartung. She is at Karen Handel's headquarters down in Georgia.

So Karen Handel kept Georgia's sixth district red. She thanked President Trump tonight. What's the latest, Kaylee?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, the sentiment that you are hearing from Handel's supporters is that no amount of money can buy an election. It was something you heard Karen Handel say throughout the course of campaigning as Jon Ossoff continues to bring in millions of millions of dollars, over $23 million in fact from his supporters as we talk about this race being the most expensive in the history of the House of Representatives.

But when Karen Handel took the stage here after all the Is were dotted and all the Ts were crossed so that her campaign was confident it was the move to put her on stage. When she took the stage, she had a very different tone than what we heard as she campaign. You know, throughout her campaigning you heard her really bring up to light all the negative of Jon Ossoff, of course, that he was inexperienced. That he lived outside the district. That he didn't represent the people of this district and their concerns and their needs.

Now, this has been a Republican strong hold for decades. The Republicans have held the seat in Congress for more than four years. Well, the run will continue as the conservative folks of Georgia's sixth district galvanized to support here in Handel.

And another difference you can see tonight, Don, in Karen Handel's confession - I mean, sorry, her victory speech, you didn't hear her talk much about President Trump as she campaigned. I was at a rally on Saturday where she had two members of his cabinet campaigned with her, Sonny Perdue, the former governor here now the secretary of agriculture and also Tom Price who gave up his seat to become President Trump's secretary of health and human services.

But even in that case Karen Handel didn't use the President's name tonight. She thanked President Trump. He seen his tweet. And this crowd chanted Trump, Trump, Trump as she thanked the President. A big win for Republicans tonight at a time they knew they had to, Don.

LEMON: Yes. And now it sounds like a victory celebration there that didn't before.

Thank you, Kaylee Hartung. I appreciate that live for us at Karen Handel's headquarters in Atlanta.

Now I want to bring in CNN's Brianna Keilar live for us at Democrat Jon Ossoff's headquarter.

Democrats across the country thought they could pull it off. They didn't. A very different move tonight at Ossoff headquarters, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a different mood. There's a lot of disappointment. I will tell you that, Don, in talking to some folks who have been with the Ossoff campaign from the very beginning for months now. Certainly disappointed dubbing away a few tears here and there.

But some of the people behind me, they are still - I see some people enjoying beers behind me. They are not as disappointed as you might think. And part of that is because just talking to people they really felt they were part of something and they were just proud to even get close. I think they are so used being in the political minority as Democrats in a district like this. That just to be involved in something for really the first time in many of their lives where they had a shot, there is something that they are really taking away from that. And so you might go to other parties where candidates have lost and you might see a much more crest fallen mood than we are seeing right now.

But talking to national Democrats, it's a different story, Don. I talked to one - I was texting with one who was close to this campaign who said that they were in a fetal position because so much really went into this. They were really hoping after losing special elections to have something to show for it. And even when I talked to Republicans and Democrats and a lot of them say you know what, might not be able to extrapolate out from this race on to what is going to happen in the midterms. It certainly would have been nice for Democrats to have something that could inspire some others, especially as they search for a way to run against Donald Trump moving into the midterms next year.

If you look at the campaign that Jon Ossoff ran, it was not the campaign of a liberal Democrat. He was talking about fiscal responsibility. He was talking about bipartisanship. He was trying to really appeal to independents and try to appeal off to some Republicans. So I think that for some Democrat they look at that and they say if that wasn't going to work is that the road map forward? We are not exactly sure but they are, Don, pointing to a number of races in the midterm that they see are going to be more competitive, dozens of races they say, they will be more competitive in the midterm as they search for a way forward.

[23:05:05] LEMON: Brianna Keilar, thank you for your reporting.

I want to bring in my panel now. Let's bring in CNN political analyst Mark Preston, CNN political commentator Matt Lewis, political analyst Kirsten Powers and political commentator Margaret Hoover.

The President taking a victory lap tonight as well he should according to the panel earlier in the show.

Mark Preston, the President tweeting out congratulations to Karen Handel on her big win in Georgia sixth. Fantastic job. We are very proud of you. Earlier Sean Spicer play down the national importance of this but it was a win for the Trump administration.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, no question. I mean, look. Imagine had Jon Ossoff won tonight, we would obviously saying this was a loss for President Trump.

He put his neck on the line. He went out and provided support for Karen Handel in the days leading up to this, including tweeting today, you know, trying to get his supporters out to the polls, Don. So Donald Trump who has had, you know, has had a pretty rocky time here in Washington over the past few weeks if not the past few months can look at tonight and say listen, this is a victory for me. This is a victory for my party. And quite frankly, as we are talking about, you know, the Democrat Party in despair right now in trying to figure their way out of the woods, this is quite an adrenalin boost right now into a Republican Party, you know, who in itself is trying to work throughout some things. So yes, this is a very big win for Donald Trump.

LEMON: Yes. But Mark, Democrats tonight saying listen, the Democrats need to figure out their messaging. They need to think about the future. They are talking about jobs. Democrats are having trouble.

PRESTON: Yes. And there is going to be no answers basically what has come out tonight. Heading into this race, we saw the progressive liberal side wing of the party and the more establishment side of the party, not necessarily agree with how this race was going to be conducted. In the end I think Jon Ossoff run the best campaign he could have ran. A lot of professional politician. Had he ran too far to the left, he probably would have lost by a wider margin.

This is a Republican district. The fact is Democrats, progressives, liberals, poured a lot of money into this race and they still were not able to convert. Doesn't mean in 2018 in the midterms they don't have a shot at taking back the House of Representatives because they actually do, but tonight is a night for Republicans.

LEMON: Mark, let me ask you about South Carolina because it didn't get a lot of national attention. It didn't get a lot of money from the Democratic Party. It was supposed to be a land slide for the Republicans. It turned out it wasn't. It was only what by 2,000 votes. So what does that say to you?

PRESTON: Right. So I mean, look, I like to put this in golf terms. You know, a par is a par is a par meaning a win is a win is a win. In the end Republicans won that. That was a Republican seat. Democrats performed a little bit better than they could, but the Democratic Party in South Carolina and Democratic Party should be commended for their efforts of trying to get a ground game out. And I think that's what we saw in South Carolina. But in the end, as we close out this night, don, Republicans went four for four protecting their four Republican seats. That says something.

LEMON: All right, Mark.

Kirsten Powers, let's bring you into this. Let's see. What does this mean for how Republicans and Democrats are going to run their races in the midterm in 2018?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that is a big question. Because actually, you know, one of the big questions is did Jon Ossoff run a good campaign? And there was a lot of criticism from people who wanted him to be a warrior. He made a decision he is going to run this really positive campaign, whereas the other side was not positive. And they really referendum on Nancy Pelosi and the bad, bad liberals in Washington D.C. Even one ad that was won by a third party person, you know, got very ugly about the shooting.

LEMON: (INAUDIBLE) about President Obama.

POWERS: Right. And so, I mean, it got pretty ugly on the other side. And so I think with all the money, the question is had he been a little tougher, been willing to be a little tougher on Trump, you know, would it have made a difference? And I think that is the question like does this civility thing work? And especially if you look at South Carolina where you have a race that none of the funding and yet had a closer margin than this race. It does make you wonder if it could have been more differently.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Remember, there was the Montana race (INAUDIBLE), the guy up there with the cowboy hat, if he had won, then it would have been OK. We need these sort of populist, Bernie Sanders -- that's the model. Let's be Bernie Sanders. And then I think if Ossoff had won in Georgia instead it would have been no, we need, you know, the Trudeau, Barack Obama, Macron, that model. That's the tech savvy guy, the young guy who can go into these districts that are, you know, maybe used to lean Republican.

LEMON: I think Democrats would have taken in any of those --.

LEWIS: Yes. But either way - either way, you would have a theory, a premise. You would have tested something and you could have gone forward and said this is our model, this is our template. Democrats have no model or template. Nothing to show for these four races.

LEMON: If you are a Democrat, I know you're a Republican, but what do you think the Democrats are thinking? [23:10:00] MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that is

what I'm trying to walk in another man's shoe. But truly, I mean, this -- Republicans actually have a model for winning depending on what kind of district it is in a Trump era. You have somebody like Karen Handel who can put her head down. And in her acceptance speech, not even say the President's name, actually just say the President of the United States and not even say Donald Trump. It was the crowd who said Trump.

LEMON: Right, Trump, Trump, Trump right.

HOOVER: So Republicans sort of know, OK, do I side with Trump, do I not side with Trump? They have a model depending on their district and saying. Democrats don't, I mean. And that's what is concerning. I mean, we have this saying that all politics is local. But in these special elections, all politics is national and they don't have a national benchmark to, I mean, what are you running to be with Nancy Pelosi? Well, that's not going to help in a Republican leaning district. So they actually don't have a formula at all.

LEMON: Ca I say something quickly here because we were talking about as we were watching Karen Handel and going to a commercial break, $50 million poured in for this, the most expensive congressional race in history. Does it say more about the Democrats or the Republicans? What does this say for us to that?

HOOVER: Well, what it does say and what we would have said if he won is that, you know what, you can pour just enough amount of money in and you buy the votes. Voters are mobilized by turnout and money and that caused money. You would have heard a huge outcry that there should be -- you wouldn't have heard anything about election reform and citizens united. But now I think you will hear that on the Democratic side. We have to have election reform. We gave to get money out of politics because there is no way a Democrat - which frankly, that wasn't implied here.

LEMON: This is not horseshoes. So close does not count. But is anyone surprised it was this close in the district?

POWERS: Won this, you know, in November by 23 points. So it's definitely closer than it should have been. But another -- see here's another thing though and I think is concerning for Democrats, is that this is the most highly educated Republican district in the country. So those are the voters that you are going to need on most likely to pick off. Those are the ones that are most likely are going to turn against Donald Trump.

So if you're not able to turn them - I mean, I do think that, you know, if they dislike Democrats more. I clearly let this Pelosi message really work and this came straight from, you know, Paul Ryan basically running this message. And I think that the party matters. That people, you know, don't cross party lines in this day and age.

LEWIS: The idea that you can -- that Donald Trump is going to turn off Republican voters to the degree they will then vote for Democrats I think is a misnomer. LEMON: She needed Paul Ryan, right, and she need the RNC, correct?

LEWIS: Well, and Paul Ryan has this outside group that really came in and spent a lot of money on the ground game to help Karen Handel. Did not get nearly as much attention as the tens of millions of dollars that Ossoff got. But I think Paul Ryan, very unsung hero in that race.

LEMON: Mark Preston, you are part of the panel in the last hour. And I think the consensus was, at least from David Axelrod and a few others is that it's 16 months from the next election. Don't get too far over your skis here. What do you say?

PRESTON: Well, couple things. One, this is a moment in time and this is a very important moment in time for President Trump. The bottom line is they need this adrenalin pushing to their arm, you know, at time when the Republican Party is struggling to get things done in Washington and there has been a lot of talk about disunity in the GOP. But again, they got that tonight.

Democrats now really do need to find a message. They need to figure out how they are going to run nationally. But they are not going to win back the House of Representatives, Democrats that is, if they try to run a national campaign. That's just not going to work for them. I think they are going to have to run these individual races. They are going to have to win 25 of them in the next win in order to take back the House. And that's extremely important, Don, because if that happens, then they are going to be able to subpoena President Trump. They are going to be able to cause all kind of havoc on the White House.

So while this is a depressing time for Democrats, I'm firmly certain that those deep pocketed donors who don't really like Donald Trump are going to continue digging down deep to try to win back the House of Representative to try to do what they can to cause havoc and chaos for Donald Trump as best that they can do. So Democrats, while they need to figure out where they are going, I wouldn't say it's lost for them. But the Republicans, this is so important.

LEMON: Thank you, all. I appreciate it.

When we come back, Democrats hopes of a big win crushed tonight. I will talk to one tapped in who says her party needs to do a better job reaching out to Republican voters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:18:23] LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, CNN projects Republican Karen Handel wins the special congressional election in Georgia's sixth beating Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive House race ever.

Joining me is a Democratic congresswoman who has some advice for her party on how to reach out to voters they lost to the Republican Party. It is representative Cherri Bustos and she joins be now.

Representative, thank you so much for joining us. So what do you think?

REP. CHERRI BUSTOS (D), ILLINOIS: You know, the outcome isn't what we had hoped to have happen, but let's look at it from this perspective. Just in November Representative Price won this seat as a Republican by 23 points. We just lost by five points tonight. So I'm going to take that away as a silver lining in saying, you know, wen are moving in the right direction. We are inching the ball forward. We just didn't get in the end zone the way we hoped to.

LEMON: So, you know, I have been teasing you saying you are coming up, telling the audience that you are going to have a message to your party about reaching out to Republican voters. What's your message?

BUSTOS: So I'm one of three co-chairs that the Democratic policy and communications committee. This was a position where I along with David Cicilline from Rhode Island and Hakeem Jeffers from New York. We were elected among our colleagues to help us craft what we are going to be talking about going from a messaging perspective going forward.

Right now, let's look at the timing. It is June. We don't have the midterm election till November of 2018. So we have got time to work on this. I do know this. It's not going to work for us just to have an anti-Trump message. I serve in a congressional district in northwestern Illinois that Donald Trump won. And I won by 20 points. And my colleagues say how do you make something like that happen? And I don't think it is anything really complicated but I show up. I do things that we call supermarket Saturdays where I just walk up and down the aisles and ask what is on their minds. I do something I would call share (INAUDIBLE) where I just - I work alongside people, I job shadow them and I talk with them about the last time they received a raise or what they do. Were they able to take their families on vacation?

I think, Don, more than anything it is showing up and it is talking nonstop about the economy and jobs and we are going to fight for people who need us to fight for them.

[23:20:48] LEMON: Congresswoman, I want to ask you because you talked about, you know, what committees you served on. But this, you are the only member of the Democratic Party leadership from the Midwest. You had a new job teaching your fellow House Democrats how to talk to rural voters that the party has lost. Why do you think these voters have moved away from your party?

BUSTOS: It is in the last election, Donald Trump frankly had a message that resonated with people who haven't got a raise in the last five years, who saw their jobs like a plant in my district may tag shift every last one of the jobs over to Mexico. We have seen so many of those stories and when he talked about making America great again in very simple terms, that resonated with people who wanted hope.

What we didn't talk about enough consistently was about jobs and the economy and fighting for people who want better times ahead. And so, from the day I announced that I was running for Congress, I'm now in my third term, and that's what I talk about every time I go home. It's what I talk about in the supermarket. It is when I talk about when I'm job shadowing people. Whatever I'm doing, that's what I talk about.

Again, I don't think it's overly complicated than, you know, that you work really hard because, you know, we in Congress, we make a good wage so we better work hard. Number two, we better fight when we have a fight on our hands. And number three, even though we are in the minority party, we better show people that we are prepared to get results because we have been fighting so hard for them. And I think it's those three steps that I have been focused on. And I hope that as we go forth that we will be able to show people that's what we are focused on as Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

LEMON: Congressman Cherri Bustos, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Say hello to Chicago every time you are there to all my friends there. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

BUSTOS: I sure will. Thanks so much.

LEMON: When we come right back, more on our breaking news. CNN projects Republican Karen Handel wins a special congressional election in Georgia sixth.

Plus, new approval numbers for President Trump. They aren't looking very good.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:26:45] LEMON: Breaking news tonight. CNN projects Republican Karen Handel wins a special congressional election in Georgia's sixth beating Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive house race ever.

Let's discuss now. CNN politics -- political commentators Brian Fallon and Kevin Madden are both here.

Brian, there were tears at the Ossoff headquarters tonight. Democrats put in a lot of - a lot into this race a lot of money, a lot of effort. What went wrong?

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this race outcome tonight was disappointment, Don. I don't think there's any way to sugar coat it.

In many ways, these special elections, you know, as Democrats, we don't get to pick them. They become open seats because Donald Trump selected members of his cabinet from seats they thought were relatively safe. And these are not necessarily the bell weathers that necessarily can predict how the midterms will go and who might control Congress in 2018.

But on the other hand, you know, to a certain degree, the theory of how Democrats can recapture the House was tested tonight to a (INAUDIBLE) because of the red nature of many of these seats the Democrats are going to need to win if they are going to take the 24 seats they need to switch control of the House. They are going to need to get some of those Republican leaning independents that are turned out by Trump to vote for a Democrat.

And we saw tonight that in Georgia sixth at least, Karen Handel was not Donald Trump. The distaste for Donald Trump did not necessarily transfer down to Karen Handel. I mean, I have to give the Republicans credit. They ran a good race. There was a lot of outside money that came in. Paul Ryan's outside organization spent $6 million, I think. And they ran a good GOTD campaign and we did not see the base dissolution among Republicans that we thought we would see.

LEMON: Yes.

Kevin, you know, Karen Handel, it was interesting Margaret Hoover picked it up. I didn't really pay a close attention to it or didn't notice it. That Karen Handel, even in her concession, I mean, her speech or victory speech didn't mention the President by name. She said the President of the United States. But she stayed clear of him during the campaign. You think that is going to be the play book for tight races heading into 2018?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, sure. I think in any race you don't want to have to litigate it to the lens of a national election particularly in congressional election. What you do want to do in order to win is localize and personalize your appeal. You know, these races are not run by generic ballots and you try not to make them a referendum on a national environment. What you try to do is make it about the actual ballot. And make it a contest between the two individuals.

I think Karen Handel did that in this race very well. And if anybody she wanted to introduce to this that became a problem for the Democrats, it was the prospect of having a Nancy Pelosi Democrat representing the sixth district of Georgia. So I think you will continue to see this. I think many race are going to look at this around the country who are Republicans and try to replicate it, knowing that particularly in some of these suburban districts where there may be some head wins in President's profile that personalizing or localizing it will be to their advantage.

LEMON: What do Democrats, Brian, need to avoid because - and now you have Democrats coming out. They are criticizing other Democrats saying, you know, what Democrats should do in the future and they should look to jobs, they need a better message. What are they need to do from this, you know, all shooting at each other?

FALLON: Well, I do think, Don, that there is a worry here that you are going to try to see a one size fits all approach dictated about how these candidates that are running in red-leaning districts should run. That they should all run the same type of race, have the same type of resistance message which I don't think is the reality. In the Midterm, you know, that it is not usually a branding exercise for the national party. It is usually referendum on the incumbent President. And I think in these races, as Kevin just said, you are going to see most of Democratic candidates ran campaigns that fit their district.

I think what a lot of these Democratic challengers that will be running in 2018 will have to their advantage which Jon Ossoff did not have in this campaign is they will be running against an incumbent Republican who in most cases has voted for this very unpopular toxic, even health care proposal that maybe even log, God forbid by this point in November 2018.

And this race, it was a bit of a jump ball. You had two people that were running against each other and either of whom was in office. Karen Handel said she would support the proposal. She got to watch this but she had an extra task to vote for it. It allowed the two sides to sort of run a proxy war where Ossoff was running an anti- Trump momentum and Handel for her progress, kind of run against Nancy Pelosi. And the midterms though, I think you are going to have an opportunity where you will have Democrats that are running on their biography, running on a platform that is uniquely tailored to their district and then running against their incumbent's voting record.

[23:31:20] LEMON: Yes. And then - but you will have a chance and spread across the country and not just focus on one race.

FALLON: And that will also help - that will also help Democrats. I really do think here that you have to tip your cap to the job that the NRCC and Paul Ryan outside organization, the congressional leadership fund did in propping up Karen Handel's sagging campaign. With Jon Ossoff had a huge influx of money from progressive donors across the country. Handel was sort of a disadvantage. They came in, propped her up, got the GOTD program up and running. They won't necessarily be able to goose turn out for Republicans across the country when they have 30, 40 seats to protect in 2018.

LEMON: Kevin, Brian mentioned the health care bill. What impact will this race have on the Republican agenda moving forward?

MADDEN: Well, you know, I think that we have seen a log jam in Congress right now. I think that log jam has a lot of other ingredients that have led to it, other than what would happen in a special election. But clearly if the opposite had happen tonight, if the Democrat had won in this district, so many members in districts that are competitive, it would have sent a shiver up their spine.

I think there's people breathing easier now in Washington. And a lesson for lot of them is that you have to be for something, you have to be constantly proposing solutions and alternatives up on Capitol Hill and then articulate those -- your vision to the voters in your particular district about what you have gone to Washington and how you have focused on reform whether it has been health care, energy, regulatory reform, tax reform, infrastructure. These are all the things that Paul Ryan and many and Mitch McConnell and Republicans up on Capitol Hill have - you will put forth.

Doing that is going to be your salvation. An agenda that is forward looking is going to be your salvation. So I think that you will see a little bit more - you will see Democrats - think you will see Republicans feeling a little bit more bullish on the agenda now.

LEMON: All right. Thank you very much, gentlemen. I appreciate it.

When we come right back, the latest on our breaking news. CNN projects Republican Karen Handel has won Georgia's special House election.

Plus, how health care played into the election and why the detail of the GOP bill are still secret, only days away from the Senate's vote.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:00:00] LEMON: CNN projects Republican Karen Handel wins a special congressional election in Georgia's 6th district beating Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive House race ever.

Let's discuss now. CNN political commentators Alice Stewart and Symone Sanders. Republican strategist John Brabender and CNN contributor Jason Kander.

I have to say everything I need to know or get from the segment I just learned from these two ladies. So gentleman, good luck right here. And I say that because Alice, this is your district. You know it very well. You grew up here. You are not surprised by tonight's results, are you?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. This has been a solid Republican district for many, many years starting with Newt Gingrich, Johnny Isaacson to Tom Price. And it was going to stay that way. And mainly because Karen Handel represented the views and values of the people of this district and Ossoff did not. He tossed a good game. He talked as though he was a little bit more to the center. But at the end of the day, he was a stock and trade liberal. He supported climate change proposals. He supported minimum wage. He supported issued that just won't reflected of --.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So bad. Minimum wage, climate change, oh, my goodness, save the whales. It is so horrible.

LEMON: I told you guys. Go ahead. You cannot be surprised, Symone, that a Republican won in Georgia. Come on?

SANDERS: Not to say that Democrats can't win in Georgia, Don, because, you know, (INAUDIBLE).

LEMON: I didn't say that.

SANDERS: -- n the governor's race. But I will say this. Look, in this particular district, in this particular race, I think my colleague Brian Fallon said it best, this was a special election. It wasn't like the Democrats, you know, pinned this out, picked it and said this is a race that we know we can win. I think we made a good run. I also think it is important to note that early vote mattered here. And in order for Democrats to win do well, Democrats really would have need to run up the early vote numbers and arrange 54, 55, 56 percent. When the numbers are coming in at 49 to 52 percent, we knew it spelled trouble because Republicans are going to be the one whose turn out on Election Day.

LEMON: Jason Kander, are you discouraged by this loss tonight?

JASON KANDER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you rather win than lose, no doubt. Absolutely. So it's disappointing. But we should look at what's been happening in these deep red districts where the special elections are happening is that in each one of them the Republicans are getting fewer votes than they got in November and the Democrats are getting more votes. The margin is getting closer in each one of them.

So while the Democrats have not won these races, what's happening is the Republicans celebrate this like they won the world series tonight, they really just ignoring the fact that this is a game that is started where they got 20-run lead to start the game and they are celebrating close wins.

So what that means is voters are trying to send a message to the Republicans which is they don't like what they're doing on health care, they don't like that they are following President Trump in a lot of things they don't like. It's happening in districts that are deep red, but it clearly should say something that the Republicans are choosing to ignore.

[23:40:26] LEMON: John Brabender, what do you say?

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I love hearing the Democrats talk about this because what they are basically say is they want a participation trophy for coming in a good second. And the truth of matter is since Donald Trump has got elected president, the Republicans in special elections are undefeated. And what is particularly interesting about this race is more than any other, this took on a national election and Karen Handel was probably a couple points down a week ago, ends up winning by five points, not even that close. And I think that she actually picked up numbers because Republicans showed up and wanted to show that there was not buyer remorse in voting for Donald Trump or his agenda.

So however you look at this, it was a good night for Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Hold on. Hold on.

SANDERS: I want to be clear. This was not a referendum on Donald Trump as we would have liked for it to be. Karen Handel, as Margaret Hoover said, didn't even used Donald Trump's name on the stage tonight. What they ran on locally but they talked about health care, they talked about the economy, those were the issues that they talked about. And the Republicans, frankly, they attacked Jon Ossoff and he didn't attack back. And where you know, where you just sometimes you got to fight back.

So not to say that this was -- this is not an indication that everybody is just happy with Donald Trump. People are not happy with Donald Trump but they are more so not happy with these Republican policies. And we need be careful to not think that this special election is an indication of what is happening for 2018. There is real participants (ph) of Democrats in 2018.

STEWART: One thing I will also say that is also ran a good race, Jason I know that you morphed out there and campaign with him. It was a good race. But at the end of the day whether Karen Handel won by five points of four or 50, a win is a win. And there is a check in the "w" column and that's all that really matters.

LEMON: And Jason, how do you square that? Because if you look at those - let's put this poll numbers up. This is the latest CBS poll, President Trump's approval rating is at 36 percent, has disapproval of 57 percent. So how do you square all of these loses with the President's approval rating.

KANDER: These are Republican districts. And you know, these candidates, everybody knew that going in.

LEMON: Why is it this transcending into victories for Democrats then?

KANDER: These are Republican districts saying and we are going to keep going at it. We are going to keep competing everywhere, you know. We have got people who are fired up. But it's really important -- the whole reason we are talking about this right now is because people are curious what this means for November of 2018, right. That's why it is a conversation. And what it means for November of 2018 is that in each of these cases the Democrats are coming a whole lot closer to winning than they have ever come in these districts but there is no record, you know, or not much of a record of Democrats winning in these four races. So my point is it's indicative of momentum for 2018.

(CROSSTALK)

KANDER: That's not what I am saying at all. I would rather we win, Don. There is no question I would rather than that. I just think Republicans are making a huge mistake if they pretend that they are winning these by massive margin and these are Republican districts.

BRABENDER: But Democrats keep saying these are Republican districts. You know what is happening? We are becoming more and more Republican districts. So --

SANDERS: Thanks to gerrymandering.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Because in this district, Georgia state -

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: There was gerrymandering by Republican state legislators that says had there not ben Republican gerrymandering. In South Carolina for example, South Carolina district five would have been mostly black.

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER: The only way you can make a district more Republican is to make another district more Democrat. And so that argument doesn't hold. KANDER: That first of all doesn't make any sense. But second let's

talk about what this is. This is a situation where these districts that have been close races, these four districts, if in November 2018, the Democrats would win any of these districts, that would not be indicative of a Democratic wave. That would be indicative of a Democratic monsoon.

So, I'm just saying like I congratulate my Republican friends on these victories. But we should talk about the facts. We should talk about reality. This is, like I said, about a game that started with the 20- points -- you spot the other team 20 points. That's what this is.

LEMON: How much impact did all these national money and all these advertising have on this race verses the race in South Carolina which had none of that and the Democratic candidate actually came closer, Alice?

STEWART: I think the Hollywood liberals are going to realize they should save their money on saving the planet instead of trying to win a race here in Georgia. And look, at the end of the day, it is no surprise Jon Ossoff was the savior for the savior for the Democrats in the anti-Trump resistance for the last several weeks and months. And now it's no surprise that they are going to say that as of the bad candidate and they are going to blame gerrymandering.

[23:45:20] SANDERS: No one said Ossoff was a bad candidate. I want to be very clear. Look, he ran a good race. We did not win but --.

LEMON: You said he was not the ideal candidate.

SANDERS: I say he wasn't the ideal candidate, but he ran a good race. And no, we didn't win, but to note that this is some knock over the head to the Democrats and the Democratic Party and we are in deep do- do for a lack of better term for 2018. It is absolutely egregious. And this is egregious.

LEMON: Well, it sounds like though, I mean, as we are sitting here talking about like, you know, if you were just tuning in, you would think that Jon Ossoff was running for President.

SANDERS: My God, yes. That Jon Ossoff was running not only for president and he had the backing of every single body everywhere and we were out there at front from the beginning saying this is our race and we are going to win it.

STEWART: Well, this is a great night for Karen Handel. There's cheers cross the district of Georgia. No more TV ads. No more knock on doors. No more male pieces on this race. And people can go about their lives and live happily ever after.

LEMON: OK. So let's talk about what this means for the Republican agenda moving forward, especially as it relates to health care. Sean Spicer today saying the President had not seen the latest health care bill. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't know that. I know there was some chatter today. I know the President has been on the phone extensively with the leader and key senators. So I don't know if he has seen the legislation or not. But I know that they have been working extremely hard. And the President has been giving his input and his ideas feedback to them. And he is very excited about where this thing is headed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know if anyone on the staff has drafted the bill?

SPICER: I don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: There could be a vote next week? How surprising is it that the President according to Sean Spicer, doesn't know about this?

SANDERS: That is surprising --.

LEMON: After the break. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:50:50] LEMON: And we are back now with my panel.

So Symone, we were talking about John Ossoff made this about health care. People are wondering if he should have gone harder against President Trump. So what do you think is the strategy here? Because we saw Sean Spicer before the break saying he doesn't think the President has seen the bill.

SANDERS: Look, I think we can argue what Ossoff did or didn't do right or did wrong all day. But I think we can put a pin in that. And right now, I think folks need to fight like hell to keep Trump- care from becoming law. It doesn't surprise me the President hasn't seen the bill because there are lawmakers who are on the team that is supposed to be cracking this bill that haven't seen it. I think it is very problematic. And this is something that's going to affect every single person in America. That's what we need to be focused on.

LEMON: Do you have concerns that no one has seen the bill or very few people?

STEWART: Absolutely. I talked to some leaders in the Senate today. And they haven't seen it yet. And the plan is for the Senate leadership to drop the text on their lap on Thursday and expect them to sign off. They are not going to do it. So while I agree the sausage making of legislation is boring and tedious, they need to have more buy-in from Republicans and Democrats if they want to get this passed.

LEMON: John, how does it benefit Republicans to keep this bill so secret?

BRABENDER: Well, first of all, I don't think they are. I think Thursday, we are going to find out a lot about it. Second of all, the CBO will score this thing. There will be a lot of debate about it. The only people that really aren't engaged in the process are the Democrats for two good reasons. One is, they are going to oppose it no matter what. We know that they have made it clear they are going to oppose this President's agenda no matter what. Second of all, let's remember --.

LEMON: But John, let me stop you. I will let you finish your point but there were a lot of Republicans who are saying they hadn't seen the bill either. It's not just Democrats.

BRABENDER: I agree. And that will be rectified. Let's be clear. The Democrats were the architects of the legislative titanic called Obamacare which is now three-quarters underwater. I don't know what role they could be there for.

LEMON: Can you play that sound bite from last night, please.

SANDERS: I would venture to say Obamacare is maybe underwater right now, probably because the President has tanked the subsidies. He has threatened to withhold subsidies which is why you have insurers who are pulling out of these markets. And so, no, Obamacare is not perfect. Premiums are too damn high in some places and it needs to be fixed. But to say that the solution is to totally repeal it and take health care from potentially 23 million people in America, make having a vagina a pre-existing condition.

BRABENDER: Did you know even Bill Clinton called Obamacare crazy before the election.

SANDERS: It is problematic. I think we are on the same page there. But we are talking about the fact that people isn't seen the bill. Let's just be frank here. We have yet to see the bill. Show us the bill. Why can we not see the bill?

LEMON: Jason kinder?

BRABENDER: I would argue don't complain about it until they show they are going to do on Thursday.

LEMON: OK. So John, we have to pass the bill before we know what's in it. Who am I quoting there?

STEWART: Nancy Pelosi.

SANDERS: Now, you are on the side of Nancy Pelosi?

KANDER: Don, the reason we haven't seen the bill?

LEMON: Yes, go ahead Jason.

KANDER: The reason we haven't seen the bill isn't because it's so good and they are just hoping to surprise us. The reason we haven't seen the bill is because they know people aren't going to like it. I mean, the House version was falling in 17 percent popularity. They are trying to make it slightly less awful, I guess. I don't know. They won't show it to us because they know that if people see it, they

are going to say don't pass it. And let's just -- the situation right now is, what we need to have happen for everybody watching at home, you need to call your senators because you have three Republican senators have the courage, I can't even believe it takes courage to do this because I don't think it does. But if they have the courage to say you know what? I think that we should actually let the American people see the bill before we decide whether or not to change health care dramatically in this country.

SANDERS: Since we work for the American people.

(CROSSTALK)

KANDER: They are not going to vote until that happens. They will just show a little bit of courage that can happen.

LEMON: Go ahead, John.

BRABENDER: Do you agree that Obamacare is imploding? I mean, let's look at --.

KANDER: No.

BRABENDER: Look at this context. What the Republicans are doing --.

KANDER: I agree you are trying to kill it on the Republican side.

BRABENDER: Well, look, it's killing under its own weight. It's a failure. I think we should be able to agree on that. That's why all the insurance --.

KANDER: So we should probably, first of all, that's not true. Second, that doesn't mean we should get rid of health care for 23 million people.

(CROSSTALK)

[23:55:04] STEWART: John is right. Obamacare is failing and under its own weight. This was passed and sold to the American people that you would -- if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor which isn't true. You can have greater choice and lower cost which isn't true. And in many areas of the country, have you one choice for health insurance. That is not quality affordable health care.

LEMON: So listen, all of that can be debated. My initial question was, why the lack of transparency? And the sound bite is too long to play. But we have all these Republicans back in 2009 and 2010 saying, how can - how dare these Democrats do that. We should know what's in the bill. They are doing this under the cloak of darkness. And now, the same thing is happening and they are saying and it is OK now.

SANDERS: I would say it's not the same thing.

KANDER: It is hypocrisy, Don. SANDERS: It is. And I agree with Jason. It's hypocrisy. But it is

not the exact the same. Because guess what, in 2009, there were hearings, President Obama went on a tour across the country explaining the bill of what he wanted to do to people. There were six months at least six months to a year of hearings. Folks are trying to ram this through in three months.

LEMON: I forget who it was. It was the Democrat who was on, I think it was Democratic may have been just a commentator who was on last night and they said, well, it's easier because you are not starting from the beginning. Basically they are trying to even though it's different legislation, that was a point. I don't know if that's true or not.

KANDER: Here's what's happening, Don. What is happening right now is you have got a Republican political strategy.

LEMON: Ten seconds.

KANDER: OK, fine. You have got a Republican political strategy that worked for a few years which is just make up lies about Obamacare and criticize it. And now, they are trying to turn that into a policy. And that policy just get rid of this. Lose health care for 23 million people. It is not a good political strategy. It is not a good policy for the country.

LEMON: We are done. Thank you all. I'm sorry, John, that's the last word.

Karen Handel won tonight, by the way, down in Georgia. Our continuing coverage will continue right after this with John Vause and Amarah Walker.

I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for watching.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)