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Warmbier's Death Angers U.S. Leaders; Democrats Wage War on Secrecy; Decision Day in Georgia. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 04:30   ET




[04:32:40] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Otto Warmbier just passed away. He spent a year and a half in North Korea. That's a brutal regime and we'll be able to handle it.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: We'll be able to handle it.

The U.S. vowing to hold North Korea accountable after the death of an American student detained more than a year. Otto Warmbier's family this morning in mourning. Lawmakers are seething. How will the White House respond?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Senate Democrats vowing to bring business to a crawl. This over Republican secrecy on health care. Now, GOP leadership is demanding a vote by late next week.

ROMANS: And did you hear about this big special election in Georgia today? It is seen as a referendum on the first months of the Trump presidency. Can the Democrats nab a seat that has been reliably Republican since 1979?

BRIGGS: It's fascinating.

ROMANS: It really is. A lot of money in that race right now.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs.

A lot of media down there, as well. Both sides will argue over what it means. But up first, North Korea facing outrage over the death of Otto Warmbier. The American college student has died less than a week after his release by Pyongyang. His family believes he was tortured into a coma while being held in captivity for 17 months.

Warmbier's passing quickly sparking anger in Washington. Senator John McCain, a former prisoner himself, making his anger very clear. He says, quote, Let us state the facts plainly. Otto Warmbier, an American citizen, was murdered by the Kim Jong-un regime.

ROMANS: High-level talks between the U.S. and China begin tomorrow in Washington. And there's growing pressure on President Trump to take a harder line with Beijing to help rein in North Korea. Listen to the president's reaction to Otto Warmbier's death.


TRUMP: Otto Warmbier has just passed away. He spent a year in North Korea. A lot of bad things happened, but at least we got him home to be with his parents where they were so happy to see him even though he was in very tough condition. But he just passed away a little while ago. That's a brutal regime, and we'll be able to handle it.


ROMANS: So what does the president mean by that?

[04:35:01] By "we'll be able to handle it"? Let's go live to Seoul and bring in Paula Hancocks.

Good morning.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Christine. Well, that's the question everyone on this side of the world is asking, as well. What exactly did President Trump mean, we will be able to handle it?

Now, there are still the same options today as there were yesterday, potentially strengthening sanctions against North Korea, encouraging or putting pressure on Beijing to try and put more pressure on North Korea. Of course, China is North Korea's main trading partner, main ally, and without their support, it would be difficult for North Korea to survive. So, potentially, at that meeting, that high-level talks that we will be seeing in Washington, the White House and United States could be putting more pressure on China to try and do more.

But, of course, they're in a fairly tricky situation because you have to remember there are still three Americans being held in North Korea. There are two academics who were working at the Pyongyang University for science and technology. There is also a businessman who North Korea has accused of being a spy. He has been convicted and sentenced to hard labor.

So, it's a very tricky situation to find themselves in at this point. And, interestingly, we are seeing the tour group that Otto Warmbier was on. The Young Pioneer Tours has now decided that they will no longer accept U.S. citizens on their tours to North Korea. The U.S. State Department still saying they strongly advise against traveling to North Korea. The tour groups themselves are going to alone. Other groups saying they're reviewing the policy, as well -- clearly a difficult situation for them.

ROMANS: And I just think a new low really for the regime in Pyongyang. I mean, to have this young man for so long -- and from the family doctor, it sounds as though he had been -- had been in a coma for months and months, and then finally returning him. Just a new low for Pyongyang. You wonder what the White House will do, what new set of circumstances the White House will consider here.

Paula, thank you for keeping us up to speed on that.

BRIGGS: So, the family of Otto Warmbier releasing a statement in the hours after their son's passing which reads: It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost -- future time that won't be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person.

When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th, he was unable to speak, unable to see, and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable -- almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed.

He was at peace. He was at home, and we believe he could sense all that.

Funeral arrangements for Warmbier have not been announced.

ROMANS: All right.

Thirty-seven minutes past the hour.

Democrats holding the Senate floor late into the night. While you were sleeping, they were up past midnight demanding that Republicans go public with their plans for repealing and replacing Obamacare. The Democrats' speeches overnight, more theatrics than lawmaking as they tried to spotlight the secretive process Republicans are using to draft their health care bill.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling it, quote, the greatest miscarriage of legislative practice that he's seen during his decades in Congress.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: When you do a bill in dark of night, things happen that no one knows about. There are unintended consequences that only a thorough vetting can reveal. When you do things in the dark of night, there are individual accommodations that are made that are going to look ugly when they become public.

So, the only consolation we on this side have, small consolation that it is, is the political blunder that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are making.


BRIGGS: The Democrats coordinated effort to hold the floor last night, won't actually stall any work on the GOP health bill. Now, we're learning that Republican leaders are taking real steps toward a vote and soon.

For more, let's bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave and Christine, if you talk to Senate Democrats they recognize this is an urgent moment in their effort to try and derail Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Why? Well, sources tell me Mitch McConnell has made very clear, the Senate majority leader, that he wants this Senate to vote on that repeal and replace plan before the July 4th recess. That means next week. I'm told a vote likely to come on Thursday if things continue to progress. And that is exactly why on Monday you saw Senate Democrats take to the floor and start to register their objections.

Now, what will those entail? Well, trying to slow down Senate business. Nothing can move forward in the Senate without every senator agreeing for just that to happen.

[04:40:00] And that's exactly what the Senate Democrats are going to try and stop from happening. That means floor business, committee hearings, all sorts of things that they want to do to try to gum up the works a little bit.

Now, guys, the most interesting element is there is still no bill. Republicans haven't come to agreement on some of the key outstanding issues from the Medicaid expansion to the scope of the cutback of the Obamacare regulations, structure of the tax credit, where they stand on abortion funding. All of those issues are expected to be worked out this week.

Now, I'm told from several Senate GOP sources that Mitch McConnell will at some point tell his colleagues, tell the members of his conference, many of whom are very different ideologically when it comes to health care, that it's time to make a deal. There's no more talking. There's no more negotiating. Everybody needs to come to an agreement.

That vote is happening, or at least that's the plan at this point. They need a bill first. We'll see when they actually get to that point and how long Senate Democrats can try and hold things up in the meantime -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Phil Mattingly -- thanks, Phil.

Looks like a move is imminent in the White House press room even though the press room's not been used much lately. Press Secretary Sean Spicer may move to a new role. His latest briefing came off camera with no video or audio recording allowed, and more than a week since the last on-camera briefing. White House officials believe the messaging operation needs a reset. But CNN told the mood in the West Wing has soured. BRIGGS: A source says all of the president's advisers have tried to

convince him to stop tweeting about the Russia investigation to no avail. Sources say the president is frustrated. He can't execute his agendas. And seems agitated, exhausted, even disengaged at briefings. All this no doubt on the minds of anyone being considered for the press secretary job.

So, what's next for Sean Spicer?

CNN's Jim Acosta has more at the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Dave and Christine, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appears to be moving into a different role in the West Wing, leaving an opening at the podium in the briefing room. White House sources tell us Spicer may be shifted into a role that oversees both the job of press secretary and communications director. Spicer's tenure at the podium has been filled with controversial moments from the first day of the administration. Yesterday, he held an off camera, no-audio briefing that barred reporters from recording any of his comments.

Despite those restrictions, Spicer could not answer whether the president has any recordings of his conversations at the White House. Spicer said that we may have an answer to that by the end of the week. But, of course, they said that last week -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: I got to tell you, Jim Acosta yesterday, it was really interesting how he had to handle a tough situation, because all these press people in there were like, wait a minute, we can't run the video? We can't run the audio? What is this?

At a city council meeting this would not be cool. You know, it's the White House.

BRIGGS: Yes, and top of that, having a question from a Russian reporter and when Jim's not allowed to ask a question.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: Particularly would rub a White House correspondent the wrong way.

ROMANS: If you're Sean Spicer, how difficult is it to try to be the voice of the administration when the president himself could tweet ten minutes later and undermine the message? Or how do you even know what the message is?

So many times we heard from Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Sean Spicer, I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. I don't know what the president thinks about that. I haven't asked the president --

BRIGGS: Because you wonder how much communication there is between Sean Spicer, Sara Huckabee Sanders and the president, whomever takes the job will have to stipulate we actually have to communicate. Whether that's Laura Ingraham or not, that's the name you keep hearing thrown out there.

ROMANS: We'll see.

All right. Forty-three minutes past the hour.

It may be the largest leak of voter information in history. The data of almost 200 million Americans was exposed. That's more than half of the U.S. population. The source: a Republican national committee contractor. The information was accidentally made public during a security upgrade.

It was left unprotected for two days. We're talking the data of names, birthdays, voter information, even social media posts. The information is now password protected, and the RNC says it cut ties with the contractor. But this incident proves any political party can be hacked.

The president has tweeted that the RNC has stronger defense than Democrats. The Democratic National Committee was hacked during the 2016 campaign, 200 million voters. Wow.

A lot of --

BRIGGS: Time something is done about that.

So, can the Democrats steal a congressional seat that's been red for nearly four decades? It is a huge special election today in Georgia. We're there, next.


[04:48:38] ROMANS: All right. Georgia voters, good morning. You're going to the polls today in a special congressional election. The race for the open seat in Georgia's sixth congressional district seen nationally as a referendum on the Trump presidency.

Polls show Republican Karen Handel, and the Democrat, Jon Ossoff, running neck and neck in what's becoming the most expensive House race in American history, Georgia's sixth. Up until now, the definition of reliably Republican, it has been in GOP hands since 1979, since the era of bellbottoms.

We get more from CNN's Kaylee Hartung.


KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On this election day in Georgia's sixth district in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, neither campaign comfortable with where they stand as this could be a race decided by just a few thousands votes come tonight. Early voting numbers give both camps reason to be optimistic, though, that's because 140,000 people cast their ballots before today. That's more than double the number of voters who voted early in April, and that includes 36,000 who didn't participate in that election.

So, no comfort here. Optimism, yes, but also reason for both camps to be tense as the vitriol in this campaign has picked up in the final days, including this attack ad.

CAMPAIGN AD ANNOUNCER: The unhinged left is endorsing and applauding shooting Republicans. When will it stop? It won't if Jon Ossoff wins on Tuesday.

[04:50:01] KARTUNG: Both candidates have denounced that ad from the Principled PAC, an organization that supports conservative leaders.

But it's not just the attacks on the airwaves that we've seen in the lead up to this election. Jon Ossoff traveling with a security detail, as he says a number of threats against him have intensified. And Karen Handel and her neighbors receiving envelops in their mailboxes last week that included a threatening letter and a white powdery substance. That substance turned out to just be baking soda. Karen Handel told me on that Thursday night, she couldn't sleep with the image of men in hazmat suits in her home.

Stakes are high tonight in Georgia's sixth.

Christine, Dave, back to you.


BRIGGS: They are indeed, Kaylee.

The way U.S. elections are conducted could be in for some big changes. The Supreme Court has agreed to take up a significant gerrymandering case, redistricting, if you will, and could for the first time impose limits on how the lines are redrawn. The justices will decide whether Republicans in Wisconsin actually violated the Constitution by reconfiguring state electoral maps, back in 2011, allegedly to reduce the influence of minority voters.

The court said too much partisanship and the drawing of electoral maps is illegal. But it has never defined how much is too much. The case will be heard once the court's October session convenes.

And this is massive, holds implications across the entire country. And it is huge in terms of who owns the governorships and the House races and really shapes our politics.

ROMANS: It absolutely does. Something to watch there.

All right. Look at this -- the high-powered help desk summoned to the White House. That's quite a help desk. Technically, the White House tech stocks, moving markets all the way to record highs.

That's on "CNN Money Stream", next.


[04:55:58] BRIGGS: Serious questions surfacing this morning, that deadly U.S. destroyer collision. Japan's coast guard now saying it took nearly an hour before the crew of the Japanese ship involved in the collision actually reported the deadly incident. But that's not what the U.S. says.

Let's get right to CNN's Alexandra Field live at Yokosuka Naval Field.

Alex, what do we know about this discrepancy over the sequence of events here?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Dave, we do know that it's going to take months, perhaps even years Japanese officials say to fully understand what went wrong, what caused the collision between the U.S. guided missile destroyer and this massive container ship in the early hours of Saturday. The navy has launched an investigation. The Japanese coast guard is also investigating.

And at the starting point, we're seeing that there already is a key discrepancy here. In the beginning, both the Navy and Japanese coast guard agreed that the crash happened around 2:20 in the morning on Saturday morning. That's when the cargo ship involved in this mayday distress called.

But now, the Japanese coast guard is saying that based on interviews with members of the crew of the container ship, they believe that the crash actually happened about 50 minutes before that. They say it isn't unusual that the crew didn't immediately call for help. They could have been following other safety procedures or trying to navigate in that busy passageway.

But the U.S. military is holding firm. They say that they believe this crash did, in fact, happen at 2:20 in the morning.

Why does this matter? Well, of course, both sides will be looking at the precise movement of both ships involved in order to determine how they could have been set on this collision course.

This was a deadly crash. The crew of the USS Fitzgerald numbered in the hundreds. Several sailors did not survive the crash. The bodies were found by divers in the sleeping compartments below deck. The bodies of the sailors are being returned to the U.S. There will be, of course, memorial services to honor the lives lost.

Already the sailors on board the USS Cole had put out their own tribute to those who lost their lives on the Fitzgerald, lining up in formation, forming the number 62 -- a tribute to the USS Fitzgerald.

And we're beginning to hear from members of the families of those servicemen killed in the crash. The family of Shingo Douglas putting a statement saying: We would like to commend the crew of USS Fitzgerald for their heroic efforts to save the ship and many lives. We know now why Shingo was proud to serve with you.

And, Dave, we have heard from officials with the Navy here that that ship was in danger of sinking. That the crew took immediate and heroic action in order to get that shift safely back to port -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Just a heartbreaking story.

Alex Field live for us in Japan, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Fifty-eight minutes past the hour. Time for a check on "CNN Money Stream."

As tech leaders were meeting at the White House, shoulder to shoulder, the most important people in the business world with the president, stocks were moving markets, sending Wall Street to new highs. The Dow and the S&P 500 notching new records as tech grows 1 percent. Global stocks are also higher. The sector fell last week over concerns some companies may be overvalued.

But some big tech names are still the best performing this year. They all -- look at that -- all closed higher.

Meal kit company Blue Apron could be worth $3 billion. It's going public just as it faces new competition from the Amazon/Whole Foods deal. It's the first meal kit company to have an IPO. The industry woos consumers from supermarkets by delivering fresh ingredients directly but struggles to balance high costs with affordable prices.

So, competition is stiff. And now, Amazon could enter the fray. The company already sells meal kits through Amazon fresh. But whole foods' 400 stores will build the largest distribution network of any meal kit service.

So, watch the food fight -- ba-dum-bum -- in this space.

The holidays are months away, but UPS is planning ahead and it will charge retailers extra fees to deliver packages. The company's volume doubles during the holiday shipping season. That forces UPS to hire additional workers and extra delivery vehicles.

But this year, it will add a surcharge to offset the cost, including 27 cents for ground shipments, 97 cents for two-day delivery. The fees start Thanksgiving week.