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What Will the White House Do?; Democrats Wage War on Secrecy; Decision Day in Georgia; Russia Vows to "Target" U.S. Fighter Jets; Cavaliers Part Ways with G.M. David Griffin. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 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. This move will force retailers to decide if they'll eat the cost or pass them on to consumers.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. EARLY START continues right now.



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.


ROMANS: We'll be able to handle it, but how?

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

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

ROMANS: And a big special election in Georgia today. Polls open in two hours. This is seen as a referendum on the first months of the Trump presidency. Can Democrats nab a seat that's been reliably Republican since 1979?

BRIGGS: Huge day there.

ROMANS: Tape players -- the last time there was a Democrat in office there.

BRIGGS: Don't remember those all that well. Polls open in two hours.

ROMANS: Good morning. BRIGGS: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. Nice to see you this morning. Tuesday, June 20th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BRIGGS: All right. 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 saying: 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 is growing pressure on President Trump to take a harder line with Beijing to rein in North Korea.

Listen to the president's reaction to 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 "we'll be able to handle it?"

I want to go live to Seoul and bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks on the other side of the world, on the other side of the clock for us this morning.

Let me ask you this -- you know, successive administrations have tried for years to at least isolate North Korea. But we have an American citizen, a 22-year-old student, who is dead after being held for a really stupid, unfair reason by the regime. This is a new low. It puts pressure on this administration to try to find a new way to deal with North Korea, doesn't it?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The problem is, Christine, that there is no new way to deal with North Korea. The options that are available to President Trump right now are the exact same options that were available to him yesterday before this news came. Of course, there are sanctions. And as you said, there's going to be high-level talks between the U.S. and China in Washington.

And when it comes to sanctions, they really can't work without China's cooperation, without China pushing North Korea and trying to isolate them as well as the rest of the world. China's the main ally, the main trading partner. So, that certainly is an option. Could Washington decide to have a more hard-line approach and try and put more pressure on China to put more pressure on North Korea?

But it's still a tricky situation for China when you consider that there are three American detainees still being held in North Korea. There are two academics, one businessman who's accused of being a spy. He's already been convicted and sentenced to many years hard labor.

And, of course, Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. It relies on the Swedish embassy to try to gain any access to those prisoners and to have any kind of chance of being able to negotiate their release. That clearly is going to be one of the crucial factors now going forward. Just last week, in fact, the U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson saying it's a delicate situation. We are working on it, when asked about what would happen to those three Americans detained in North Korea.

When it comes to the tour groups themselves, the one group that Otto Warmbier was traveling with has now said it will no longer accept U.S. citizens when going to North Korea.

[05:05:03] ROMANS: And the State Department advises against traveling to North Korea for American citizens, right?

HANCOCKS: That's right. It strongly advises against, but there are more calls for a full ban.

ROMANS: For a full ban.

All right. Paula Hancocks for us in Seoul -- thank you so much for 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 warm, engage, 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, 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 home, and we believe he could sense that.

Funeral arrangements for Warmbier have not been announced.

Look, this is an outrageous issue. Marco Rubio echoing the words of John McCain saying North Korea murdered this young man. Options aren't many, unfortunately, for the president.

ROMANS: And the president says we will handle it. We will have to see what that exactly means --


ROMANS: -- and what kind of pressure he can put on Beijing.

I want to turn to CNN politics reporter Tal Kopan live for us this morning in Washington.

And just to say on the subject here, the president now is really faced with an international crisis here. An American dead after, you know, 17 months of captivity in North Korea. I mean, how much pressure is he under to do something?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, there's certainly a tremendous amount of pressure. I mean, as we've been talking about, a terribly tragic story.

You know, this administration was able to bring Otto Warmbier home. I think that that is something that they feel good about, but you know, keep in mind, President Trump really made being harsh on North Korea part of his campaign because he made being harsh on China part of his campaign.

And, certainly we have not seen the level of aggressiveness towards China that he pledged now that he's in office because as we've been discussing, the situation is incredibly delicate. It's not that straightforward. There's a lot going on both between our relations with China and threats from North Korea that go beyond this one young man.

And so, I think we're seeing the Trump administration realizing how complex this issue is. But, you know, he made a pledge to get hard on China in order for China to crack down on North Korea, and this puts extra pressure for him to live up to that pledge.

BRIGGS: Yes, you're hearing some in the House talking about a travel ban. Would that have much impact? It's not clear.

Let's turn now to the polls in Georgia. In about two hours, opening for this huge congressional race. It's the most expensive House race in U.S. history, Tal. But whether it's Ossoff or Handel, who needs a win in this special election more?

KOPAN: I feel like we're in a sports segment. It's such a difficult question, right? You know, Democrats really -- they need this win in the sense that they have brought a few elections very close. But the pouring of fund-raising into this election, the hopes that have been placed on Ossoff.

If Democrats don't come away with a win here, it's hard for them to argue that they're going to make any sort of dent in the House this, you know, this next election cycle. At the same time, for Republicans, even though they are sort of defending a seat you would expect them to win, if they lose the seat, it's going to be a tremendous shockwave for Republicans. They're going to be extremely concerned about midterms.

So, both sides need this a whole lot is the answer.

ROMANS: I wonder, though, is it really that much of a proxy for anti- Trump sentiment? You know, are we all putting way too much into one race here?

KOPAN: You know, I think that's always a risk. And certainly every election is a local election. And, certainly, we tend to gloss over that sometimes when we talk about it. You know, I don't know that it's necessarily a proxy barometer for exactly what's going to happen in November, 2018. But at the same time, this is the only bellwether we have at the moment.

ROMANS: Right.

KOPAN: And so, you know, it is going to have an impact on the tone, the fund-raising, the momentum -- all those factors. It's going to have an impact going into midterms. So, even if it's not necessarily a perfect indicator, it's not something that has no bearing at all.

BRIGGS: Well, in a sense, this district has ruled on their feelings toward Trump because Romney won in 2012 by 23. Tom Price won in November by 23. And Trump won by just over 1 percent. So, this is not a Trump district by any means, though it is reliably Republican.

I want to shift now to the health care battle going on right now in the Senate, but it's one we don't know much about because everything has been held in secret. No public hearings on this. Democrats are trying to gum up the works by taking to the Senate floor and speaking until midnight last night.

[05:10:05] Here's Chuck Schumer.


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: Tal, one could argue in this environment, this highly political, flammable environment, this is the only way to get health care done, because anything that leaks out, interest groups explode, Democrats ramp up the rhetoric. But the question is, can they possibly do all this in secret and then get a vote and pass it through in a week's time?

KOPAN: In a week's time is the key there. You know, there is sort of a self-imposed July 4th deadline by Mitch McConnell. And certainly, it's a study in contrasts, right?

The Senate runs a very tight ship. The leaders there have a little more control over their party. Whereas when this was under development in the House, I mean, we got updates regularly from members who were talking about it. And it definitely added more hurdles in the process, as you mentioned, every time something would leak. People would react.

But, you know, this is a bit of an exercise in playing to the base. Democrats can speak into midnight all they want. It's not actually slowing the bill. It's sort of putting extra pressure on the Republican colleagues and speaking directly to their Democratic base, showing that they're doing something.

You know, it's little bit for show. But, certainly, it puts them on the record complaining about the process, making these statements, accusing the Republican colleagues of doing it in the dead of night. And that's going to hang over their heads.

ROMANS: All right. Tal Kopan, meanwhile, Paul Ryan saying that, you know, transformative tax reform could happen this year. So --

BRIGGS: Has to happen this year he says.

ROMANS: Has to happen this year. There's a lot of work happening apparently behind the scenes.

All right. Thank you so much for that, Tal Kopan.

All right. He's the president's secretary of everything -- the secretary of everything. And now, we know what his voice sounds like.

BRIGGS: For the first time.


JARED KUSHNER, PRESIDENT TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: We are here to improve the day-to-day lives of the average citizen. That's a core promise, and we are keeping it.


ROMANS: That's Jared Kushner with his voice right let it. What he told technology leaders next.


[05:16:57] ROMANS: Silicon Valley may clash with the president over climate change and immigration, but its CEOs agree that the government's technology needs modernizing.


TRUMP: Many of our agencies rely on painfully outdated technology. And yet we have the greatest people in technology that the world has ever seen right here with us in this room.


ROMANS: It is a confounding disconnect. The president's American Tech Council met for the first time including the heads of Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Google parent Alphabet. The agenda was upgrading tech infrastructure. But many leaders saw this meeting as an opportunity to broach more sensitive subjects.

Silicon Valley has been a vocal critic of the president's travel bans and decision to leave the Paris climate deal. But most tech companies can't afford to sever government ties and they stand to reap billions from tax reforms. They want to be a voice at the table.

Also at the meeting, the so-called secretary of everything -- there he is -- Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, chief adviser of the president, there he is explaining how business will modernize government.


KUSHNER: We are here to improve the day-to-day lives of the average citizen. That's a core promise, and we are keeping it. Together, we will unleash the creativity of the private sector to provide citizen services in a way that has never happened before.


ROMANS: And that was the point of that whole meeting. But what was remarkable to me is that's the first time I've heard his voice, I think.

BRIGGS: I know. And you want to hear like James Earl Jones when you haven't heard a voice forever.

ROMANS: There he is. You see his picture always, standing behind the president. He's -- ubiquitous. But --

BRIGGS: But you should have to speak out if you have such a central role in the administration. Shouldn't you have to voice exactly what you're doing? He's headed to the Middle East.


BRIGGS: To handle that.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: OK. Russia threatening to treat American fighter jets as targets after the U.S. shot down a Syrian warplane over Raqqah. The White House says it is working to keep the lines of communication open with the Kremlin. But the president's spokesman says the escalation among many factions in the region is not helping.

We'll go live to Moscow and bring in Jill Dougherty. She's a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former CNN Moscow bureau chief.

Jill, we understand Australia has now temporarily suspended air strikes in Syria. Why?

JILL DOUGHERTY, GLOBAL FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Well, because they're concerned as everybody else is, Dave, about what's going to happen. I mean, right now, the situation that you have is that Russia is saying that any plane or drone or anything in the air that comes into the airspace west of the Euphrates River could conceivably -- will be tracked as a target, and then the implied threat is that it could be shot down. They're not saying specifically that, but the threat is out there. So, it's a very unstable situation. And that's why the Australians don't want to go now into the space.

We just a few minutes ago, by the way, had a chance to ask a question of Dmitry Peskov, he is a spokesperson for President Putin. CNN asked him, is he -- does he fear that Russia and the United States could get into open conflict. He wouldn't answer that specific question but did say this all raises very serious concerns.

And there's no question that it does, because at the same time that there's a threat about tracking and potentially shooting down, there's also the Russian government saying that it is no longer going to have the deconfliction, let's call it a hotline, this communication between the U.S. and Russia, which is specifically there to make sure there are no collisions in the air. So, both of those are very dangerous and there is high degree of concern.

BRIGGS: Hmm. Jill Dougherty, live for us in Moscow -- thank you.

So much for the thawing of U.S./Russia relations under the Trump administration. Not the case.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty minutes past the hour. The Cleveland Cavaliers parting ways with their general manager. Could it affect LeBron James' future with the Cavs?

Coy Wire knows in the "Bleacher Report," next.


[05:25:31] ROMANS: All right. Tiger Woods says he's getting professional help to manage his medications.

Coy Wire has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Coy.


Tiger Woods taking to Twitter last night to update his fans following his arrest three weeks ago, saying that he's receiving professional help to manage his medications and how he deals with his back pain and a sleeping disorder. Tiger was charged with driving under the influence after he was found at about 3:00 a.m. sleeping at the wheel of his Mercedes which was pulled to the side of the road near his Florida home.

He told officers his condition was, quote, an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications, unquote. No alcohol was found in his system.

Fresh off their third straight NBA finals appearance, just days before the NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers are parting ways with their general manager, David Griffin. Griffin has played a significant role in bringing Cleveland its first pro sports championship in 52 years. The team said it was a mutual decision.

LeBron James was reportedly surprised by the news and publicly thanked Griffin on Twitter, saying, quote: If no one appreciated you, Griff, I did, and hopefully, all the people of Cleveland. Thanks for what you did for the team and for three years. We got us one, unquote.

In a span of just two months, Dodgers' rookie Cody Bellinger went from Minor Leaguer to making history in the Majors. He hit two home runs against the Mets making him the fastest player to ever hit 21 home runs. It took him just 51 games. Now, he leads the National League in home runs.

He's just 21 years old. The future's bright. He was playing in the Little League World Series just ten years ago.

Dodgers beat the Mets 10-6. Talk about a good blood line, Christine -- his dad, Clay, won three World Series, two with the Yankees, one with the Angels.

ROMANS: Really?

WIRE: So, good stuff there for the Bellingers.

ROMANS: All right. Absolutely.

All right. Thanks, Coy. Nice to see you.

WIRE: You're welcome.

ROMANS: All right. The world is waiting to see how the White House will respond after the death of this young man, Otto Warmbier. Senator John McCain says the American was murdered by North Korea. We're live with what the president could have in store for Pyongyang.