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Georgia Race: Ossoff's Youth versus Handel's Experience; Senate Democrats Protest GOP Health Care Secrecy; Trump Condemns "Brutal" North Korea after American Dies. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 06:00   ET


[06:00:00] JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- she's the former Georgia Secretary of State. She says Jon Ossoff is just basically your typical liberal. That's how she's basically portrayed him.

So, here's what this race means for both sides. If Ossoff is able to pull out here, that would be a huge symbolic victory for Democrats going forward to the midterm elections. If the Republicans are able to pull out a win here, that would give GOP lawmakers really a mandate going forward in trying to push through the President's agenda. The issue is here though, guys, it's so close, it's too close to call at this point. It's going to be a nail biter for both sides. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Thanks so much for that Jason. So, is it a race against the clock on health care. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushing for a vote before the July 4th recess. Some reports suggesting there could even be a vote next week. Democrats seizing the floor last night to protest Republican's efforts to gut the President's -- President Obama's signature health care law behind closed doors.

So CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live on Capitol Hill with more for us, to us about all the twist and turns. Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CCN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Alisyn. While many people were asleep, Democrats they were certainly up, they were on the Senate floor, they were doing a protest, a talk-a-thon if you will to try to call attention to the process, the super secret process that Republicans are engaged in in trying to craft their own version on the Senate side of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

And one of these things that they're asking for committee hearings, they are asking for a copy of the text when that becomes available, when the bill is actually written and all senators meeting -- well Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected all three of those requests leaving them very few options but to try to slow down the Senate government process and the things that get done, and also make some noise.


CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) MINORITY LEADER: The Republicans are writing their health care bill under the cover of darkness because they're ashamed of it. SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D) CALIFORNIA: If this bill was as wonderful as

the proponents would like for us to believe, it would be out in the open.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: There's only one word for what the Senate Republicans are doing with this bill, shameful.


MALVEAUX: One of the issues that they are negotiating is the issue over cutting Medicaid and we are learning now that actually on the Senate side there could be deeper cuts than on the House version side of this bill. That of course would make conservatives quite happy but moderates would be alienated. Alysyn, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: No question Suzanne that there was room to criticize the process with the ACA and the current manifestation of the law, but it was a lot more open process than what we're dealing with with Trumpcare, that's for sure.

So let's discuss, let's bring in the panel. Join us now our CNN analysts, Maggie Haberman, David Gregory and David Drucker. So, David Gregory, how do you tie these two big stories together, this special election in Georgia with Ossoff and Handle and what's going on or not going on with health care.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYSTS: Well when I look at Georgia, I see two big things. One is, it's obvious he had the tested the Trump brand now that he is president. This was a district that Tom Price held, has been Republican for a long long time and he won it narrowly. So there's room for Democrats. So you want to test the Trump brand and see how it is out there given all of the turbulence of the Trump administration.

The other piece is what is Democratic intensity like out there and that's one of the things that we'll be able to measure, a lot of money being poured in, a lot of excitement about trying to win back Congress next year. Well, is this an early barometer of how the Democrats are doing? And that's what focuses on health care. I don't think there's any questions about the fact that just as Republicans in 2010 did, so will Democrats in 2018 do, which is use health care as a way to really get out Democratic voters intensely around the idea that your coverage is being taken away.

So that's the early look at the play book and I think that's what's happening on the hill as well. That's what the Democrats are preparing to argue.

CAMEROTA: OK, that's a very good scene setter for us. So David, everybody thinks these things are harbingers of what is going to happen in the midterm until it doesn't go their way.


CAMEROTA: You know, like in Kansas or Montana, and that it's an outlier of some sort. So, is this is a dull weather, I mean can we truly consider Georgia a bellwether?

DRUCKER: Well I think we can say that there are things we can learn from Georgia. And let's not forget, in 2010, in 2006, the party that won the special elections still ended up losing the majority. So it's very early on in terms of that. But here's what we know about Georgia, number one, it's the kind of district the Democrats have to win next year, upscale suburban, they've been Republican for a long time but they're not high on President Trump and there are some changing demographics.

And this is the kind of district they're going to have to win next year if they're going to win the majority. It's a 24-seat majority. There are 23 Republican seats that Hillary Clinton won last near. Number two, although it may not be a harbinger in terms of 2018, ultimately there's a lot of time. It could have an immediate influence on Capitol Hill because we have members in the Senate that have yet to vote on the health care bill.

[06:05:07] The House may have to vote again, and if Jon Ossoff wins this thing I think you're going to see a lot of Republicans looking over their shoulder wondering weather or not they want to take these tough votes. This is a health care bill that has not been well received. And ironically as poorly as Obamacare is functioning right now, in its entire history it's never been more popular. It is more popular than unpopular for the past couple of months, for the first time ever.

And so, there's some things to watch out of what happens today that really matter.

CUOMO: And Maggie, you could easily make the case that Georgia is neither Montana nor Kansas. This would be the first one where the expectation is it should be a GOP seat. It has been since '79. Tom Price held it and he won by big margins there. Trump only won by a point and a half over Clinton. And that created the opportunity which was also different in Montana and Kansas. And that's why they dumped so much money into it and a lot of the money, most of the money overwhelmingly most of the money for Jon Ossoff comes from out of state.

So, how big a deal is it today?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYSTS: Look, it is a big deal. I tend to think that there is a danger in over reading what any special election means in terms of the broader landscape. And I still think that's the case here. But I think that Democrats really badly need a win. I think that you've had had a lot of Democratic anger that's been tied up in a movement described as the resistance. You have had Democrats staunchly opposed President Trump's agenda.

They need to be able to parlay that into victory somewhere, especially because while we have all been very focused on the White House's problems, and there are many, the Democrats are still trying to figure out exactly why they lost in 2016 and what that means going forward. And so I think a lot of that is going to come out of what happens in this district. If Democrats lose, it tends to translate more whether they can actually win. Winning will be important and significant but a loss will be very very painful.

A win does not necessarily portend taking back the majority in 2018. I think David Drucker is right. This is going to be a factor I think less for the day and more in terms of how members of Congress vote. One thing to watch for this summer is how many retirements do you get from the Congressional Republicans who get frustrated, feeling like nothing is really getting done, we are basically here particularly and we're not moving, we've had the governing majority and we have not been able to make anything happen, particularly if health care does not pass.

So I think you're going to have members who are going to be concerned, depending on what they see happen today about taking another vote on a pretty controversial bill and what that could mean for them next year.

GREGORY: Can I just add this point too. I do think that, you know, voters who sense what Maggie is saying, nothing is getting done in Washington. That plays different ways. You know one of the factors back in 2010, which was the first midterm for President Obama was that government had done so much, going back to the bank bailouts and the response to the financial crisis, and that a lot of voters wanted a stop on that. They wanted a stop on how much government was actually doing, how much federal government activism.

Here we haven't seen a lot from the Trump administration by way of actual activity and accomplishment. And we don't see much in the way of a Democratic alternative. We're still fighting about preserving Obamacare, one of the major policy trend (ph). So, you know, outside of the den and all of the noise out of Washington, we're going to want to gauge deeper into next near what voter mood is.

CAMEROTA: OK. So David let's talk about health care. Dems held the floor until midnight last night. I'm not sure what that accomplished. But how are they going to vote on -- I mean some people say the vote could happen this week, next week. So how are they going to vote on something they don't know?

DRUCKER: It was like deja vu all over again but the teams has changed sides. Distinctly I was watching Chuck Schumer warn Republicans, you know, when you do things in the dead of night accommodations are made. And I was thinking about the Cornhusker Kickback in Louisiana Purchase.

Look, I think that what people need to understand about Republicans in this health care bill is that politically they're in a tough spot but it's tougher if they do nothing. So they're based elected them to run the entire government. And one of the things they wanted, I mean one of the biggest promises we've seen in American political history is to repeal and replace Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act.

And despite how unpopular the American Health Care Act is, the Republican bill is, and despite how poorly it's been received and how worried members are, if they do nothing they risk a repudiation by their own base and next year why bother showing up if you can't deliver on such essential promise. So, if the choice is between voting for a bill that people don't like in doing nothing, they're going to take their chances and vote for something that the people don't like in hopes that one, it fixing a health care system that needs fixing and B that they actually deliver on their promise and legislate and create some of that activity that David Gregory noted is missing.

[06:10:02] CUOMO: Some gross assumptions though, right Maggie? One is that this fixes anything, which I don't understand. I've been reading about this now for months. I talked to experts, I read (ph) this online, I'm trying to get the economics of it. Part of it is we don't know enough. That's part of the problem, right. You can attack the ACA as much as you want. You had all of those hearings, we covered them. It took forever. This, there's none of it

That's why the Democrats were on the floor last night. They were on the floor last night to provoke a conversation about the lack of conversation. So, how do they sell this as a fix when all we know about it is that sucks money out and in doing so jeopardizes so many people from getting coverage, and that they clearly don't want it out in the open.

HABERMAN: Right. The number you will hear over and over again as this process sort of barrels toward a possible conclusion at a speed the Democrats are trying to slow down is a 23 million figure, that that is the number of people who will lose coverage over the course of a decade, according to the correctional budget office in their scoring of this bill. That is a big problem. I mean the whole purpose of the fix was supposed to be that more people could get it, that it was going to be less imperiling of covariate.

And so those are numbers - the kind of numbers that voters tend to understand, no matter what is taking place behind closed doors. There are two things that will make sense and translate through all of these, and one is the loss of coverage and one is the cuts that we're talking about, or that seemed to be being talked about by some conservatives in terms of pushing through the Senate bill.

Those are very problematic. And then there's -- the broader problem Chris, I think for the Republicans right now, again because they control all of government, is there were those huge protests in 2010 about the Affordable Care Act and they were understandable and that was still a far more visible process than this is. There are quotes from Mike Pence, there are quotes from Mitch McConnell, there are quotes from a number of Republicans going back to 2010 talking about the shame of doing this behind closed doors.

You are going to see all of those quotes get recycled. Look, you may have voters who are going to say some version of, look, Washington is broken and we're not blaming it on anyone in particular at this point. But Republicans are getting very perilously close to the line. And I think David Drucker is right, that you do have people who have campaigned as a party for three cycles now on repealing this and they do need to show some traction.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for all of that. We'll check back on you on other topics momentarily. CUOMO: All right. So coming up on the show, in the 8:00 hour we're going to have the Democratic candidate in the Georgia special election, Jon Ossoff, here he is, the man of the moment, can he pull off a big win for the Democrats? Now, we should note we did invite his Republican challenger Karen Handle as we have in the past. She declined.

CAMEROTA: OK. So the U.S. will handle it. That's the reaction from President Trump after this horrible death of an American student held captive by North Korea. Is his response strong enough? We'll discuss next.


[15:16:35] CUOMO: All right, the stakes are now very high between North Korea and the United States because that college student, Otto Warmbier who was held 17 months has died. That makes his death a potential homicide and it could implicate what North Korea did. So, how will the President "handle it", as he says.

CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House with more. We've been told the United States was done being passive, it was time for muscular foreign policy. Not so much in this statement.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Chris. The death of Otto Warmbier, certainly a human tragedy only adding a level of concern to the crisis that is North Korea. And the administration's options, quite frankly, may be limited out of concerns for other Americans imprisoned in North Korea. Meanwhile the Russia investigation continues to cause distractions for this White House.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES: It's a brutal regime and we'll be able to handle it.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump under pressure to take a harder line toward North Korea, amid outrage over the death of American student Otto Warmbier. The 22-year-old was released last week from North Korean custody after spending 17 months in prison for trying to steal a propaganda poster. Warmbier arrived in the U.S. with severe brain damage and in a coma.

TRUMP: He spent a year and a half in North Korea, a lot of bad things happened, but at least we got him home to be with his parents.

ACOSTA: The President offering his deepest condolences in a statement and condemning the brutality of the North Korean regime. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stating that the U.S. holds North Korea accountable for Warmbier's unjust imprisonment. Republican senators John McCain and Marco Rubio taking a tougher tone, with McCain stating plainly that Warmbier was murdered by the Kim Jong-un regime.

The international challenge coming as the President continues to confront the Russia investigation back at home. Two top Democrats in the House now demanding documents related to General Michael Flynn's foreign work (ph) in a letter to Flynn's lawyers. Alleging that President Trump's fired national security adviser failed to disclose a 2015 Middle East trip on security clearance forms, a trip reportedly related to a major nuclear energy deal involving Russian.

Democrats also alleging he left key information about a 2015 Saudi Arabia trip off those forms. This after a key member of the Senate judiciary committee made this stunning statement about Flynn on Monday.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) RHODE ISLAND: All the signals are suggesting that he's already cooperating with the FBI and may have been for some time.

ACOSTA: That committee now agreeing to widen the scope of its Russia probe to include possible obstruction of justice.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Political interference with an ongoing investigation, regardless of what the President's lawyer may say could make the president a target, a subject, a person of interest.

ACOSTA: With the Russia investigation expanding, the White House continues to stonewall reporters, as Sean Spicer's future as press secretary remains unclear.

The White house is refusing to answer those questions on camera.

[06:20:01] My guess is because they want their evasive answers not saved for posterity.


JOHNS: All eyes now on President Trump and United States government in how they will respond. The President by the way once said he would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-un. The secretaries of Defense and State expected to meet on Wednesday with their Chinese counterparts here in Washington, D.C. and North Korea is likely to be a hot topic. Chris and Alysyn?

CAMEROTA: OK Joe, thank you very much for that. We want to discuss it now as well, back with us, Maggie Haberman and David Gregory, and CNN military and diplomatic analyst Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Maggie, this is -- the Otto Warmbier story is such a tragedy on so many levels. It's sickening to watch him come off the plane like that. But when President Trump says it's a brutal regime and we'll be able to handle it, what does he mean?

HABERMAN: I don't think we know yet. And you are correct. I mean it's hard to read about this case. It's really, really painful. And I think that, you know, the administration is clearly feeling the impact of that. Look, the President's strategy toward North Korea relies very heavily on pressuring China and pressuring Beijing. He has not pressured Beijing to the degree that he suggested that he would during the campaign and I think it remains to be seen whether he will take a more forceful tact.

For now he hasn't, there's going to be talks with Chinese officials this week. We will see weather brings anything new. But look, they're in a tough position vis-a-vis North Korea with not many great options.

CUOMO: John, there is a temptation to want to confront the President with his own word and promises when it came to the foreign policy. We're going to be muscular, Obama, you know, and you guys had administration too soft. So, in a situation like this when he is clearly not, you know, upping the hostility, there's an opportunity for criticism. But is that the right move? Is North Korea in your experience, an actor where confronting them and being more muscular is the smart move?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It depends, Chris, on what you're talking about. Sometimes yes. Look, muscularity and strength determine that that matters to them. I mean you see them react very strongly whenever we do exercises for instance. But there are other instances like this one where I think he got to play a more careful hand here.

I agree with Maggie, there are no really good options here with how to respond to the death of Otto Warmbier and to hold them accountable for that. I suspect that they're thinking all through those options right now and it can get anywhere from sanctions to more, you know, passive diplomatic demarches, but there's no really good options. And I don't think seriously that these talks with the Chinese this week are going to really produce any results. I mean it will certainly come up but I wouldn't look to this week's meeting with the Chinese to really result on anything specific.

CAMEROTA: John I want to stay with you for one more second because the Warmbier family seems to be putting part of the blame on the Obama administration and where you of course were in the state department saying that you all didn't do enough to bring Otto home. What were the efforts?

KIRBY: I did see those comments. Look, my heart goes out to the family. I understand the grief that they're going through. Actually I don't understand it. I'm sure it's deeper than anybody can guess. And I certainly understand the frustrations that they expressed. I respect that. Now what I would tell you is that -- and I was at the state department when Otto was detained and taken.

And what I can tell you and what I can tell all the American people is, that the state department worked tirelessly to try to secure his release, as well as the release of the other Americans that are being detained there. Secretary Kerry took it on personally and personally engaged his Chinese counterpart time and time again, mentioning Otto by name, really working this hard. I mean there was every effort. And obviously we failed to get him home. And I think that this administration deserves great credit for actually getting him out of there. They do deserve credit to that, we failed to do that. It's a regret we all carry with us.

CUOMO: What do you think they did that you didn't?

KIRBY: I'm sorry?

CUOMO: What did they do that you didn't?

KIRBY: I don't know. I think -- actually, I don't know because I wasn't part to their conversations. I do think that the revelation of Otto's physical condition and the urgency that it demanded had a lot to do with this, but again, I wasn't part of it.

GREGORY: It's also curious, and I'm sure the admiral knows about this, that the state department doesn't specifically prohibit Americans from visiting North Korea, as was the case under here. And I wonder if there will be a review of that.

The other piece of this too Senator McCain and Rubio who talk about challenging North Korea perhaps militarily is, how difficult that is because of the vulnerability of U.S. troops in South Korea. You know, are there smaller steps that you can take militarily without it escalating, and I think that's what's so difficult with an unhinged regime like this that is testing advanced weaponry the way they are. That you could very quickly get to a major scale conflict that nobody wants which is why the Chinese are so important.

[06:25:09] Will fear of that kind of escalation persuade the Chinese to do something, knowing that the U.S. can't be in a situation where we have one of our citizens murdered like this after being detained and tortured and stand idly by?

CAMEROTA: And Maggie, let's quickly touch on the latest threat in the Russia investigation. There's a new wrinkle that the Democratic Senator White House seems to be floating (ph) and that is that he believes that Michael Flynn is cooperating, he's reading the tea leaves, he says, so he's speculating, but he sees signs that Michael Flynn may already be offering up information for investigators.

HABERMAN: Look, unless the senator has information that the rest of us are not privy to by the way of the Senate investigation, it's possible that he does, it's really hard to tell from the outside whether somebody is cooperating with the FBI. There's often a lot of speculation about what someone is doing, whether it is Michael Flynn or somebody else in another case. I think, you know, it is impossible to know. But, that having been said, it is been widely speculated on, well beyond the Senator that Michael Flynn is either, you know, has or will cut some kind of a deal with the FBI.

And his attorneys have been pretty clear that he's looking for an immunity deal. There's also been a belief within the White House that a lot of what you see about President Trump, you know, signaling to Michael Flynn through anonymous stories, you know, stay strong. He has indeed said to people he wished he hadn't fired Flynn. A lot of that I think is about -- concern about, you know, Flynn sort of working in tandem with the FBI and what that could mean.

CUOMO: Quickly, John Kirby, the idea that Flynn didn't just failed to disclose some of his Russia activities and some of his other consulting, but that specific to the Middle East, what do you see there as a sensitivity?

KIRBY: Well, I mean obviously there's a, you know, there are lots of security contracts, defense relationships that we have with countries there. I don't know what his dealings would be but it could be, you know, in that realm, I mean in terms of, you know, his consulting work. More critically, Chris, I think, what this shows me is a pattern of behavior here of nondisclosure of foreign contacts and it's not just by General Flynn.

So, I think, you know, this just builds on this narrative that there was a lot of foreign activity going on during the transition that wasn't being transparent and wasn't -- and then disclosed when it had to be.

CAMEROTA: OK, panel, thank you very much for all of those insights. Another story we need to tell you about, the Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case that could fundamentally change the way America conducts its elections. The details next.