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Polls Open in Georgia Special Election; American Citizen Held Captive in North Korea Dies; Democrats Criticize Senate Republicans Method of Crafting Health Care Bill; Interview with Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired June 20, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think we have a strategy for how we want to handle this. What we did on Sunday was force protection. They were attacking forces loyal to us. What is our policy about what is clearly an Iranian and Syrian land grab, drafting on our military success against ISIS, moving eastward to control the border crossings between Iraq and Syria?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Strong point that feeds into something we're finally seeing in the Senate. They're meeting about the authorization for use of military force is in a time that the president of the United States address Congress and the American people and say what the plan is. General, thank you very much.
HAYDEN: Thank you.
CUOMO: All right, there's a lot of news. Let's get after it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel really good, very optimistic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The polls are now open in Georgia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is almost like a referendum on Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is the homestretch, y'all. You can feel it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is go time on the battle to save American health care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot allow America's health care to continue its current downward trajectory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Republicans are writing their health care bill under the cover of darkness because they're ashamed of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of broken hearts for the Warmbier family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not going to stand by while they do this to our citizens. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a brutal regime,
and we'll be able to handle it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone, welcome to your new day. It is Tuesday, June 20th, 8:00 in the east.
The polls are open in Georgia's sixth congressional district for a special election that's considered a major test for Democrats, and it could be a referendum on the Trump presidency as well. By the way, it's also the most expensive House race in U.S. history. So coming up this hour we will speak live with the Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff.
CUOMO: The implications of that race could have consequences for the president's agenda. Senate Republicans are pushing for a vote on their secretive health care bill as Democrats tie up the floor in protest of that secrecy.
We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Jason Carroll live in Marietta, Georgia. What do you know?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, consider this, Chris, 140,000 votes were cast during early voting. Those are the types of numbers that you normally see during a presidential campaign. That gives you a sense of just how much interest has been generated in this race, as you said, the most expensive of its kind in history, $50 million spent between these two candidates.
SO Let's give the lay of the land here. Basically what you have here is a situation in the sixth Congressional district which has been reliably Republican for decades. But during the 2016 campaign, President Trump barely carried this district. Democrats saw an opportunity here. Enter a man by the name of Jon Ossoff, a political novice, just 30 years of age. His opponent says lacks the political experience necessary for the job. But he's managed to really make some inroads here. You've got Karen Handel. She is the name here in town, well known, former Georgia secretary of state.
So here's what's at stake here. If Ossoff wins, it's really a symbolic victory for Democrats going forward, fiving them momentum going into the midterm election. If you've got Handel who pulls out a win here, that gives GOP lawmakers a sense of, hey, maybe what the president is doing is working. That gives them some momentum to get push his agenda through in Washington, D.C. The problem is, Chris and Alisyn, at this point this is a race that's just too close to call. Alisyn?
CAMEROTA: OK, Jason, thank you for the update. Obviously we'll check back with you throughout the day there.
Meanwhile, another top story that we're covering. President Trump in a showdown with North Korea over the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier.
CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with more. What are they saying, Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think first of all you have to say that this is a real human tragedy, the death of Otto Warmbier. And it only adds to the pressure of this administration and the crisis that is North Korea. The administration issuing a cautious statement. The president himself wading in, suggesting there will be a response, but not indicating what that response will be.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: That's a brutal regime. And we'll be able to handle it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Able to handle it, but how? Perhaps we'll get some type of an indication from the White House on how they're going to handle it later this week. On Wednesday the secretaries of state and defense expected to meet their Chinese counterparts right here in Washington, D.C. No doubt North Korea will be on the agenda. Back to you.
CUOMO: Joe, keep your eyes on your Twitter feed because you're not going to get an answer in a press briefing because it is going to be day nine of you guys not getting one. So let me know, I'll give you a hash-tag alert if it comes across.
[08:05:01] Let's bring in our panel, CNN political analysts David Drucker, and Abby Phillip, and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. It's good to have all three of you here. Brother Sanger, let me start with you today. When we look at this election in Georgia and what's going on with health care and the administration in general, we're seeing a tie-in. Do you? Is this referendum talk legitimate?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's legitimate, but it can be a little bit over-wrenched. What's fascinating about this district is it's been reliably Republican for decades. So if the Republicans lost it, I think it would probably spook a number of those who are working on this health care plan and would make them wonder whether or not they can tie themselves to President Trump over the long term. But I wouldn't over-read any individual congressional race. And of course the few times we thought there had been tests recently, President Trump has pulled it out at the end.
CAMEROTA: Thanks exactly right when you're talking about the other special elections that we've seen. So David Drucker, maybe this is a referendum on Democrats and whether or not they're as galvanized as some of them claim to be.
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think regardless of how the vote goes today, I think one thing we learned from this campaign is that they're energized, they are galvanized. And I think that even if they lose, that opposition to Trump will keep them galvanized. Chris has done a good job of highlighting that Ossoff raised $23
million plus dollars, mostly from outside the district. But why? Because Democrats are so jonesed up to stick it to Trump that they have been sending Ossoff money hand over fist. They didn't have to ask for it. It's just been pouring in.
One thing, though, Alisyn, you raise a good point about who the referendum is on -- Republicans will tell you, and they have been using this message and trying to nationalize this race where Ossoff has just been trying to localize it, that it's a referendum on Nancy Pelosi. And what Republican strategists tell me is that in polling Nancy Pelosi, more so than Barack Obama ever was, continues to be the best asset they have. So they have said Ossoff means more Pelosi. We're going to see this play over and over between now and 2018 Election Day. And it will be interesting to see how well that worked.
CUOMO: So Abby, look, the obvious indicator here is the Dems wouldn't have dumped so much money into this if they didn't think they could win. And I guess their read on that is the slim margin for Trump over Hillary Clinton. It was a point and a half. I think Romney won by something like 20-plus, Price was a prohibitive favorite, Tom Price, who is now the Health and Human Services secretary. He was holder of that seat and he was a prohibitive favorite, 60-plus-percent in every vote. So what's their gamble here and what's the chance it pays off?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the big gamble in this district is the education gap, the education divide. There are a lot of college-educated voters in this district, far more than in any of the other special elections that we've seen so far this year. And that's the biggest source of hope because these are the people, these are the Romney voters, that 19 percent or so that didn't go for Trump that maybe sat out in the last election or some of them converted over to Hillary Clinton. These are the people who are the most likely to secure a district like this for Democrats.
On the other hand, Trump has been surprisingly -- he's been surprisingly resilient among Republicans. Many of them still give him marks in the high 80s. And so it's really unclear whether or not they can get Republicans to go from annoyance or distaste to I'm actually going to vote for the Democrat in this election, especially in a midterm where the pool of voters that you're pulling from is a little bit unusual. It's not exactly what you might expect. So it's a special election and it's an off year. That makes it very unpredictable.
CAMEROTA: David Sanger, let's talk about what was going on on the Senate floor last night. So Democrats were holding this, you know, sort of strongly worded speeches that they were giving about the fact that they think all the health care, I think it's demonstrably proven, all the health care negotiations have been going on behind closed doors with the GOP. We just had Senator Chris Murphy on who said they know they can't really stall the GOP's plans or from them bringing it to a vote, but they were trying to shame the GOP and trying to kind of broadcast to all the constituents that nobody knows what's in this and it might be bad for them. SANGER: Well, that's right, Alisyn. But, you know, what's
fascinating is you're beginning to see leaks out of this process. And what are we discovering in the course of that, that the bill that they are considering would give the states a lot more leeway to go deny some of the benefits that people right now are getting under Obamacare. And I think the more that becomes clear, I think that the Senate's going to have to sort of deal with what President Trump called the other day the mean factor in all of this, which is whether or not this seems to be moving in that direction.
[08:10:11] And, you know, you hear the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell say he wants to have this thing done by the July 4th holiday. But there's danger for the Republicans here if there is a sense that they have railroaded something that in the end ends up denying a large number of people benefits.
CUOMO: David, there's a slight of hand going on here. All states want more control over what they do. Governors like that, right? I've got a big governor in my family, and what they don't like is getting more control over less money, right? I also have a governor in my house who will fight over everything except the check. He's cheap. He wants more money.
CUOMO: So when they're being told you're going to get less money, that's the gamble for the Republicans right now, is they're saying you're going to have more control, that's what you guys want, get the federal government out of it. Yes, that's good. But we're cutting your money, especially for the most vulnerable, and that's going to be a problem, isn't it?
DRUCKER: And that's why you've seen Republican resistance, because you have Republicans, Rob Portman is among them, from states that expanded Medicaid. And so even though not all of these Republicans are moderate, many of them are conservative, they're still concerned with how this bill will impact the people they represent.
Look, this all gets back, Chris, to the dance that Republicans are trying to have to do here with this health care reform bill, which is we want to maintain everything that everybody likes about Obamacare, preexisting conditions, protections and things like that, but we don't want to keep up any of the things that people don't like. There are a lot of mandates. There are a lot of taxes. Republicans have long been against --
CUOMO: This is how you're paying for things that they do like.
DRUCKER: Yes. And if you don't get rid of the mandates and a lot of the rules, you can't actually bring down insurance premiums, which is a huge complaint on the right and is a huge problem because so many people are paying deductibles that they can't afford and things like that. And so that's why this has become such a policy mess, because it's not a clean policy decision. It's something the Democrats faced eight years ago, but they were more willing to just go all in and simply say don't worry, it will all work out. Republicans are trying to split the baby and say don't worry, it will
work out, and from a policy perspective that's a very difficult thing to do.
BOLDUAN: Abby, let's talk about something else that is a very difficult thing to do, and that's the right response to this tragic Otto Warmbier story, where Senator John McCain says that he was murdered. I mean, John McCain has just said in, you know, the clearest terms yet that he was murdered by the North Korean regime. So this is a tough one obviously for President Trump. Is there a sense of what he'll do?
PHILLIP: I don't think that there's a clear sense from this administration that they have a silver bullet. I think you had a guest earlier on who said exactly that. This is a hard problem. I think he recognizes that it's a hard problem. And to his credit, it is probably the one thing that people say the president say he is the most concerned about. He is kept up at night by North Korea as he should because of things like this that happen.
I think he views the better relationship he has with China as a key to all of this. And it may very well be, but I think if it were that easy, that would have been done already too. So they're just in a really tough spot looking for good pressure points and some answers here.
CUOMO: He's a little bit boxed in, David Sanger, by his own campaign rhetoric, right, that I'm going to muscular with North Korea, I'm going to show them what it is, and then he came out with a pretty measured response. But that may be the right response. What are the options here?
SANGER: His options are not good, Chris. And look, if this was a problem, as Abby indicated, that the Chinese were going to solve for the United States, they would have solved it 20 years ago. And I've been reporting on North Korea since the late '80s and the cycle is very much the same. They escalate. They look for a moment in which they're going to get concessions from us. We sometimes offer them and sometimes don't. President Obama didn't. And then you go all through the cycle once again.
Unfortunately, in this tragic case, while the North Koreans have killed Americans before, rarely have they killed a tourist and a college student. And we don't know the circumstances yet of what caused his death but I think there's good reason to believe that his treatment at the hands of the North Koreans had something to do with the death of an otherwise seemingly perfectly healthy 20-year-old.
So the question here is does the president respond to this death or does he stay on track with his main policy? And then the second question is, does he have a set of options if the Chinese disappoint here? And they will. They already are. And there he seems to be back to sort of a warmed up version of what President Obama did, which was increase sanctions.
[08:15:07] If they want to really increase the sanctions, they know how to do it. They can cut off energy with Chinese help and they can inspect every ship.
CAMEROTA,: OK, panel. Thank you very much.
CUOMO: All right. So, coming up in just a few minutes, we are going to talk with the Democratic candidate in that Georgia special election, Jon Ossoff is his name.
Now, we, of course, invited his Republican challenger Karen Handel. She's been on the show before but she declined on this day.
CAMEROTA: All right. Fired national security adviser Michael Flynn now said to be cooperating with the FBI, at least that's the theory of one senator. How big of a problem is that for President Trump? We ask the top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee about all of this, next.
CUOMO: Well, we have new developments this morning in the Russia probe concerning fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, a Democratic senator suggests Flynn may be cooperating with the FBI amid a report that Flynn may have failed to disclose something else. This time a trip to the Middle East to secure an energy deal between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Let's discuss the implications with the vice chairman of the Senate Intel Committee, Democratic Senator Mark Warner. His committee is holding a hearing tomorrow looking into Russia's influence on the 2016 election.
And in my hand, Senator, thank you for being on the show.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thanks.
[08:20:01] CUOMO: I have a letter that you just dispatched to the Honorable John F. Kelly, also known as the secretary of homeland security. And in it, you are asking an important question. You're saying let's not get distracted from the big questions here about Russian interference and how they did it and the extent. And you're asking for him to work with states to share information about how far the interference went.
What is your concern?
WARNER: Here's my concern, Chris. There have been published reports which I won't comment on the truthfulness that literally dozens and dozens of states were interfered with. So far, only two states, Illinois and Arizona, have, in effect, come forward and acknowledged that the Russians tried to hack into them.
What I want to make clear is, I don't want to try to embarrass any state, but I think there are a number of more states who were attempted to be hacked into. We ought to declassify that so that Americans can understand and state election officials ultimately where the responsibility lies can do more to be ready, because we have elections in 2018 in my home state of Virginia. We have state elections this year.
And I think when the American public realized how extensive the Russian attempts to interfere in our electoral process, the more we'll be on guard. Let me be clear that I don't think the Russians actually changed the vote totals of any voting in 2016, but clearly, they went after a whole lot of states and we need to be on guard.
CUOMO: Answer this common pushback, which is, the Russians do this all the time, so does the United States. They interfere in elections all the time. This is nothing new.
WARNER: Well, Chris, that is just frankly flat out wrong and all the intelligence community has all come to the conclusion that the Russians massively interfered in a way that we've never seen before. Not only did they hack into information and release selectively information that would help Mr. Trump and hurt Mrs. Clinton, but they also used fake news and a series of Internet bots to try to overwhelm certain search engines so that if you were reading news in certain areas of the state near the end of the election, you only got one set of facts.
This was weaponization of information. Virtually everybody I know, Democrat and Republican, accepts that as factual, unprecedented. The one elected official in Washington that still seems not to accept that is Mr. Trump and, frankly, I can't understand why.
CUOMO: Well, this one guess would be because any time Russia is mentioned, he thinks it's bad for him. One of the reasons is Michael Flynn. What do you make --
WARNER: Well, that is a little peculiar -- it is a little peculiar that this President Trump who is willing to say pretty much bad things about anyone, the only world leader he's not ever said anything bad about is Vladimir Putin. That raises a whole set of questions with me.
CUOMO: Well, one of those questions surrounds Michael Flynn now. Do you have any reason to believe that he is cooperating with authorities?
WARNER: Well, clearly he's been looking for immunity for some time. He said he would come in and talk to us at the Intel committee but only with immunity. We subpoenaed a number of -- but I would have a lot of questions for General Flynn, not only his unreported trips and unreported finances he received from Turkey, from Russia. I'd like to know what kind of conversations he had with Russian officials while he was directly involved in the campaign.
CUOMO: Is it true he did not report a trip to the Middle East?
WARNER: Again, I've seen those published reports in the last 24 hours. I can't speak to the veracity of them. But this was an individual who got fired within the first few weeks of the administration because he didn't tell the truth. There seems to be each couple of weeks more information coming out about General Flynn. I do hope the FBI gets a chance to get a full confession from him at some point.
CUOMO: Why did your committee drop investigations of any potential obstruction? And do you believe that the special counsel is looking at the circumstances surrounding the firing of the FBI director?
WARNER: Well, first of all, Chris, we didn't drop anything. What we were asked was if there was a charge of obstruction of justice, that would be turned over to special counsel Mueller who -- because that's a criminal charge and his investigation is criminal.
What we want to know is has there been efforts by this president to, in effect, politicize the intelligence committee. There are a number of reports that he tried to interfere with senior levels of the intelligence community, about trying to ask them to back off the Russia investigation. Clearly, we had direct testimony from former Director Comey that he felt so uncomfortable about some of this pressure from the president that he went out and wrote individual memos to make sure that were records because he was afraid the president might lie about those conversations.
That is very troubling. And, you know, we're just seeing what appears to be a pattern here.
CUOMO: Do you believe the special counsel is looking at the circumstances surrounding the director of the FBI and his dismissal?
[08:25:07] WARNER: I believe the special counsel has a broad purview. I think he's looking into all of these issues. And he has one goal, which is to see if there are criminal violations. We have a counterintelligence role to show did the Russians interfere in the elections. We have an absolute yes on that.
Then, we have the question that we still need to sort through. Was there collaboration or some level of cooperation between officials connected with the Trump campaign and the Russians? We're still sorting through that.
CUOMO: All right. Senator, thank you very much. Appreciate you being on NEW DAY.
WARNER: Thank you, Chris.
CAMEROTA: Chris, it is decision day for voters in Georgia. Will Democrats finally break nearly 40 years of GOP dominance in that district? Will they send shockwaves to the White House? Or will it go the other way?
Democratic candidate John Ossoff joins us live with his thoughts next.
CAMEROTA: Voters are heading to the polls at this hour in Georgia's sixth congressional district. This is the most expensive House race in U.S. history. And many see it as a referendum on President Trump and the GOP agenda.
Joining us now is the Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff.
Good morning, Mr. Ossoff.