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CNN Projects Republican Wins in Georgia; Senate Republicans Set to Unveil Health Bill; Failed Terror Bombing at Brussels Train Station. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 21, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:11] KAREN HANDEL (R), WON GEORGIA HOUSE RACE: Thank you. God bless you.



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A body blow for Democrats. The Republicans win a closely watched special election in Georgia. What does it mean for the president's agenda and can Democrats ever regain their footing in Trump country?

Thirty million dollar loss, folks.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, June 21st. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And Democrats this morning are searching for a new strategy after suffering defeat in a high stakes, high cost special election in Georgia. CNN projects Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff by four points in a district Republicans have typically won by 20 points or more.

Still, it was enough to provide a big morale boost to Republicans worried about President Trump's potential to drag down GOP candidates in midterm elections next year.

BRIGGS: Last night after declaring victory, Handel did not minimize the president. She and her supporters embraced him.


HANDEL: And a special thanks to the president of the United States of America.



BRIGGS: Make no mistake: that crowd was there to support Trump.

Jon Ossoff falling short despite raising $23 million in the most expensive House race in U.S. history. In conceding, he tried to paint a hopeful picture of Democratic victories to come.


JON OSSOFF (D), LOST GEORGIA HOUSE RACE: This is not the outcome any of us were hoping for. But this is the beginning of something much bigger than us. It's extraordinary what you have done here. The fight goes on.


ROMANS: Republican Ralph Norman also won a special election in South Carolina's fifth district with earlier wins in Kansas and Montana. That means Republicans are now 4-0 in special elections to replace Trump appointees.

To help us break it all down, let's bring in CNN politics reporter Eric Bradner live from Atlanta. Eric was at Karen Handel's headquarters for election night last night.

And, Eric, what is the takeaway for Democrats here? They are 4-0 in these special elections.

BRIGGS: 0-4.


ROMANS: Well, 0-4, yes. I'm not a sports person.

BRADNER: Democrats are frustrated right now. They're disappointed. They really thought Georgia was their best chance to pick off one of these seats but they're trying to understand that these were all really heavily Republican districts. The Georgia 6th was one that President Trump struggled in last fall. They only beat Hillary Clinton by 1.5 points.

But historically, Republicans cruise there. Tom Price, the former congressman who left to become health and human services secretary, never lost by fewer than 20 points. So, what Democrats are trying to do now is shift their focus to more competitive seats headed into the 2018 midterms. They say there are about 70 of them that are friendlier territory for Democrats and so, the question is whether they can sort of move past the disappointment, keep momentum in their base and sort of shift the focus to races that are frankly more winnable for the party.

BRIGGS: But this is the most expensive loss in U.S. House history. Yes, there's some Republican slippage, no doubt about it, but Democrats have yet to put any points on the board. Is resist a message that is resonating? BRADNER: That's a good point and really Georgia was interesting

because Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate, didn't talk about Donald Trump. He didn't bash Trump. He tried to really localize this race, talk about economic issues, cast himself as an independent, and there are a lot of progressives who wish he would have been more aggressive about hitting Trump, hitting Republicans on health care. He didn't do that, and it seems it wasn't the right strategy because he didn't win.

So, we'll see district by district, but Democrats do need to keep trying different strategies. Their hope is there will be a big enough playing field in 2018 that they can try several different things hoping that some work.

ROMANS: I know, but trying different things isn't working for them right now. I mean, do they have one leader, one, you know, one person who is rising above the rest who is sort of the leader of the voice of the party? Do they have one message? I don't see that coming out here aside from resist, I don't see -- I don't see the movement, the personality and the platform yet.


[04:05:00] You know, if you ask Republicans who their leader is they'll say Nancy Pelosi. She was the star of all of the Republican ads in the district. It's sort of the same playbook they ran when President Obama was in office.

They really emphasized this point that Republicans don't want to hand a victory to Nancy Pelosi and watch national Democrats celebrate in their backyard. That worked for them.

On the Democratic side, no, with President Obama out of office, Joe Biden sort of sending signals that he's interested in running in 2020, but not really. There is no single national voice. Elizabeth Warren has sort of emerged as a voice of the progressive left. Bernie Sanders still has a big megaphone. But the party doesn't have a leader, and when you start to look at 2020 prospects, there are two or three dozen names on the list right now. All of them sort of jockeying for attention, but none of them really standing out.

BRIGGS: Now, to Christine's point, you know, Jon Ossoff made this a local election. Even Karen Handel really wanted to make this a local election. Is that really the takeaway here this morning that again, go back to Tip O'Neill, all politics is local. Is that the case?

BRADNER: Well, in Handel's case, it was sort of more deflect a lot of the national issues, deflect questions about health care while Republican super PACs came in and made the sort of national argument against again, Nancy Pelosi, against letting liberals sort of celebrate a win in their district.

Frankly, Democrats can't say that the strategy works. You're going to see more of them try it in hard to win districts, try to stay focused on local issues rather than nationalizing the race, but -- but no, I mean, as health care sort of emerges, it's going to be hard to talk about anything else once Republicans, if they do pass a health care bill, that sort of thing.

So, it's hard to take too much out of this one race in part because it's impossible to spend this kind of money in a lot of districts in the midterms. It's just not there to pump into a single race, but local issues were clearly Ossoff's driver here and it didn't work out for him.

ROMANS: Dave points out a pretty interesting op-ed in "The Washington Post". Nothing but the current faux-scandal-ridden environment has produced a downdraft for Republicans.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: You know, all these things that, you know, these reasons that Republicans are starting to get defensive about the Trump administration, maybe they don't need to be defensive, you know? Maybe that's a construct that's just not there.

BRIGGS: 2018 is a long time from now.

ROMANS: It sure is.

All right. Eric Bradner, come back in a few minutes and tell us about the color of the room when you were there for the Handel win last night. Thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, the Republican health care bill, well, still secret this morning but not for long. Senate leaders are preparing to release what they're billing as a discussion draft. It's the opening salvo and what top Republicans hope will be a final push to a vote on repealing and replacing Obamacare before the upcoming congressional recess. That's less than a week ago, though.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has latest from Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave and Christine, we have a date for the bill -- the bill that's been crafted behind the scenes, the bill that we still don't know what's actually inside of it. We do know, at least according to the Senate majority leader, that Senate Republicans will be releasing at least a draft discussion of the bill on Thursday.

We also know a target for a vote next week, likely on Thursday of next week. Guys, things are moving very quickly for a process that we haven't seen much light toward at least over the course of the last couple of months. Senate Republicans still have a lot of work to do and frankly, they have a lot of feelings to assuage inside their own conference.

Take a listen to this.

REPORTER: Have you seen -- what have you seen of the health care bill?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Haven't seen it.

REPORTER: Is that a problem?

MCCAIN: Oh, no. Never a problem. No, of course not. I always like to move forward with legislation that I haven't seen. That's one of the practices I've enjoyed around here.

REPORTER: Did you get any more clarification today, sir?

MCCAIN: We have lots of conversations. Every lunch, we have conversations. We have more and more conversations. It's wonderful the conversations we have.

REPORTER: Does this make you want too not put your support behind this? Since there's not time --

MCCAIN: I haven't seen it. How can I put my support behind it if I haven't seen it?

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: It's not being written by us. It's apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate. So, if you're frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration. I share it wholeheartedly.

MATTINGLY: And, guys, I'm sure you picked it up, but Senator John McCain was being fairly sarcastic there. The interesting element here is this -- you have a lot of rank-and-file Republicans who have expressed kind of unease with the process, expressed concern that things haven't been as public, that there won't be a lot of time to digest a final proposal, that the American people haven't seen a lot of the final proposal.

[04:10:02] But what you haven't seen is those same Republicans say they're objecting to this process. They won't vote for the bill. They're still leaving themselves open to voting yes. That said, they still don't have the 50 votes they need to actually pass this. They have a lot of work to do.

But, first, they need to finalize the policy in the areas where they're still not certain where the policy is going to end up, there are still significant differences, whether it's the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act, how far they cut back regulations from the Affordable Care Act, even things like the structure of the tax credit. At least as of this point, those things have not been finalized. There's no full term agreement and that means there's still a lot of work to do. Not a lot of time to do that work. We'll see over the course of the next couple of days -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Phil. Thank you.

Breaking overnight, Uber founder Travis Kalanick is resigning as CEO after months of scandal at Uber. Investors demanded he step down. We'll have more on this in the next half hour. But, first, Washington may be focused on health care, but Speaker Paul

Ryan doesn't want you to forget about tax reform.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We will not cast a ballot for quick fixes and half measures. Transformational tax reform can be done and we are moving ahead -- full speed ahead.


ROMANS: The speaker is building momentum for real reform, reform, not just cuts and he promises it will happen this year, which is what Wall Street wants to hear. The promise of tax reform is keeping stocks near record highs.

Reform this year, by the way, will not be easy. There are big disagreements within the GOP over specifics. But the Trump administration promises to cut rates for businesses and individuals and introduce what it calls pro-family tax measures. In fact, Ivanka Trump headed to Capitol Hill to discuss that with Senator Marco Rubio. They're teaming up to promote among other measures, child care tax credits.

One thing that won't be included in the tax reform bill, the $1 trillion in Obamacare tax cuts. They disproportionately help the wealthy. Speaker Ryan told CNBC they won't be included even if Obamacare repeal efforts fail.

It's interesting. It's almost like a reset from the speaker, but around the discussion of tax cuts. What I've been hearing for the past few weeks is not tax reform, but tax cuts.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: Tax cuts for business. Maybe middle class tax reform later, but just getting something near term and it sounds like Paul Ryan is trying to say, no, no, this is our shot for the real big reform. Let's do that. Let's not talk about tax cuts for companies.

BRIGGS: But is that out of the administration? Does the administration prefer a tax cut and is it the House who wants reform?

ROMANS: The administration prefers reform, you know? They have promised -- you know, Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail you were going to be able to get tax cut for the middle class. The first thing that his treasury secretary did when he went on TV after he was saying chosen, is say, we are going to have middle class tax relief.

So, the risk here is that if they rush through some sort of tax relief for business, they don't do the middle class tax reform.

BRIGGS: Sort of half-baked plan.

ROMANS: They're breaking a lot of promises.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

All right. Terror strikes yet again in Europe -- an explosion at a Brussels train station. How did the attacker end up the only one dead? We're live in Belgium ahead on EARLY START.


[04:17:14] BRIGGS: Belgium's national security council meeting this morning following a failed terrorist bombing in the city's central train station. Authorities say they now know the identity of the suspect. He was fatally shot by soldiers after a small explosion in the busy transportation hub. Nobody was injured in the attack.

Still Belgium's foreign ministry is keeping the country's threat level of three which warns of a possible and likely threat ahead.

Let's go live to Brussels and bring in CNN's Erin McLaughlin with the latest.

Good morning, Erin.


That's right. According to Belgian media, there are ongoing raids happening now in the Molenbeek area of Brussels. That is a neighborhood linked to previous terror attacks. You may remember that is where Paris attacker, Salah Abdeslam was found and arrested.

In terms of that neighborhood's connection to this attack, Belgian media reporting that it is the home of the suspect, 37 years old. Authorities not releasing his name, also not giving details in terms of the types of explosives used.

What we do know, 8:30 p.m. last night at this train station, there was a small explosion inside the station. That was followed by military troops opening fire, shooting and killing the suspect. Take a listen to what one eyewitness had to say.


NICOLAS VAN HERREWEGEN, WITNESS (through translator): When I walked down to the platform, there was a man screaming, screaming and screaming. He was talking about jihadis and things like that. At some point he screamed Allahu Akbar and detonated the small suitcase he was holding next to him. Then, people started to escape. They left and so on. At this point I walked back down to the platform to alert my colleagues so they could evacuate the station.


MCLAUGHLIN: As you can see here at central station, it has reopened. It is business as usual. We do understand that authorities have increased security presence at this and other sites. We are expecting very shortly a press conference from the federal prosecutor updating on the ongoing situation.

BRIGGS: So, that together with the Champs-Elysees attempt yesterday, no casualties.

Erin McLaughlin live in Belgium, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour.

The president's son-in-law and top advisor Jared Kushner is in Israel this morning. Middle East peace is part of his ever expanding portfolio. We are live in Jerusalem.


[04:24:05] ROMANS: President Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner is in Israel this morning. His mission: to revive the Mideast peace process. Kushner will participate in round of shuttle diplomacy, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Oren Liebermann. He is live this morning for us in Jerusalem.

Good morning, Oren.


This trip will be less than 24 hours in the region for Jared Kushner, but the meetings have been called, quote, long and intense from the U.S. embassy. So, it will be a meeting with the Israeli prime minister, the Palestinian president, as President Donald Trump keeps or tries to keep the momentum going forward on his attempt to restart a peace process here.

Kushner hasn't played a big role here just yet. He was here with the president last month on the president's first trip to the region, but Kushner was fairly quiet there. It's been another Trump advisor who's been doing the heavy lifting so far.

[04:25:00] But now, it is absolutely Kushner's turn. It will b be interesting to see what comes out of this meetings.

We don't expect any concrete steps, but Kushner here is an indication of how seriously Trump is pursuing a peace process and a peace deal. He's called it one of his top priorities and he intends to keep pushing here. It raises the stakes for Israelis and Palestinians, so it will be critical to see what comes out of these meetings.

Christine, what's interesting to note is that one of the cabinet members, the finance minister said there is absolutely pressure from the White House and from Trump administration on Israel to make steps towards peace.

ROMANS: All right. We'll see if he can restart a process that many others have tried and failed in the past. Thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: Yes, which side is willing to sacrifice? You're going to need both sides to sacrifice in that equation.

Ahead, Democrats staring at a cold reality this morning.


OSSOFF: We showed the world that in places where no one thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight.


BRIGGS: They can fight, but can they win? Devastating loss in a race that was supposed to slow the Trump machine.