Return to Transcripts main page


Republican Karen Handel Wins Georgia House Race; Secrecy Surrounds GOP Health Care Bill; Trump's Russia Stance. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 21, 2017 - 06:00   ET


[06:00:02] JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And still came up short, he was unable to tap into enough moderates and enough independents here in the district. And it points to a much larger problem for Democrats, Brooke, in part a messaging problem.

This was a big win for handle. A big win for their President as well. Their President sent out a tweet congratulating Handel. He came down here to the district to hold a private fund-raiser for here as well.

And even throughout the campaign, she tried to down play the national implications of the race and some analyst even say tried to distance herself from the President. Last night it was all about the President and Handel.


REP. KAREN HANDEL (R), CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: And a special thanks to the President of the United States of America.



CARROLL: So when we talk about that much larger problem for Democrats, just take a look at also what happen in South Carolina. There was a special election there as well. Democrats were unable to pick up the seat there. That race was much closer than expected, but still so far Democrats are 0 for 4. Chris, Brooke?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And that matters. I'll tell you it's easy to be gracious in victory. We hadn't heard Handel put her arms around President Trump as she did last night.


CUOMO: That's what happens when you win it's all good.

BALDWIN: And it's OK.

CUOMO: When you lose, now we need the political panel. CNN Political Analyst John Avlon, White House correspondent from Bloomberg News Margaret Talev, Political reporter for the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, Greg Bluestein.

So, John Avlon, what do you take of what happened last night?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, all the money in the world can't fight a plus nine Republican advantage. Folks, you got to remember there's a rig system redistricting this country that means all districts are not treated equal.

Republicans were set up that heavy advantage in this district. They run a very experience candidate who had statewide experience against a first-timer. And all that money and all that enthusiasm couldn't over come those deficits.

The other thing, Republicans successfully tied the candidate not only to, you know, who Ric (ph) a campaign as centrist, at some far left millennial but also to Nancy Pelosi. So there are deeper issues about turn out, about brand and about that uphill climb folks have to succeed and to bridge in order to win that kind of district.

BALDWIN: But it wasn't just Georgia. I mean, I know Jason just mentioned 0 for 4. So essentially you have Kansas, you have Montana, you have Georgia and you have South Carolina, all Republicans winning. So Margaret, if you're a Democrat waking up this morning, what the heck are you thinking?

MARGARET TALEV, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I mean, so if you're a Democrat waking up this morning, it's back to reality. There was this kind of fantasy scenario that many Democrats were hope for where there would be this major upheaval and it would complicate, you know, health care and Mitch McConnell's plans for a vote and it would be, you know, like, wow, the referendum on Trump and everything got easier and it would shake up the whole system.

That's not what's happened. This is much more kind of a reality scenario where Democrats see that they can come close in places that have been Republican for a long time. But that it doesn't matter unless you win. And so, you're looking now at midterms they really have to focus on the right candidate and the right message and staying away in the general election from being labeled, you know, a San Francisco liberal.

CUOMO: All right. So, Greg, you've got to put meat on the bones though, right? It's not our job to do that as journalists, we just outline what the right questions are. But the Democrats need to be finding some answers. I was talking before the show they teach you in campaign school -- Avlon probably heard something like this that you've got to learn from failure. Otherwise you're doomed to repeat it. And there's an acronym for fail, the future always involves learning.

And that's going to be the test Greg for Democrats, right? It ain't a coincidence that they lost all these races. What are they not getting done at the leadership level?

GREG BLUESTEIN, POLITICAL REPORTER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: this is the race that really hurt, the one they thought they could win out of the all four races on the ballot this year, because this is the race where Trump really struggled in this district, he won it by less than two points.

And you're right. I don't know what the Democratic message will be. I don't know. They're trying to figure out what formula, what secret concoction they come up with. Because with Jon Ossoff he tried to sort of dual track message find appeal to liberals and the centrists at the same time and it just didn't work for him.

CUOMO: But wasn't it just that, you know, because Ossoff was a little bit of an unknown, right? Handel was more of a known. But I really feel like it was about these two people. It was for Democrats largely Trump is bad, he's numbers are bad. This is a referendum on him. And that negativity will carry us to victory. Negativity wasn't enough.

AVLON: Right. And that's generally true in politics. It's not enough to oppose something. You got to support something positive as well.

[06:05:04] Look, all these districts are in red states, let's not forget that. What Democrats thought they had the momentum advantage, the early polling shog them in a strong position. But at the end of the day they couldn't get it done. The gap wasn't even close.

So there's a lot of soul searching to be done by Democrats right now about whether it was the candidate, whether it was the message and whether federalizing the election, even in a district where Donald Trump is unpopular that's college educated, will folks turn out for the Republican despite Donald Trump? So there's a lot of analysis that Democrats got to do tonight.

BALDWIN: OK. Let's talk health care. Let's switch gears here. We know that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing this discussion draft of the bill should be, you know, unveiled by tomorrow to see if listening to the briefing yesterday though at the White House Margaret, you know, that Sean Spicer admitting that the President hadn't seen any bit of it so far. Is that a good sign for Republicans if they're going to have this draft by tomorrow?

TALEV: Well, President Trump and the White House have made pretty clear that they really want a bill to pass, and they made that clear during the House process and now during the Senate process. The President's comments about wanting the bill to have more heart than the House version gives him a little space to step back if this whole thing turns ugly.

But make no mistake about it. They want this to pass because it is the predicate for anything to work afterwards, whether it's tax reform or any other less important.

BALDWIN: I mean, how does he explain? I know this is one of the question we took the briefing live, you know, yesterday, where you had the big victory lap, right? We all remember the optics the President standing in the Rose Garden with those House Republicans in the wake of that big win and yet you have the President then saying essentially that bill was mean and saying to Senate Republicans, I need more heart. How do you reconcile the two?

TALEV: You don't reconcile them. It's political space, a maneuvering room so he can back away from it or criticize it or say it wasn't my bill if it ends up becoming unpopular or failing. But right now what you don't see from the President is deep hands-on, jump-in involvement telling McConnell this is the language that I want, this is the language that would have heart.

And the reason you don't have that is because what he wants, what the president wants above all else at this point is to get something passed so they didn't get back into position to try to negotiate legislation that can actually clear both chambers (ph).

CUOMO: Right and look, and to be fair to the President, one, he's on the right message in terms of what we know about this early bill from the House and the vulnerability to the vulnerable in it. So maybe they should listen to him. And the second one is, it's their job to make the law.

You know what I mean, he executes the law. He can propose. But this is really on the Senate. And let's remember, Greg, this process is such a bow to hypocrisy by the Republicans. We remember how they were righteous and probably right to say the ACA is getting forced through, this is so important for the American people, you're creating entitlement, we have to discuss it, it has to be open, and there were all those hearings.

Pence, McConnell making comments points that they are now defying on a daily basis. Let's remind what they said back then.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is just another version now lurching out of the back rooms after weeks of closed-door negotiation.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: This massive piece of legislation that seeks to restructure 1/6 of our economy is being written behind closed doors without input from anyone in an effort to jam it past, not only the Senate, but the American people.


CUOMO: And now you have senators in the working group, the group that is tasked with designing this, who haven't seen it yet. He wants to put out a draft tomorrow and vote next week. Is there going to be a price for this haste?

BLUESTEIN: I think there will be. I mean as you mentioned, it's hypocrisy on both sides. And we see it again and again in Washington. And there's frustration from voters in districts like the sixth district down here that managerial constitution that on poll that showed 80 percent of voters see that health care is our top concern and that only a quarter of them supported the House health care bill so there could be a price to pay, although there wasn't in last night's election for Karen Handel. BALDWIN: Greg, Margaret and John, hang on hold that tie we have more are coming with you all momentarily. Let's move on and talk about what's also happen here with the White House.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer will not say if President Trump believes Russia meddled in the 2016 election adding that they have never spoken about it. Spicer remarks came and its first camera press briefing in eight days.

CNN's Joe Johns is live for us at the White House with more. Joe Johns, how have they never spoken about this?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Pretty hard to believe, Brooke. Press Secretary Sean Spicer back in front of the cameras for the first time in more than a week. But he certainly left some big questions unanswered, including one seemingly settled question about the role of Russia in the last election, a question that could come up on Capitol Hill as early as today in a hearing featuring the former Homeland Security secretary.

[06:10:06] But as far as this administration goes, five months in now, Sean Spicer can't or won't say where the President stands.


JOHNS (voice-over): White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refusing to say whether President Trump believes Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think -- I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing.

JOHNS (voice-over): Dismissing the unified assessment of the nation's intelligence community.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: It's very disturbing because this was a serious attack on our democracy, and at the top of the United States government, there ought to be a level of concern.

JOHNS (voice-over): Spicer's refusal to answer this basic question, adding to the mounting credibility issues facing the President's spokesman.

SPICER: I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion. I don't, I have not asked him. Honestly, I haven't asked him.


SPICER: And get back to you.

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump has addressed the issue with varying responses.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. I'll go along with Russia. Could have been China.

JOHNS (voice-over): But Mr. Trump doesn't appear too concerned given former FBI Director James Comey's testimony that the President never asked him about Russia meddling. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reflecting this in testimony last week.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I never received any detailed briefing on how or hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have --

JOHNS (voice-over): Meanwhile "the New York Times" raising questions about why the President's fired National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn continued to sit in for the almost daily intelligence briefings from CIA Director Mike Pompeo for three weeks, despite concerns across government that he may have been compromised by the Russians.

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: We told them that we were giving them all this information so they could take action.

JOHNS (voice-over): Pompeo who was appointed to his position by their President in January refused to answer questions about whether he knew his own agency's concerns last month.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I can't answer yes or no. I regret that I'm unable to do so.

JOHNS (voice-over): This is the White House faces growing pressure on how it will respond to the death of Otto Warmbier and new activity at North Korea's nuclear testing site.

TRUMP: It's a total disgrace what happened to Otto. That should never, ever be allowed to happen.

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump implicitly casting blame on the Obama administration.

TRUMP: Frankly, if he would have been brought home sooner, the result would have been a lot different.

JOHNS (voice-over): And tweeting without a elaboration that China's efforts to help North Korea have not worked out.


JOHNS (on-camera): And it's difficult to see how that tweet won't come up today when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with his Chinese counterparts here in Washington, D.C. The President for his part receives his daily security briefing this morning before flying off to Iowa for a campaign-style rally, Chris and Brooke.

CUOMO: And Joe, wouldn't it be the wildest bet to say when asked about it that the Secretary of State may say, I haven't had a chance to talk to the President about it yet. And that is an obvious tactic. [06:13:17] We're going to take a break. When we come back, we're going to prove that to you, that this language isn't a coincidence and when it is used and why it is used matters in the reckoning of truth for this White House. Stay with us.


BALDWIN: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer having a bit of a tough time answering a simple question five months into the Trump presidency. Does the President believe Russia meddled in the election? Spicer has repeatedly been unable to answer the question what President it thinking. We found at least, and this is not a variety of topics, nine instances. Here you go.


SPICER: I have not asked the President since the last time we spoke about this. And I haven't spoken to him on it about the reason.

I don't know. I honestly haven't asked him that specific question.

I said I have not had a discussion with him on the question.

I haven't talked to the President specifically about this.

You know, I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.

I don't, I've not asked him.

I have not asked the President.


SPICER: And get back to you.


CUOMO: Palm meet face.

BALDWIN: John Avlon, Margaret Talev and our CNN Political Analyst David Drucker with us now. So, Margaret, you sit in on those briefings, I watch you ask your questions. And, you know, this is just a really simple one, but does Sean Spicer not talk to the President?

TALEV: He talks to the President about things that the President wants him to talk about. And this obviously isn't one of them. There was more than a week between televised briefings. The White House certainly knew that was a question that reporters were going to ask ahead of the briefing.

And the Oval Office is actually just a few feet away from the press secretary's office. So, this actually is a matter that would be really easy for the White House to clear up, if it so inclined even if Sean felt like he wasn't prepared to talk about it from the podium yesterday. There is e-mail and there are statements. So, this is a definitely a deliberate effort to again keep some maneuvering room or at least keep the distance between the White House and talking about the Russia issue from the podium. It may be that simple. I actually was surprised that he didn't just refer the question to Marc Kasowitz, the president's private lawyer.

But we have a situation now where staff and cabinet officials throughout the administration are having to retain their own personal attorneys in preparation for this on going investigation. It is obviously a delicate legal matter. And to talk about it at all now from the podium seems to be something that the White House is trying to avoid.

CUOMO: How do you see it, John?

AVLON: This is a simple factual question for folks to answer. And I think if we're going to be honest, there are two explanations. One, Sean Spicer is scared to ask Donald Trump directly whether or not he think Russia was involve.

CUOMO: You don't think the "We haven't spoken" is just an awkward plausible deniability line?

AVLON: Clearly not. The montage we just showed. Show it's a tectonic (ph) dodge pattern that's being employed. The second is that Spicer knows the answer but doesn't think it's actually good for public consumption because it's self-evidently not rooted in truth.

CUOMO: Although the President has said it in public several times that he's sideways about the Russian

[06:20:05] AVLON: Side ways about it. And I think that's the larger through. What we know is that the President may acknowledge Russia that Russia something to do with it because of the overwhelming consensus of the intelligence community. But at the end of the day he doesn't seem to care. Why? Because it benefited him.

CUOMO: David Drucker, how do we know this? Is it just theoretical? No, it isn't. Jim Comey if he was to be taken as truth which many of the senators said they felt he was truthful.

BALDWIN: Never been asked.

CUOMO: He is never in nine conversations, he never asked him about the larger real issue about Russian interference. Doesn't that tell you everything you need to know, that when this White House specifically the President, hears Russian interference, he thinks, bad for me avoided.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let me check on that Chris. I'll get back to you.

CUOMO: Very good.

DRUCKER: I haven't had a chance to talk to myself this morning about how I feel about this issue. Look, I think we have to back up and remember that the President has always been hesitant to criticize Russia, even as he's browbeated many of our long-time allies.

And I think one of the reasons is that he has a fascination with Vladimir Putin and Russia, and he still I think imagines that he can form some sort of alliance and detente where his pass predecessors, Democrat and Republican, have tried and failed.

Number two, though he's always felt that the argument about Russian meddling in the 2016 election which we know happened, which we know is a very big deal and which Russia is uniquely capable among our adversaries in the world to do, he has always felt that undermined his victory and suggests that he won by illegitimate means, which by the way, isn't necessarily true.

And I have never found to be true, but it is an issue of national security that his administration needs to address because the next time it happens, it's going to be on his watch and not on his predecessor's. But I that's why the President has backed away from doing anything about it and why it doesn't serve Spicer to talk about it. Because As John Avlon said, I don't think the answer would have been very becoming.

BALDWIN: Yes, quickly, before we move on, there's a piece in "New York Times" this morning about how the then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, you know, was vulnerable apparently to Russia blackmail but he was sitting in these very, very important, you know, meetings with Mike Pompeo, the head of the CIA, john.

And, you know, people are thinking why the heck is he listening in on sort of state secrets if he's vulnerable to blackmail. Do you think he was the NSA?

AVLON: Yes. He was the National Security Adviser. That's not terribly surprising. What I think it's fascinating when it hits to is that the Trump administration, how aware they were of the problems being posed by Flynn, the warnings they've gotten from folks of justice or the CIA and had the official position been to simply ignore it as long as they could until they were confronted with it publically.

CUOMO: Look, I mean you wind up in the same place on both these threads Margaret, which is, this White House, they're not the first. But they're in there right now and they're doing something they shouldn't do. They don't tell the truth. They knew about the questions about Flynn. They didn't want to do anything about it.

They know about the Russian interference, they don't want to do anything about it. So they don't tell the truth about things that they don't like. It's just more obvious than we're used to.

TALEV: There are two kind of trajectories. One is the public discussion on this, whether it's from the podium, whether it's in the Senate and House hearings that are unfolding. The other one, the concurrent track is, Mr. Mueller's investigation. And that is where all of these lines of inquiry are now going to proceed. So the White House's strategy is to minimize the coverage of this, the discussion of this from the podium. But where it really matters, which is behind the scenes, make no mistake, these are precisely the questions that are being pursued.

CUOMO: But how you talk about it matters, right? If you don't want to talk about something, you can refer it to counsel. You can say there's an ongoing investigation. You can even shame the questioner by saying why don't you ask me about health care, why don't you ask me about the tech (INAUDIBLE)?

BALDWIN: Issues that matter --

CUOMO: You know, why don't you do that. I mean look, Russian interference matters. These questions around collusion matter. Not that they don't matter, but we're not going to resolve them today. In fact, when you overheat the discussion about them, you kind of put the process in a bad position because it can't yield an answer today.

But if you want an answer today, it's going to fuel a lot of speculation, but they don't do that, John.


CUOMO: They just, you know, dissemble, avoid in an awkward way and it winds upcoming across very dishonest.

AVLON: Well, they're betting on partisanship, they're betting on a pavlovian distrust of the media and a sense that, you know, this is all just people out to get the President. Here's the thing that matters most of all, truth matters. And they can spin their way out of it, and they can dissemble it. But at the end of the day, that cold, hard facts are going to come back to haunt them.

DRUCKER: For now it's working with Republican voters.


[06:25:02] DRUCKER: The voters that I talked to you down in Georgia earlier this month told me they were aware of the Russia investigation but they don't see anything there. They would rather focus on health care --

BALDWIN: Sorry David, but when you look at the CBS news poll out from, you know, yesterday, something like 63 percent of Americans disapprove of the way, you know, the president is handling all this.

DRUCKER: Right. Because broadly the polling is correct. But when you localize this into Republican districts --

BALDWIN: Got it.

DRUCKER: -- where these races we're going to fought, Republican voters are sticking with the President and the White House is aware of this, Republicans in Congress are aware of it. And I think that's why you're seeing much of what you're seeing. CUOMO: You're sticking with the party. If you're a Red Sox fan, you may have a horrible team and you may know it this year.

BALDWIN: But you're never cheering for the Yankees.

CUOMO: Never. All right. So thank you very much panel.

We have news of another terrorist attack in Europe. But this time very different outcome. An attempted bombing at a Brussels train station was stopped. How? What does it mean? Live report next.