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Republican Karen Handel Wins Georgia House Race; Democrats Suffer String Of Defeats Post-Trump; WH Won't Say If Trump Believes Russia Meddled In Election; US-North Korea Relations In Wake of Warmbier Death. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired June 21, 2017 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:35] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is "New Day" with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, "NEW DAY" ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your "New Day."

Alisyn is off. Brooke Baldwin joins me. Thank you for being here.

BROOKE BALDWIN, "NEW DAY" ANCHOR: Good morning. You got it.

CUOMO: Republicans celebrating a big win in the most expensive House Race in U.S. history. Karen Handel defeating her Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff, to win the open seat in Georgia's Sixth Congressional District. It's another defeat for the Democrats. That's four in a row in these special elections since President Trump was elected.

BALDWIN: So, Democrats are 0 for 4 there.

Meantime on Capitol Hill, senate Republican leaders will take the -- wraps off their health care bill, unveiling a draft tomorrow after weeks of secrecy. But some Republicans are voicing their frustrations about the process as well. We have it all covered for you this morning.

But let's begin in Georgia with my colleague, Jason Carroll, on the wake of this Sixth Congressional District, this big, big win for Republicans and loss for the Democrats. Jason, good morning.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, good morning. It's back to the drawing board for Democrats, at this point, major loss for Democrats, especially after they poured so much effort and money into this race, $20 million -- more than $20 million for Jon Ossoff.

Major loss for him. He was not able to tap into enough moderates and independents here in the district to put him over the edge. But a big win for Handel, a big win for the president, as well, Handel, as you know, throughout much of the campaign, tried to downplay the national implications of this race, and in some ways, tried to distance herself from the president. But at the end of the day, last night, it was all about Handel and Trump.

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


CARROLL: So, major problems for the Democrats. And especially, when you consider the special elections, they're 0 for 4 so far. I mean, when you consider also not what just happened here but what happened in South Carolina, Democrats were unable to pick up a seat there.

Ralph Norman was able to pick up the seat there. And in a way, he was able to do that by aligning himself to the president. So, once again, back to the drawing board for the Democrats.

CUOMO: They were close. You know, this race in South Carolina, this race in Georgia, you could argue the Democrats shouldn't have been close. But they went all in. They wanted the win and they didn't. What will this mean for that party?

Thank you very much Jason Carroll.

White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, doesn't give straight answers often when asked about the president's beliefs on controversial issues, specifically Russia's interference and hacking in the 2016 election.

CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House with more. We haven't talked about it is now a magical phrase.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's for sure Chris. Chris, Sean Spicer back in front of the cameras just yesterday, but leaving a lot of questions unanswered, including a seemingly subtle question about the role of Russia in the last election, the type of subject matter likely to come up on Capitol Hill in a hearing today featuring the last Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson.

Meanwhile, for this administration, five months in now, the president's spokesman 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.

ANGUS KING, MAINE SENATOR: And 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 know. I have not asked him. Honestly, I haven't asked him.


SPICER: I'll get back to you.

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

DONALD TRUMP, USA PRESIDENT: As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.

[07:05:05] I'll go along with Russia. It could have been China.

JOHNS (voice-over): But Mr. Trump does not appear too concerned, given former FBI Director, James Comey's testimony that the president never asked him about Russian election meddling. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, reflecting this in testimony last week.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERA: I've never received any detail briefing on how hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have influenced the campaign.

JOHNS (voice-over): Meanwhile, "The New York Times" raising questions about why the president's fired National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn, continued to sit in for the almost daily intelligence briefings from DIA 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 of this information so that they could take action.

JOHNS (voice-over): Pompeo, who was appointed to his position by the 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, as 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 were brought home sooner, I think the result would have been a lot different.

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


JOHNS (on camera): That tweet and the meaning of it almost certainly a topic of discussion today as the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, sits down with his Chinese counterparts for a meeting here in Washington.

The president has his intelligence briefing on the schedule this morning, also expected later today, to fly off to Iowa for a campaign- style rally.

Brooke and Chris?

CUOMO: All right, a lot of news. Joe, thanks for setting the table.

Let's bring in the panels: CNN Political Analyst, John Avlon, CNN Senior Political Analyst, Ron Brownstein, and White House Correspondent from Bloomberg News, Margaret Talev. Great to have you all here.

Professor Brownstein, I know that South Carolina was very close, the Democrats made it close. It shouldn't have been that close. I know Georgia's plus nine Republican and that it's been held by Republicans for a long time. But the Democrats need to win places like this and they didn't. What do you see as the lesson for that party and its leadership?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very frustrating, I think, for Democrats and it's going to create a lot of recriminations, particularly Georgia Six, you see the debate already between the left and the center about whether Ossoff was too moderate, too bland. I think it's hard to imagine that a harder-edged message would have necessarily worked in this district.

Look, I think the most ominous thing for Democrats here is a reminder that basically, tribal politics still works. What Republicans were able to do in this Republican-leaning district where, as you noted, Tome Price, the former incumbent that never won, less than 62 percent of the vote. They were able to make it less about Trump than about who should be speaker. More about kind of your partisan loyalty

And essentially, in the up-or-down referendum on whether you want Republicans or Democrats take control, they were able to hold enough Republicans who were ambivalent about Trump. On the other hand, Chris, you do now have four special elections where the Democrats have run much closer, including South Carolina and Georgia and Montana than they did in the general election in 2016.

And what that says is that there is a lot of energy on the left. And there are some Republican-leaning voters who are more open to voting Democratic than usual because of President Trump. Don't forget, we're going to get another read this fall in places like the New Jersey and Virginia governor races where Donald Trump's approval rating is significantly lower than it was in this district, where one poll put him at 50 percent.

In the end, the Republican ran pretty close to his approval rating. And that's going to be a problem in some places and an asset in others.

BALDWIN: So, there was a tweet this morning from the president. John Avlon, I don't know if you've quite checked your twitter yet this morning when he tweeted, "Democrats would do much better as a party if they got together with Republicans on health care, tax cuts, security." He says, "Obstruction doesn't work."

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, oh, that's rich. Look, you know, I'm all in favor of national unity. But of course, that requires policies that are designed to be bipartisan, and that has decidedly not happened both from the president's tone, from his direction, and certainly from the legislation. Health care which is being done in such a closed door fashion that even members of the Republican senate don't have a clue what's in it.

So, that's a lovely, superficially unifying message. But, you know, words got to be followed by actions and there's just no -- that's an undiscovered country for this administration, unfortunately, for really our national politics right now.

CUOMO: Also, Margaret, we know that the president knows that this is just not the case.

[07:10:03] This is going on in secret. You have Mike Lee, McCain, Cruz, Paul, all Republican senators all saying -- some of them on the working group saying, I don't know what's in it either. This is all being done behind closed doors. They're not wanting to work with anybody including the White House to a large degree. Let's play some sound from what GOP senators are saying about this health care process.


MIKE LEE, UTAH SENATOR (R): I haven't seen the bill. It's not being written by us. It's apparently being written by a small handful of staffers who are 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.

JOHN MCCAIN, ARIZONA SENATOR (R): For the obvious reason, that no one has been shared it. He used to complain like hell when Democrats ran the Affordable Care Act. Now, they're doing the same thing.


CUOMO: And look, Margaret, hypocrisy is nothing new. Sadly, the American people talk about it but don't demand anything better. We can hold them to account. And here, that means that the president knows that this isn't about the Democrats wanting to stretch across. They deserve their own blame for not fixing the ACA and the obvious problems. But this process is unprecedented in its secrecy, is it not?

MARGARET TALVE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, and as you saw, some of those Republicans arguing that this is similar to what President Obama and Democrats did back in 2010.

But I think this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of the elections last night and the health care debate now. The takeaway, if Democrats choose to see last night's losses as a gift, which you could, is that Republicans are not just going to abandon the party because some of them may be dissatisfied with President Trump. And that health care and tax reform and all these substantive issues really are still a crucial pivot point for voters, particularly sort of centrist or business-minded Republicans.

For Republicans now in the senate, getting a bill across the finish line is paramount in terms of their goals about being able to get things done. And for Democrats, probably the best thing they can hope for is that some of these questions inside the Republican Party about secrecy or what's really in the bill gum up the wheels.

BALDWIN: So, they've got this self-imposed deadline, they set a majority limit McConnell has put on to get this thing done hopefully before July 4th recess next Thursday. And that was one of the top recent came up in the briefing with John Spicer.

The other though, big, you know, question that's now being replayed and replayed and replayed is Sean Spicer being asked essentially what the president has said, can the president say, you know, definitively that it was Russia who meddled in the 2016 presidential election. And the response essentially from Spicer was, I haven't talked to the president about that.

I mean Margaret knows. She's been in the briefings, Ron. How many times can Sean Spicer -- so how have they not talked about it? How does he not have an answer?

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think even more remarkable was when the attorney general of the United States testified the other day that he has never sought a briefing on the underlying Russian meddling. And, you know, look, I mean I think, obviously, for President Trump, this has become intertwined with the question of his legitimacy.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. He has felt it from the beginning. There are many people that didn't -- don't respect his victory. And he views any discussion of Russia as a way of kind of undermining the legitimacy of his presidency when, in fact, it is a, you know, clear and present national security danger based on not only what they did here, what they tried to do in France, what they may try to do in Germany.

When Director Comey, you know, was kind of lost in his testimony, but when he said they will be back, I don't think there's anybody who disagrees with that. And the issue of why the administration is refusing to take this more seriously, you know, maybe there's a psychological explanation, as I'm saying, in terms of those legitimacy. But there really is no practical excuse for not mobilizing more effectively against what I think both parties on Capitol Hill recognize is a genuine threat to the democracy from a foreign actor that does not wish us well.

CUOMO: Because John, could it be the case that every time the president hears what Ron Brownstein just said, all he hears is this is bad for me, and therefore --


CUOMO: -- he rejects any discussion of it, which is the only thing that kind of makes sense. The president is a smart man. He knows that when you have the entire intel community saying, they did it, we've never seen anything like it before.

BALDWIN: They've all said --

CUOMO: It wasn't China. You don't doubt that on the merits because he doesn't know any better, but he does know that he doesn't like that conclusion.

AVLON: Yeah. But if his emotions keep outweighing his intellect on that, that's a real problem for our republic because the president is not focused on the right things. It's not about him at the end of the day. It's about the oath to uphold the constitution and to protect the United States. This is a national security issue. And them from the -- the tone comes from the top, and clearly, the president is not sending the message, whether it was through his former FBI director or his attorney general that this inquiry needs to be taken seriously, despite the consensus of the intelligence community.

[07:15:02] It was not being taken seriously by the president. If the press secretary cannot answer definitively whether the president thinks it's a problem, that message comes through loud and clear. That is denial. It's danger.

CUOMO: All right, so shame on to him. But also, is there shame on the Democrats? Because they have fixated on the ancillary, they're still relevant questions about with whom did the Russians do this, who helped any potential collusion? Is there too much energy on that by the Democrats and not enough on the main Russian interference? There's part of the problem?

AVLON: There's always enough shame to go around in Washington. And Democrats, by definition, are part of the problem in Washington because no party has got a monopoly in virtue. Democrats were fixated on a particular outcome, some fantasy of impeaching the president in short order. That's a fundamental mistake. T his has got to be about the search for the truth. This has got to be bigger than partisan politics.

BALDWIN: All right, John and Margaret and Ron, thank you all very much.

What this Congress want to do, right, about specifically this discussion about Russian meddling after the 2016 election. The senate is taking up this specific topic today and we have Senator Angus King with some strong thoughts. We'll talk to him live next.


[07:20:05] bb: This morning, the Senate Intelligence Committee is holding hearing on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and how to prevent it from happening again. But after months of investigations, where does the White House stand on this probe?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does President Trump believe that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections?

SPICER: I think I have not sat down and talked to him about that specifically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this conversation about Russian interference in our elections, there's 16 intelligence agencies that say that they did. The former FBI director said that without a doubt, the Russians --

SPICER: I understand. I've seen the reports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president share those views?

SPICER: I have not sat down and asked his about a specific reaction to them.


BALDWIN: Let's start there. I have Senator Angus King joining me now. He is senator from Maine there live on Capitol Hill. He's an independent who sits on the Senate Intel Committee. Senator, great to see you again.

KING: Good morning, Brooke. Great to see you.

BALDWIN: All right. So, we just played that exchange with Sean Spicer in the briefing room yesterday. I mean, I know you believe that the notion of Russian meddling is one of the biggest attacks on this country. Why is the president, why is the spokesperson for the White House not acknowledging that?

KING: Well, it's worrisome. And I guess why is because they've gotten tangled up on whether the Trump campaign was involved with the Russians. And I understand the concern and the defensiveness about that, but that shouldn't change what the Russians did and change the perception of what they did. It's very bothersome to me. I talked to -- I interviewed Jim Comey in the hearing the other day, and in nine interactions with the president before he was fired, the president never asked him. BALDWIN: Never asked about it.

KING: Never asked about it. How did they do it? How do you know they did it? Same thing with Attorney General Sessions, he said, I only know what I read in the paper. That's really worrisome. This is serious stuff. They were trying to undermine our democracy. They're going to be back and we have to start figuring out what they did, how they did it and how do we prevent it.

BALDWIN: All right, to Senator King, you know, just happen to be, you know, talking about holding this big hearing today at the senate today, specifically on the Russian meddling. Where are your expectations? What should the public also expect out of this?

KING: Well, I consider today a very important hearing. One of the problems, Brooke, is that we've gotten all caught up in the drama of Trump versus Comey and who said what and obstruction of justice and all that, and it's obscuring to some extent, the underlying issue which is the Russians trying to meddle and interfere in our elections.

Today is a hearing on a particularly important aspect of it, which was their efforts to penetrate state election systems. We're not talking about the Democratic national committee e-mails or wiki leaks or any of that. We're talking about trying to get into state election systems. And all the intelligence, by the way, is that they didn't succeed in changing any votes. But they weren't doing it for fun.

And as James Comey said a couple weeks ago, they'll be back. This is a pattern with them around the world and it greatly concerns me. And we've got to try to work with the states and the localities to ensure that the elections -- the integrity of the elections is protected.

BALDWIN: So, what's your key question? What should we be listening for? You always, you know, make news with exactly what you're asking and sometimes the non-answer answer.

KING: Well, I think one of my key questions is how come we can't declassify more of this material? I want it declassified so the election officials and the public knows what's coming. We can't get the level of urgency that I think this requires unless people understand what's going on. So, that's going to be one question.

Another is what do we do to prevent it like I think we ought to be talking about there always should be a paper backup. We should always have a way to have paper ballots. In the Dutch, a couple of weeks ago had a major election. They counted all the votes by hand because they knew that this was a possibility.

BALDWIN: Old school, senator.

KING: Old school, but, you know, back to the future, man.

BALDWIN: Yeah. Let me ask you about, we have both senators Mark Warner and Sheldon Whitehouse both on this show and on CNN, that they believe that General Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, is cooperating with the FBI. Do you believe that's the case? KING: I don't have information to verify that. But I do know that, clearly, Michael Flynn is a key figure in this whole thing, having been very active in the Trump campaign and then national security adviser. And we know, had unannounced or unacknowledged contacts with the Russians during -- certainly during the period after the election and before the election. So, he's a key guy. I can't confirm whether he's cooperating with the FBI, but I think he's going to have to cooperate eventually.

BALDWIN: Let's talk just briefly about the tragic death of Otto Warmbier this week. I just -- I keep thinking about the family, knowing they sent their, you know, son off to go study in Asia and then ultimately comes back, you know, comatose and passes away.

[07:25:03] What do you think - what are the U.S. options? What should the president do?

KING: Well, number one, it's an absolute tragedy. As a parent, it's sort of unimaginable. I'm sure his family was excited when he went off and he was going to learn a lot. And then to have this happen is just -- it's inconceivable.

What should the president do? I think you've got to keep going down the road of diplomacy. I think the Chinese are the key to this. They are the ones that have -- they are the only ones that have real influence over the North Koreans and we have to be -- continue to work with them. They have to ultimately decide that the North Koreans are more dangerous with nuclear weapons and that overrides their concern about the unification of the peninsula and having a western country on their border.

BALDWIN: But senator, you have certainly seen that the president's tweet, you know, specifically on China saying, you know, he's tried to work with President Xi and it's on paraphrasing. Here you go, "It hasn't worked out. At least I know China tried." So, now what?

KING: Well, you know, I don't really understand what he was getting at there. Diplomacy takes time. It's a long slog and it's two steps forward and one step back.

The problem is there really aren't good options. I mean, we have to keep the threat of military force on the table. That is what makes the diplomacy work. But on the other hand, it's a very complicated situation in the sense that, let's say we wanted to do some kind of preemptive strike on the North Korea, Seoul is far from, you know, New York City to Newark. It's like 20 miles away from the North Korean border. It has 26 million people. It's vulnerable to get all of our artillery, let alone missiles or rockets or bombs.

So, it's a very difficult situation militarily. That has to be -- we have to have that on the table, but I continue to think that we've got to keep working with China.

BALDWIN: There are three other Americans though, just quickly, three other Americans still being held by North Korea. Do you think Otto's death lessens the likelihood that we get them home? KING: It's hard to speculate. No one can possibly get into the brain of Kim Jong-un and understand what his motivations are. I do think, frankly, that it would make sense for our country to say Americans can't go there until we get this kind of thing resolved because there's just too much danger of some pretext. They get taken, hostage and then we're in this kind of dilemma.

BALDWIN: Yeah. Senator Angus King, always a pleasure. We'll be watching for you today.

KING: Thank you Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much.

KING: Thank you, Brooke.

CUOMO: All right. So, why are so many questions at White House press briefings answered with the phrase, "I haven't talked to the president about it?" Nobody believes that.

We're going to ask a Republican congressman, what's going on there and what needs to change, next.