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Republican Karen Handel Wins Georgia Special Election; Press Secretary Does Not Answer Question Regarding President Trump's Belief about Involvement of Russia in Presidential Election; Interview with Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 21, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Alisyn is off. It's her birthday. Brooke Baldwin joins me right now.

Republicans are now four and zero. They won Georgia's Congressional special election. They won South Carolina's election. Karen Handel in Georgia, this is the one that got all the attention, beating the Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive House race in history. So the Democrats failed. Will they learn lessons from that? We will see.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We will see. And also Republican leaders in the Senate plan to unveil their health care plan tomorrow. But how will they quell the frustrations being vocalized by some in their own party about the secretive nature of this entire process?

Plus, why won't the White House say whether President Trump believes Russia hacked the U.S. election. A lot to cover during NEW DAY here. let's begin in Georgia with CNN's Jason Carroll live at Sandy Springs. Ooh, those Democrats waking up this morning, they're hurting.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, they are licking their wounds this morning, that is for sure. This has been a major loss for Democrats, not just for Jon Ossoff. They poured so much money, time and effort into his campaign, some $20 million-plus in his campaign. Again, major loss for Ossoff, and it points to major problems for the Democrats going forward, not just leadership issues but an agenda issue as well going forward for them. But make no mistake about it, a big win for Handel. A big win for the president as well. He came down to the district to hold a fundraiser for Handel. Even though Handel throughout the campaign did what she could to downplay the national implications of the race and in some respects distance herself from the president. But last night it was all about Handel and the president.


REP. KAREN HANDEL (R), GEORGIA: And a special thanks to the president of the United States of America.


CROWD: Trump! Trump! Trump!


CARROLL: So there were chants of "Trump, Trump, Trump" at that victory speech last night. You know, you heard Chris mention at the top of the hour, zero for four when it comes to Democrats and these special elections. Democrats were unable to try to take a seat there in South Carolina where Ralph Norman ended up being the winner there. He also had aligned himself to Donald Trump. That race ended up being much closer than some expected, but close just doesn't cut it when it comes to politics. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Jason, thank you.

Meantime, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer will not say if President Trump believes that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, saying he hasn't talked to him about it yet. How's that possible? Joe Johns is live at the White House with more. Joe, how is that possible?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Anybody's guess, quite frankly, Brooke. Sean Spicer, well, he was back in front of the cameras for the first time in eight days, but lacking on some of the answers, including to one subtle question about Russia's involvement and interference in the last election. Sean Spicer now five months into this administration still can't say where the president stands.


JOHNS: 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 it specifically.

JOHNS: 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: 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 have not asked him. Honestly, I haven't asked him. I can get back to you.

JOHNS: 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. It could have been China. JOHNS: 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, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I've never received any detailed briefing on how hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have influenced anybody.

JOHNS: 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 CIA Director Mike Pompeo for three weeks despite concerns across government that 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.

[08:05:02] JOHNS: 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: 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 is a total disgrace what happened to Otto. That should never, ever be allowed to happen.

JOHNS: 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: And tweeting, without elaboration, that China's efforts to help North Korea have not worked out.


JOHNS: However, you might want to interpret that presidential tweet. It is likely to be part of the conversation this morning as the secretary of state meets with his Chinese counterparts. The president later today expected to fly off to Iowa for a campaign style rally. Chris and Brooke, back to you.

CUOMO: Thanks, Joe. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in our panel, CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, CNN political analyst April Ryan, and associate editor and columnist at Real Clear Politics, A.B. Stoddard. So, Professor Brownstein, when you look at the numbers here, what is the tale of the tape in these Democrat losses in South Carolina and, of course, Georgia?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think if you look across the board, President Trump picked four Republicans from pretty Republican districts for his cabinet, and Republicans held all of those seats. So there is an element here of holding. There's value in that, but it's not the whole match. On one hand I think Republicans particularly saw in Georgia sixth one very encouraging sign, that they were able to hold Republican leaning voters who were ambivalent about President Trump by making this less a referendum on him and more a referendum on who do you want to see as speaker. And that was a very powerful argument for them.

On the other hand, if you look across the board at all of these special elections, Democrats ran much better than they did just a year ago in 2016. For example, in Georgia six, Karen Handel wins by about three-and-a-half points. Tom Price had never won less than 62 percent of the vote in the district. And what that says is when you get to places that are less inherently tilted toward the Republicans where President Trump's approval rating is closer to the national average of around 40 percent than what it was in this district at 50 percent, those kinds of disparities, those kinds of changes put those seats as risk.

So Democrats have a shot at the House. They have no guarantee of the House. In that way we are pretty much where we started before these four elections happened.

BALDWIN: Democrats were hoping to have a shot at the Georgia sixth because the president only one by one, one and half percentage points in this particular part of Georgia even though this is a ruby red district. So April, this is a tweet from Democrat Seth Moulton, senator, "Ossoff's race better be a wakeup call for Democrats. Business as usual isn't working. It's time to stop rehashing 2016 and talk about the future." The future, 2018 midterms, how do Democrats turn it around?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Brooke, Democrats have to find their footing. They have to find some energy. There's been a lot of resist movement activity. There's been a lot of we are not happy with this, but it did not translate in the polls last night. And Brooke, in another interesting piece, Ossoff did not get Fulton or DeKalb, his base. So there needs to be some kind of reset. There needs to be, I guess like Mitt Romney had that etch-a-sketch moment. They need to figure out where they are, who they are. There is disease in this nation. They have to figure out how to tap into that and energize the base. The base is just not energized right now.

CUOMO: So, A.B., when you win, it's easy. No real reason to diagnose success. But when you lose, you get into the acronym for fail -- future always involves learning. What are the lessons for the Democrats?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, I do think that they can comfort themselves with what Ron was talking about, that they grew their numbers so much in a district that was long-time Republican district and they're really making strides. But close is no cigar, and I think they do have to listen to Congressman Moulton on focus on a policy agenda.

They do actually have an energized face. But when all of the millions and all of the excitement on social media for the Georgia sixth race come out of the Georgia sixth district, and Jon Ossoff is a carpetbagger who is not voting and not living in that district, it is a problem. Though he spoke like a moderate and really played down his criticism of President Trump, focused on local issues, they're going to have to think about candidates espousing a policy agenda that gets back to winning back some of the working class white voters in some of these districts where they're really stretching themselves out of a blue district into a purple or red one in order to take back those voters next year.

[08:10:11] And so I think that that's what they have to realize. It's not just that you can get national excitement behind these individual races because people in California are upset with Trump and sending a big check. That's not going to cut it.

BALDWIN: Ron Brownstein, quickly, and then I want to move on to health care.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick I want to add to what A.B. says. I agree with that. Look, if you look where Trump and the Republican Party is, the biggest opportunity for Democrats is in these white collar, more affluent, better educated districts. But this is a reminder that not all of those districts are the same. In the election last year Hillary Clinton won only 28 percent of college educated whites in Georgia as opposed to almost double that in a place like Colorado. They are going to have to move beyond that into more of the blue collar places probably, even though most of them might be white collar, that's not going to be enough. They are going to have to be able to compete across the spectrum to win back the House in 2018.

CUOMO: So A.B., we're going to have Ron Johnson on. I'm going to help you out. The professor didn't help you. I'll help you. So we're going to have Senator Ron Johnson on. He's one of the few Republican senators who say, yes, I know what's in the bill. It is a good bill, we're going to move forward with it. What are the big selling points for them, and how do they explain this secrecy that has so many within their own ranks upset?

STODDARD: Well, it is hard to explain the secrecy. And it doesn't take a lot for John McCain to criticize his leadership in the clips that you've been playing this morning, but it certainly took a lot, I think, for Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who's been in the working group, to step out and say people in the working group who are supposed to be drafting this bill and doing these -- handling these negotiations have been left out.

BALDWIN: He's frustrated.

STODDARD: That shows a real high level of sort of resentment that they would take that public against their leaders. So the secrecy will always be a big attack surrounding this bill. The components of the bill will be explosive no matter what because it will irk trying to find a balance between what is a soft landing for states where they expanded Medicaid, are tax credits sufficient enough to cover the cost of the new kind of coverage for people who are older or sick, will people be priced out of the new kind of coverage, what Ezra was talking about, whether or not premiums in the end go down.

Republicans will own the outcome, so they're really scared of this compromise from both sides. But the secrecy decision obviously was they made a decision that both choices were bad. To come out and take this public would expose them to criticism from all the interest groups in the Democrats and even maybe even President Trump, which ended up happening anyway. So they took it behind closed doors hoping that in the interest of speed they can get beyond this, because Republican leadership sources have told me if this fails by the end of July before the August recess starts, they're bailing on this for good and moving on to taxes.

BALDWIN: So, as we follow that, April Ryan, it is your day job to sit in that briefing room each and every day and ask tough questions of the press secretary. You've heard the line, "I don't know," "I can't respond," "I haven't talked to the president about that." You got that on a couple issues. But when the press secretary yesterday was asked specifically yesterday about Russian meddling in the 2016 election, when you know all of the president's intel chiefs have all said, yes, it was Russia, why can't they say yes?

RYAN: Because there is an investigation going on. And they have a lot of time before it really comes down to the president having to say something, Brooke. And they're trying to be very judicious in what they say and when they say it and how they say it. And it's a strategic tactic. We all pretty much know where the president is when it comes to Russia. But right now they're trying to hold tight and keep it so they don't cause themselves any more pain. And it's about credibility. It's about where Sean stands. Sean is deciding with the team in not giving the information that we are looking for in Russia.

BALDWIN: Grab some water. Sorry I caught you --

CUOMO: Choked up.

BALDWIN: -- on this issue. It is a tough job. It is a tough job. We appreciate you asking all those tough questions and coming on. Thanks to all of you this morning.

Republicans, they have blasted Democrats, as we have been talking about, health care, they've blasted them for not being transparent when it came to Obamacare in '09 and 2010. So why are they rushing to pass the bill that really no one's seen? We'll talk to a senator who has been part of the health care group working on this, what they know, next.


[08:18:22] CUOMO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promising a vote on health care as early as next Thursday. The problem is -- nobody really seems to know what's in the bill, even in his own party.

We get that they're eager to get something done before the July 4th recess, but is this the way to do it?

To make the case, Republican Senator Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Homeland Security, and he is part of the working group trying to hammer out the health care bill.

So, you're on the two important committees here really if you look at it.

Senator, always good to have you on NEW DAY. Thank you for being here.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Good morning, Chris.

CUOMO: What do you make of this process? Is it fair criticism to say it has been very secretive?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, the decision was made to do this through reconciliation. I don't necessarily agree with that, but that was the decision made. So, you've got a bill that had to be crafted by Republicans. From that standpoint, it's been a very open process within the Republican conference. Somebody's got to write a bill.

Now, leadership will write a bill. What I've told leadership very clearly is I'm going to need time and my constituents are going to need time to evaluate exactly how this is going to affect them. I personally think that holding a vote on this next week would definitely be rushed. I can't imagine, quite honestly, that I'd have the information to evaluate and justify a yes vote just within a week.

CUOMO: What do you make of that? I mean, obviously, you have Senator McCain, you know, being snarky about it, but saying that he's not going to vote on a bill that he hasn't seen. You're hearing that from Paul, you're hearing that from Cruz. Mike Lee went even further and he's one of the guys tasked with drafting it and he says, I don't know what's in it, I share your frustration.

[08:20:00] JOHNSON: I'm in this working group as well. And the purpose of the working group isn't to actually write the bill. It is to really discuss all the issues. And it's very complex. I think within two meetings, I saw the wide spectrum of opinions within the Republican conference trying to fix this mess of Obamacare.

And so, my suggestion was let's break this into two parts. Let's pass something to stabilize the insurance markets that are literally collapsing under Obamacare. That was my counsel two months ago. Unfortunately, we didn't do that yet.

But that's the minimum thing we have to do. That's the minimum legislation we have to pass, is something to stabilize the markets that are collapsing because of Obamacare.

CUOMO: Is part of your idea to have the federal government put through the subsidies that the president is threatening which is having an effect on the destabilization?

JOHNSON: That's what we're going to have to do. I mean, I don't like the fact that these markets are collapsing, that premiums have doubled under Obamacare and if we don't do something, they'll skyrocket again. But that's the reality we're facing.

So, you know, being a guy -- you know, coming from the business world, I kind of am big into reality. So, that's the reality we have to deal with. I think it is our responsibility to stabilize those markets, pass something that we really don't like, but I think we should do that first and foremost.

CUOMO: The speculation is that the secrecy is, in part, practicality, how to get it done quickest, but also pragmatism, that McConnell and maybe others don't want people to know what's in here because you've got that huge price tag of lives -- 23 million people who may lose care, and that caps may be reintroduced into how much care you can get, and that pre-existing conditions may well be compromised.

You know that that's not going to go over well with big groups of your constituents so you are doing it in private.

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, the House passed their bill. That's been out in the public domain. The Senate is using that as a framework. Again, within the Republican conference, it's been a very open process. And now, we're going to draft a bill and that will be made public.

And what I want to do is I want to fully vet it in the public. I want to make sure that my constituents have enough time to provide input. So, again, I'm not going to criticize the process unless we start taking the vote way too early --


CUOMO: That's what your leader is telling you he wants to do.

JOHNSON: Well, you know, that will be a decision he'll make. But I've told him unless I have the input from my constituents, unless I have got the information I need to justify a yes vote, I wouldn't be voting yes.

CUOMO: So you think there is a good chance McConnell will put this up for a vote if he's got guys who are good soldiers but pragmatic like you who say, I'm not going to vote for it if I can't sell it?

JOHNSON: I don't -- I'm not going to speak for the leader whatsoever. But what I will say again is these markets are collapsing. We do have to pass something to stabilize them and from my standpoint, the whole goal of our effort ought to be to fix our health care system. Now, that's a really tall order because Obamacare has really messed it up.

CUOMO: You think it is worse now than it was before Obamacare?

JOHNSON: Absolutely, it is worse.

CUOMO: Even though the rates have increased and premiums are less than before Obamacare? JOHNSON: No. Premiums have -- Chris, premiums have doubled under


CUOMO: But the rate of increase -- the rate of increase during this period of ACA is less than it was before it, and you have so many millions more covered in ways that they weren't covered.

JOHNSON: Chris, on the individual market -- that's primarily what Obamacare is. On the individual market, premiums have doubled. I don't think that's ever happened in our health care history where premiums on the individual market have doubled, in some places tripled. That's because -- that's because Obamacare is incredibly flawed.

CUOMO: You're being a little self-selective with the data, aren't you? Some of those markets have cratered, but there are complex reasons for that. Some of those states haven't taken advantage of the law. They didn't want to. They set themselves up for failure. And in other ones, you have some endemic problems you need to address.

JOHNSON: Obamacare is primarily addressing the individual market. Nowhere near the number of uninsured became insured, about 20 million people. Of that, about 10 million are on the individual market. More than half of those already had the insurance.

The other, you know, close to I think 16 million on Medicaid. Half of those already qualified for Medicaid.

So, Obamacare was all about the individual market. It has really messed up the individual market. That's what they have to fix.

And by the way, for a long time I've been saying what our efforts need to be directed toward is repairing damage done by Obamacare. And then working toward a transition to a health care system that actually works, the constraints, cost, improves quality, that helps, you now, improve access. You do that through consumer-driven free market competition. That's what actually works.

If I really target a metric, it would be how much of every health care dollar is actually paid for by the patient, in the 42 to 68 cents, in the 62 cents to 48 cents, now it's 10. So, we've driven out free market condition to discipline the market place to restrain the growth of health care costs, that's what we need to long term.

[08:25:00] That's a much longer discussion that we're going to be able undertaking here in the next couple weeks.

CUOMO: People need to look up two things for themselves. One, what was the rate increase before the ACA and what is it now.

JOHNSON: Individual market, Chris. Individual market, that's what --


CUOMO: Well, but all the different markets matter because that's how you look at overall cost. But also, we're going to have to see what's in the bill. That remains a mystery.

Senator, thank you for making the case, as always.

JOHNSON: Have a good day.

CUOMO: Brooke?

BALDWIN: All right. The White House refuses to answer simple questions from reporters. What's behind the constant string of non- answers to the president's thinking? We'll get the bottom line from David Axelrod, next.


BALDWIN: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer having a tough time answering a simple question five months into the Trump presidency -- does the president believe Russia meddled in the U.S. election. Sean Spicer has repeatedly been unable to answer this question on the president's thinking.

In fact, looking back, we found at least 9 instances.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have not asked the president since the last time we spoke about this.

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.

I have not had the opportunity to have that discussion.

I don't -- I have not asked him.