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Roy Moore Wins Alabama GOP Senate Runoff; President Focuses on Puerto Rico; Trump Stands By Anthem Remarks; Trump Threatens North Korea. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The insurgency claims victory in Alabama. Bombastic evangelical Roy Moore wins the Republican Senate runoff, leaving the GOP establishment with an air of uncertainty.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump pivots to Puerto Rico, trying to silence critics who say the disaster response has been slow. He's deploying resources and plans a trip next week.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Was I preoccupied? Not at all. Not at all. I have plenty of time on my hands. All I do is work.


BRIGGS: And the president says he's not preoccupied with the national anthem controversy, but more than two dozen tweets later, he's still not letting up on the NFL -- even late last night bringing track and field star Usain Bolt to the conversation.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, September 27th. Nice to see you all this morning, bright and early, or up late, depending if you're an early bird or a night owl. It is 4:00 a.m.

BRIGGS: We like our insomniacs out there on the West Coast.

ROMANS: We sure do.

All right. We begin with breaking news this morning, a major blow to the Republican establishment. Roy Moore, Roy Moore winning the Alabama GOP Senate runoff, defeating Luther Strange. Luther Strange who was backed by President Trump in the race for the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

BRIGGS: Moore was supported by former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. The bombastic evangelical Christian was ousted twice as Alabama's chief justice, including once for refusing to follow the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing gay marriage. Moore campaigned on a platform of placing Christianity at the center of public life.

ROMANS: Moore says he spoke with President Trump who congratulated him on the victory.

The president said nothing about the race as he returned to the White House late Tuesday, but he was active on Twitter, deleting three recent tweets he had posted supporting Luther Strange.

CNN's Alex Marquardt was at Moore's election headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. Well, of course, this was a Republican primary election on the surface, but really it was about so much more than that. It was the latest in the battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Tonight's election dealt a huge blow to the Republican establishment in Washington and a significant blow to the president who of course endorsed the opponent of Judge Roy Moore who is the victor.

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We can support the president. Don't let anybody in the press think that because he supported my opponent that I do not support him and support his agenda.

MARQUARDT: This was a race about the insiders versus the outsiders, the grassroots versus the establishment and, of course, the president against so many in his base.

Instead, many of the president's top supporters like Sarah Palin and Steve Bannon, the former senior adviser, came out in support of Judge Roy Moore, who's very much the outsider, someone who had never worked in Washington, someone who talked routinely about draining the swamp.

The president made it clear why he was supporting interim Senator Luther Strange at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama on Friday saying it was all about loyalty.

At that same rally and almost the same breath the president wondered allowed with Senator Strange standing not too far away whether he had made a mistake wading into this race, whether he had made a mistake supporting Senator Strange. He said that if Strange lost, he would suffer a major embarrassment. The president presumably now trying to come to terms with that embarrassment.

The president also said that no matter who won this race, that he would support him against the Democrat Doug Jones -- Christine, Dave.


BRIGGS: Alex, thanks. He's indeed a heavy favorite there.

Roy Moore's win not the only blow absorbed by Republicans yesterdays. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker announcing he will not seek a third term next year. Once considered a key Trump ally, Corker traded insults with the president during the August break, amid reports the establishment Republican who chairs the very influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee would face a strong primary challenge from the far right. Sources tell CNN President Trump had encouraged Corker to run for re-election in 2018.

His decision to retire creates the first open Senate seat of the 2018 election cycle. Tennessee also likely to stay in Republican hands, though.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump is intensifying and publicizing his personal involvement in the growing crisis in Puerto Rico. He has been criticized for a lackluster response to the devastation inflected by Hurricane Maria. Now, there's an increased urgency in the White House. The president surprising staffers by announcing he plans to travel to Puerto Rico next week.

BRIGGS: We're told he demanded aides set up the trip after his top homeland security advisor Tom Bossert returned from the island.

[04:05:00] In a meeting late yesterday with senior officials, the White House says the president made it clear there is no such thing as over-responding, ordering all elements of the government to plan for long-term support of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

ROMANS: In a much more compassionate tone from the president in this late night tweet: America's hearts and prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We will get through this and we will get through this together.

Earlier in the day, the president found himself on the defensive, pushing back against claims his administration fumbled the response to the hurricane relief effort.


TRUMP: We've gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also in Puerto Rico. But the difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of the ocean, and it's a big ocean. It's a very big ocean, and we're doing a really good job.

It's out in the ocean. You can't just drive your trucks there from other states.


BRIGGS: The Pentagon planning to deploy the hospital ship USNS Comfort to help with the crisis and the U.S. Air Force sending additional aircraft to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to ramp up the volume of daily relief missions.

ROMANS: All right. The catastrophic conditions in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria complicating efforts to get aides to the people on the island who desperately need it. In less than an hour, a relief flight organized by the Department of Homeland Security will be heading to Puerto Rico.

CNN's Rosa Flores will be on that flight. She's embedded with U.S. Customs. She joins us now live in Homestead, Florida. We know there are some problems at the airport. Certainly no real

commercial flights have been taking off and landing, just these aid flights. What is it that the people need? And tell us about your trip there.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Christine, people in Puerto Rico right now need just about everything.

You heard the stories. People are going hungry. They need water. They need supplies. And so, hope is arriving now by plane.

Now, as you mentioned we're going to be embedding with Customs and Border Protection agents. Now, these agents normally do intelligence type missions. The aircraft that we're going to be flying is a Dash 8. It's normally used for intelligence type missions but today it's going to be used as a humanitarian flight.

Here are some of the supplies that's going to be going onboard. We're going to see water. Supplies for babies like diapers and wipes and food for babies. Also MREs and paper towels.

So, a lot of these agents normally work on intelligence type missions but today, they will be flying to Puerto Rico. We will be going with them on board.

And here is what they're going to find once we fly into San Juan International Airport. There are a lot of desperate people who are trying to get off the island. Here's the good news for about 28 people who will be able to fly back to the United States. Now, these are the families of federal employees. They will be able to get on this flight and come back to Homestead, Florida, but Christine and Dave, as you know, there are so many people who are desperate to get out of that island and you know that airport is not fully functional.

So, these small aircrafts that are coming in with supplies and leaving with evacuees are starting to help create some relief for a lot of those people who are stuck on the island hoping for anything, anything, not only water and food but also a little hope -- Dave, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Rosa Flores, we know that most of the island without power. There are parts of San Juan that have power, but most of the island without power. We know that there are communities that have been completely cut off quite frankly from being able to get to that aid simply because the roads and bridges are washed away, the bridges are washed away.

Rosa Flores, thank you so much for that.

BRIGGS: All right. President Trump doubling down on his feud with protesting NFL players. While insisting it has not slowed the administration's response to the crisis in Puerto Rico, the president fired off five tweets Tuesday on the NFL anthem issue, including one late last night, dragging all time great runner Usain Bolt into the fray. Trump's saying, quote: Even Bolt from Jamaica, one of the greatest

runners and athletes of all time, showed respect for our national anthem.

That's an old video he tweeted.

ROMANS: And again, the president dismissing claims that he has been distracted by this fight with NFL players.


TRUMP: I wasn't preoccupied with the NFL. I was ashamed of what was taking place because to me that was a very important moment. I don't think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem. To me, the NFL situation is a very important situation. I've heard that before about was I preoccupied. Not at all. Not at all.


ROMANS: Since Friday, he has tweeted more than two dozen times on the NFL compared to five times on the situation in Puerto Rico.

It's so interesting to me because it's almost as if the president who's such a masterful television programmer has programmed this controversy, this sort of reality TV controversy with the NFL.

[04:10:05] Before Friday night in Alabama when he went and called these guys SOBs who kneel, were there a dozen who on and off --

BRIGGS: There was one game when Cleveland had a dozen players alone. But roughly a dozen players had consistently done it week to week.

ROMANS: And they were taking a knee protesting social inequality, racial inequality in the United States and now, you have so many more who are taking a knee, but they're protesting him personally and his words about it. It's interesting.

BRIGGS: And they're not protesting the military in no way, shape or form.

All right. President Trump heads to Indiana today to reveal his new tax plan. How can the bracket shift and whose taxes can actually go up?


ROMANS: Death and taxes, the two certainties in life. And today, we're going to get more information about the president's long awaited tax overhaul finally here. He'll unveil his plan today during a speech in Indiana.

[04:15:01] Will we get real details? Well, sources are telling us not many. They're trying to leave some wiggle room for negotiation here.

Here's what we know. Expect tax cuts. The corporate rate slashed to 20 percent. Business income cut to 25 percent. As for individuals, the seven tax brackets would be slimmed down to

three. That cuts the top rate to 35 percent, actually bumps up the lowest rate 2 percent higher. They go 12 percent, 25 percent, 33 percent tax bracket.

However, the plan will also double the standard deductions, so many low income earners could pay zero taxes.

Still, as I said, details are fluid here especially that top tax rate. Trump has said he is open to raising taxes on the rich. The president recently said the rich could pay more, according to two Republicans briefed on the latest plan. It instructs the tax-writing committee to find ways to raise more money from the top end.

So, today's proposals likely will lack specifics, of course. That way it won't immediately alienate any Republicans opposed to tax hikes.

And how will the plan be paid for? No word yet. The administration says economic growth will pay for all tax cuts. But I'll tell you, inside the debate, when you talk to folks who are working on this, in the very beginning, it was all about being paid for and now you don't hear many people talking about how we're going to pay for it.

BRIGGS: Where are the fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party? Will Trump you think own some specifics of this? He has not done that on health care, he has not done that on immigration. Will he own this and get involved with the details?

ROMANS: And will he sell it? Will he really be out there selling?

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: Or will he be in distractions of his own making on Twitter with the NFL and the anthem, and things that appeal to his base? Or will he be out there trying to sell the details and owning the details of the tax reform? We'll see.

BRIGGS: You'd hope your business president can get involved in the details on taxes. All right. Republican now turning to tax reform now that health care has fizzled out again. Senate Republicans opting not to even vote on the Graham-Cassidy bill because they simply didn't have the votes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisting the health care fight is not over, just on hold.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We haven't given up on changing the American health care system. We are not going to be able to do that this week, but it still lies ahead of us and we haven't given up on that.


ROMANS: President Trump told House Republicans who attended a bipartisan meeting on tax reform if they fail to act on health care, he will work with Democrats. It's worth noting the House did pass on Obamacare repeal bill earlier this year.

BRIGGS: Something Paul Ryan was very clear about yesterday.

Now to a CNN exclusive, the IRS sharing information with a special counsel Robert Mueller concerning key Trump campaign officials in the Russia investigation. It includes former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Mueller and the IRS had been at odds for several months over the scope of the investigation into Russia's election meddling.

And a raid on Manafort's home, CNN has learned the IRS and FBI are working on a case involving Manafort and possible tax and financial crimes.

ROMANS: In another development in the Russia probe, the special counsel could start interviewing current and former White House staff later this week. Most notable on the list, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, and former press secretary Sean Spicer. A source also confirming to CNN, investigators want information about the Oval Office meeting between President Trump and Russian officials back in May where he reportedly bragged about firing FBI chief James Comey.

All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour.

The secretary of state heads to Beijing this week with North Korea high on the agenda. We go live to Seoul with more on how the White House is trying to pressure Pyongyang to slow its nuclear program.



[04:23:13] TRUMP: If we take that option, it will be devastating, I can tell you that. Devastating for North Korea. That's called the military option. If we have to take it, we will.


BRIGGS: A familiar warning from President Trump as North Korea increases its military readiness by moving fighter jets, fuel tanks and missiles to a base on its east coast. The White House ramping up the pressure on Kim Jong-un imposing new sanctions on eight North Korean banks.

Let's go live to Seoul and bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks.

Paula, what's the reaction there because this could also be devastating for the people of South Korea just 35 miles from the North Korean border? Good morning.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Dave, and certainly there are some great concerns when you hear that there are some military maneuvers in North Korea, but we heard that from intelligence as well. They say they're also hearing from the DMZ, the North Korean soldiers being told to report an incident first and act second. So, a suggestion they are aware there could be miscalculation and they are holding back somewhat.

Now, on those banks, eight banks that the U.S. president has decided to put further unilateral sanctions on, these are ones that could potentially do -- that are in North Korean banks because it's well known that North Korea is good at having many front companies to try and circumvent these sanctions. We also know, two dozen individuals, North Koreans who work in China and in Libya as well, have also been sanctioned. So, really trying to tighten the noose around these -- the ways of North Korea getting cash to its nuclear and missile program.

Also, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heading to China later this week. It will be a very interesting conversation, obviously, North Korea topping that agenda, potentially laying the ground work as well for when the U.S. president visits there in November.

[04:25:06] There will be some difficult questions, no doubt, about those banks because they do do business in China -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. A very important trip.

Paula Hancocks, live for us in Seoul, thanks.

ROMANS: All right. We are following breaking news this morning out of Afghanistan. A rocket landing near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, as U.S. Secretary of State James Mattis visits that country. A spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry said Secretary Mattis had already left that airport when this incident happened. No casualties or damage reported.

BRIGGS: Terrifying.

All right. Ahead, the Republican establishment in some turmoil this morning. The president's former top strategist is just fine with that.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Seeing state after state after state, people that follow the model of Judge Moore that do not need to raise money from the elites, from the crony capitalists, from the fat cats in Washington, D.C., New York City, Silicon Valley.


BRIGGS: After a big loss in Alabama, another health care defeat and Bob Corker's decision to leave the Senate, what's the future for the establishment of the Grand Old Party?