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EARLY START

Alabama Votes For U.S. Senate Tomorrow; Senator Shelby: "I Can't Vote For Roy Moore"; Jones' Marathon Get-Out-The-Vote Effort; Violent Protests Across Middle East; Thomas Fire Scorches 230,000 Acres. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 11, 2017 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- and data collection and processing. Every time we talk about a higher minimum wage, I hear from folks who say, yes, if you raise the minimum wage too much, I'm going to automate my entire restaurant.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: But again, every time we talk about this, Mr. Jeff Sucker, you can't automate broadcasting. Just can't happen. All right. EARLY START continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: President Trump going all in for Roy Moore in a new robo call going out to Alabama voters on the eve of the election. Can the president move the needle for Moore?

BRIGGS: Violent protests across the Middle East after President Trump declares Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We are live in the Middle East with the latest.

ROMANS: New concerns about whether Republicans can deliver on tax reform. The crucial senator who says she hasn't made up her mind on the bill and the bill that hasn't actually become a bill this week, you know, got to reconcile this thing.

BRIGGS: Moving through at lightning speed.

ROMANS: It is, very different versions here of tax reform. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's Monday, December 11. It's 5:00 a.m. in the east, noon in Jerusalem. Welcome to all our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

This morning, all eyes on Alabama, where the campaigns of Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones are both in high gear ahead the state's special election tomorrow. Today, former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, campaigns with Moore, who's been fighting to the end against claims of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I did not know any of the women who have charged me with sexual allegations, molestation. I did not date underage women. I did not molest anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

MOORE: And so these allegations are false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Democrat Doug Jones barnstorming the state hoping the accusations against Moore will help drive Democrats to the polls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I believe those women at Etowah County. It's like SENATOR SHELBY said today. I want to make sure when my granddaughters grow up they don't have to endure the kind of thing those girls did and sit silent for 30 or 40 years. I want to make sure that we send a message of who we are and what we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Jones also counting on appearances of some Democratic political heavy hitters to help with African-American turnout including appearances with Senator Cory Booker and former Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick.

BRIGGS: The heavy weight in Moore's corner, President Trump, who recorded this robo call for Moore.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP (via telephone): Hi, this is President Donald Trump and I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore. But if Alabama elects liberal Democrat, Doug Jones, all of our progress will be stopped cold. We need Roy to help us with the Republican Senate. We will win and we will make America great again.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Let's bring in historian, Julian Zelizer, professor at Princeton University. Good morning to you, sir.

That really is the question right now. Donald Trump, what does he mean for the undecided voters in Alabama? It depends on who you ask. When you ask Alabama residents, there are two prominent ones, Bill Brit, who interviewed Roy Moore yesterday and Dean Young who works on the campaign had very different opinions about what President Trump's opinion means in Alabama. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL BRIT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, ALABAMA POLITICAL REPORTER: Steve Bannon is the ultimate outsider. Steve bannon ain't going to move the needle in Alabama, just like President Trump barely moved the needle in Alabama when he came down here for Luther Strange. This is an Alabama race. I have covered politics here for a long, long time. I've lived in other states and Alabama is unique. People are proud and they're going to make up their own mind.

DEAN YOUNG, ROY MOORE'S CHIEF POLITICAL STRATEGIST: This is Donald Trump on trial in Alabama. If the people of Alabama vote for this liberal Democrat, Doug Jones, then they're voting against the president who they put in office at the highest level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: OK. Let's take the latter. Roy Moore has been absent from the campaign trail. He has had nothing since Tuesday. Do they want this to be about Donald Trump and not about Roy Moore?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I think they want it to be about the Republican Party. So, I think they want Republicans to vote Republican no matter who's on the ticket, and that way you can remove Roy Moore at the end. So, I think it's less about Trump than it is about the GOP.

ROMANS: And you listen to Senator Richard Shelby, he's not going to vote for the Republican that's on the ticket. In fact, he has already voted. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: We would like to retain that seat in the U.S. Senate. But I tell you what, I -- there's a time -- we call it a tipping point, and I think so many accusations, so many cuts, so many drip, drip, drip.

[05:05:11] When it got to the 14-year-old story, story, that was enough for me. I said I can't vote for Roy Moore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: This is somebody who sits on the Senate Banking Appropriations Committee, two very powerful committees, talking about tax reform. Doug Jones has a three-point lead in the most recent "Washington Post" poll. That's within the margin of error. This is literally as tight as it could be.

ZELIZER: Absolutely. That's why turnout is on the mind of both parties. This could matter. Coming from a senator from the state is different from someone outside. The question is, does this cause some Republicans not to vote at all. That could matter in a tight race. I don't think people are going to flip. We heard this back in 2016. It didn't really happen. I don't think it's going to happen now.

BRIGGS: Now, you'll need Republicans to stay home and African- Americans to really turn out, that's why they have Cory booker down there. They are not using a robo call from Barack Obama. Doug Jones has it. They are not using it. What does that tell you? ZELIZER: Well, it's a tough call. Some would argue that would be a great move to use President Obama, and his popularity to energize the African-American community, but Democrats are worried. They don't want to nationalize this campaign. They want to make it about Moore or President Trump. So, they are trying to do this balancing act. I think that's why they pulled back. It might be a mistake, though.

ROMANS: Can we talk about tax reform quickly because front page "USA Today" poll says GOP tax bill favors the wealthy and find actually the lowest level of public support for any major piece of legislation in the past three decades including Obamacare.

This is seen as something that favors the rich and corporations not the middle class. The president has said again and again he wants a big middle-class tax cut. His tax writers have not given him that in this bill. How heavy a lift is it this week? They're going so quickly on this. I get so nervous about unintended consequences when you do big legislation so quickly.

ZELIZER: Well, this process has been a total mess. We've basically had legislators voting on things they didn't know they were voting on. They weren't even sure of the substance of the bill. That said, we're now in conference committee and it really will come down, it looks like, to Senator Collins.

And whether all of a sudden, she tries to depart from the agreement that is reached, or if the House just passes the Senate version of the bill, which would also move it forward. But, I think many people are scratching their heads watching a Congress vote on a bill where they don't even know what's in it and it's going to have huge ramifications in this country.

ROMANS: Every corner of the economy will be affected. If you are a grad student, high tax state, a parent, a worker, I mean I could go on. Doctors and lawyers are really concerned right now because they're worried about how their income is going to be treated in this.

Maybe they could have big tax increases. I think the polls are so universally disapproving of it that it gives somebody like Senator Collins cover if she needs to not vote with her party.

ZELIZER: Sure. This is unpopular legislation and this is not something that the public is clamoring for, but yet Republicans see it as a victory just to have some bill that they can talk about, but it might be a devil's bargain.

BRIGGS: All right. Come back in about 30 minutes, want to ask you the president Friday night saying we have a rigged system and sickness in our institutions and what that means.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Julian. A sixth day of violent protests across the Middle East triggered by President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israelis launching air strikes into Gaza against what it calls Hamaz targets after several rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel.

Palestinian officials report two fatalities, more than 300 people injured Friday alone in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.

Let's go live to Beirut this morning and bring in CNN's Ben Wedeman. Ben, we understand there have been violent protests not too far from the U.S. Embassy.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We were there. There were more than a thousand people who gathered at round about which is about a mile down the hill from the American embassy north of Beirut.

There were times when some of the younger protests were throwing rocks, plastic water bottles and sticks in the direction of the Lebanese security forces who responded with tear gas and birdshot.

However, some of the organizers did try to keep it under control. So, by and large in fact the demonstration was peaceful. Now, as I said, the American embassy is a good mile away from that location but there's a gate at the bottom of that hill which they close when you have demonstrations of like what we saw yesterday.

What was interesting, Christine, was that this demonstration brought together Palestinian refugees, Islamist groups, Lebanese leftist parties. Groups that in recent years have been divided over things like the war in Syria, Yemen.

[05:10:15] But they do seem to have come together in their condemnation and rejection of President Trump's declaration, a recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Now, today, we're expecting a very large, perhaps the largest demonstration yet, organized by Hezbollah in this case in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

There are no American institutions or installations in that area. We don't expect it, there to be any violence in this case because Hezbollah is if anything, very well disciplined.

ROMANS: All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much for that live this morning in Beirut. Thanks.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, thousands of firefighters struggling to get control of those massive wildfires burning in Southern California. We'll have a report from Ventura County next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:15:09]

ROMANS: More man 95,000 people forced to evacuate their homes in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties where the Thomas fire, now the fifth largest wildfire in modern California history has consumed more than 230,000 acres and counting.

Nearly 6,000 firefighters struggling to beat back these flames. These wildfires have already damaged or destroyed right now about a thousand structures. The cost to fight just this fire, the Thomas fire, $34 million and climbing. California's governor, Jerry Brown, blaming the huge late fall wildfire on climate change. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: This is the new normal. This could be something that happens every year or every few years, it happens to some degree. It's just more intense and widespread and we're about ready to have firefight fighting at Christmas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: We get more from CNN's Kyung Lah in Ventura County.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, this is Southern California's largest fire, the Thomas fire. You can see it burning in those hills. It is most visible when the sun sets in these overnight hours.

It is marching closer and closer to Santa Barbara, further northwest fueled by wind and dry brush. It has been some 250 days here in California without any sort of significant rain. Firefighters relying on helicopters to be the big game changer in dealing with this wildfire. Here's what one firefighter told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: So, you've been hitting from the air as well as working it from the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, correct. The helicopters have been a huge help. They get in there and make the water drops and slow it down, cool it off enough to get -- allow firefighters to get in there on the ground and make better attack on the fire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: It's not just in h the air, but also on the ground. There are some 4,400 firefighters just in this one wildfire, trying to contain it -- Dave, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Kyung, thank you for that.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's check out the weather forecast and how it pertains to this fire. Julie Martin has the latest.

JULIE MARTIN, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, David and Christine, another dangerous day here in Southern California. Our concern, the Thomas fire only 10 percent contained. It is moving off to the north forcing more evacuations. Already 230,000 acres consumed with this particular fire.

When you take a look at the sheer size of this you can see what the firefighters have their work cut out for them, 359 square miles. That is bigger than the city of Chicago in size. The good news is that, though, five of the six other fires are now more than 70 percent contained.

So, firefighters have been able to make some headway here in Southern California. Taking a look, though, at the wind situation, those Santa Ana winds continuing for one more day. This is the longest event so far this season.

This high is going to move up to the north. The winds will be decreasing as we get into Tuesday and beyond. The big story of course all this cold air here working its way across the eastern half of the U.S., even some cold temperatures sneaking down into Florida. That cold is going to be hanging on as we get into the remainder this week ahead.

ROMANS: Not good for me. I need a furnace.

BRIGGS: A brand new one. Tough weekend.

ROMANS: Right before Christmas.

BRIGGS: All right. A brutal day on the grid iron, four starting NFL quarterbacks hurt. Coy Wire has more in the "Bleacher Report."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:23:10]

BRIGGS: Let's talk some sports. Steelers win a Sunday night thriller in record-setting fashion and then present the game ball with injured teammates still in the hospital.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good Monday morning, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. Pittsburgh's Big Ben Roethlisberger became the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 500 yards three times in a career, 506 of them against the Ravens and over 200 of them went to his man, Antonio Brown. Look at that.

Despite the big numbers, though, Pittsburgh still had to get a 39-38 victory. In doing so, though, they clinch the division and the playoffs. Now injured linebacker, Ryan Shizer couldn't be there. They presented the game ball via Facetime when he was at his hospital room there in Pittsburgh. That smile right there says it all. He's getting better.

Fans in Jacksonville threw objects over the wall at Seattle's Clinton Jefferson as he was being escorted to the tunnel during the Seahawks lost to the Jags. Now, Jefferson was one of two Seahawks players ejected after a fight between several players on the field broke out.

But look at that an object appears to hit him and he goes up to the wall and almost over it towards these fans. Fortunately, he was stopped by security there. Jefferson likely to be fined by the league at the very least for his ejection. Any fans that could be identified, though, could face consequences as well.

Bad day for injuries, never a good day, I should say. Eagles' quest towards the Super Bowl took a major blow yesterday as the star quarterback suffered a knee injury during Phillies comeback win. The team fears that it could be a season ending ACL injury. An MRI scheduled later today.

It had another starting quarterback going down as well to a scary injury. Houston's Tom Savage hands appeared to be shaking after taking a big hit and the Texans lost to the Niners. After evaluation was cleared he was allowed to return just 11 minutes later.

Eventually taken out of the game with a concussion. A lot of scrutiny now for this concussion protocol. Seeing a scene like that and allowing a man to go back and put his body and brain on the line.

BRIGGS: There's something not right there. He's looking at his hand shaking. That concussion protocol needs a closer look.

WIRE: Yes, when, you know, we as fans are sitting there watching, seeing something is not right, get him out of the game. Things need to be re-evaluated.

ROMANS: All right. Coy, nice to see you this morning. Thank you.

Just one day left until Alabama voters head to the polls there in the special election that has captured national attention. How the president is campaigning in the final hours. Next.

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