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EARLY START

Alabama Voters Pick Democrat Doug Jones; President Trump Attacks Senator Gillibrand. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 13, 2017 - 04:30   ET

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


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[04:30:22] DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATOR-ELECT: I have been waiting all my life and now I just don't know what the hell to say.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: For the first time in 25 years, a Democrat wins a Senate seat in deep red Alabama. Doug Jones with the major upset over Roy Moore. How's the president handling the defeat and can Democrats carry that momentum into 2018.

Welcome back to EARLY START this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs, 4:30 Eastern Time, 3:30 in the center of the political universe.

That's the state of Alabama where Democrat Doug Jones turned deep red Alabama blue, capping off a long shot campaign with a stunning win over Republican Roy Moore in last night's Senate race. Jones taking 49.9 percent of the vote, one and a half points ahead of Moore who could not overcome sexual misconduct allegations and a very controversial past.

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JONES: Alabama has been at a crossroads. We have been at crossroads in the past. And unfortunately, we have usually taken the wrong fork. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, you took the right road.

As Dr. King liked to quote, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

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ROMANS: Moore quoted Scripture to his supporters refusing to concede, telling them it's not over and it's going to take some time. His campaign insisting a recount is possible depending on write-in and military ballots, but Alabama's state Republican Party says it's over and Alabama's secretary of state says it is highly unlikely the outcome in this race will change.

Our coverage of this historic election begins in Montgomery with our very own Eric Bradner.

Good morning. What tilted, Eric, this race to Doug Jones?

ERIC BRADNER, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Christine, the biggest factor was huge African-American turnout. This was a big focus of the Jones campaign and CNN's exit polls found that 30 percent of the electorate was black.

Now, that's a higher share of the electorate than President Obama got in 2008 and 2012. So, that was a big factor. The Jones campaign had brought in John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and civil rights icon, Cory Booker, the New Jersey senator. Charles Barkley, the former Auburn university and NBA basketball star and other African American leaders to really get out the vote in key urban areas in the final days and weeks and it turned out to work.

Another focus of the Jones campaign was suburbanites. Democrats hoped that some of these Republican-leaning voters would either stay home or vote for Jones. They ended up getting just enough and that could be a recipe for success for Democrats in the 2018 midterms. We've seen this now in a couple of elections in Virginia and now Alabama. So, it could be a way that Democrats could win elsewhere on the map next year.

Now, the other factor here is that Roy Moore was a uniquely controversial candidate. He all but disappeared from campaign trail in the final week of the race, even leaving the state over the final weekend. President Trump tried to carry him over the hurdle, but it didn't quite work in part because our exit polls found that the president's approval rating had dipped to a point where only about half of the state's voters who turned out on Tuesday approve of the job he's doing.

ROMANS: Eric, so fascinating. All right. Thank you so much, bright and early. Chilly Montgomery, Alabama, this morning. Thanks, Eric.

BRIGGS: President Trump was certainly all in on Roy Moore. When it was clear the Republican seat was lost, his reaction was extraordinary tame by Trump standards. The president tweeting quote: Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory. Write-in votes played a very big factor but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends.

ROMANS: But a White House source tells CNN the result is devastating for the president describing it as a quote, earthquake. The finger- pointing already underway with calls for the president to replace his political director Bill Stepien.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's go live to Washington and bring in our politics reporter Tal Kopan and Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for "The Washington Examiner".

Good to see you both. This was largely on the backs of female voters and African American voters to Eric's point, exceeding that of Obama level numbers, which is a shocker. What's the biggest takeaway for you, Sarah, as to what happened last night?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, certainly the White House is going to try to limit this defeat to the flaws of Roy Moore, Republicans who backed him are going to say that the reason Doug Jones is headed to the United States Senate is because Roy Moore was terribly controversial.

[04:35:11] He was bad at campaigning. He faced these allegations of sexual misconduct. So, they're not going to want to admit that this reflects any broader trends that the Republican Party may face in 2018 or they don't want to admit that this could be the harbinger of Democratic wave that we could see in the midterms. So, I think the takeaway Republicans will have is this was just a confluence of events that we may never see again that put Doug Jones in Congress.

ROMANS: Yes, we just heard Eric Bradner, our reporter, call him a uniquely controversial candidate and I think that is a really great way to look at it. We've never sort of seen that combination lineup before and, Tal, when you look at breaking down the vote, you know, you saw that African-American turnout was very robust for Doug Jones, went for Doug Jones.

Although interesting enough, white women lean toward Roy Moore when is interesting -- an interesting, I guess, breakdown. But tell me a little bit about how you think the sexual misconduct allegations and gender played a role in this -- in this result.

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Christine, there's no denying that they were a major factor. It's simply impossible to ignore as an element of the race. One element to be sure, but it's there and you know, when you looked at the exit polls of people who said that they believed the allegations, they were heavily split by party affiliation, Democrats were much more likely to believe the allegations than Republicans, but even overall among the electorate, roughly half just over believed that they might be true, and that's a huge number.

And you know, you said white women did split for Roy Moore, but certainly not by the numbers that he would have needed to carry that state. And you know, African American definitely split for Doug Jones. So, you know, when you have this national conversation, when you have a gender gap, when you have historically high African American turnout, all those factors combined with Republican apathy or even distaste, just being unable to vote for Roy Moore, it was sort of a perfect storm for Doug Jones.

And, you know, while I take Sarah's point absolutely that this is in some ways an isolated election, you can absolutely believe Democrats are going to take heart from this fund raising, lessons on turning out the vote. It's not quite as isolated as it may seem to Alabama.

ROMANS: So interesting that Senator Richard Shelby, the senior Republican senator of the state, said he did not vote for Roy Moore and he said that before the election. It looks as though his role as an Alabamian was a bigger influence than the president's. BRIGGS: We'll have to mention, Jeff Sessions wouldn't admit who he

voted for, so he would not publicly say I voted for Roy Moore.

ROMANS: It was his seat in the first place.

BRIGGS: So here we are, this is a special election in the state of Alabama and it is not just front page news in Alabama or New York or L.A., it is around the world.

ROMANS: Look at that.

BRIGGS: We are seeing front page news in the U.K., in France, in Germany, and it is the number one trending topic worldwide.

Sarah, what is the message sent to President Trump because that's what all the international papers are running with. This is a blow to the president of the United States.

WESTWOOD: Absolutely. I think the White House may be reconsidering the decision to back Roy Moore late in the race. I think the White House reviewed polling that suggested that Roy Moore could still eke out a victory after the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced and that's when you saw President Trump decide to endorse Roy Moore, first on Twitter, then with a phone call, then in speaking with reporters and finally flying down to Pensacola for a rally and recording a robocall.

There's no way that the White House can walk away from the fact that they did go all in for Roy Moore. They could have stood on the sidelines. They could have limited the endorsements to just the tweet. They could have done any number of things that would have limited their exposure in the case that we're seeing now with the Roy Moore defeat. But now this reflects poorly on the White House's credibility. It raises questions about the role President Trump can or should play in 2018 and they may be rethinking the strategy they pursued in this race.

ROMANS: Tal, along those lines, Luther Strange, Ed Gillespie, Roy Moore, all endorsed by this president, all lost.

BRIGGS: Third time is a charm.

KOPAN: Yes, that's absolutely right and this is going to have ramifications all over the place. It makes, you know, we're seeing an international reaction that it reflects poorly on Donald Trump, but this is going to reflect poorly on him in Washington. Keep in mind, he's still trying to muscle an agenda through Congress and very slowly this year. They still haven't scored a major legislative accomplishment. And if Republicans feel that being tied to the president is a drag at the ballot box, that is absolutely going to change their calculus now with ads we're seeing a razor thin majority in the Senate once Doug Jones is seated after what was already thin.

[04:40:05] So, you know, you call this is a shock wave, it is absolutely a shock wave and a warning sign for the White House. If they're perceived as, you know, a weight on Republicans' neck, it's going to be very difficult for them to have impact on legislative efforts in moving things through Congress.

BRIGGS: And could be the nail in the coffin on Steve Bannon's war on incumbent Republicans. We shall see. No comment from Steve Bannon, thus far today.

Thank you, ladies. We appreciate it.

Stick around, we're going to ask you about what the president tweeted about Kirsten Gillibrand in just a bit.

ROMANS: Yes. Was he making a sexual insinuation when he said a New York senator would do anything for campaign contributions? This one, one editorial says the president isn't fit to clean toilets. Wait until you listen to this one, next.

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[04:45:15] BRIGGS: Stop me if you've heard this before. The president's tweets stirring up controversy, this time for attacking New York's Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She is calling for the president's resignation, citing the sexual misconduct allegations him. Now, Mr. Trump being roundly criticized for tweeting Gillibrand, quote, would come to my office begging for campaign contributions not so long ago and would do anything for them.

ROMANS: Also, insult in there, too. But that really got people's attention because his critics claim he was insinuating the senator would accept sexual favors for financial support. This scathing indictment of Mr. Trump from the typically restrained "USA Today" editorial board.

Listen to this: A president who would all but call Senator Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush. This isn't' about the policy differences we have with all presidents or our disappointments in some of their decisions. Donald Trump the man is uniquely awful.

BRIGGS: Highly unusual from the "USA Today".

Let's bring back Tal Kopan and Sarah Westwood for some reaction to that presidential tweet about Kirsten Gillibrand.

Sarah, is this an overreaction by Trump critics?

WESTWOOD: Obviously, Democrats are going to try to read the most negative interpretation of that tweet into it that they can. That's what you saw Senator Elizabeth Warren do when she was the first one to come out and sort of apply this sexual context to what President Trump was saying. The RNC later in the day tried to provide some cover for President Trump by blasting out a list of issues on which Senator Gillibrand has flip-flopped on over the years, suggesting that maybe what President Trump meant was that her campaign contributions have dictated her positions on different policy issues.

So, the White House is saying that President Trump did not mean to imply anything sexual about Senator Gillibrand, but it's not surprising that some of President Trump's Democratic critics are interpreting it in the most negative way possible.

BRIGGS: Just to be clear, Rick Santorum, a staunch supporter of the president yesterday saying he too had the same reaction as many Trump critics.

ROMANS: In terms of the dollars by the way, the president at the time who was not the president did give Kirsten Gillibrand's campaign money --

BRIGGS: More than $8,000.

ROMANS: Yes, $4,800 in 2010 to her Senate campaign and $2,100 in 2007. So, this is the Republican who was giving money --

BRIGGS: Long time Democratic donor.

ROMANS: Longtime, just a reminder, he's a long time Democratic donor.

Let's listen to what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said about this very issue yesterday and whether this was an insinuation on the president's part.

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REPORTER: Many, including the senator, think that it's about sexual innuendos?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read it that way and so, no.

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ROMANS: You know, our minds have been in the gutter for about, I don't know, a year and a half? There's been a lot of kind of what you never would talk about in polite conversation in the political sphere. Is she right, Tal? Has she said this about male candidates too?

KOPAN: Look, the White House sent a list of examples of showing similar language and certainly, he's referenced begging for political donations before. But that parenthetical that's raising so many eyebrows really did stand out among the others and look, President Trump and before he was president, just Donald Trump, is a master at making an insinuation that leaves him off the hook if he wants to be.

ROMANS: Right.

KOPAN: You know, he did this a number of times against President Barack Obama. He's a master of phrases like there's something there, you know what's going on there. I mean, he's really good at sort of winking at people and saying, you know what I'm saying, without be able to pinned explicitly using language that makes those statement.

So, you know, the White House can brush this off all they want, and certainly, every tweet is open to interpretation, but to say that element isn't there, really seems to beg the question when in the context of this national conversation, it certainly could have been read that way.

ROMANS: It frames Gillibrand in a new light too. It gives her a new platform, don't you think, as we're talking about a field where Democratic --

BRIGGS: You can argue he did her a significant favor as she readies a potential presidential run in 20.

Ladies, thanks for coming back. We appreciate the insight on all of this this morning -- Sarah Westwood and Tal Kopan.

ROMANS: Nice to see you guys.

All right. Forty-nine minutes past the hour. Bitcoin just hit another record high. This made up Internet money. The chief U.S. financial regulator has a message for investors though. Buyers beware. All these bitcoin orders hate it when they say that.

Details on CNN "Money Stream" next.

[04:50:01] BRIGGS: They're rich though.

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BRIGGS: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announcing the U.S. is ready for talks with North Korea without preconditions, not exactly in line with the president's position. Rex made the remarks Tuesday at the Atlantic Council in Washington. Tillerson making it clear, if North Korea makes bad choices, the U.S. is prepared to act.

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REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're ready to talk any time they'd like to talk. But they have to come to the table and they have to come to the table with a view that they do want to make a different choice.

[04:55:00] In the meantime, our military preparedness is strong. I will continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops.

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BRIGGS: Pyongyang has dramatically ramped up the pace of its military program in 2017. Since February the regime has fired off 23 missiles.

ROMANS: Mark Dayton is expected to name a replacement for Senator Al Franken. The "Minneapolis Star Tribune" reporting he will choose his Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith as the next U.S. senator. Sources say she plans to run for the seat in a special election next year. Franken announced last week his intention to resign after he was accused of improper conduct toward more than half a dozen women.

With the selection of Tina Smith, Minnesota will have two female senators for the first time in history.

BRIGGS: That's right. Amy Klobuchar is the other. New York City bombing suspect Akayed Ullah now facing terrorism charges after police say he detonated a homemade pipe bomb in a subway tunnel during the morning rush hour on Monday. According to the criminal complaint, shortly before the attack, Ullah posted a statement on Facebook saying, quote: Trump, you failed to protect your nation.

The suspect was the only one seriously injured in the bombing. He faces life in prison, but not the death penalty since no one died in the attack.

ROMANS: Thousands of firefighters finally making some headway against that huge Thomas Fire in southern California. Officials say the blaze is now 25 percent contained. Winds have decreased to 15 to 25 miles per hour. It's those winds that have been a real problem here for a week. The Thomas Fire has burned some 236,000 acres.

Red flag warnings are now confined to the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties covering just over a million residents. At the peak last week nearly 20 million people were affected. It's been over 250 days without any rain in the part of Ventura County where the Thomas Fire started.

BRIGGS: Just awful.

San Francisco's board of supervisors setting a June 5th date for a special election to replace Mayor Ed Lee who died Tuesday. Lee's sudden death coming just after he appeared at an event at a city hospital. According to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, the 65-year-old Lee suffered a heart attack the night before while he was grocery shopping. The board of supervisors president London Breed has been named acting mayor.

ROMANS: All right. It is that time of the hour, just about the top of the hour. Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream".

Global stock markets mostly lower but it was another record day on Wall Street. Bank stocks pushed the Dow and the S&P 500 to all-time highs. The Nasdaq closed lower.

The two-day meeting of the Federal Reserve concludes today. The central bank expected to raise interest rates, the third hike this year. It also marks the last meeting for this woman, the current Fed Chief Janet Yellen, she's had a pretty great ride. Her term ends in February.

All right. Bitcoin, that made up internet money just hit another record high closing in on $20,000. This has been unbelievable. The chief U.S. financial regulator has a message for investors. Buyer beware.

SEC chairman Jay Clayton is urging extreme caution with virtual currencies, warning investors to be wary, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true or if you are pressured to act quickly. Clayton added that bitcoin is not registered with the SEC. Unlike traditional currencies, the virtual coins aren't tied to a central bank. They're mined by a computer algorithm and stored somewhere on the Internet.

BRIGGS: I don't get it.

ROMANS: Ticket sales are strong with 'The last Jedi". "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" doesn't come out until tomorrow, wait, tomorrow? Friday.

BRIGGS: Friday.

ROMANS: But it's already become the top advance ticket seller of the year. That's according to Fandango. "The Last Jedi" toppled another Disney production, "Beauty and the Beast" for the top spot. It's on track for opening weekend of $200 million, a huge number.

It may not beat the previous "Star Wars" film. "The Force Awakens" had the biggest box office opening in history and "The New York Post" gives it four star wars.

BRIGGS: Four star wars?

ROMANS: Four star --

BRIGGS: I get it.

Yes, Amy Fischer, it's interesting to see her on those clips, 93 percent on "Rotten Tomatoes". Are you going Friday?

ROMANS: Not Friday, but I'll go soon. My boys love it.

BRIGGS: I hope you're dressing up.

ROMANS: Oh, maybe. I'll bring my lightsaber.

BRIGGS: EARLY START starts right now with what the takeaway is from an earthquake politically in Alabama.

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JONES: I have been waiting all my life and now I just don't know what the hell to say.

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ROMANS: A seismic shift in the U.S. senate, Doug Jones is the first Democrat to win in Alabama in a quarter century, the vote already leading to calls for a shakeup inside the White House.

EARLY START's coverage from Alabama and Washington starts right now.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START this morning after election edition. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Look at the headlines, look at the cover in two paper, exactly the same thought.