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EARLY START

Alabama Senate Race Stunner; President Trump Attacks Senator Gillibrand; Southern California Wildfires. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 13, 2017 - 05:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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: 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.

[05:00:02] I'm Christine Romans.

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

Alabama, it was a political earthquake last night. Today is Wednesday, December 13th. It's 5:00 a.m. on the East. It's 4:00 a.m. in the center of the political universe, which is Alabama, that's where Democrat Doug Jones turned deep red Alabama blue, capping off a long campaign shot after a stunning win against Roy Moore in last night's high stakes Senate race.

Jones taking 49.9 percent of the vote, 1.5 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: Roy Moore quoted Scripture as he talked 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. 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 with CNN's Kaylee Hartung.

Kaylee, how did this election swing to Doug Jones?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, you don't need to look much farther than the past week of Doug Jones campaigning schedule to understand what made this stunning upset possible. Think about it, in the past week, he had Barack Obama record robocalls for him. He brought down former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and in the final hours, NBA great and native Alabamian Charles Barkley even got involved.

He knew he couldn't do this without the help of African Americans and he got near unanimous support from them. More support than Barack Obama himself got in the 2008 or 2012 presidential elections. Our exit polls show 38 percent of the electorate was made up by African American voters.

And the other part of this too, you've got to mention, women. You could call it the mom effect. Mothers of children under the age of 18, they voted for Doug Jones by a broad 35 percentage point. Specifically he engaged white women who were college-educated.

You've also got to take into effect two contributing factors here. You cannot discount the Republicans who voted for a Democrat for the first time in their lives in this deeply conservative state that's been dependently red for so long and also, the Republicans who stayed home. The Republicans who weren't comfortable voting for Roy Moore, but weren't comfortable voting for a Democrat.

That ability for them to stay home really contributed to this as well. And Roy Moore, meanwhile, he fell short with his continued denials and deflections of the allegations against him. It wasn't enough to activate his powerful Christian and conservative base that he thought he had.

ROMANS: All right. Kaylee Hartung for us in Montgomery, nice to see you this morning. Busy morning for everyone with all this analysis. Thank you.

BRIGGS: It is indeed.

President Trump was all in on Roy Moore and when it was clear the Republican seat was lost, his reaction was stunningly tame by Trump standards. The president tweeting: Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory. The 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 short period of time. It never ends. ROMANS: But a White House source tells the result is devastating for

the president, describing it as an 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, bring in our CNN politics reporter, Tal Kopan, Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for "The Washington Examiner", and Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor of "The Atlantic".

It is good to see you all.

Ron --

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

BRIGGS: -- we'll deal you in first.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BRIGGS: As you are the latest to join us.

The president won this state by 28 points one year ago. What is your single biggest takeaway of what happened last night in Alabama?

BROWNSTEIN: That we are seeing a clear consistent pattern of resistance and opposition of the president emerging across the electoral map in 2017. I mean, Roy Moore, obviously, to state the obvious, a uniquely flawed and vulnerable candidate. But what ought to worry Republicans was how much similarity there was between the coalition that elected Doug Jones and what we saw in Virginia and New Jersey, and what we've seen in polls about President Obama.

I mean, there were three big ingredients to this win for Doug Jones. One, as you've noted enormous African American turnout and margin, 95 percent. African-Americans, a higher share of the vote than in 2012, the presidential year with Barack Obama on the ballot.

[05:05:04] That does not happen in midterm elections. It reflects kind of the energy in that community.

Second, a big showing for Democrats among young people. Doug Jones wins 60 percent of everybody under 45 in Alabama after the Democrats have won 70 percent of millennials in both New Jersey and Virginia.

And third, a solid movement toward the Democrat along those college educated white voters. It's true that Doug Jones only one 40 percent of them, but that's double what Obama won in 2012. So, you're seeing the same relative movement that you saw in Jersey and Virginia. And then there was a little more erosion than we saw in those earlier races among what has been Trump coalition where Roy Moore wins four- fifths of evangelicals.

But that was down from 2012, the last exit polls. He wins three quarters of blue collar whites. That's down slightly. The reality is we are seeing a consistent showing of this coalition of minority voters, young voters, college educated whites, all of which are telling us in polls they are deeply unhappy with President Trump's performance and kind of demeanor as president, showing up and voting Democratic.

I mean, it's -- the striking thing about it is it's exactly what you would expect from the approval rating polls of President Trump and for that reason, I think it is loud footfalls for Republicans in 2018 particularly in those swing, white collar suburban districts.

ROMANS: Sarah, let's talk about some of the Republican reaction, even before this we heard from the senior senator from the state, Richard Shelby, who said that he was not voting for the Republican candidate in his own state. That really sends a message about what the Republican establishment thinks about this unique race.

This morning, we hear from John Kasich. Thankfully, today, enough Republicans chose country over party. Tomorrow, we must redouble our efforts to support candidates worthy of the office they seek.

Jeff flake says this: Decency wins. Two short words, but look how many times that has been retweeted. A lot of people liking and retweeting that.

Sarah Westwood, the reaction now from the Republican Party going forward, what happens do you think inside the White House?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, certainly the white house is going to be worried about how this reflects on its credibility and its clout heading into 2018. The implications for the party like Ron mentioned are not good.

But on the other hand, I think a lot of Republicans in Congress are secretly or openly as you just proved breathing a sigh of relief that they don't have to deal with a Roy Moore -- Roy Moore being in the Senate for years to come. Republicans would constantly be asked to react to the latest Roy Moore controversy. It seems like every time he opened his mouth, he said something appalling that Republicans would have been forced to grapple with.

And so with him gone, that's one less vote in the Senate for the president's agenda, but it certainly doesn't have to force them to confront the controversy over whether they were going to seat him, whether they were going to put him on committees, how do you cosponsor legislation who's been accused of preying on children. So, certainly, that is one dilemma Republicans have gratefully avoided.

BRIGGS: Yes, and in terms of numbers, could put the Senate in play as we move forward with Arizona and Nevada particularly vulnerable given the situation right now. But, Tal, this was a uniquely historically bad candidate for the Republican Party.

Can Democrats over-read the results?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Sure. You know, it's always hard to draw generalizations from one election. You know, as Ron was describing, this was really a perfect storm for Doug Jones. Everything that needed to happen, happened.

But at the same time, this is ruby red Alabama. And we're still seeing this result. It's very close, but we're still seeing this result and we've seen a lot of special elections where Democrats have come quite close, but ultimately fell short. We've seen the governor's races.

So, you know, even if they over-read the election results, I think Democrats are really going to be buoyed by this win. They're going to now look at the map as more in play. You know, this was a turnout victory which is very important for Democrats especially as they embarrassingly lost some states in the presidential election that have traditionally gone blue. So, that is a lesson they can take away from this.

And, look, you mentioned Nevada and Arizona. Those are vulnerable seats for Democrats but we cannot lose sight in 2018 of how many vulnerable Democrats are up for re-election in really red state. And so, those Democrats are now going to look at this victory and think, if Doug Jones can win in ruby red Alabama, if I can tailor my message to my state, if I can turn out the voting subgroups that I need to turn out, maybe I can win this thing after all.

And so, really, there are lessons here that can be taken from the map that are going to carry through the 2018 election and give Democrats a little bit of confidence that they may feel like they need right now.

BRIGGS: Yes, still ten Senate Democrats up for re-election in Trump states.

[05:10:00] ROMANS: Let's talk about the impact on the legislative agenda because the president is going to talk today about tax reform. It's moving very quickly. They want a bill on his desk next week. They want this done as a Christmas present.

Just a few days ago, I was hearing Republicans very euphoric about getting tax reform done, and moving on to entitlements before the end of the year. Maybe infrastructure, too.

What happens now?

KOPAN: It's going to be a bit of a crap shoot for Republicans now. The margins are so razor thin in the Senate and keep in mind, you know, a lot of the bills they've been focusing on, their effort to repeal Obamacare which fell short because they lost three Republicans. Now, they can't even -- you know, there's one less to give and tax reform that they're working on, those are the types of bills they can pass with 50 vote -- you know, with the vice presidential tie breaker.

ROMANS: Sure.

KOPAN: There are a lot of bills they want to get to that they can't use that tricky reconciliation rule and they're going to need 60. And now Democrats are going to be empowered and moderate Republicans are going to feel like they are vindicated in running against Trump. I mean, it's going to be very difficult to say the least situation for Republican leadership going forward.

ROMANS: Ron, you weigh in on that.

BROWNSTEIN: I would say, you know, specifically, out of Alabama, we saw the same thing to a lesser degree, but in relative movement, also a very powerful that we saw in Virginia, which is white collar suburbs moving sharply away from the Republicans and the Trump era. Madison County in Alabama, 20 points better for Jones than for Hillary Clinton in 2016, Shelby County, 20 points better than in 2016, both the places over 40 percent of the adult population.

Why does that matter? Because there are so many Republicans in the House in white collar suburban districts, particularly along the coasts, in northern Virginia and the suburbs of Philadelphia, in Orange County, in New Jersey and New York who voted for a tax bill that ultimately raises taxes on many of the same voters who are pulling away from the party already on cultural grounds and kind of a personal distaste for President Trump.

And those are the House members who are right on the front line of this vote. I mean, you have, you know, two dozen House Republicans, 23 to be precise in districts that Hillary Clinton carried. Many of them are white-collared districts. Many of those districts ultimately lose out in the tax bill. They are being asked to vote for it at a time when they are getting more and more evidence of those voters already up in arms against many aspects of the Trump administration.

And I think that's going to be fascinating to watch. It does seem that they're committed to do it but they are really rolling the dice given the consistent results we have seen now out of New Jersey, Virginia and Alabama.

BRIGGS: That will be fascinating to watch as will the president's Twitter feed, Sarah, because a relatively tame reaction as we point out, conciliatory for this president. He has not gone out and had an angry reaction just yet but he is a brander above all else, always has been, always will be.

What is the Trump brand today and how do you expect him to react to this throughout the next couple of days?

WESTWOOD: Well, certainly President Trump is going to have more to say about this race in the coming days. I think that you might see him try to cast blame on someone else for the loss. You know, he was obviously angry when he felt like he received bad advice that led him to back Senator Luther Strange in the Republican primary, and he finally fell in line with his former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon to support Roy Moore in the general election, both times obviously the candidate that he backed was a loser.

So, the White House will be asking itself a lot of questions about what led them to support Roy Moore. What polling they've looked at to decide it was a good idea to expose the president to this kind of criticism by scheduling a rally down in Alabama's backyard, in Pensacola, by recording a robocall. Those are the kind of decisions that a White House with maybe a more -- a more experienced political operation would not have made, so I think they will be rethinking the methods that they used to arrive at those conclusions.

ROMANS: And may be rethinking the role of Steve Bannon. Here's what the Senate leadership fund says. This is brutal reminder that candidate quality matters, regardless of where you're running, not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the president of the United States into his fiasco.

BRIGGS: The president dragged himself into this fight. No one dragged him into it. He picked this fight. He wanted in on this. We'll bring you back in about 20 minutes.

Thank you, all three of you. More ahead.

But was the president making a sexual insinuation when he said a New York senator would do anything for campaign contributions? This morning, one scathing editorial from a national newspaper says the president is not even fit to clean toilets. More, next.

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[05:19:01] ROMANS: All right. A tweet from the president creating even more controversy. This time, he's attacking New York's Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She's calling for the president's resignation, citing the many sexual misconduct allegations against him and now, Mr. Trump is attacking her.

This is what he says, tweeting, Gillibrand would come to my office begging for campaign contributions not so long ago and would do anything for them. He put that in parenthesis, and would do anything for them.

BRIGGS: The president's critics claim he was insinuating the senator might accept sexual favors for financial support. This scathing indictment of Mr. Trump typically restrained "USA Today" editorial board. Quote: A president who would all but call Senator Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the 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.

[05:20:00] Donald Trump the man is uniquely awful.

More now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

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JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

President has injected himself squarely in the middle of the sexual harassment debate once again, going after in a personal way Senator Gillibrand of New York, calling her a lightweight who would, quote, do anything for political contributions. This prompted this uproar over what the president meant by do anything for contributions.

At the White House briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said this.

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.

ZELENY: So, Sanders pushing back on the fact that there was any sexual innuendo intended by the do-anything remark. But as for Senator Gillibrand, she reacted strongly to the president. She was on Capitol Hill joined by other Democrats throughout the day saying that President Trump simply cannot talk like this to Democratic senators or others.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: It was a sexist smear attempting to silence my voice and I will not be silenced on this issue. Neither will the woman who stood up to the president yesterday and neither will the millions of women who have been marching since the women's march to stand up against policies they do not agree with.

ZELENY: So this back and forth puts president Trump again in the middle of this sexual harassment debate that's shaking the world of politics, media and Hollywood. The president is saying he did not do what any of his accusers said. Now, many Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for his resignation or congressional investigation into any of that.

As for the White House, Sarah Sanders said the president would not participate in any type of investigation on Capitol Hill and any of these allegations of wrongdoing -- Dave and Christine.

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BRIGGS: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

Just want to point out, it's not all the president's critics reacting that way. Rick Santorum, former senator and a staunch supporter of the president said on CNN yesterday how he reacted. He said, quote, the same way as everyone else read it unfortunately.

So, it was not just his critics who took offense to tone of that tweet.

Meanwhile, firefighters finally making headway against the massive Thomas Fire in southern California. Details next.

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[05:26:45] BRIGGS: Five-twenty-six Eastern Time.

Thousands of firefighters making some progress against the Thomas Fire in southern California. Officials say the blaze is now 25 percent contained, thanks to winds that have decreased to 15 to 25 miles per hour. The Thomas Fire has burned some 236,000 acres. Red flag warnings are now confined to the mountains of the Los Angeles and Ventura counties, covering just over 1 million residents. At the peak last week, nearly 20 million people were affected.

ROMANS: All right. 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 hours after he appeared at an event at a city hospital. According to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the 65-year-old suffered a heart attack the night before while he was grocery shopping. Board of supervisors president London Breed has been named acting mayor.

BRIGGS: All right. One of the most reliably Republican states in the nation is blue this morning. Doug Jones defeats Roy Moore in a highly contested Alabama Senate race. The fallout from the president and what's in store for the midterms, next.

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