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Pennsylvania Democrat Conor Lamb Claims Victory in District Trump Won by 20 Points; Students, Teachers Walk Out to Protest Gun Violence; Trump Signals Wider Senior Staff Shake-up is Coming; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:01] REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: You will have races in the primaries and all these other races and the primaries bring them to the left. So I just don't think that this is something that we'll see a repeat of.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What's your message to --

(END VIDEOCLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. There's the House Speaker Paul Ryan right now trying to sugar coat what really was -- what could be a dramatic defeat for Republicans in Pennsylvania 18.

The results are not official. No winner has yet been declared but I will declare victory, why? Because I now have with me CNN political director David Chalian and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash. I am the luckiest man on earth to try to understand this right now.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Good morning, John.

BERMAN: Look, Dana, you know, Paul Ryan there did an admirable job trying to spin it, but one of the things he said is just frankly not true. This is not a big surprise what happened there.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

BERMAN: Well, if you would ask someone, you know, six weeks ago, would a Democrat win Pennsylvania 18 or be poised to win Pennsylvania 18, that would be a giant surprise.

BASH: Absolutely. Of course he's -- there's more sugar on that than we're supposed to eat in, like, a month in what he just said. There's no question. It's not the only thing that he fudged a little bit. Also the idea that Conor Lamb is a unique candidate. We're hearing some of that spin from not just the House speaker but other Republicans, that's also not true.

The Democrats are fielding a number of candidates who are like Conor Lamb in that they're veterans, and more importantly, they are politically in line with the district where they're running. Meaning tends to be more conservative or at least more of a swing district. So that is just a fundamental fact. The other thing is that this district, because we're all proud

political nerds, I can say, is rated as plus 11 for Republicans, meaning Republicans tend to have an 11-point advantage in this district. There are 114 -- 114 districts that have even more competitive ratings than this going into November. So it is a wake-up call and it -- he says it's not a surprise? Maybe given the past 48 hours or a week, but big picture, sure it is.

BERMAN: And David Chalian, let's just talk about the big picture right now, because again the race, there's been no victor declared, Conor Lamb is ahead. I think it'd be surprising if he didn't win at this point based on the numbers that are still out there.

CHALIAN: Totally. Yes. He is poised to be the next member of Congress from that district, yes.

BERMAN: OK. Then you just said it, I don't have to. But there's a bigger picture here about what it means heading into November and it means a lot.

CHALIAN: It does mean a lot. It is, as Dana is saying, a wake-up call and by the way, I think Speaker Ryan in his honest moments with his conference will be saying if he hasn't already said the very same thing, this is a wake-up call, fortify yourselves, he's saying to his members, because this weight is big.

The Democratic enthusiasm, John, that we have seen in the Trump era, not terribly different by the way from the Republican enthusiasm we saw in the Obama era early on in Obama's first midterm year. This is the energy in American politics right now. And it is swelling for Democrats. We saw it throughout 2017 and now we're seeing it to actually convert into stealing a House seat that they have no right owning, the Democrat.

So that is when you say to your members if you're a Republicans, we know it's going to be a tough year. This is a signal it's going to be a very, very painful year for Republicans. Make sure you have the fundraising, make your candidate quality is as strong as possible because there may not be much we can do about this Democratic wave coming ashore.

BERMAN: Yes, absolutely. Look, the reporting behind the scenes, you know, I'm hearing it, too, is that the leaders who are running the campaigns are telling the members you have to be afraid and you have to take this very, very seriously. This is real. Do not get caught off guard.

Dana, you brought up Nancy Pelosi. You know, one of the things that Paul Ryan just said there is that the candidate who win is a pro-life, pro-gun, anti-Pelosi candidate because both of the candidates in this race lined up that way. But let's talk about Nancy Pelosi because Conor Lamb did run against her. I mean, one of his first ads was saying he will not support Nancy Pelosi.

How does she emerge from this race? I mean, you know her really well. Is there any chance she'll say hey, look, this is succeeding for Democrats across the country, maybe I should say I don't want to be the next House speaker if the Democrats take over?

BASH: I wouldn't hold my breath. I just wouldn't that that is going to happen. She's not the kind of person who is going to be pressured by politics or anything else into doing that. Having said that, what we have seen is an opening for Democrats to feel emboldened to actually use the leader of their own party as a foil. Meaning, it seems counterintuitive but it might not be a bad thing for her to still be there for conservative Democrats who are willing to say, I'm not going to support her.

And Tom Perez, the DNC chair, was on with us last night, John, and he very much gave a green light to any Democrat who feels that this is a way to win to say, you know what, I'm not going to support Nancy Pelosi.

[10:35:08] BERMAN: You know, Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York, asking him if Conor Lamb was the kind of Democrat he wants elected. He's like, I want any kind of Democrat elected. Doesn't have to agree with me. I'll talk anything. And that may be where Nancy Pelosi --

CHALIAN: The kind that gets them to 218. That's the thing.

BASH: Exactly.

BERMAN: That's exactly the right kind for them.

All right. David Chalian, Dana Bash, thank you very, very much.

CHALIAN: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: We've been looking at pictures coming in from across the country right now. Demonstrations, these here from New York City right now. Students walking out of class to protest gun violence. Much more on this straight ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even a child in an elementary school can see the fault in that solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Looking at the live pictures right there from Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and faculty members were massacred one month ago today. At this hour, we've seen students walking out of class across the country to protest gun violence and stand in solidarity with those students.

Let me just -- you can see that picture right there. There are students filling about, but all those are flowers and balloons being left there at that memorial at that fence for the victims of that shooting.

[10:40:08] Again, students walking out of class all across the country today.

Brynn Gingras joins me now from Brooklyn where there's been a particularly large demonstration -- Brynn.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. Large demonstration that is continuing. It's actually the last school about noon. And I'm sorry I'm screaming. We are right in the thick of it. But I want to quickly if I can introduce you to Georgia.

You are 14 years old and right now you're wearing a bullet proof vest.

GEORGIA, STUDENT: Yes, I am.

GINGRAS: Tell me why.

GEORGIA: I am wearing a bullet proof vest and on it are all the corporations that are still affiliated with the NRA and I'm wearing it to stand here today with all these powerful students behind me to be the voice of today not tomorrow and not the day after, to show that these are the corporations that are still being funded. These are corporations that are used by students and I want to make a change for this.

GINGRAS: You're making quite a statement with that bullet proof vest. Tell me, does it hold a significance with you, the feeling of even wearing one and knowing what happened in Parkland?

GEORGIA: Yes. I think it's really empowering feeling, it's -- like the fact that I'm wearing a bullet proof vest right now, like the fact that there is a fear among students all over the city that any day they could be never go home and see their parents again and be shot in their school is the most terrifying thing ever. And to be here and to able to wear it and to say and show Congress, the elected representatives that are still affiliated with the NRA, that it's not OK, it's not acceptable. And that we need change.

GINGRAS: All right, John. I mean, you're hearing it from students as young as 14 years old.

John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Brynn Gingras.

Again, students across the country right now marching out of class. We've been seeing pictures come in from all over the place. Washington, D.C., a bunch of students were outside protesting the White House. These students now marching towards the Capitol where they will speak with politicians. Much more straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:46:30] BERMAN: All right. Live pictures from the Capitol, in Washington, D.C. where you're starting to see students arrive. They've been marching from the White House as part of this national walkout. Students across the country walking out of class to protest gun violence. In Washington they started at the White House, heading to the Capitol now, where they are expected to speak with lawmakers.

One of the questions that many lawmakers are asking this morning is this -- after Rex, whose next? Could there be more departures, forced departures, shall we say, from the administration?

CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House.

Abby, what are you hearing?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. We are tracking what could be happening this week in terms of staff departures especially since President Trump has hinted that he's not done with the departures that he wants to see in his own Cabinet.

Right now Rex Tillerson has already been replaced by the current CIA director Mike Pompeo who's heading over to State as the secretary of State and Pompeo's deputy is being elevated to lead the CIA. But there are other Cabinet secretaries who the president sees as troublesome, especially with some of these very negative headlines that have been coming out about many of them.

At the top of the list perhaps is David Shulkin over at the VA, the Veterans Affairs Administration, and Shulkin has been dealing with some mutiny as it's been termed in his own agency and some of these headlines are so negative that President Trump is mulling over moving another Cabinet secretary, Rick Perry, from the Department of Energy, over into the VA position.

Now some of these talks are happening in the White House at a very preliminary stage and they could happen as early as this week but we don't know exactly whether it will because the president has been known to change his mind about the direction that he wants to go. But we're tracking a lot of dissatisfaction from the president with his Cabinet secretaries, many of whom are watching to see whether he will be willing to pull the trigger as soon as this week -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House. We're all watching. Thanks so much for being with us.

Here now to discuss, CNN political analyst Julie Pace and CNN political commentators, Paul Begala and Jason Miller.

You know, Julie, which Cabinet members should rush to their Twitter this morning? I mean, who do you think should be the most nervous right now?

(LAUGHTER)

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, certainly as Abby mentioned, Shulkin over at the VA seems to be the person who's next in the crosshairs for President Trump. He's been talking about potentially replacing him with Rick Perry, who's at the Energy Department right now. Rick Perry kept a pretty low profile at Energy but has a good relationship with the president and Shulkin has just had misstep after misstep. He's being investigated by the IG at the VA for things even including having his security detail go to Home Depot with him and carry in his purchases into his house, which isn't something that you do as a Cabinet secretary with your detail.

So Shulkin is really under the gun. He's been fighting pretty aggressively, though, both publicly and privately to try to keep his job and show the president that while he has made some missteps he does have the respect of a lot of veterans groups and he should be continuing in this position.

BERMAN: You know, Julie Pace short on Shulkin.

I think, Paul Begala, you are, too. I can see you nodding right there. You know, the president says he's close to getting the Cabinet that he wants. You know, leave aside, Paul, the fact that we're 14 months into the administration, but is there anything wrong with if you're not getting along with Rex Tillerson, why not get rid of him and put someone in there more in line with you're thinking?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that's a valid point. The president has a right within broad parameters. He has a right to get advice and to run the executive branch with the people he wants.

[10:50:05] Now Congress will -- I hope the Senate will put a check and balance on that but there's nothing wrong with it per se. Here's what's wrong. You fire the secretary of State within hours of the time the secretary of State blames Russia for a nerve gas attack in England and the Russians gloat on Russian TV last night.

Fred Pleitgen of CNN reported this that on Russian TV, a Russian news anchor bragged that Tillerson was fired within moments after criticizing Russia and then she concluded saying, quote, "We own Trump." See, that's the problem is that it is emboldening our adversaries. And it's frightening our allies.

The chaos that we are watching is not good for America. He has a right to his own advisers. But we have a right to a well-run stable government.

BERMAN: Jason, I know you actually support the move because you think Mike Pompeo will do a better job I think than Rex Tillerson. But can you support -- can anyone support the way it was done? Any Cabinet secretary, you know, any human find out they've lost their job on Twitter?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this is the big leagues and it's only fitting that we're talking about these potential staff moves on the first day of NFL free agency. I mean, here's the bottom line is that -- I mean, and what Paul I think probably meant to say earlier is that all of these moves that the president is making is putting him in much better position to get re-elected in 2020 --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Hey, Jason. Jason?

MILLER: I mean -- yes. BERMAN: Absolutely I'll give you a chance to make this case, but can

you just answer my question first if you can? Should he have found out this way? This is not the way that NFL free agents find out, by the way, that they've been signed or cut for their team --

MILLER: He knew -- he knew that he was on thin ice and clearly the actions that he was continuing to take as secretary of State and not being a strong --

BERMAN: Did he deserve a phone call? Did he deserve a phone call from the president saying --

MILLER: He got a phone call -- he got a phone call from the chief of staff. I mean, he knew that the end was near for him. I mean, I think most people are just glad that we now have a secretary of State who's going to be respected on the world stage.

I mean, let's think about the significance of this for a moment. The fact that we now have a secretary of State that not only do Trump loyalists like very much but even State Department career people are applauding and you look at the move that President Trump made with the CIA, I mean, heck, Director Clapper was praising the move that President Trump made. When's the last time we saw Director Clapper praising something that President Trump did?

This is a team that can represent the president on a world stage. What all Americans should be rooting for is for a secretary of State who is respected by foreign leaders and for people to look at them and say, you know what, this person speaks for the president. We didn't have that before but now the president has put the right pieces in place.

BERMAN: Well --

MILLER: And that we'll be much better off going forward.

BERMAN: It's not like he teleported, Rex Tillerson teleported from, you know, from outer space into the State Department for that job.

MILLER: No, it was --

BERMAN: He was selected.

MILLER: No, it was Condi -- yes, Condi Rice and Bob Gates. This is a prime recommendation --

BERMAN: I don't think either -- I don't think Condi Rice or Bob Gates has nominating power for the State. Ultimately it was President Trump who nominated him --

MILLER: I think what the president -- I think what the president tried to do was to -- after the election, I think he tried to take kind of this big tent approach and the reality of it, though, is that the president's first instinct is usually the best. And I think he --

BERMAN: Right. MILLER: He tried to be all --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Let me ask --

MILLER: He took the wrong person.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: We're running out --

BEGALA: Why is he firing all his first instinct people then?

BERMAN: I want to get into Pennsylvania if I can very quickly. You know, Conor Lamb was asked directly if he thought the race and his apparent victory in that seat was a referendum on the president, if the president really dragged the down the Republicans. Listen to what Conor Lamb said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think it says something about Donald Trump?

LAMB: Not really, other than to say that there are plenty of people here who are still pretty supportive of him from what I can tell. I think that his visits -- he came here twice. I think they probably did contribute to the turnout that we saw.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. Thirty seconds each. First to you, Julie. You know, the White House will no doubt try to spin this. But this is a race he worked in. I mean, the president went there twice.

PACE: He did. And Republicans really fought hard to try to keep this seat with the president going, pouring a lot of money into this district and no matter what Republicans are saying publicly today, privately they are acknowledging that this is a really rough race for them and it's sending some worrisome signals about some of these districts where President Trump won but Democrats might be able to put up a more moderate candidate in November.

BERMAN: So, Paul, you know, I'm old enough to remember when you ran some pretty important races in Pennsylvania. What do you take away from the results last night?

BEGALA: First a shameless plug. I've got a column explaining all of this coming out on CNN.com in the opinion section, in that my opinion is this. Republicans are going to need a bigger yacht. The president can't -- Conor Lamb is exactly right. The president didn't cost Rick Saccone the seat. He did not campaign -- Conor Lamb did not campaign against President Trump. He's too smart for that.

But the lesson for all of the Republican congressmen and women is even in a district that Trump won by 20, Trump can't save me. There's a blue wave coming and even $10 million and even the president, the vice president, Ivanka, Jared.

[10:55:05] If they'd had a dog, they'd have brought the dog in. That can't save you. You guys, you're out of luck. There's a blue wave coming. That's the lesson in this.

BERMAN: All right. All right, guys, we'll let you head out to free agency so Jason can take care of his NFL team.

Julie Pace, Jason Miller, Paul Begala, great to have you with us. I really appreciate it.

In Washington the pictures coming in from across the country. Students walking out of class to protest gun violence. We're following it all. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar. In for Kate Bolduan. Across the country in red states and blue, big cities, tiny towns, students are walking out of their classrooms and into the debate over gun reform.