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Dem Declares Win in Razor-Thin Pa Race; Tillerson Out, Who's Next?; Stephen Hawking Dies at 76; Kirk Cousins Expected to Sign with Minnesota Vikings. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 05:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


CONOR LAMB (D), PA 18TH DISTRICT CANDIDATE: It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it.

STATE REP. RICK SACCONE (R), PA 18TH DISTRICT CANDIDATE: You know, we're still fighting the fight. It's not over yet.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: No official result in Pennsylvania's special election, but the Democrat is claiming victory in a district Trump won by 20 points. Do Republicans now have a steep hill to climb ahead of the midterms?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: More upheaval in the Trump administration. Rex Tillerson is out.

[05:00:00] And more names are rumored to follow as the president looks for advisers aligned with his agenda and style.

BRIGGS: And world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking has died. He persevered against a debilitating disease and brought mysteries of the universe into the mainstream.

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, March 14th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And this morning, just a few hundred votes separated the candidates in a closely watched Pennsylvania special election, the congressional race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone viewed a strong indicator how things are shaping up for the midterm elections.

At this moment, Lamb holds a slight lead over Saccone to represent Pennsylvania's 18th district just south of Pittsburgh.

BRIGGS: Absentee and provisional ballots still being counted, but it would be a steep climb for Saccone to overtake Lamb at this point. Today, Saccone's campaign team will meet with lawyers to assess their options.

He told supporters last night, well, he's still in the game.


SACCONE: You know, we're still fighting the fight. It's not over yet. We're going to fight all the way to the end.

You know I never give up. You know my first race went into the night, we won that. My second race was the same way. We're kind of used to this now, right? That's it. We're not -- we're not giving up.


ROMANS: Overnight, Lamb claimed victory in a speech to his supporters, even with no projected winner yet. The raids razor-thin margin is a bad sign for Republicans. President Trump won the district, as we said, by 20 points, and GOP groups pumped nearly $11 million into a marathon effort to avoid an embarrassing loss.

CNN's Jason Carroll filed this report from Lamb's headquarters.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Dave, after a very long night and early morning, Conor Lamb has come out and declared victory, even though there are still votes outstanding and Republican challenger Rick Saccone says this race is not over, not by a long shot.

Having said that, Lamb came out and addressed his supporters, he's crediting the grassroots nature of his campaign. He also credited the labor community who he says helped come out and put his campaign over the top.

During his speech he also talked about the political climate that exists right now. He believes a climate that needs to change.

LAMB: People are so tired of the shouting on TV and in our politics. It's amazing what happens when you're in a room with real people who have real aspirations and real troubles. There's lots of ideas. There's no angry shouting. Our job in Congress is to attack the problems, not each other.

CARROLL: Again, Saccone says the race is not over, not yet. Lamb says for his part, it's time for Democrats to regain their voice -- Christine, Dave.


ROMANS: OK. Jason Carroll, thanks, Jason.

BRIGGS: Let's bring in now, CNN politics digital director Zach Wolf live for us in Washington.

Good to see you, sir. ROMANS: Hi, Zach.


BRIGGS: That's a very good candidate in Conor Lamb. But let's first talk about Republicans, OK? 2014, 2016, Tim Murphy, Republican, ran unopposed. Trump won this district by 20 points. It is a plus-20 district for Republicans according to FiveThirtyEight.

They checked all the boxes. The tax cuts are supposed to be working, the steel tariffs were supposed to help in this district, and the president personally paid a campaign visit there.

What is the takeaway this morning for Republicans regardless of how the next few hours go?

WOLF: I think the takeaway for Republicans is probably alarm. You know, if nothing else, to have a district swing essentially 20 points in two years, that's the kind of thing that waves are made of, frankly, you know. And Democrats have been waiting to get a good win in one of these house special elections. This is the one.

You know, we haven't projected the race, and obviously we'll have to see what happens with any kind of recount. But regardless of who ultimately sits in the seat, just the fact that a Democrat could make it a tossup in this kind of district has got to be sending alarm bells throughout the Republican Party. You know, traditionally, the president's party loses a lot of seats in a midterm election like this. And this could be even worse for them as they try to keep that House majority.

ROMANS: So, that's the takeaway for Republicans. The takeaway for Democrats, this is a candidate who did not embrace Nancy Pelosi, who did not embrace the left wing of his party, who really seemed to fit, I guess fit the mold of that district which is reliably red.

Is that the takeaway for other Democrats, to make sure you're running the right candidate?

WOLF: Yes. That's an important point. I think the base of the party is going to have real expectations from Democrats on who they're going to nominate. You know, if you look at the people vying for the presidential race, there are people way in the left of the party.

[05:05:00] But they need to find people who are going to represent these specific districts, you know, Nancy Pelosi, the last time she had the majority more than 10 years ago, majority makers, people who aren't traditionally going to be sort of liberal. And that's a really important point.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's turn now to worst Rex he ever had, calls it, "The New York Post." The exit of the secretary of state.

Not many came to the defense of Rex Tillerson in terms of the job he did at the State Department. Some feel his legacy was the hollowing out of State and diplomats. Many are happy to see Mike Pompeo come over from the CIA and say he'll be a great pick.

But there's the process here, right, Zach? I mean, not since Sarah Jessica Parker was dumped on a post-it in "Sex and the City" have we seen such an ugly breakup here via Twitter. And this is for a man, as you point out, who's famous for this line on television delivered over and over again -- this line --



We say you're fired, get out of here!

And now you can say you're fired.

We say you're fired, get out of here.


BRIGGS: OK. Why does the process matter here and what does it say about the president that he can't bring himself to fire these people face to face? James Comey delivered a note when he was out of town to be fired.

WOLF: Well, he promised to be this kind of, you know, strong executive who was going to take control and surround himself with the best people. But when it comes to confrontation, he outsources that. He'll tweet, I mean, it's basically, it's like breaking up with somebody on text but worse. You're breaking up with somebody on Twitter, after you've already sort of broken up with them. It's a weird situation.

It's sort of not the bravado that he provided in the campaign. There's a distinction here that I think we need to recognize about that. And then, you know, the other thing is that Tillerson has hollowed out -- I'm not sure that we should be ready for Mike Pompeo to start hiring all these people.

ROMANS: Right.

WOLF: That was an intentional Donald Trump thing. He wants to hollow out the government. They've tried to do that.


ROMANS: If you look at the vacancies at state, you see clearly there that that was a strategy, and now, Mike Pompeo is going to have to continue the strategy. "The New York Times" kind of -- look at that. Pretty unbelievable. "The New York Times" in an op-ed says this, scathing, with no experience in foreign policy or government, he, Rex Tillerson, provided little leadership and eviscerated the department he was chosen to lead. Scores of senior diplomats and other professionals, the core of America's foreign service were either forced out or chose to flee. And yet, we have chose to regret his departure because his replacement is likely to be worse.

That's no vote of confidence there for Mike Pompeo.

What about all this talk this morning about there are more departures to come? When you listen to the president talk about how a year in, he's finally getting the cabinet he thinks he wants, the people around him he wants are more set to go?

WOLF: You know, we look at Gary Cohn who left last week. Rex Tillerson, for all of the faults that you just mentioned, if you're a fan of international agreements, you know, like the Iran deal, if you thought that was a good thing for the international community to band together against Iran, Mike Pompeo is going to be a lot more in line with President Trump when it comes to things like that.

We also know he's been really frustrated with Jeff Sessions for a really long time but doesn't seem ready to edge him out yet. I think it could be a different story with people like the V.A. secretary, CNN has reported that he's looking at maybe switching around and putting Rick Perry in that seat.

You know, he clearly is going with his gut now. He's Trump unburdened and really put it that way yesterday in announcing Tillerson saying, you know, this is -- this is me. This is what it's really going to be like. He's kind of feeling a little bit more emboldened.

BRIGGS: Yes, and I think we saw this with the North Korea acceptance, right? Forty-five minutes, yeah, let's do it. No preconditions.

Let's go to Pennsylvania, and despite his advisors saying talk about Saccone, he went off script. He is indeed going with his gut.

Zach Wolf, thank you, sir. We'll talk again in about 20 minutes.

WOLF: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking news this morning. Stephen Hawking, considered by many to be the world's greatest scientist, dead at the age of 76. The British astronomer and theoretical physicist overcame a debilitating battle with ALS to make science popular and even cool.


STEPHEN HAWKING, RENOWED SCIENTIST: I see great danger for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when its survival has been touch and go. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future.

We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate successfully, but I'm an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe as we spread into space.


[05:10:02] ROMANS: Let's go live to London and bring in CNN's Samuel Burke.

What will his legacy be, Samuel? SAMUEL BURKE, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine.

In the science world, without a doubt, the fact that he merged Einstein's Theory of Relativity with Quantum Theory to suggest that space and time begin with the Big Bang and end with black holes.

But even if you don't understand the science, it was clear to everyone that he defied the odds. He was diagnosed with ALS in 1963, given just a few years to live. But he forged on from his wheelchair, using a voice synthesizer to bring science to the masses through media. TV shows, entertainment. Ways to connect people to science.

And I think the tweets coming out now from all different walks of life, from the science world, from the entertainment world, really summarize his life. Starting with the tweet from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson saying, his passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake, but it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of space-time that defies measure.

And this tweet from the executive producer of "The Simpsons": Farewell to Stephen Hawking, most intelligent guest star in the brief history of "The Simpsons."

And one tweet that I saw that stood to me was from former CNN icon Larry King saying that he once asked Stephen Hawking what puzzled him the most. And he said it was women more so than anyone else in the universe, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. We'll own that mystery. We said to be mysterious, right?

BRIGGS: We will never, ever solve it.

ROMANS: Samuel Burke, thank you.

BRIGGS: All right. Today one month since the Parkland school shooting, and students and teachers nationwide plan to walk out of school today, demanding tougher gun laws after last month's shooting. More next.


[05:15:59] ROMANS: Breaking news, a police officer in eastern Kentucky shot and killed in the line of duty. The Pikeville Police Department announcing a murder investigation is underway in the death of Officer Scotty Hamilton who joined the department in 2006. Officials ask anyone with information to call the Kentucky state police. We're going to bring you the latest information on this story as we get it.

BRIGGS: Students and teachers all over the country plan to walk out of school in protest this morning in honor of the 17 people killed at Stoneman Douglas High School one month ago today. The demonstrations start at 10:00 a.m. local time and are scheduled to last 17 minutes. Organizers want Congress to pass stricter gun laws. Many schools are allowing students to participate in the walkout, though some are forbidding it because of safety concerns and disruptions to class.

This comes a day after a powerful statement in front of the U.S. capitol. An advocacy group laid out 7,000 pairs of shoes to symbolize the 7,000 children killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.

ROMANS: That's remarkable. That is remarkable. Really tells the story.

Parents in Seaside, California, say it's lucky no one was killed when a high school teacher accidentally fired a handgun in class on Tuesday. Police say Dennis Alexander was going over gun safety in a police and fire services class when he accidentally shot into the ceiling. Alexander's also a reserve police officer.

A 17-year-old student injured by what his father believes is a bullet fragment. Guns are illegal in California schools, but there's an exception for police officers or others granted specific permission.

BRIGGS: United Airlines apologizing for the death of a dog after a flight attendant ordered a passenger to put the pet in a bag in an overhead bin. When the 3.5-hour flight from Houston to New York landed Monday night, the dog was found dead. United called the death a tragic accident and has offered to pay for a postmortem. The airline says it takes full responsibility and is investigating to prevent this from ever happening again.

There is some suggestion, folks, to be careful here that one passenger aboard the flight said the flight attendant wasn't aware there was a dog in the bag. Some of those bags look like gym bags.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: Was there a communication gap between the two?


BRIGGS: Stay tuned.

A flurry of activity in the NFL. The big free agent prize landing a monster deal. Andy Scholes has more on Kirk Cousins' possible landing spot, next.


ROMANS: Remnants of nor'easter number three hanging on to New England.

Here's meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine. Yes, we're watching the system slowly move out of the picture in portions of New England. Still could see a shot of snow showers and nothing significant as far as the major metro cities is concerned, at least what is left in store here.

But Notice the radar imagery brings down snow showers throughout the morning, expecting this to taper off gradually into the afternoon hours. Once you work into places such as, say, Burlington into northern portions of New England, Augusta, Bangor, could see significant accumulations throughout the afternoon, as much as 10, 12 inches or more possible across some interior regions. As this system slowly fades out, another quick one drops out of Canada, with it really the biggest concern here going to be another shot of colder air. So, you notice the trend wants to be a warmer one for about 24 or so hours, then by Friday, we see a trend of cooling in store again going into the weekend.

So, dropping off in New York down to 36 when it should be up to around 50 for the final few weeks of winter. Forty-four degrees in Washington today. In Montgomery, Alabama, making it up to almost 60 by this afternoon -- guys.


ROMANS: All right. Thank you.

BRIGGS: The NCAA tournament off and running with the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes with more in the "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Andy.


You know, just one more day to fill out those brackets, time to make your picks. Meantime, there's two more slots in the field of 64 left after last night's first four tipped off in Dayton.

St. Bonaventure earning their 11th seed beating UCLA 65-58. Their coach, Mark Schmidt, dedicating the win to the school's 1970 team that nearly won a national championship. Radford, meanwhile, earning the right to play Villanova in the first round after beating LIU, Brooklyn, in the other first-four game last night.

The game wrapping up tonight. Texas Southern versus North Carolina Central and Syracuse taking on Arizona State. Those games can be seen on TruTV starting at 6:40 Eastern.

Fill out the brackets before the games tip off tomorrow morning. And to play with us at CNN, go to

All right. Quarterback Kirk Cousins breaking the bank yesterday, reportedly agreeing to a three-year, $84 million contract with the Vikings. All of it fully guaranteed, making it the richest contract in NFL history.

[05:25:02] Cousins right now the NFL's highest paid player. Is he the best player in the NFL? No, but he is the greatest free agent in NFL history. Twenty-nine-year-old quarterback in their prime. Just never become free agents in the NFL.

All right. Finally, a young fan in Phoenix last night had a special poster for LeBron. It said: King James, you are more than an athlete. #nevershutup.

Well, LeBron noticed the sign and had a security guard bring the fan over his arm sleeve from the game. Giving the fan the thumb's up from the bench. LeBron scoring 28 in the win over the Suns.

He had a great explanation for why he's been playing so well lately.


LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS FORWARD: You could say I'm like fine wine, I get better with age. More possessions my ass -- what you talking about? I'm getting better with age.


SCHOLES: LeBron pretty funny there, guys. Yeah, 33 years old, he is arguably having his best season ever in his career.

BRIGGS: Somebody's going to start a LeBron wine now, only makes sense.

SCHOLES: He's a big wine fan, LeBron.

BRIGGS: All right. Andy Scholes, thank you, my friend.

SCHOLES: All right.

BRIGGS: Ahead, another red congressional seat on the verge of turning blue. Democrat Conor Lamb declares a victory in Pennsylvania's special election. No official result yet, but the razor-thin margin gives Republicans new reason to worry about the midterms.