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Pennsylvania House Race Remains Too Close To Call; Trump Signals Wider Senior Staff Shake-Up Soon; Renowned Scientist Stephen Hawking Dies at 76; Trump Demands Answers From Russia On Poisoning. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:35] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


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

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: No official results in Pennsylvania's special election but the Democrat is claiming victory in a district Trump won by 20 points, suggesting Republicans have a steep hill to climb ahead of the midterms.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: New upheaval in the Trump administration. Rex Tillerson is out as secretary of state. More names rumored to follow as the president looks for advisers in line with his agenda and style.

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

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's 31 minutes past the hour.

It's one month since the Parkland shooting. A national walkout later on this morning. We'll get to that in a minute.

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

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

ROMANS: Absentee and provisional ballots still being counted but it would be a steep climb for Saccone to overtake Lamb.

Today, Saccone's campaign team will meet with lawyers to assess their options. He told supporters late last night he is 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 -- all the way to the end.

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


BRIGGS: Overnight, Lamb claimed victory in a speech to his supporters. Even with no projected winner yet the razor-thin margin is a bad sign for Republicans.

President Trump won the district by 20 points and GOP groups pumped nearly $11 million into a marathon effort to avoid an embarrassing loss here.

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 that there are still votes outstanding and Republican challenger Rick Saccone says this race is not over -- not by a longshot.

Having said that, Lamb came out and addressed his supporters 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 T.V. and in our politics.


LAMB: It is -- 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 this race is not over -- not yet. Lamb says for his part it's time for Democrats to regain their voice -- Christine, Dave.


ROMANS: All right, Jason. Thank you.

So let's bring in "CNN POLITICS" digital director Zach Wolf live in Washington.

We are not calling this race but the Democrat is claiming victory.

What is the lesson this morning for Republicans? This is a district Trump carried by 20 points.

ZACHARY WOLF, DIGITAL DIRECTOR, "CNN POLITICS": I think the lesson for Republicans is this is a 5-alarm fire in terms of the places that Trump won, the places that gave him the presidency, and the places that Republicans are going to rely on to keep the House majority for them come November.

They need to be on a defensive -- you know, taking a look at the entire map now and seeing where this kind of wave is going to -- is going to crest. Can they sort of stop the bleeding somehow and regain any kind of momentum from President Trump?

BRIGGS: All right. On the flip side, this is a very difficult one to read because this is a unique candidate.


BRIGGS: In this thirties, good looking, Marine, former prosecutor, running against Nancy Pelosi in support of certain Trump policies, and somehow having it both ways on abortion.

[05:35:06] What do you read into this if you're Democrats nationwide?

WOLF: Well, I think the Democratic Party has faded left, I think, in the last couple of -- last couple of election cycles and that's part of the reason why they aren't represented in places like this.

And if they're going to have that majority they're going to have to be able to find candidates who don't agree with Nancy Pelosi or even much of the base of the party on a lot of stuff and accept them in their -- in a larger tent. That's an important point for them and they need to do that if they're going to get the majority.

ROMANS: Yes. They're going to have to run the right candidate --


ROMANS: -- in the right district. They're going to have to make that match --

BRIGGS: Resistance doesn't work --


BRIGGS: -- in a lot of districts in this country.

ROMANS: Yes, especially in places like south of Pittsburgh.

Listen to what the president said yesterday. A big shake-up. Rex Tillerson is out, Mike Pompeo's going in over at State.

And the president stood there and really talked about how he's getting his stride in terms of who he's surrounding himself with.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year and I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.


ROMANS: Getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want. If you're -- who should be nervous in Washington today?

WOLF: I think supporters of free-trade should be very nervous if you look at the people who -- Gary Cohn was out last week. Rex Tillerson, one of the more internationalist members of the Trump's cabinet is gone now.

The people who are staying are a lot more ideologically involved with him. People who are involved in their own kind of scandals at the moment. You know, people like Ben Carson and people like Betsy DeVos, they don't seem to be in trouble.

It's people who actually have policy disagreements with the president that seem to -- seem to be on the endangered species list of his cabinet.

ROMANS: What do you think Pompeo means for the Iran deal, for example, and for some of these --


ROMANS: -- some of these -- you know, some of these things that could -- that the president -- I mean, he's going to be a yes man for the president.

WOLF: Well, I think there's a good -- there's a good case for that and when Trump was asked yesterday what -- you know, what was the big problem with Tillerson, the one thing that he mentioned was the Iran deal and he said he wanted to find a way out of it and Rex Tillerson didn't. So I think that would be the first thing we should look for under Mike Pompeo.

BRIGGS: All right. Replacing Pompeo at the CIA, Gina Haspel, a longtime agency employee who has some controversy. It's, of course, related to torture. John McCain spoke out adamantly against that yesterday.

Might she have some real trouble here? It looks like Pompeo, having been around in Congress and at the CIA, won't have a big issue but what about Haspel?

WOLF: This is -- this is going to be really interesting because essentially, in order to get confirmed or to get through her confirmation hearing she's going to have to take a position or at least explain her past involvement in these torture policies like waterboarding. Things that she was involved with, things that President Trump has said he likes and wants to bring back, and things that Mike Pompeo said he would never agree to do.

So has she somehow changed her mind on these things? That is going to be a fascinating thing to see because she'll have to put herself essentially at odds with the president's statements in order to get confirmed, one would think, unless some Republicans or Democrats change their minds.

BRIGGS: Well, you can see losing say McCain, Paul, maybe Mike Lee. A handful are going to need some Democratic support -- at least it looks like at this point.

All right, Zach Wolf, CNN digital of "CNN POLITICS." Thank you, sir. Good stuff.

ROMANS: Thanks, Zach.

WOLF: Thank you.

ROMANS: Also out at the White House, John McEntee, a longtime personal aide to President Trump. A source tells CNN he's under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes. The charges are not related to the president.

McEntee was escorted out of the White House Monday. He was one of the few staffers who was kept -- who kept access to the president when John Kelly became chief of staff.

Just minutes after news of his departure -- he's escorted out of the White House. Minutes later, the Trump campaign announced McEntee would join the reelection effort as a senior adviser for campaign operations.

BRIGGS: 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, BRITISH THEORETICAL PHYSICIST, COSMOLOGIST, AUTHOR AND DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, CENTRE FOR THEORETICAL COSMOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE: I see great danger for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when the survival has been a question of touch and go. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future. We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate them all 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.


[05:40:11] BRIGGS: CNN's Samuel Burke live with us from London.

That voice -- that synthesized voice one of the most recognizable on the planet. How will he be remembered, Samuel?


Without a doubt, in the science world he'll be remembered for merging Albert Einstein's theory of relativity with quantum theory suggesting that space and time began with the big bang and end with black holes.

But even if you don't understand the science it was always so clear that this is somebody who defied the odds. He was diagnosed with ALS in 1963, given just a few years to live. But he forged ahead from his wheelchair using that voice synthesizer.

And I think that the outpouring on Twitter really summarizes his life very well because it's coming from both the science and entertainment world.

So if we look at what Neil deGrasse Tyson is tweeting, the astrophysicist. He says, "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 then this tweet from the executive producer of the "THE SIMPSONS." "Farewell to Stephen Hawking, the most intelligent guest star in the brief history of the The Simpsons."

And CNN icon Larry King tweeting, "I once asked Stephen Hawking in an interview what puzzles him the most in all the universe. Women, he answered."

Dave and Christine, somebody asked him once who would you rather meet, Sir Isaac Newton or Marilyn Monroe? Of course, he said Marilyn Monroe.

BRIGGS: Touche. Yes, it says a lot about his impact that a 76-year- old scientist has 2.31 million concurrent tweets -- is the top trending topic --


BRIGGS: -- around the globe, so it's fascinating. He'll be missed, indeed.

Samuel, thank you.

ROMANS: All right, 41 minutes past the hour. Two of the biggest free trade advocates in the White House gone and Wall Street doesn't like it. Last week, Gary Cohn resigned as economic adviser, now Rex Tillerson is out -- the secretary of state. His firing sent all major averages lower.

Wall Street opened higher on consumer price data that calms inflation fears but then tumbled over concerns of a trade war, especially with China.

U.S. stocks fell further after "POLITICO" reported the president wants to hit China with tariffs on $30 billion worth of imports. That set the tone for global stocks. Asia closed down. Europe opened lower but has now just turned up so watch this space.

Meanwhile, one of Wall Street's most powerful CEOs is warning President Trump corporate America is concerned about your trade agenda. JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon says plans like Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports tend to backfire. He concedes there are issues around trade but said that Trump's policy will do more harm than good to the economy.

Dimon chairs the business roundtable of a powerful corporate lobby. Many companies from automakers to brewers worry that higher prices from tariffs will hurt their businesses.

I'm watching futures really closely this morning because the drama -- it's not just parlor games and the White House -- all of that drama.

BRIGGS: It's not just palace intrigue, yes, yes.

ROMANS: Palace intrigue, right. It's something that really -- it's something that concerns Wall Street.

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.


[05:48:04] 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.

BRIGGS: Students and teachers all over the country plan to walk out of school in protest this morning in the honor of the 17 people killed at the 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 allowing students to participate in the walkout though some are forbidding it because of safety concerns and disruptions to classes.

This all on the heels of a powerful statement in front of the U.S. Capitol yesterday. 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: The Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon. A judge is expected to enter a not guilty plea on his behalf. A Broward County grand jury has indicted Cruz on 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Cruz. His attorneys earlier expressed a willingness to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty.

BRIGGS: Parents in Seaside, California say it is 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 is 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 is an exception for police officers or officers granted specific permission.

ROMANS: New developments in the search for a possible serial package bomber in Austin, Texas. Investigators believe the same person made all three devices described as pipe bombs rigged to explode upon opening. Austin police inundated with hundreds of calls about suspicious packages.

[05:50:09] No word on a possible motive but all three victims were black or Hispanic and police are not ruling out a hate crime here.

Three attacks this month have killed two people and severely injured a third. Sixty-five thousand dollars in reward money is being offered.

BRIGGS: United Airlines apologizing for the death of a dog after a flight attendant ordered a passenger to put the pet into an overhead bin. When the 3 1/2-hour flight from Houston to New York landed Monday night the dog was found dead.

United called the animal's 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.

A quick word of caution. There is some speculation that the flight attendant was not made aware of the fact that there was a dog in this bag. If you've seen some of these pet carriers today you wouldn't know unless you heard --


BRIGGS: -- or saw the dog. ROMANS: We need a little bit more information there.


ROMANS: It was certainly a tragedy for the pet.

Dick's Sporting Goods expects to lose customers over that new gun policy but it is still moving ahead. More on "CNN Money," next.


[05:55:38] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia and I would certainly take that finding as fact. As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.


BRIGGS: President Trump telling British Prime Minister Theresa May Russia must provide unambiguous answers for the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter. In a phone call Tuesday, the president offered the United Kingdom full backing as it investigates the poisoning. Russia still not cooperating.

Erin McLaughlin live in Salisbury, England with more. Good morning to you, Erin.


That's right. Theresa May is expected to take action today after that deadline she set for midnight last night for Russia to respond to her questions has come and gone. Russia saying that it's not going to respond to any ultimatum without a sample of the military-grade nerve agent that was used in the attack. They want a joint investigation which, of course, is not going to happen.

So now, Theresa May is expected to chair today a National Security Council meeting and go over a range of options -- options, which according to British media reports, include a possible cyber counterattack against Russia as well as targeted financial restrictions or sanctions. So we'll have to see what comes out that meeting -- what Theresa May announces before the House of Commons later today.

Russia though, saying that any action -- any punitive action taken by the United Kingdom will be met with a response, Dave.

BRIGGS: An escalation could be near.

Erin McLaughlin live for us. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, it's that time of the morning. Let's get a check on "CNN Money." Two of the biggest free-trade advocates in the White House gone and Wall Street doesn't like it. Last week, Gary Cohn resigned as economic adviser.

Now, Rex Tillerson is out as secretary of state. His firing sent all major stock averages lower.

Now, Wall Street opened higher after consumer price data calmed inflation fears so that was good. But then Wall Street tumbled on concerns over a trade war.

U.S. stocks fell further after "POLITICO" reported the president wants new tariffs on Chinese imports, setting the tone for global stocks. Asia closed lower. Europe opened down but just turned up a little bit here.

Dick's Sporting Goods expects to lose customers over that new gun policy but it is still moving ahead. After the Parkland shooting, Dick's stopped selling assault-style rifles and raised the age of sale. That decision received support from some customers but CEO Edward Stack warned on an earnings call it could also hurt foot traffic and sales, adding it was just too early to measure the impact.

Dick's shares fell two percent following the call.

Google is banning all cryptocurrency ads. Cryptocurrency is, of course, digital money with no backing by a Central Bank. The meteoric rise of Bitcoin has inspired scammers to use ads to promote fake cryptocurrency schemes. Google removed more than 130 million such ads last year.

Google's new policy follows Facebook. It also blocked all cryptocurrency ads in January.

And, John Oliver did this really funny takedown of cryptocurrency. He said it's the worst combination for people, right? Everything you don't know about money, which is a lot, combined with everything you don't know about technology. What could possibly go wrong?

BRIGGS: He does a really good job at making those --


BRIGGS: -- stories palatable --


BRIGGS: -- that are ordinarily impossibly -- to understand.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

Conor Lamb, he's claiming victory though it hasn't been called yet. He joins "NEW DAY" at 7:00. We'll see you tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, March 14th, 6:00 here in New York, and we do begin with breaking news.

The special election for a House seat in Pennsylvania is too close to call. Too close for CNN to call, I should say, at this hour, but that did not stop Democrat Conor Lamb from declaring his own victory over Republican Rick Saccone. Saccone vows it is not over yet.

So here's where we are at this hour but, of course, it could change during our show.

Lamb holds a narrow lead of just more than 600 votes in the state's 18th congressional district but absentee and provisional ballots are still being counted.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The big clue will be when the state -- or the commonwealth in this case, certifies the election results. The secretary of state will do that -- we're watching.

Lamb's strong showing in this staunchly Republican district that President Trump won by 20 points is sure to make Republicans anxious about the November midterm elections. It is also a message to Democrats about what kinds of candidates need to be cultivated to be competitive in GOP districts.