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Republican Holds Slim Lead in Ohio House Special Election; White House Adviser Stephen Miller Proposes Controversial Rule on Immigrants Receiving Government Benefits. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 8, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This major warning sign for them for the midterm elections. The marquee race in Ohio in what should be a strong Republican red district, the Republican Troy Balderson is clinging to this razor thin lead over Democrat Danny O'Connor. President Trump won this district by double digits in 2016, but that was very much then. Now the Republican ahead just by 1,700 votes with more than 8,000 ballots yesterday to be counted. An automatic recount could be triggered.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Another race too close to call at this hour, the battle for the Republican nomination for governor of Kansas. Controversial Secretary of State Kris Kobach who got a tweet of support from the president leads the incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer by a fraction of a percentage point.

BERMAN: Though it's possible some of the outstanding votes there might favor Colyer, we're just not sure. In Michigan, Republican Iraq war veteran John James who was backed by the president will face incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow in November in that state's gubernatorial race. The Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, more of an especially candidate, prevailed over the more progressive candidate. And again, this is seen as a slight victory for the establishment there over the forces of Bernie Sanders. She will face Republican Bill Schuette.

CAMEROTA: And in Missouri, State Attorney General Josh Hawley secured the GOP nomination for the Senate. He will face incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill for a seat that Republicans believe they can flip.

So let's bring back Maggie Haberman, CNN political analyst and correspondent for the "New York Times." OK, so how is this playing in the White House? Too close to call, but at the moment Republicans seem to have hung on to at least Ohio 12 that was so attention- getting.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And because it is so narrow you're going to see the Democrats and the Republicans claim a victory regardless of who actually wins. It is going to be spun in one direction or another. You saw that with the president's tweet last night where he immediately put out a tweet congratulating the Republican even though it has not been called yet, it is not done, and making sure to note he had endorsed him recently and went to Ohio over the weekend. I think the president is going to take that he still has some -- not

still, he continues to have sway among Republican voters. That is important for him because if that base starts to erode, then he really does have a problem. But he also has a polarizing effect that also stirs up Democrats, and that is what you saw also in that Ohio race, particularly among suburban voters. Those are the voters we believed in 2016 were going to thwart the president's ambitions to be president. They didn't. They ended up supporting him. This time around they seem like they are likelier to send the Republican Party a message. And so while there are good signs if you are the White House about what the Trump endorsement can mean, it's only within the Republican Party. It's not for the general election.

BERMAN: It's interesting. I spoke to Danny O'Connor, who is the Democrat in this race about an hour ago, and I asked him about the president's claim that he swung the election to Troy Balderson, and he scoffed at the notion. Listen to what he said.


DANNY O'CONNOR, (D) OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I don't think he knows what he's talking about. You can fly in, hang out here for a couple hours, fly out. You don't walk on our roads. You don't have kids that go to our schools. You don't deal with the public health crisis with addiction that we have in our state every single day. I think it's more important to have grassroots conversations. And Troy Balderson can have all the people he wants fly in from D.C., I don't think it makes too much of a difference.


BERMAN: Maggie, I think you're absolutely right. I do think the president is pleased with this result and does truly believe he made a difference there. But I also go to the national Republicans --

HABERMAN: I don't know if he truly believes it or not, but he's saying it.

BERMAN: I think he believes he has political --

HABERMAN: I think there's enough evidence he feels like he can point it.

BERMAN: He doesn't lack from self-confidence, let's say that. National Republicans look at this race, though, and they see the fact the president won by 11 points, now it's within one point. They look at this and see there are 68 races in this country, districts that are less Republican than this one, and national Republicans are nervous.

HABERMAN: And they should be, again, for the very reason we just talked about, the negative polarization the president inspires among Democrats, and the fact that in the suburbs in particular there is going to be a problem for the Republican brand. The president has been bad for it. He just has in those areas.

The bottom has not fallen out clearly because if it had we'd be looking at a different result in Ohio right now, but it is cumbersome and problematic. Also in terms of the Democratic primary results we saw last night, there is a lot of energy the left, there's no question. But there is a question about how transferable what we saw in the New York race against Joe Crowley, how transferable that is to other races in the Midwest, elsewhere in the country. Democrats are more united. They do have problems, they do have fissures within their party, but it is not quite so clear as this side that side, and that creates a formula where Democrats can hold their coalition.

[08:05:09] CAMEROTA: It's not one size fits all in the Democratic Party. Nor is it in the Republican Party. It just isn't. That's what I think people need to understand, that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not going to work everywhere else. But in terms of the president, I fear that we might be underselling his Midas touch a little bit. When he picks a primary candidate, they generally win. And look what happened in Kansas with Kris Kobach. That's a controversial candidate. He got the president's endorsement and he is, at the moment, in this razor thin win.

HABERMAN: And again, we don't know whether that is going to hold, but I do agree you have seen this president -- and there's two things that have happened. One is he has one after the other gone against his advisers and made his own decision on something, and he has more often felt that he has been vindicated in doing that, number one. Number two, I do think -- I agree it's not one size fits all, but the Republican Party, because they are the party in power right now, it is much more a referendum on the man in power, and that is Donald Trump, and so consequently you see it all flow from there. He has been able to show that he is able to sway a large swath of Republican voters, and that matters.

BERMAN: Can I go back to what you were saying before about the timing of what the administration -- what Rudy Giuliani and the president's legal team might be trying to do.

HABERMAN: So long ago.

BERMAN: It was four or five minutes ago we were discussing this. You suggested that maybe what Rudy Giuliani is trying to do in negotiating with whether or not the president will sit down for questioning is to delay past the point where the Mueller team will not issue a report prior to the midterms. I had thought or I was wondering whether or not what the Giuliani team was trying to do is get this question past the point where Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, because then if it goes to the Supreme Court they would have clear majority there. But it's interesting to me that they're thinking so short term, they want to just delay this weeks. They're thinking in terms of days and weeks.

HABERMAN: I think they recognize -- and this is just my surmising from speaking to people, I think they recognize that this has been going on for eight months in terms of a negotiation about whether the president is going to testify. Mueller has -- testify with the interview. Mueller and his team have been ready to do this since December, that is when this goes back to. So I think there's a recognition that the window is closing in terms of what would be reasonable, number one.

Number two, I don't think this is really about the Supreme Court nomination battle. I think that that is not going to be done in time, frankly. We're getting toward October. I think that they do not anticipate -- we don't know what Mueller is going to do, to be clear, but there is reason to assume if you are the president's folks that there is not going to be a blunt recommendation for some kind of a vote in Congress, that it will be a report. I still think that is a report that if you are the president's folks and if you are his party you don't want to see before the election, and I think that's where they're coming from.

Whether that is responsible in terms of legal implications and the electoral implications and what happened in 2016 is a different issue. If you are looking at this purely through the lens of what it means for Donald Trump, which is how Donald Trump looks at it --

BERMAN: And Rudy Giuliani.

HABERMAN: Well, that's his client, and that's what they're thinking of.

CAMEROTA: Now to policy, Stephen Miller, one of the president's top policy advisers, is quite hardline on immigration, and we just continue to see his influence. And so Stephen Miller is pushing a policy now that immigrants who receive any government benefits, welfare benefits, would not be eligible for citizenship.

HABERMAN: I don't know that this is going to be able to be effective. It is hugely controversial. There is a subset within the Republican electorate and the Republican Congress of people who are going to think that sounds like a good way to saber rattle to please the base. There are a lot of other people who are going to be deeply offended by it. What you have seen, this is the latest policy that I think does make clear that, for instance, with the border separations, you heard Kirstjen Nielsen, the DHS secretary, say over and over again this is not about asylum seekers. Asylum seekers should go to points of entry, and we will let them in. This really is just about --

CAMEROTA: But even when they did that --

HABERMAN: Correct. So that was actually not true. And what they have been trying to do is cut down on asylum seekers, which is legal, and they have been moving against the law on that front. And now you are seeing them try to limit legal immigration in other ways. That hs been the main goal this whole time, and it was obscured by a lot of other things they're doing. So this proposal does put it into stark relief, but it is going to come with deep controversy.

BERMAN: We'll see. Anyone who's listened to Stephen Miller or read what he's written over the years, there's no mystery where he stands on this issue, really there's no mystery when it comes to the president either where he stands on illegal immigration.

HABERMAN: There is no mystery, but he will say different things to different groups, unlike Stephen Miller who has been pretty consistent.

BERMAN: I do think that there is something about electoral politics at play here also, and we saw in the Ohio 12 where immigration became an issue that the Republicans very much want to run on.

[08:10:03] And this could give some Republicans in some districts an interesting issue to discuss. It's the idea that immigrants are now taking your taxpayer money.

HABERMAN: It feeds into there's been this larger concept that you have heard from people who criticize legal immigration over and over again trying to tether a restriction in immigration to wages. You have seen this over and other again, and this is an offshoot of that because their argument is this makes it an economic issues.

Pro-immigration reform activists say that none of the data support this is, that if you look at it this is the opposite of what the true effect is of expanding immigration. But yes, there are a group of people who -- particularly people who suffered during the recession who that argument would resonate with. It does really tell you the degree to which you are playing on the margins of trying to keep what could be a wave election that would not favor Republicans from just being a total blowout.

CAMEROTA: Maggie Haberman, fascinating. Thank you very much for being here.

BERMAN: I feel like Maggie took a break for us, or maybe a break in general and now is back.


CAMEROTA: Where have you been?

HABERMAN: I was on vacation with my family.

CAMEROTA: How dare you?

BERMAN: Don't do that again.

CAMEROTA: Don't ever do that again.

HABERMAN: I'll think about that.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Maggie.

How do Trump voters feel about how he has handled Russia and North Korea?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will give him credit for meeting with Kim Jong- un because at that moment I was actually proud to be an American.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No more rockets in the air.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're not testing them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're not and they've been dismantling them.


CAMEROTA: All right, we're going to get the pulse of the people and do a little fact checking during this feisty session next.


[08:15:24] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, back by popular demand, our second part of the Trump voter panel. We're 18 months into Donald Trump's presidency so we wanted to check in with how Trump voters are feeling after the president's one on one visits with Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin.

So, these voters are from California, Texas, Ohio, and New York. As you'll see, they are no longer like-minded as they were on Election Day about Donald Trump. Some say they regret their vote or are deeply disappointed, including one voter who resigned his GOP post in protest.

Here now, "Pulse of the People".


CAMEROTA: How many of you, show of hands, were comfortable with the president's performance in Helsinki?

Three of you.


CAMEROTA: What did you think when the president stood on stage and say he blamed America for many problems we have are with Russia?

ARTHUR SCHAPER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I don't see him blaming all of us and you have to recognize that that's a loaded question right there. He is isn't blaming --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's blaming our intelligence community --

CAMEROTA: Let's listen. Hold on, hold on.

SCHAPER: The intelligence community are out of control --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have the transcript right here.

CAMEROTA: Let's play it right now so we're all on the same page.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish.


KORNACKI: I blame both countries. You're comfortable with him blaming the United States?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The day that we put America on the same platform with Russia is a very sad day for this nation.

JEREMY MONTANEZ, REGRETS VOTING FOR TRUMP: What bothers me more is that I think he's a suck-up to Vladimir Putin because I think obviously that foundry has something on him. Now, whether it's something legal, whether it's helping him get elected, whatever it is, he has something on this guy so he's going to do whatever he can to include Russia to make us on the same level.

DAMANI BRYANT FELDER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: If you're going to say you believe Russia has something on Trump, given the language and the rhetoric around the mainstream media and given the copious amounts of leaks that we've received all throughout this administration, do you not think that if there was something that was detrimental to President Trump's legitimacy or overall candidacy or fitness for often, do not think that would be leaked by now? Because we're two years into his term.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. That's not necessarily correct. These investigations take time.

CHRISTOPHER J. GAGIN, REGRETS VOTING FOR TRUMP: Do you accept that the Russians actually meddled and interfered in the 2016 election as is the unanimous consideration?

SCHAPER: I recognize they've did it and they've done it before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To other countries.

GAGIN: And that's fine. That's fine. So I'm that Republican county chairman from Ohio that resigned after the Helsinki summit. So, when the president in Helsinki said Putin denied it strongly and forcefully and he was in effect defending Putin's denial, do you accept that at face value?

SCHAPER: I don't accept how you're characterizing it. What I see is a president who wants to establish strong relations with every country as possible --

CAMEROTA: Here is what the president said. Here is what the president said about Vladimir Putin so we can all hear it with our own ears. Listen to this.


TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others they said they think it's Russia. I have president Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this -- I don't see any reason why it would be.


FELDER: When I heard that at first I was shocked because I was like we cannot be operating on this claim just from a purely optical perspective but then when he came back later and offered a correction and would to wouldn't, now we can argue the semantics and however milquetoast that retraction was or that correction was --

CAMEROTA: Did you believe him when you said he meant to say wouldn't?

FELDER: I believed him. I did.

CAMEROTA: You thought he misspoke that first time?

FELDER: I did.

MONTANEZ: To me, it's saying I'm going to believe whatever Putin says, instead of our intelligence. So, yes, I think he threw America under the bus.

SCHAPER: I think it's important for our president to have strong relationships with everybody.

GAGIN: He's singlehandedly weakening our alliances overseas.



CAMEROTA: Time out. What is your evidence that he's denuclearized North Korea?

BIANCA GRACIA, TRUMP SUPPORTER: There's no more rockets in the air?

CAMEROTA: Oh, really.

So, they're not testing them?

GRACIA: No, no, they're not and they've been dismantling them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you have evidence to that effect?

CAMEROTA: Do you have evidence he's sending rockets --

GRACIA: Yes, we do!


GAGIN: Pompeo testified they're still making fissionable material.

MONTANEZ: I will give him credit for meeting Kim Jong-un because I was proud to be an American at that moment.

[08:20:04] I still -- I didn't like him.

CAMEROTA: What did you like about it?

MONTANEZ: I thought that it was presidential when I saw him meet with Kim Jong-un I was very proud on something that nobody could have accomplished ever.

MARYSE SELIT, REGRETS VOTING FOR TRUMP: I just feel his back and forth and the Twitter tirades about every little criticism that maybe makes about him is upsetting coming from a leader that I -- he's the leader of the free world and he really needs to act with more dignity than the childishness.

GAGIN: To see the president of the United States attacking individuals, to see the president of the United States have no sort of moral voice anymore in my estimation given his inability to frankly tell the truth on a consistent basis, that is terribly harmful I believe for America's standing in the world, for the way that we interact with each other as citizens.

SCHAPER: I have never felt so free in my speech, in my faith in this country because we have our President Donald Trump. I have a champion in the White House today who is fighting against scourge that is ruining our country.

MONTANEZ: If people want to change this country instead of bickering, go to the polls, vote him out and that's it.


CAMEROTA: I thought that was an interesting point to end on. These are Trump voters. So, I think his point was all the division, all of the fighting, let's stop that and take action. So which ever side you're on, you have a vote, you can take action at the polls and let's stop fighting between us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I think that was interesting. I also think it's fascinating. We often like to say that foreign policy doesn't play in U.S. elections, it's all the economy stupid. But you see the impact of foreign policy seeping into domestic view there is in two ways, number one, the Trump/Putin summit. We have seen an impact domestically where Democrats and Republicans are looking at the president differently now since he stood side by side with Vladimir Putin --

CAMEROTA: As you saw personified in Chris Gagin who resigned in protest over that.

BERMAN: I think that's fascinating. The flip side is North Korea where I think domestically, in a political sense, the North Korea summit benefited the president because people have looked at it and said sometimes the way he approaches things gets some results. In this case, the result is a side by side with Kim. But you see Democrats and Republicans pause and it might make them look at other things he does differently.

CAMEROTA: And also that he broke the mold. What Jeremy was saying is the president broke the mold on North Korea. But you also saw that just because the president says something like North Korea is no longer a threat, some of his voters they have take that and run with it and Bianca thought North Korea had denuclearized when all the evidence from our intel chiefs says that is the opposite.

BERMAN: Words definitely, definitely matter there. But it does make me wonder whether or not the White House will push for another meeting with Jim before November, if they think it will have some domestic political ramifications.

CAMEROTA: Interesting. Thank you, John Berman.

BERMAN: Thank you. That was interesting.

The president says that bad environmental laws are to blame for California's fires. Here's a live look at them right now. This is the Holy Fire burning at this moment.

The president says the lack of water somehow responsible for the fact that they haven't put out. We're going to have an expert on water management to set the report straight. That's next.


[08:27:29] CAMEROTA: We're following breaking news from Northern California. That's where crews continue to battle this Mendocino Complex Fire. It is now the largest in California's history. So, the blaze has grown to the size of Los Angeles, but today, firefighters are beginning to gain ground.

CNN's Dan Simon is live in Lakeport, California, with the latest.

So, how are they getting hold of this, Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn.

The fire has slowed down significantly but the numbers are mind- boggling. We're talking about 450 square miles that continues to be fueled by extremely dry vegetation and high temperatures. In the meantime, this is one of 75 homes that has been destroyed.

This has been a dream house for the homeowners. They said they did everything they could to protect it from a wildfire. They cleared the area of brush, they had a defensible driveway with gravel and rocks, all the things you're supposed to do but in their words the fire had another agenda.

Take a look.


SIMON: I can't imagine what it's like to go through this, what's the hardest thing?

EMIILY SCHEIDERMANN, LOST HOME IN MENDOCINO COMPLEX FIRE: I just want to go home. Yesterday when I arrived all the stucco was just standing. Everything else had burned but it was the stucco up and it was unstable and that was hard to see because you could tell where the staircase and everything was and it was like trying to picture what our home was like.


SIMON: As you can imagine, there are so many people in the state grappling with similar emotions. We're talking about 17 major wildfires, 13,000 firefighters on the lines, more firefighters battling these blazes than at any point in California history. There are firefighters from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. In the meantime, the fire continues to burn in rugged areas and right now is 34 percent contained.

John, we'll send it back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Dan Simon for us right by the fires there. We've seen some amazing pictures this morning.

The president is blaming what he calls bad environmental laws for California firefighters. This is what he wrote: Governor Jerry Brown must allow free flow from the vast amounts of water coming from the north and being diverted to the Pacific Ocean, can be used for fires, farming and everything else.

Again, this is what the president wrote. Think of California with plenty of water, nice, fast, federal government approvals.

Joining us now, one of California's leading experts on water management and resources, the co-founder of the Pacific Institute, Dr. Peter Glick.

Doctor, thanks so much for being with us.

I want to focus on the statements the president made about water and not being properly utilized to fight these fires, because when he made the statement --