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Democrat Andrew Gillum Scores Surprise Victory in Florida Governor Race Primary; Trump Warns of Violence if Dems Win Midterms; GOP Senators Openly Debating Future of Jeff Sessions. Aired 7-7:29a ET

Aired August 29, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: A situation where they have been denied.

[07:00:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Both parties got the candidate that they wanted on the other side to win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Voters have a real choice.

MARTHA MCSALLY (R), ARIZONA SENATORIAL NOMINEE: I'm humbled and honored to now stand before you as your Republican nominee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it comes to picking Republican primary winners, Donald Trump is Michael Jordan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is cause for serious concern when the president is predicting violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it betrays a huge fear that Democrats are coming in the November elections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John McCain was one of the greatest heroes this country has ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He made you a better person by raising your standard to his.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you want to help the country, be more like John McCain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. This morning, there is a disturbance in the force. Did you feel it?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: No, I look forward to hearing about it. You're going to explain it.

BERMAN: It was a disturbance in the force. I know you felt it. You're making it up. It was a big one. The breaking news overnight, a real genuine upset in Florida, which sometimes ends up being a pretty important state in national elections. I don't know if you've heard.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, whose opponents outspent him by millions in the primary, pulled off this stunning win over more establishment "D" candidates. He becomes the state's first black gubernatorial nominee, and this sets up something we really have not seen before. A major test between a Bernie Sanders-like progressive and a Donald Trump-like Republican.

Gillum will face off against Congressman Ron DeSantis in November, whose campaign surged after getting the endorsement of President Trump. And we should we will speak with the Democratic nominee, Andrew Gillum, just moments away here on NEW DAY.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, the race that's been the focus of national headlines, the Republican race to replace Senator Jeff Flake in Arizona, was not even close, it turns out. Congresswoman Martha McSally fended off a challenge from two hardline conservatives. McSally is set to face off against Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema in a race that could help decide which party takes control of the Senate.

Joining us now is Jeff Weaver. He is senior advisor and former campaign manager for Senator Bernie Sanders and author of "How Bernie Won."

Good morning, Jeff.

JEFF WEAVER, AUTHOR, "HOW BERNIE WON": Good morning, Alisyn. How are you?

CAMEROTA: I'm well, and I assume you are well this morning, since Andrew Gillum is a Bernie Sanders-backed candidate. How much of this do you think was the Bernie effect?

WEAVER: Well, look, the senator -- Senator Sanders went in late into the race, endorsed, got a lot of attention from the media there as Andrew Gillum was surging. But let's be clear: the credit really goes to Andrew Gillum and his team who worked hard, who articulated a message that resonated with voters in Florida, who talked about big solutions to big problems, who was a person of humble origins who has had a tremendous career helping people through his government service in Florida. And I think the voters responded accordingly.

So it's a great night for progressives. It's a great night for the Democratic Party. It's a great night for America. Day -- morning now. I was up very late. AS you probably guessed.

CAMEROTA: Sometimes the night bleeds into the morning, as we can tell you.

WEAVER: Yes.

CAMEROTA: So the feeling is -- I mean, to his credit, he was outspent by all of his opponents, but to his detriment, there is a feeling that he was also untested, because people didn't see this coming and didn't expect this upset. Maybe he hasn't been put through the wringer as much as someone else, and that that will come back to haunt him.

WEAVER: Well, he is a young man, but he has a long career in public service. As you noted he did run against opponents who spent tens of millions of dollars more than he did. He's been through quite a test in this primary. And his success here, I think, bodes well for the general election.

Look, people in Florida, like everywhere else, are hurting, even though the unemployment rate is low. Wages are also low. People are having trouble affording healthcare. They have environmental problems in Florida. And Andrew Gillum is poised to deal with all of those problems, as opposed to the Trump-backed candidate, who is going to give us more of the same division, animosity, and pro-corporate agenda that we've seen out of this Trump White House.

CAMEROTA: Do you fear that, for a statewide governor's race, that he is too liberal for the state of Florida, where, let's be honest, there are still lots of older white voters that turn out?

WEAVER: Well, look, he put together the progressive coalition. Young people, voters of color, marginalized communities, disaffected independents. And that's going to be very important for him in the general election.

As you know, Florida has closed primaries, which locks out many young voters and many young voters of color. And, in fact, if they had had open primaries in Florida, he would have done even better than he did.

So I think what you're going to see in a general election is a huge number of voters who were not allowed to participate in the Democratic Party process who are going to be inspired by Andrew Gillum the way that registered Democrats were. And I think that's going to propel him to victory in November.

[07:05:13] CAMEROTA: Very quickly, Jeff --

WEAVER: He is the candidate of decency over division.

CAMEROTA: Very quickly, do you see this as a harbinger for 2020? That you think that the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, that the more liberal candidates are what voters are looking for?

WEAVER: Absolutely, Alisyn. If the Democratic Party is going to be successful in getting rid of this horrendous Trump administration, we have got to have candidates who inspire people, who bring people back into the party and into the voting booths. And that's candidates like Andrew Gillum, frankly, and other candidates -- Stacey Abrams, Ben Jealous, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and of course, my good friend Bernie Sanders. So those are the types of candidates who have the ability to bridge some of the old divisions, to create a new coalition in American politics that will bring us to a better future.

CAMEROTA: Jeff Weaver, thank you very much for your perspective this morning.

BERMAN: All right. Let's discuss more on the fallout from last night's races with CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; and White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Michael Shear.

Dana, let me start with you, because what we saw play out last night overnight, first of all, this was a big surprise and an upset. Andrew Gillum was outspent by big numbers. And Gwen Graham, to an extent, was the type of Democrat that traditionally national Democrats would want to see prevail in a state like Florida.

But now they're looking at this saying, "Hmm. Andrew Gillum has got some energy behind him." Do you have the sense that the national Democratic Party is happy? What's the challenge here?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I mean, probably I think you're right. I know you're right. That on paper, somebody like Graham, who is a -- for lack of a better way to say it, Bill Clinton in the early '90s Democrat, more of a moderate Democrat, which again, on paper, should work better than somebody more to the left in a -- in a state like Florida.

But you know what? This is -- these times, you just kind of throw everything up and see where it lands. And I think the thing to keep -- really keep in mind also is that candidates really do matter. It's cliche, but I think it's cliche for a reason.

And Andrew Gillum is dynamic. He is -- he's exciting when he talks. Obviously, he has a tremendous personal story of, you know, coming up from nothing and talking about his desire to help other people who has -- who have similar life stories.

And then on the other side of the aisle, you have somebody who is -- who is kind of Trump Junior. I mean, Donald Trump couldn't probably create a better candidate in his -- in his liking, you know, than DeSantis. I mean, a little different in some ways but very similar in other ways. And so we are going to see -- look, as a political reporter, I'm doing this, because we are going to see, finally, a real debate between these two ideals, but also between two characters and two individuals who represent very, very different ideals.

CAMEROTA: Michael Shear, how do you see it?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Look, I think Dana's totally right. I this is the ultimate test in this midterm election of the question of whether or not the winning formula for American politics now has shifted away from what Bill Clinton tried to put in place several decades ago, which was a kind of move to the center.

And what we've seen, if you look at some of the big national political figures who have adopted the kind of centrist approach -- look at Hillary Clinton. She, you know, was not the candidate of the sort of left of her party. And frankly, John McCain was not the candidate of the fringe right in his party. And both of them struggled, ultimately, in -- as politics shifted over the last couple of decades. They struggled, and neither won the presidency.

And so, you know, here's a test, admittedly just on a state level, not the national level of, you know, can -- in a state that is very diverse, you know, can one -- one candidate from both extreme wings of the two parties, can they successfully compete for the middle of the -- of the -- of Florida? And if so, what does that say about 2020, when Donald Trump and some Democrat are going to have to win Florida in order to win the presidency?

You know, it shakes up this whole idea that, you know -- you know, politicians and political reporters have been assuming for the past several decades, which is that that middle is always the most important. And that may not be the case if one of these -- you know, when one of these candidates wins.

BERMAN: And really, more than anything, this will be a preview, and a really telling preview, I think, of 2020.

CAMEROTA: As Jeff Weaver believes.

BERMAN: I think you're going to see whether or not these sides can turn out the vote. And I also think it will be a preview to see what the president himself will do. I don't think he's going to be able to stay out of this race in any way.

[07:10:12] BASH: He doesn't want to.

BERMAN: I'm surprised he hasn't written about it at length. I mean, I think he'll be there physically.

BASH: Yes.

BERMAN: I think he will go there. He will want to, at least, go and campaign for DeSantis as much as he humanly can.

BASH: I think you're right, because he obviously likes him. I mean, you showed the Republican primary results there. Remember, Adam Putnam -- he was a former congressman, he's a local state official -- he was the guy who was going to run away with this and look at how it ended up. I mean, it wasn't even close. It was a 20-point race for the guy that the president put his -- not just his thumb on the scale, he stepped on the scale for Ron DeSantis.

And so he saw his power in Florida. He knows his -- his popularity among the base. And so it is going to be a question of getting the bases out.

But the -- the last question that we're all going to be watching is what happens with the middle. What happens with those who don't always vote Republican, who don't always vote Democratic? And -- and that is going to be what we who observe politics and are wondering what Michael so eloquently just framed, if the middle -- if running to the middle doesn't matter anymore, how that plays out with candidates like we're going to see in Florida.

CAMEROTA: Michael, on a different topic, it sounds like President Trump is quite worried about the midterms. And we know this because there was this closed-door event that he had with evangelical leaders. There were no cameras in there, but one of the participants did capture audio of what President Trump told them, and we did get a transcript of what President Trump told them. And it was frightening.

Here's what it said. This is President Trump: "People say, 'I'm not voting, because the president doesn't like Congress.' It's not a question of like or dislike. It's a question that they will overturn everything that we've done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence. When you look at Antifa, these are violent people."

What he's saying here, Michael, is that if Democrats win, there will be violence. And the fact that he's not saying this publicly, but he's trying to scare evangelicals behind closed doors, what does that tell us?

SHEAR: Yes. I listened to the audio of his remarks. It went on about 11 minutes. And -- and there were two things that struck me. One was he was really blunt with this group of supporters, and this is as supportive a group as you can get for President Trump.

He was really blunt about saying that he was worried about the midterms, that he was worried that people aren't going to come out and vote because he's not on the ballot. And he said, "Look, I'm not on the ballot, so they're not going to -- they're not going to come out and vote."

And then -- and then, you know, when he made these comments about the potential violence, what struck me was that, in private, this is his -- this is where he goes. He's a cultural warrior. And, you know, the comment was kind of strange, because he was, at one point, talking about Democrats, that they're going to unravel his whole agenda if they take over. But then he shifted to violence, which didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. Because if the Democrats have already taken over, they wouldn't need violence to undo his agenda.

So it was a little bit disjointed. But what struck me was that in private, when the cameras aren't running, he goes to the place that he likes to go to all the time, even when the cameras are running, which is to, you know, to sort of poke at the divisions in this country, especially the cultural divisions and, as you say, scare people, because that -- and the two connection -- the connection between those two things is that the reason he needed to go there was because he's so worried about the election.

BERMAN: I'm not sure that's poking. I think that's tearing at those divisions. And with a group I'm not sure he needs to. Evangelicals are his base. And they were there for him, Dana, in the election in 2016. They've been there for him at the White House. Why does he need to say they're at physical risk if Democrats win?

BASH: Well, that's a very good question. He doesn't. The answer is he doesn't need to do it.

But my assumption is that his goal is, and he actually said it, as Michael said, he thinks it's going to be hard to get Republicans to the polls because his name is not on the ballot.

And on the other side of the aisle, Democrats are racing to the polls, even though Donald Trump is not on the ballot, because they're voting against him with whatever Republican they can find on the ballot for those part of the so-called resistance.

And evangelical leaders are community leaders, and they can help get constituents get voters out to the polls, you know, in an unofficial way, if not an official way. So my sense is that was his goal.

But Michael's right, I mean, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense to say that -- that there are going to be -- that there is going to be violence when the Democrats win.

[07:15:00] And it really is, again, unfortunate, particularly during a week where we're remembering somebody who tried very hard to heal cultural wounds, to try to tamp down on cultural divisions that John McCain saw simmering ten years ago in the Republican Party, at least. Again, another example of this president trying to, you know, add to it and really stoke those divisions, and it's too bad.

BERMAN: All right, Dana, Michael, stick around. We have a lot more to discuss. In just a few minutes, I want to remind people, Andrew Gillum, who is now the Democratic nominee for governor, he will join us to talk about his primary upset and just about how much sleep he got last night.

CAMEROTA: OK. So Michael and Dana, please stick around.

How long does Jeff Sessions have left as attorney general? That seems to be the question today. And it depends on which senator you ask. So what they're saying on Capitol Hill now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump continues railing against Jeff Sessions and has even brought up again firing the attorney general with his top aides and personal lawyer just this month. According to Senator Lindsey Graham, the tense situation between Jeff Sessions and Mr. Trump cannot last much longer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[07:20:16] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Here's what I know, that Trump doesn't like him. And that this relationship has soured, and I'm not blaming Jeff. It can't go on like this. I mean, it's either got to get better. It's just not good for the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Let's bring back Dana Bash and Michael Shear.

So Michael, I mean, look, Jeff Sessions is stating -- sorry, Lindsey Graham is stating what a lot of people feel, but is he giving the president a green light in some way by doing that? SHEAR: Well, what he's doing is suggesting to the president that, if

Donald Trump does take that action at some point, either now or in the future, to fire Jeff Sessions, that somehow there wouldn't be the kind of universal condemnation that, I think, some people hope would -- would follow such an action.

And the danger there is not so much, you know, that it happens immediately, but that when it happens, Trump is going to -- is going to think that there won't be the kind of reaction that can hold him back. And the danger is that Lindsey Graham would give cover to other Republicans who might be wavering, who might not know how to react.

And so instead of that action being seen as a kind of stepping over a red line, you know, that would earn bipartisan condemnation, all of a sudden the reaction falls along the same partisan lines that we've seen our country being divided along. And that undermines, I think, the rule of law, and this -- and this idea that there really should be a separation between, you know, the president and an attorney general whose Justice Department is investigating that president.

BASH: Michael, you're right. He is -- there's no question he's trying to give other Republican senators and Democratic senators cover after everybody has rallied around Jeff Sessions, which by the way, for those of us who have covered the Senate for a while, it's just so bizarre, because Jeff Sessions was never the -- going to win a popularity contest among his Republican colleagues. But for the past year, they've all been, you know, sort of loving on him.

But, you know, one thing he didn't say there, which I did hear him say elsewhere, Senator Graham, is anybody else who would be nominated, the replacement for Jeff Sessions, would have to promise, under oath, in confirmation hearings, that Robert Mueller's information would not be changed, would not be messed with, would continue and finish, you know, sort of you know, unfettered and untethered. So that is sort of an interesting development that we hadn't seen over the past year.

Whether that person, you know, can be found, somebody who will -- would agree to that but also would be agreeable to the president of the United States, that's an open question, too.

BERMAN: You know what's interesting to me, is that the president is consulting with his personal lawyers about this. Rudy Giuliani, Jay Sekulow, the lawyers representing him in a criminal investigation. Talking to his lawyers about whether or not it's a good idea to fire the attorney general of the United States.

That's interesting. That's interesting, that he thinks that their opinion in this case matters. It tells you where his mind is there. And Dana, you of course, have great reporting on what Rudy Giuliani has been telling the president for months here. I guess they've talked him out of it for now?

BASH: Yes, but just to be clear, if the president were riding a bus, he would ask the bus driver if he should fire Jeff Sessions. I mean, that's just the way he is. That's his M.O. He calls people -- Michael knows this -- all the time, pretty much every night, saying "What do you think of this person? What do you think of that person?"

But you're right. It does -- it is a little bit unorthodox, to say the least, to ask his personal lawyers about it.

Look, yes, I mean, they have not wanted him to fire Jeff Sessions. nobody around him has wanted him to fire Jeff Sessions for a long time. But then we have started to see that shift. His -- President Trump's campaign manager, 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, now a couple of months ago tweeted out, "Fire Jeff Sessions." I mean, that was remarkable. And we've seen this.

The other thing to keep in mind is that this isn't just about Mueller, Jeff Sessions was the guy in charge of the policy that ended up separating children and -- from their families at the border. Jeff Sessions, my understanding, at least people on Capitol Hill in both parties, they're blaming him for stopping criminal justice reform. So there's building frustration, mounting frustration on other issues besides Russia that is adding to this.

CAMEROTA: One person who doesn't want to see him fired is Jeff Sessions. And so he had a breakfast, Michael, last week, with-- here were the attendees: John -- Senator John Cornyn, Thom Tillis, Jerry Moran, Ben Sasse, John Kennedy. And the senators, we're told from "The Wall Street Journal," urged Jeff Sessions to stay on the job, even if he feels under siege.

[07:25:12] SHEAR: yes, they actually didn't even even need to tell him that, because this is the dream job for Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions has wanted to be an attorney general forever.

And the policies that Dana just mentioned, especially the immigration policies that Sessions is -- has been pushing quite effectively, I might add, the family separation thing didn't work out the way they wanted, exactly, or it did work out the way they wanted, but there was too much political backlash.

But he's been a very effective policy person, if you sort of put aside the Russia thing. And I think that's another reason why Donald Trump may be hesitating a little bit to fire him, because even beyond the Russia situation, it would be really tough to get anyone confirmed into attorney general for all -- because the Democrats are going to use -- would use that confirmation process to litigate all sorts of other policy things, as well as the Russia case.

So you'd have big, huge fights over all of the immigration stuff, the travel ban, the family separation, what's going on at the border, and not to mention other sort of hot-button sort of legal flashpoint issues. And so, you know, it's wrapped up in a whole lot of stuff that goes even beyond what is the biggest thing, which is the Russia case.

BERMAN: Michael Shear, Dana Bash, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

You know, Dana was joking the president would tell a bus driver -- you know, ask him. CAMEROTA: I think it was serious.

BERMAN: In that case, Dana would call the bus driver. The bus driver would be a source of Dana Bash. And she'd be working hard to get the insights there.

All right. He pulled off a giant upset in Florida that could shake up the Democratic Party. So what's Andrew Gillum's plan to win the race for governor in the Sunshine State? Well, we'll ask him. He's on with us, next.

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