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GA Election Officials Speak as Dems near Senate Majority; Trump's False Election Circus Faces Dead End in Congress Today; Schumer After Ossoff Declares Victory: "Buckle Up". Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 6, 2021 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00]

GABRIEL STERLING, GEORGIA VOTING SYSTEM IMPLEMENTATION MANAGER: And again, this is a bipartisan problem. If you go back and do polls from 2016 of Democrat voters, there are over 50 percent that still believe Russians hacked voting machines to say they flipped votes for Donald Trump.

That didn't happen. You know what else didn't happen? Dominion machines did not flip votes for Joe Biden. Neither of those two things happened. And everybody on both sides of the aisle who continue to make these kinds of claims undermine the election process in the country, undermine democracy and undermine the health of the Republic.

QUESTION: Have you received any inquiries or any complaints from either of the two -- or any of the candidates on anything that's happened thus far or any indication that --

STERLING: I think it's a little early right now for that, but I fully anticipate we will have questions and there may be legitimate questions out there from people. And it's our job to answer them as frankly as we can with the facts, as best we can, as quickly as we can.

Yes?

QUESTION: What do you mean by 1:00 p.m. from the counties that if they would?

STERLING: We made a request of them because in Georgia, the cutoff time to receive absentee ballots other than military and overseas is 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. That's when the lock box, the draw box gets locked down and mail comes in. Nothing else came in after that.

So, while they're busy doing Election Day activities, it's hard to say we're going to have a group of people over here while the rest of us are counting, you go deal with absentee ballots. Some of these counties are under resourced. Some of them have big staffs but they're exhausted and focusing on one thing done at a time.

So, what we do is we're asking them account for all of the ballots you have in so that we can tell the press and the press can tell the voters, this is the outward bound and number of ballots we have to count so we know where they're actually is. Or it can give the press and political talking heads the opportunity to make a call. And in this particular case, the last couple of calls to be made are in the PSE race and in the Ossoff/Perdue race.

What else? Yes.

QUESTION: In terms of high turnout of newly registered voters, does your office have an insight into those numbers and how they may have played a role in generals?

STERLING: Not yet but I will say one thing. It was an impressive feat by whoever did it to get 100,000 people to show up on a January election who did not show up in a November election. That is probably a margin -- my assumption is those are probably Democrat voters given the demographics we've seen of that. And that is a testament to hard work that was done while Republicans were busy attacking the governor and my boss, the Democrats were out there knocking on doors and getting people to turn out to vote.

QUESTION: It's looking like North Georgia had a drop-off in voting. Is that what you're seeing as well?

STERLING: Well, I haven't had a chance to dig deep into it but people who I trust have stated that so I will accept that it's likely true and that is the area where we believe that you know like Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, along with the president, have essentially through their actions and their statements discouraged voting by Republican voters, which have ended up hurting both of our incumbent senators.

QUESTION: Were there any areas in turnout that surprised you?

STERLING: Frankly, all of them did. I mean this is a runoff. We had 4.3 million votes cast -- almost 4.4. We had 5 million cast in general election. That is unheard of.

In 2018, we had 4 million votes cast in the original. In the runoff, there's 1.485 million. The record previously for a runoff was 2.1 million with Saxby Chambliss. I mean, this blows every turnout model away.

Now, let me say this with one caveat, when you spend a half a billion dollars of money from out of state, you can get people to turnout. So that's the other thing that was a little different than most runoffs.

One more. OK.

QUESTION: You mentioned, you know, you were very complementary of how things went, there were no lines and people didn't have to wait. Is there intention then from the secretary of state's office to keep some of these methods that were put in place for COVID-19 but obviously made it a lot easier for more people to vote?

STERLING: The thing is all of these methods have been available for decades in this state. So, the one thing we do have an issue with that makes it very difficult in the counties is because of the increased use of the absentee process.

Essentially, there's a three-week period where they have to run three elections at a time essentially. You have to run the three weeks of early voting and then you had to run absentee ballot program that literally by law begins 45 days beforehand. So, you're running that the entire time. And then about two weeks before the actual election, you have to do the processes of the general election.

These people are understaffed, they're underpaid, they're under resourced. So, something has to give on that one. So, right now, we have no excused absentee. We may see a move but the legislation to move to an excused based system and taking away signature match by having a specific photo I.D. or other unique identifier PIN like other states do. Driver's license, state I.D., social security number as a specific identifier that is binary as opposed to having a signature match which can be viewed as subjective and kind of undermines people's faith in the system to a degree. Because like, oh, anybody can choose to take those signatures in. We don't know who actually did it.

So, we're going to see reforms, I guarantee that. But one of the things I will say is this is one of the easiest states to register. This is of the easiest states to vote. It's very easy to vote and very hard to cheat.

Yes, ma'am?

[11:35:03]

QUESTION: Can you recap the situation in Fulton County yesterday in a lawsuit that was filed in terms of the monitors?

STERLING: Yes. So, there are at Georgia World Congress Center, that's a big place. So, it's a difficult thing to allow people to move in and around the stuff that you're doing.

Now, Fulton did a few extra things that I think were inappropriate given the way the law is written. The intention of the law is to allow monitors and the public to view the voting process. And that includes signature match, that includes counting, that includes all of that.

Unfortunately, Fulton County put up some opaque barriers so you couldn't see anything that they were doing. Now, their argument, and there's a push and pull with this. The state mandates that you protect the personal identifying information of individual voters and the secrecy of their vote. That's one side.

It also says, hey, you have to let everybody see what's going on. So, you have to have a balance between those things. In our opinion and in the court's opinion, obviously, Fulton County went a little too much on the side of keeping monitors away.

So, they settled. Judge Barwick entered a consent order with the Republican Party. I think at Fulton County, Republican Party and Fulton County and they kind of split the baby. They keep them 20 feet away, they made it 10 feet away. They took down the opaque barriers and put in tape and allowed them to get some better viewing.

And we believe that sunlight and transparency is a better thing for people to feel more secure about this. And we instructed the counties and even at 1:00 in the afternoon, we had resent to the Fulton County office, here's the state election board rule and the code section. You need to be -- we don't direct - go talk to your county attorney, look at this, and you make better decisions about how you're letting people view these things.

So, in the future, we hope there'd be better practices and hopefully we won't have gigantic World Congress Center type things. We'll have a more normal process they can allow for better and easier viewing.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: I'm sorry --

STERLING: You're that kid in Colton's class, aren't you?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: I am - (INAUDIBLE) journalist.

STERLING: OK.

QUESTION: So, the PSE candidate, the Republican incumbent won, more votes than it looks like at this point both of the Senate candidates.

STERLING: About 38,000 more than Senator Loeffler and about 20,000 more than Senator Perdue the last I checked.

QUESTION: And you should put on your Republican hat again, what do you make of that?

STERLING: It means there's people who went and voted for - did not vote for Senators Perdue and Loeffler who did vote for that which makes probably Republicans who chose not to vote for the two incumbent senators.

Is that it?

All right. Thank you all very much.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're listening to Gabriel Sterling, election official in Georgia, saying -- two headlines out of that, Trump as you see on the screen, 100 percent responsible for GOP losses. He put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the president.

He also indicated that given that there are still absentee ballots outstanding, there are still military ballots outstanding. He went through a rundown of the counties and how many votes are still yet to be counted, ballots that have not been scanned and counted. 17,000- plus in DeKalb County, 5,000-plus in Chatham and so on.

But he said overall, if the current trendlines continue, that it would appear that Ossoff has won as well on the Democratic side beating Republican Perdue, David Perdue, saying essentially also that as of this moment, it would seem, as of the votes that are coming now and trendlines, it would seem as if it there would not be enough -- it would not be close enough for an automatic recount.

But again, more votes still being counted. Former Republican senators, CNN political commentator Jeff Flake is back with me. Senator, first, your reaction to what you heard from Gabriel Sterling.

JEFF FLAKE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you can't help but be impressed with how they run elections there. Just competent individuals who act in a bipartisan, nonpartisan manner. But it just sounds like the trendlines are clear and Georgia will have two Democratic senators.

COOPER: What do you think is going through Mitch McConnell's head right now?

FLAKE: Well, probably we should have handled this differently. I think these two candidates should have distanced themselves from the president, at least the antics that the president displayed in the waning weeks. I mean that was deadly politically, particularly that phone call. And for them to simply embrace it and you know cast blame on election officials in Georgia rather than the president, I think we see the result. And I think for Mitch McConnell and you know Republicans in Washington, it could have been handled a lot differently.

COOPER: For the 13 Republican senators who are challenging the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's win today, what's your message to them? What do you make of what they're doing?

FLAKE: Don't do it. I mean, I can't imagine they'll change their mind now, but I think there will be a lot less enthusiasm.

[11:40:01]

I should note that 20 years ago today, Mike Pence and I had just been elected to Congress. It was one of our first days in office, and we sat and watched Al Gore basically congratulate his opponent in a very challenging and difficult race that Al Gore won the popular vote and only lost in one state by 500 and something votes.

I can tell you, both Mike Pence and I were impressed with the way he handled himself. And I hope and I believe that Mike Pence will do the same today.

COOPER: That's really interesting. I mean that you remember being there, Vice President Pence being there as well and being impressed with how Vice President Gore handled himself. I mean it's such an important thing to point out because there have been plenty of people who have lost races and who have handled themselves with dignity and decorum and followed the Constitution and you now been not sore losers. That is the antithesis of what Donald Trump is doing right now.

FLAKE: Yes, I actually talked to Al Gore afterwards, it was the first time that I'd met him and told him how impressed that I was. I mean he wasn't doing anything extraordinary. He was doing exactly what he should have done but he kept a smile on his face and stiff upper lip and that was commendable, because that's what we do in this country. That's how we roll. And that's why you know we're admired around the world.

And I hate to think what other countries are thinking when they see this spectacle right now, not just the president, I think they've come to expect that. But sitting senators who are, let's face it, just auditioning right now for 2024. But I can't imagine there won't be a little less enthusiasm after what happened in Georgia and after -- how the president has conducted himself as of late.

COOPER: That's what Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, that's what they're doing now. Their objection that this is basically just an audition for 2024, trying to capture the president, as much of the president's base and curry favor from the president so that he won't tweet mean things about him from the bar at Mar-a-Lago over the next four years.

FLAKE: Sure, sure. There's no other explanation. They certainly can't believe that the president won this election. I mean that's just beyond the pale. So, there's auditioning for the president's base. But they have to have been given some pause. I think if maybe, if not those two, some other senators who signed up to do this. By what's happened in Georgia and what the president is doing right now, and how he's turning on Mike Pence, it's just -- it's, like I said, a fitting coda to the end of this administration.

COOPER: It is extraordinary. You know we've seen this time and time again, the president turning on those who have been most loyal to him. And I'm not sure I quite understand why some people are continuing to debase themselves and you know frustrate themselves before this president when they have seen what he did to Jeff Sessions, when they've seen his threats to Bill Barr, who has you know gone to great lengths to follow through and execute the president's policies.

Jeff sessions, who you know was getting judges, huge numbers of judges through quickly, has been destroyed by this president. And now Mike Pence, you know who's done nothing but slavishly follow this president, you know, he clearly has presidential ambitions and those will be destroyed by this president turning on him.

Actually -- I'm sorry, Chuck Schumer is speaking. Let's just listen in.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Stacey would be the first to tell you she didn't do it alone. So, a huge thank you to the many organizations who have been working so hard for so many years just to get this moment.

And of course, none of this would be possible without the hundreds of thousands of organizers and volunteers who put their time sweat and determination into this victory. Organizing during a pandemic is not easy, but you all found a way, and we say thank you.

Now I've already spoken to President Biden this morning, and I pledged to him that as Majority Leader, President Biden, and Vice President- elect Harris will have a partner in me and my caucus, who is ready, willing and able to help achieve a forward looking agenda and deliver bold change to the American people.

[11:45:00]

For too long, much needed help has been stalled or diluted by a Republican led Senate, and President Trump, that will change with a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House, and a Democratic president.

One of the things I'm most excited about is that we have so much talent in our Democratic Caucus, and all that talent has been bottled up. They haven't really been allowed to participate and put legislation on the floor. Now that is all going to be, all that talent that's been bottled up for so long, will be unleashed, and you'll see amazing things coming out of our new chairs and subcommittee chairs.

They will be able to showcase their talents and accomplish great things. It excites me.

And as a caucus, we will work every single day to reward the faith that the American people have placed in us.

Thank you.

I'm not going to take many questions because today is a very busy day, and you'll hear more from me on the floor later today, as well over the coming days and months and weeks and years. But I'll take a question or two. Yes.

QUESTION: Leader Schumer, two quick questions: first, have you talked to Leader McConnell yet, and secondly, do you have the president to thank for the wins in Georgia last night?

SCHUMER: Look, there's tremendous thanks to go around -- President Trump, you mean.

QUESTION: Yes.

SCHUMER: I see. Look, I mean, the number-one credit I give to winning is our two candidates and their campaigns and the issues the campaigned on. They wanted to help the American people. President Trump, the Republican senators, kept playing games. People want help. They want bold action. I think they realize that the two Democratic Senators in Georgia would join a Democratic caucus that wanted to do it.

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator. You're making it sound like the $2,000 checks will be your first major piece of legislation. Will it be limited to just a check --

SCHUMER: I'm not going to get into either prioritizing or details. I said what I said about the checks, it's one of the first things we want to do once our new senators are seated. They campaigned on it.

QUESTION: And do you --

SCHUMER: Next.

QUESTION: Leader Schumer, last time there was a 50-50 Senate there was a power-sharing agreement between Senators Daschle and Lott. Do you foreshadow that happening with you with Senator McConnell?

SCHUMER: Well, look, I look forward to sitting down with Leader McConnell. We have a lot of things to discuss, we first have to wait till the races are certified and the new senators are here, and Vice President Kamala is in the chair before we can put anything in place. But certainly, we'll have to talk.

Yes?

QUESTION: What do you anticipate --

SCHUMER: Him, him, him.

QUESTION: Follow-up on two questions. Have you spoken with Leader McConnell yet?

SCHUMER: Not this morning, no.

QUESTION: And the question about the $2,000 checks is, are you envisioning a larger package, or is that a standalone --

SCHUMER: As I told you, it's one of the first things we want to do. Our Georgia senators campaigned on it, our caucus is strongly for it, we think the American people need it.

QUESTION: Leader Schumer, how does this change the calendar, how does this change the way forward on nominations at this point?

SCHUMER: Look, obviously with Democratic control, the ability of Joe Biden to move nominations forward will be easier. The calendar, I haven't begun to look at yet. Last one.

QUESTION: Leader Schumer, could you just expound a little bit about the moment when you found out that you would be the majority leader, and then just second, verily, progressives are really still pushing you to nuke the legislative filibuster. Can you make that promise right now?

SCHUMER: Look, what we're going to do, we know, we Senate Democrats know we face one of the greatest crises Americans have, we're united in wanting big, bold change. And we're going to sit down as a caucus and discuss the best ways to get that done. And the first question?

QUESTION: The moment you found out, just tell us a little bit more.

SCHUMER: Yes. I was sitting at home in Brooklyn, watching my television, and at about midnight, having talked to Ossoff about three or four times and Warnock several times, I realized that even though he was behind then by about a couple of thousand votes, that all the votes that were coming in were going to be Democratic votes, and the odds were very, very high that he would win. And wow, who would've thought? As I said, this is not the path we chose to get here, but we're here.

Thank you, everybody.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. And you know, interesting to see the now going to be Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. You know, you could - if you know him, see him, sort of barely able to contain his glee and his smile all the way through. But there at the end, saying what he thought, wow, who would have thought that this is where we would be. And this is where we are as a country.

Joining us now is CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel and Ron Brownstein, senior editor at "The Atlantic."

[11:50:03]

Jamie, you know the - you know is he saying he didn't really know it was going to happen and then making it clear he spoke to incoming senator, Warnock and likely incoming senator, Ossoff, several times last night became clear to him that the Democrats were going to win. Wow, who would have thought he said. That sort of stunned excitement on his side is stunned what on the Republican side now? Is this settling in?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, I have to say what we are seeing is really a split in the Republican Party thanks to Donald Trump. I have been hearing from Republican sources all morning blaming Donald Trump for this and I just want to read you one quote that I think sums it all up from a Republican source. This is a conservative.

Quote, "Trump has destroyed the GOP. He has managed to lose the presidency, the House and the Senate all in four years."

And then you're seeing people like Liz Cheney who is number three on the House side in the Republican leadership come out first thing this morning and tweet about the Constitution. That is a direct hit to Donald Trump and a message to Mike Pence. When you lose conservatives like Liz Cheney and Tom Cotton today on these votes, it really gives you a message about the split we're going to see in the Republican Party.

BURNETT: I mean, it is incredible. And Ron, you know when you look at what happened in Georgia, obviously gave Sterling pinning the blame 100 percent to Trump - at Trump's feat. You know, Chuck Schumer trying to say well it was also the policies of the two senators who ran.

And on that front, it was interesting, Gabe Sterling did say a moment ago in his press conference out of Georgia that it was an impressive feat. The Democrats got 100,000 more people to show up for the vote yesterday than they were able to get to show up for the vote in November. That is pretty incredible and to whom do you give the credit or the blame?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, you have to - you have to credit the organizing efforts led by Stacey Abrams and other groups in the state. I mean, Georgia, like a lot of the sunbelt states, there is the raw demographic material for Democrats to do better. It's been there for a number of years, but they translated that into actual registrations and votes.

You know, you look - I mean a lot of people voted in Republican areas yesterday. I mean it was an incredible turnout for a special election. But Democrats overwhelmed that both with extraordinary turnout of African Americans, Erin, but also a continuation of the movement away from Republicans in the big populous inner suburbs of large metros that we have seen all over the country in the Trump era. A Cobb and Gwinnett Counties outside of Atlanta.

Both Democrats won them by double digits after Perdue had won each of them by double digits as recently as 2014 and that really in that way Georgia really embodies the trade that Trump has imposed on the Republican Party. He has strengthened them in nonurban areas that are predominantly white, heavily blue-collar, mostly white Christians.

But in the process, he has exiled them from basically all of the fast- growing metros in the country. He lost 91 of 100 largest counties in America. And as I wrote this morning in "The Atlantic" there's something emerging that can be called a blue beltway. You know kind of the - a draw an imaginary beltway around every major metro in the country and inside of it at the end of the Trump era, Democrats are gaining strength.

BURNETT: I mean it is pretty incredible and you saw it in Georgia, right? 38,000 more people voted for the public service person who is up for reelection Republican than voted for the Republican senators, right? I mean Republicans in there and voted for Democrats even yesterday. It is a stunning repudiation as you.

Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian joins me now. You know, Doug, as we are getting ready here moments away from you know everyone gathering in Congress, getting ready to gavel in this session. A long- time senior Trump adviser says, the president's behavior has become horrific, right? As he's pressuring Mike Pence to do something that would be against the Constitution extra judicial, pressuring Republican lawmakers to overturn a free and fair election.

What is your reaction to this pressure on Pence who's been so careful, so steadfast and so loyal to this president?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I'm going to be very curious to see how brutalized Pence gets from Trump because Donald Trump's in a heap of trouble now. I mean if he ends up - you know looks like the Democrats have the Senate, Congress, the White House, the left of the Democratic parties wants to go and investigate Donald Trump. They want to see Donald Trump's taxes and the only escape hatch that Donald Trump has would be if he stepped down, if Donald Trump stepped down for a week as president and let Pence be president, have Pence pardon him and his family.

[11:55:08]

So, I'll be interested to see how ravaged Trump treats Pence. I doubt it. I can't imagine he is going to want to beat up the one person who has been at his side that from day one and never really deviated from the script. Pence has no choice but to follow the Constitution here today. There's no real role for him. It is ceremonial.

BURNETT: Right. Of course, that's true. President does not respect that constitutional role. Thank you very much, Doug, Ron, Jamie. And thanks very much to all of you for being with me as the special coverage continues here on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is truly a monumental day here in Washington D.C. as the United States Congress is getting ready to finalize President-elect Biden's victory and Democrats are in the brink of winning control of the U.S. Senate. With only two weeks to go before Biden is sworn in, here at the Capitol, Trump allies are planning one more dead-end fight against the vote and against democracy. They're being egged on by the outgoing president who's been riling up a huge crowd of his supporters making threats and doubling down on his baseless claims of voter fraud.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center and we are standing by for the last step in affirming that President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris won the 2020 election.

About an hour or so from now a joint session of Congress convenes to tally and announce the electoral vote count which is usually just a formality. The results from the Electoral College are clear. President-elect Biden winning 306 electoral votes, more than enough to defeat President Trump with 232 electoral votes. It wasn't close.

But at least 13 Republican senators are now promising to sign on to a formal challenge of the results in a futile effort to try to overturn the outcome of the election and they're joining with potentially 140 or so House Republicans who plan to raise objections. The stunt and it is a stunt that is expected to trigger an ugly debate that will only fan partisan division here in the United States and delay the inevitable.

Right at the center of the storm will be Vice President Mike Pence who presides over the joint session. He is under intense pressure by President Trump to somehow overturn the electoral vote, a power he does not, repeat, not have. Pence is more likely to be in the uncomfortable position of officially confirming that President Trump lost the election.

Remember, all this is happening as CNN projects Democrats have won the first of two Georgia Senate runoffs. Raphael Warnock defeating incumbent Kelly Loeffler and Jon Ossoff appears poised to defeat Republican David Perdue which would seal Democratic control of the United States Senate.

We're covering all of this with my colleague and friend Jake Tapper who is standing by.

Jake, we're clearly watching history unfolds.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We are indeed, Wolf. And we will see democracy triumph in the end despite the attempts by President Trump and his allies to undermine it and one more desperate attempt by some Republicans to enable him and deny reality.

Let's get more on what to expect in the hours ahead from our congressional correspondents, Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly. First to Manu.

Manu, what's going on in Capitol Hill right now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're going to see Republican divisions on full display once this kicks off in the next hour. 1:00 a joint session of Congress will kick off where they'll start to begin to count the electoral votes state by state. And then you're going to see objections being raised.

Remember, one House member and one senator agreed to object to an individual state's vote then each chamber will devolve into a two-hour debate on each side and ultimately vote whether to affirm that objection. And need a majority vote to essentially throw out those electoral votes.

That is not going to happen because a bipartisan majority is going to reject the efforts by president Trump and his allies to overturn the elections and Republican Ted Cruz is expected to begin that opposition to the state of Arizona today when Arizona's name is called to announce its electoral votes. After he does that, the Senate will move on to its chamber.

And then we will hear Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who has privately told his colleagues not to go down this road believing the Constitution doesn't give Congress the right to overturn the election. He is going to speak out. Expecting to speak out forcefully against this effort other Republicans would join ranks with Mitch McConnell.