Return to Transcripts main page


Alabama Senator-Elect Doug Jones Speaks Out; Republicans Suffer Stunning Senate Loss in Alabama; Jones Says He Received "Gracious" Call From President Trump. Aired 4-4:40p ET

Aired December 13, 2017 - 4:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with some breaking news in the politics lead today. Any moment, we expect to hear from Democratic senator-elect Doug Jones, elected to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate last night in a stunning and historic election, sending shockwaves from Alabama all the way to Washington, D.C.

We're going to bring Doug Jones to you live as soon as he steps up to that podium and begins speaking.

But, first, we should note that after deep ruby-red Alabama chose its first Democratic senator in 25 years, those shockwaves are rocking the White House today.

President Donald Trump, who backed the Republican candidate, the one who had been credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl, among other allegations, the president now has three perceived losses to show for his involvement in this Alabama race.

There is the primary loss, where he backed Luther Strange, who lost to Roy Moore, the election loss last night, where he full-throatedly backed Moore, against the advice of senior Republicans and his own aides.


The president tried to explain this 0-2 Alabama scoreboard in a tweet today, writing -- quote -- "The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange, and his numbers went up mightily, is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the general election. I was right. Roy worked hard, but the deck was stacked against him" -- unquote.

But beyond the primary loss and the general election loss the president suffered, there is also a third possible loss worth contemplating. It's one that could haunt the president if voters choose to see his decision to go all in for Roy Moore as emblematic of a loss of standards and possibly even a loss of basic human decency.

The president chose party tribalism by backing Moore, when no other senior Republican leader was doing so. This was a candidate about whom his own daughter Ivanka said there is a special place in hell for those who prey on children.

By the time Democrats are done with this decision by President Trump, voters might think that Roy Moore is Donald Trump's running mate. Now, of course, we're going to see what the fallout is.

My panel is here to discuss all of this.

But let's begin with CNN's Jeff Zeleny. He's at the White House.

And, Jeff, President Trump trying to pivot today to tax reform. He wrapped up his speech just minutes ago. You have to ask, though, how does this loss in Alabama, a huge one, impact the Trump agenda going forward and any other possible implications there might be in terms of staff shakeups or more?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the margins were already very narrow with the 52-48 Senate Republican majority.

Now that changes to 51-49. That means any piece of new legislation this White House tries to get through, they need to thread the needle very carefully or perhaps start working in a bipartisan way on bills like infrastructure and other matters.

It's hard to imagine that happening at this point, but it's interesting to know if the White House will be reaching out to Doug Jones. Of course, he will be one of the most conservative Democrats now in the Senate, at least for the next three years or so.

But in the short term, it probably means any big-ticket items are not going to happen on the table. That's why they're moving so quickly on tax reform. But, earlier today, the president had this to say about that Republican race in Alabama:


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of Republicans feel differently. They're very happy with the way it turned out. But I would have -- as the leader of the party, I would have liked to have had the seat. I want to endorse the people that are running, but I will tell you that to me it's very, very, just very important to get this vote, not because of that.


ZELENY: So it was important to get the vote. Of course, in this tax bill that they're talking about, the Alabama Senate seat was never in question. Whoever was going to win was likely to be seated after the holidays here.

So the president went after the Republican here, following the lead of Steve Bannon, against the advice of so many Republicans here at the White House, indeed on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. So that is what they're left with here going into the 2018 midterm elections -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Jeff, inside the West Wing, is this any sort of wakeup call in terms of who the president takes political advice from?

ZELENY: It certainly should be a wakeup call. And that was the exact phrasing that a top Republican here, said it should be a wakeup call in terms of how the president deals with Steve Bannon. Will the president still follow his lead?

Because, indeed, the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was urging the president to go all in on Roy Moore. He could have stayed on the sidelines, like the vice president did. He did not talk about that race at all.

But it's an open question still if they're going to rebuild the political operation here at the White House or defer more to establishment Republicans. But, Jake, I think, at the very least, Steve Bannon is wounded by this and the president sees that. It all depends, though, if they still keep having those conversations and who gets the president -- who has his ear more.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thank you so much.

My panel joins me now.

Kristen, let me start with you. How long do you think the stink of being attached to Roy Moore, of endorsing Roy Moore, how long can that last with President Trump? Is this something that voters who were turned off by Moore, but they might forget about or be willing to accept the president's explanation eventually?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There is always a tendency to think that the story that's big in the news today will be the story that's big in the news for the next year, two years, three years.

I think there is a chance that the Roy Moore saga fades as other issues come to the forefront, but I think the lasting impact is that voters who call themselves Republicans, may have called themselves Republicans, but who find themselves extremely dismayed with the moral compromise that saying with, yes, Roy Moore, he represents us, I don't think that will fade.

I think, especially for younger voters in the party, the idea that their elders and these supposed leaders were willing to make this sort of a compromise in exchange for one Senate seat is just too far. It's not what they want to be about. And I think that's what will have the long-term effect.

TAPPER: J.D., what do you think? How important is this loss for the president in terms of his association with Roy Moore going forward?


J.D. VANCE, AUTHOR, "HILLBILLY ELEGY: A MEMOIR OF A FAMILY AND CULTURE IN CRISIS": Well, one of the things I think the loss shows is that Republican voters are especially unenthusiastic right now. If you look at the exit polls, about half of the Alabama electorate

supported the president, half of the Alabama electorate disapproved of the president's job. These are pretty striking numbers in a deep, deep red state.

TAPPER: Alabama, yes.

VANCE: Absolutely.

And so the takeaway isn't necessarily that half of Alabamans disapproved of the presidents job. It's that those who do approve of the president's job are not especially enthusiastic about it. They're not actually getting out there and voting.

And so while I think there is a tendency to overinterpret a single election -- there always is when you have these special elections -- the big takeaway is the Republicans seem to be unenthusiastic an, that can be pretty bad in 2018.

TAPPER: Symone, what do you think? How did Roy Moore lose this? How did it happen the way it did?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He was a bad candidate to begin with, but Doug Jones won this race because of the surge of African-American voters that came out, but also a multicultural coalition.

You had moderate Republicans who either wrote in a candidate or maybe even pulled the lever for Doug Jones. You had a coalition of young people, but this coalition was absolutely led by black women. I definitely think Republicans would love for the stench of Roy Moore to fade away into the background and roses to come back, but they're not coming back, because when the Republican Party had a choice, the RNC and the Republican president wrapped their arms around an alleged pedophile, someone who holds -- who names himself as a segregationist.

And that is not going away. And we're going to make sure, Democrats, that the voters know that in 2018.

TAPPER: What's interesting about this is that so few Republicans in Washington, other than President Trump and the RNC, including members of his own family, took this course of action.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, opposed. Paul Ryan opposed. Cory Gardner, head of the Republican Senate committee opposed. I can go on and on. We only have an hour show.

But, I mean, it really is remarkable. This was the insurgent. This was Trump and his team, Steve Bannon, and no one else, none of the Republican establishment.

VANCE: Yes, and Richard Shelby, I would add to that list, really gave a kick to Roy Moore the Sunday before the election.


VANCE: But that's absolutely right.

If you look at the folks at the leadership of the Republican Party, they by and large tried to distance themselves from Roy Moore. And even going into the election, they were saying that perhaps the worst outcome of all is that he could win.

TAPPER: Right.

VANCE: Because then he becomes effectively a specter that the Democratic Party tries to hang over Republicans for the next few years. So at the end of the day, Roy Moore definitely has done damage to the Republican Party.

But I think there is a good argument to make it would have been worse if he had won because he would continue to be part of the national conversation. You can hope at least now he will go away.

TAPPER: Do you agree?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think take a look at what Senator Cory Gardner did. He's head of the NRSC.

TAPPER: I'm sorry.

I have to interrupt. We will come back to you. The senator-elect is speaking, Doug Jones. Let's listen in.


DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATOR-ELECT: ... here for a few minutes.

I know there's a lot of questions, and I will try to do what I can. So, let's -- let's -- when we do it, let's see if we can a little bit of an orderly process.

And will try to -- because I really want to get to as much as we can.

Let me just start out by saying how thrilled that my family and I are for this win last night. It has been a fun campaign, despite what people say and despite all of the things that get thrown at you. It was nothing that we didn't fully expect.

Most important thing, we have had an opportunity to travel around this state, talking to so many people from so many walks of life, listening to their cares, their concerns, their joys, their happiness, and that's been so gratifying.

And it is especially gratifying to know that in this day and age here in the state of Alabama that a message of inclusiveness, a message of equality, a message of dignity and respect, and, importantly, messages of issues that really are at the end of the day those issues that people care about, the kitchen table issues that we have talked about, that you guys have heard me preach about over and over.

It has been an amazing night for us. It has been an amazing day today. I have received calls from so many well-wishers of friends and family, but also future colleagues in Washington on both sides of the aisle.

I have received calls from Democratic senators. I have received calls from my longtime friend Senator Shelby, Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, and calls from the president of the United States, President Trump, all very gracious, congratulating us on the way we have run this race, the way we portrayed ourself in the campaign, and all expressing a desire to look forward together to try to work for the betterment of the state of Alabama and this country, to do, as we have said from the very beginning of this campaign, to try to find the common ground, so that we can move forward.


And so I very much appreciate all of those senators and the president for reaching out to me today. It's very heartwarming and gratifying, and now the process begins of trying to get a transition in.

By the way, one of the calls I received last night -- I should have said this a moment ago. One of the first calls I received last night was from an old friend, Senator Luther Strange. He left a message. I returned that call, as I knew he would be very gracious as well, congratulating me, telling me how proud he was of the campaign that we ran and working together to try to start a transition, for us to move into that office to build our staff and to start working, to continuing the work for the people of the state of Alabama.

So, with that, I'm going to try to field a few questions here and try to figure out the best way to do it.

I see my old friend there in the blue tie with his little hand raised. So, let's do -- I will go to you first. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Congratulations.

JONES: Thank you.


JONES: I have not.

QUESTION: Do you think that he should concede?

JONES: I'm going to leave that to him. I think that, as most people, including the president, believe that the people of Alabama spoke, and after elections, it's a time for healing, it's a time for reaching out.

That's what I intend to do as -- once I can be sworn in. I have told people that I'm going to try to be accessible to do town halls to try to reach out. I know that this was a close vote and that this state, if you just look at the numbers, one would consider it to still be divided.

I don't believe that that is going to be the case, and so I'm going to reach out. So, I'm going to let him make that decision.

Let's just kind of move this way a little bit. Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Would you say this result is (OFF-MIKE)

JONES: I think this is Alabama issues.

Now, to some extent -- and we have talked about this -- you know, I think Alabama issues are the same as around the country in terms of jobs and education, particularly health care. I think the CHIP's Program that I mentioned last night is an issue that crosses political lines and it crosses from one state to the other.

But, at the end of the day, this has been an Alabama race. This is a race that we have focused on in the state of Alabama, and we have talked straight to the people of Alabama about my record and about the issues that they care about.

And that's how we have seen it and that's how I will continue to see it, because my job is really to represent the folks in the state.


JONES: You know, I think that this election shows that people across this country, I mean, want to see people work together.

I think that's a message for Democrats and it's a message for Republicans and independents. I think that when the people of Alabama elect a senator who runs on a platform of trying to find common ground and reaching across aisles, I think that's a message that both political parties should take heed.

Again, that's why I said last night -- recognize that, have my colleagues recognize that and fund that CHIP's program, take time out from whatever they're doing right now, fund that program. So, I think it's a message that a lot of people can take a lot out of.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Senator-elect, you may have seen the Democratic leader, Schumer, is urging Mitch McConnell to hold the vote on tax reform until after you're seated. Do you agree with him on that?

JONES: Well, you know, look, I think there is a process that has to take place here within the state of Alabama for certification.

I think, historically, if you look back at what happened when Senator Brown won in Massachusetts, I think Senator Reid held the Affordable Care Act vote, if I remember correctly.

But there is a combination of things. There's a lot of moving pieces that involve the certification of this election, the recesses of the Senate and how they're going to go as we're approaching the holidays.

So I think we will just -- we will let that play out a little bit and see. I think that both Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer are going to end up doing the right thing. I spoke to both of them today. They want to work with me and my transition team on committee assignments and those kinds of things.

So we will just -- we will see how to goes, and I will go with it either way. I want to get involved as soon as I can, obviously.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: The state will not automatically change overnight from a very conservative state to a Democratic just because you -- of the victory last night. Will your decisions in Washington reflect the ideology of your state?

JONES: I think they will. I mean, that's why I ran.

I think that's why I won, because think I'm a lot more center-of-the- road political figure, public figure. I think people are looking for somebody that can find that common ground, somebody that will listen to them.

I think people forget oftentimes that, you know, citizens are not always looking for someone who -- who agrees with them all of the time. They want somebody to just listen to them and talk to them.

[16:15:03] I think people forget often times that, you know, citizens are not always looking for someone who agrees with them all of the time, they want somebody to just listen to 'em and talk to 'em and learn from 'em, and I think we demonstrated that we would do that during the campaign. I think we do -- I think my history has been that I'm going to do that as a United States senator. And I think that's the most important part of this.

So, I'm going to be that voice for the people of Alabama, to try to do what I believe is right for them and we'll just see how that plays out in the politics of things. But I think more importantly, people have been looking for someone that they can talk to, someone that they feel like can best represent them and their interests. And if you can't always find that common ground, you can maybe just move on and agree to disagree but don't be disagreeable and let's find common ground on the next one.

Yes, sir?

REPORTER: What did the president say to you in the call that you had? Did he address any of the criticisms he had voiced about you?

JONES: No, he -- it was a very gracious call. I very much appreciated it. He congratulated me on the race that we won. He congratulated me and my staff on the way that we -- and manner in which we handled this campaign and went forward, and we talked about finding that common ground to work together, and he invited me over to the White House to visit as soon as I get up there.

So, it was a very nice phone call, very pleasant phone call and I appreciated him very much reaching out to me.

Let's go on this side. Anybody over here? OK. Speak up. Y'all got to speak up, now. I didn't mean to throw too much cold water on all of you guys.

REPORTER: What would you say to moderate Alabama voters that may have voted for you but don't necessarily agree with you on your positions on the issues?

JONES: Well, I say exactly what I said just a moment ago, you're not going to agree with me. I mean, even some in the Democratic Party that voted for me and have been very enthusiastic about this campaign are not going to agree with me on every issue. I think the key is trying to find that common ground. I know I'm sounding like that broken record to talk about that, but I just think that it is so important that we try to sit down at a table and talk about issues and talk about the things that matter in a big picture and then we can find and hone down on what it will take to get that agenda accomplished.

And so, for those folks and even those that may be even more conservative than that, you know, let's just talk. I believed and I've said it over and over that the people of this state have more in common than they have to divide us. I want to try to find those issues more and more that we can find common ground on and let's just agree to disagree on those issues that are so divisive that it's hard to even talk to people about.

Yes, ma'am?

REPORTER: In recent years for the state, there was a difficulty fielding candidates. Was that a hurdle you had to overcome? How important was national Democratic support for your campaign?

JONES: Well, I mean, obviously, there has been some concern locally. We knew that going into this race and we built this campaign from the ground up. Our state party provided whatever support they could. But we knew that we had to reach out to our own, you know, Democratic leaders in the counties and the cities and we had to find others, independents, folks that had not been engaged in the political process as much to try to build that.

So, we -- you know, I think we built that up. I think it's going to be a lot better going forward for folks. The National Democratic Party was very helpful to us. They provided the support that we needed. They were always there to give us advice.

We wanted to make sure that this race remained local. We wanted to make sure, and I'm not just -- we didn't just, you know, push them away, we didn't do any of that, but we wanted to make sure we were fortunate enough that we raised enough money that we could keep this race local, but I can't say enough for what they did in terms of the support, the help, the advice.

This was not their first rodeo in an election, but they also now that they needed to be careful because we had a message. And they didn't want to interfere. And I think that's the thing that I will complement DNC chair Tom Perez the most about, is that he knew that we had a message, that it was a message that was consistent with the party but it was also a message that he felt like and we felt like would be consistent with the folks in the state of Alabama. And that's what it was.

So, we stayed true to that message through the primary and into the general election, and I think that's the one thing I've told my staff and my campaign officials that I am the most proudest of. We didn't have to alter. We didn't move. We were true to ourselves. And I think that was a very important piece of winning this election.

[16:20:00] People in Alabama do not like to see folks that flip-flop and do things. They want to see somebody who stays true to themselves because that's somebody they know they can talk to, reason with and discuss with.

Yes, sir? Way in the back. You. Yes, you.

REPORTER: So one big factor in your win was the minority vote. Which, you know, a lot of people have sort of criticized your campaign's outreach to them. What do you think brought the minority vote out for you?

JONES: Well, let me say, first of all, you know, I didn't read all you folks in the national media with that criticism because I knew you were wrong. I mean, just flat-out, I knew you were wrong. I knew what we were doing. I knew that we had boots on the ground.

I mean, this campaign, the volunteers that we had in this campaign was extraordinary. They were not like any other campaign that the state has ever seen. We knocked on 300,000 doors. We rang 1.2 million phones across this state.

We knew what we were doing. We knew the importance of minority votes and we reached out. And I think they responded.

But I also believe this, I think we had a lot of support from the leadership in the African-American community. Those leaders knew me. We've been -- this is -- I've been around for awhile. I mean, look, I may look young and pretty, but I'm really not. I've been around for a long time.

And those leaders knew me and they knew my background and they knew they would have a partner in the United States Senate. They felt like they haven't had one for awhile, except for Congresswoman Terri Sewell who was also instrumental in making sure that turned out. So, I had a lot of support from those folks who spent a lot of time and effort trying to get folks out to vote.

And, you know, everything that's happened in this state, in this country, people across the country are now realizing, you know, look, elections have serious consequences. And when you realize that, you tend to turn out the vote. So.

Yes, sir?

REPORTER: Could you talk a bit more about the infrastructure in the Democratic Party here in the state? The future of it, what you're going to do about that? JONES: Well, I don't know what the future is going to hold. We'll just see. I mean, we're going to have obviously some discussions. I think some of that will take care of itself in the coming months because we've got statewide elections that will come up next year. They'll be qualifying for that.

The one thing I think is going to happen for sure is that this campaign has given a lot of people a reason to believe. They have a reason to hope. They know that, you know, even though things might be a long shot, it's possible and they all know, too, that you can create a lot of momentum, you can create things in a positive way if you run the right campaign. Even if that campaign might not have succeed and there was a time last night that I was convinced we wouldn't.

But I was prepared to talk about the fact, you know, that this was not the end, it was the beginning, as Coach Saban once said famously. So I think going forward what I'm hoping you will see in both parties is competitive races. This state is going to be progressed as far as we can because beginning today, beginning with this election, I believe we're on the road to having a competitive two-party state without one- party domination, and I think that that helps every state if you look around this country. That's what I want to see. I want to see that with the Democrats. I want to see that with the Republicans.

It doesn't help anybody to see one -- it doesn't help a state, it doesn't help a country to see one major political party at civil war with itself. So I think this election can send a message to a lot of folks, to reach out and do some things to try to help. So, I'm looking forward to that in 2018 for our general elections on both sides of that aisle.

Yes, sir?

REPORTER: Did you win it or did Roy Moore lose it?

JONES: I think it's a combination. You know, look, in every election, in every election there is a segment of the voters who vote for you. And I think from what I saw on some of the exit pollings last night, there was an overwhelming number of people who felt very positive and the number one reason for the vote for me was how they felt about our campaign and the issues we ran on. Look, there is also this segment of this population who voted against Roy Moore. I understand that. I get that.

But, you know what, that's not a bad thing. With that kind of politics for a segment of the population in Alabama to help reject that kind of history and that divisive rhetoric, I think that that's a good thing.

Yes, sir?

REPORTER: Those women who came forward, what would you have to say to those women?

JONES: Well, I've said before, it's not just those women, there are a lot of women around the country that are coming forward. I think we've reached that tipping point in this country in which women need to stand up and speak out.

[16:25:04] I think we have to be very careful in all of those in how we approach those issues. I said at the very beginning when the issues involving Roy Moore surfaced that we need to let the dust settle a little bit and not take sides immediately.

But certainly I think that that was -- I commend them for coming forward. I have said before I believe them. I think they have all the credibility in the world. And I think that going forward, this country has a debt that we owe to women everywhere who has had to endure the kind of treatment at the hands of male counterparts in their workplace or customers or anyone else.

And I think that we are hopefully getting to a point for my daughter and my two little granddaughters, who stole the show last night at our victory speech, that that is going to change. That is my hope for my children as well as the -- all of the children for the state of Alabama.

REPORTER: Do you believe you would have won without them coming forward?

JONES: Well, I don't know I would have or not. I think that, you know -- I said from the very beginning I think Roy Moore was disqualified from this job to begin with because he had been removed from office twice for violating the rule of law. There were serious questions about his moral foundation of law, which seemed to be nothing more than a way to enrich himself and his family.

I think the last month of the election would have played out somewhat differently obviously, but I think we would have still won. I don't know if we would have ever had a debate. What I really wanted to do and where the people of Alabama lost out in this race is actually having a debate and seeing the issues, the substantive issues on health care and education and jobs.

So, we had to get out there and as you guys in the press know, that's what we did. We continued to get out there while he went into hiding. So I think obviously that helped us.

I believed all along that we had a path to victory in this race. I believed it this summer. And I certainly believed it as we were going forward because we were getting traction and momentum in this -- in our campaign before those allegations surfaced.

All right. I'm going to -- you've had one. Let's go -- anybody else over here before I go back here. Yes, ma'am?


JONES: Well, I think I've already achieved something like that. I think when a -- in a special like this when a candidate wins a close race and what the eyes of the nation were and you have both the leader of your own party as well as the opposition party as well as the president of the United States, who is of a different party, call you to say we are looking forward to it. We want to try to do that work to find that common ground. I think that that was the main thing. I think -- so this election last night from the people of Alabama accomplished what I wanted to do for me, and that was very -- because I think it's very important and people across the country are getting that message.

On a substantive basis, I said last night and I hope that the CHIP funding will get done soon. I'd like to be a part of that if it's not done very soon. I will try to reach out and do something like that immediately.

There is a lot of work, I think, to be done in health care and other matters, the budgets. But, you know, we'll take it a day at a time, you know? I mean, six months ago, I was a lawyer trying to figure out where my next client was coming from.

And now, I've got -- I've been learning all summer. I've got a lot more to learn, but I am so, so looking forward to getting into the weeds with these issues.

OK. All right. Y'all got to -- I mean, don't throw things at me, but OK. I'll get back -- I'll go back to you.

REPORTER: I just wanted to get your thoughts on what Corey Gardner said last night. He said they did the right thing.

JONES: Well, I would expect a Republican to say that. I expect the Democrats to say I hope he does the right thing and vote for Democrats, but the people of Alabama expect me to do the right thing and vote for the people of Alabama. And so, we're going to see. We're going to take every issue one step at a time.

I want to sit down with folks on both sides of the aisle and both sides of an issue. I think that's what's missing here is that I want to talk to people on both sides of an issue not just political parties, to try to learn what I can and make some decisions based on the people of Alabama. So, you know, everybody's going to say that, but I've made to clear to everybody in this campaign, I'm going to continue to make it clear that the people of Alabama hope that I do the right thing by voting in their best interest.

Yes, sir?

REPORTER: Another -- a lot of people were thinking that folks just won't come out to the polls and vote. After last night, what message would you give to the people of Alabama and maybe encourage everyone that voting is your right and you should take part of it?