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GOP Battle for Pennsylvania Seat; Trump on Oprah Run; Trump Backs Off Raising Age for Buying Guns; Helicopter Crash Kills Five; British Prime Minister to talk of Attack. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:31:45] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, less than 24 hours till the polls open in the special election in Pennsylvania. This is a district the president won by 20 points. It should not be in play. So why is it?

To answer that question, my panel back with me now.

You know, Ryan Lizza, again, the president won this by 20. Tim Murphy, who held the seat for a long time, had no opposition his last two races.


BERMAN: So, again, why? Why now?

LIZZA: It's been eight elections in a row that Republicans have won this seat. Mitt Romney carried it.

But if you look historically at the seat, John, you don't have to go that far back to a time where Democrats did run candidates who could carry this area. Bob Casey, in 2006, senator from Pennsylvania, carried this area. And it's a blue collar, not very supportive of gun control, and a lot of pro-life Democrats. The Democrat running in this race is not favor -- is not in favor of gun control and is personally pro-life. So the Democrats have a candidate that fits the mold of the type of candidate who has historically won. And Trump's popularity has obviously been an issue for a lot of Democrats who -- in this district who still identify as Democrats locally, but have been voting nationally and at the presidential level for Republicans. And Pennsylvania, if you look at the history of special elections since Trump has been elected, it is one of the states where Democrats have over performed more so. So a lot of reasons the Democrats are very excited about this race and think they have a chance.

BERMAN: You know, Sabrina, it's interesting, do you think there's any part of Nancy Pelosi that is watching this and is nervous about Conor Lamb winning? You know, Conor Lamb, the Democrat there, has run ads specifically more or less against Nancy Pelosi, saying he will not support her for speaker. So if Conor Lamb wins on an anti-Pelosi platform, does that open the door for Democrats around the country to run -- run in a similar way?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, "THE GUARDIAN": It certainly does. And I think that all politics is local. So what Conor Lamb is doing is he is recognizing that in order to be competitive here, he has to distance himself from national Democrats.

You think back to the Alabama Senate race with Doug Jones. You didn't have a lot of national Democrats going to stump for him there. Chuck Schumer certainly was not heavily involved in that race, in part because they didn't want national Democrats or establishment Democrats, so to speak, to have a big presence on the campaign.

I don't think that necessarily means that he's going to disrupt leadership, Conor Lamb, when he -- if and when he were to get to the House, but it certainly speaks to recognition that both Republicans and Democrats in Washington remain deeply unpopular when you are looking at some of these elections across the country. And so the candidates who tend to do well are those who can focus more on the issues that concern those particular constituents and not get caught up in the national narrative. That's also why you don't really see Conor Lamb running aggressively against Trump, even though the president's favorability ratings are lower -- approval ratings are a factor in this race, as you said.

BERMAN: So, Julie, I saved the Oprah questions for you, because I know the Oprah special election is really what everyone wants to talk about here. No, the president went to this district, or went near this district, you know, talked about Rick Saccone a tiny little bit. Talked about himself, you know, a ton. And also talked about Oprah Winfrey. You know, he brings up Oprah out of the blue. Listen to what he says about her.

[09:35:10] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, I'd love Oprah to win. I'd love to beat Oprah. I know her weakness. No, no, I know her weakness.

I know her weakness. Wouldn't we love to run against Oprah? I would love it. I would love it. That would be a painful experience for her.


BERMAN: All right, I would ask you, what is he talking about with Oprah's weakness there, but I do not think you know. I honestly don't think he knows what he's talking about there. It sounds like just words that came from his mouth.

But the bigger question is, you know, what's he doing talking about Oprah? Is she in his head at all?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there's no question she's in his head. And it was clear from this event on Saturday night that this rally was really about Donald Trump. He's thinking about himself as a candidate, not so much Rick Saccone, and looking forward, I think in his mind, he would love to have a challenge from the far left and I think he may have used those words. He thinks that Oprah would represent that. And because he is not your typical politician, he is a businessman and a celebrity before he's a politician, I think he thinks of Oprah as kind of a fitting opponent for himself. And I think he kind of relishes that idea. And, interestingly, when you played that clip from Oprah earlier, I mean I think she and a lot of Democrats are anticipating what President Trump would like to try to do in whenever he really starts running for reelection in earnest -- he's probably doing that already -- which is to really make this about Democrats attacking him and that would really, he thinks, play into his hands.

I think there's a big effort by Democrats to try to not make the next election about that. And that's a lot of the reasons why there's a lot of skepticism about Oprah Winfrey on the left.

BERMAN: It's interesting you say that because do you think Democrats can resist, can contain themselves, Ryan, from attack the president? Oprah warned, don't make it just about him. Just don't be negative. Are they capable of that?

LIZZA: Yes, I thought it was very interesting and Oprah-esque advice that was, you know, you -- not the kind of advice you would expect from someone deeply mired in politics, but someone who comes at it from a very different perspective, like Oprah Winfrey. You know, don't -- I think her phrase was don't, you know, let the opponent take your energy.

BERMAN: Right.

LIZZA: Don't focus all of your grievance and hatred about this person. Don't -- don't make -- don't, you know, harm yourself by attacking them.

I don't think that -- most political consultants will tell you --


LIZZA: When an incumbent, who's an unpopular incumbent, is running, it's going to be a referendum on that incumbent and the race is going to be all about that incumbent. So that's -- that would be the conventional wisdom from most political strategist.


LIZZA: So you're going to -- you know, the Democrat is going to attack Trump. He's going to make it about his record and not so much about him or herself. Whereas Trump's strategy will be to sort of, you know, dismiss the candidate, protect his record.

BERMAN: Right.

LIZZA: But, you know, Democrats have had a tough time recently. Maybe they should listen to a little bit from Oprah.

BERMAN: Sabrina, breaking news here, the president, moments ago, weighed in on the gun announcement he made overnight, seeking to explain, I think, where he is on the age limit. He goes, on 18 to 21, age limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support to put it mildly.

I think he's talking a little bit about Florida. Florida just voted to raise the age limit, but it's not happening universally around the country here. And he's deciding not to take a stand because the politics may not be for it. That's interesting.

SIDDIQUI: Yes, and the court case that he's dealing with is the NRA challenging that new bill in Florida because it raises those age restrictions from 18 to 21 for a certain firearms.

BERMAN: Right.

SIDDIQUI: But it goes back to this idea that the president is not willing to put his political capital behind some of these more contentious measures when it comes to gun reforms. And so at the federal level, when you're looking at lawmakers in Washington, where you do have some bipartisan support, for example, for raising the age limit, unless they really get a sense of urgency from the president that this is something that he is willing to sign and that he wants to see reach his desk, there's not going to be a lot of incentive for a lawmakers to really put their own political future on the line for something that they know remains a very divisive issue.

I think ultimately it is telling that there are a lot of measures that he supported, at least in some of these meetings that he convened that are not part of his framework that the White House has laid out. It is a lot like immigration, where he said that he would support a lot of measures that seemed to break with the positions he has espoused in the past.

BERMAN: Right.

SIDDIQUI: But when it comes to actually legislating, when it comes to actually getting a deal, you aren't really seeing that same president that you saw in those meetings with lawmakers who was trying to build a consensus.

BERMAN: Right. Look, he --

SIDDIQUI: And you shouldn't really expect much from him on policy.

BERMAN: No, he could lead. I mean his choice is, if he cared about something on this, he could lead -- choosing not to do that in this case. We will see what happens going forward.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Ryan Lizza, Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you so much.

LIZZA: Thanks, John.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

[09:39:52] BERMAN: He says it is his expression of what may have happened the night his ex-wife Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were killed. Critics say what O.J. Simpson gave was a confession to murder. Hear it, coming up.


BERMAN: All right, we have breaking news in a helicopter crash in New York City that killed everyone on board except the pilot. The pilot now reportedly telling investigators that he thinks he knows what went wrong.

Alison Kosik on the scene at New York's East River.

Alison, what are you learning.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Richard Vance (ph) is the pilot and sole survivor of this helicopter crash and he's telling investigators that he thinks that a passenger's bag may have hit the emergency fuel shutoff button, which could have led to the crash. We will know for sure when NTSB members arrive here at the scene. They're expected to arrive sometime this morning. Fourteen members of the National Transportation Safety Board expected to get here and begin their investigation.

Now, the helicopter itself remains underwater here at the East River. It has not been recovered yet. But the trouble, of course, unfolding last night around 7:00 when that frantic mayday call came in from the pilot. Listen.

[09:45:06] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PILOT: (INAUDIBLE), mayday, mayday, mayday.


PILOT: East River. Engine failure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, say again?

PILOT: East River, engine failure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's still a little broken. Say it one more time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had an engine failure over the East River. Lima Hotel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, you require any assistance?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a mayday call, La Guardia.


KOSIK: Witnesses who captured the crash on video, you can see the helicopter hovering low before hitting the water and then tipping over, taking on water. Inside that helicopter, five passengers, one pilot. The pilot managed to get himself freed. But we're learning from investigators that the five passengers were harnessed so tightly that rescuers were kind of slowed down in getting them out because each passenger had to be cut out. Two passengers died at the scene. Three were taken to the hospital, but then, John, those three passengers died at the hospital.


BERMAN: All right, Alison Kosik down at the East River. Obviously (ph) investigators still piecing this together.

Thanks, Alison.

So calling it the lost confession. Fox aired a never seen 12 year old interview with O.J. Simpson in which he discusses what might have happened the night his ex-wife Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were murdered. That was 24 years ago. Simpson called it a hypothetical account. Others say this sounds like a confession.


O.J. SIMPSON: In the book the hypothetical, there's --


SIMPSON: (INAUDIBLE) Charlie came by and mentioned something about what was going on at her house. This guy Charlie shows up. The guy who I had recently become friends with. And I don't know why he had been by Nicole's house, but had told me, you wouldn't believe what's going on over there. And I remember thinking, well, whatever's going on over there's got to stop.


BERMAN: Now at the time this interview was done, Fox and parent company News Corp. were heavily criticized. They pulled the interview. They canceled the publication of the book. Now the Goldman family tells CNN it welcomes the airing of this interview.

Russia says a former spy poisoned in the U.K. is not its problem. Will the British prime minister disagree? This is now a major international incident.


[09:51:53] BERMAN: All right, new this morning, we just learned that British Prime Minister Theresa May will soon speak to parliament about the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter. This happened in the U.K. So will she publicly condemn Russia? A different U.K. official says it looks to him like this was a state-sponsored murder attempt and he does expect the prime minister, perhaps, may implicate the Kremlin.

CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh live for us in London.

This could be a dramatic moment, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be. And certainly, well, we don't know what Theresa May is supposed to say in the House of Commons, that is the kind of venue where you would expect some sort of substantial revelation. Frankly, she's under pressure, having been predominantly silent over the week in which this has unfolded, to explain to the British public, frankly, what on earth has been going on.

Now, the key question is, what is the nerve agent in question. That has led many people to potentially suspect that a state has to be behind this. But also, too, there's a growing clamor in the United Kingdom about exactly what the public has been told, when.

Now, we know that back on Wednesday the senior counterterrorism police officer said very openly that they had identified the specific nerve agent that was used in this attack, which Sergei and Yulia Skripal, his daughter, were rendered unconscious with. He's a former Russian spy who defected and worked for Britain's MI6 and they lived in that quite town of Salisbury.

Now the concern is that if they knew on Wednesday this was a specific nerve agent, why was it only yesterday that people who visited the pizza restaurant and the pub in which Sergei and Yulia Skripal had lunch and drinks on that Sunday afternoon, why did it take so long for them to be told to wash all their clothes and wipe themselves down with baby wipes? That's one element of the concern here.

But also, too, what exactly really was this, because the notion that they spent so long walking between three different places in the center of Salisbury on that Sunday afternoon, contaminating both the pub and the pizza restaurant and the bench where they fell unconscious, has led some to suspect that either they were carrying the poison with them but didn't know what they were carrying, or they had been contaminated earlier and the poison took hours to potentially act.

The length in which it took to act, that potentially points to what kind of poison it may be. As I said, they said they've known for days what it was. If they point the finger at Russia, which is now the growing clamor here in Westminster for them to do, do they blame the Kremlin directly, or is this something that was state sponsored that has been suggested? Was it the enemies of the Kremlin doing this to make them look bad? Or is it a rogue branch of the Russian government potentially trying to influence their (INAUDIBLE) their relationship with the west yet further?

All these questions on the table here. But the big pressure behind me for them to be out front and make some kind of specific statement exactly as to what has been going on, and quite who they term (ph) responsible, having now for days made it quite clear they believe they have all the information at hand.

Back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Nick Paton Walsh outside 10 Downing Street.

Again, we will hear from the British prime minister, Theresa May, shortly on this for the first time.

Our thanks to Nick for that. A plane that crashed and burst into flames at the airport in Katmandu in Nepal this morning was approaching the runway from the wrong direction. There is according to the airport manager, although there is no official word on what caused the crash. At least 49 people were killed, 22 others are hurt and now in the hospital.

[09:55:13] Just days before the one month anniversary of the Florida school shooting, the White House released its plan to keep schools safe. There is one thing left out of that plan this morning that has many people talking.


BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

[09:59:57] Did the president just admit he is caving to political pressure? Overnight he released the White House plan for dealing with school shootings. This nearly a month after the Parkland massacre. It did not include any mention of raising the minimum age to buy a gun to 21. This is something the president said he supports.