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Democrats Dodge Disaster in California, GOP Avoids Shutout in Governors Race; Scott Pruitt Faces Growing List of Controversies; Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 6, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Some key races still not final but in California's so-called jungle primary it looks as if Democrats will finish in the top two in each of the House races. The party most hopes to win in November. That's important to note that in California, the top two primary finishers face off in the general election regardless of party.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans avoided a big shutout of their own. John Cox winning the right to face Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome in the governor's race.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has been following all of the action in Los Angeles.

Hey, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, well, good morning. The big question is who is number two in California under this jungle primary as they call it. So Gavin Newsome, the Republicans were worried that they were not going to have any candidates at the top of the ticket to cross the state, and that they wouldn't have as many voters come November. But Gavin Newsome, the Democrat, former mayor of San Francisco, will face a Republican for governor. That is very good news for Republicans out here in California.

They may also have a Republican in the Senate race, Dianne Feinstein, she easily went through as the Democrat, but it's unclear whether she will face Kevin De Leon on her left or Jim Bradley on the right, but that -- those votes are still being counted.

Democrats also had, you know, great expectations about picking up seats in California. The national Democrats targeting 10 seats. Seven of those seats are districts that Hillary Clinton won while Republicans now serve. Those were very intense where you had tons of Democrats go into those races so they split up the vote so much that it wasn't clear that Democrats were going to get through in all those races. They might have one two, perhaps as much as three races where it was only Republicans that would advance to November despite this great Democratic interest and support out there.

But it looks like Democrats will get through. In California 10, there are two that are close still. California 10, there's a Democrat and Republican in the number two spots that are still -- they're still counting votes on that and in California 48, Dana Rohrabacher's seat he will advance to the general but there is a three-way fight between two Democrats and a Republican in that one and we'll see where that one goes.

All of this against the backdrop of how long it's going to take to get those votes counted. California, nothing is easy in California. You know, you can mail-in your mail-in ballot on Election Day. It has to get there in three days. A lot of people drop their mail-in ballots off. There were also 118,000 people in L.A. County who were not on the rolls at all so they had to fill out paper ballots.

All of that means it's going to take time to count all those final votes and figure out who's who. Who's number two in California. Back to you, guys.

KEILAR: Who is number two, indeed. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

HARLOW: I think Miguel was up all night covering this for us so thank you. Thank you, Miguel.

Let's bring in CNN Political senior writer Harry Enten and our senior political analyst Mark Preston.

Gentlemen, to you and Mark, let me begin with you, not a blow out for Dems. Certainly a sigh of relief this morning. Not a blue wave either, though, right?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Not a blue wave either, and I think there are two major perhaps 50,000 foot looks at this election last night. One is can the Democratic Party now come together? You know, the great untold story because Donald Trump seems to suck up every bit of oxygen in the room is that the Democratic Party is very much in disarray. You have progressives very much pushing against the middle, the more centrist part of the party and certainly the establishment. So as we're heading into November, can we see the Democratic Party come together.

The second thing is that Donald Trump still has a great influence in these elections down in Alabama, for instance, last night we saw that Martha Roark who is a Republican who was very critical of Donald Trump after the release of the "Hollywood Access" tape, Republican who should easily sail to reelection and shouldn't have a primary challenge, in fact, is now going to go into a runoff against a former Democrat, a Democrat by the name of Bobby Bright, a former congressman, Democratic congressman.

So Donald Trump certainly has a role and an influence in these elections, in the case of Alabama, it was negative for the incumbent.

KEILAR: Yes, and in the California's governor race, Harry, when you're looking at John Cox, the Republican candidate there endorsed by Donald Trump, what's your takeaway there?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: Well, my takeaway is that John Cox was basically an unknown candidate. Antonio Villaraigosa looked like he was going into second place in the late polls. You saw Cox sort of spiked up and a large part of the reason I would argue that he spiked up was because of Donald Trump's endorsement. In fact, the Cox campaign apparently didn't even know it was coming and as soon as it did come, Cox jumped right up into second place and is going to be there in November.

KEILAR: So what is -- what's the takeaway as other Republicans are looking at that?

ENTEN: I think the takeaway there and you connect it to Alabama, too, is that if you're a Republican, you do not want to be on the bad side of Donald Trump. Republican voters really love Donald Trump. He right now has an approval rating in the high 80s.

[09:05:01] So even if he's not too popular in the middle, these Republican candidates need to be careful. Yes, they want to reach out to independents and not be too close to Trump, but at the same time they don't want to get too far away from him because then you lose your base.

HARLOW: Mark, if Democrats flip the seven California districts won by Hillary Clinton but currently in Republican hands, they're going to be almost a third of the way to that magic number for them which is 23 seats if they want to retake the House. Doable?

PRESTON: Oh, no question. And I'm probably more bullish on this than I think most analysts are. And I know that the generic polling is shifting back towards the Republican side.

HARLOW: Right.

PRESTON: But it's absolutely doable because what we're seeing in what Harry was just pointing out in California with the enthusiasm of the Trump voters, we're seeing that on the Democratic side which ties back to the fact, can the Democratic Party, can the more establishment types and the progressives types, can they come together, can they meet at the table to try to win in November? Perhaps they may not need to based on historical analysis that Democrats are likely to take back the House, but certainly I know party leaders are hoping they could come together.

KEILAR: You as bullish, Harry?

ENTEN: I don't know if I'm quite as bullish but I would certainly agree with Mark that Democrats are favored in the House in November. I mean just historically speaking, you see usually waves or mini waves in midterm elections and with the president still having an approval rating, even if it's up it's still in the low 40s that translates historically into a big gain for the outparty.

HARLOW: I'm getting that's an important point. I mean, yes, he has low 40s approval and four looks better than a three as John Berman said this morning for any president in the front of that number in polling, but, you know, it's still -- it's high I guess on the Trump curve if you will, Harry. ENTEN: Yes, it's high on the Trump curve but historically speaking

the presidents who I most associate with this approval rating at this point of the presidency are presidents like Jimmy Carter, presidents, you know, Ronald Reagan going up into the midterm elections, even Barack Obama in his second term and most of those president saw their parties do quite poorly in the midterm election. So for me, looking at a low 40s, that may be good for Trump but it's really not good for the Republican Party.

KEILAR: Mark, if you're one of these Democrats in the Senate trying to hold on to your seat going into the midterm elections and you're looking at what you saw last night desperately trying to read some tea leaves here, you know, what are you thinking?

PRESTON: Well, a couple things. So let's just look at a couple of them such as Jon Tester or Joe Manchin, you walk a very fine line. So for Joe Manchin, for instance, in West Virginia, you know, it's a Republican state. I mean, I don't think the voter rolls necessarily show that in the voter registration but it is a Republican state and a reliably Republican state.

Joe Manchin, a very successful governor, is basically running on his service to the state while not trying to upset the Trump voters. When you go out and you see what's happening with Jon Tester, he's walking a very fine line but he's being a little bit more careful not to alienate his progressive voters. So each race is entirely differently. And I know that's cliche to say. But each race is entirely different in how they reach out to the middle and not to alienate certainly those Trump voters or excite them to vote against them.

HARLOW: Harry, the story of women, we talked about this going in to the primary and it played out last night.

ENTER: It absolutely played out. Look at the governor's races. Alabama, South Dakota, New Mexico, Iowa, women candidates for the major parties that are favored in the poll won in all four of those states. Look at the congressional races. Deb Haaland in New Mexico, its first district on the Democratic side. She looks like she's going to be the first Native American woman ever elected to the Congress. And I'll point out one more in Iowa's third district, Cindy Axne was down in the polls by a point. She ends up winning by 30 percentage points.

That to me is an illustration --

HARLOW: Yes.

ENTEN: -- that women candidates are doing very, very well especially on the Democratic side this year.

HARLOW: All right. Thank you, both. Harry Enten, Mark Preston, we appreciate it.

KEILAR: A leading Republican is now saying that Scott Pruitt is, quote, "as swampy as you get." The controversies mounting against the EPA chief and the latest involves Chick-fil-A? No, we are not kidding.

HARLOW: It's true. Plus the White House contractor wanted for attempted murder gets arrested by the Secret Service just steps away from the White House. We have the latest on that. And then there's this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Here's what I want to say, it wasn't my finest hour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: President Bill Clinton talks about that tense interview and his tone deaf comments on Monica Lewinsky.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:13:49] KEILAR: This morning the controversies keep coming for EPA chief Scott Pruitt. E-mails show that Pruitt had one of his aides reach out to Chick-fil-A. Yes, I'm serious. About a possible business opportunity for his wife. It's just the latest in a list of his actions including first class travels, costly security expenses, connections to lobbyists that are raising more than just a few eyebrows.

CNN's Kaitlan Collis is live for us at the White House. And now listen to this, tell us about this. Senator Joni Ernst, this is a Republican, who says that this is as swampy as it gets -- Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brianna. The problems are growing for Scott Pruitt. Another ethics scandal on his plate. This time in the form of fried chicken.

Scott Pruitt reportedly tried to enlist an aide at the EPA to help him with a personal task, the task of securing a potential business opportunity for his wife who he wanted to become Chick-fil-A franchisee owner. The aide reached out to Chick-fil-A, to the CEO of Chick-fil-A to set up a call between Pruitt and then she said that it was a personal request on behalf of Mr. Pruitt. This is becoming just something else added to the list.

The opportunity never actually materialized, but it's one more thing that we're seeing Scott Pruitt do here, as he's under 12 federal investigations right now for a list of ethics problems including his travel expenses, flying first class on taxpayer dollar. His living situation, his coziness with lobbyists, his blatant disregard for the taxpayer dollar and we're just seeing these problems continue to add up to where it has become a running joke that he has another ethics scandal added to his list.

The White House has been asked about this time and time again. Specifically, the Chick-fil-A thing. Sarah Sanders said she hadn't discussed it with Trump, but there were certainly concerns. But it's even lawmakers that are now piling on to the president to do

something about Scott Pruitt here.

Joni Ernst, a Republican, issued a blistering statement about Scott Pruitt and what he had to say, going after him for all of these issues and saying that he's about as swampy as you can get.

And it really just goes to show that this is one of the president's most powerful cabinet members. You see there the quote, Joni Ernst saying, "If the president wants to drain the swamp, he needs to take a look at his own cabinet."

That is a promise the president made when he came to Washington and there does seem to be a deal of irony now that one of his main cabinet members has this list of ethic problems.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes. And we're also learning, Kaitlan, about the White House aide, Kelly Sadler, who joked about Sen. John McCain's health. She's no longer working at the White House, but is it possible that she could still be working in the Trump administration?

COLLINS: It is, Brianna. And the administration has made that quite clear. Kellyanne Conway just confirmed what CNN reported yesterday that, for the last two weeks or so, the White House has been strategizing a way for Kelly Sadler to leave the executive office.

That would be right here at the White House and the executive office building next door where other staffers work where Sadler worked, but she could still stay on in the administration, maybe in another agency or a department.

And Kellyanne made that quite clear in her interview just there with John Berman. Listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: To be clear, you're not closing the door. You're not closing the door to an administration job because of what she said about John McCain. Clear and simple, correct?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Kelly Sadler has been told that there are administration jobs that fit with her skill set and her experience and that the rest is really her choice on what she would like to do next.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: So, what we are seeing here, Brianna, is the White House not pushing Kelly Sadler out because she made that crass remark about Sen. John McCain's opinion not mattering because he was dying anyway, but the main problem was that she outed one of the communications director telling President Trump that Mercedes Schlapp was leaking information about the administration. That is what led us to this point here. And what we are witnessing is the White House letting Kelly Sadler leave the administration quietly without ever having condemned the remarks she made about John McCain.

KEILAR: And she promised Megan McCain that she would do so publicly, we should point out as well.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. Really appreciate the report.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. So, joining us now is Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia. He sits on the Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committee. Nice to have you here, sir. Let's begin with -

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Good morning.

HARLOW: Good morning. The reporting we've just heard on the latest scandal surrounding Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator. You've been incredibly outspoken on this. You sit on House Oversight and your committee will hear from two key members of Pruitt's team later this month as they come forth from testimony, both his chief-of-staff and his former policy adviser.

We're hearing Republicans now more vocal on this, like Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, who said this is as swampy as it gets and she went as far as to say it's time for the president to let him go and time for the president to get rid of Scott Pruitt.

Do you see the tide turning here among Republicans fed up, saying it's enough?

CONNOLLY: I sure hope so. I do think there is pressure building on the Republican side because Pruitt, who may have been seen as an asset because of his policy views, now clearly is going to be an albatross going into the midterm elections for Republicans all across the country.

And it doesn't help President Trump.

HARLOW: Do you think that - you think Pruitt is going to hurt Republicans running in the midterms?

CONNOLLY: I do because I think he becomes the image of the swamp creature. It's exactly the opposite of what Trump promised in the campaign.

This guy is an original. He puts to shame many of the swamp creatures that were here when Trump got elected.

HARLOW: He's executing the president's agenda and, obviously, you know that there have been those who've said, look, it's going to be too hard for us to get someone else confirmed through Congress if you do choose to replace him.

Let me move on to the primaries -

CONNOLLY: Can I just say about that, though? That doesn't excuse his ethical behavior.

HARLOW: I'm putting it out there as one of the facts and why the president may be keeping him, right?

CONNOLLY: Right. Right.

HARLOW: So, the primaries, overnight, California in particular, yes, Democrats can breathe a sigh of relief this morning and Republicans certainly can in the governor's race there.

But this was not a blue wave. Do you think that your party is still trying to really get its footing heading into the midterms?

[09:20:04] CONNOLLY: No, I think actually it was a pretty good night last night. We did what we had to do in New Jersey and Iowa and California to set ourselves up for some serious electoral -

HARLOW: But is that enough to retake the House just doing what we had to do, right?

CONNOLLY: I believe it sets the stage for being more than enough. I believe a wave is building. I think we see that all across the country.

We won a special election last night that didn't get a lot of attention in a red district near Kansas City. And that just caps a series of wins in unlikely places where Democrats are prevailing.

So, I think it was a good night for us last night. Is there an absolute guarantee we're going to win in November? Of course not.

HARLOW: There is no guarantee as we learned. There is no guarantee as we've learned. Look, you have been very critical of this president. You tweeted recently in your words that he's "spiraling out of control" in regards to the Russia investigation and his attacks on it.

But as you know, it's Congress that has the check on that, right? And that's the power of impeachment. However, you warn against that and say impeachment should be a last resort remedy.

Do you think that your fellow Democrats should be wary heading into the midterms of running too much on impeachment?

CONNOLLY: Absolutely. I believe that voting for a Democrat should not be seen as tantamount to a vote for impeachment. In fact, if it is, then I think we're going to lose elections we otherwise might win.

Even Trump voters agree, in many cases, that this president needs adult supervision and that means Democrats. And they're willing to vote for Democrats, or at least entertain voting for Democrats so long as we separate ourselves from the "I" word.

HARLOW: In terms of jobs, overnight, we learned that US Steel will reopen one of their plants in Granite City, Illinois. They're going to hire 300 more workers and they specifically cite the president's tariffs, Section 232, for these jobs.

Does the president get credit?

CONNOLLY: Well, he may get credit in that one instance, but the retaliatory measures taken by allies and trading partners are so massive that they're going to put out of work a lot of Americans and they're going to hurt huge sections of the economy like agriculture.

So, there are winners, like that one plant, but there are also going to be an awful lot of losers especially throughout the Midwest.

HARLOW: We do know that about 80 times as many jobs in this country are because of imported steel and supplies that use steel than jobs creating steel in this country, which is to your point.

On trade, Republican Senator Bob Corker is going to propose a bill today that would tie the president's hands somewhat on trade, that it would have to go through - tariffs like this would have to go through congressional authority now.

Now, McConnell says I'm not going to bring a freestanding bill like that to the floor, but it can be tied to this defense measure. Do you support that legislation?

CONNOLLY: I have to take a look at the details, but I am in general supportive of that kind of legislation. I don't think any president ought to be able to unilaterally to disrupt the trading patterns all across the globe because of his personal/private views.

And so, I think there should be a legal process that involves both branches of government.

HARLOW: Yesterday, finally, on immigration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions went on Hugh Hewitt's radio show and he was asked about the administration's policy that separates children from their parents coming across the border illegally.

If their parents are to be put in the justice system, prosecuted, that separates the children, most of the time. Here's his defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: The law requires us to keep children in a different facility than we do for adults.

And every time somebody, Hugh, gets prosecuted in America for a crime, American citizens, and they go to jail, they're separated from their children. We don't want to do this at all.

If people don't want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: You say this practice is cruel. You're proposing legislation to prevent it. Do you have any Republican support on that?

CONNOLLY: Not yet. It's very hard to get Republican support on anything with respect to immigration. As you know, we've got -

HARLOW: Well, that's not true. Look at the discharge position, right, I mean. On DACA, they're trying to force a vote.

CONNOLLY: Well, before you said that, I was just going to say with the exception of 21 brave Republicans who signed the discharge petition. So, trying to get other aspects of immigration addressed legislatively with Republican support and help is difficult.

But I do think this is an inhumane policy. No American can be proud of this. You're breaking up families, you're scaring children, you're doing terrible pain to parents and grandparents.

There's a better way of doing this. And certainly, separating kids and incarcerating them separately, I don't think is at all reflective of American values.

HARLOW: Congressman Jerry CONNOLLY, I appreciate you being here today. Thank you very much.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure.

[09:25:00] HARLOW: All right. Still ahead for us, fashion designer Kate Spade's autopsy report could be released today as the fashion world and fans pay tribute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Fashion designer Kate Spade's autopsy report could be released today. This, after police said that she hung herself in an apparent suicide inside of her Manhattan apartment.

A suicide note was found there in her apartment. And according to authorities, she addressed her daughter and her husband in that note.

CNN correspondent Brynn Gingras is in New York. She has more details. What can you tell us, Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. So, we may get that autopsy report later today and that will give us the manner and cause of death.

It's very likely that investigators will also send out for toxicology reports, which will take much longer to get.