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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

California Governor Newsom Easily Survives Recall Election in Blowout; Top General Secretary Called China Over Fears of Trump. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 05:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, September 15th. I'm John Berman alongside Brianna Keilar.

This is a very special edition of NEW DAY beginning an hour early. Why? Overnight, a landslide victory for California Governor Newsom who easily defeated a Republican-led recall that could have removed him from office. Newsom's coronavirus policies validated by Democratic voters who said no to the recall by a nearly 2:1 margin. The California governor thanked his supporters and warned about the dangers of Republican efforts he says to undermine democracy.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic.

We may have defeated Trump, but Trumpism is not dead in this country. The big lie, January 6th insurrection, all the voting suppression efforts happening across this country, what is happening, assault on fundamental rights, constitutionally protected rights of women and girls+, this is a remarkable moment in our nation's history.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Republican front runner Larry Elder who pledged to repeal Newsom's coronavirus restrictions acknowledged his loss despite vowing to fight in the days before the vote.




Come on, let's be gracious. Let's be gracious in defeat. And by the way, we may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.


KEILAR: Now, Elder is not going quietly into the night. He is hinting at a run for governor in 2022.

BERMAN: So what are the big takeaways in this race as both parties look to the midterms?

Harry Enten at the wall to look at the exit polls.

Harry, great to see you if remotely this morning.

Look, in a recall election, in order to toss a governor out of office, that governor's got to be wildly unpopular. So, how did voters feel about Gavin Newsom?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Well, unfortunately, I'm away from you, John.

But here's the fact. Feelings towards Governor Gavin Newsom in a recall vote, approve -- voters approve of Newsom's job performance, look at that, 55 percent did. Of those who approved, what percentage voted no in the recall? Ninety-seven percent.

It is awfully difficult for a recall to succeed when the governor is actually well liked and this is something we've seen throughout the entire campaign and which was part of the reason I thought the recall effort would fail and the exit poll definitely shows that voters like Gavin Newsom and those voters overwhelmingly voted no on the recall.

BERMAN: Failed by a lot.

Let's just bring people up to speed here. This recall failed bigly. So the governor would have needed to be unpopular and his main challenger would have needed to be popular, right?

So, Larry Elder, how do voters feel about elder?

ENTEN: If they liked Governor Newsom, they did not like Larry Elder. In our exit poll, favorable rating for elder, just 34 percent. And I think it is important to make a historical comparison because everyone was saying that maybe we'll get a repeat of the 2003 recall where Arnold Schwarzenegger then became the governor. But look at this, Arnold Schwarzenegger's favorable rating in the 2003 recall was 51 percent. Elder very, very unpopular, much different than where we were 18 years ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger was actually above water on his favorable rating.

BERMAN: Yeah, night and day. So, this recall picked up steam really with COVID issues and surrounding Governor Newsom's policies on COVID.

What did voters say about that?

ENTEN: You know, here's what they said. Feelings towards, feelings on the governor's coronavirus policies and the recall vote, Newsom's policies are about right or not actually strict enough, 63 percent of voters felt that way. 63. And of those who felt that way, how did they vote on the recall? 85 percent of them voted no.

Larry Elder tried to make such an issue arguing that the governor's policies were too strict, voters didn't feel that way and because they didn't feel that way, they overwhelmingly voted no on the recall.

BERMAN: They liked what his policies are doing on COVID there as opposed to what Larry Elder ran on.


Even on issues that you might think would have been good for elder and people trying to toss Newsom. What did that show here?

ENTEN: You know, Larry Elder made such a big deal of the homelessness problem in California. Of those who said that homelessness was the most important issue facing California, look at this, 56 percent voted no. So even on the issue that was supposedly going to be Larry Elder's strength, it turned into a weakness. And this just plays into everything that we saw in the results.

It was a blowout, it was not close. So even on the issue that was supposed to be so good for Elder, it turned in frankly into a disaster for him.

BERMAN: So what does this speak to nationally, Harry, what are the types of things that we can look at here for perhaps signs of how the Democratic Party and President Biden is doing now?

ENTEN: Yeah, you know, look, California is a very blue state. And we see that in the exit poll on the vote, if you look at the people who voted in the recall, look at that, they said that Joe Biden's margin over Trump in 2020 was 22 points. So, a very blue state.

Here is what is interesting to me. Joe Biden's net job approval rating, just plus 15. So there was a little leakage in the popularity of Joe Biden. Now, you can say look, Gavin Newsom is leaping back, voters overwhelmingly degreed with his coronavirus policies. That is a good thing for Democrats.

But the fact that Joe Biden's threat job approval rating was worse than his margin over Trump might be a bit of a warning sign and may back up those national polls that have been suggesting that Joe Biden's approval rating has been dropping over the last month or two.

BERMAN: Very interesting. Harry, that is a fascinating look. Thank you so much for joining us. I only wish I could be there with you.

ENTEN: Soon enough, my friend. Soon enough.

BERMAN: Soon enough.

KEILAR: My favorite bromance.

All right. Let's bring in "Los Angeles Times" staff writer Melanie Mason and politics reporter at "CalMatters", Laurel Rosenhall, to dissect what has happened in California.

Laurel, what is the message being received in California after the result of this recall election, failure really? LAUREL ROSENHALL, POLITICS REPORTER, CALMATTERS: It is a Democratic

state and the governor ran a strategy and campaign that basically boxed out any other promise then the Democrats from being on the ballot. He exceeded making this a choice between himself then the Democrats from being on the ballot. He succeed making this a choice between himself and an extremely conservative Republican who is just not going to be popular with the majority of California voters. So it was a successful strategy in that regard.

BERMAN: I will say this, in California, a Democratic state, you would think a Democratic governor should win a recall. That's a given. However, strange things happen in special elections in off years, see Doug Jones and Roy Moore in Alabama, strange stuff can happen.

So if you are a Democrat this morning, Melanie, looking at this nationally, trying to say, hey, are there things that the Democrats did in California that we can replicate in the midterms, what would they be?

MELANIE MASON, STAFF WRITER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: I think there is two things that the Newsom strategy could translate into sort of national races as we look into 2022. The first is what laurel alluded to, taking it from a referendum to a choice. He hammered on who his opponent was and if that opponent was in step with the attitudes of the voters.

So I think if we look at say the Virginia governor's race which is later this year, we're seeing the same tactic by Democrat Terry McAuliffe or perhaps in some of the big Senate races in the midterms, we could perhaps see Democrats try to pursue that tact.

And I think the second thing is the emphasis on COVID and embracing vaccine mandates. That was essentially the closing message for Newsom and we can see that that is what President Biden is really leaning into with his policies and I think this recall gives Democrats permission to embrace these policies because it appears that it is not actually just a Democratic base issue, this actually appeals to independents and even a couple Republicans as well.

KEILAR: You know, Melanie, Larry Elder was setting up this big lie 2.0, right, that he was going to potentially contest the election results. In the end he didn't do that. What is your reaction to seeing that happen and also, you know, why do you think that didn't happen?

MASON: I think sometimes the math just is so overwhelming. I mean, it was so hard to look at those results and see this as a nail biter in any way. And you didn't have what we had for example in 2020 where depending on how states were counting their votes, there was a flip in key states like Wisconsin or Arizona. This was Gavin Newsom out of the gate looked like he had a lead and maintained it all the way through.


So I think that other than the most hardcore Larry Elder fans, I think that he would have a find very hard time finding a sympathetic ear. But that said, I think it's really telling that he and Donald Trump went there before the election was even held. And I think that has become part and parcel of at least some in the Republican Party in terms of challenging results of allegations that you don't necessarily like. I think that Elder deserves credit for talking about sort of conceding gracefully.

But I think the fact that this was even the conversation in the first place before votes were fully cast I think does not necessarily bode well for the conversation going forward.

KEILAR: Melanie Mason and Laurel Rosenhall, thank you so much to both of you for the conversation this morning.

ROSENHALL: Thanks for having me.

MASON: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Breaking overnight, South Korea tested an underwater submarine launched ballistic missile in response to North Korea firing two unidentified ballistic missiles into the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan. These are the first ballistic missile tests by Pyongyang since President Biden took office and it comes just days after they tested long range cruise missiles. Japanese defense officials say the North Korean missiles landed outside of Japan's exclusive marine zone.

Coming up, behind the scenes details about former President Trump's final days of office, the extraordinary secret effort to prevent him from launching a military strike.

KEILAR: Plus, what Trump allegedly told former Vice President Pence the day before the capitol insurrection and a new warning about the resurgence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan.



BERMAN: Developing this morning, stunning new revelations about secret actions taken by Joint Chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley, in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection to prevent then President Trump from ordering a dangerous military strike or using nuclear weapons.

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa from "The Washington Post" write in a new book that General Milley, quote, was certain that President Trump had gone into a serious mental decline, now all but manic screaming at officials at constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.

They allege that General Milley, was so worried that Trump might go rogue that he called a meeting in his Pentagon office and instructed senior military officials not to take orders -- well, what he said is you need to follow strict protocols. You need to follow the rules in place and don't forget that I'm part of these rules in place. In other words, make sure that you check with me first.

He also allegedly made two secret calls to his Chinese counter part to reassure him that there would be no military strike. That sparked some backlash from some Republicans, military officials, and the former president himself.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: If it is actually true, which is hard to believe, that he would have called China and done these things and was willing to advise him of an attack or in advance of an attack, that's treason. For him to say that I was going to attack China is the most ridiculous thing I've heard.


BERMAN: Joining us now, CNN military analyst, Cedric Leighton. He's a retired colonel in the Air Force and a member -- former member of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.

Colonel, when you look at this big picture, what is your takeaway?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: John, it is really unusual. It is an extraordinary situation. Yes, chairman of the joint chiefs is always going to be talking to foreign counterparts, but to talk strategy, to talk in a very reassuring tone toward his Chinese counterpart, General Li, is highly unusual and that really speaks volumes to how dangerous if this is all true how dangerous General Milley thought the situation was. He wanted to in essence avoid a war with China at almost all costs.

KEILAR: So are you more concerned about what Milley is alleged to have done or are you more concerned about what prompted the extraordinary actions that the book alleges Milley took? You had multiple administration officials worried about wars with various countries. Is that more concerning or is Milley more concerning?

LEIGHTON: I think that it is more concerning that what the president was alleged to have done. I think it is much more concerning that General Milley was operating in an atmosphere of uncertainty, political uncertainty, that he couldn't really trust the actions of the president. That is I think a very serious issue and what General Milley was really quite extraordinary and basically in a good way because what he was doing was defending the institutions of democracy. And that is I think the key point here.

BERMAN: Well, this is the gripe that you have from Senator Marco Rubio and others, is that General Milley called her counterpart in China -- China was nervous. It is understandable why any country in the world might be nervous about what is going on in the U.S. Hey, it doesn't look stable there, you are making us jittery.

So, General Milley calls this Chinese general in and of itself not necessarily problematic, but the book says this was the conversation, General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay. Okay so far, right? Milley told him we're not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.


General Li, you and I have known each other for five years. If we're going to attack, I'm going to call you ahead of time. It is not going to be a surprise.

LEIGHTON: That is unusual because at this point, General Milley is in essence talking about intentions, potentially revealing strategy, potentially doing some things that are not normal for a chairman of the joint chiefs to reveal to his opposite number this an adversarial country like China.

But what General Milley was trying to do is reduce tensions, he was trying to continue the rapport that he had with his Chinese counterpart and to make sure as things moved forward and as things potentially became even more unstable here in Washington, to make sure that the Chinese understood that this is a U.S. matter that we're handling and that any types of actions that the military would undertake would only be undertaken under the strictest forms of control, in other words, the nuclear codes would be handled in the appropriate manner and things of that nature.

KEILAR: Is he saying I'm going to tip you off, right, or is he saying potentially look, if we were headed to war, you'd have more data points between now and then, we would have conversations over time, there would be frictions, there would be things that would tip I go off that things are headed in the wrong direction? Do we -- can we get a sense of what it was?

LEIGHTON: I think that it was the latter. I think it was the -- we call it indications and warning. That is the kind of thing that he is in essence telling his Chinese counterpart. General Milley is saying, you'd be seeing all of these things. As you fly against one of the coasts of the United States, usually the West Coast or you use your vessels to look at Alaska or whatever you are looking at, you would see activity, you would see the U.S. getting ready to do something. You are not seeing that. So make sure that you stand down and that you don't panic your own political leadership in Beijing until you make sure that your political leadership understands that we have absolutely no intention of going after you.

BERMAN: Let me read another little part here. And this had to do with the meeting that General Milley had with other military leaders. And this is why I was so careful as we brought you in here to describe what he told them.

He was telling them basically follow the procedures. He said if you get calls, no matter who they are from, there is a process here, there is a procedure. No matter what you are told, you do the procedure, you do the process, and I'm part of the procedure.

This was telling them, you know, if Trump tries to launch an attack somewhere, you need to tell me basically. But there is a procedure here. There's two aspects to this, number one, how usual is that type of conversation. And number two, again, speak to the larger context. You have one of the top military officials so worried about the commander in chief, he is having to have these meetings.

LEIGHTON: Right. And, John, the context of course was the phone call that General Milley had with Speaker Pelosi where he was reassuring her in that conversation that we've got the nuclear codes under control. He is not going to be launching, he the president, is not going to be launching an attack without all the procedures being put in place. He is not going to be able to go rogue.

So what General Milley thought I think after having that conversation was okay, what we need to do is we need to make sure that what I told Speaker Pelosi is actually the truth. I'm going to reassure myself and I'm going to look everybody in the eye around the table and say, okay, remember what the procedures are and remember I am a part of these procedures. And being part of those procedures is absolutely in the playbook that the NMCC, the National Military Command and Control Center, what they have, that is the node point where everything comes together and where orders of that type would actually be issued from for the forces like in strategic command.

So I think what General Milley was looking at, he knew that President Trump had a tendency to call people directly and he wanted to make sure that if some colonel or general got the phone call at the NMCC, at the Pentagon saying, I want you to launch some missiles from President Trump, that that person would say, thank you very much, Mr. President, let me take care of everything and bring General Milley in.

KEILAR: CC him on the emails.


KEILAR: One the nuclear --

BERMAN: That is what I always tell you, let me know.

KEILAR: Loop me in.


BERMAN: Colonel Leighton, great to see you. Thanks for helping us understand this.

LEIGHTON: You bet, John. Absolutely.

BERMAN: Coming up, more revelations from this bombshell book from Woodward and Costa, including details about private conversations between President Trump and the vice president the day before the insurrection.

KEILAR: Plus --

BERMAN: I won't be your friend anymore.

KEILAR: I won't be your friend anymore.


Don't say that to me, John Berman.

Plus, new details about the anger Trump still feels toward Minority Kevin McCarthy and who McCarthy told Trump to call the night before the inauguration.


KEILAR: The brand new book out from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa also contains new revelations about the ongoing tense between former President Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy after McCarthy initially blamed Trump for the insurrection.

Trump is quoted to have said: This guy called me every single day, pretended to be my best friend, then he F me, he is not a good guy.

Even though McCarthy has walked back his initial comments, he's been --