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New Day

California Governor Survives Recall Election in Blowout; Both North & South Korea Test Missiles; Top General Secretly Called China Over Fears of Trump. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: NEW DAY continues right now.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, September 15. I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman here in Washington on this special edition of NEW DAY.

Governor Gavin Newsom will keep his job. Breaking overnight, a blowout victory for the Democratic governor of California, who crushed a Republican-led recall that could have ousted him from office.

Newsom's restrictive coronavirus policies actually validated by Democratic voters in this race. They said no to the recall by a nearly two to one margin.

The governor thanking his supporters and sounding a warning about Republican schemes to undermine democracy.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): I think about just in the last, you know, few days, and the former president put out, saying this election was rigged. Democracy is not a football. You don't throw it around. It's more like a, I don't know, antique vase. You can drop it and smash it in a million different pieces. And that's what we're capable of doing if we don't stand up to meet the moment and push back.


BERMAN: The Republican front-runner, Larry Elder, took a page from the Trump playbook in the last few days. He had suggested the outcome of the recall would be affected by shenanigans.

Last night, probably too late to matter, but last night he did let go of the big lie, and he conceded.


LARRY ELDER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: My opponent, Governor Gavin Newsom Newsom. Come on. Let's -- let's -- 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. Elder is already hinting at a run for governor in 2022.

I want to bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly at the Magic Wall, bringing the magic, Phil, about what happened in this race. I think the results and what we're seeing, pretty revealing.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. Look, let's start with this baseline. Going into this recall election, if Republicans were those supported the yes, the recall vote, wanted to win, they needed to walk a very, very fine line. And here's why.

Take a look, just to start before we dig into the data. Republican voters, in terms of registration, once at 36 percent, now just 24 percent in the state. Democrats have a two-to-one registration advantage in the state.

If you want to see how the state has been going just over the course of the last couple cycles, Gavin Newsom back in 2018, very, very sizable victory. President Biden, back in 2020, nearly 30-point victory. So there's a big hill to climb.

However, they thought it was possible. If you looked at the polling in the last couple weeks, perhaps there was a pathway there, independents breaking, Democratic apathy. There was no pathway there at all.

If you look at where things stand right now, John, 70 percent in; 2.5 million vote lead for those who supported Gavin Newsom Newsom, the no vote. And that means that this was pretty much a washout for those who supported the yes vote.

If you want to know why, just take a look back at 2018. The margin was actually -- 2020, the margin right now is actually better than what Gavin Newsom had in 2018. The vote total right now is actually inching up, could be around the 7.7 million votes that Gavin Newsome had back in '18. Just think about that in a recall race, in an off year, that many people would turn out.

And that was one of the biggest issues that Democrats were concerned about. Would there be apathy? Would their voters come out, or would they just sit this out because of the timing, because they were frustrated, because any number of different reasons?

Well, they very clearly didn't. And if you want to see how this showed up, obviously, look at all the blue. Those are pretty normal blue strongholds, the big population centers in L.A., San Francisco, down to San Diego, all stuck around where they're supposed to be.

When we start to dig into the data a little bit, John, I think one of the most interesting elements of all of it, he needed to underperform across the board.

Let's look at states compared to his 2018 results, where he underperformed by 5 percent or more. One. One state, a -- one county. A Republican county, and if you thought this was going to be the be- all, end-all race, in total with 89 percent reporting, it's about 7,500 votes.

I think you saw that throughout the state, county by county. There was no apathy from the Democratic side. Republicans did not surge the way they would have needed to surge. Very clearly, independents did not break, as well.

And I think what we're looking at right now -- keep in mind, only 79 percent reporting. So you can expect this number to shrink a little bit. Most of the early vote, most of the early counted vote, mail-in voting, leaning heavily Democratic. But this wasn't close at all.

And for the Newsome campaign and for Democrats, really, some of whom were pretty scared about two or three weeks ago, John. You know that quite well. This was probably better than they could have expected. And without any question at all, when you dig into the numbers, particularly the turnout that they had in a recall year, in an off- year election, something they can be very, very happy about as they continue to dig through the data as we get more of it over the next of the next couple days.

BERMAN: Phil Mattingly, we will check back in with you throughout the show. Thank you so much for being here for us.

Want to bring in CNN national political reporter, Maeve Reston and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon.


Yes, California is a blue state, very blue. But also, yes, funky things can happen in off-year special elections. As I said before, look at Alabama. Look at Doug Jones winning in Alabama to fill Jeff Sessions' Senate seat before. Strange things can happen.

And if the issue was Democratic turnout, Maeve, in California where you are, Democrats turned out.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They sure did. And, you know, it -- earlier I was talking to Newsom advisers about this over the last couple of days. We were talking so much about Democrat apathy, but in the end, it was really just that earlier on, a lot of Democrats were not even aware that this election was going on.

You know, the Newsome campaign really only had like ten weeks or so when they actually had a date and could begin calling and reaching out to voters and saying, This is how you vote. This is when you're going to get your ballot. This is what you need to do.

And once that began to happen, at the same time that Larry Elder was rising in the polls, Newsom had this perfect foil, where he finally had a target in this election. And he could say, you know, My approach to the coronavirus and keeping you safe is going to be totally different than this other guy.

And what we're really seeing here in the last couple of weeks, just talking to voters, you know, out and about and at rallies, is kind of a rebellion of the vaccinated, I think. You know, they -- a lot of them were very upset about what Larry Elder had said about mask mandates, vaccine mandates.

But also his claim that, you know, that the science is not there about young people needing to get vaccinated, which we all know is absolutely false.

And so a lot of people did see a real threat to their health, and that ended up leading them to turn in their ballots, John.

KEILAR: Yes. I mean, they're, John, afraid right now. Right? A lot of voters are afraid as they -- especially Democrats, as they're looking around the country at the status of coronavirus, and even as you're seeing some good indicators, there's this kind of surge that we're the middle of that, quite frankly, we weren't necessarily expecting or certainly we were not hoping for. And so I wonder what the lesson is here about COVID being on the ballot and what we can extrapolate from that.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think Newsom was very effective at saying this is about actually someone who can manage COVID in a responsible, rather than ideological way.

Maeve has that great line, the rebellion of the vaccinated. By saying, look, you're putting someone in place who's going to remove all these mandates at a time when we're still struggling. That's going to make it worse. You're bringing Donald Trump into California.

But I think there are a couple of other key lessons here. I mean, one is very specific to California. It is ridiculously easy to get a recall on the ballot in California. Republicans saw a way to do an end run around the general election, where they have this massive deficit, less than a quarter of registered voters.

And then Newsom made some very expensive mistakes in the context of COVID. A very expensive trip to the French Laundry, as it turns out, which is a restaurant he went to in violation of his own mask mandates. And folks are frustrated about things like homelessness.

None of this mattered, tough, against the backdrop of mail-in voting, which dramatically increased representative turnout in what otherwise could have been a much lower turnout race, which Republicans were hoping for, and these crucial distinctions between policies on COVID.

All that added up to a massive blowout victory for Gavin Newsom and Democrats breathing a big sigh of relief tonight.

BERMAN: Maeve, I think the question now is what does this mean going forward for Democrats? National Democrats are going to look at this and say, OK, what can we replicate about California? You're not going to replicate 2 to 1 Democratic voter registration advantages everywhere, but there are certain lessons you can take from this, maybe if you're Terry McAuliffe, running to be governor of Virginia, an election that's two months away. So what are those lessons? RESTON: Well, I think, you know, as you point out, every state is

different. But what Republicans really -- where they really erred here is that they were on the wrong side of these issues from where the public was.

I mean, if you looked at poll after poll, there was broad support for mask and vaccine mandates across the state, including in a CBS poll, 4 in 10 Republicans supported, you know, employers being able to put private -- put vaccine mandates into place.

And so I think, you know, when you have the Republicans coming out in every debate and arguing a totally different position than where the majority of Californians are, that just didn't end up working out for them.

And so I think that Democratic [SIC] candidates in states going forward will be -- you know, take a cautionary tale and look more closely at where the public is on these issues and not just try to hew so closely to where that small slice of the Trump minority is. And I think that's what they're going to have to do, state to state.

KEILAR: Avlon, what do you think this says about the Trump factor in races going forward? And also the big lie going forward? Because you saw Larry Elder kind of dangling that as a possibility, that he may question the outcome of the election. I mean, it was so resounding it would have been ridiculous for him to even do that.



KEILAR: But this is a possibility. This is a page from a playbook that other candidates can use.

AVLON: It is. And we see Republican candidates in crowded primaries trying to hug Trump.

But here's the real deal when it comes to general elections, outside some deep red states. The Democrats did find a strategy that works. Five words: Tie your opponent to Trump.

Donald Trump is deeply unpopular in the population at large. He is very popular in the Republican primary. That creates a contradiction that Republicans are going to have to contend with.

California is not representative of the nation. You know, a guy who left office with 34 percent approval rating isn't exactly a surefire winner when it comes to general elections.

BERMAN: It is interesting. In midterm elections, the one we'll see next year, generally the out party tries to nationalize the election based on the current president.


BERMAN: Democrats have something they may be able to use here in 14 months, which is to nationalize the election based on the former president. You can bet they're going to try.


BERMAN: We'll see if it works.

John Avlon, Maeve Reston, thank you very much.

RESTON: Thanks so much.

KEILAR: Also breaking overnight, rival missile tests in the Koreas, South Korea testing a submarine launch ballistic missile just hours after North Korea fired two missiles of its own. And this comes just days after the North tested a new long-range version.

We have CNN's Paula Hancocks, who is live for us in Seoul, South Korea with more on these rising tensions. Tell us what you're watching there, Paula.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it's certainly been a busy day on the Korean Peninsula. Missile launches on both side of the DMZ, starting with North Korea. Two ballistic short- range missiles.

Now as you say, it's just a few days after those long-range cruise missiles that North Korea says they fired. Technically, over the weekend, though, that didn't break any rules. Today it did. It violated United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Japan's prime minister says that he believed what they had done was outrageous.

And just a few hours later, we saw South Korea launching a submarine- launched ballistic missile, the first time it says that it has successfully done that and hit its target.

President Moon Jae-in was there to watch it, as well, becoming just the seventh country in the world to be able to have this capability, the first nonnuclear power.

Now, President Moon said it wasn't in response to the North Korean provocation, but the fact that it is increasing its missile arsenal and its capabilities could well be a good deterrence for North Korea.

Now, it was back in May when President Moon came to Washington to meet with the U.S. president, Joe Biden, where they agreed that South Korea's limits on the payload and the range of its missiles could be lifted. And South Korea certainly hasn't wasted any time in carrying out those tests -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Paula Hancocks, live for us in Seoul. Thank you.

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

BERMAN: Plus, a stunning account of President Trump's final days in office, including what he said to Vice President Pence to try to convince him to intervene in the election. He said they wouldn't be friends anymore.

A major twist in the mystery around the shooting of a prominent South Carolina lawyer.



KEILAR: Chairman of the joint chiefs, General Mark Milley, facing calls to resign following bombshell revelations in a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

According to the book, after Trump lost the election, the top U.S. general was so concerned that then[President Trump's actions could lead to war with China that he made two secret calls to his Chinese counterpart, the top general in China, to reassure him and took action to limit Trump from potentially ordering a dangerous military strike, really took action to make sure that Trump wouldn't cut him out of that decision-making process.

One of the calls came two days after the January 6th attack, Woodward and Costa writing that Milley was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline.

And it was at this time that Milley received a call from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. According to a transcript -- so the actual transcript of this call obtained by the authors -- Pelosi said, "You know he's crazy. He's been crazy for a long time."

And Milley responded, "Madame Speaker, I agree with you on everything." She had listed a number of concerns.

Joining us now to talk about this is Miles Taylor, former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security. I wonder, you know, just big picture what do you think about what you've heard about this book? Is this alarming to you? What questions does it raise for you?

MILES TAYLOR, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT: Well, look, I think the operative words here are serious mental decline. The president's own hand-picked top U.S. military adviser is saying he thinks that the president of the United States is in such a serious mental state that he's got to take steps to protect the country.

Now, John, if you or I had a mental health issue, it would be a concern to friends or family. When it's the commander in chief, it's a five-alarm fire for democracy.

And I'll tell you, there's one person who was very close to the president, very senior in this administration who told me that after January 6th, it was their hope that Donald Trump would chain himself to the Resolute Desk so they had to go in, saw it off and carry him out in a straitjacket so the American people would see what we've all seen behind-the-scenes, that this man is not stable to lead the country.

That's what Mark Milley saw. That's what we saw when I was in the administration. And I think he probably was trying to take the appropriate actions to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.

BERMAN: There are all kinds of quotes in the book from senior named people who thought that the president was off, to put it politely, the former president, during his time, to be sure. And I'm so glad you put this in the larger context of security in the country.


But there are those taking issue with some of the specific actions that General Milley took: namely, phone calls with his Chinese counterpart. Now, the Chinese were jittery because of what they saw in the United States. And you can understand why any country in the world would be nervous about an insurrection in the United States.

However, what General Milley told General Li -- L-I -- his counterpart there, was "I want to ensure you the American government is stable and everything is going to be OK. 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."

Now, should the top general of the United States, top military adviser to the president, be telling the Chinese general that "I'm going to warn you about military action going forward"? In and of itself, is that of concern?

TAYLOR: Well, look, first things first. I don't think we know everything that happened in that phone call. I think it's actually incumbent on General Milley to give us the real details, give us his side of the story, tell us what happened. That's very important, because we certainly don't want a call like that to play out exactly as it was described.

But that misses the bigger issue here. The bigger point isn't that Milley was calling his counterpart, which is something that happens every day in our government. They talk to their foreign counterparts to keep communication open.

The bigger issue is that, for some reason, the president's top military adviser was worried about us maybe going to war with China. Why was he worried about us going to war with China in the middle of the transition? We don't have anything on the books that would suggest that we should have been on the cusp of a nuclear war with the Chinese.

I think what this is more analogous to is preventing catastrophes like we've seen in the past. World War I could have been prevented if there was better communication and less miscalculation.

Someone like Mark Milley takes it upon himself, in a position like that, to say if the country is in an unstable place, it's my job to reach out to my counterparts around the world and prevent miscommunication and miscalculation that could lead to a preventable war. And I think that's what he was likely trying to do. And I think we should find out more about that.

But in the meantime, it sounds like the people around the president were so worried that his -- his mental state could lead us to war and that they needed to cool tensions.

KEILAR: And not just Milley, right? You had top administration officials who were worried that Trump might start some kind of foreign altercation to give himself some cover for perpetuating the big lie and trying to hang onto power in the U.S.

Trump has responded. He has said that, you know, "For him" -- Milley -- "to say that I was going to attack China is the most ridiculous thing I've heard."

But that said, we also know, like, where was Milley's mind? We know that he had learned right after the election that Trump had done an end run around the whole national security apparatus and decided, or at least signed -- signed something that said he was going to pull out all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by January 15, which would have been incredibly chaotic. I think we can agree on that.

He had these data points that made him wonder about the president's judgment.

TAYLOR: Well, and look, I would validate those data points. I mean, in just the two years that I was in the administration, at various points, I was told that we were on the cusp of potential war with North Korea because of the president's instability. That we were on the cusp of potential war with Iran because of the president's instability and uncertainty about whether he would just turn a tweet into an actual torpedo overnight, or that his bombastic rhetoric would actually mean bombs were being dropped.

And now we're hearing from Milley that maybe we were on the cusp of war with China, and people didn't know it. This was the reality of the Trump administration. At any given minute you didn't know whether a tweet was going to turn into a conflict. That's very alarming.

And we saw it also happen with Syria. I remember sitting in the chief of staff's office at the White House with John Bolton, when he was national security advisor, and we looked up on the TV here on CNN. We see the president has tweeted out that we're leaving Syria. Had he called his secretary of defense? He had not. Had he called John Kelly? He had not. Had he called his national security advisor? He had not.

The first time any of us found out was from you, but not from the president of the United States, that we were going to make a massive military decision to withdraw. That's how his decisions were made. So Milley was right in being fearful in that time period.

BERMAN: This issue of guardrails, right? Mark Milley sees himself as a guardrail. Were there enough guardrails against the former president in place? It turns out that Dan Quayle of all people, of all people, may have

been a guardrail after the insurrection, or actually on January 6th.

Mike Pence has been painted as this figure who would not do Trump's bidding in terms of trying to overturn the election when they were opening envelopes and certifying the Electoral College count.

But it's according to this book, you know, he may have been looking for a way to do Trump's bidding. So according to the book, what Mike Pence does is call Dan Quayle, another former vice president from the state of Indiana, and says, Hey, Dan Quayle, is there anything I can do here to help Trump out? Do I have any options?

And what Quayle apparently says, Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.

And then ultimately. Pence believed Dan Quayle.


TAYLOR: Look, that phone call even happened should give us cause for alarm. The vice president of the United States talking to close friends. I'm a Hoosier; Dan Quayle is a Hoosier. That's a close community of policymakers.

But the fact that he was consulting him for advice on whether or not Donald Trump's soft coup could go forward is very alarming.

Yes, Dan Quayle was one of those other guardrails. I actually sat next to him at Trump Tower during the transition, and I said to, you know, former Vice President Quayle, is this what your transition looked like? And he said, no, this looks like a bleep show.

I mean, from the beginning, people like Dan Quayle knew what this was going to be. But it got worse than any of us ever imagined. And the fact that we were that close to that soft coup occurring, I think is another reason why we need a comprehensive end to end investigation into this period.

Of course, a bipartisan commission on January 6th wasn't started. but I think Milley's comments, the stories that we've heard about Pence and Dan Quayle is all the more reason we really need that independent assessment.

And so hopefully the January 6th select committee can do that, but this is -- this is necessary, urgently necessary.

BERMAN: I wonder if Dan Quayle gets called to testify.

KEILAR: That would be an interesting plot twist, wouldn't it?

TAYLOR: it seems like it would also be appropriate.

KEILAR: All right. Miles, thank you so much. Miles Taylor.

Just ahead, the dueling data that could affect Friday's decision on booster shots.

BERMAN: And the right-wing rally planned Saturday at the U.S. Capitol in support of the January 6th insurrectionists. Are police prepared for what's coming this time?