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CNN Projects Democrat Tom Souzzi Wins New York Special Election. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired February 13, 2024 - 23:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A major victory for Democrats this evening. Tom Souzzi winning the special House election in New York, picking up the seat previously held by the expelled Republican fabulist, George Santos, and eroding the Republicans' already razor-thin majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Suozzi, a former congressman, now congressman-elect, defeating Republican Mazi Pilip in New York's third congressional district in the Long Island area.

Let's take a look at the status of votes right now with 87% of the vote in. Suozzi still has a commanding lead with 54.2% of the vote, 83,405 votes. That's 12,990 votes ahead of Republican Mazi Pilip, who has 45.8% of the vote.

This is something of a shellacking in a district that had pulled pretty much neck-and-neck throughout the race. And this is why this House race matters so much.

With Suozzi's win, the Democrats win, Democrats will now have 213 House seats compared to 219 with Republicans, with three seats still remaining vacant right now. So that means Republicans now face an even tougher path to push through legislation as the 2024 election year unfolds. With that six-vote majority, they can only afford to lose three republican votes in any one vote.

Let's go to Miguel Marquez, who is at Suozzi campaign Headquarters in Woodbury, New York. And Miguel, a huge win for Suozzi and Democrats this evening.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Enormous and early as well. You know, there was growing confidence when they saw the early votes come in, the absentees, and they kind of felt that they had some momentum going.

But the republican machine here in Nassau County is renowned. They can get the vote out. But that snowstorm hit, that may have helped Democrats as well. And I think that they expected to have a decent night tonight. I do not think that they expected to call it this early. You know, Suozzi talking up there today just a short time ago saying that this will send a signal to Democrats everywhere about how they have to win and what they need to win in November. And for Republicans in purple districts, they better pay attention because they are coming for them. It was a very, very sort of strong statement about what worked in this specific race.

There were a couple of protesters who tried to break in, but there were shouts of Suozzi, Suozzi as soon as they did, and they moved them out. They also -- to be fair, they also had a mic issue, so he was buying time up there so that people could place their mics up on the lectern because that the system they have here did not work.

But, you know, he -- even the protesters showed what a pro he is in campaigning. He basically just said, I love America. He wants people to be able to speak. He's very, very quick. He ran a very, very aggressive campaign and never wasted a minute. His entire campaign staff was completely on it every single day. That's something we did not see out of the republican side. So, it was interesting to see these two campaigns next to each other. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Miguel Marquez, it's Suozzi headquarters in New York. Let's check in now with the White House because President Biden just put out a statement about his party's win in New York. And with that story, let's go to CNN's MJ Lee, who is at the White House. MJ, what does President Biden have to say this evening?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this is actually a new statement that we've just gotten from the Biden campaign manager. It doesn't actually mention Tom Souzzi by name, interestingly, but in terms of what the message is, it couldn't be more explicit.

It starts with the words, Donald Trump lost again tonight. It goes on to say when Republicans run on Trump's extreme agenda, even in a Republican held seat, voters reject them. It also says Trump and the MAGA extremists in the House are already paying the political price for derailing a bipartisan deal to secure our borders and fix our broken immigration system.


Obviously, as you have been talking about all night, immigration and the border has been such a big issue in this race. And when I was talking to a Biden campaign official earlier, they pointed out that Suozzi actually didn't even get a chance to run ads on Republicans walking away from that border deal, and they feel like this is a good sign for Democrats that this issue and this criticism has really resonated.

I think also, Jake, in the Suozzi campaign, we saw a model for how Democrats are having to sort of navigate the political reality that they have a very unpopular leader of the party. That's President Biden, of course. We saw Suozzi really keeping his distance from President Biden in his victory speech earlier tonight, didn't even mention the president. So that is a balancing act that we are continuing to see, Democrats having to juggle throughout the country. TAPPER: All right, MJ Lee at the White House for us. Thank you so much. And however unpopular Joe Biden might prove, uh, it is obviously a good day for Biden and for Democrats and a bad one, uh, for Trump and Republicans.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. This was before George Santos was expelled just -- if you just start with one that was red. And tonight, it is blue, and Tom Souzzi will be the congressman again from the district. Here we are, up about 87%, so --

TAPPER: Just look at that. I do not expect that. That's a shellacking.

KING: That is a shellacking and it could be that a bit of the margin -- let's give a bit of the margin maybe to the weather, but let's also not give the Republicans the excuse of the weather.

Democrats voted, too. Yes, they may have voted early. Scott Jennings made a great point earlier. Republicans maybe want to start putting votes in the bank.


It might help. But, look, you vote earlier, you vote on election day. Those are the rules, then the rules, and he won. Okay? He won.

TAPPER: Very quick, one second. To my point, you're also making this point but more subtly, which is, and Van reiterated earlier, Van Jones, who is the genius that told Republicans that they shouldn't vote early? Donald Trump --

KING: They're trying --

TAPPER: -- in 2020. I mean, that's -- Republicans should be voting early. Everybody should be voting early. I mean, who cares?

KING: Both parties should want every eligible voter to vote.


KING: And make it as easy as possible for every eligible voter to vote.

TAPPER: So, if that's their strategy, and they got -- and then they got hamstrung by the bad weather, that also is Donald Trump's fault. Anyway, I interrupted you.

KING: That's okay. Tom Souzzi is winning, and he is winning convincingly. He's almost 13,000 votes ahead right now. You're right, in the special election for what was a republican seat, the margin is surprising.

So, how does he do it? Number one, in the smaller piece of the district but critical for the Democrats, Queens, the actual part that is New York City, he runs it up, pretty good, right? Sixty-two percent, bringing about 6,000-vote margin there, right? If you come for that, little less than that, but 6,000 votes, that's in the Democrat. You heard him thank labor tonight, very important in this part of the district right here, helping turn out votes. A lot of that done again. Organized labor has a very good early voting program.

And you come in here now, Nassau County. This is the part that will be studied. Again, it's one special election. One special election. So, don't project everything through November. However, this will be closely studied. Was it just Tom Souzzi who's a no name? Was it how he handled immigration? Was it how he handled Israel? Was it how he handled the economy?

That'll all be studied now because in the suburban part of the district that George Santos won, when he won the seat in 2022, he's getting 53% of the vote. All right, maybe that margin closes a little bit, but 8,000 votes there, right? Remember, I said a little shy of 8,000 votes there.

So, he did what he had to do in the Democratic area, but he also won in the more suburban area here, the more affluent, the more highly- educated part of the district. That will be the part that is studied now because this seat now turns blue, right?

So, let's come back out -- let's come back out to the big map. Let's come to where the House is right now. Again, that was red when George Santos had it, right? You had this gentleman in the House tonight, Mr. Lawler. He's going to be worried about this, right? Because this is a district Joe Biden carried. He's going to say, okay, what just happened there? Because that used to be a Democratic district as well. I mentioned him because he was in the House tonight.

But let's come out to the full map and just show you some districts here. So, again, this might get overdone by people, but that was 18 this morning, right? House districts held by Republicans that Joe Biden carried, that was 18 this morning.

When you're trying to figure out what did we learn tonight, this is where Democrats are going to start. They're going to start in the districts that Joe Biden carried. Most of these districts, not all, are somewhat similar to this, meaning they're suburban, they tend to be higher educated, more affluent than the national averages.

So, the Democrats are going to look at these, saying, if we want to win back the House majority, there's your building blocks. Doesn't mean because Suozzi won, that the Democrats win these seats, but that's where it goes. So, this is the challenge as you look ahead to November.


KING: We get good candidates like Suozzi to run in these races, right? And so, here -- but here, to me, is the most important thing, tomorrow or next week when Suozzi comes down and gets sworn in. Remember, the House Republicans impeached the Homeland Security secretary by one vote, right? Their majority has now shrunk.


It's only by one vote. But in a very narrow majority, Abby was making the point earlier, Nancy Pelosi had a narrow majority, she was able to get quite a bit done. A succession, Kevin McCarthy, now Speaker Johnson, have a narrow majority. They haven't done all that much. Guess what? It's about to be smaller.

TAPPER: So, I remember when Nancy Pelosi first got elected speaker of the House in, I think, 2006, right? During the Bush years. One of the reasons she was able to win the House back from the Republicans is a bunch of moderate to conservative Democrats that she called the majority makers.

You heard AOC earlier tonight talk about how there need to be people who disagree within the Democratic Party so that they can get the majority. She said that's -- I said, you know, what about a guy like Suozzi? He doesn't even want Biden to campaign. She's like the most important thing is that we get the majority.

So, here's my question. Suozzi was obviously given some rope to be independent. You know, to get some leeway, to be independent, to badmouth Biden, to distance himself from other Democrats. Are Republicans who are the majority makers for the majority right now, are they able to do that?

Are Congressman Lawler, are LaLota and other Republicans who represent Biden districts, are they allowed to be independent or are they forced to stay in line so that Donald Trump doesn't start attacking them?

KING: You just answered your question.

TAPPER: I did?

KING: Yes. Well, would Speaker Johnson have the smarts to go into a room and say, I understand, Mike Lawler, you're not from Louisiana like me, you have to run a different campaign, you might even have to say, I disagree with the speaker?

Speaker Johnson is smart enough to say, do it, do what you need to do to win. Kevin McCarthy was smart enough to say, for all the criticism of Kevin McCarthy, they were terribly great at the governing part. But in terms of the political part, however, you answered your own question. Donald Trump won't give them the right way.

TAPPER: Right.

KING: And so, you're going to have to -- you know, does Mazi Pilip run again? Does the Nassau County Republican Party think we need somebody else in November? They picked her to run this. There will be primaries in all these places. There will be primaries here.

And Trump is on a path, barring some huge thing in South Carolina a week from Saturday to be the Republican nominee, and he just simply does not play that way.

TAPPER: Yeah. And Dana Bash, when Congressman Mike Gallagher, who is, you know, out of Hollywood typecasting for a Republican congressman, military hero, good looking guy, smart, he chairs the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, when he showed some independence last week and said, hey, I don't think there's any reason to vote to impeach the secretary of Homeland Security, Mayorkas, it was a rough week for him, and then that week ended with him announcing he's not going to run for reelection.

So, I think there is something to be discussed here when it comes to how much Republicans are able to keep a majority if they don't allow people to be independent.

KING: There's a ton of them. There's a ton of them retiring.


KING: Including Mike Pence's brother who just say, I've had enough.

TAPPER: Cathy McMorris Rodgers is another one. Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, let's keep talking about that and more specifically here in Washington, what that already narrow House republican majority is going to look like because, you know, we talk about all of these issues, immigration and about whether or not Republicans can act in the best interest of their district or if they have to tow the party/Trump line.

But what it all comes down to, and I've been getting texts from Republican strategists who are very worried, is the notion of just chaos and the inability to govern, and that really had an impact on what we saw in the special election.

And remember, we're only eight months away from the real election. These races are all going to -- this race is going to be run again or at least there will be a race run in this district and then all of the other House races.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, another way to think of it is a shift in values. If you're focused on legislating, its disorder. If you're focused on messaging, hey, maybe it's pretty good.

And one of the things that we were shown with the debate over the speaker is that there could be small faction of people who only care about the commercials, messaging being in the media, ecosystem, and they can kind of spoil it for everyone else.

So, will there be some -- will the next race sort of pull people in a direction of saying, look, we actually have to pass something and we're going to convince people that we should be in charge, or is it just still so valuable to large parts of the party who are following Trump to just do the messaging part of it, play the part, do those performances, and don't worry too much about whether or not something passes because you don't want to hand a victory to Biden anyway?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's something that is (ph) just accomplishment. It's even just passing a messaging agenda which Republicans have had a very difficult time doing. And it's easy to forget that the whole ouster of Kevin McCarthy happened in this Congress.


It happened only a few months ago and that led to so much back and forth disarray and the inability of this republican majority simply to pass messaging bills, week in, week off, to try to push and argue that they did this, this issue, and that issue and another issue. They were able to do some of that at the beginning of the Congress, but things started to become much more complicated after they raised the national debt limit that caused a lot of finger pointing and bad blood.


-- the government opened just for a couple of weeks and then punting that, kicking the can down the road for that. But this one vote will be so significant. One vote tonight would stop the Mayorkas impeachment. And there could be a Biden impeachment coming sometime. How will these swing district Republicans vote on Joe Biden's impeachment if it does come to that? That's going to be a big question. One less vote will make it harder.

BASH: You know, Jeff, I want to, before you make your point, play once again the part of now Congressman-elect Suozzi's statement or his speech tonight where he talks about the message that he believes his victory is sending here to Washington.


THOMAS SUOZZI, DEMOCRATIC REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT FOR NEW YORK'S 3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Let's send a message to our friends running the Congress these days. Stop running around for Trump and start running the country.



JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So interesting. And what I'm wondering tonight are 17 Republicans in particular listening to that.

BASH: Uh-hmm.

ZELENY: Who are they? The 17 Republicans in Biden districts. So that is something that is going to be so interesting and instructive.

BASH: Many of whom are fellow New Yorkers.

ZELENY: Yeah, for sure. Exactly. A lot of the House majority here is going to run through either New York or California and a handful of other states in the middle.

But up until now, Manu, as you know very well, the, you know, the shift in really in the last month or so, even some of the more moderate Republicans like Don Bacon of my home state of Nebraska, has been much more willing to go out there. He has a primary challenge. Others do as well.

But that's what I wondered tonight, will some of those Republicans be taking a lesson that Trump may not be good for us in the long term?

But I think something else instructive. In the Biden campaign statement tonight, they mentioned Donald Trump four times. They once again are trying to do one thing above all in this election, to make this entire election about Donald Trump. And he often helps them out with that case.

But again, as so many people have said this evening, I think there are some lessons tonight, but they're limited as well because the general election is going to be much more fully engaged. But a test run that shows all is not lost for Democrats and a lot of people in the last week, there has been a lot of bedwetting, we say that a lot, this has calmed that.

BASH: Among Democrats?

ZELENY: Yeah. Shocker. I know.

BASH: That's a lot of character.

RAJU: You know, one thing the Republicans have been good at in this Congress is finger pointing. I can explain to you, tomorrow morning, when the House Republicans go behind closed doors and have their weekly conference meeting, there is going to be a lot of finger pointing not just about everything that went wrong or about the candidate or just about expelling George Santos.

That was one of the -- that's one of the reasons why a lot of members were upset about the initial Mayorkas impeachment falling. Also ousting Kevin McCarthy. That led to his resignation. They're now in another seat short because of that until that special election. So, there's just going to be so much anger when Republicans come and meet tomorrow.

CORNISH: And I think we talked about on the podcast, with ousting McCarthy, there has been less fundraising for certain people, there has been less infrastructure support because the new speaker simply doesn't have any of that experience. That's not something you want going in.

I think to test what you're talking about, Jeff, there are some theories that are tested even if you can't take away full lessons, and one of them is, what are the limits of nationalizing a race around issues like immigration and crime, et cetera?

Can you kind of trick yourself into thinking, well, this is a slam dunk because here we are yet again at another special election race saying it really seemed like that Republican was going do well and it's the Democrat who wins?

I think kind of processing that and thinking about what it means going forward is sort of worth it. BASH: It's such an important point because in order to replicate this in this kind of district, you have to have a Democrat willing to do what Tom Souzzi did, which is stand up at the very first, you know, second of his victory speech, saying, I'm not a member of the squad, I'm not a -- you know, I'm worried about my party, and also just more importantly on the issues.

CORNISH: But tonight, a member of the squad was here, right?

BASH: Right.

CORNISH: AOC herself, and she didn't exactly throw him under the bus for not saying, I'm one of you, or for not, you know, leaning into some of those really progressive positions. So, having that flexibility, as you guys talked about earlier, is meaningful.

ZELENY: And primary challenges are going to happen, and primaries will happen, and that's a much more uncertain thing. In this case, these candidates were selected by the party bosses, essentially, as it was in the old days.

BASH: Yeah.

ZELENY: The primaries often are out of the party's control.


RAJU: Yeah. I mean, the candidates do matter. At the end of the day, Suozzi has that established plan. People knew who he was. Mondaire Jones, for instance, he's running against Mike Lawler in that district that Lawler was on earlier tonight. He's a much different type of Democrat than Tom Souzzi.

BASH: Yes.

RAJU: That's something Lawler would take advantage of. Will that make a difference when the top of the ticket will have such a huge impact? Down ticket, that's another question.

BASH: Okay, everybody, up next, how Republicans are reacting to this huge loss to Democrats in New York and what it means for the battles ahead on Capitol Hill and in the November election.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Democrats winning big in New York tonight with Tom Souzzi's victory in the special congressional election as he easily defeated his Republican opponent in the race, Mazi Pilip, picking up the seat that was previously held by the now-expelled Republican Congressman George Santos. The Republicans' very slim majority in the House now even slimmer tonight.

Let's go to Capitol Hill where CNN's Melanie Zanona is getting reaction to tonight's results.

[23:25:00] Obviously, Melanie, Speaker Johnson's office was watching this vote very closely. What are you hearing from Republicans overall about that already slim majority shrinking even more?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yeah, well, Kaitlan, there is some predictable finger pointing inside the GOP tonight with some Republicans turning their anger towards fellow Republicans who voted to expel George Santos as their already razor-thin majority is now set to get even slimmer.

One Republican lawmaker told me that the GOP lawmakers who led the charge to expel Santos, oh, Republicans everywhere, an apology, and $10 million. Another Republican, Troy Nehls, told me a little bit ago, we should have never brought the Santos vote to the floor. Mike Collins, a Georgia Republican, wrote on social media, so who still thinks Republicans helping Democrats kick out Santos was a good idea? And Santos himself weighing in, simply writing on social media, minus one.

Now, I interviewed Steve Scalise, the House majority leader, a little bit earlier tonight, and I asked him, is there going to be any regret inside the GOP if Democrats do end up flipping this seat tonight? He didn't go quite as far. He said, it is what it is. And he also downplayed the national significance of a potential republican loss in New York three.

But no doubt, Kaitlan, this is going to have massive implications for the slim majority and the GOP's ability to govern. And so, those frustrations and floor fights only likely to grow louder in the coming days. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yeah, an immediate impact. Melanie Zanona, thank you. And we are now hearing from the former president, Donald Trump, about tonight's results and what it means. CNN's Kristen Holmes is in Florida covering the Trump campaign. What are we hearing from Trump, Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just moments ago, Donald Trump posted on Truth Social, I'm going to read it in real time because I'm just now seeing it, and he essentially attacks Mazi Pilip for not endorsing him, not running on his name, says, Republicans just don't learn but maybe she was still a Democrat.

I have an almost 99% endorsement success rate in the primaries and a very good number in the general elections as well, but I just watched this very foolish woman, Mazi Melesa Pilip, running in a race where she didn't endorse me and tried to straddle the fence when she would have easily won if she understood anything about modern-day politics in America.

MAGA, which is most of the Republican Party, stayed home, and it will always will, unless it is treated with the respect that it deserves. I stayed out of the race. I want to be loved. In quotes, "Give us a real candidate in the district for November. Suozzi, I know him well, can be easily beaten." Not sure what that "I want to be loved" in quotes is, but clearly upset that Mazi Pilip did not endorse him or did not try to run on his name at all. I will remind you that his team does not want him getting involved in races that he can't win because they don't want him attached to those kinds of races. However, obviously, Trump took this a little bit personally and is now lashing out.

COLLINS: Kristen Holmes, thank you. And Scott Jennings, I mean, first, let's set some things straight, which is that she did say in this race that she would not endorse Trump if he was convicted, that she didn't believe -- she said no one is above the law. She didn't believe that he would be qualified to represent Republicans, if that was the case. She did recently say, finally, that she did vote for him in 2020.

But is what he's saying here, which is that in a district that Joe Biden won by eight points, more MAGA is the answer?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there are some Republican officials who believe she should have said right out of the gate she voted for Trump. And he's not wrong. She was a Democrat. And so, you know --

COLLINS: She was a Democrat. She had waited until after the race to change her registration, I believe.

JENNINGS: So, you know, he may have a point on a couple of these issues. In a low turnout special election, did she leave votes on the field? I don't know. And would it be different in November? Maybe.

There are some other people here -- I mean, some folks are talking up this fellow, Daniel Norber, who, you know, was also running against Santos before the special election started. So, I don't know which way we're going to head here.

But, obviously, when you lose a race, people are going to look for reasons why you might have lost, and I'm not surprised to see him picking it out.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But there's not eight points more MAGA out there, not in this district. He's just a crybaby, man. That's just, dude, you are not the answer to everybody's question. You're just not.

And it's just sad to see him -- you know, you can just imagine, you're just there, just working his little thumbs off, just so upset that somebody lost and also didn't kiss his ring. A lot of people who kiss his ring do lose, and that's the problem.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We got to figure out what the "I want to be loved" in quotes.


COLLINS: I can guess (ph).

UNKNOWN: Can we just take it a bit higher? PHILLIP: I'll just take a moment and try to understand what that is about.

COLLINS: I feel like it has something to do with he's saying that she didn't endorse him.



COLLINS: And she didn't tie herself enough to him because she wanted to be loved is what -- that's my reading of it as someone who covered him. I could be wrong, and I'm not going to read Donald Trump's mind.


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I do think -- I do think it gives us a little bit of insight into the political strategy of Trump world here for November.

You talk to any Trump advisors, you know, expanding the electorate to bring more new Trump MAGA line voters into the electorate, they think is their path to success far more than winning back over the huge swaths of the middle that they lost to Democrats in 2018, to Joe Biden in 2020. And I think you sort of see that here, too, that he thinks the path to political success is just more modification of the electorate.

PHILLIP: Look, that is exactly right, that is what they think. Leading up to 2020, that was the strategy. It did not work. The problem with this strategy from the Trump world that comes, frankly, directly from Trump is that it doesn't work.

We actually have data points that show in 2018 and 2020 and 2022, ramping up the MAGA backfired on Republicans in some key places where they could have won, in Arizona, for example. If they do it again, good luck, but it's just that the evidence is not there.

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And Republicans also have a tactical problem here. The party's health, as from an apparatus infrastructure standpoint, has bad signs over the last year. The reasons they are losing in these special elections are getting candidates who are untested, unproven, are partly because Donald Trump has made it difficult for people to come out of those primaries and specifically has placed his thumb on making it harder to have them have those type of messages that allow them to win those voters back.

And so, you know, when we think about what's happening at the RNC with the tumult there and how Trump has made the kind of imprint on the party apparatus, even the ways that they haven't embraced early voting on something like a snow day, that comes back to bite them, right? Like you have Republican Party plowing roads today, you know? Those are things that the party could do differently.

And there's an open discussion within the party. But because Donald Trump's political imprint is so large, they not only have a messaging problem, a political problem, they have a party apparatus infrastructure problem partially because it's been so pulled to his everyday whim. You know?

COLLINS: I mean, you two know this area better than anyone else at the table. I mean, when you hear him say that the reason the turnout wasn't what they expected it to be, he says it's because she wasn't MAGA enough. But is it because of Scott's point earlier that they don't -- Republicans have not actively embraced early voting?

VITO FOSSELLA, PRESIDENT, STATEN ISLAND BOROUGH: There's probably a number of reasons why she lost, and as I say, we're going to downgrade them. And for full disclosure, for somebody who was endorsed by Donald Trump, he was gracious when he did it, I was grateful for that endorsement and I won, I actually sort of understand the dynamic of -- they're going to tar and they did tar this woman as a right-wing radical Republican anyway. So, take what you got.

And to Scott's point, in a low turnout race, you're going to motivate people who otherwise wouldn't come out to come out. And to (INAUDIBLE) who spoke earlier in this program, they want to win. So, if you want to win and you want to govern based on your policies, not to say you cross the line on things, but if he can help you win, why wouldn't you want that endorsement?

And I've seen this over the years with people who say, I don't want that because they're going to label me. They're going to label you, anyway.


FOSSELLA: Just take it and run with it.

KATHLEEN RICE, FORMER NEW YORK REPRESENTATIVE: Right. I also think that Democrats chose the right candidate. It was someone who was tested. He's known. He has been known in this district for over 30 years. He is someone who has been able to get crossover votes in races where he has needed them. And that was a good choice, you know? And he had the message of unifying people. And I think, let's see if that is a message that can go until November.

COLLINS: Jake, back to you.

TAPPER: All right, thanks so much, Kaitlan. Let's go to CNN's Lauren Fox, who is at the headquarters of Republican Mazi Pilip in East Meadow, New York. Lauren, Republicans saw this race as a high-profile test for their ability to campaign on border security, to keep a seat that had been in Republican hands that did not work out tonight. What are Republicans saying is the reason?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Republicans really thought that there wasn't going to be a better district to test drive that message on immigration than right here. That is because there's a migrant shelter that was built last summer on the edge of this district.

The headlines that you hear here in New York, so pertinent to so many voters in this district who were worried about crime, who are worried about the influx of migrants to the New York area. In fact, I talked to one dad at a diner this morning who said he's scared to take his kids into the city because of what he's seeing on the news.

Republicans were really seizing on that, trying to make this issue front and center. But Tom Souzzi kind of flipped the script because he actually showed up at an event that Mazi Pilip did where she was talking about immigration, waited for her to finish, and then had his own press conference, took reporter questions and argued that he had a solution, and Mazi Pilip was out there just campaigning against the issue.


You know, I think Suozzi's message here that he sees a bipartisan path forward, that he would have supported the Senate bill that really only survived about 48 hours in the United States Senate, still gave him an opening to neutralize that issue.

And, you know, this issue, if it couldn't play in New York 3, it's really unclear where across the country it's going to be able to play as the predominant issue.

I should note, every single voter I talked to said immigration was their top issue. It just turned out that they trusted Democrats more than Republicans perhaps to handle it.

TAPPER: Yeah, with this specific set of candidates, right? Because it's Suozzi who's pushing willingness to compromise with Republicans, even a more moderate message on immigration than you hear from a lot of Democrats, and then Mazi Pilip, who is kind of saddled with the inability of Republicans right now to govern in any real way. So, anyway, Lauren, thanks so much.

Let's talk more about the issue set that had an influence on the race with CNN political director David Chalian. David, immigration, border security, they did play majorly into tonight's race, the way that Lauren said, right?

CHALIAN: There's no doubt about it. And look at the national landscape of the immigration issue, according to our most recent poll from the end of January. So, uh, President Biden's approval rating, Jake, as you know, on immigration, it's his worst tested issue across every issue. It's at 30% approval, 70% disapproval.

We also asked folks, and again, this was a nationwide poll, whether or not the U.S. should prioritize deporting all undocumented immigrants versus providing a pathway to citizenship. In 2019, only 15% said the priority should be deporting all undocumented immigrants. That has doubled in 2024 now to 31%. And that's overall.

When you look at it just among Republicans, Jake, 32% of Republicans said the priority should be deporting undocumented immigrants. That was in 2019.

Now, a majority of Republicans, 54% say the priority for the U.S. should be deporting undocumented immigrants, and that is why you saw, you know, two-thirds of the immigration ad spending in this race coming from Mazi Pilip, and why you saw at the very end Tom Souzzi trying to engage on that and flip the script, as you were noting, to say he was part of the solution on this issue, not just raising it as a problem.

TAPPER: Interesting stuff. David Chalian, thanks so much. There is a risk here, Dana, that the Democrats think, oh, you know, immigration is not going to be a liability for us. I don't think any smart Democrats would say that.

But the truth is this is very specific to this set of circumstances, these two candidates. Suozzi positioning himself as a moderate to conservative on the issue, and in an era, in an environment where Democrats were trying to come up with a compromise and Republicans are the ones that shanked it.

BASH: Totally anecdotally. I was in the district the day after Republicans shanked it, to use your term. And I heard from voters that they were very -- now, these are obviously very well-informed voters --

TAPPER: Right.

BASH: -- but they were they were at the polling station, they were voting early, and several of them said to me that they don't want to vote for the Republican because it's clearly impossible to get a solution on the issue of immigration.

Border and the border problem, the immigration issue, the migrant issue in their district was the top issue for them. And that the fact that Republicans kill that bipartisan deal put them over the edge to vote for Tom Souzzi. And immigration was their top issue. So, I think that there's something to that.

But I do want to underscore the main point that you made, which is that if you have a Democrat who just fundamentally doesn't believe in being as tough as Tom Souzzi is on the migrant issue, then it's not going to work politically.

RAJU: And I think let's not forget also how the Republicans even handled this bipartisan border deal. I mean, they were quick to dismiss it even before the deal was even reached. I mean, Donald Trump tried to kill this before there was actually anything to look at.

And same with the Republican leadership. I mean, Elise Stefanik was out almost immediately saying that this bill, the deal that was reached after nearly five months of negotiations, said that it should be killed, the speaker of the House a couple of hours after its release.

These are incredibly complex policy issues. To immediately dismiss it out of hand, perhaps look to some voters who are following this pretty closely as clearly politically expedient without actually trying to solve a real problem.


ZELENY: Look, there have been --

CORNISH: Oh, I was just going to add that the argument Suozzi made fundamentally, it's like they're the dog that caught the car. It was like, do this thing, and then blow it up. And I think he was able to talk about that in a way that voters could understand. That didn't feel like kind of parliamentary nonsense. It felt like, oh, yeah, that's a good point, it was their idea, why don't they want it? And maybe that's something other Democrats can take away.

ZELENY: I mean, there have been bright warning signs. Audie, as you said earlier, we have so many elections now to look at, 2018, 2020, 2022. The suburbs have been bright red warning signs for Republicans in the era of Donald Trump, even before then in some degree. So, one thing that kind of went a bit under the radar, in some respects, was the message on abortion here.

But I think the, I was just talking to a Democratic strategist who said, this is our playbook right now, it's not going to work everywhere, but they can neutralize the sort of challenge on immigration by going after abortion rights.

But the Trump problem, perhaps, is the biggest takeaway from this. I mean, he was focusing on the candidate calling her a foolish person. Never mind any introspection which, of course, he doesn't do. There are big warning signs for Republicans in these suburban districts, which the party needs.

TAPPER: I do think, though, we should note that I could see this issue, immigration and the refusal of Republicans to compromise, being used to an advantage by a Democrat like, say, for instance, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, more center-left.

I don't know that Joe Biden, who you saw has a disastrous approval rating on this issue, only 30% approval, 70% disapproval, specifically on the border and immigration, I don't know that President Biden himself is going to be able to pivot on this, even though he's obviously trying.

You heard the statement that MJ Lee read from the White House where they're trying to talk about how Republicans are refusing to embrace border security and immigration reform. That would be a neat trick if he could turn it around. But I don't know.

While I do think that it's possible that Democrats running for re- election this year in the House and Senate will be able to maybe make that argument, I don't know that somebody that people blame the border problem for will be able to do that. I don't know. What you think, Audie?

CORNISH: I mean, I want to add a point, kind of a footnote, which is that as soon as Suozzi opened his mouth, there was a protester who was there to criticize this administration's handling of the war in Gaza and specifically the numbers of deaths of civilians and Palestinians. This is going to be a problem if every time there's a democratic victory, there's that moment where the cameras have to be like, wait, who is that? What are they saying? Well, guess what they're saying? Using the phrase genocide Joe. This is one of those things where I think the administration hasn't quite found a way to talk about it, but I don't think it's going away.

I just wanted to raise that even though in this race, it didn't put the candidate over, Pilip didn't somehow, you know, win the whole thing because of that, but it's just a thing that it's like it's going to go from being a footnote in every article to being the issue.

ZELENY: And it will play out at Michigan. The next primary on the calendar after South Carolina is the Michigan primary on February 27th, Republican and Democratic. It's already a huge concern for the White House, for the Biden campaign.

What's going to happen right after that? He'll be giving a State of the Union address on March 7th. The White House is already worried about a protest there, but at least he'll have one more Democratic member in front of him in the House, but it's still an issue.

TAPPER: Coming up next, the big takeaways from this special election and what the results tell us about the year ahead with the White House and control of Congress on the line. We'll be right back after this.



COLLINS: Democrats have just picked up another seat in the House of Representatives, handing a serious blow to Republicans and their already slim grip on power. We're breaking down the results from tonight's special election in New York with Democrat Tom Souzzi's big win and what it could all mean for the presidential race.

Let's go back to John King. John, obviously, we're just hearing from the White House that President Biden has called Tom Souzzi. Now, the questio is, without extrapolating too much, how are they reading into these results?

KING: I think you make the key point. How do you try to find lessons without overstating the importance of one special election? Let's just go back and look very quickly at the results. So, what you have here is a Democrat in what was viewed as a very close race, Kaitlin, though, with an eight-point lead at the moment and most of the votes counted. So, that's an impressive win for Democrat Tom Souzzi.

The conversation now in both democratic and republican campaigns, including the Trump and the Biden campaign is, was it just about him or was there something in the message? Was there a key ad that swung the race? What was it? That's what they're going to try to figure out and why.

We don't expect New York, of course, to be competitive in the presidential election. But if you want to beam out, number one, if you're the Biden campaign and you're the Democratic Party, you want to win congressional elections, right? So, you want to get the House back. There were 18 districts that Biden won that were held by Republicans. Now, there will be 17 once Tom Souzzi is sworn in.

So, the first thing you look at is, can we get these House districts back? All right, there's something that happened here, the makeup of the district, the fact that Donald Trump is back in the news. Some Democrats think that, Kaitlan, tonight, that Donald Trump is back in the news of late, and maybe that's helping them there. So that's the House.

So now let's come to the presidential race and look at 2020, and you think, what happened in Queens and Nassau County? Does it have anything to do with this, if we get, as we expect, the Joe Biden- Donald Trump rematch?

Here's one way to look at it, if you want to look at it this way. These races, as you know very well, Kaitlan, the close battleground states are decided where? In the suburbs. Where is Tom Souzzi's district? In the suburbs.

And so, you can look here, you can look at the Pennsylvania suburbs, for example, a very close state. Just tonight, this is Bucks County, this is the 2020 presidential election, but just tonight, the Democrats also won a special election here for a state legislative seat that was hotly contested.

So, the Biden campaign celebrating that, saying, look, yes, president's approval ratings are down, his views, as David Chalian has said, his numbers on immigration are terrible, his numbers on the economy are not great, but what the Democrats are arguing is when we have elections, when we actually have people vote, we're doing okay, especially in the places that matter.


So, what they will do is they will look at this map and they will say, what happened in Nassau County tonight, is there anything we can at least study? Now that we're in -- you know, early in the year, as we get later in the year, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, the key battleground states, Kaitlan, are won or lost in the suburbs. So, tonight's win for the Democrats in the suburbs, it's going to -- trust me, it's going to be the (INAUDIBLE) by both the Trump and the Biden campaigns.

COLLINS: Absolutely. John King, thank you. And Van Jones, as you look at this and the White House is looking at this, I mean, it's a bit reassuring or it is reassuring to them that a Democrat can win in the suburbs.

JONES: Uh-hmm.

COLLINS: But let me ask you the same question in the sense of, you know, not taking too much from one single special election. What does the White House take from tonight? JONES: Well, look, I mean, it shows that Democrats can be tough on the border, credibly, and you can't -- you don't have to just leave that for the Republicans to beat the crap out of us on that, especially since Republicans now refuse to do anything about it. So that's a good thing.

But we still have the same problems this week we had last week, which is that Biden still has not been able to deal with the age issue appropriately yet. And I've been thinking about it a lot. I think he just needs to own into it, own it, and lean into it.

Ronald Reagan, he made it a part of his schtick. He would say stuff like, you know, Thomas Jefferson said so-and-so. And when I was there -- I mean, let the crowd laugh, and then he would move on.

I think Joe Biden should say, I'm for grandpa economics. I think he should just own it and say, you know what? You know what your grandpa wants? He wants you to get a good job. That's why unemployment is low. Know what your grandpa wants? He wants you to save your money and have a good 401k. That's why the stock market is up. Know what your grandpa wants? He wants you to drive safely. That's why gas prices are down.

He should just say, I'm a grandpa and I am doing things that grandpas care about because other people want to be in court all the time with felony convictions and lying about the border. I'm your grandpa, I'm taking care of you.

If he would just own it, then he's like Eminem in "Eight Mile." He made the rap joke about himself and his opponents had nothing else to say. That's what Biden should do, grandpa economics.

PHILLIP: I think the White House has tried versions of that, having Biden joke around about his age and all of that, and that works fine in that moment, but the problem is when he's out and about and does something or makes a mistake in a very public way, like he did during his speech last week when he called the president of Egypt, the president of Mexico, things like that undermine the case that it's innocuous.

And this is the challenge. I mean, look, this is the challenge. The White House is very clear-eyed about it. What they're really hoping is that what happened tonight is essentially what happens in November, which is that voters go into the voting booth and they say, not thrilled about X, Y, and Z, but here are my choices, this guy or that guy, and they choose the person who is the least objectionable to them, and that is what elections are all about.

JONES: But you have the demented grandpa and the good grandpa.

COLLINS: Astead Herndon --

JONES: You neutralize the issue by saying you got a demented grandpa. I'm saying the grandpa economic thing could work.

COLLINS: Well --



JENNINGS: -- compare Joe Biden to Eminem. No, he is not Eminem. He is He's Werther's original. That's what he is.


JONES: I disagree.

JENNINGS: And the age issue is going to matter. Lean into it. Lean away from it. Eighty-six percent of Americans don't think he can serve another term. And look at this guy tonight. Ran away from Joe Biden. Ran away from Joe Biden.

JONES: He didn't get punished. He didn't get jumped on by the candidate because we let people in our party have their own opinion, unlike people in your party who got to be in a cult.

JENNINGS: It's easy to run away in a special election. It's a lot harder to do in all these districts, especially in swing states, when that presidential campaign is sitting right on top of it.

COLLINS: Astead Herndon, I mean, you talk to voters for a living and for "The Run-Up" podcast. This is truly what you do every single day. So, I wonder -- I mean, what are you hearing from voters themselves, not just the poll numbers that we're looking at on this issue?

HERNDON: Yeah, I mean, honestly, I feel like the last couple of weeks, with the kind of rise in prominence of age and the focus on Biden, has really brought the campaign to where voters in our conversations have been for a year, right?

When we have been telling people that it's likely for Biden to be the Democratic nominee, people have been shocked. I mean, they did not fathom the possibility that this is the type of candidate that will be back. They saw themselves as kind of doing an emergency option in 2020, and that for us is the main feeling we got over the last year.

Yes, they're shocked about Donald Trump, particularly with the indictments and the kind of reality of him as a kind of character, but that shock was shared with Biden. And so, I think the White House and the campaign are now dealing with that reality, and that has kind of brought the race to where it was always going to be. They not only have a message question.

I think this race kind of speaks to the ways that they can fix that. They can focus on things outside of the candidate. They can talk about abortion rights. They can talk about the kind of contrast between them and the chaotic party. They can focus on governance.


But they, specifically when we think about the top of the ticket, they have a messenger problem. They have the fact that the person who is filtering through that, who is leading the party on that, and someone voters fundamentally don't think should and can serve another four years.

Now, they can give voters other reasons to still back him, but that is going to be having to overcome their already kind of fundamental feeling, which is that they didn't expect this guy to be back.

PHILLIP: And they're going to have to give the voters some other messengers as well.


PHILLIP: I mean, it's going to have to be other people carrying the burden, a lot of this campaign on the Democratic side, Kamala Harris's, you know, lots of other folks who are trying to be the next in line, the next time this comes around for the Democrats.

RICE: Well, messengers do matter. And look, tonight was a big victory for Democrats. They picked the right candidate who had the right message and had the money behind him. Now, we all know that the road to Democrats taking back the House runs directly through New York. So, let's see if they can get the right candidates.

You know the Republicans are going to be regrouping tomorrow to decide whether they're going to keep the same candidate or find someone better. We need to look at all of those seats that we lost two years ago and do our best to get the best messenger with the best financial backing, the best candidate so that we can take the House back. That is of critical importance as well.

COLLINS: Yeah, Hakeem Jeffries watching that very closely. More news on CNN after that big win for Democrats after a quick break.