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GOP Senator Disturbed by Mitch McConnell's Coordination with White House; Benjamin Netanyahu Faces Likud Party Rival in Primary; Christmas Passes with No Sign of Missile Test from North Korea; Ambassador Pulled Over Gay Rights Dispute in Zambia; Boeing's Survey Shows Uphill Battle to Gain Back Passengers' Trust. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 26, 2019 - 04:30   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: The first crack for the GOP. Why one moderate senator is calling out Mitch McConnell over impeachment.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: It's mild now but snow is on the way. Whose trip home from the holidays could get messy?

PHILLIP: We all gorged for Christmas and now new research suggests if you ate quickly, it could help you live longer.

KOSIK: And an autistic boy was turned away by Santa. But the local fire department made sure it was a Christmas he wouldn't forget.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik. Good morning.

PHILLIP: Good morning. And I'm Abby Phillip. It is 30 minutes past the hour here in New York.

It's just one senator but the first crack in the GOP ahead of President Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate has appeared. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski is telling an Anchorage TV station that she was disturbed when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said the verdict was a done deal. Senators are sworn to be impartial jurors but McConnell has publicly said that there was zero chance that the president would be removed from office.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): During this, I'm coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.


KOSIK: And here's how Senator Murkowski responds.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): In fairness, when I heard that, I was disturbed. To me, it means that we have to take that step back from being hand-in-glove with the defense. Any way we move forward, I think it's going to be important that, at a minimum, the process that the Senate uses is one that is fair and full.


KOSIK: All right, this doesn't necessarily mean the president is more likely to be removed from office. It will take 20 Republican senators for that to happen. But only four Republicans are needed to force changes to the trial process like calling witnesses or demanding documents as Democrats want.

PHILLIP: Murkowski is one of several senators to watch in this process. She's among the group that have been either critical of the president, are retiring or are moderates facing a tough re-election. Republican sources say, however, that Senator McConnell is open to going to the floor without Chuck Schumer's support on the ground rules for a trial. His preference is to cut a deal with the Democratic leader.

KOSIK: The Republican consensus appears to be that opening statements should come first before any decisions are made on documents and witnesses. Republicans also want the articles of impeachment to be delivered from the House first. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been holding them until she receives assurances that there will be a fair trial in the Senate.

PHILLIP: President Trump is leaning into the holiday spirit but with an eye on politics. The Trump re-election campaign has launched its Web site with the goal of arming his supporters with a quote to win the argument with liberal friends and relatives and snowflakes that they encounter during the holidays. You heard that right.

KOSIK: The president also spent part of Christmas railing against the impeachment, calling Nancy Pelosi crazy. It's quite a contrast to his holiday message to the nation. He and the first lady called for a culture of deeper understanding and respect, traits that exemplify the teachings of Christ.

PHILLIP: It's a mixed bag for the post-Christmas forecast. Much warmer in the east and snow outside of Los Angeles. Interstate 5 was closed overnight at the Grapevine Pass to help people stuck. And travel delays are expected throughout the west and that same system could be a big snowmaker in the central U.S.

Here's meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.


Travel weather across the country here today looking pretty good across parts of the south. Temps running 15, to some areas up to 30 degrees above average, even around the Midwest. In Chicago, temperatures about 30 degrees above average. But it is across the southwest. That's where the active weather is in place. In fact, winter weather advisories across parts of Southern

California, down to as low as 2500 feet. That's where you'll begin to see some snowfall mixed in and in some cases, as much as a half a foot of accumulation is possible there in the higher elevations of Southern California.

But notice this. You get up in towards the areas of the Midwest, winter weather advisories in place. And as all of this moisture eventually ends up across that region by later in the week and this weekend, if you're waiting to travel back, say on Friday into Saturday, it could be a mess across portions of the Dakotas and the Upper Midwest and certainly in the Intermountain West as well.

But 60 degrees, that is what we're aiming for in Chicago this afternoon. The average closer to 30 degrees. Down in the south, also on the milder side.


But looking ahead into early next week and, of course, into New Year's Eve, big-time cold air across parts of the Midwest. Los Angeles, you're out of the woods, enjoying temps generally into the 60s. Going into next week, generally dry weather across the board -- guys.

KOSIK: All right, Pedram, thanks very much.

It is a pivotal day for Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister facing a major challenge within his own Likud Party, his first serious leadership challenge in over a decade. Ahead of the vote, he is promising supporters he will convince President Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all settlements on the West Bank.

Netanyahu was rushed off the stage at a campaign event last night after a rocket was fired from Gaza into southern Israel. It's almost identical to what happened just before the elections in September.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is live for us in Jerusalem.

So we are watching Netanyahu, Oren, in the middle of a corruption scandal, and now coming this vote. How vulnerable is Netanyahu?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alison, he still is very much expected to win this race. The question is, by how much? He does face serious challenges here. The image of him being rushed off stage as a rocket was fired from Gaza towards the city he was in not exactly a good look one day before this vote. And that might be the smallest of the problems he faces.

As you pointed out, he faces criminal indictment on charges of bribery and breach of trust in three separate corruption investigations. And on top of that, he has failed to form a government twice with polls indicating ahead of the March vote that he could well fail to form a government again if he's in charge of the Likud Party. Despite that, political analysts say he is very much the heavy favorite in this race against his rival, 53-year-old Gideon Sa'ar, a hardline right-wing politician, a former minister of Education, who has promised to succeed where Netanyahu has failed, to break Israel's political government and to form a right-wing government headed by the Likud Party.

Again, Netanyahu is the favorite here but it's not just a matter of winning. In previous leadership races, Netanyahu has won and won big, something like 75 percent or 80 percent of the vote. And that's the number he wants again. Why? It shows he's in control of his own Likud Party and he is still the leader of the right-wing. If this is a close race, if this is something like 60-40 or 55-45, it may well signal that Netanyahu's base is beginning to move in a different direction. And that would be a sign of weakness ahead of the March vote.

Of course, Alison, if the improbable does happen, if Netanyahu loses, it could effectively be the end of Netanyahu.

KOSIK: All right. CNN's Oren Liebermann, live for us from Jerusalem. Thanks so much.

PHILLIP: So here's some news you can use. If you ate too much on Christmas, here's a little advice for getting back on track in the New Year. It turns out that abstaining from food for 16 to 18 hours a day could be the key to living longer. A review of past studies in "The New England Journal of Medicine" suggests that intermittent fasting, which is when you limit your eating to just six or eight hours a day it can reduce blood pressure and help with weight loss.

The report functions as a road map of sorts for treating obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. The obvious catch however is that for most Americans the norm is three meals a day plus snacks. So physicians are less inclined to use fasting as a solution to a broad range of health conditions.

KOSIK: Women are supporting women in big ways, especially when it comes to college sports. The "New York Times" reports former female athletes are donating millions to support their alma maters. The NCAA says participation in women's college sports is at an all-time high, with over 10,000 women's teams competing in championship sports. Yet, marketing and sponsorships from benefactors for female teams isn't as strong as the men.

A report from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education shows donations to U.S. colleges and universities came to a record $46.7 billion in 2018. Indiana, Queens and Drake Universities saw huge donations from women this year, with Drake University receiving $5 million for its women's basketball program. The school's biggest none capital donation ever.

The "New York Times" reports that women are controlling more wealth than ever in the U.S. and they are using that wealth to better their favorite causes, with sports coming out on top.

PHILLIP: Yes. It feels like it's about time for some of this to change. At least thanks to the U.S. women soccer team that brought attention to this issue of the pay gap, right? KOSIK: Absolutely. Yes, yes.

PHILLIP: Well, a U.S. ambassador overseas is defending American values. His reward, he gets sent home. Here's why, coming up next.




TRUMP: We'll see what happens. We'll -- let's see. Maybe it's a nice present. Maybe it's a present where he sends me a beautiful vase, as opposed to a missile test.


KOSIK: OK. It's not likely that Kim Jong-un is going to be sending President Trump a vase or any other beautiful gift for the holidays. The North Korean leader threatened the U.S. with a Christmas gift but now that Christmas has passed and still no surprise from Pyongyang. OK, what happens next? So the world is waiting as North Korea ramps up warning signs.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live for us in Seoul.

So, Paula, is this just more bluster from the North Korean regime? How serious did the U.S. take this threat?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alison, we know that officials here in South Korea and in the United States are on alert for what this potential Christmas gift could be. Yes, Christmas Day has passed but that doesn't mean that the promise or the threat of this gift has gone away.

Now one source with familiarity of North Korea's thinking does believe that the likelihood of an ICBM test, an intercontinental ballistic missile, or a nuclear test over the Christmas period, the chances of that are very low. But we do have other deadlines coming up. The end-of-year deadline that North Korea has consistently spoke about for the United States to change its attitude to give concessions or it will choose a new path. That's coming up.

We know Kim Jong-un will give a New Year address in which he is likely to point out exactly what his policy going forward will be. And that could be a hardline policy towards the United States.


There have been reconnaissance flights over the Korean Peninsula in recent days from the United States. So clearly they are concerned and wanting to make sure whether or not there are preparations anywhere in North Korea that they can see. The satellite imagery that's commercially available has shown that there is movement at a couple of sites which has led administration officials to tell CNN that there could be an engine test or some kind of component test going forward, and its missile program being prepared for. So certainly officials are still on alert and still waiting to see what North Korea will do -- Alison.

KOSIK: And China is now pushing the U.S. to take concrete steps with North Korea as well, so then there is that factor as well.

All right, CNN's Paula Hancocks, live for us from Seoul. Thanks very much.

PHILLIP: Another U.S. ambassador overseas is in the spotlight, this time in Zambia. A career diplomat now pulled after he criticized the jailing of a gay couple there and he spoke out about corruptions.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is in Washington with more on this story -- Kylie.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Ambassador Daniel Foote was recalled as the U.S. ambassador to Zambia after he was critical of the Zambian government for putting two men in jail, sentencing them to 15 years in prison, because they were gay. He was also critical of Zambia for corruption in their country.

At that point, the president of Zambia essentially said that he was no longer wanted in the country, that they did not want him representing the U.S. so the State Department said that they considered that to be a statement that Ambassador Foote was a persona non grata, which meant that they did have to recall him from Zambia.

But this was a very treacherous moment and quite, quite complex. Ambassador Foote, after receiving all of the criticism for him going after the Zambian government for jailing two men for being gay, came out with a statement saying this. He said, quote, "I was shocked at the venom and hate directed at me and my country, largely in the name of 'Christian' values, by a small minority of Zambians. I thought perhaps incorrectly that Christianity meant trying to live like our Lord Jesus Christ. I'm not qualified to sermonize but I cannot imagine Jesus would have used bestiality comparisons or referred to his fellow human beings as dogs or worse than animals."

Now the Trump administration has sort of a mixed bag when it comes to its treatment of those who are part of the LGBT community, both in the U.S. and internationally. The Trump administration has received criticism for not allowing transgender Americans to serve openly in the U.S. Military. But at the same time, the U.S. just last week convened a meeting at the U.N. on the decriminalization of homosexuality and called out 69 countries that still consider homosexuality to be a crime and against the law in that country.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, Washington.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Kylie.

And now a new video showing chaos when a crane collapses into a cargo vessel off of Ecuador's Galapagos Islands. Emergency teams are now trying to contain a 600-gallon oil spill and conservation crews are scrambling to protect some of the most unique ecosystems on the planet. The area is home to many species that cannot be found anywhere else on earth.

KOSIK: Incredible.

Baby Yoda seems to be everywhere, except under the Christmas tree. CNN Business has details on the hot new toy for next year, not this year. That's up next.


PHILLIP: Another blow for embattled Boeing, and the hits keep coming. In the last two weeks alone, Boeing has forced out its CEO and decided to halt production of the 737 Max. Now we've learned that Boeing has been asking thousands of passengers if they're too afraid to fly on the 737 Max after two deadly crashes. The results are not reassuring.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich has more.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Abby and Alison. Yes, Boeing has been doing damage control behind the scenes after these two horrific crashes involving their 737 Max jets. Now, according to documents obtained by "The New York Times," Boeing has been surveying thousands of customers around the world since May about whether they'd feel safe flying on the Max once it's back in service.

Earlier this month, 40 percent of passengers told the company they would not be willing to fly on the Max and that is unchanged from October. What these documents obtained by "The New York Times" reveal is the uphill battle Boeing knows it has with passengers as the company tries to regain their trust.

Boeing is also reaching out to the airlines, according to the "New York Times." Last week, they held 30-minute conference calls with major airlines outlining how they could respond to passengers who may have concerns about flying on the Max again. For example, if a passenger realizes they're on a Max at the gate, Boeing is suggesting that agents rebook them on a different flight or even have the pilot come out to speak to them personally.

We reached out to Boeing on this and here's what they had to say, quote, "We routinely engage with our airline customers' communications teams to seek their feedback and brief them on our latest plans. Each airline is different in their needs, so we provide a wide range of documents and assistance that they can choose to use or tailor as they see fit" -- Abby and Alison.

KOSIK: All right, Vanessa, thank you.

A 7-year-old girl is in critical condition after a Christmas morning shooting in Chicago. Police say someone fired shots from the sidewalk, hitting the girl inside her home in the city's Brighton Park neighborhood. Another man was shot in the leg. Police say they have no suspects. Just days ago, 13 people were shot at a gathering in Chicago. This as the city struggles to shake its reputation for gun violence. PHILLIP: And the suspect in a fatal stabbing of two men in Nashville

is in police custody this morning. Charges against Michael Mosley include two counts of criminal homicide. Police say two victims, 22- year-old Clayton Beathard and 21-year-old Paul Trapeni, were stabbed during a fight on Saturday outside of a Nashville bar. Beathard is the younger brother of San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard. A third victim was hospitalized with wounds to his eye and arm.

KOSIK: Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head once again. The NYPD is investigating at least three possible hate-based attacks on Jewish people in the past 72 hours.


In one of them, a man from Miami is accused of punching and kicking a 65-year-old man in Manhattan on Monday. The 28-year-old suspect is also accused of yelling "F you, Jew" at the victim. Also the Anti- Defamation League is offering a reward up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest following an attack of an Orthodox Jewish man in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

PHILLIP: And for the first time in its 31-year history, a Christmas tree overlooking much of Poway, California, is honoring Hanukkah. It's designed like a Hanukkah candle to honor the community for coming together in the wake of a deadly white supremacist attack at the synagogue there back in April. Its designer contacted the synagogue's now retired rabbi to get his blessing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Push away the darkness with light. And it's like, oh, have I got a deal for you. I've got a tree of light for you.


PHILLIP: The tree got all-new bulbs with a darker blue at the bottom and a lighter blue in the middle and white near the top to resemble the flame.

KOSIK: A postal worker in Kansas is being hailed as an unsung Christmas hero. A fire official says the driver was out on a delivery on Sunday when he suddenly saw smoke coming from his truck. They say he quickly pulled over and removed all the packages before they caught fire. By the time the fire department got there, the front half of the mail truck was fully engulfed. Afterward the department tweeted, "The mailman saved Christmas."

PHILLIP: Wow. What a story.

And an Indiana boy with autism who was turned away by Santa has Christmas come to him thanks to a local fire department. Tyler Burkhart's mom says he was rejected by a previous Santa and an elf over the weekend because they feared other kids would be allergic to his service dog. Tyler's mom says he was upset but his Christmas turned out to be a memorable one.


ALYSSA BURKHART, TYLER'S MOTHER: The damage had already been done at that point and we had a very just crushed child. Beyond happiness. I cannot even tell you how just excited and just happy this makes us.


PHILLIP: Tyler was able to tour the fire truck and wear the gear. And the highlight for him was spraying the hose down the street. Naturally, Santa gave Tyler a toy fire truck as a gift.

KOSIK: Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Stocks looks like they're pointing to a positive open after their Christmas break. Stocks finished mixed on Tuesday's shortened trading day. The Dow fell 36 points but the Nasdaq hit another record high for the ninth session in a row, marking its longest winning streak in more than two years.

With six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, retailers pulled out all the stops to drive sales. Looks like it paid off. A report from Mastercard showing online sales had a record high this holiday season, making up 14.6 percent of total retail sales. Overall holiday sales increased 3.4 percent.

President Trump cheered the news in a Christmas tweet saying, "It was the biggest number in U.S. history." Here's the thing, though. Reuters are pointing out that a spokesperson for Mastercard said this year's sales growth was actually not the biggest ever, citing 2018's 5.1 percent growth. The White House did not comment on the discrepancy.

That face. Everyone has fallen in love with Baby Yoda. But no one found the cute character under their Christmas trees. Disney has a stuffed Baby Yoda shoppers can now preorder but it will delivered until March. Disney held back on merchandising to prevent any spoilers in the "Mandalorian." By waiting to market Baby Yoda, Disney lost about $2.7 million in sales this holiday season. But the trade- off, says Jon Favreau, who created the series, the tradeoff was, he said, creating excitement for the character.

PHILLIP: And it did.

KOSIK: As opposed to the money.

PHILLIP: Yes. And people loved Baby Yoda so I bet they'll be buying.

KOSIK: I bet you're right.

PHILLIP: Thanks to our international viewers for joining us. Have a great rest of your day. For our U.S. viewers, EARLY START continues right now.

The first crack for the GOP. Why one moderate senator is calling out Mitch McConnell over impeachment.

KOSIK: It's mild now but snow is on the way. Whose trip home from the holidays could get messy?

PHILLIP: We all gorged on Christmas, now new research suggests if you ate quickly, it could help you live longer.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. And I'm Abby Phillip.

KOSIK: Good morning.

PHILLIP: Good morning.

KOSIK: I'm Alison Kosik. It's Thursday, December 26th. Hope you all enjoyed your Christmas. It's 5:00 a.m. in New York. And we've got 39 days to the Iowa caucuses.

It's just one senator but it's the first crack in the GOP --