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DeSantis to Kick Off Presidential Campaign; Debt Limit Drama over Spending Cuts; Uvalde One Year Later; South Carolina Abortion Ban; Gabby Petito Civil Trial. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 24, 2023 - 11:00   ET




SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's happening tonight. Florida governor Ron DeSantis will make it official. He's set to launch his presidential bid. Ahead, new details on how he plans to beat former president Trump.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): So we just got word that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will hold a press conference any minute.

So what news will he bring from the debt ceiling negotiations?

Do they have a deal?

Have talks collapsed?

Stand by for news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Are you still using your sister's ex-boyfriend's parents' Netflix password?

It's about to cost you. Ahead, what the company says about the coming crackdown.



SIDNER: Seven hours from now, we are going to hear a presidential announcement that has been months in the making. But there is no stage, no huge rally being prepared, as Florida governor Ron DeSantis is going to officially announce he's running for president tonight.

DeSantis, instead, is opting for an intimate Twitter conversation with billionaire owner Elon Musk. The event will be audio only and promises a live, unscripted Q&A session. Right now polling shows the Republican governor Donald Trump wants endorsed poses the greatest primary threat to the current GOP front-runner.

DeSantis' decision to take this virtual stage tonight, one of the latest attacks being hurled, of course, from Trump's team. CNN reporter Steve Contorno is leading off the hour. What do we know about DeSantis and how he's crafting this announcement

because it is unusual, to say the least?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, it is, Sara. And so far they're being very coy about the details for tonight's event. But here's what we know so far.

Sources have told us that DeSantis is expected to announce formally during this Twitter conversation that he will be a candidate for President of the United States. This is months in the making. He's spent most of the spring touring the country on a book tour, giving -- doing this policy rollout and building an agenda for him to run on.

And now it will be official that he will be challenging Donald Trump for supremacy of the Republican Party going forward. Last night, his wife, Casey DeSantis, teased this coming announcement with this video, showing her husband about to walk out on the stage.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): But is it worth the fight?

Do I have the courage?

Is it worth the sacrifice?

America has been worth it every single time.


CONTORNO: Now obviously, this is not a conventional way to announce a campaign but DeSantis has said he is not going to have a conventional campaign. But it is also a controversial choice.

Elon Musk's stewardship of Twitter has been full of criticisms of how he has operated. He has embraced conspiracy theories and the far right. However, DeSantis has tried to curry favor with the conservative influencers that have embraced the new Twitter. And he will use them to sort of build influence to take on Donald Trump.

He will also need a lot of money to go after the former president. And following today's announcement, he is holding a fund-raiser this week in Miami, where his donors have been told it's time to start dialing for dollars.

Already he has about $100 million in various accounts and that's expected to grow. Of course, Donald Trump is a well-funded candidates and between his various super PACs supporting him and his campaign, he's raised over $100 million.

So we will have a long, expensive fight between these two Republican heavyweights for the nomination starting tonight.

SIDNER: Steve Contorno, thank you so much.

And a quick note: as we watch the growing GOP field, CNN announcing its next live CNN presidential town hall will be in Iowa, with candidate Nikki Haley. CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper, will moderate that. And that is Sunday, June 4, at 8:00 pm Eastern.

BOLDUAN: Leading up to this big moment for governor DeSantis, he's been busy back at home.


BOLDUAN: In just the last two months, DeSantis signed into law a six- week abortion ban. The law prohibits doctors from knowingly performing abortions.

And he signed legislation that would loosen gun regulations in the state, allowing gun owners to carry a concealed firearm in public without a permit. Certain training requirements associated with gun ownership are also going to end along with this in July.


DESANTIS: You don't need a permission slip from the government to be able to exercise your constitutional rights.


BOLDUAN: DeSantis also signed a bill that eliminated unanimous jury decisions for the death penalty. Now only eight out of 12 jurors are needed to recommend a death sentence. No other state has a lower threshold than that.

And in the weeks leading to him announcing he's running for president, DeSantis also approved a bill banning TikTok on all government devices and also approved a crackdown on immigration and that includes a possible five-year prison sentence or a $5,000 fine for someone here illegally.

And there's new restrictions on transgender people in Florida. LGBTQ advocates call that bill an all-out attack on freedom. Here's what governor DeSantis called it.


DESANTIS: We are going to remain a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy and kids should have an upbringing that reflects that.


BOLDUAN: All of this in just the last two months. And it could be the record that we see him starting to run on as of today -- John.

BERMAN: As we said, just in, we learned that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has announced a press conference that will take place any minute, with news on the debt ceiling negotiations.

And this comes as the U.S. is days away from defaulting. You can see live pictures of the setup right there. Let's get right to Manu Raju. What are you hearing about what the Speaker is going to say?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We expect him to reiterate exactly what he's been demanding behind closed doors, which is calling on the White House to agree to spending cuts but below this year's level.

The White House has not been willing to go that far, instead proposing what the president believes is a compromise to freeze current government spending. They've tried to negotiate on a whole other range of issues as part of Republicans' conditions to raise the debt ceiling.

The Democrats have tried to offer their preferred ideas as well but the Speaker has indicated to me publicly yesterday that he will only agree to one concession and that is to raise the national debt limit.

No other priorities whatsoever. And that position has rankled Democrats and rankled the White House, which believes that they need to have some of their priorities added as well in order to get Democratic support out of the House and even through the United States Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

Just moments ago, I caught up with Kevin McCarthy's top negotiator in the room, Patrick McHenry, who defended the Republican approach and refusal to offering any concessions and also indicated that he believes that the White House badly miscalculated in their initial position that they would not negotiate with Republicans.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): The predicate to get this out of the House is that we have to cut spending. That unlocks the rest of the negotiations. The White House team understands that.

I understand that's heartburn for them but their strategy presumed that we could not raise the debt ceiling. We did. We raised it out of the House. And they're stuck in the Senate and can't get anywhere.

RAJU: Why not offer a single policy concession?

MCHENRY: They want to raise taxes at a time when we have revenue at an all-time high in real terms and percentage terms since World War II. They have plenty of revenue. What we have also is the largest spending in American history and record deficits. So that's not a revenue problem; this is a spending problem.


RAJU: And it seems increasingly unlikely that any deal that can be reached can be drafted into legislative text, passed through the House and Senate and signed into law before the potential default date of June 1st, given the procedures that they have to go through in both chambers.

And it is also just the fact that they'll have to count votes and get there, if they're even able to get a deal to begin with.

And the broader House Republican conference as well as the Democratic caucus are pushing respective leaders to hold the line and to not give in, which is also adding a lot of pressure inside the room and raising questions about whether they can actually avoid falling off the cliff.

BERMAN: So as of now, the position from the Republican Party remains, give us what we want or default?

RAJU: It is -- that's one way to put it. They are saying they have raised the debt ceiling through legislation that they passed. They say they have the leverage going forward. And they say that the only concession that they're willing to give is --


RAJU: -- to actually have the votes to raise the debt ceiling, give them what they want, which is spending cuts. So if there's any change in that posture, we'll see. But McCarthy knows, John, if he gives in to Democrat priorities, he'll lose support in the House. He wants to maintain a majority in order for any deal he reaches with the president.

BERMAN: Manu Raju, we'll continue to let you chase these members as this news conference looms.

SIDNER: Today marks one year since one of the deadliest school shootings in United States history. On May 24, 2022, a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers.

While healing remains elusive, the community will come together today to mourn and honor the victims. Texas will hold a moment of silence next hour. It is lowering flags to half-staff.

And in Washington, President Biden will mark the day by calling for congressional action to address gun violence. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is in Uvalde with us.

Shimon, you've been covering the story from the start. You have not let up, trying to get answers for families.

Do they have what they need now?

Have they gotten the answers they wanted?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No, not yet, Sara. I don't think we're even close to the families having what they wanted.

You know, at this hour last year, just a year ago, they were inside the school behind me celebrating. It was the last day of school; kids were getting awards. It was a day of celebration. Parents were here. They left their kids to continue celebrating the last day. They were all having a good time.

And in just about an hour, their lives would be changed forever. And in many ways, things have not gotten better.

And when you say and ask about, do the parents have the answers that they want?

No. They're still fighting to this moment for accountability, for answers and trying to understand exactly how this failure, this law enforcement failure here occurred. Obviously wanting to know how this individual was able to walk so easily inside this school and kill their kids.

So, no; they do not yet have those answers. But today is really all about, for them, to try and remember their kids and try and have some sense of unity. That's what this community really needs right now is unity and, of course, accountability.

SIDNER: Shimon, can you give us a sense of what is happening there behind you?

We see people standing around.

And how the parents are doing, they will never have closure; I think everyone understands that but how are they faring one year after this happened?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. No, they will never have closure and it's not helped by all of the issues that they continually face from officials across the state.

Behind me, many of the community members are showing up and dropping off flowers and there's a memorial. We saw family members of Lexi Rubio. She's one of the girls who died here last year. Her parents came to lay some flowers.

We actually spoke to her mother for our one-hour special that aired just this Sunday, talking about how she wants to build a legacy for her daughter. And part of that legacy is accountability. Take a listen.


KIM RUBIO, LEXI'S MOM: Lexi deserved to have been here and forged her own path and made a difference in this world the way that she wanted to. And that was taken from her. So I just feel like it's my job as her mom to make sure she can still do that.

And she can. She's more than just a victim. And if there's change that comes as a result of this, well, I'd like to think that she had a part in that.



ROLAND GUTIERREZ, TEXAS STATE SENATOR: These same shootings that occur everywhere now. You always see the body cam the next day. We went straight in. We didn't delay. PROKUPECZ: It's because of this that they say that, right?

GUTIERREZ: It's because of this. What they do and how they speak has changed because of what happened in Uvalde, Texas.


PROKUPECZ: So that's the state senator there, talking about how law enforcement is supposed to go in. The sound of gunfire, go toward the shooter and rescue people who may be in rooms where mass shootings are occurring.

That didn't immediately happen in this situation. And so he feels that because of what happened here, law enforcement has taken a different position now. They're more aggressive. They're reminded by what happened here and making sure this doesn't happen again.

And for Kim Rubio and that family, it's about trying to change the gun laws and they're still fighting for that. And they still have a long fight ahead of them.

SIDNER: They certainly do.


SIDNER: Shimon, thank you to you and your team for sticking with this and doing so much work for the families that they desperately need. We appreciate it, from Uvalde, Texas.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, it started with an arrest at a Virginia preschool. Police detained a man for trespassing on school grounds. But it was what was found in his truck that is causing concern. And we'll have details coming up.

Plus another travel advisory for Florida, the warning that the nation's largest LGBTQ advocacy group is sending to people looking to travel or move to this state.

And the crackdown begins. The days of using your college roommate's uncle's password for Netflix, they are now over or you will just have to pay. That is coming up.





SIDNER: On our radar this hour, the 19-year-old accused of ramming a U-Haul truck into a security barrier near the White House is expected in federal court at 1:15 pm Eastern today.

According to court documents, the suspect told investigators he intended to, quote, "kill the president if necessary" in order to overthrow the government and put himself in power.

South Carolina's legislature has approved a bill that will ban most abortions in the state, a ban after six weeks of pregnancy. This is despite the efforts of five women state senators, a bipartisan group, who tried to block it from happening.

Their effort has failed. In an interview with "CNN THIS MORNING," one of those lawmakers, Sandy Senn, said, quote, "We're putting women in the Southeast in a total bind. If you don't have money to fly or a lot of money and time for gas to go all the way up the East Coast, then, you know, you're just in trouble."

The Human Rights Campaign has joined the NAACP now in warning people about traveling to the state of Florida. The advocacy group said recent measures signed into law by governor Ron DeSantis are hostile to the LGBTQ community. They point to bills targeting drag shows gender-affirming care for minors -- John.

BERMAN: New this morning, Virginia police arrested a man with multiple weapons in his car outside a preschool. Fairfax County police showed a photo of the confiscated weapons, including an AK-47. Athena Jones joins us.

What are you learning about this?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. It's good to know this man was apprehended. They arrested a 32-year-old man from Florida. His name is Eric Sandow. Fairfax County police say he was trespassing at this preschool in McLean, Virginia, just outside of D.C.

He was not armed at the time he was stopped by police. But he then told police that he was making his way to the CIA. They detained him, they executed a search warrant on his vehicle and that is when they found those weapons, an AK-47, a handgun and a whole bunch of ammunition.

We should note, he was not far from his intended target of the CIA, as he told police. He was only about a mile away from that preschool. Dolley Madison Preschool is only about a mile away from the CIA headquarters, which has a long driveway.

But bottom line, it's very, very disturbing here. We have learned that this man was -- we got a statement from the school, that says that he was trespassing on the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church and Dolley Madison Preschool grounds. He requests access to come inside the building in order to use the restroom. The school staff denied him that access and at no point did he enter the building.

The police then arrested him, did that search and now we are awaiting a statement from the CIA. But this is certainly concerning news, given all of the violence we seem to see almost on a weekly basis when it comes to mass shootings -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, very concerning. Athena, please keep us posted. Thanks very much. BOLDUAN: Today, two hearings are set to get underway in the civil

trial between the families of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie. The couple made headlines in 2021 when Gabby disappeared on a cross country trip together. Brian Laundrie returned to his home in Florida on September 1st without Gabby.

Her family reported her missing on September 11th. Days later, Laundrie disappeared. On September 19th, authorities found Petito's remains in Wyoming, where the couple had previously been camping.

Laundrie was named a person of interest but was eventually found dead at a Florida campground. Nearly two years later, Petito's parents are suing for emotional distress, claiming Laundrie's parents knew he had murdered Gabby. CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson is here for more on this.

What the big issue is in this civil lawsuit, at least right now is, this letter that Brian Laundrie's mother wrote to him. On the envelope of the letter, it says "burn after reading." And no one has seen the letter.

The Petitos want to see the letter and here's what they say in the court filing.

It says, "The letter in question, written by Roberta Laundrie, references bringing a shovel to help bury a body and baking a cake with a shiv in it, should Brian Laundrie go to prison."

All of this back and forth and where they're headed into this, that is the heat of this.


BOLDUAN: How critical is this letter when you look at this lawsuit?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Kate, good morning. Very critical. We know the trial is now postponed until next year. It was originally going to start this year. But there's a lot to do.

Before you have a, trial there need to be a lot of things that are ironed out, like the parameters of the case.

What does the discovery look like, meaning information that the attorneys have to evaluate to prove their respective cases, right?

So today's hearings are twofold. One, you mentioned, that it's about this letter.

This letter is a subject of significance, why?

This lawsuit is about intentional infliction of emotional distress. Parents, you knew. You knew our daughter was dead. Yet you had your attorney put out this letter, giving the indication that we hope she's OK and she comes back.

How dare you? Do you know the pain and mental stress that causes?

To your question, the relevance of the letter.

How would that be relevant?

If you have a letter that is produced in discovery, which demonstrates that the mother knew and was writing her son with respect to how to dispose, we don't know what the letter says.


JACKSON: But potentially how to dispose of the body, what?

So that is right there. In the event the letter says, that information that you knew, you made us suffer. You humiliated us and now it's your time to pay up. So it's very significant, whether or not this letter has contents and we get to see it, evaluate it, review it.

And whether or not indeed it would show that she knew that, as the mom of Brian Laundrie, that she was dead and yet put out that statement anyway.

BOLDUAN: Laundrie's -- Laundrie's parents say this letter was written before Gabby disappeared and it had nothing to do with it. And that is why it is part of this back and forth.

Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie are dead.

Is this lawsuit and is this legal action Petito's parents are taking, is this the only legal avenue as the way they view it for getting any justice for her death?

JACKSON: I do see it as significant in that regard. Of course, it's civil and Brian Laundrie took his own life and he would be the responsible party for Gabby Petito's death. And so the family wants answers.

And even in this lawsuit, civil, they're suing. You get those answers through the exchange of information. We know that her attorneys really foiled the freedom of information law, the FBI's investigation, so they can get at exactly what happened.

But I think it's critical to know what role Brian Laundrie played in that death and what role the parents, if any, played in that death.

So this letter's very important and that's a significant issue --


BOLDUAN: Again, civil, not criminal; what's the bar here for what the Petitos need to prove?

JACKSON: Ultimately, Kate, when the matter goes forward -- and the open question is whether this letter is a part of that.


JACKSON: The question becomes not beyond a reasonable doubt but by what we call a preponderance of the evidence.

Is it more likely than not that you knew, right?

You knew that our daughter was dead, yet you put out this statement, you inflamed our emotions and gave us false hope. And that is terrible that you did that. That is what they are asserting and, as a result, you engaged in intentional infliction of emotional distress, not beyond a reasonable doubt.

But is it more likely than not by a preponderance of the evidence?

And the second issue is whether the attorney can himself, right, the one who represented Brian Laundrie, whether he himself -- the family could be embroiled in the lawsuit; he's been named as a defendant. We'll see in the hearing whether that's allowed to persist or if that's dismissed. And it's only as to the parents.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Joey. Thanks for coming in.

JACKSON: Always.

SIDNER: In mere minutes, speaker McCarthy speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on the debt impasse. CNN will bring it to you live. You're looking at live pictures here, as reporters wait to hear from him.

And we'll ask Republican congressman McCaul what he expects to hear as we wait for McCarthy to come out.