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Typhoon Hits Guam; Major Differences Remain in Debt Ceiling Talks; Trump Attorneys Request Meeting With Attorney General; Ron DeSantis Set to Announce Presidential Bid. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2023 - 13:00   ET




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"CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts right now.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will soon make his presidential bid official. And a new CNN poll is giving us the latest snapshot of the Republican race. One key takeaway, DeSantis is going to be facing some challenges.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And a critical moment in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, the special counsel closing in on a decision whether to charge former President Trump. His lawyers are requesting a meeting with the attorney general. Ahead, what this could signal.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: And Target is taking some of its products celebrating Pride Month off store shelves. Why? It cites confrontational behavior and threats towards store workers over its Pride collection.

We are following these developing stories and many more, all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SANCHEZ: The race for the Republican presidential nomination is about to get much more competitive.

Just a few hours from now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will officially launch his 2024 White House run in an unconventional way. He's announcing it live via Twitter discussion with the platform's controversial owner, Elon Musk. DeSantis needs a jolt of momentum, because a new poll out today shows a majority of Republicans still favor Donald Trump.

His 53 percent support more than doubles what DeSantis has. And despite legal challenges, Trump has widened his lead in recent months.

Let's take you now live to Miami and CNN's Steve Contorno.

Steve, Governor DeSantis set to hold an event later where you are in Miami. But, first, what are we expecting from this Twitter announcement?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Well, Boris, DeSantis loves surprises and loves keeping the media on their toes. So they're keeping a lot of the details for tonight under wraps.

But here's what we have been able to glean from sources. DeSantis tonight in this conversation with Elon Musk will announce that he is formerly a president for candidate -- a candidate for president of the United States. That is an announcement we have expected for months.

And he has been building up to this for much of the past six months, and it will become official tonight. Now, from there, DeSantis is expected to hold a fund-raiser Thursday in Miami, where he is going to start bringing in money for his campaign. His donors will be told it's time to start dialing for dollars.

But we're already getting a lot of feedback from his potential rivals about this announcement. We heard from Donald Trump's super PAC supporting him, saying -- quote -- "It's one of the most out-of-touch campaign launches in modern history."

And Nikki Haley, another potential contender for the nomination, has said DeSantis is Trump without the charm. I got to tell you, I'm fielding a lot of calls from Republican operatives and Democrats who are saying this is one of the oddest campaign announcements they have ever seen.

But this is in keeping with how DeSantis is going to conduct this campaign. He's going to be unconventional, and he's going to try to stir the pot in any way he can. And this is the first step in that.

SANCHEZ: Yes, supporters believe this makes him of an insurgent candidate. That's the brand he's trying to embrace.

Steve, what about the next few weeks? I imagine DeSantis is going to be heading to some of those early primary states as he campaigns.

CONTORNO: That's correct.

And we're actually just learning that DeSantis is no longer going to hold an event in his hometown of Dunedin, Florida. That was originally part of the plan. However, they have scrapped that. And now they are going to focus instead immediately on going to those early primary states and in getting in front of those voters who are going to decide who's going to be the nominee for the Republican going forward.

And DeSantis is going to try to convince them that he is in a better position than Trump to carry the mantle for the GOP. That argument is going to be based on his record. It's also going to be based on the fact that Trump is a lame-duck the moment he gets into office, whereas DeSantis can serve for two years and push through a conservative -- excuse me -- two terms and push through a conservative agenda over those eight years, Boris.

SANCHEZ: And both supporters and critics are going to be watching how he handles those moments in crowds. Criticisms over his ability to conduct retail politics have been looming over his campaign.

Steve Contorno in Miami, thank you so much -- over to you, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, let's talk about this now with Washington bureau chief for "USA Today" Susan Page.

This choice of DeSantis to use Twitter as a venue, what does it signify? What are the upsides? What are the downsides?


SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, one upside is 140 million. That's the number of followers that Elon Musk has on Twitter who might be watching, tuning in. That's a huge audience.

It's a little different too. So, if you're going to have a pretty big Republican field, and it looks like we're going to -- we expect additional challengers to get in, in the next couple of weeks and months -- it may be not a bad idea to look like you're a little different and you're willing to do something that no one's done before.

KEILAR: How does he substantively sell himself? What is his pitch going to be that sets him apart from those other contenders?

PAGE: Well, I'd say one thing, is, he won reelection in Florida, a key state, by 19 percentage points. That's pretty significant.

He has enacted a conservative agenda in Florida. Now, that may be a double-edged sword, good in the primary, bad in the general. It shows an ability to deliver. That will be the argument that he makes, that he can do things, some -- including some things that Donald Trump supports, but he does not carry all that Trump baggage.

KEILAR: How does he need to broaden his appeal?

PAGE: Well...

KEILAR: Because, obviously, he has some folks who are very enthusiastic about him, but that's not going to be enough. PAGE: Right. And he has a lot of big donors who are enthusiastic

about him and who are maybe a little tired of Donald Trump. That's important too.

But, yes, you have to sell yourself, not just your policy proposals. You have to make people feel like you are someone they trust, you're someone they want to follow. You have to be an effective campaigner, I think, to win election as president.

And that is something that's kind of tested DeSantis so far.

KEILAR: You have to be an effective campaigner. You have to be a good retail politician.

He sells himself as Trump without the drama. Is he also Trump without the charisma? Or is he just not really Trump at all? What do you think?

PAGE: Well, Trump is pretty charismatic. You can love him or hate him, but you cannot stop watching him.

I think it is hard for someone who does not grab your attention to make it through this presidential process. But we will see. His early start, I think, a little bit of a stumble. Maybe he waited a little long to get in. He hasn't -- he's still finding his footing in how to respond to attacks from Donald Trump.

But he's got time. And wherever things stand now in these national polls, they are going to be way different by the time we get down the road.

KEILAR: In your experience covering presidential candidates, is there a learning curve? I mean, can they figure that out over time how to be a better retail politician, or is that just something you're either born with?

PAGE: Well, both.

I mean, there are some innate great campaigners. Donald Trump would be one. Ronald Reagan would be another. Barack Obama would be a third. But you do learn things through presidential campaigns. And I will say, that's one advantage that Trump has.

He's been down this road before successfully, twice gotten the nomination, once won the White House. That is a big advantage.

KEILAR: Susan, great to have you. Thank you so much, Susan Page -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, Donald Trump's lawyers sent a letter to the attorney general. And, on the same page, they request a meeting and also harshly criticize the nation's top law enforcement officer for the act of investigating the former president.

He then posted the letter, which was dated yesterday, online. It says, in part -- quote -- "We request a meeting at your earliest convenience to discuss the ongoing injustice that is being perpetrated by your special counsel and his prosecutors."

Let's discuss more with senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid.

Paula, it's not clear which of the DOJ investigations he's referencing here. Do we know, or is this a catchall?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It appears to be a very general catchall letter asking to basically speak to the manager of these investigations.

It's not terribly lawyerly in its language, and it's lacking specifics about exactly what conduct by the special counsel they take issue with. Now, typically, if your client has been informed that they are the target of an investigation and likely facing an indictment, it is not unusual for them to go in and try to make arguments to prosecutors about why their client should not be charged.

But our reporting now is, Jim, that the former president's legal team, they have been given no indication that, A, either one of these investigations is over or that there is any indictment that is imminent. In fact, our reporting is that, even in the Mar-a-Lago probe, which is in its final phase, they may be getting more evidence as soon as today, and they could also hear from more witnesses.

So, it appears this is just a general request to speak about it.


Does the DOJ give this meeting?

REID: It'll be interesting to see.

I mean, they're asking for a meeting with the attorney general of the United States. You are not entitled to a meeting...


REID: ... with Garland, no matter what you think of the ongoing investigation.

This is unique because this is a special counsel probe. And Merrick Garland is the one who oversees the special counsel's work. But, optically, as we reported just a few weeks ago, DOJ did grant a similar request to Hunter Biden's attorneys, who they too didn't have any indication that an indictment was imminent. They e-mailed DOJ and said, hey, we'd like the opportunity to get an update and explain to you why we think you shouldn't proceed.

That was granted. They met with career officials at the Justice Department and the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney who was overseeing that probe. Now, this is a different kind of investigation, different -- different matters, different oversight.


REID: But, to the average American, right, if Hunter Biden gets a meeting at DOJ...


REID: ... to -- quote, unquote -- "speak to the manager," and Trump doesn't, optically, this puts -- this puts the Justice Department in a tight spot.


SCIUTTO: So, oftentimes, the former president will make arguments about his various cases...

REID: Yes.

SCIUTTO: ... that are not necessarily legal in nature or not even intended for...

REID: Yes.

SCIUTTO: ... say, the judges, more for public consumption here. But is this about public consumption, or is there a genuine -- you say they have a right to make their case to someone investigating them. Is that the aim here, or is this more public messaging?

REID: This -- this certainly feels like an argument in the court of public opinion, right?

Because, if you truly wanted a meeting, I don't know that you would necessarily put it on TRUTH Social. It does appeal -- appear here from our reporting that there isn't a lot of goodwill between the former president's attorneys and the special counsel.

So, yes, this feels like something in the court of public opinion. It's also an attention grab on the same day that someone else is entering the presidential race.

SCIUTTO: Hmm. What else is happening today?


SCIUTTO: I'm trying to remember.

REID: Just a few other things.

But it also -- again, it makes verbate the same arguments the former president has made publicly.


Paula Reid, thanks so much -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Coming up: Eight days, that's how soon the U.S. could default on its debt, which could spark a worldwide economic disaster. We're going to get you live updates on where negotiations stand right now. Plus: hurricane-force winds, flash flooding, and a power grid

meltdown. We're tracking a massive typhoon hitting the U.S. territory of Guam.

And, later, what Target is saying after pulling some LGBTQ merchandise from its shelves just days ahead of Pride Month.

These stories and much more right here on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



SANCHEZ: Still far apart, but talks continue.

Today, House Republican negotiators are at the White House squaring off, trying to reach a debt limit deal to prevent a default and a potential global economic catastrophe that could come as early as June 1.

Right now, markets are being impacted by this disagreement. The Dow is down some 275 points. Both sides have called talks productive, but they have also given bleak signals, and a wide gap still remains over spending cuts.

I want to take a step back and look at the U.S. budget, what our government is spending money on. That number for 2023 is $4.6 trillion. But there's one specific part of that budget in particular we want to zoom in on, net interest. That's what we pay as a nation to borrow money. That amount is $395 billion.

That is money that's not going to any government program, not for health care, Social Security, roads, national defense, none of that. That's just the amount that we pay to borrow. By comparison, what we pay for veterans benefits, $156 billion. We spend nearly 2.5 times what we spend on our veterans, the people who sacrificed so much for this country, just on interest.

And here's another problem the debt ceiling creates. If lawmakers and the president can't figure this standout off -- standoff out, I should say, if they default, or if they even get close to a default, like we saw in 2011, credit agencies are going to downgrade American credit ratings. We're going to wind up paying even more money just to borrow money -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, that doesn't make a lot of sense.

So, now for the latest from Capitol Hill and the White House at this critical moment, we have CNN's Manu Raju and Arlette Saenz with us.

Manu, I want to start with you. It does feel like there's a little bit of a pattern here, right? We see the speaker and the president meet, maybe a little bit of optimism or this sense that it's a productive meeting. You have the speaker go back to his conference, and then it's pessimism.


There's a huge gulf between House Republicans and the White House and simply not much time in order to get a deal and move through both chambers of Congress. The difference remains over federal spending. The Republicans are insisting that there must be significant spending cuts, really below this year's level in terms of cuts. That's what they are seeking.

The White House has tried to offer what they view as a compromise to freeze federal spending. That is something the speaker says is a no- go. Also, there are still other policy issues at play too, including a push by Republicans to impose work requirements on food stamps and other social safety net programs.

That is not enough for the White House to go along with. They say that is not something they would be amenable to. But even if they were to reach a deal, getting it through the House and the Senate will take time. Drafting the text, going through the House will take at least 72 hours. It could take up to a week or so to get it through the Senate.

And that means they have to also get the votes, also a huge question mark, which is raising a lot of concerns about whether they could avoid a default as soon as June 1. Now, one of the big questions and something that has rankled Democrats over the last day or so is when Kevin McCarthy told me yesterday that he would not agree to any other concessions, the only concession to raise the debt ceiling itself and asking Democrats to move in his direction spending cuts.

So I asked the speaker about that position today, and he defended his approach.


RAJU: You're going to need Democratic votes probably in the House, definitely in the Senate. You have a Democrat in the White House. Why not offer a single concession beyond saying, we're not going to default?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We have offered a lot of concessions.

The cap on the spending is a Democrat idea.

RAJU: They want...


MCCARTHY: The work -- the work requirement was a Democrat idea.



MCCARTHY: I can't help it if the Democrats have become so extreme and now is a party of Bernie Sanders than the party where Joe Biden was elected. Joe Biden is the president of the United States. He is the head

Democrat. But if AOC and Bernie Sanders is going to run their party, that's not my fault. I'm not even sure Bernie Sanders is a registered Democrat.



RAJU: And those two issues in which McCarthy suggested were concessions actually have been rejected by Democrats, who don't want to roll back federal spending and don't want to impose those work requirements.

So, just giving you a sign there of how far they have to go. And they're facing pressure, Republicans are, to hold the line in those spending talks, Democrats too on the left raising -- from many members raising concerns about what they could concede and give Kevin McCarthy.

So, lots of question marks here with the economy hanging in the balance, Brianna.

KEILAR: Arlette, what does the White House think about the speaker saying the only concession he will make is increasing the debt ceiling?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, sources tell us that those comments from the House speaker have irked some here at the White House, especially after they had been describing these conversations on Monday as being productive.

But, look, this really points to some of the frustration that's been bubbling up over the course of the past few days around these negotiations. Just think back to President Biden's comments on Sunday when he said that in order for a bipartisan compromise to be reached, Republicans are also going to have to move, they're going to have to give something up.

And comments like that from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, in the view of Democrats, simply don't jibe with that kind of idea. One thing that Democrats are quick to point out -- you have heard this from, for instance, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries -- is that the White House has made concessions in some ways when it comes to the issue of spending, even proposing freezing spending at current year levels, which is something that Republicans think that they want to see more than just that.

But it really speaks to some of the tension that has been rising around these negotiations. Now, at this very moment, White House negotiators and negotiators on behalf of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are here huddling at the White House trying to see if there is any further room for compromise, any way that they can try to hammer out some type of agreement, as each side is keenly aware of the very serious time crunch that they are facing as that June 1 potential deadline for a default quickly looms.

KEILAR: Yes, that's the deadline. But make no mistake, right now is go time. And it's hard to see that they understand that.

So we will keep our eye on this.

Manu, Arlette, thanks to both of you -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and even folks questioning whether there is a deadline so soon.

Well, a hearing expected any moment for the man accused of crashing a U-Haul into a security barrier very near the White House. We're going to be live outside the courthouse.

And a massive storm packing wind gusts over 100 miles per hour is hitting the U.S. territory of Guam. Experts believe it is the worst storm to hit that remote island in decades. We have some new images coming in.

And that's coming up.



SANCHEZ: Happening now: A typhoon is wreaking havoc in the Pacific. hurricane-force winds pummeling the U.S. territory of Guam for more than 12 hours. It's the most powerful storm to hit the island in decades.

CNN's Chad Myers is live in the Weather Center for us.

Chad, the governor, understandably, is urging residents to stay inside. Do we have any indications that this thing is starting to slow down?


And we don't really have any kind of ground truth either, because, yesterday -- last night, at least -- the power knocked out our radar. So what was our real eye on this storm here really just got knocked out. So now we're only in the visible satellite.

It did move to the north of Guam just a bit. So the center of the eye did not pass over the island itself, but to the north. The problem is, most of the energy was on the backside of the eye. And so the west side of the island, probably not as prepared as the east side, expecting landfall from this direction, that took the brunt of it as it really came around that backside of the eye wall just blowing in the wind.

Now, the problem, what we have now is this long duration, as you talked about, how long this storm sat right over the island, and now finally moving away a little bit. But it's just that one board comes off, and then another comes off, and it's that long-duration damage that we Are seeing here.

Back to an eye again here, which means this storm is reintensifying, not going down, getting stronger, but the good news is, it has now moved away from the islands, and a long way to go before it would hit anything else. This is a long-long-track storm.

And the Philippines are kind of in the way, but the track takes it to the north of the Philippines. There is the wind right now, 61 miles per hour. Some of the spots have picked up between five and six inches of rainfall over the past couple of hours, and some of them two to three inches per hour. So that's why we still have all of these flood warnings for the entire island there of Guam.

Many of the areas down across the South, that's where the heaviest rain was, likely, if you're listening to this internationally, almost 500 millimeters of rainfall, so 18 inches of rain here up on top of these mountains. And the mountains are about 1,200 feet tall. All that water is now rushing down those rivers.

Now, we are going to lose some wind. It is going to go away. That's the good news, as the storm travels to the west. But here's where we have to keep an eye on this. This is still a 155-mile-per-hour storm 72 hours from now. This is very warm water.

I know our Atlantic season doesn't get going for a couple more weeks, but, in the west, back out here, the water is warm almost all year long. There isn't a hurricane season or a typhoon season. It's just forever. It can happen any month of the year, Boris.