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Biden Nominates Gen. Charles Brown As Joint Chiefs Chairman; Oath Keepers Leader Sentenced To 18 Years, Longest Yet For January Six Riot; House To Recess Today With No Debt Limit Deal. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 25, 2023 - 14:00   ET




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Is someone who creates an environment of teamwork, trust, and executes with excellence. And someone who smokes a mean brisket, understand you have that smoker still with you, you carry that around everywhere. What was it in your generalized kit?

But General Brown said he doesn't -- he doesn't play for second place. He plays the wind. And that's obvious. That mindset is going to be an enormous asset to me as commander-in-chief, and to the United States of America, as we navigate challenges in the coming years.

Over the past three years as Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Brown has become known for a signature approach, accelerate, change, or lose -- accelerate, change or lose. General, you're right on -- as I've often said, our world is at an inflection point where the decisions we make today are going to determine the course of our world for decades to come. And to keep the American people safe, prosperous, and secure, we have to move fast and adapt quickly.

We have to maintain a combat credible force, capable of deterring and defeating any potential threat. And we have to manage our competition with China and meet the reality of renewed aggression in Europe. We need to make sure we retain our competitive edge in an age where emerging technologies from -- technologies from AI to 3D printing could fundamentally change the character of conflict.

While Gen. Brown is Chairman, I know I'll be able to rely on his advice as a military strategist, and as a leader of military innovation dedicated to keeping our armed forces the best in the world. And they're the best in the history of the world. And that's a fact.

I'll also be able to rely on him for his thoughtful, deliberate leader who is unafraid to speak as mind as someone who will deliver an honest message that needs to be heard and will always do the right thing when it's hard. That's the number one quality a president needs and a chairman.

And that's the leader -- that's the leader that all Americans we met three years ago. When General Brown gave an unflinching video testimonial, sharing his own experience of racism and his deep love of our country to which he's dedicated his entire adult life, it took real backbone and struck a chord not only with our military members but with Americans all across the country.

CQ is a fearless leader and an unyielding patriot. That's why three years ago, he was concerned by the United States -- confirmed at the United States Senate 98 to zero. I urge the Senate to once again confirm Gen. Brown with the same -- the same overwhelming bipartisan support from him -- for his new role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I also want to recognize CQ's family. His, wife, Sharene. She is here -- would you mind standing, Sharene? I know that's embarrassing you. Thank you. And his sons, Sean and Ross. Throughout General Brown's stellar career in the Air Force, CQ, and Sharene always put family first.

And they both know from their own experience growing up in military families that it's not just the person who wears the uniform he serves, the whole family -- the whole family serves and the whole family sacrifices on behalf of the nation.

Sharene, you and CQ are true partners and our dedication to the health and well-being of the women and men in uniform and their families. Five Thrive -- Five and Thrive initiative is doing important work to address the greatest issues affecting military families, childcare, education, spousal employment, health care, and housing. And I know that Jill and I look forward to working even more closely with you on these issues through her Joining Forces initiative.

Let me close this. This year will mark the 75th anniversary of an integrated force and the 75th anniversary of women serving in the force and the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force. We're celebrating the root of our national strength, the most American of ideas, the most self-evident truth that all women and men are created equal, and that no more powerful testament to this than the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

The steps we've taken over the decades to harness the full diversity of our nation have grown our armed forces into the greatest fighting force. I'll say it again a second time, the greatest fighting force in the history of the world. And, General Brown, you've been an essential leader in making our nation and our force even stronger. You've made history. And you have even made it as a Jeopardy clue.


Did you know that? He made us a Jeopardy clue. The Daily Double, no less. Well, so, thank you, General Brown and Sharene and the whole family for being willing to take on this mission. And I can thank no one better suited -- think of know that better suited and more qualified to lead our force through the challenges of the responsibility of head.

I look forward to having you at my side advising me as the next chairman, and helping keep the American people say. And thank you all. And thank all the military in the audience here. Thank you for your service and thank your families as well. And may God protect our troops, thank you.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden there at the White House announcing his nomination of Air Force General Charles Q. Brown as the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He would be, following Senate confirmation, the most senior-ranking U.S. military officer.

General Brown comes from the Air Force's most recently served as head of the Pacific Air Command leading the Indo-Pacific -- the air component of the Indo-Pacific forces in the course at a crucial time between U.S. relations tensions with China.

He replaces -- would replace General Mark Milley, who served since 2019 under both the Trump and Biden administrations. Of course, at crucial times the wind down of the war in Afghanistan and the wind up of U.S. military support for Ukraine in the ongoing war against Russia following the Russian invasion. Of course, the other point here is that with his nomination, this would be the first time in U.S. history that both the civilian head of the military that being Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense, and the military had the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Charles brown here would be African American.

CNN's Oren Liebermann, of course, covers the Pentagon. He joins us here now. An important moment, most-senior uniformed military leaders in the U.S. particularly notable, given that component of the history, the first time you'll have African Americans, leading both the civilian and uniformed side of the U.S. military.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jim, you're absolutely right. That would certainly mark a milestone if confirmed. That would mean the Pentagon's top two leaders as you point out Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Charles Q. Brown, more commonly known either as CQ Brown or even just CQ would both be African American men.

Now, Brown himself has already made history. He was the first black Service chief in U.S. history when he became chief of the Air Force in 2020. So, making history is something we have seen General Brown do already.

Now, this nomination was widely expected. Barbara Starr and I would sit here in this booth and talk about it. We've expected this for more than a year wondering when it would come. Well, we just got our answer from President Joe Biden who stood there and announced that it would be General CQ Brown, who would be the next choice for the -- for the top U.S. military officer to replace General Mark Milley, who, as you point out, was nominated by Trump and is served under the former administration.

And this one, of course, coming in at a very critical, crucial, and even complex time with the war going on in Ukraine as well as the challenge of facing China. It is worth pointing out that Brown, who is normally very reserved is known and made news himself just days before his confirmation vote to be chief of the Air Force. This is in the summer of 2020, when there were race protests across

the United States after the killing of George Floyd and other African American men at the hands of police, Brown at that point decided he had to say something. A frank assessment of what he's been through, but also a positive look forward. Here is part of what he said in uniform when he was the commander of the Pacific Air Forces.


GEN. CHARLES Q. BROWN, CHIEF OF STAFF, U.S. AIR FORCE: I'm thinking about the pressure I felt to perform error-free, especially for supervisors I perceive had expected less from me as an African American. I think about having to represent by working twice as hard to prove their expectations and perceptions of African Americans were invalid.

I'm thinking about how I can make improvements, personally, professionally, and institutionally, so that all enamored both today and tomorrow, appreciate the value of diversity and conserve an environment where they can reach their full potential.


LIEBERMANN: In terms of the support he would have here, we just heard from Austin and Milley, who had a press conference here a short time ago. Austin described Brown as an incredibly capable and professional officer, while Milley said he's a great officer, has the knowledge, skills, and attributes to do the job, Jim.

SCIUTTO: I remember that moment well. Those words in June 2020 from General Brown. It'd be quite a moment for the leadership and also quite a challenging time for anybody in those roles given the multiple challenges around the world for the U.S. Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thanks very much. Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Turning back now to our top story.


The leader of the Oath Keepers has just been sentenced for his actions in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January six. Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right group was the first of nine defendants who are sentenced. The judge finding that his actions amounted to domestic terrorism. And for that, he will be serving 18 years in prison.

We have CNN's Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz joining us now. Katelyn, walk us through what happened today inside of court.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME & JUSTICE Reporter: Well, Brianna, this was a very intense sentencing hearing today, one where Stewart Rhodes expressed no remorse for what he did on January six, and continued to espouse his belief that the election of 2020 was illegal and that he was a political prisoner. But before the judge gave him his sentence, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison, and also some years of supervised release after that, the judge was very straightforward with Stewart Rhodes about what he did, why seditious conspiracy was so significant of a crime, one that strikes at the heart of American democracy.

He said to Stewart Rhodes -- this is a judge, I mean, made that you are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes. That is not why you are here. It is not because of your beliefs. It is not because Joe Biden is the president right now.

The judge had many things to say to them. Some of the other things he said was that he believes that Rhodes is making clear today in court when he spoke to the judge expressing no remorse, that violence could be something that achieved his goals, and that he continued to be a threat to democracy.

The judge clearly took that to heart and was saying that we cannot have this. We cannot have citizens believe that violence is the way to get things done in a democracy.

And the judge also expressed some concern of whether there would be another January six, that in any elections in the future, they will. There will be fear around them because of what happened on January six. But 18 years is quite a significant sentence.

By far, the longest that any January six riot defendant has received. Four federal crimes on that day. And by my calculation, it puts Stewart Rhodes in jail somewhere near or after 2040, which is five presidential elections from now, Brianna.

KEILAR: Wow. Katelyn Polantz, thank you. I want to bring in Evan Perez now. Evan, let's just be clear about how we got to this point. What Stewart Rhodes did leading up to January six, and even after January six?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And that's part of the key evidence that the prosecutors presented in this trial. They said -- and they showed evidence of the amount of coordination that they say Stewart Rhoads and some of these other members went through before January six.

There was efforts to do some training -- military-style training, militia-style training in North Carolina, for instance. So, they stockpiled weapons in a van in Northern Virginia with the idea that you know, if and when the former president, President Trump at the time, were to declare and invoke the Insurrection Act that they could be the foot soldiers. They would be the militia that would cross over into Washington and help him keep power.

Even after the dust had settled on January six, even after it was clear that Donald Trump would be leaving, they vowed to keep fighting on. They vowed to keep -- to prevent the former the -- new president, their lawfully elected president, Joe Biden, from being able to take offense. So, those are the things that prosecutors were successful in playing

for the jurors showing them photographs, showing them some of the messages that were being exchanged that persuaded that jury to come back with the -- with the extraordinary thing, which is to convict these people on seditious conspiracy, essentially trying to overthrow the U.S. government, and why you see this very stiff sentence today from this judge, 18 years, the longest that has been given to anybody in these -- in these cases related to January six.

KEILAR: Yes. Saying that it amounts to domestic terrorism is really something to hear, the judge said that.

PEREZ: Right.

KEILAR: Evan Perez, Katelyn Polantz, thank you to both of you. Boris?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, really a scathing message from the judge there. We want to expand the conversation now with someone who was there on January six, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Michael Fanone. He's a former DC Metro Police officer who was attacked by that mob and was injured responding to the attack.

Michael, thank you so much for sharing part of your afternoon with us. Your response initially to the sentencing of Stewart Rhodes, the head of the Oath Keepers.

MICHAEL FANONE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I certainly think that the guilty verdict and a significant sentence like 18 years is appropriate, though I would have agreed more with the government's recommendation of 25 years.


SANCHEZ: And, Michael, I'm curious, we heard from his attorneys. They repeatedly kept saying that the Oath Keepers meant to deter violence that day. Obviously, we're watching a video of the mob targeting law enforcement officers just like you. I'm wondering how you respond to his attorneys saying that he's being convicted for his words -- he's being sentenced for his words and not his actions.

FANONE: Yes. I mean, that's something that I would expect a defense attorney to say. But the facts spell out a very different story as to Stewart Rhodes and the organization which he led participation in the violence. That was January six.

This is a group that came to the Capitol prepared that made preparation in advance of January six. They trained. They stockpiled weapons and ammunition in preparation for that day. There was a great deal of organization and effort facilitated by Stewart Rhodes as the leader of the Oath Keepers.

And obviously, we saw the violence that played out that day. And all of this was in an effort to overturn the results of a free and fair election, an election that had its challenges brought through the court system 60 plus times, and each time found to be upheld and legitimate. SANCHEZ: And yet --

FANONE: Which is why we see the conviction for seditious conspiracy.

SANCHEZ: Right, absolutely. And yet, we see so many of the former president's cronies and the former president himself repeat the lie that there was widespread fraud in the last election. And on that note, we spoke to an attorney -- a legal expert in the previous hour, who said that part of the reason for Stewart Rhodes' strategy of remaining unrepentant through all of this legal proceeding is because he believes he may receive a pardon if the former president is reelected. I'm wondering what you make of Stewart Rhodes potentially being pardoned down the road before serving a full sentence despite the obvious harm that the court -- that the court ruled that he caused.

FANONE: I mean, it's outrageous. It should outrage all Americans. You know, Stewart Rhodes was convicted by a jury of his peers for his actions, which resulted in the injury sustained by myself and hundreds of other police officers on January six, not to mention the fact that America became a national and international embarrassment on the world stage.

But I think that this is part of a strategy, not just a strategy on behalf of January six defendants like Stewart Rhodes but also a strategy on behalf of the former president. You know if the former president was to admit that it was, in fact, a free and fair election, then he would also, you know, in turn, be admitting some degree of culpability for the violence that took place that day.

January 6 -- Stewart Rhodes, I think, is he is looking for a pardon. It's sickening that the former president would have aligned himself with individuals like this in the statements that he made in his Town Hall and continues to make on a daily basis.

SANCHEZ: Officer Michael Fanone, we appreciate your service on that day as we watch a video of the ugliness that unfolded, and we appreciate you speaking out since then. Thank you so much for the time.

FANONE: Thanks for having me.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Brianna?

KEILAR: Some lawmakers going home, others introducing new demands on any potential deal to raise the debt limit. Where things stand right now as time is running out and as a major ratings agency is warning of a default?



SCIUTTO: We are getting updates by the minute on the scramble to avoid a debt disaster in Washington. Negotiators for President Biden and Speaker McCarthy have about a week to come to some kind of agreement to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default and all the economic consequences. But logistics and politics, imagine that, standing in the way.

Some hard-right members on the Republican side have just signaled they will not back any compromises. 35 of them sent a list of new demands to Speaker McCarthy, things outside the budget process. And the House is in recess starting today. Plus, even if they do hash out a deal, the bill would require three days of review, put it all together, and that's why the Fitch Ratings agency has warned a U.S. credit downgrade could already be on the horizon.

All right, CNN's Manu Raju, he's been tracking all these developments on the Hill. And I wonder, I spoke with Shane Harris and Rohit Kumar just few minutes ago and they said the idea that you now have these hard-right Republicans putting out this plan might actually be a good thing.

I don't know if this is -- this is finding a silver lining here and that you know the hard-right -- hard-left go into their camps and then the middle comes to some sort of deal. I mean, we've heard a lot of signs of hope, maybe, but what are you hearing on the ground there? Is there any progress towards a deal?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's been a lot of negotiation that is happening behind the scenes. There are some hope and expectation among the Republican leadership that the deal can be reached with House GOP leaders and the White House over the next couple of days, perhaps into the weekend, bring the House back next week, vote on it in the House, get it through the Senate in the days ahead. But that is if everything goes perfectly.

And it -- as we've known through this process, things have not gone perfectly. In fact, there are still some significant disagreements, complications that they have to work out internally.


In those negotiations, they are still talking about spending cuts, how far to go in terms of cutting federal spending. There is still a push among the Republicans to add new work requirements to social safety net programs, which is a red line for many Democrats. There are also some other issues that are at play. He's in the construction of energy projects, something that gives them heartburn for some progresses.

And then we are hearing from 35 House conservatives who just laid out a new list of demands, including new border security measures. So, that presumes that if they have those 35 members, and they're going to be probably more than that vote against this deal, they will need Democrats to offset those losses to get through any deal through the House. But in talking to Democrats and Republicans over the last day or so, it is clear, there is a lot of pushback coming from both sides of the aisle, meaning there's very little margin for error.


REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN (D-NY): I'm very frustrated, you know. I called on the president to invoke the 14th Amendment and mince a coin and do not negotiate with hostage takers. I mean, we don't negotiate with terrorists globally, why are we going to negotiate with the economic terrorists here, that other Republican Party?

REP. BOB GOOD (R-VA): And if that were true, that would absolutely collapse the Republican majority for this debt ceiling increase from my -- (INAUDIBLE) --

RAJU: How many Republicans would vote against it?

GOOD: I don't want to make predictions because I haven't seen what is -- you know I've just heard some rumors that there may be some sort of a deal that would be less than desirable to, I believe, to the majority of Republicans.

REP. RALPH NORMAN (R-SC): So, it looks like we're watering it down, which is not acceptable. The 218 passed a bill that would make sense.


RAJU: Now, one of the things that are giving those conservatives some heartburn here is the expectation that any deal would extend the debt limit through the 2024 elections. Republicans in their bill that passed last month would have only extended it until next year, giving them more leverage to fight in 2024.

But a lot of Democrats too, are very frustrated. They just voiced their frustration behind closed doors many want the president to come out publicly, push back, and not give in to these many GOP demands, just showing you the pressures that both leaders face as they try to secure a deal in the coming days, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. If everything goes perfectly is not a great bet. On Capitol Hill today, Manu Raju, thanks so much. Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, let's talk about this now with CNN Economics and Political commentator Catherine Rampell. So you have Fitch issuing a negative credit watch. In the same breath, they're saying expect a resolution before X-date Moody's and the World Bank think a default would happen. Do you think especially considering what you're hearing now, about this group of Republicans now asking negotiating in public wanting some new things in this negotiation? Are these economists being overly optimistic, Catherine?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS & POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I worry that they are. Look, I do very much hope that we will avoid a default. I hope that there will be a resolution before the so-called X-date around which there's great uncertainty about when it actually falls.

But it's very hard for me to see a pathway to that resolution. People keep assuming that just because we've resolved this issue in the past before, after some brinksmanship, you know, always at the 11th hour, whether in 2011 or 2013 or in previous episodes. There has been an agreement struck at the very last minute that that will happen again today. And I hope it does. The problem is the dynamics are very different this time. McCarthy does not control his caucus, as you just reported. Members of the Freedom Caucus, in particular, are making even more demands, even though there are -- there's significant distance between where the Democrats and the Republicans already were. And I don't know that McCarthy could deliver the votes, even if Biden paid off all of the ramsons that they are demanding. So, look. I really hope we avoid financial Armageddon. I'm not saying that's the likely scenario, but I really don't think we should be rolling it out at this point.

KEILAR: So, when does this move from investors are squirming to they're starting to panic?

RAMPELL: You could see something closer to next week. You know, I think again, there's considerable uncertainty about when the actual X date is. We've already seen some anxieties in select financial markets.

You can see it in some of the Treasury spreads, for example. You can see it in some markets called the credit default swap market. So, there are signs of worry.

I think those signs are not as commensurate with the scale of my worry in any event, and I hope -- I'm -- you know, I'm unduly alarmed, but I don't know that I am. But I think as we -- as we get closer, as markets start to better figure out how Washington works, and particularly Washington with this cast of characters works in a lot of this legislative process that is also very difficult to let -- wrap your head -- wrap your head around how long that takes.