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Dignified Transfer Of U.S. Troops Killed In Drone Attack; U.S. Is Divided On Assistance To Israel In War With Hamas; Americans' Pessimism Over U.S. Economy Eases Slightly. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 14:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Hear what more Fani Willis has to say in a new court filing on the accusations that she's had, an improper relationship with her lead prosecutor.

We're following these major developing stories and many more, all coming in right here on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. At any moment, we will see President Biden fulfill one of his most solemn duties as commander-in-chief. He's receiving troops who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country as they return home.

He and First Lady Jill Biden are attending the dignified transfer of the bodies of three soldiers killed Sunday during a drone attack in Jordan. They are Sergeant William Rivers, Sergeant Kennedy Sanders, and Sergeant Breonna Moffett. We're going to bring that to you as we get it.

But first, let's turn to Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Well, Boris, we're now just weeks away from the pivotal South Carolina Republican primary.

Today, GOP hopeful, Nikki Haley, beginning a multi-day swing through her home state as she's trying to narrow her gap with former President Trump. And Trump's team is also hitting the state, holding a series of press conferences aimed at attacking his rival.

And as we move closer to a likely rematch between President Biden and Trump in November, there's some new polling out today that is giving us a snapshot into how Americans are feeling about the U.S. right now.

And 35 percent of people say that things are going well. That number might seem low, but it's actually an improvement compared to past years. So let's turn out a CNN political director, David Chalian, to take us through this.

How much of an uptick, David, are we seeing here?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, this 35 percent number, as you noted, it's still a low number. But look, we do see growth here in those that are saying it's going well in the country. Back in October, November last fall, Brianna, it was at 28 percent. So a seven percent hike there.

And you see, we weren't at 35 percent saying it was going well since December of 2022. Look at this by party. I think this is instructive because you see an uptick among Democrats, independents, and Republicans across party lines saying that things are going well.

Again, it's not that 35 percent is a huge number, but it does seem to -- perhaps, we've turned the corner on the low point of pessimism.

When it comes to the economy in our new poll, Joe Biden doesn't seem to be getting a ton of credit yet. Fifty-five of majority still say his economic policies have worsened economic conditions. Only 26 percent say that they've improved economic conditions. Nineteen percent no effect. You see, that's pretty similar to where he was last August.

And if you look here in terms of people saying whether they are worse off or about the same over the past year, financially, you do see a little bit of improvement. Fewer people are saying they're worse off now. Only 42 percent say that though, that is still the plurality, Brianna. Thirty-seven percent say about the same. Only 20 percent say they're better off now than they were a year ago.

KEILAR: And how do voters think Biden is doing on the top issues?

CHALIAN: Well, if you look at his approval across all these top issues, look right there in the middle, Brianna. The economy, he's at 37 percent. His overall approval in our poll is 38 percent. So the economy is driving that.

On protecting democracy and the situation in Ukraine, he slightly overperforms his overall approval, where he underperforms his overall approval, the Israel-Hamas War, and immigration continues to be a stubbornly low approval number for him.

KEILAR: Let's talk a little bit more about immigration. What are you seeing there?

CHALIAN: Well, we're seeing a change in the public overall on this issue. Back in 2019, 80 percent of Americans said that a path to legal status should be the main top priority for dealing with undocumented immigrants.

That's down to 68 percent now. Still clearly two-thirds, but that's down. And look at this, 31 percent now say deportation should be the main top policy priority dealing with undocumented immigrants, doubling support for that policy since 2019.

And if you look here about whether or not people consider the situation of the border of crisis, again, Republicans have always sort of felt that way. But look at this growth among independent 77 percent say it's a crisis. Now, two-thirds of Democrats say it's a crisis at the border with Mexico.

KEILAR: It's a really interesting consistency there. And then when it comes to the Israel-Hamas War, how are voters responding to that? CHALIAN: You've -- and I have talked about this. You see why Joe Biden is in a political bind here. First of all, it's just a divided country over this. Thirty-seven of Americans say U.S. assistance to Israel in response to this is about right. Thirty-three percent say U.S. giving too much assistance to Israel. Twenty-nine percent say too little.

But look at this by party. Forty-one percent of Democrats say it's about right, U.S. says. But 38 percent nearly four in 10 Democrats, the president's own party say it's too much assistance to Israel. Nineteen percent too little.

So this is a number that Joe Biden has to continue to address as he deals with U.S. positioning in this issue.

KEILAR: Yes. That's very tough for him. And we're seeing the tension there.


David, thank you so much --

CHALIAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: -- for taking us through that. We appreciate it.


SANCHEZ: Let's get some analysis now with our political commentators. Ashley Allison is a former White House senior policy advisor. And Scott Jennings is the former special assistant to President George W. Bush. Thank you both for being with us this afternoon.

Ashley, I want to dig into one of those economic numbers. Only 26 percent of those asked believe that President Biden has actually improved the U.S. economy. And that number is an improvement over the poll from last summer.

How do you campaign a winning message with those kind of numbers?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you have to start talking to people and explaining what the last three and a half years of policies have done to improve or to decrease inflation, to increase wages, to really meet the American people where they are.

Right now, the numbers are saying in terms of the Federal Reserve, in terms of housing mortgages, in terms of all -- the numbers are saying that they're going in the right direction. The challenge is, people are not feeling that right now.

And so the campaign is going to have to connect the facts with the feeling. And part of that is meeting folks where they are with the compassionate message and proving the point that I am -- we are going in the right direction. We need more time.

In 10 months, things could also feel a lot better than folks are feeling right now. But this is what a campaign is about. It's about selling your ideas, selling your policies, meeting people where they are and making them want to recommit to you for another four years.

Is it going to be an easy conversation to have? No. But I do believe that voters can get to a point where they understand that the Biden and Harris administration are fighting for them.

SANCHEZ: Scott, it does look like the economy is trending the right direction. We got a jobs report today that showed great job growth, wage growth as well. The stock market looks healthy. Even Donald Trump is trying to take credit for the stock market.

It looks like it might be tougher in a few months for Republicans to keep campaigning on the economy. Don't you think?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, because I think the Republican message is going to be that things in the United States may be getting better on some fronts in spite of Joe Biden.

I mean, ultimately, I think one of the reasons people are not giving him credit is because they think his policies were a net hindrance. It doesn't mean the American economy is always destined to go down. But it does mean perhaps people believe that we didn't have to have the inflation we had. And it didn't have to take as long for things to start coming back.

I think that's where Biden has trouble here is he wants everyone to give him the credit anytime anything happens while forgetting the last three and a half years when people were pretty darn mad at him, specifically over inflation.

And it's not like, you know, their memories can be wiped out. This is not the next sequel to Men in Black. We don't have the little flashy things here. People are going to remember that and ask themselves if Joe Biden wins -- Joe Biden wins reelection, are we going to see more of those kinds of policies that largely dominated his first term in office?

SANCHEZ: And, Scott, one of the most illuminating parts of the poll to me had to do with immigration. There was a double digit jump in independence and Democrats who say the situation at the Southern border is a crisis. That is a noticeable difference from 2022.

On Capitol Hill, though, it doesn't sound like a lot of Republicans are eager to pass this Senate deal that has been brokered pairing Ukraine aid and other things with restrictions to asylum, et cetera.

Largely, it's been attributed to Donald Trump not wanting to give President Biden a win. How do you respond to criticism that Republicans care more about appeasing Trump and winning in this election cycle than about passing meaningful legislation?

JENNINGS: Well, they haven't seen the text yet. I think the problem that some of these Republicans have is that they don't know yet whether this bill is going to be a net help. Now, given what's been said by Senator Lankford and others, I think even if it's incrementally going to help, they should do it because we have so, we as Republicans, have told the American people that it's a crisis, a humanitarian crisis, the word invasion has been used.

I mean, the country has moved to the right on this issue and both believing that it's a problem and believing that Joe Biden is the cause of it.

So to say all those things and to win that argument and then to say, eh, we can wait a year to solve it, I think makes you seem less than serious.

But in order to get there, you're going to have to have the text of a bill and you have to convince Republicans that it will at least, a little bit, somewhat help the situation, even if you know that Donald Trump's always going to be tougher on border security than Joe Biden will ever be. I just think doing nothing for a year after the way we've sold the problem is really not an option.

SANCHEZ: You might say that Trump would be tougher on the border, but the fact is back in 2018 when he was looking at a deal with Dick Durbin in the Senate, he turned down an immigration deal because he felt that it gave up too much to undocumented migrants seeking protections. This bill doesn't include anything for Dreamers.


And, Ashley, I'm wondering, President Biden could need just turn around and say, look, we gave them a lot of what they wanted without getting much back. And if they don't pass this, they're spiking this out of spite.

ALLISON: Yes. He should really lean into folks acting in good faith and who is showing up to actually do the work for the people.

And if Republicans are obstructionists on this bill, to Scott's point, saying they're going to kill it before it even -- they even read the text, that is an opportunity for the Biden campaign to say, they are not here working for you. They are telling you there are problems, but not trying to find the solutions.

And I think that could go for the border. I think it could go for the economy that we were just talking about. You know, to Scott's point about Men in Black and not being able to erase folks' memories, folks don't forget that both Joe Biden went into office under a pandemic and did everything he could to get money in people's pockets, to keep people employed, to get people vaccinated, to get our country back.

That was something that no president has ever been able to do and Joe Biden did that. And the same thing is that I don't think folks will forget the draconian policies that Trump did when we saw babies crying in isolation when they have been separated from their parents.

So I think that there are some nuances to this. And I hope Democrats really lean in and say the Republicans are not actually trying to move our country forward. They're just trying to keep us fighting it with one another for political posturing.

SANCHEZ: Ashley Allison, Scott Jennings, we could go all afternoon, but we've got to leave it there. Appreciate you sharing some time with us.

JENNINGS: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

So still ahead, we're awaiting the dignified transfer of the three U.S. soldiers who were killed in Jordan. And we're getting our first images of President Biden awaiting their arrival at Dover Air Base. We're going to bring you that, next.



SANCHEZ: We're getting some new images coming in from Dover. The dignified transfer of the three U.S. soldiers who were killed in Jordan. This is Joe Biden just moments ago at Dover Air Force Base.

We're joined now by CNN's MJ Lee who's been tracking this for us. MJ, walk us through what is happening now.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris, this is, of course, about to be the president bearing witness to this solemn homecoming of these three American soldiers that were killed in the line of duty, Sergeant Rivers, Sergeant Sanders, and Sergeant Moffett. The first U.S. service members to be killed since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas War.

And you're watching the president there walking next to the First Lady. It is just not hard to imagine at all that what the president is doing today and is about to do in a few moments, that that is one of the hardest and most gut-wrenching things that he can do in his role as commander-in-chief.

He is honoring these three Americans killed in the line of duty and spent a better portion of the day trying to comfort and console all of their families. And we know that he had a significant window of the day -- actually built-in a significant window into his schedule so that he could spend that time speaking with some of those family members.

And, of course, we also got a sense of how he speaks with some of these families, these Gold Star families. This was a really rare look earlier this week when he spoke with the family members of Sergeant Kennedy Sanders and actually informed them over the phone the decision to posthumously promote her to the rank of Sergeant. You could see how emotional that was for her family to learn that news.

And as he so often does, we heard the president referring to the death of his own son, Beau, and talking about his own grief and his own process of grieving for his son as he tried to bring some measure of comfort to that family.

Now, the president has attended these dignified transfers in the past as vice-president, as senator, and actually once before as president back in 2021, when those 13 U.S. service members returned home after being killed at an attack outside of Kabul airport in Afghanistan.

So this is something that the president is unfortunately familiar with. It's something that he hopes to never have to participate in. But again, with permission and encouragement from these three families, we were told the president is there to receive and greet these three U.S. service members coming home, and really most importantly to really be there for these American families that are grieving these losses, Boris.

SANCHEZ: It is a solemn moment for President Biden. We do have Oren Liebermann as well, who is at the Pentagon.

Oren, this is obviously an event that has a meticulous amount of precision, of detail. Every single step is done with grace and a degree of coordination that is of massive importance to those carrying this out.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Of course, and that's because of the occasion. This journey home, one of the most difficult of circumstances for these three soldiers, when the dignified transfer of remains as the dignified transfer of remains is happening.

And you see there, and if we can show the video of them -- of them standing there, waiting for this process to begin here. You can see there the chain of command, not only President Joe Biden and Jill Biden right next to him, and that's Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Obviously, the head of the Defense Department and the military. Next to him is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General C.Q. Brown Jr. The SEAC, Troy Black, the senior enlisted advisor of the chairman, that's the top enlisted service member in the U.S. military. And then the chief of staff of the Army General, Randy George.


So you see all of them here for such a solemn occasion for a difficult moment for all of them. They know full well the difficulties and the duties of serving one's country, what that entails, the dangers, the risks it entails. A risk you pray is never realized in the worst way, and yet, fully aware that sometimes it is.

And that's what we're seeing as difficult as it is play out here. The dignified transfer of remains as these three service members make their way home, make their way to their families.

KEILAR: All right. And we are watching the playback of that video happening now. Let's listen.