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Border Deal on Brink; Trump Wants to Debate Biden; Disconnect with Americans and the Economy; Look at the Latest Political Headlines; Toby Keith Dies at 62; King Charles Undergoes Cancer Treatment. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 06, 2024 - 09:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Close to collapse. A bipartisan border bill may be dead just days after it was unveiled. Some conservatives are refusing to support policies they once championed. The elephant in the room encouraging a no-vote, Donald Trump.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And any minute now a Michigan jury could decide if a mother is guilty for a mass shooting committed by her son. Deliberation on manslaughter charges happening now.

And remembering a country music superstar. Toby Keith dead after a battle with stomach cancer.

Kate is away. I'm John Berman, with Sara Sidner. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SIDNER: This morning, the Senate's bipartisan border bill is on the brink of failing -- falling apart before it even makes it to a floor vote. In a closed-door meeting last night, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell told senators they should feel free to vote against moving the bill forward. It is a huge reversal from the minority leader, who just hours earlier gave a speech from the Senate floor calling on senators to take action on immigration and foreign aid. McConnell's messaging coupled with stiff opposition from Donald Trump and House Republicans, painting a grim picture for the bill that took months to put together.

CNN's Lauren Fox is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Lauren, I don't know that we've seen this in a very long time, and especially since the Republicans are starting - saying the quiet part out loud. Donald Trump is in the mix, even though he's not an elected official at this point in time. Where do things stand this morning?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sara, it's really hard to deny Trump's influence on the Republican conference, not only in the House of Representatives but also in the Senate this morning. That is because after less than 48 hours since the bill was released, it's very clear that this bill is on its way to collapse. The expected procedural vote was supposed to happen tomorrow in the United States Senate. It's clear that Republicans are coming out largely opposed to it, or at least largely opposed to this procedural step.

Just moments ago we heard from a member of Republican leadership, John Barrasso, who said that he is opposed to this legislation. Last night, behind closed doors, McConnell telling his conference that they should vote their conscience and that he was comfortable with many of them voting no if that is what they wanted to do. So, clearly, despite the fact that one of their own, Senator Lankford, was creating this bill for the last several months in hard-fought negotiations with Democratic colleagues, it is clear right now that this bill is going nowhere fast in the United States Senate, including the reality that it was already dead on arrival in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, tonight, the House will vote to move forward with its impeachment of Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. One thing is very clear, that we -- Republican leadership expects that this is going to pass tonight. What is less clear is what happens in the United States Senate once it does so. If it goes over to the United States Senate, you can expect that leaders there are going to look carefully about how they want to consider this. One of their options is they could quickly dismiss it. They could also refer it to committee. They could hold a brief Senate trial. As one senator put it to me last night, they view this as blatantly political. But Chris Murphy said there are probably some constitutional and procedural implications here that they cannot ignore.


SIDNER: Wow. All right, I know you're all over this, Lauren Fox. We will be checking in with you throughout the hours. Thank you so much for your reporting.


BERMAN: All right, this morning, after helping torch the bipartisan border deal, Donald Trump has a new campaign ploy, challenging President Biden to a debate now.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is in Washington.

So, after ducking every conceivable opportunity to debate in the primary, now Trump wants to debate.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, John, because Donald Trump wants to run as though he is the incumbent president. And an incumbent president doesn't have to debate.

But this is really starting to feel more and more like a general election rematch between Biden and Trump despite the fact that he's not even the Republican nominee.

And Nikki Haley, of course, still being in the race. You've got, as Lauren said, all of these Republican senators really circling the wagons around Donald Trump, and now you have him calling out Biden saying he wants to debate and debate now.

Here's what he said in an interview yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd like to call for immediately debates. I'd like to debate him now because we should debate. We should debate for the good of the country.



HOLMES: Now, Biden was asked about this in real time. This is how he responded to this call for a debate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Donald Trump says he's ready to debate you right now. Do you accept?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just said that on radio.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wants to debate you immediately, he says.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you debate him?

BIDEN: Well, if I were him, I'd want to debate me too. He's got nothing else to do.


HOLMES: So, a quick little quip there from the president of the United States. But again, as you noted, Donald Trump did not participate in one single debate. And, in fact, he changed the debate system overall by holding these various counterprogramming events throughout the primary season. But he does look poised to be the nominee and clearly he is itching to ask Joe Biden to take the debate stage with him now.

BERMAN: All right, Kristen Holmes for us in Washington. Keep us posted, Kristen.

In the meantime, this morning, the U.S. economy, by almost all measurements, is doing really well. January saw stunning jobs growth, consumers are spending and inflation is finally starting to ease. But there does seem to be a disconnect between how the economy is doing and how Americans say they feel about it. And President Biden wants to know why.

CNN's Arlette Saenz at the White House with the latest on this.

Arlette, what are you hearing?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the White House has been watching a lot of these improving signs in the economy, things like growing consumer sentiment, lower inflation, lower gas prices, and really felt that these are indicators that could start to move some momentum in President Biden's favor. And that is something President Biden himself has been asking his advisers, why, as there are these bright spots in the economy, why is it that consumer sentiment hasn't completely changed or grown in its trajectory.

But there have been some upticks recently in consumer sentiment. A recent poll that was -- survey that was released by the University of Michigan showed that consumer outlook was up 13 percent in January. That tracks with some of the numbers that we've seen steadily progress over the coming months.

But one thing that the White House is really facing at this moment is an American electorate that has very negative views about the state of their personal financial conditions. And many of them are attributing that to President Biden.

If you take a look at a recent CNN survey, it found that 55 percent of voters believe that Biden's policies have worsened economic conditions in this country with only 26 percent believing his policies have improved conditions. The president's approval rating, when it comes to his handling of the economy, stands at about 37 percent, really highlighting some of the challenges President Biden has going forward.

But we have seen over the course of this past few weeks this steady change - the steady uptick in the way that the White House is messaging some of these economic bright spots. President Biden on the trail has been pointing to the fact that inflation is down, gas prices are down, and also that consumer sentiment is rising.

We've also seen him start to take this approach to try to tackle issues that are kitchen table issues for voters, really trying to take a hammer to junk fees that Americans are facing. And in one of his recent campaign events, trying to start to call out some of the corporations for these inflated prices, talking about greed-flation that is going on in this country.

But it all really paints a very challenging picture for President Biden going forward, as they're seeing these economic bright spots, how is it that they can sell this to the American public while also acknowledging that there is still more work to be done heading into November's election.

BERMAN: Arlette Saenz, thank you very much.

That Michigan survey you're talking about there, I believe it was the biggest two-month increase in consumer sentiment since the early 1990s. So, some of those numbers are starting to move.


SIDNER: All right, joining me now to discuss more on this and other things is Republican strategist Joseph Pinion and CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp.

Hey, y'all.

Wow, there's a lot going on here.

I do want to start with you, Joseph.

We heard from Mitch McConnell. A few hours, he says, this is the bill we want. Let's go for this. And then the message was, vote your conscience. If you don't vote for the bill, I'm OK with it.

What the heck happened? Isn't this the biggest chance for Republicans to get a lot of what they want in a crisis on the border?

JOSEPH PINION, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think, first and foremost, we have to acknowledge, yes, the crisis is real. I think we should also acknowledge, we should never be playing political games with things that actually attribute to the safety and security of the American people, or just the humanity of individuals writ large.

Having said that, this is American politics 101, and we do it all the time on a bipartisan basis.

I think if you're asking how this happened, it's also because everything fell apart in the 11th hour due to the fact that they didn't tell us what was happening until the 10th hour. I think there are many Republicans, both down in Congress and on main street, who could have told you that if you are trying to actually solve a crisis by codifying the actual problems that predated the crisis, it was going to be a "no" from the voters and the legislators writ large.


So, unfortunately, I think they thought it was going to be politics as usual, that it would roll out whatever bill they wanted, that Republicans would fall in line and vote for it. But I think part of the problem that we see in the House, the food fight that has become effectively non-legislation, is a direct result of the fact that that brand of politics is no longer palatable for the electorate and certainly President Trump tapping into that sentiment and that resentment as it relates to him trying to move forward and make an actual case for why he should be re-elected in 2024.

SIDNER: S.E. Cupp, in your opinion, does this have to do with Donald Trump and his re-election and nothing else, or are there real problems with this bill?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, 100 percent it's about Trump. And this is what happens when politics becomes more important than policy, as it has in the Republican Party since Trump. Trump didn't care much about policy or principles or conservativism. It was all about politics. And Republicans were happy to go along with him. Politics is impeaching Secretary Mayorkas. Policy is passing a border deal. Politics solves no problems. Policy does.

But the policy is the hard part. And despite the fact that Republicans asked for these very policies from this bill, and for something to be done at the border because it was a matter of life or death, and they're right it is, suddenly the policies they asked for are not so important. Why? Because it's an election year and Donald Trump wants to use the issue. That's politics.

SIDNER: This is often what does infuriate the American public, to see that there is a crisis that's happening in many, many cities and on the border, and now it's turned into politics.

I do want to move on to Donald Trump. We are in the campaign, as we well know. We're watching. Donald Trump says very loudly he wants to debate Biden right now, immediately, when he did not want to debate and refused to debate any of his Republican challengers. Why?

PINION: Well, first and foremost, I think we should just acknowledge the reality that President Trump is going to be the nominee for the Republican Party in 2024. I think, again, the hard truth is that this is not a Republican problem. This is a bipartisan problem. The Democratic Party effectively told the voters of Florida that their vote was not necessary, that they had already chosen their standard bearer in Joe Biden. The Democratic Party made it impossible for anyone to try to challenge Joe Biden. So much so that Robert Kennedy, whose family name is basically ingrained in the DNA of the Democratic Party, was forced to leave the Democratic Party in order to actually form a somewhat viable campaign for president.

So, yes, I think to his own credit or against President Trump, he has decided he wants to move the battleground to the general election to go against Joe Biden. Anyone who is taking issue with that and the fact that he didn't debate should also be equally upset with what's happening on the left. Democracy demands debates, but that means that we have to have a two-party system that actually invites that debate as well.

SIDNER: There's a lot of people that would like to see a three-party system, but that is not what we have right now.

S.E. Cupp, when you - when you see this, what does it tell you? Donald Trump is saying, for the good of the country I want to debate Biden now, but South Carolina hasn't yet happened.

CUPP: Yes, we're not in a general election. In fact, we are still in a primary. And he has an opponent. He has an opponent who won 40-plus percent of the vote in the last state. So, we're still very much in a primary and Donald Trump owes it to the American people, and to his own voters, to vote Nikki Haley. He won't. To debate Nikki Haley. He won't.

I know why he wants to debate Joe Biden, because he thinks he'll look good debating Joe Biden. And I don't think he's wrong. Trump has some severe mental capacity issues. Those are in evidence. But he comes off tougher and stronger than Joe Biden does. And so I think this is, of course, all for Donald Trump. It has nothing to do with the good of the country. If it were about that, he would debate.

And Democrats should debate too. That's part of the democratic process. We should demand debates as voters. And the fact that these candidates are increasingly deciding when and where and if they debate, I think is a real problem with democracy.

SIDNER: There are a lot of people that would like to hear more from their candidates and from other alternatives. We are now getting into crunch time, though. And do you think people have just sort of made up their mind already just looking at the numbers?

PINION: Well, look, I mean, from a historical perspective, rarely do we see an actual rematch of a previous presidential cycle.

SIDNER: Right.

PINION: So, I think from that sentiment you have to believe that the cake is pretty much fully baked for a large majority of voters. I think, again, we're now talking about what does the environment dictate. And I think that's why you see Republicans being so very careful about how they proceed on the border. It's not a matter of if there is a crisis, but certainly trying to codify 5,000 people coming on average a day to the United States of America, before we even deal with the got-a-ways isn't the issue that they recognize is going to be front and center for not just Republican voters but those valuable independents in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and certainly all the places where we know that vote is going to be quite critical.


SIDNER: All right, thank you so much for being here, Joseph, and to you, S.E. Cupp. We will bring you back to the studio. This is not punishment. You just - you know, I mean, it happens. All right.


SIDNER: Thank you - thank you both.


BERMAN: All right, the vast secrecy surrounding the cancer diagnosis of the U.K.'s head of state, King Charles, what we know about who was visiting him during his treatment.

And any minute jurors could decide if a mother can be held responsible for the shooting committed by her child. Details on what they asked the judge on day one.

And sad news overnight, Toby Keith has died from cancer at just 62 years old.


TOBY KEITH, MUSICIAN (singing): Red Solo cup, I fill you up, let's have a party. Let's have a party. I love you red Solo cup.




TOBY KEITH, MUSICIAN (singing): How do you like me now? How do you like me now? Now that I'm on my way. Do you still think I'm crazy standing here today? I couldn't make you love me --


SIDNER: Love that song, "How Do You Like Me Now." This is just one of those songs that made Toby Keith a country music icon. And this morning, we've learned that the singer and father of three has died at the age of 62 after battling stomach cancer. Keith released more than 20 albums in his career, including songs like "American Soldier," which united fans in the wake of 9/11.


TOBY KEITH, MUSICIAN (singing): An American. Beside my brothers and sisters, I will proudly take a stand, when liberty's in jeopardy , I will always do what's right.


SIDNER: Oh, going to have me in tears this morning.

CNN entertainment correspondent Elizabeth Wagmeister joins us now to talk more on Toby Keith's legacy.

A lot of us remember "Red Solo Cup." We can't say all the words to the song. But it's a party song. But he had so many that touched so many people. What can you tell us? He - and just his transformation from what he looked like before and what he was going through the treatment. What can you tell us this morning, that his family is saying and how they're doing?


So, this morning we are receiving confirmation from his publicist. And we do have a statement that says, "Toby Keith passed away peacefully last night on February 5th surrounded by his family. He fought his fight with grace and courage." And asking for respect for the privacy of his family at this time. Now, he actually just spoke to a local Oklahoma outlet, that is his home state. He just spoke about his cancer diagnosis.

So, let's take a look at that.


TOBY KEITH, MUSICIAN: I finally got to a point in the spring -- I was diagnosed in October of '21. And I was going through all the chemo and the -- first time I'd been through chemo and radiation and surgery. And I just got to a point where I was comfortable with whatever happened. I had my brain wrapped around it and I was in a good spot either way. So, people without faith don't have that.


WAGMEISTER: You know, really holding on to his faith there until the last moment.

In fact, Sara, just posting yesterday on his Instagram, on stage, saying that he was back at it.

Now, as you said, an absolute legend, an icon in the country music space. Over 40 top-ten singles, 32 number-one songs, and over 40 million albums sold. The tributes are pouring out this morning from the country music world, also from fans who are not calling him just a great artist but also a great American and a great supporter of the troops.

Bobby Bones, who opened up for him, saying this morning that he was just with him in the studio. Also, John Rich, the country music star, saying that he woke up to the terrible news that his friend and legend, Toby Keith, had passed away from cancer. Calling him a true patriot and a first-class singer-songwriter, bigger-than-life kind of guy, saying how he will be greatly missed. Also, Zach Brian, country singer there, he is supporting him. Lance Armstrong, Kristen Chenowith. The tributes are really just pouring out.

And, you know, again, he was not just a legendary artist. He really supported the troops. He traveled. He had hundreds of shows. And he said it's not political to support the troops.

So, tributes are going to continue to be pouring out this morning. A very, very sad turn of events for an American icon.


SIDNER: Very true. I'm going to be playing his music all day today as a tribute. That will be what we have left of him and his legacy.

Thank you so much, Elizabeth Wagmeister, for that.


BERMAN: It is a wonderful legacy.

This morning, Buckingham Palace still unwilling to release details on the cancer diagnosis for King Charles, the U.K.'s head of state. The British prime minister says he is thankful that the king's cancer was, quote, "caught early."

CNN royal correspondent Max Foster is outside the palace for us this morning where, Max, I understand we have information about a stream of current and maybe even future visitors.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, lots of speculation that Prince Harry has arrived in the U.K. We haven't actually seen him. We're not getting updates on that. But lots of photographers out and about in London trying to catch a glimpse of him if he does come. He will come - be coming to this area because King Charles is at Clarence House just down the road where he stays when he's in London, receiving outpatient care for this cancer, which hasn't been identified as yet.


But, John, I did have an interesting conversation last night. It could be a case of watch this space because he may decide to reveal what this cancer is, which would go against the tradition of these sorts of affairs in the palace because he's worked with charities over many years trying to raise awareness of cancer. So, he may decide to reveal this cancer as part of that wider campaign. So, that will be interesting, but I don't think it's imminent.

I do understand, as well, that Prince William has been brought in to carry out a function which Charles was due to carry out on Thursday, which was handing out honors at Buckingham Palace. So, Prince William is stepping up in Prince Charles' absence on the public stage, as it were, a recognition that the - this is a helicopters which may be coming in to Buckingham Palace, because that's normally one that does come into the -- it does look like a royal helicopter going into the Buckingham Palace garden. In terms of visitors, the only one we're really expecting is Prince Harry. And it would be interesting that he was - he might be allowed to travel in the royal helicopter. But this is all part of the wider healing, I think that many people are seeing in this moment, that Prince Harry come back to the U.K. to spend time with his father off the back of this news.

BERMAN: Let me just follow up on that for a second, Max. The helicopter that just flew in was a royal helicopter and presumably that would be the type of aircraft that might carry in a notable, which could be Prince Harry?

FOSTER: It would be a member of the royal family, normally just William and the queen, and Kate and Charles would travel in that. If it is Prince Harry, it would be symbolic in itself because it's reserved for working royals. But there may be an exception made for Prince Harry because he's coming over and they want to protect his privacy as part of what is a private family moment as well.

So, we always look at these moments as, you know, steps towards a rebuilding of the family. If there's something there. You know, we can't read too much into it. It could be simply Camila trying to get between spots in London without traveling in a car.

BERMAN: I'll tell you what, we'll let you go work your sources, get on the phone, let us know what you find out about the comings and goings here because there -- it is of extreme interest at this point.

Max Foster, as always, thank you for your reporting.

With us now, CNN medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner.

And, Doctor, I'm going to actually lean into your PR expertise first here. Max was saying the palace might ultimately at some point come forward with more information about the king's cancer diagnosis. You got some experience with this. You treated former Vice President Dick Cheney when he had his - well, he still has a heart condition, but his -- some of his repeated heart surgeries and what not. What's the advantage of being more public with this type of situation?


Well, I learned as a very young doctor taking care of the - the sitting vice president hat the truth is just going to come out and you might as well get it out at the beginning and tell the - tell the entire story because speculation is sometimes worse - worse than the truth.

The palace yesterday basically said that his majesty has chosen to share his diagnosis to prevent speculation. But by actually not sharing his specific cancer diagnosis, they've only fueled speculation.

So, you know, look, if the news is not so bad, then that will extinguish the speculation. And if the news is super serious and potentially tragic, then it would serve to help to prepare the country. So, at some point, you know, the full diagnosis is likely to come out, and I think sooner rather than later is the best pathway forward.

BERMAN: And the reason there is speculation is because of the scant information they did release. The fact that the king is undergoing treatment immediately.

REINER: Right.

BERMAN: What types of cancer, generally speaking, would require immediate treatment, as in the minute you see it?

REINER: Well, aggressive cancers.

So - well, first of all, let me just say that the decision not to disclose his specific cancer is not just a, you know, careless omission, it's a -- it's a proactive decision, akin to saying, let's not tell the public.

BERMAN: Right.

REINER: But the kinds of cancers that -- the kinds of cancers that might need to be treated quickly would be cancers that, if not gotten under control quickly, can be lethal.

We can't really speculate other than we do know that his diagnosis was obtained after he basically was admitted to the hospital for his prostate surgery. So, one wonders if there was something on as simple as a chest x-ray that prompted a further work-up or a simple preoperative blood work that would precipitate a more intensive evaluation.