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Some People Still Feel Grim About Economy Despite Improvements; Country Music Star Toby Keith Dies of Stomach Cancer at Age 62; Prince Harry Returns to U.K. to See King Charles III; Hamas Counterproposal Reasonable, Without Two Key Demands. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 06, 2024 - 15:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the economy is strong and is absolutely headed in the right direction. While speaking on Capitol Hill, Yellen pointed to some of the positive headlines that we have been seeing, like a healthy job market, cooling inflation. Yet, many Americans say despite these apparent signs of improvement, they just aren't feeling it. With a recent CNN poll finding a majority of people believe President Biden's policies have actually worsened economic conditions in the country.

Let's talk about this with CNN's Matt Egan. All right, Matt, what stood out to you the most during this hearing today?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Brianna, what stood out to me was how confident Janet Yellen sounded about this economic recovery. She described it as historic, and she pointed to low unemployment, high GDP, and cooling inflation.

Listen to what Yellen told lawmakers about the economy.


JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I absolutely believe it's headed in the right direction. Our growth is extremely strong. The labor market is at least as strong as it was prior to the pandemic. We've got -- it's been 50 years since we've had a string of unemployment rates this long under 4 percent. And job creation remains utterly robust.


EGAN: Now, Yellen's confidence must have gone up after that blockbuster jobs report on Friday. That report blew away even the most optimistic forecast. And even some of President Biden's biggest critics are changing their tune a bit.

Former Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow, he apologized for wrongly predicting a recession. Now, none of this is to say the economy is perfect. Even Yellen, she acknowledged that inflation remains a problem, that families are suffering from high prices.

And there are some risks out there. Even as Yellen was speaking, we saw that shares of New York Community Bank Corp fell by 15 percent. As she was speaking, those losses have accelerated down by about 25 percent right now. This is a regional bank. It's lost more than half of its value over the past week after warning of major losses and surprising investors with a quarterly loss.

Now, this is bringing back some bad memories of the banking crisis last March. Back then, the big concern was spiking interest rates. Now the concern is empty office buildings and what that means for the $20 trillion commercial real estate market.

The big problem here is that obviously a lot of people are working from home these days. So that means that some office buildings are vacant. And inevitably, some landlords, they're not going to be able to pay their debt. So, some banks are going to lose money here.

Now, Janet Yellen was asked about this issue. And she said U.S. officials are monitoring the ongoing stress in the banking market very closely. She said that she is concerned about real estate losses. And she did concede that some banks will be stressed by this problem.

So, Brianna, we need to keep an eye on this, even as a lot of the other economic indicators out there are positive.

KEILAR: Yep, those leasing signs, for lease signs do not lie. Matt Egan, thank you so much. We do appreciate it.

Boris, but certainly people are taking on a lot of debt, and that is a cause for concern.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yes, and a lot of folks are falling behind on debt. A new report out today shows that many Americans are struggling with their credit card and auto loan payments as household debt reaches a fresh high of $17.5 trillion.

CNN Business and Politics correspondent Vanessa Yurkevich joins us now. Vanessa, break down these numbers and what they entail.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris, consumer spending has been really good for the overall economy. As Matt mentioned, consumer spending drove U.S. GDP.

But when you talk about personal finances, it gets a little trickier. So, U.S. household debt rising to $17.5 trillion, up about 1.2 percent from the previous quarter. That's moderate growth. And we expected that in the fourth quarter because of holiday shopping.

Most Americans carry some sort of debt, and you can see it right there. Mortgage debt rising to $12.25 trillion, credit card debt $1.1 trillion, and auto loans $1.6 trillion.


But what this report points out is that the biggest concern is about delinquencies or late payments, and we're particularly seeing that with credit cards and we're also seeing that with auto loans. And then if you dive a little deeper and you break it down by generation, keep an eye on the purple line, that's millennials, and also on the light blue line, that's baby boomers.

They are having the hardest time making on-time payments. They're suffering from a lot of late payments. And it's also showing up in terms of a greater late payments than pre-pandemic.

And so, for millennials in particular, which are having the toughest time in making payments on time, it's because of student loans starting back up again and also the higher interest rates that they're seeing across the board on mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, and now student loans. Millennials really suffering trying to make these on-time payments as they are carrying significant debt.

SANCHEZ: Vanessa Yurkevich, a complex picture, not a bright one for some folks. Thank you so much.

Next, after a very public falling out, we've learned that Prince Harry rushed to his father's side after his cancer diagnosis yesterday. New details from the U.K. in just a few minutes.



KEILAR: Some sad news today. Country music icon Toby Keith has passed away. He has died from cancer.


TOBY KEITH, COUNTRY MUSIC STAR: Uncle Sam put your name at the top of his list. And the statue of liberty started shaking her fist. And the eagle will fly and it's going to be a hill. When you hear Mother Freedom start ringing her bell.


KEILAR: That is one of the songs that made him a household name. Keith wrote that in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. It was titled Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue, the Angry American. He released more than 20 albums in his career. And in 2022 revealed that he was receiving chemo, radiation, and also surgery for stomach cancer.

A statement on his website says the husband and father of three passed peacefully surrounded by his family. He was just 62 years old.

Joining us now is Marcus Dowling. He is a Nashville country music reporter for the Tennessean and USA Today Network. Marcus, thanks for being with us. You know, just share your thoughts if you would when you heard the news of his passing. Obviously at such a young age.

MARCUS K. DOWLING, NASHVILLE COUNTRY MUSIC REPORTER FOR THE TENNESSEAN, USA TODAY NETWORK: Well, it was unquestionably sad. And he is a, you know, he's a quintessential patriot and one of the fundamental architects of the 21st century of modern mainstream country music. So, you're just -- you're losing a titan of a human being.

KEILAR: And you write that he was inherently beloved. How was he viewed by his fans and the community of country artists?

DOWLING: I will say that his fans, typically the blue collar, Midwesterners who beloved his sound, were fans of his throughout his career. And they -- he believed what they believed. And he espoused their beliefs in songs. And that was his great strength.

And throughout Music City, I believe that, you know, as a songwriter, this town is built on a lineage of songwriters that goes back almost 100 years. So there are people that look to him and they said he's, you know, he was really able to understand the fan base and the marketplace in a way that, you know, is timeless.

KEILAR: He was diagnosed with cancer in 2021. He described the last few years as a roller coaster. What do we know about how he handled his cancer battle?

DOWLING: It was up and down for sure. But you always saw him in town when there was a major event. He was feted at the BMI Awards in 2022. And in 2023, he was at the People's Choice Country Awards at the Grand Ole Opry. And in both occasions, he was glib. He spoke. He sang at the People's Choice Country Awards.

He was, you know, very much visible and active and very much still willing to be a part of the country music community.

KEILAR: And, you know, certainly his career with so many great songs that I think so many people loved. It also wasn't without controversy. There was, of course, the controversy surrounding the Chicks, formerly the Dixie Chicks, who had spoken out publicly against former President George W. Bush and his policies when it came to fighting the war that he was fighting. And Toby Keith took a position against them. Obviously, this was one of the kind of early, I think, cancellations that we saw of the Chicks.

Can you talk a little bit about that and how that is remembered?

DOWLING: I'll say that in this town, there's a certain understanding of patriotism as one of the foundational core pieces of for a lot of people who, you know, whose politics a little bit right. Part of the fundamental foundation of what country music is all about.


So, I think that he was able to kind of put himself behind that, you know, eight ball and away and stand up for people who, you know, believed in what he believed in. And he was able to, you know, understand their beliefs, and put them out there against the Chicks who stood on the other side as well. So, I mean, it was a really a 50- 50 situation.

And I think that Toby Keith is best regarded for the fact that he was willing to take that stand and, you know, be willing to, you know, take, you know, both the positive and the negatives of that situation.

KEILAR: And just real quickly, Marcus, what defines him? What is the thing that made him Toby Keith, the one and only? DOWLING: He was his own man and he marched to the strum of his own

guitar. And he was honest to a fault in a way that made other people who were willing and wanting to get into the country music industry see a light in a way into, you know, having a thriving and a vital career.

KEILAR: Marcus, we really appreciate you being with us to talk about Toby Keith and his legacy. Thank you.

DOWLING: You're absolutely welcome.

KEILAR: Boris.

SANCHEZ: Prince Harry has returned home to the U.K. to be with his father a day after the palace revealed that King Charles III has cancer. Cameras captured the Duke of Sussex arriving earlier today at his father's London residence, Clarence House.

We also saw King Charles arriving at Buckingham Palace earlier this afternoon with Queen Camilla. They later headed out to Sandringham House, the family's country estate.

CNN royal correspondent Max Foster is actually live for us right now outside Buckingham Palace. Max, how did that meeting go between the king and Prince Harry?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know. And I think that's interesting in itself. No briefing from either side on that meeting.

I was told by Prince Harry's office that he was coming over. But since he arrived, no confirmation of him arriving or the meeting. What happened in it? Nothing coming from Charles' side either.

I think that's intentional. I think both sides want to, you know, develop their relationship, get it back on track. And any -- anything that comes out of it, anything that could be inflammatory that hits the public gets in the way of that.

So, I think they've intentionally not responded to our questions or anyone's questions about that meeting. Maybe they see it as private. But I think it's more about not exacerbating the public argument that we've seen over the last couple of years.

SANCHEZ: Max Foster live for us in London. Thanks so much for the update, Max.

New developments in the Israeli hostage negotiations. A delicate time for that deal to be brokered. We'll be right back on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



KEILAR: We have some new developments in the Israeli hostage negotiation. Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying the U.S. is reviewing a new Hamas counterproposal. Blinken says he's bringing Hamas' response to Israel on what will be his last day -- his last stop of a days-long trip to the Middle East. We have CNN's Alex Marquardt here with more on this. All right, Alex, this is your new reporting about the contents of this proposal. What are your sources telling you?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Blinken in that press conference has said there's still a lot of work to be done, but he said an agreement is possible. And what I'm told by someone who is familiar with these discussions is that the counterproposal by Hamas was not a yes or a no, we reject the deal that's on the table, that it was, in this source's wording, reasonable.

And the reason it was reasonable is because Hamas had been expected to demand two big things, an end to the war, which Israel is not willing to do, and the removal of Israeli troops from Gaza, which Israel is also not willing to do.

So, what this tells me is that all the parties are now working towards a middle ground, a pause in the fighting, where we will see, at least in an initial phase, hostages released. There are more than 130 hostages who are still believed to be held in Gaza. At least 30 of them are believed to be dead.

And so, this is moving in a positive direction. The prime minister of Qatar said that the response from Hamas was positive. This was a long- awaited response because we knew that there had been a meeting in Paris about a week and a half ago when everybody but Hamas had agreed on this framework. So, we've been waiting for this for about a week and a half, and here they've come back with something that, from the sounds of it, moves the ball forward.

Now the next challenge is going to be taking this Hamas proposal, and we don't have a ton of details on this, to the Israeli government. And then, of course, the assumption is if the Israeli government were to approve of it, then a deal could be put into place to get to a humanitarian pause. The thinking is it would extend around six weeks at least at first, and the first wave of hostages could start coming home.

KEILAR: How much pressure is the Netanyahu government under to get these hostages back?

MARQUARDT: A massive amount of pressure. I mean, we've seen huge protests in Israel by hostage families, regular Israelis, demanding that these more than 100 hostages be brought home. At the same time, Netanyahu has said that the goal of the war is to eradicate Hamas, complete victory over Hamas. And he knows that by instituting a pause in the fighting, that could give Hamas time to reset and really breathe.

KEILAR: Alex, thank you so much. We'll be watching this. I know you will be watching it very closely and reporting on it. Coming up, a bittersweet homecoming, a message in a bottle thrown into the ocean as part of a school project 30 years ago. It has just been found, and it's now become a tribute to a beloved teacher. We'll have that story next.



SANCHEZ: Finally, we close today with a story that pays tribute to all our great teachers. It begins when a man found this bottle in a New York marsh last week. And inside was a message from 1992 requesting the finder help out a 9th grade science class by filling out a card and returning it to the kids of Mattituck High School. The man posted photos of his find on the school's alumni Facebook page.

KEILAR: And that triggered just this outpouring of love and admiration for the science teacher behind the project. His name, Mr. Richard Brooks. He had passed away last year from Alzheimer's.

This is so wonderful. I love Mr. Brooks, one ex-student wrote.


Others said that he was an awesome teacher and they also said he knew how to communicate with his students.

So far, this post has been shared hundreds of times. It's received over 5,000 likes. And Brooks' son posted, I'm in tears, so emotional, Dad truly loved doing this activity with his students.

SANCHEZ: That is lovely. I actually had a similar project in middle school. We tossed bottles out into the ocean. I don't know if mine showed up anywhere and did anything other than pollute the ocean. But this is very sweet.

KEILAR: Maybe in years. We will find out.

SANCHEZ: Fingers crossed.

KEILAR: "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.