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California Braces For Flooding; Ex-Trump Official Launches Super PAC; Cartel Apologizes For Kidnapping; Starbucks Workers Speak About Union Fight. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Natasha, it's remarkable because in these areas, and we've talked to you and others for months really, wildfires, right, you know, the result of drought, and now we have this supreme reversal here. Tell us how long these storm conditions are expected to last.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the people in these communities that have experienced flooding in this string of storms that you've referred to since the new year, really, people are really grateful that there is precipitation that we're, you know, improving on the drought situation, but they say they wish there could just be a break. And they really haven't gotten much of a break in the last few weeks.

Here we started seeing the rain come in pretty heavily last night. It's still, obviously, coming down right now. It's moving eastward toward the foothills where there's been unusually heavy snow pack.

I want to point out where I'm standing. It's the state aquatic center. And over on -- over this shoulder here, there's some lights in the background, that's the Nimbus Dam that you're seeing. And this is one of the local dams where officials are releasing thousands and thousands of cubic feet of water per second. And that's done in a managed way to kind of prevent rivers, levees, creeks from, you know, being overwhelmed by the incoming rain. So, there is a lot of work to try and prevent massive flooding here.

Another big concern, though, is structural collapse. And we're looking at that possibility more in the areas that have gathered a lot of snow on top of their buildings. Here's one example posted by a private school on Facebook in Nevada City. They just posted this yesterday, though this structure, their gym roof caved in last weekend. It's an example of what could happen here this weekend, though, because when the snow is that heavy, and now it's mixing in with the rain, it's melting, a lot of places could be dealing with that possibility.

So, we're watching for that. We're watching for communities that already flooded through January, bracing themselves again. And, of course, the governor here has requested a presidential emergency declaration to get some direct federal assistance when needed.

HILL: Yes, it is a lot.

Natasha, appreciate it. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, turning now to politics. A health update for the leading Republican in the Senate. We have now learned that Senator Mitch McConnell being treated for a concussion after he fell at an event at a hotel in D.C. on Wednesday night.

HILL: McConnell's staff says he will be in the hospital for a few days. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says McConnell is, quote, a little beat up but will recover. The 81-year-old is the Senate's longest serving Republican leader.

Today, Republican presidential contenders are flocking to the key primary state of Iowa. Nikki Haley hoping to gain early support for her campaign. She's got an event in Des Moines. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will be speaking in Davenport in the next hour. And then, on Monday, former President Donald Trump making his way to the Hawkeye state.

Joining me now to discuss today's political headlines, "Washington Post" congressional reporter Camila DeChalus, and "Axios" congressional reporter Sophia Cai.

Good to see both of you this morning.

So, when we look at where we stand, all eyes on Iowa, just under a year now until we get -- really kick off the presidential season. There is so much focus on Ron DeSantis, who, of course, has not declared a campaign. But, boy, is the push on, including former Trump official Ken Cuccinelli, who launched a super PAC now urging DeSantis to run.

Listen to a little bit of that announcement.


KEN CUCCINELLI: America's future is Ron DeSantis. Ron DeSantis doesn't just talk, he acts. But most of all, he never backs down.

Governor DeSantis, today I'm asking you to run for president.


HILL: Camilla, how important is that support from somebody who was -- who is, frankly, still so tied to the Trump administration, having that name recognition, that proximity, to have him throw his weight behind Ron DeSantis, urging him to run, Camilla, what does that do?

CAMILA DECHALUS, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's very telling. I mean this was a former Trump administration official who, you know, worked in the Trump administration, pushing some of Trump's immigration policies, but also, you know, he was one of the contact persons where Trump reached out to try to see if he can investigate some of the election fraud claims in which he responded saying that he just did not have authority to do so. So, to see him come out and now put his support and announcing it very vocally behind DeSantis is very telling.

But he represents just a fraction of the Republican Party who want to see DeSantis run and really believe that he can be the president in 2024 when he runs, or if he runs.

HILL: This is such a waiting game at this moment given that we have the former president, no surprise there when he threw his hat in the ring, Nikki Haley, and it seems everybody else who's toying with the idea is in some ways waiting to see what Ron DeSantis will do.


Are there any other indications this morning, Sophia, as to when an announcement may be made?

SOPHIA CAI, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "AXIOS": Yes, so we've heard that Ron DeSantis has told his political staff to sort of lay low for another four to five months. And, you know, it looks like he may try to run after the end of the Florida legislative session, which ends at the end of May. So, you know, in terms of timing, that's sort of the ballpark that we're looking at.

But, of course, he's doing a book tour right now and he just had his state of the union, so he's been very, very active. And this will be his first time in Iowa. And, right, it's the unofficial start of the Iowa caucus. You have three candidates coming to Iowa all within the span of four days.

HILL: It is a lot. I know folks in Iowa are used to it, but in some ways it feels like it starts earlier every cycle.

When we - when we look at who else is there, of course, Nikki Haley, she's really had to clarify. She's been pressed to clarify her comments on Social Security earlier this week. So, she's starting to say, well, now I'm really looking at, we need to talk about reform for people who are currently in their 20s, what that would look like. What's interesting is, when you look at Social Security, this is one area where actually President Biden and former President Trump are sort of on the same page. How is this helping or hurting Nikki Haley in this moment, Camila?

DECHALUS: Well, this is definitely putting a stark contrast between her and DeSantis and Trump, where they've struck a tone saying that they don't want Republicans to even try to touch Social Security or Medicare, saying that, you know, we have to protect the elderly. And, you know, he's even attacked some of his opponents, even DeSantis, trying to go back to some of his former stances on trying to privatize Social Security. So, this is where we're really going to see some differences.

And, remember, you know, this is really, in these next few days, you're going to see them trying to effectively try to communicate to the Republican Party about why they're the best person for this job and why they should be president. And so you're going to kind of see how this messaging, whether it's her messaging on her stances, even though they're very vague at this point, or on his about how, you know, we should protect and how he's kind of standing with Biden on this one, whether that's really going to resonate with members of the Republican Party.

HILL: Certainly interesting to see.

And, Sophia, as we look at this, in terms of that Trump campaign message, is anything really different as we move towards 2024? Has anything changed?

CAI: Yes, I would say that there's - you know, he's -- the campaign is a little more formal in the way that they are approaching this. And in Iowa he's going to be doing more retail politics. And that's an aspect that we didn't really see in the past two cycles, right. And he did this at East Palestine at a McDonald's where he was talking to voters, and he'll continue to do this on Monday when he's going to be in Iowa. But this is markedly different from the past two cycles where you saw him, you know, and I'm hearing the audio right now, the mega rallies, the large crowds and those crowds that he loves to talk about. So, this will be a little bit different.

HILL: Sophia and Camila, great to have you both with us this morning. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, and this is odd, an apology from the Mexican drug cartel believed to be behind the violent and deadly kidnapping of four Americans. What we're hearing from the friend who traveled with the group but could not end up crossing the border with them. All that coming up.



HILL: A cartel in Mexico has now apologized and handed over five of its members after that violent kidnapping that ultimately led to the deaths of two Americans and of an innocent Mexican bystander.

SCIUTTO: So, listen to this. This drug cartel, the Gulf Cartel as it's known, issued an apology letter for that abduction in the bright light of day which mistakenly targeted four Americans who had gone to Mexico just so one of them could have a medical procedure. Of course, the group killed two of those people.

CNN's Carlos Suarez, he's live in South Carolina.

Carlos, I mean, they've issued an apology. They've given up five of their members. Sounds like this cartel knows the Mexican authorities, the U.S. authorities are going to come down hard and they're basically offering up sacrificial lambs.

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Jim and Erica. It's really not uncommon for leaders of the Mexican cartel to make contact with the Mexican government after these high-profile type of incidents. Now, here in South Carolina yesterday, we were able to catch up with a fifth person that had made that trip to Texas, but she did not cross into the border because, according to her, she did not know that the group was going to go into Mexico for a medical procedure.

We caught up with Cheryl Orange, and she described how her friend, Latavia Washington McGee, was the one that was going to get this medical procedure, and that the group that they were with -- the group they were with were going to drop her off and then they were going to come right back.

Now, according to her, she ends up staying at a hotel waiting for that group to come back. She goes to sleep and wakes up several hours later and no one from that group had contacted her, none of them had come back to the hotel. That's when she calls authorities.

Now, you can imagine the guilt that she had, right, the guilt she expressed to us at least and the fact that this ended up happening without her being with her best friend. She said all of this guilt ultimately turned into anger, and here's what she told us.


CHERYL ORANGE, FRIEND OF KIDNAPPED AMERICANS: I beat myself up in the beginning about that. And I have everybody telling me that, oh, you need to be grateful. Like, I really wish I was next to Tay's side. And I know I got kids, but I wish I was by her side.


She deserved that (INAUDIBLE).


SUAREZ: Cheryl was incredibly emotional throughout our interview. She has been able to talk to her friend Latavia. We believe that Latavia might be back in South Carolina, back with her family. She was not hurt in this.

Jim and Erica.

HILL: I mean, such understandable reaction as well there.

I know you've also heard a little bit more from the families. There's a letter from the families, Carlos?

SUAREZ: Yes, so we -- there are a number of folks involved in this. There were five people in that car.

Yesterday, we also heard from Shaeed Woodard's father. He is one -- Shaeed was one of the two men that were killed in this kidnapping. His father was asked whether he had seen this letter that members of the cartel had purportedly given Mexican officials, essentially apologizing for the incident. There's also this photo that's been circulating online showing a group of individuals that purportedly belonged to the cartel being turned over to Mexican authorities. Shaeed's father said he had not seen that letter. And here was his reaction.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I didn't know that. I didn't know that. No, I -- I'm speechless. Yes, I can't say anything to that.


SUAREZ: The Woodard family says they are now in the process of trying to get their son's body back here to South Carolina.

Two more points. We know that the body of the other American that was killed, Zindell Brown, has been brought back to the U.S., and Eric Williams, he was the other one that was with that group, he was shot several times and is recovering in a hospital in Texas after undergoing yet another surgery.

Jim and Erica.

HILL: Carlos, appreciate the update. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Those poor families.

Well, Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has lashed out at Republicans here in this country on Thursday. This after Senator Lindsey Graham proposed the U.S. fight Mexican drug cartels on both sides of the border, operate in Mexican territory. The spat comes amid pressure to rein in cartel violence in the wake of that kidnapping that killed two Americans.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): What's offensive to me is for him to not take decisive action against a common problem. For his -- he's lost control of a large part of Mexico to narco terrorists. People in Mexico are living in fear. My country is being poisoned. So, I don't care if he's offended or not, I want him to up his game. Business as usual is not going to continue.


HILL: Well, the U.S. attorney general and a state official have indicated they're open to a terrorist designation for cartels. The White House, however, did dismiss that idea.

Just ahead here, CNN speaks with Starbucks employees after they won a major legal battle in their long fight to unionize. They were fired. Now, though, they say they are eager to get back to work at Starbucks.



SCIUTTO: Well, after previously refusing to do so, the interim CEO of Starbucks has now agreed to testify before a Senate committee about the company's labor practices. The Health, Education, Labor and Pension's panel wants to speak with Howard Schultz as the company fights a growing wave of workers who want to unionize.

HILL: Earlier this month, a judge ruled Starbucks showed egregious and widespread misconduct in its dealings with employees and ordered the company to reinstate fired workers and to compensate them for lost wages.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich spoke to some of those employees who say they are ready to get back the work.



ANGEL KREMPA, FIRED FROM STARBUCKS: Every time I come to this store, and it's only been about four times since I've been fired, it's been very emotional.

YURKEVICH (voice over): On April 1st last year, Angel Krempa was fired from her barista job at this Starbucks in Buffalo, New York. Starbucks says she was fired for violating the company's policies. Krempa says it was retaliation.

YURKEVICH (on camera): Why do you think you were fired?

KREMPA: I think that they illegally fired me because I was leading the union effort at this store.

YURKEVICH (voice over): Last week a judge agreed, in a 218-page ruling, a national labor relations board judge said Starbucks displayed, quote, egregious and widespread misconduct to employees unionizing at 21 locations in the Buffalo area. Several workers, including Krempa, must be reinstated according to the judge's order.

YURKEVICH (on camera): Do you want to go back and work here again?

KREMPA: I would love to come back and work here again. It's the best job that I ever had.

YURKEVICH (voice over): Starbucks said the order is inappropriate and are considering all options to obtain further legal review. Since the success of the first union in Buffalo in 2021, there are now 280 unionized stores across the U.S. To date, Starbucks Workers United says it's filed 600 charges against the coffee giant for alleged federal labor violations and illegal firings. And Starbucks has filed nearly 100 unfair labor practice charges against the union for failing to bargain in good faith.

Howard Schultz, who is leading the company until he steps down in April, spoke to Poppy Harlow last month.

HOWARD SCHULTZ, INTERIM CEO, STARBUCKS: If a deminimis group of people, which now is about 300 stores, file for a petition to be unionized, they have a right to do so. But we, as a company, have a right also to say, we have a different vision that is better, more dynamic, and we have a history to prove it. YURKEVICH: But Starbucks barista Michelle Eisen and shift supervisor

Gianna Reeve disagreed. They were some of the first employees to organize, calling for a seat at the table, to have a say in health and safety policies, seniority pay, and staffing levels.

GIANNA REEVE, MEMBER, STARBUCKS WORKERS UNITED: I do think it was the only way to make our voice heard.

YURKEVICH: Both women say they were retaliated against for union organizing.

REEVE: I remember days of just nonstop surveillance on the floor. Retaliation where I would no longer be given shift supervisor positions in my location.


YURKEVICH (on camera): Why stay?

MICHELLE EISEN, STARBUCKS BARISTA: And I was presented with this option of working from the inside with my coworkers to make this company a better place, to be a part of building the policies and the safety procedures that would protect me.

YURKEVICH (voice over): And now Starbucks must compensate Reeve and Eisen for lost wages according to the judge's order.

KREMPA: It's a very turbulent thing in your mind.

YURKEVICH: For Krempa, she was out of a job for six months after she was fired by the company. She says she almost lost her home and went into debt. A return to Starbucks, the highest paying job she's had, would help her get back on her feet.

YURKEVICH (on camera): How will you feel if you get that opportunity to step back in there, put on your apron and start being a Starbucks employee again?

KREMPA: My aprons are still hanging in the same spot that they were left in on April 1st of last year, waiting for me to put them back on. And I'm ready to take it off that hook and put it back on and walk in and just smile at my co-workers and be like, I'm back. I'm here. Like, we did it.


YURKEVICH: And another win in the eyes of the union is that Howard Schultz has agreed to testify with the Senate hearing committee a little later in the month about the very issues that we highlighted in the story about not bargaining and entering into any contracts with these unions, and also about this retaliation.

But Howard Schultz is going to testify just a few days before he steps down as CEO. But what the workers told me that they want to hear is they want to hear some admittance of guilt in this from him. Whether or not they get that, big question. But there's a new CEO coming in. That could reset the stage for these union workers who also told me, if Howard Schultz really wants to leave this great legacy of starting Starbucks and making it a company that everyone wants to work at, one of the thing he can do in this hearing is say and commit to bargaining and entering into contracts with these unions. They feel like that would be a huge step in the right direction for corporate America in general and for Howard Schultz.

HILL: It will be interesting to see. A lot of eyes will be on those hearings, that is for sure.

YURKEVICH: Yes, certainly.

HILL: Vanessa, appreciate it. Thank you.

YURKEVICH: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, the Manhattan district attorney has invited former President Donald Trump to testify on alleged hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. We just got reaction from the man who says he was directed to make those payments. That, of course, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. That's next.