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U.S. Faces Threat Of Rail Strike After Union Rejects Deal; Special Counsel Begins Work On Trump Mar-a-Lago Investigation; Liberal Appalachia Wrestler Says Attacks Getting "Too Real." Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 22, 2022 - 07:30   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Workers at the biggest and most powerful rail union have voted down a tentative contract deal, and if the two sides cannot reach an agreement soon there might be a strike, which industry officials have estimated could cost the economy more than $2 billion per day.

Freight rail obviously makes up a huge chunk of the American supply chain. And a strike means that food prices could skyrocket even more than they've already been raised because rail is absolutely crucial in getting those products to consumers. Even gas prices could increase given 300,000 barrels are moved daily by rail.

And about 75 percent of all cars and trucks built in the United States or imported here are also moved by rail. That could mean a big shortage and massive price hikes.

And if you're a commuter, you might also be in trouble because nearly 97 percent of passenger rail used by Amtrak actually runs on freight lines.

On top of all of that, the holidays are obviously right around the corner, meaning the strike could come during peak buying season.

So, joining us now to talk about the stakes here is Jeremy Ferguson, who is the president of SMART Transportation Division. That's the union that yesterday rejected that tentative labor deal and represents about 28,000 conductors, brakemen, yardmen, and others who all have a lot involved here.

So, Jeremy, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

You say that you believe a strike could still be averted. How?

JEREMY FERGUSON, PRESIDENT, SMART TRANSPORTATION DIVISION (via Webex by Cisco): Well, first, thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be on here.

And I would just simply like to say that yes, a strike could be averted. The ball is back in the carriers' hands at this point -- or back in their court.

And we go back into negotiations this afternoon. Talks will begin. I will be there with the three other unions that had failed agreements. But it will be a difficult process and we're going to do our best. We want to keep America moving and we sure - surely want to help Santa Claus get those gifts delivered for Christmas also.

COLLINS: Yes, and a lot of parents are --


COLLINS: -- worried about that as well.

What question -- or what conversations are you having with the White House? Have you been speaking with the labor secretary? What does that look like right now?

FERGUSON: Very limited discussions with the secretary of labor at this point. Yesterday was a blur. Things went quickly. I know everybody is watching it. In fact, Capitol Hill is watching also. But no real engagement yet at this point.

HARLOW: In terms of the deal --

FERGUSON: I'm sure that will come today.


HARLOW: In terms of the deal that eight of the unions agreed to and four have rejected so far -- but I know you all stand together -- but it included a 24 percent raise for workers over five years, additional personal day, a cap on healthcare costs, modifying the strict attendance policies. But I understand still, no sick days officially included. That's a big hang-up point.

I thought it was interesting that one of your members of the union, Jordan Boone, told The Washington Post, quote, "Some of us would rather be forced by Congress to take something than to vote on something we're not on board with."

Just to be clear, it could -- Congress can make them go back to work. That's written in federal law. And they could enforce a worst deal than what's on the table right now for your folks. Is that right?

FERGUSON: You are correct, yes.

So, you know, some of this vote I think wasn't necessarily a referendum vote against the contract as much as it was against their employers. Times are tough out here right now with all the cutbacks. Members aren't necessarily voting on the -- on the money issues. It's the quality of life and how they're treated with dignity and respect while they're at work.

When big corporations cut too deep and they expect everybody else to pick up the pace it becomes intolerable. You don't have the family time. You don't have the time to get adequate rest -- mental rest from being on the road and being at the away-from-home terminal. All the issues that we have to deal with when we're keeping America moving 24 hours a day, seven days a week, nonstop.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I've got to tell you, it doesn't sound good, I mean, and you don't sound optimistic because you just told Kaitlan that you hadn't had any talks with the White House. And look, everyone wants their Christmas presents, right?


LEMON: So, are you optimistic? Do you think this thing is going to work out? I mean, what is the plan here?

FERGUSON: Well, that's an excellent question, Don, and we are working. Like I said, today we're kicking off again our negotiations and our discussions with the carriers and we will see where it goes. It's -- I know the White House is watching and I know everybody's paying attention. So I'm sure it's going to pick up steam, especially as we move into next week.

LEMON: Yes. Well, Santa needs help. He can't get everything on that sleigh. He needs a little bit of help from you guys -- yes.

HARLOW: I hope my kids aren't watching. It's all on the sleigh --

LEMON: Santa needs help.

HARLOW: -- and it's all led by Rudolph.

LEMON: Yes, yes, yes.

COLLINS: These rail workers want their time -- their paid time. They don't want to take paid time to go to the doctor.

LEMON: Someone has to get the toys to Santa.

HARLOW: Of course, you're right.

LEMON: You see what I'm saying?

HARLOW: I'm glad you said dignity. I know we've got to go, but that is so important.


HARLOW: Dignity and the workers want to be heard. So, Jeremy, thank you.

LEMON: Thank you, Jeremy. Good luck, OK? Let us know what's up.

FERGUSON: Thank you.

LEMON: And we'll have you back. Appreciate it.

So, this story is fascinating. His wrestling name is "Progressive Liberal" and his job is to rile up the Trump-supporting crowd from the ring. But what started out as sort of just a fun gimmick has since gotten out of control.


BEAU JAMES, INDEPENDENT PRO WRESTLER: People are even more frustrated, they're even more divided. So, now here's this guy in our town saying this stuff that we see on television that we don't agree with. So we can't get those people, we can't get the politicians, let's get him.




COLLINS: All right. This morning, Vice President Harris is on her way back to the United States after visiting the Philippines. She's visited an island in the disputed waters off the South China Sea during a visit that has seen some efforts by the Biden administration to renew ties with Manila as tensions have been rising between the United States and China. Of course, you just saw that meeting with President Biden and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping that happened while he was in Bali.

Harris, though, spoke with reporters while she was on this trip. She made a few headlines herself when it comes to 2024 and what that run could look like.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, as the president said, he intends to run and if he does I will be running with him. And I have no doubt about the strength of the work that we have done over these past two years.


COLLINS: The White House was asked yesterday if that's something that Biden is going to be discussing over the Thanksgiving break with his family, and they say yes -- that is a conversation he's expected to have in the coming months.

HARLOW: So, we'll see.

All right, this also just in. A major upset at the World Cup. Saudi Arabia knocking off one of the pre-tournament favorites, Argentina. Lionel Messi's Argentina team dominated the first half. The star striker opened the scoring but Saudi Arabia scored twice early in the second half and pulled off that shocker.

But this whole World Cup has really been overshadowed by Qatar's human rights abuses and its refusal to allow any public display of even support or allyship for the LGBTQ community, prompting this comment from the Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And one of the most powerful things about football, about soccer is its potential to bring the world together. It's also concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression. It's especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion. And in my judgment, at least, no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.


LEMON: And back here in the United States, in just a few hours, an appeals court will hear arguments in the Justice Department's challenge to the appointment of a third party -- a special master to review records seized from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.

Straight to CNN's Paula Reid now with the very latest. Good morning. What is going on here? Where are we in this process, Paula?


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, this is the first test for the newly-appointed special counsel, Jack Smith. This is the first court hearing since his appointment. And while he will not be here in person, he has personally approved all of the arguments that his prosecutors will make in court today as they try to remove a significant obstacle to their investigation, and that is the requirement that a third party review all of the materials that were seized from former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago home back in August.

Now, the former president requested this review because he argued that privileged materials may have been caught up in that search. And a lower court granted that request. A so-called special master was appointed to go through about 22,000 documents.

And the need for speed is really what's at stake here. As we know, the former president -- he has successfully used delay as a litigation tactic for decades. But there are concerns about how far this investigation will go into the 2024 presidential cycle. You heard the attorney general on Friday when he announced Smith's appointment, saying this is not going to slow anything down.

I've even spoken with sources close to Smith who say look, this is not a guy who dawdles. He's someone who moves quickly. And if they can get this special master removed, that will help investigators proceed even more swiftly.

LEMON: How likely it is that they will succeed here?

REID: It's possible. One good sign for prosecutors is that the court has already granted them a carveout for classified materials saying, look, they can just go ahead and start investigating those. And now, a different panel of judges will assess whether they just want to get rid of the special master altogether.

But, Don, we're not going to get a decision today. But this is a big test for the man who has just inherited two of the most high-profile and sensitive investigations in the country.

LEMON: Yes, but some enormous consequences for this investigation.

Paul Reid, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

HARLOW: All right, wait until you watch this next story. A liberal wrestler from Appalachia -- and I say liberal because that's literally the wrestling name he used -- who used to enjoy the crowds taunting him is now living in a very different and dangerous reality. In this divisive political climate, he says the taunts are getting too real and the sport is too dangerous for him.

Elle Reeve has this fascinating reporting.


ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is politics in America right now --


REEVE (voice-over): -- channeled through a pro wrestling ring.

DANIEL HARNSBERGER, RING NAME DANIEL RICHARDS, AKA "THE PROGRESSIVE LIBERAL," INDEPENDENT PRO WRESTLER: I just criticize their way of life and tell them how they need to follow a real man like myself or my hero, Joseph R. Biden.

REEVE (voice-over): The progressive liberal Dan Richards is a wrestler who fans in Appalachia love to hate.

JAMES: When I grab ahold of him and I look in the crowd and say hit him in the mouth, and they all come to their feet -- yes -- I hit him in the mouth. And they go he did that for us.

REEVE (voice-over): Dan and his mentor, Beau James, came up with the gimmick when Trump was first running for president.

JAMES: I said, my God, if we had a guy that was the anti-Trump and we could send him to the ring in these towns, how much hate would we get?


HARNSBERGER: They want to see you get your ass kicked. That's the heat we want.

JAMES: It's the greatest feeling in the world. It's a high.

REEVE (voice-over): Now that politics has gotten so intense, it's getting too real for Dan.

HARNSBERGER: The response to me and people who think like me are more violent.

REEVE (voice-over): Dan really is liberal. I first interviewed him in 2017, which now, bizarrely, feels like a more innocent time. REEVE (on camera): So, in 2017, you were like an all-over print

Hillary shirt and was very Hillary-focused. Like, what pieces of current events do you pull from to sort of trigger people?

HARNSBERGER: Well, I've got a Biden collage shirt and one of Kamala Harris. The Biden one triggers more people than anything because I don't think half these people even know who Kamala Harris is.

REEVE (voice-over): Dan says he gets more heat now than when Trump was in office. He thinks fans feel like they got their hero taken away.

JAMES: There's so many people that think an election was stole. I sell realism and emotions. It gets an emotion out of people. So whatever the headlines are that week, that's what we're going to use.

REEVE (on camera): But do you ever talk about the election being stolen?

JAMES: Yes. If Dan wins by cheating, then his opponent can go to the microphone and -- like I do -- and I say a lot of these good people here tonight think you stole that just like an election was stole -- the building goes nuts.

REEVE (voice-over): They usually wrestle in Appalachian counties. Some went for Trump by more than 80 percent.

JAMES: It's a small mountain town. A poor county. A poor community. No hope. He represents to them everything that's put them in that position.

REEVE (on camera): And do you think it's changed in the last five years -- how intense it is?


JAMES: Yes. It's more dangerous.

HARNSBERGER: The moment I realized things had changed I think is when I had rocks thrown at me and someone tried to light me on fire, and someone pulled a knife on me.

REEVE (on camera): So, recently?

HARNSBERGER: Yes. I mean, that was a month ago.

JAMES: People are even more frustrated, they're even more divided. So, now here's this guy in our town saying this stuff that we see on television that we don't agree with. So we can't get those people, we can't get the politicians, let's get him.

REEVE (voice-over): They'd advertised Dan would be wrestling Beau in Stickleyville, Virginia, a community of about 330 people. Fans came ready to boo Dan.

ALEX ADKINS, INDEPENDENT PRO WRESTLER: We all have our own opinion but his, especially in this area, is a lot different and everybody wants to punch him in the face.

JESSE PROFITT, WRESTLING FAN: We love wrestling, first of all. But to come in and show the liberal -- like, hey, we know what we stand for --

REEVE (on camera): Yes.

PROFITT: -- and definitely not the left side.

REEVE (on camera): So, do you want to see him get beat up?


REEVE (on camera): Do you want Trump to run again?


REEVE (on camera): You do?


REEVE (on camera): Yes, OK.

REEVE (voice-over): Corey Smith wrestles as "White Trash Millionaire." He doesn't like Dan's politics but he's off the Trump train.

COREY SMITH, AKA "WHITE TRASH MILLIONAIRE", INDEPENDENT PRO WRESTLER: I don't see how things could get any worse. But with Trump, we would find out.

REEVE (on camera): You think so?

SMITH: I believe so, yes. When you stop putting America first and start putting yourself and what you want to do first, I'm jumping -- I'm jumping off any train.

REEVE (on camera): But you've got to tell me when that moment was.

SMITH: Um, Twitter. If I'm at my job and I'm constantly tweeting, I'm getting fired. I want somebody that leads this country by actions, not by words.

REEVE (voice-over): The crowd was loud for other matches but when Dan walked out it was next level.

(Crowd yelling)

Then he got out of the ring and riled them up more. A guy looked ready to fight Dan. Some fans fought each other. Beau cut the match short. Backstage, they said the crowd got too hot, too fast.

JAMES: We felt it coming. We pushed it too far.

HARNSBERGER: It's a different kind of hate now and it's at a level that I haven't experienced previously. So anyone that doesn't think it could get more violent and what side it's coming from needs to have a reality check.

JAMES: You have to know how to let it breathe. You have to know to hear it, feel it, live it. You could be great and do all the athletic moves, all the stuff. If you don't know your audience it doesn't matter.


HARLOW: Elle Reeve joins us now. I always say you have a way of just disarming people so they tell you exactly what they are experiencing and thinking.

Why did you want to tell us this story?

REEVE: Oh. Well, I had felt politics being much more heated and intense when I covered it, but maybe at a political rally or something like that. And I was looking for a way that could show this visually -- just how intense it was even for the average person. So I called up Dan and Beau.

HARLOW: Wrestlers.

COLLINS: And what was it like being on the ground there as you're reporting this out and listening to these stories? It's such an interesting perspective.

REEVE: Well, I -- the wrestlers often have so much knowledge and wisdom about what regular people want to hear, and what they're feeling, and their frustrations, so I loved that. It was one of the nicest Trump-supporting crowds I've ever been in because the announcers came on and said these girls are real nice and they like wrestling, so be nice to them.

COLLINS: Yes, that's not always the reception you get at other -- at other Trump events.

And it is a perspective, though, into a worldview of people that you don't always get from even talking to lawmakers and whatnot.

REEVE: Yes. They are really there and it's uncensored, and it's unpolished, and they're just like actually -- there's no media professional tweaking every little word they say. It's just very real.

LEMON: How do I -- how do I say this without -- that made me sad --


LEMON: -- because they can't tell the difference in many ways -- and I'm generalizing here -- between reality and not reality. I mean this is something that's supposed to be fun but -- and then they're operating on this whole sort of thing about people -- the Democrats being evil, and election denial, and the election was stolen, and all of that.

And they think it's -- it's just -- it just makes me really sad. I just -- I just want to go and say hey, guys, none of what you're believing is true, and you can't. I don't know. I don't know what to do with that. I really don't.

REEVE: Well, I think it does reflect the sort of dehumanization of your political opponents that we're seeing now. Like, when I interviewed them five years ago, I interviewed people in the crowd and they were laughing. They'd be like ha, who doesn't love to hate the liberal? But now it's way more serious.


LEMON: Yes. And we -- as we have seen around the country --

HARLOW: Dangerous.

LEMON: -- dangerous.


LEMON: And that's the point. And that's why I said I don't know what to do with that because we're at a point now where people are being -- because of who they are, because of what they believe, they're being -- they're in danger. And as we see, five people are dead in large part because of not believing in -- or for vilifying people that they don't agree with.

Thank you, Elle. I appreciate it.

REEVE: Thanks.

HARLOW: Thanks very much.

All right. So we are also -- you just brought up Colorado --


HARLOW: -- learning new details about the victims. There they are -- their faces, their names. We'll tell you more about them -- murdered in that nightclub this weekend in Colorado Springs.

And ahead, we're going to be joined by the veteran who took down the gunman. His name is Richard Fierro and he joins CNN THIS MORNING.