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Man Accused of Kidnapping Bumble Date; Biden Struggles to Confirm Judges; Ben Smith is Interviewed about McCarthy's Speakership; Fighting Intensifies in Ukraine. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired January 09, 2023 - 06:30   ET




DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone, to CNN THIS MORNING.

Straight ahead on the program, she was kidnapped, beaten and starved by a man she says she met on a dating app. What led to the attack and how she finally escaped.

Plus, new CNN reporting. President Biden struggles to confirm judges in the south. What's behind the challenges? Our Joan Biskupic is standing by.

And after nearly three years, China has reopened its borders, marking an end - marking and end, I should say, to Covid restrictions. What's this now mean -- What this now means for travelers.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and on that first story Don mentioned there, this is a scary ordeal that happened in Texas. The perils of online dating. A man has now been charged with first degree aggravated kidnapping for allegedly holding a woman that he met on the dating app Bumble captive for five days and physically assaulting her before luckily she was able to escape.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Dallas with the details.

Ed, this is just a terrifying story, but what are the actual details of what happened and what led up to this?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to the arrest documents filed in the case against 21-year-old Zachary Kent Mills, investigators say that the woman told them that on Christmas Eve she met Mills on this dating app, Bumble, and that he came by her apartment, picked her up and went back to their apartment. That he instantly started trying to make moves for sexual intercourse but she denied those moves. And after that, Mills, according to the court documents, became very angry and then spent several days physically assaulting her. She was found with bruising on her eyes, all over her body. At one point the court documents even say that he used a screwdriver to inflict punishment as well.

And then, five days later, on December 29th, Kaitlan, the court documents say that Mills decided to leave his apartment and go to his father's house, and that's when she was able to escape.

COLLINS: That is incredible. And, luckily, she was able to.

Ed Lavandera, we'll stay on this story. Thank you.

LEMON: Still ahead here on CNN THIS MORNING -

COLLINS: Yes, this is about President Biden's struggle. You know, the White House talks so much and touts his legislative achievements, talks about how he's getting all these judges confirmed, but he is struggling to confirm judges in the south and work against former President Trump's judicial impact that he had while he was in office.

LEMON: Plus, now that he finally has the speaker's gavel, how does Kevin McCarthy proceed in a deeply, deeply divided caucus?



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, President Biden has set a record pace for nominating federal judges, but those efforts have stalled in the south. Federal judges are hugely important, obviously, but they can also be a huge part of a president's legacy. Perhaps their most enduring legacy. So why is Biden running into roadblocks getting these federal judges confirmed in the south?

Our Joan Biskupic has some fascinating new reporting on this this.

It is really interesting because the headline had sort of been, well, where the Obama administration had really fallen short on getting a bunch of federal judges confirmed, Biden has done a huge number. But not everywhere.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: That's right. In some ways, Poppy, the south has been left behind. You know, federal judges are appointed for life but the Constitution says that while the president appointment, he has to seek the advice and consent of the Senate. And that's crucial. So there are two points here.

You know, as you said, it's been significant that President Biden has outpaced Donald Trump, who put such a priority on changing the federal bench. But where President Biden has not made headway is in the south, in states like Louisiana, Florida, Texas, places where, you know, voting rights and immigration cases are crucial, and it's -- you know, it's a place where enduring battles over civil rights go on.

But the problem has been that those are states that are also dominated by Republicans.


That they're states that have two Republican senators. And the general process has been that the president needs to consult but also to essentially have the approval of home state senators for his appointments. HARLOW: Right, needs the advice and consent, right, of home state

senators. So, this is all about Biden getting those senators on board. Do -- is your reporting that the White House thinks he can do that?

BISKUPIC: Yes. Here's the thing, Poppy, that you should know also about the - one of the reasons that Biden has surpassed president -- former President Trump is because of the people running it. Chief of Staff Ron Klain has always - has been very involved in judicial selection for decades before joining the White House. President Biden himself was a Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. The woman, Paige Herwig, who's overseeing this, has also been deeply involved in Senate negotiations over judges. So, they are trying to have a meeting of the minds to find some places of compromise.

And, in the end, Poppy, even though ideology drives a lot of this, there's also a really important home state imperative to actually fill vacancies because of all the litigation in the states.

HARLOW: Sure. Yes.

BISKUPIC: So, I think that at this point, in the middle of Biden's four-year term, there's going to be a real imperative to try to start affecting the south.

HARLOW: Now your reporting will make a lot more people focus on it, that's for sure.

Joan, thanks very, very much. It's fascinating.

BISKUPIC: Thanks, Poppy.

LEMON: After an historic five-day, 15-ballot floor fight, wow -


LEMON: Kevin McCarthy is now, finally, the speaker of the House.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): The gentleman from the great state of California, and the next speaker of the 118th Congress, Kevin McCarthy.


LEMON: OK, it was loud. Some yays. I don't know if there were boos. But it was loud.

The question is, does this drawn out fight foreshadow how difficult it could be for McCarthy to govern the divided party?

So, joining us now, editor in chief of Semafor and former "New York Times" media columnist, Mr. Ben Smith.

Good morning to you.

BEN SMITH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "SEMAFOR": Thanks for having me, Don.

LEMON: OK, listen, it's barely even - well, it hasn't even started yet, right?

SMITH: That was a very easy question. Yes, it is going to make it very hard.

LEMON: But this is my question, though, is it going - is it going to be -- do you remember in the beginning days of the Trump administration where we would watch the White House briefing every single day because of the craziness that would come out of that. Is this going to happen with Congress now?

SMITH: You know, I think probably not. I mean it was as, you know, as Kaitlan, obviously, found, it was impossible not to watch Congress over the weekend. But you can really go weeks or months without caring a lot about what the House of Representatives does. And I think this is an enormous headache for Kevin McCarthy and -- but that there's -- the House isn't expected to do that much over the next couple of years. You know, it's a Republican-led House, Democratic-led Senate. There's not a huge legislative agenda. There's a couple things they have to do. Notably sometime next summer raise the debt ceiling. And I think if you're looking for, you know, fistfights on the floor and tears and all that, may have to wait a few months for that. I mean I think that's the - that's - there's a couple things the House really has to do and really no clear way how they're going to do them.

COLLINS: Yes, but it is fascinating that today they're going to pass a rules package normally that would never - like anyone would even blink at. It would just happen. There would be no questions about it. There are real questions about what will happen today.

And I think you're right in the sense of, yes, it is still a Democratic-controlled Senate and, obviously, President Biden is still in the White House. But these Republicans, maybe some of the more moderate members, those who won in districts that Biden may have won, they may be forced to vote on really unpopular things that typically they would try to protect their members and not have them vote on.

SMITH: Yes, that's right, and the conservatives want votes particularly on abortion restrictions and on defense spending right away, which are things that, you know, that there's a couple dozen members in particular, from swing districts who hate to do that. And I think, you know, there's two members who are suggesting they'll vote against the rules package. And on that, like everything else, McCarthy can only lose four. And, so, everything is pretty high wire.


HARLOW: The -- as Kaitlan's saying, I don't think I've ever talked about a rules package, like ever. And everyone is looking at it and looking at the concessions that McCarthy made, one of them putting more Freedom Caucus members on the Rules Committee. And it looks like then Republicans can only afford to lose two votes. And if you've got three, you know, Freedom Caucus members going against what McCarthy wants, teaming up with Democrats, it can just kill bill after bill after bill.

SMITH: Yes, that's right. I mean I think his - it just -- he handed off a lot of the power that you get when you're speaker of the House.

HARLOW: A lot? Like, almost all of it.

SMITH: A lot of it. I mean the - I think the - you know, the good news is that none of those bills were going to pass, right? Like, I mean, they can pass the House -


HARLOW: Right, but not the Senate.

SMITH: And - but - but it's - there is - there is - you know, sometimes you have a Congress where you have Democratic and Republican leaders from the different Houses who have some big agenda, some big plan on immigration or security, whatever, that they're hoping to pass together and there's nothing like that right now and nothing like that between these two parties right now.

LEMON: Is there -- looking for the glass half full part of this, is there any good that can come out of this?

SMITH: C-SPAN ratings.

LEMON: Well, no, no, no, no, no, no. Because I was thinking as I was watching it, like, well, maybe this is good for some transparency. Maybe, you know, duking it out in front of the American people is good for -- at least has some good in it because you actually see what is going on.

HARLOW: And that's what some of the Republicans were saying the other day.

LEMON: Because it reminded me of, you know, parliament, right, when you duke it out and you're like, yes, that's, you know, great, and the people are engaged, instead of like, you know, all this formality, like, yes, sir, OK, you know what I'm saying?

SMITH: Yes, I mean, I think it is a - sort of a paradoxical thing that effect -

LEMON: What good could come of this, Ben?

SMITH: You know, effective legislators are often run by leaders who are feared, who dominate the place and all - and none of the members have any power. That's what you see in a lot of state legislatures. It's, to some degree, what you saw in Nancy Pelosi's House of Representatives, nobody was going to cross Nancy Pelosi. You know, AOC and the squad thought about doing something like this and just kind of couldn't pull it off. I think, you know, that that's - that that's -- we are going to see a demonstration in kind of legislative democracy, I guess.

COLLINS: Yes. But what I've been watching is, you know, Chip Roy and them keep talking about what you're referencing there, the open amendment process where everyone can bring an amendment on the floor. They had that, I believe, back in 2011. And as Carl Hulse writes in "The New York Times" today, it was complete gridlock.


COLLINS: And they quickly changed that process because nothing was getting done. And so they talk about this ideal, but I think a lot of these Republicans, they don't even know what life in the majority is like. They've never experienced that before.

SMITH: Yes, and I - and I think that also means being kind of blamed, held accountable. Ki mean the nice thing - I mean the limited nice thing about the minority is that all you get to do is cause trouble.


SMITH: And you have a lot of folks who - I mean I think the thing that they really got a lot out of this last few weeks was just attention. If you - you know, if you wanted attention, if you wanted your face on television, it was an incredible opportunity for these back benchers. And if that is their impulse, as it seems to be, I mean I think there's an opportunity for a lot more gridlock, attention, C-SPAN rating. Yes.

LEMON: It is very John Boehner sort of, you know. It reminds - it reminds me of that. When you said you never really - we never really talked about a rules package. When - when Obama was in office -


LEMON: It was -- there was a lot of detail that we learned and sort of back and forth about rules and whatnot. But it was gridlock. It was --

SMITH: Yes. And you - and you sort of - and I think the thing with gridlock is, nobody pays attention for a while, and then all of a sudden you turn around and the stock market is crashing.

LEMON: Ben Smith, thank you. What good can come of this? What good can come of this?

SMITH: Appreciate your optimism.

HARLOW: Thank you, Ben.

LEMON: Thank you. We appreciate you coming in this morning. Thank you so much.

HARLOW: Well, Russia declared a cease-fire, but the fighting never stopped. How Ukrainians celebrated orthodox Christmas over the weekend amid the missile attacks. That's ahead.


[06:51:58] LEMON: Well, this morning, Russia's 36-hour cease-fire, it is over, although it never really began. Ukraine dismissed the truce as a cynical ploy and the shelling intensified as many civilians were forced to observe orthodox Christmas in cold basements, separated from family.

Let's go now to CNN's Ben Wedeman, live for us in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, with more this morning.

Ben, good morning to you. What is the latest?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, over the weekend, as you said, Ukrainians celebrated orthodox Christmas. Now, we were in the embattled city of Bakhmut. And what we saw is that the few residents still left in that city tried but did not have a very merry Christmas.


WEDEMAN (voice over): There was no peace, no silence in Bakhmut on the eve of orthodox Christmas. The unilateral Russian cease-fire never materialized. The guns didn't go silence.

At one of the city's shelters, residents gather around a table laid with food and tokens of the holiday. Tetiana, a volunteer, tries to raise spirits.

We wish you good health, peace, prosperity, and all the best, she tells them. She knows it's important to put on a brave face.

Even though it's raining and snowing outside, I'm smiling, says Tetiana. I wish people a merry Christmas. I try to show them it comes from my soul.

She did manage to bring a smile to the only child in the shelter, nine-year-old Volodymyr. And his wish on this day, I want this war to end and all my friends to return, he says.

For the adults, the gift under this tree is electricity to charge mobile phones and a wireless router connected to a satellite link up, allowing for a tenuous connection to loved ones, to reassure them, however they can, that they're still alive, not well.

And here there's warmth in a city where public utilities were knocked out months ago. Yet it's hard to feel the holiday spirit, says Andre (ph).

ANDRE (ph): It's so sad. Sad, sad day.

WEDEMAN: As the day progresses, snow begins to fall. The shelling continues. Christmas Eve dinner is a subdued affair in this basement, home for now to a few of the doctors still left in Bakhmut.

God bless us with strength, patience, and endurance is Dr. Olena Molchanova's toast. But here strength has its limits.

I feel pain, she says, because I can't be with my family. I can't sit at the same table with my mother and daughter.


Christmas morning and no letup in the shelling.

WEDEMAN (on camera): For months Russian forces have tried to take this city but so far have failed. But in the process, according to one local official, more than 60 percent of Bakhmut has been destroyed.

WEDEMAN (voice over): At the Church of All Saints, priests hold mass in the relative safety of the crypt. Candles provide the only light and warmth in this, the darkest of times.


WEDEMAN: And we're in front of a high school, where it was hit just minutes into Monday morning at the supposed end of the Russian cease- fire. The Russians claimed 600 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in this strike, but we've seen no evidence that there's any voracity to that Russian claim.


LEMON: All right, Ben Wedeman in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Thank you very much.

COLLINS: Still ahead this morning, thousands of nurses at two of New York City's biggest hospitals are on strike right now. We'll tell you what this means for infants in the ICU and ambulance calls.