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CNN This Morning

5,000-Plus Dead in Quake as Race for Survivors Intensified; Tonight, Biden Delivers State of Union as GOP Retakes House; From Close Calls to Meltdowns, Hearing Today on Travel Issues. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired February 07, 2023 - 07:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are alive but nobody comes. We heard them. They are calling out asking for help. They asked to be rescued. We cannot rescue them. How can we rescue them?


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my gosh, the anguish there. Good morning, everyone. CNN is live on the ground as search and rescue teams race to save lives across Turkey and Syria. The death toll from the catastrophic earthquake topping 5,000, countless people still trapped in the rubble and fighting to stay alive.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Also this morning, we are live here on Capitol Hill where President Biden is going to make his case for a re- election, an announcement that's expected soon tonight. But a recent poll shows most Americans don't think he has achieved much. Can President Biden cut through the noise? We're going to speak to the White House communications director, Kate Bedingfield, to get her view in a few moments.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also, the FAA will be in the hot seat today on Capitol Hill after a series of travel meltdowns and safety issues, including a number of near-collisions at airports.

But we do begin with the massive search and rescue operation underway right now in Turkey and in Syria. Countless people are still trapped under heaps of rubble and more than 5,000 people are confirmed dead after yesterday's catastrophic earthquake. There are thousands upon thousands of collapsed buildings that still need to be searched.

We have seen some moments of hope, though. This video of a small girl pulled from the wreckage alive. But many are still waiting for rescue. A warning now, you will likely find this video very hard to watch.

That is a woman under a heap of concrete crying help, help. Freezing temperatures have made the situation even more dire. Our Nick Paton Walsh is live on the ground in Turkey right near the quake zone. Nick, thank you for being there. This weather complicating all of these search and rescue efforts.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, we are heading closer and closer towards the epicenter, Kahramanmaras, where this struck essentially at two times, the first at 4:00 A.M. yesterday, and then a significant aftershock of 7.5. That would be a major earthquake, frankly, anywhere else in the world, hitting also in the same region too. You can see some of the damage just behind me.

And as we drove here, the other side of the traffic, constant flow of people, ambulances heading out and away from this area, so hard to get some of the aid in, and we've seen headed from Istanbul overnight a constant stream of ambulances, fire engines, excavations. The job is starting but it is one under enormous time pressure.

I'm standing here in brilliant sunshine but every once in a while we get a dense horizontal snowstorm that comes in that makes it hard for aircraft, it makes it very dangerous on the roads. These highways lined with smashed cars that have been in accidents on the way here. That's another rescue job for people to try to achieve as well.

So, Kahramanmaras, the epicenter, as I said, significant destruction there. We'll see more of that in the hours ahead. But also Hatay, another city in the border region too, significant loss of life there too, and children being pulled from the rubble.

This is the essential problem now. We have a small window for rescue services here in Turkey where they knew something like this could happen, where they are prepared for earthquakes. While they have the resources and they are getting help from outside the country, too, a small window for them to get into that rubble and take the most fragile out.

Remember, this struck in the middle of the night, people asleep in their beds not wearing the warm winter clothing. I'm freezing and standing here, talking to you here. So, it's a very delicate time here, many hearts, frankly, on the edge.

And that is potentially better news in Turkey. You cross the border into Syria where there's very little medical rescue infrastructure at all because of the brutal war that's been there for a decade. The stories are significantly worse. So, a very dangerous few days ahead here, Poppy.

HARLOW: We just saw, Nick, those drone shots from Syria, where the International Rescue Committee says because of the war, only 45 percent of the hospitals are even operational right now. Nick, thank you for the reporting. We'll come back to you a bit later in the program. Don?

LEMON: And later today, President Biden will be making a trip to Capitol Hill to deliver his state of the union address. The administration saying that the president will be focusing on the progress made by his administration, especially the economy.


So, let's talk about that, get a preview of it with White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield. Good morning, Kate. Thank you for joining us here on CNN This Morning. I really appreciate it. It's good to see you.


LEMON: Let's talk about what is going to happen and people's perceptions. Because there is this new Washington Post/ABC News poll, it finds that about two-thirds of Americans feel that President Biden has not accomplished a whole lot in his first two years in office. Listen, perception is reality, especially when it comes to public office. So, why aren't the American people feeling or seeing what the president plans, what the president is doing, and does he plan to talk about that tonight?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, absolutely, he is going to talk about that tonight. You're going to hear from him tonight about the things we've accomplished in the first two years that are making a difference in people's lives, 12 million jobs created during President Biden's first two years in office, historic low unemployment, wages going up, investments in our infrastructure, our roads and bridges, historic gun safety legislation.

So, yes, the American people are going to hear directly from the president tonight about what we've accomplished in the first two years but also about the path forward, about how we're going to keep building on that progress, how we're going to finish the job. People across the country, remember -- go ahead.

LEMON: But, Kate, why aren't the American people feeling it? Because the polls are showing that the American people are not feeling that. Is that the issue with the president? Is that the communications office? What is going on?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, remember where we were when President Biden came into office. We were in the depths of a pandemic, the economy had ground to a halt, inflation was creeping up not just here but around the globe as a result of the pandemic. And so the president took quick action, meaningful action to start rebuilding this economy from the bottom up and the middle out. And the choices that he's made have, again, led to historic job creation, historic low unemployment, and people are starting to feel that around the country.

But as the president would be the first to say and will say tonight, we're going to keep talking about what those impacts mean. Over the course of 2023 and into 2024, people are going to start to feel the impact of some of the major legislation that we've passed, the infrastructure law, the Inflation Reduction Act that's lowering prescription drug costs and lowering energy costs for people. People are going to start to feel the impact of that. So, you're going to hear from the president tonight and then you're also going to hear from the president, the vice president, the cabinet, as they are traveling after the speech, fanning out across the country to talk about how we're going to finish the job.

LEMON: That's a look into the future. But as of now on the economy, as it relates to the economy, 41 percent of Americans feel that they are not as well off financially as they were when Biden became president. Is there a disconnect between the indicators that the White House points to versus how people feel when they are grocery shopping or when they are paying their rent or paying their bills, Kate?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, we've made huge strides in bringing costs down, but the president, as he always says, we have more to do. We have farther to go. He understands the impact when you go to the grocery store and you're paying more for meat or milk or eggs. He understands the impact that that has on your family. That's why when he makes choices about his economic agenda, he's thinking about how is it going to impact people around kitchen tables across this country.

He grew up in a family just like that where you had to think about how are you going to make ends meet, how are you going to make it add up at the end of the month? And so that's his guiding principle as he thinks about an economic plan, and it's an economic plan, frankly, that has made huge progress. Again, we're looking at historic low unemployment. We're looking at 800,000 manufacturing jobs created in this country, so, making things in America again for the first time in a long time.

So, we've made enormous progress but there's certainly more to do. The president is relentlessly focused on bringing down costs and you are going to hear that from him in the speech.

LEMON: So, listen, something that may hurt that is that Americans feel a major impact, they're going to feel a major impact if we default on our debts and concerning the debt limit. Is that -- he is saying he is not negotiable, nothing is negotiable, he is not going to negotiate the debt ceiling. Do you think that's irresponsible?

BEDINGFIELD: I think it is the responsibility of Congress, as it always has been, to address the debt limit. And Speaker McCarthy and members of the Republican caucus voted under President Trump three times to raise the debt limit clean with no preconditions.

So, this is a constitutional responsibility of the Congress. The president is not willing to make the full faith and credit of the United States a bargaining chip because the consequences of defaulting would have enormous impact on families across the country. It has a very destabilizing impact on our economy. So, no, the president is not willing to negotiate. That is Congress' responsibility.

However, the president is having conversations. He met with speaker McCarthy last week and will continue to work with the Congress. He is having a conversation about fiscal responsibility, about our priorities moving forward.

He said he's going to release his budget March 9th and he is asking Republicans to put their plan on the table so we can hear where are the cuts they're proposing to make.


Are they proposing to go cut social security? Are they proposing to cut Medicare? Are they proposing to cut our national defense? So, he wants to see their plan and he wants to have a conversation.

Under this president, we've reduced the deficit -- just one more point here, Don, we've reduced deficit, $1.7 trillion under this president and his plans moving forward are going to continue to build on our economic strength while being fiscally responsible. That's the conversation that he wants to have with Congress.

LEMON: I want to get as much in as possible because we don't often have the opportunity to speak with you.

So, listen, let's about -- I'm sure the president never anticipated that he would be talking about a balloon traipsing across America. But yesterday, he said that the shooting down of the suspected spy balloon near Myrtle Beach, he said did not change his state of the union speech, or is he going to talk about that, because that has a huge impact? Everyone is talking foreign policy now with this very visual symbol of a balloon going across America.

BEDINGFIELD: Well, of course, our relationship with China was always going to be in the speech. It is a key consequential relationship. It is one pillar of our foreign policy. The president has obviously worked to continue to manage our relationship with China to a place of competition and not conflict. I would anticipate that he will mention the events of the last week, but, again, the speech and the larger pieces about his foreign policy have not been reworked because of this balloon.

Now, what I will say about the balloon is that the president handled it effectively and with strength. We were able to capture intelligence on the Chinese as the balloon passed across the country. The decision to wait to shoot it down gave us the opportunity to do that, to gather intelligence on them, and we were able to shoot it down in territorial waters where we could recover the payload, gather that intelligence, and also there was no threat to the American people.

LEMON: He's being criticized for not shooting it down sooner. He's been criticized for not shooting it down sooner. So, you don't think that that was a mistake?

BEDINGFIELD: No, because we were able to gather more intelligence and more information. We were able to collect back on the balloon. We know more about Chinese capabilities and trade craft as a result of that decision. And then we ultimately shot it down and sent a very direct message to China that it was unacceptable.

LEMON: I have two quick things for you, because we don't often talk about national security in terms of domestic terror. The two people had been arrested and charged with conspiring to destroy energy facilities near Baltimore, authorities say that they wanted to completely destroy the city to further their neo-Nazi goals. Is the president going to talk about white supremacy or the threats of the far-right domestic terrorism tonight? That is an important issue.

BEDINGFIELD: And as you know, Don, the president talks all the time about the need to strengthen and continue to fortify the soul of our nation. And a piece of that is calling out white supremacy, calling out hate. As the president says, hate never goes away. It only hides. And we have to be vigilant about it.

Just yesterday, in fact, we convened a meeting here that the second gentleman participated in, the chair of the domestic policy council, our homeland security adviser and people across the administration to talk about the rise of anti-Semitism and hate and violence across the country.

And so this is something that the president has never shied away from calling out. He believes that silence is complicity. And so I would expect that you will hear from him tonight about the need to continue to protect and fortify the soul of our nation.

LEMON: And how is going to address police reform, because Tyre Nichols' family will be in the audience tonight? What is he going to do as it relates to Tyre Nichols' family and police reform?

BEDINGFIELD: You should expect to hear from him about police reform. He believes that we need more accountability in policing. He obviously across the course of the last two years has called for Congress to send the George Floyd Act to his desk. And when Republicans in the Senate prevented that from happening, he took action and put forth an executive order to increase use of force standards and, again, to increase accountability.

So, he believes that we need -- that police need accountability. They also need resources to be able to do their jobs well, to be able to walk their beats, to know their communities so that the people in communities across the country who trust and rely on them can have that trust. So, I would expect to hear from him about the need for police reform.

LEMON: All right. Kate Bedingfield at the White House, thank you very much, we appreciate you joining us here on CNN This Morning.

BEDINGFIELD: Thanks for having me, Don. I appreciate it.

LEMON: Make sure you join Anderson and Jake for live coverage of President Biden's state of the union address. It starts tonight at 8:00 P.M. Eastern. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yes, Don, what a preview of the address tonight that everyone is anticipating. And as we wait for that, also this morning, there is a highly anticipated aviation safety hearing that is taking place here on Capitol Hill. It comes in the wake of widespread air travel issues, including the FAA computer outage that caused a nationwide ground stop, Southwest Airlines' holiday meltdown and two near miss incidents at U.S. airports. Officials from the FAA, the NTSB and the largest pilots union are all expected to testify.

[07:15:02] CNN's Pete Muntean is covering all of this for us, and I'm not going to -- should tell everyone, you're wearing socks with airplanes on them.


COLLINS: So, you are perfectly prime to cover this hearing today, but in all seriousness, this is something that has captivated the nation's attention. What are we expecting?

MUNTEAN: The head of the NTSB is going to testify. She spoke to me yesterday. And she tells me this latest close call will very likely take center stage. That is when two planes almost landed on top of each other in Austin on Saturday. She says now they came within 100 feet of a disaster. She says a wake-up call for the entire industry.


MUNTEAN (on camera): The newest case of a near collision on the runway comes as aviation leaders are assembling on Capitol Hill. Investigators say before dawn Saturday, a FedEx Boeing 767 was about to land at Austin's international airport as a Southwest Airlines 737 was told to take off from the same runway. The National Transportation Safety Board now tells CNN the FedEx crew aborted their landing plans unprompted and started to climb averting disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: FedEx is on the go.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, CHAIR, NTSB: It was very close and we believe less than 100 feet.

MUNTEAN: NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy is anticipating the incident will come up during Tuesday's hearing on aviation safety. It comes three weeks after another near-collision at JFK where a Delta Airlines flight abruptly stopped its takeoff as an American Airlines flight taxied across the runway in front of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Delta 1943, cancel takeoff plans.

HOMENDY: It's scary. I worry about the potential for a catastrophe.

MUNTEAN: Issues in the air are being met with issues on the ground from last month's FAA computer system failure that paralyzed airports to Southwest's holiday travel meltdown that canceled more than 16,000 flights. The U.S. Travel Association now says bad flight experiences are putting a damper on Americans' travel plans.

SCOTT KIRBY, CEO, UNITED AIRLINES: The operating environment is much more difficult.

MUNTEAN: United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby predicts a rough year for aviation and says his airline is trying to control what it can. Brand- new graduates from United's industry first flight school are now headed to new jobs, on their way to shore up pilot shortages at the airlines. CHRISTOPHER WATSON JR., UNITED AVIATE GRADUATE: The last generation of older pilots is starting to go leave. They are starting retirement. And our job is to backfill positions and help keep the industry going.

MUNTEAN: Industry figures say more people now work at major airlines than before the pandemic. But the pressure is on to keep the safety record clean.

HOMENDY: It's a great time of hiring. I'm very excited about that. But we have to make sure that our focus is first and foremost on safety.


MUNTEAN (on camera): all of this comes as Congress is setting the FAA's budget. That determines how much the agency can spend. And, Kaitlan, never before has this been thrust into the limelight in such a big way.

COLLINS: Yes. It's remarkable to see this hearing playing out. Everyone will be watching it closely and you will too. Thank you, Pete Muntean. All right, Poppy, back to you.

HARLOW: All right, Kaitlan. So, something that really stood out to us from that report Pete just gave is how close the Southwest jet and the FedEx cargo plane were to colliding. They were less than 100 feet apart, 100 feet. So, this is what that looks like. You see Don and down the hallway, that is our Senior Data Reporter Harry Enten.

LEMON: On the end here.

HARLOW: There. But think about that. The distance is so short, it actually fits in the walk from our control rooms to our studio. It's about half the length of a cargo jet itself. Remember, there were 128 people onboard that Southwest flight and they were that close, here they are, to a collision. LEMON: But keep in mind we were walking. Imagine if you were on an

airplane, which is going a lot faster than that.


HARLOW: Right, that's how close. So, what's the number?

ENTEN: So, this morning's number is 100 feet. I mean, that was how close we were. But I think the thing that sort of put in perspective, and Pete was sort of hinting at it, is that is the second close call in the last month. It was 1,000 feet between that taxiing American flight and the taking off Delta flight colliding at JFK. So, all of a sudden -- I was flying on Friday. That's some scary stuff if you're a passenger, right?

But I think what's important to put in perspective is that flying has become so much safer, in fact, over the last few decades.

HARLOW: Thank you for this. Thank you.


HARLOW: Thank you.

ENTEN: I want to bring comfort to people.

HARLOW: To a nervous flyer.

ENTEN: To a nervous flyer. So, the worldwide airliner fatalities, the early average back in the 1970s, it was nearly 2,000. Look at where we were in the 2010s, right?

HARLOW: That's for the whole decade, right?

ENTEN: That is the yearly average. So, that is yearly average. So, 422, but that's worldwide.

HARLOW: And private?

ENTEN: This is worldwide. These are airliner fatalities on the average. But in the United States, we're significantly safer than we are, let's say, in some foreign countries. But the key thing here is that we're getting so much safer.


And here is the other thing that I think is so important, is compare it to other ways of traveling, right, the deaths per 100 million miles traveled. Look at cars, it's 0.46. At bus, it's 0.04. Trains, 0.005, right, Don? Airlines, 0.0004. Airline travel is the safest way to travel compared to anything else. When you're getting into a car, you're much more likely to have a fatality than if you're going on an airline.

LEMON: Perception versus reality, as I just said with Kate Bedingfield. Everyone is like, I'm so nervous about flying, when you're actually in much more danger when you're in a car.

HARLOW: This is what the flight attendants tell me when I start to get nervous.


HARLOW: Thank you, Harry.

ENTEN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you, guys, for that nice display, by the way.

ENTEN: That's some exercising.

LEMON: Kaitlan?

COLLINS: All right. We are back here on Capitol Hill. In a few moments, I am going to be joined by the chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, James Comer. We're going to talk about the hearings that are set for this week and his questions about the Chinese surveillance balloon that the U.S. Navy is now recovering.




JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: No. We've made it clear to China what we're going to do. They understand our position. We're not going to back off. We did the right thing and there's not a question about weakening or strengthening. It's just the reality.


COLLINS: The U.S. military has released new pictures of their recovery operations off the coast of the Carolinas, where that suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down.

Here in Washington, Republicans have criticized President Biden and the Pentagon for not taking action sooner. The administration and national security officials defended the move, saying they were waiting to down it until they could do so safely over the ocean.

Joining us now Republican Congressman James Comer of Kentucky, who is the chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, which will be holding hearings on the border as well as Twitter this week. We're going to getting to both hearings in a moment. But, first, Congressman, good morning and thank you.

On this downed Chinese balloon, do you expect Republicans will probe that and start an investigation?

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): I do. I do. We are concerned about our homeland security. We don't believe this administration takes homeland security very seriously. We are going to talk today in our committee about the debacle at the southern border, the crisis at the southern border. Our southern border is not secure. We're going to learn that our northern border is not secure at our hearing today. And then we see this balloon just go through our entire airspace and planes have to be diverted. So, we wonder is our airspace even secure over the United States? So, we have a lot of questions for this administration and hopefully we'll get some answers soon.

COLLINS: Well, one thing they said was that they didn't down it because they are worried what kind of damage it could cause if they did over land. One thing you said as we were learning about this balloon and tracking it, you asked on Fox News is it bioweapons in that balloon? Did that balloon take off from Wuhan? We don't know anything about it. But you don't have any evidence that this balloon contained bioweapons.

COMER: No, I asked the question. I mean, what is in the balloon? This is something we believe the White House should have advised us on. They should have had a briefing to tell us what this was. I mean, back home in Kentucky this is all anybody talks about was this balloon. Everyone was concerned. No one trusts China. They know China is an adversary.

My concern was the military had no idea anything about the balloon, what was in the balloon. Was it a spy balloon? Was it a weather balloon, like China said? What exactly did the U.S. military know about this? What did our intelligence know about this? Did they know it was even in our space before it got in the Alaska airspace? So, it's a lot of questions, and that was just one of the questions. For all we know, it could have bioweapons. They could be testing to see if --

COLLINS: But you don't have any evidence that it does have bioweapons.

COMER: No, I didn't. I asked the question because we don't know. We didn't know. We still don't know what was in the balloon and what the purpose of the balloon was.

COLLINS: There are still big questions about that. I think both parties want to know about that, so does the White House as well. All House lawmakers will be getting a briefing on the balloon on Thursday here on Capitol Hill. You will, I imagine, be in that briefing. If you go into that briefing, and I know you have to be careful about what you say coming out of that, and they say, no, there are no bioweapons in that balloon, will you come out and make that clear publicly?

COMER: Sure, absolutely. But I never said it was. I said, for all we know, it had bioweapons. We don't know anything about the balloon.

But there is a concern here that our federal government isn't securing our homeland. We know the southern border and the northern border are wide open. We know that criminals are pouring across the border every day with fentanyl, there's human traffic, there's increased crime in our cities. Now, there is a concern that none of us talk about, is our airspace secure? Are they making sure that none of our adversaries around the world are invading our airspace? Are they trying to do anything, or was this simply a test by President Xi to see if he could do it, to see what, if anything, Joe Biden would do, how would he respond?

Senator McConnell suggested that there were plenty of opportunities from his advisers, there were plenty of opportunities to shoot that down in rural areas in Alaska or Montana before it made its way all across the United States, including flying over my military base, Fort Campbell, in Kentucky.

COLLINS: Which is in your district.

COMER: Which is in my district.

COLLINS: The one in Montana as well. I know there are still big questions about that.

You have also got a slew of hearings this week, including one where you've subpoenaed three former Twitter employees on Thursday. You recently met privately on Capitol Hill with Elon Musk. What did he tell you? Did he give you anything that he believed should be asked at that hearing on Thursday?

COMER: We talked a long time about the hearing. Elon Musk is a great American. I mean, thank goodness for Elon Musk. You think about the crises that we're looking into right now in the House Oversight Committee with the Twitter documents. We wouldn't know that the government was involved in censuring conservative speech were it not for Elon Musk being transparent and disclosing the Twitter files.