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NYT: DeSantis Privately Tells Donors Trump Can't Win; Justices Side With Twitter, Google Over Terror-Related Content; Study Finds New York City Is Sinking Under Weight Of Skyscrapers. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 19, 2023 - 07:30   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: "Biden, Trump, and me." That's a quote from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis -- how he sees the 2024 race playing out as he is expected to enter it himself in just a few days from now, making it official.

According to The New York Times, Gov. DeSantis told donors on a call yesterday that he believes there are only three credible candidates, adding -- and I'm quoting the Florida governor now -- "I think of those two -- those three. Two have a chance to get elected president -- Biden and me -- based on all the data in the swing states, which is not great for the former president and probably insurmountable because people aren't going to change their view of him."

Sources tell CNN that DeSantis is expected to file his presidential campaign paperwork next week. His plans to defeat Donald Trump run to the right of him when it comes to abortion, guns, transgender rights.

This week, he responded to the former president's criticism that Florida's new abortion restrictions were too tough.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: I signed the bill. I was proud to do it. He won't answer whether he would sign it or not.


COLLINS: The president -- him noting there that the former president did not say what abortion law he would sign into that.

Of course, Poppy, it's not just rhetoric that's coming from DeSantis.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That's right -- it's what is he doing. And here's a look at what he's done just recently.

He has signed a six-week abortion ban, one of the most restrictive in the country. He has ended concealed weapons permits. He has banned gender-affirming care for trans youth.

He's restricted drag shows. He's blocked advanced placement in America -- African American studies. He has prohibited vaccine mandates and expelled -- expanded, I should note, the law that critics call the "Don't Say Gay" law.

Now, DeSantis and Disney have been feuding on this issue -- the last one I mentioned -- for more than a year. But yesterday, the media giant upped the ante. Disney scrapped its plans to build a billion- dollar office complex in central Florida, citing challenging business conditions. They didn't name DeSantis directly but this will cost the state of Florida 2,000 white-collar jobs.

A spokesperson for DeSantis said it was unsurprising that Disney would cancel the project saying, quote, "?iven the company's financial straits, failing market cap, and declining stock price."

Now, President -- former President Trump's campaign put out a statement arguing that DeSantis, quote, "Single-handedly lost Florida more than 2,000 jobs."

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is also eyeing a 2024 run, weighed in.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not terribly surprised to see Disney canceling a billion-dollar contract. That's only going to harm people in the Orlando and Florida area, and it's one more reason why as a limited government conservative I've said for months now that I think both sides ought to stand down.


COLLINS: Joining us now to discuss, CNN political commentator and former Trump White House communications director, Alyssa Farah Griffin. And, our CNN political analyst, Natasha Alford. Thank you both for being here.

HARLOW: Good morning.

COLLINS: This call is pretty remarkable in the sense that DeSantis has been towing around the criticism of Trump. This is probably his most direct show yet, telling donors this guy cannot beat Biden.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: And while I tend to agree with him in a general election, I think 2020 bore that out and I don't see Donald Trump picking up more swing voters or more Independents in 2024, the numbers in the general are very comparable -- DeSantis head-to-head with Biden as they are Trump head-to-head with Biden.

The electability argument is a decent one for DeSantis to make but that cannot be the whole thing. He has to take Trump on directly and he has to draw a policy juxtaposition.

And to the point you read in the open, which is he's actually, in many ways, running to the right of Trump, which means you're shrinking the pool of voters to potentially support you even more.

Disney, real quick -- I mean -- and I should mention I'm partially employed by Disney -- but it is a -- it is a -- this was a tremendous misstep by him -- losing 2,000 jobs for the state with a median salary of $120,000.

And now his team -- what they're going to frame it as -- what they're kind of spinning it as is to say this project was likely going to be on hold anyway. Disney has gone through massive layoffs. But there's property records in Orlando that show as recently as mid-March they were moving forward on groundbreaking.

HARLOW: I will say some of the reporting has been that Bob Chapek, the former CEO of Disney, had been more of a proponent of this than Bob Iger. But still, clearly, DeSantis isn't making it any more welcoming for Disney in Florida. That's for sure.

Natasha, I thought it was interesting that former President Trump came out after this and said look, DeSantis got caught in the mouse trap -- his words -- and says that he basically failed in this war and that Disney is going to prevail.

NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think that there was a miscalculation in terms of how long you can beat up on Mickey Mouse, right, and not have some sort of backlash.

And again, I think this -- the -- once you can make a case that it's affecting business -- that you're losing jobs and that you're losing money, DeSantis' argument that he is the one who sort of keeps business together for Florida just isn't as strong anymore.


And I'm a little bit confused by the play to go so hard to the right because if you look at national polling people are saying that the rollback on abortion rights is going too far and that includes --

HARLOW: Is he (INAUDIBLE) to win a primary?

ALFORD: But at -- what do you do after that, right?

HARLOW: Well, you pivot.

ALFORD: Right, but how hard can you pivot when you say six-week abortion ban, and that's out of line with even --


ALFORD: -- many Republicans who are polling and saying that they want medication abortion available, for example. So it just seems a little bit out of step with the majority of the country.

COLLINS: What I was struck by is on -- also on this call with donors he didn't really get into the cultural issues -- the divisive issues that's he talking about. He kind of stayed away from those.

But he did talk about trying to frame himself as better for the party and talking about -- I mean, this is a call with donors and he was saying he's not just raising money for himself. That's another shot at Trump who is sitting on a huge pile of cash during the midterm elections that people complained he got involved to spend money way too late for it to even make a difference.

GRIFFIN: And all of that's true. And Ron DeSantis, by the way, has a huge war chest right now -- the second-biggest and, at least what we know at this time, compared to Donald Trump. And he did boost other candidates on the ballot in Florida. He was kind of the one bright spot on midterm day for Republicans.

But if you think of where he's been since November 2020 to now it's been a series of missteps. It's been a series of precipitous drops in the polls. And I think there's a number of factors in that Trump has defined him. Trump has -- we -- I know Ron DeSantis decently well. He's not like some super bizarre person you can't have a conversation with. He -- I mean, he's not necessarily the most gregarious man either.

But Donald Trump has defined him as somebody with zero personality who needs a personality transplant. He's talked about him being bad for business. And DeSantis won't hit him back. If he thinks that he's ready to be the frontrunner for the GOP nomination he needs to be able to define his opponent, Donald Trump, and he needs to be able to hit back. And I've yet to see any evidence he can do that.

HARLOW: So DeSantis is going to announce, our reporting is, next week -- officially run. Tim Scott is going to do that on Monday. What do you think?

ALFORD: Well, Tim Scott -- you know, he -- if you look at a poll of South Carolina voters he's still coming in fourth after Trump, after DeSantis, after Nikki Haley, and that's in his --

HARLOW: He's got a lot of money.

ALFORD: -- own state -- a $22 million war chest, which is great. You know, you have this historic positioning, right? One of three Black U.S. senators. The only Black Republican senator.

But I don't want to undermine the ambition but I think that some people may see him as a vice presidential candidate, right? A boost, although he would never say that. It's just hard to see him being the frontrunner at this time but that doesn't mean there isn't a benefit to him being on the stage.

The accusation that the GOP is not diverse enough -- that they have issues with race -- just his mere presence shifts that dynamic.

COLLINS: And he's probably one of the best-liked senators --


COLLINS: -- in Washington from people on both sides.

You used to work at the Pentagon. Can we -- I have to talk about Gov. Youngkin of Virginia, who is also fueling his own 2024 buzz. Whether or not he's going to get in after it seemed maybe he wasn't. He put out this ad. It was very Reaganesque. But one misstep that they

made is they misidentified a foreign fighter jet in there as an American one.

GRIFFIN: Great eyes. This is something that happens too often and it drives anyone in the defense community mad.

COLLINS: For a Republican in a state --

HARLOW: Right.

COLLINS: -- where they've got all these military bases it's --

GRIFFIN: You've got to be careful with your stock imagery because it was very clearly not a U.S. fighter jet.

That, I thought, was very interesting because Youngkin has come out and said that he's not running. The consultant who is expected to run his race has been with DeSantis. I don't know if this was an ad that maybe was previously cut and he's just using it for Virginia, or he's wanting to keep his name I.D. boosted as a potential to still do something.

But anyone who's going to get into the field needs to be in, I would say, by June -- like after Memorial Day. After that you're just -- there's so many -- you're missing fundraising windows and you're missing time to build your name I.D. So folks need to get in quickly.

ALFORD: I think there's an opportunity for name recognition. Everything that he's done in Virginia fits into the larger cultural conversation we're having. The attacks on CRT. This idea of supporting parental rights. So either way, I feel like there's a benefit for him even if he doesn't have a legitimate shot at taking the White House.

COLLINS: Alyssa, Natasha --

HARLOW: Thanks, guys.

COLLINS: -- two great political minds to talk about all of this with, so thank you both.

HARLOW: Thank you.

COLLINS: The Supreme Court also delivering a major victory for social media platforms, allowing the companies to avoid lawsuits for now that stem from terror-related content. We have the implications of that ruling next.

HARLOW: Also, Montana's TikTok ban already facing a legal challenge. We're going to be joined by a TikTok influencer from the state. What does she think?


[07:48:51] COLLINS: New this morning, we are getting a clearer picture of when potential charges may come in that Atlanta area investigation into former President Trump and many of his allies in 2020 election interference. We have previously reported here at CNN that possible indictments were expected over the summer but now, the Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis -- that you see here -- is showing signs they could be unsealed in August.

The New York Times reports that Willis has announced remote work days for a lot of her staff for the first three weeks in the month, even asking that judges avoid scheduling trials during that period. Obviously, this is something the former president's legal team is keeping a close eye on.

August is also the scheduled date for that first Republican primary debate.

HARLOW: That's right.

Also this. A big win yesterday for social media companies in a pair of cases -- one brought against Google, the other brought against Twitter. The Supreme Court preserved social media companies' ability to avoid lawsuits stemming from terror-related content.

In the case against Twitter, the Supreme Court ruled that the company will not have to face accusations that it aided and abetted terrorism when it hosted content by ISIS.

The court also dismissed a case against Google and sent it to the lower court, which was accused of hosting radical content that the plaintiffs allege led to the death of their daughter in that 2015 terror attack in Paris.


To understand this all and what it means big picture we're joined by CNN media analyst and Axios media reporter, Sara Fischer. Sara, thanks so much for coming in.

This was a huge deal not only for the families -- the Gonzalez family in the Google case -- but just writ large for what the responsibility is of social media companies. And the bottom line is they continue to get a pass under Section 230 of the CDA act.

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST, MEDIA REPORTER, AXIOS: Yes, exactly. So it's going to be a lot harder for anybody who wants to sue a tech company for responsibility about what a third party says, and that's because the court had the decision whether or not it wanted to reevaluate this longtime law. And essentially, by deciding not to it punted it to Congress. So Congress, which passed this law in 1995, could go and reverse it.

The challenge is, Poppy, there's been no really good suggestions put forward on what we would replace it with, and I think that's why we're at a standstill. We know that the internet as it is -- it needs a little bit more moderation but we don't know how to do that without completely breaking the internet as we know it today.

COLLINS: And what they seemed to signal yesterday is that they're basically passing on it for now.

HARLOW: Now, yes.

COLLINS: I mean, obviously, this is something that is likely going to be a recurring issue.

But when you mention Capitol Hill you always see these Republicans -- and some Democrats, too -- but a lot of Republicans talking about Section 230 and the protection that these companies get, and railing against it and promising to do something. But you never actually see something materialize on that front. I mean, it's difficult but it seems like a lot of talk and very little action on it.

FISCHER: That's right. It's a politically-motivated issue, right? Republicans love to say that they're being censored by big tech and that you should take away their protections so that they don't have to be censored.

But the challenge is, Kaitlan, we like to think that these laws give protection to Google and Facebook, and the big guys. They also give protection to a lot of smaller apps that we use every day.

How many times when you go to book a hotel do you look at pictures of it on Trip Advisor, or you look at pictures of a restaurant on Yelp, or you want to add something in a comment section because you buy a lotion and it doesn't work? All of that stuff is protected by Section 230 as well.

And so if we were to remove these protections it's not just big tech, it's their local newspaper's comment sections. It's the Yelps of the world. It's all these other sites. I think that's why it's hard for Republicans and Congress writ large to just break this rule because it would have such a sweeping impact on a lot of different sites.

HARLOW: Marsha Blackburn, for example, had talked about -- and she's been a big voice in this -- whether --

COLLINS: The senator from Tennessee.

HARLOW: Yes. And another case coming forward before the same court making the same argument as the Gonzalez family made may have a better chance here. Because the court didn't really rule on the merits here at all. The court just sent it unanimously, interestingly, down, right?

And so I just wonder if you think that there is much more to come on this because you have -- you -- if Congress isn't going to solve it the court has to weigh in here on Section 230 because that was written in a very different time than what the internet and social media is now.

FISCHER: So, yes and no, and here's why.

The Supreme Court's job is to interpret complicated laws. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is not a complicated law.

HARLOW: It's only like 26 words.

FISCHER: Exactly. It's actually very straightforward in what it says these platforms are protected and not.

And so, technically, if you would want to revisit this, this really is the job of Congress to rewrite the law, to repeal it, et cetera. I don't know that the court has that much power at this point.

COLLINS: Yes, it's really interesting.

HARLOW: It's fascinating.

COLLINS: Sara Fischer, thank you.

FISCHER: Thank you.

COLLINS: The legal challenges, speaking of, are beginning over Montana's TikTok ban. This is a ban that wasn't just for government devices. This was for personal devices as well. And now, five content creators are suing the state's attorney general, arguing that this ban violates their First Amendment rights.

The governor there, Greg Gianforte, says he believes the law that he signed will protect Montanans' personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party. If the law is upheld hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana will no longer have access to that app starting January first -- like, Kylie Nelson.


KYLIE NELSON, TIKTOK FASHION AND LIFESTYLE INFLUENCER BASED IN MONTANA: I've another realistic day in the life of a fashion influencer living in Montana. It is finally freaking nice out so I enjoy starting my day off with a little walk to soak up some sun before sitting in my office.

I can't forget breakfast for these guys. Look at how cute Diesel was.

Today is a full-blown office day. I need to approve my Sunday newsletter to go out and return some emails. There's a couple of brand deals that I'm trying to negotiate, and then update my website.

I always post an outfit reel, so this was my outfit for the day.


COLLINS: And Kylie Nelson joins us now. She is a fashion and lifestyle influencer who is based in Montana and has over 200,000 followers on TikTok. We should note she is not one of those content creators who is challenging the state's ban but she would certainly be affected by it.

Kylie, I know you get a lot of your income from your presence on TikTok and from the way you use this platform. What was your reaction when you heard that the governor had signed this ban into law?

NELSON: I do. I'm not going to lie -- I was a little shocked and surprised. It's been in talk for a long time and especially, this past month when they said that it was going to be just state. But when it came to -- that it's going to be all of us, I was -- I was actually pretty shocked.


HARLOW: Do you share any of the concerns, Kylie, that, for example, the head of the FBI, Chris Wray, or the CIA director Bill Burns have because they are concerned about the ability for China -- because TikTok is owned by a Chinese company -- to access data? I mean, you know, like your data or anyone's data. Does that concern you at all?

NELSON: I 100 percent am concerned of that. I hear that. I respect that. I just haven't seen the proof of it yet --

HARLOW: Right.

NELSON: -- so that's kind of what I'm waiting for.

At the end of the day, I am a law-abiding citizen and so if it does happen then it is what it is.

HARLOW: Yes. I think that's a fair point. TikTok has said it's never been asked to provide nor has provided user data to the Chinese government.

COLLINS: Yes. There are a lot of concerns --


COLLINS: -- about this, obviously. But I know also the concerns that someone like you would have is all about your income because --


COLLINS: -- some people -- if our audience, you know -- it's like a lot of younger people who use TikTok. You can't get this same kind of growth you say from an Instagram or from another app. You get this primarily from TikTok. Is that right?

NELSON: Correct. From my understanding, TikTok was created specifically for TikTok growth. So I've been on Instagram for, gosh, probably almost 10 years and I have about 70,000 followers. And it's been less than two years that I've been showing up consistently on TikTok and I am already at over 200,000 of my audience. So you definitely get a lot more growth compared to other apps, so I think that's what kind of sets it apart from the other ones.

HARLOW: Totally set apart because the algorithm is so effective in terms of targeting --

NELSON: Yes, it's a discovery platform.

HARLOW: -- more than anyone.


HARLOW: Can I ask what you'll do if, for example, Montana prevails in these legal challenges? I just wonder -- I mean, you support your family this way.


HARLOW: Would you leave the state?

NELSON: I wouldn't leave the state. Like I said, I am a law-abiding citizen. And it's just -- we're going to have to pivot. I always say that every platform -- it has its time and its place going all the way back to Myspace, Facebook, Vine. I even kind of think that it's fair to put, like, Instagram in that category, too. And so there's always going to be a new platform that comes along.

And I think this is a great reminder to content creators to make sure that we're not putting all of our eggs in one basket and that we're making sure that we're equally spreading our content along all other of the platforms.

HARLOW: It's a -- it's a great point.

Thank you for helping us put sort of the human --


HARLOW: -- face -- the face on what --


HARLOW: -- this means for people that rely on this platform.

COLLINS: Thanks, Kylie.

NELSON: Yes. Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Game one of the NHL Eastern Conference Final going the distance and then some. The Panthers and Hurricanes went back and forth for nearly six hours before it ended at 2:00 a.m. Eastern.


NHL ANNOUNCER: Here's Brent Burns. He keeps it to the outside. Sam Bennett keeps it in out front. Tkachuk shot -- he scores! He scores! Matthew Tkachuk, the overtime winner! The Panthers take game one -- 3- 2 the final!


HARLOW: Wow. The game-winner came with less than -- the game-winning goal, I should say, came with less than 13 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime. That makes it the sixth-longest game in NHL history. The Panthers won't have a lot of time to celebrate. Game two is tomorrow night, less than 48 hours after the teams played more than two full games' worth of hockey.

CNN is learning that Ukraine's President Zelenskyy will attend the G7 summit in Japan in person. The meeting comes during a critical moment in the war. We're live in Japan, next.

COLLINS: Also, a new study finds that Manhattan is sinking under the weight of its skyscrapers. Great news for us?


COLLINS: Can anything be done to stop it? We'll be back with that in a moment.

HARLOW: Not good.



HARLOW: That's a live look at beautiful New York City, but you better look now because apparently it's sinking. According to a new geological study, the city's skyscrapers are so heavy they are weighing down the island. Together, they weigh nearly 1.7 trillion pounds. The study comes as the Army Corps of Engineers is racing to find ways to prevent the city from being submerged during future national -- natural disasters.

Oh my gosh. Bill, we both live by the water in Brooklyn --


HARLOW: -- and I like it. And I would like to remain above --

WEIR: Yes.

HARLOW: -- sea level.

WEIR: Well, you have a lot of people working on just that. I don't know if you guys can feel Hudson Yards sinking.

COLLINS: Sinking?

WEIR: It's really slow. It's only about the thickness of a couple of -- couple of nickels. That's about it. Over the -- that's the average of the whole city over a year. But certain parts of the city, depending on the soil, depending on groundwater, is sinking faster than others. Staten Island more vulnerable here.

The problem is -- I mean, it's very cool that now we can answer our kids when they ask how much does New York City weigh -- 1.7 trillion pounds. The problem is the 1.7 trillion tons of carbon dioxide that is in the sea and sky that is melting polar ice and raising sea levels slowly. So while the city is going the water's coming up and that is a headache for leaders on coastal cities around the world -- Poppy, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: It is a headache and, of course, I just moved here, obviously. I haven't been here that long. Where exactly are you standing right now, Bill?

WEIR: I am in Dumbo, Brooklyn, which stands for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass" -- the Brooklyn Bridge behind me. That's the Manhattan Bridge. This over here is Jane's Carousel, which there are haunting images of this flooding during Superstorm Sandy nine years ago. The waves bashing up against that glass -- it held.

But even right now, they are shoring up the banks of the East River. This is a process where they lay down lines and then put big rocks on top of it.

But the Army Corps of Engineers is actually working right now on a plan to build seawalls all around New York City in various places, depending on public comments. It's all a tradeoff now as we think about living in this new world. Lower Manhattan, obviously the financial center of the universe in many places. So protecting that with engineering.