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CNN This Morning

Biden Races Back to D.C. for Debt Ceiling Talks; Today, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) Expected to Announce White House Run; Russia's Wagner Chief Says Bakhmut is Captured, Zelenskyy Denies Claim. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 22, 2023 - 07:00   ET


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The defense in this case that Danny was protecting himself and everyone on that train.


But what's get lost is that at the time, he acted to defend those people, he put his own life and well-being on the line. He had no way of knowing if he would be hurt or killed.

Now, on the other hand, Neely's funeral was this pas Friday. His family called for charges more than manslaughter. And so they want to see this through to an actual conviction.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Omar, thank you for all your reporting on this. We'll follow it very closely.

All right, CNN This Morning continues right now.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN This Morning continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The full faith of the credit of United States still having very much in the balance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are in very dangerous territory.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: There is no bipartisan deal to be made solely on their partisan terms.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It seems as though he wants default more than he wants a deal.

I will never give up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wagner Boss Yevgeny Prigozhin claims the troops are pulling out of Ukraine on May 25th. There's Russia claims to have captured Bakhmut.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be a remarkable risk to take. Wagner forces, they find themselves in the jaws of a trap.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: The country which is bigger than we are cannot occupy us, cannot win in this war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: South Carolina's Tim Scott now has his sights set on the White House.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): I'm looking forward to optimistic positive leadership that is anchored in conservative principles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not going to get a nomination by going around Donald Trump. You have to confront him head on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one and liftoff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Axiom 2 mission is on its way to the International Space Station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I look into space, I can't help but think this is just the beginning of a great journey for all of us. Dream big.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A fairytale story, it gets better.

Get there. Yes, magic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had this weird kind of sensation that life is not going to be quite the same moving forward, but only in a good way which is cool. I'm living a dream. I'm making sure I enjoy this moment.


HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. So glad you're with us here on CNN This Morning. But I'm even more glad my friend, Sara Sidner, is here. It's good to have you.

SIDNER: It's so good to be here. Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Thank you for getting up early.

SIDNER: It's my pleasure, I think.

HARLOW: So far, so good.

SIDNER: So far, so good.

HARLOW: Kaitlan is back later this week. Sara is with us today and tomorrow. And we begin with this.

SIDNER: Get right to it. Overnight, President Biden racing back to Washington from Japan for debt limit negotiations. Just hours from now, he is set to, once again, meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as time runs out to reach a deal and prevent an economic disaster.

There is less than ten days before the government potentially defaults on its debts. House Republicans are demanding big spending cuts and stricter work requirements for things like food stamps and Medicaid. Before he left his summit with world leaders to rush back to D.C., President Biden told reporters a lot of the GOP's demands are, in his words, unacceptable.


BIDEN: I think there are some MAGA Republicans in the House who know the damage that it would do to the economy. And because I am president, and president is responsible for everything, Biden would take the blame, in that's the one way to make sure that Biden is not re-elected.


SIDNER: That is quite a statement there.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he had a productive phone call with President Biden while he was flying home on Air Force 1.


MCCARTHY: Look, there is no agreement on anything. We've all said our piece about where we are. We're trying to find common ground to get this done.


HARLOW: Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Jared Moskowitz of Florida. It's good to have you. Good morning.

REP. JARED MOSKOWITZ (D-FL): Good morning.

HARLOW: Good morning. Okay. So, let's dig right into where we are. I wonder first your response to what the Republicans did over weekend, which is basically add more asks to what they want to have an agreement to raise the debt ceiling. And those asks include some of the provisions in the Republican immigration bill, adding that, and also additional changes to work requirements for food stamps, basically making it harder for states to get a waiver, give people a waiver to bypass the work requirements to get snap benefits. What is your reaction?

MOSKOWITZ: Yes. So, right now, obviously, my biggest reaction is that the debt ceiling discussions are really nowhere because both sides are continuing to posture, both sides are throwing out, you know, all sorts of different issues as they try to figure out, you know, where they can get to some sort of middle. So, if the Democrats don't feel like they're getting something, they'll throw out an idea. If the Republicans don't feel like they're getting something, they'll throw out a new idea.


And that's why we have seen the debt discussions take pauses several times.

I think what the president just said earlier is true. I think there are people in the Freedom Caucus that do believe, you know, defaulting is an option, because they do believe, politically, it would benefit them. We saw President Trump actually on this network say that we should default, which I looked as a permission slip to those folks --

HARLOW: You mean during the town hall?

MOSKOWITZ: -- in the Freedom Caucus.

But have to -- yes, during the town hall. You know, we saw President Trump say that the nation should default. And so that was a permission slip for folks in the Freedom Caucus to start causing trouble.

Listen, we have to get to a deal because defaulting would be totally catastrophic. And that deal, when that eventually comes, but do I think we'll get one, it just going to depend on whether we get it by June 1. We also could see our credit rating downgraded before then, like we did over ten years ago, as we got closer to the date.

And so this deal is going to have to come. You're going to have to have Democrats and Republicans in the House vote for it. We're probably going to shed both folks on the progressive left and folks on the right, the MAGA right, their Freedom Caucus. And so trying to find that middle ground is where they're at.

I'm hopeful because so far the body language from the speaker and the president seem to be that they're still negotiating. I think we should have been talking this entire time. But we are where we are. But default would be completely catastrophic.

HARLOW: Yes, whatever, economists agree.

So, with that, Congressman, you said something really interesting in your answer. You said both sides are posturing. You mean Democrats and Republicans. The do you blame Democrats and the Biden White House equally with Republicans here that we are at this point?

MOSKOWITZ: No, I don't, because, obviously, we could have passed a clean debt ceiling. I'm for a clean debt ceiling. That has been an option. It is something we did three times in the Trump administration. It is something that we have done dozens of times. In fact, we've done it more times under Republican presidents than we under Democratic presidents.

But at the end of the day, we have to understand the cards that we are dealt. Unfortunately, we lost the House. And so we have to raise the debt ceiling. We have to work with the folks that we have. And so we can say it's unfair but it is the process.

And so, look, the president of the United States has shown time and time again it's why he has decades of experience. It's why we elected him, that he will figure out a way to make a deal so that we don't default.

Defaulting is worse than anything else that currently, you know, is being proposed. And so we have to figure out how we get a deal that can pass both the House and the Senate. Let's not forget, the Senate is not even at the table for any of these real discussions. It's really going on between the president and the speaker. HARLOW: Congressman, you tweeted over the weekend, it appears Dems' debt ceiling strategy bet, Republicans couldn't pass a bill, but they did. Kevin McCarthy got it through. I thought this was interesting from Republican Senator Bill Cassidy speaking to Jake yesterday morning on CNN State of the Union. He made the argument that federal spending s to pre-Biden levels. He think it is not fair, I guess is the best word, for the White House to be setting terms of capping spending at levels that White House already elevated under Biden. Here's what Cassidy said.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): The president has been jacking up spending his first two years of the presidency. Now, he wants Republicans to accept that as a new baseline.

And I think Republicans are reasonable to ask that it be reset back down.


HARLOW: Are you with Senator Cassidy, that that's a reasonable ask?

MOSKOWITZ: Well, let me say two things. Look, I think the American people, as they're tightening their spending, they want to see government do the same. That being said, it's nice to see my Republican colleagues all of a sudden care about spending. When President Trump was in charge, they racked up more debt in those four years than any other single president. It seems that they only care about spending when there is a Democrat in it charge.

That being said, you know, I do think the American people want us to get a deal. I do think they want to see us figure out how we can spend less as they're spending less. But they also want to see us pay our bills. They get a bill in the month every mail from their spending, and they know that they have got to pay bills. They don't get to say, well, before we pay our bill, let's discuss our spending, American Express or Visa. No, they have to pay their bill. Otherwise, there is real life consequences.

And so we have to pay our bills. But, listen, I think it's a fair conversation to talk about spending now, next year, the year after that, the year after that.

HARLOW: And your point about Trump and the debt, part of that was obviously the 2017 tax cuts. But part of it was also COVID stimulus spending. I'll just note that.

I do want to you about this, because another thing that is really fascinating and is interesting this week is Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is going to announce that he's running for president, right, the worst kept secret but he's going to make it official.


You worked for him. And you complimented him on how he governed. You called him detail-oriented and data-driven. This is largely in emergency relief because you were the emergency management czar. What can we expect from a DeSantis run?

MOSKOWITZ: Well, listen, like I said previously, the governor is extremely bright. He is someone who is detail-oriented and he is someone who is data-driven, and that we did that during COVID. That being said, obviously, the policies that have been passed in Florida over the last several months this session and last session, as he tries to get to the right of Donald Trump, which I don't believe there is such a thing, but he's going to attempt it. You know, the policies obviously I added -- I disagree with. It's things I voted against when I was in the Florida legislature.

And so, look, the Republican primary is about to turn into a UFC-WWE fight. You know, Vince McMahon could produce this between Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis. There's reports last night that maybe Chris Christie is going to get into the race. And so, you know, we better buckle up and strap in, because this is going to be something we have not seen. You know, you don't get around Donald Trump. You're going to have to go through Donald Trump.

And so, you know, in the beginning right now, I think we've seen Ron DeSantis try to hit him with some kid gloves. But if you're going to go take down Donald Trump, you know, you are going to play on his level. I think that that's what the primary voters want to see.

HARLOW: You know DeSantis well. Will he take off the kid gloves pretty quickly?

MOSKOWITZ: Well, like I said, he's data-driven. So, he's going to look the at the numbers, right? And so if you look at the national numbers, he's been going in the wrong direction. If you look at the state numbers in both Ohio and New Hampshire, he's a little closer.

And so, listen, he's going to look at those numbers, he's going to test his messages. I mean, he's going to do all of those things, and because that's what I've just seen how, you know, he works. And so he'll be looking at all of those things and figuring out what is working and what is not working. I just thoroughly believe if you're going to take down Donald Trump, and we saw this previously, you're going to have to go at him. And that's what is working.

Look, the Donald Trump numbers have gone up over the last couple weeks and months based on some of the things he's been saying. And so if you're going to beat him, I think you just have to go right at him.

HARLOW: Okay. Congressman Jared Moskowitz, I really appreciate you being on. And let's hope that Congress can reach a deal very soon to raise the debt ceiling. I appreciate it.

MOSKOWITZ: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: You got it. Sara?

SIDNER: All right. Speaking of those primaries, this morning, South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott is expected to formally announce he is running for president. The race for the GOP nomination already includes former Donald Trump, as you know, and fellow South Carolinian former Governor Nikki Haley. But Scott is planning to stand out by offering a more optimistic tone than his Republican rivals.

CNN's Eva McKend has more for us.


EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER (voice over): He's black Republican in the United States Senate.

SCOTT: The story of America is not defined by our original sin. The story of America is defined by our redemption.

MCKEND: South Carolina's Tim Scott now has his sights set on the White House. Leaning on his compelling personal story and conservative policy credentials, Scott joins a growing Republican primary field, currently led by former President Donald Trump.

SCOTT: When you adhere to the principles in the gospel, human flourishing cannot be stopped.

MCKEND: Advisers say Scott will make his faith the cornerstone of his presidential campaign.

SCOTT: See, I was raised by a single mother in poverty. Our spoons in our apartment were plastic, not silver. But we had faith. We put in the work and we have an unwaivering belief that we, too, could live the American dream.

MCKEND: First elected to Congress in 2010, Scott was appointed to the Senate in 2012 by then Governor Nikki Haley who launched her own presidential bid in February.

SCOTT: I think fresh faces and authenticity goes a long way in the political process.

MCKEND: So far, Scott is sticking to the message of hope over hostility that has defined his career.

SCOTT: I'm looking forward to optimistic positive leadership that is anchored in conservative principles.

MCKEND: Back at the senator's home church near Charleston, there are hundreds of worshipper that's see him most weekends.

GREG SURRATT, PASTOR, SEACOAST CHURCH: He has a commitment to be in church 40 weekends out of the year.

MCKEND: Including his long time pastor and friend, Greg Surratt.

SURRATT: I think a misconception that people might have about him is that his niceness, his humility translates as weakness.


And they don't know the Tim Scott that I know. I would like to kind of see it as an iron fist and a velvet glove.

MCKEND: Did he talk to you about running for president?


MCKEND: And did you give him any advice?

SURRATT: I said, as an American citizen, I would be excited to see Tim Scott as president of the United States. As your friend, I can't think of a reason why you would want that job. And so that was my advice to him.


MCKEND (on camera): Senator Scott did have an early stumble out of the gate, and that was when he was asked about the federal abortion ban at 15 weeks. He declined to answer that question only to later say that he would support a 20-week abortion ban. And then when asked again, he said he didn't want to get into a discussion about the matter of weeks.

This is going to be a central issue in the Republican primary, this issue of abortion, curious to see how he addresses it at his formal launch today. Sara, Poppy?

HARLOW: What every Republican contender is going to have to answer that question, that's for sure.

All right, just hours from now, the man accused of killing four University of Idaho students will be in court. We're expecting Bryan Kohberger to enter a plea today. He is facing four murder charges and a burglary charge.

Investigators say Kohberger stabbed four students to death in an off- campus home in November. Remember, there was a long, long search. Students and the small community around the school lived terror as the authorities searched for the killer for a month-and-a-half.

Our Jean Casarez is with us this morning. What should we learn today in court?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a very important hearing today because it is the formal arraignment. And I say formal because it is now in district court, which is the trial court. Because of that indictment last week, it went straight to the trial court. So, he will enter a plea. You will hear him speak himself, as he does that.

They also will apprise him the charges, constitutionally. He must have notice. Of course, these are the original charges. Let's remind everyone what they are. There are four counts of first-degree murder. This was a quadruple homicide and one count of burglary, the coming into a home with the intent to commit the felony therein.

And we cannot forget the victims for today's hearing. Jaylee Goncalves, Madi Mogen, Ethan Chapin and Xana Kernodle, all of them students at the University of Idaho in Moscow, and they all lost their lives.

Now, what we need to look forward to is whether this will be a death penalty case, because in Idaho, they have got 60 days from today to determine whether they will seek notice of intent to seek that death penalty. So, we'll have to wait for that.

But if you remember, Kaylee Goncalves' family, they said that they were in favor of the death penalty. And it matters when the victims care about.

SIDNER: Absolutely, the prosecution has to listen to them as well. Jean Casarez, thank you. You're always on the hardest stories of the day. I appreciate it.

CASAREZ: Thank you.

SIDNER: A shootout at a car show near Mexico's border with California leaves at least ten people dead there. What authorities suspect was behind that shooting.

Plus --


REPORTER: Mr. President, is Bakhmut still in Ukraine's hands? The Russians say they have taken Bakhmut.


HARLOW: After months of intense fighting, Russian mercenaries say they have captured the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, but Ukraine's President Zelenskyy denies that claim. We'll take you live to Southeastern Ukraine.




ZELENSKYY: I clearly I understand what is taking place in Bakhmut, and we all clearly understand why all of that is taking place.

The country which dozen times is bigger than we are cannot occupy us, cannot win in this war.


SIDNER: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy speaking alongside President Biden at the G7 Summit about the bloody battle for Bakhmut. The Russian mercenary Wagner Group is now claiming to have captured the Eastern Ukrainian city, but Zelenskyy is denying those claims and says there is nothing left there after Russia destroyed the entire city.

CNN's Sam Kiley is live in Southeastern Ukraine with more on the situation. Sam? SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sara, I think that the first thing to take away from this is that whilst the Ukrainians are saying they still have a small foothold in the city of Bakhmut, they can see that Wagner controls most of the rest of the city that is rubble. There is nothing left of the city to really care about. But more importantly from the Ukrainian perspective, they're also holding the flanks.

Indeed, they've advanced on the northern, southern flanks which means that they have the Wagner mercenary group potentially in the mouth of their jaws, which ultimately they could turn to their advantage by using Bakhmut as a free fire zone and going after the Bakhmut city center, which is held by the mercenaries, so the mercenaries' claim.

On top of that, Prigozhin, the leader of the organization, Sara, and we have to say that this is a man who says more or less anything every day, but his latest statement when he took the city was that he would be pulling his men out on Thursday and expected the Russian regular forces to invest the city. If he were to try that, that would provide the Ukrainians with a golden opportunity during the relief in place to attack both sides. That would be point of great vulnerability. It's that I don't think we should set by any store (ph) by it. After all, this man is, after all, a murderer. Sara?

SIDNER: Wow. Sam Kiley, thank you so much for being there. And thank you to your crew including, Sanjiv Talreja, one of my favorite photographers. I thank you both for putting yourself in danger to bring us those stories.


HARLOW: Let's bring in retired U.S. Army Major Mike Lyons. It's good to have you, as always.

So, let's begin there, because President Zelenskyy is saying not for sure that Bakhmut has gone to the Russia. The Wagner Group is saying it has. Why is it significant, not strategically but propaganda-wise?

MAJ. MIKE LYONS (RET.). U.S. ARMY: Propaganda, that's all that's going on here. This is the twilight part of this battle at this point. There is nothing tactically more to be gained, that the city has been flattened fundamentally. It's more or less. It shows Ukrainian resilience but also Russian military failure. They're trying to claim some kind of victory right now that just isn't there.

HARLOW: Okay. So, also, a shift in the Biden administration's views on Ff-16s over the weekend, right?


HARLOW: At least green lighting joint training of F-16 pilots --


HARLOW: -- with our European allies. Why is that significant? As you know, Wall Street Journal Editorial Board very critical that it's taken this long, they write about it. The obvious question is why this decision took 15 months.

LYONS: Yes. Look, a couple things. First of all, let's be clear-eyed about this. The F-16s are not game changing to the situation on the ground. It's not going to give air superiority to the Ukraine military. There is going to be a very long time before they're actually going to be impactful.

I think it took that long because from a strategic perspective now, you're going to see Ukraine eventually and NATO. This is really a fait accompli now because of them getting this platform.

HARLOW: Because of fighter jets, not previous weapons like HIMARS, et cetera?

LYONS: No. This is a strategic weapon. So like, for example, Zelenskyy tells President Biden he's not going to attack into Russia because the F-16 gives him that capability.

HARLOW: Right.

LYONS: A hard border, right, between Ukraine and Russia here. There are targets in Belgorod, there're base targets here, missile sites along this border here. There is multiple sites that the F-16 now has capability to attack that cross that border. And that violates, that's where from these weapons were supposed to be defensive now become offensive.

HARLOW: Looking at the countries where it's likely that the F-16s would come from, if not the United States, what?

LYONS: So, I think these four countries are the ones that likely give up the F-16s they have that are in their inventory as they transition to F-35s, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium, maybe 30 to 60 or so f-16s within the next few months. It's still going to take significant amount of time.

Three major issues. We have got to train pilots. We have to make sure the pilots are up to speed in what's going on. That's going to be four to six months. And it's a surmountable challenge right now. But maintenance and sustainability of this is going to be a key. There are some spare parts that they are not even made anymore.

Lastly, what are the munitions going to look like? What are those airframes are going to be on them? Because the F-16 is a platform, does a lot of different things.

HARLOW: I'll note that this pilot training is a reason why a number of the members of Congress, especially Republicans, were calling on the Biden administration to start the training earlier in case we got to this point.

Let's talk about what was signed overnight. The president had to cancel the leg of the trip. So, he didn't go for a first ever, what would have been a historic visit, first American president to go to Papua New Guinea. But Secretary Blinken went. And overnight, they have come out with a joint defense agreement, a maritime agreement. Can you speak to the significance of that given the rising influence of China in the region?

LYONS: Yes, big win for the administration diplomatically. Papua New Guinea is a location right north of Australia, provides tremendous place for the Navy to project power from naval assets. We saw the Chinese make deals with the Solomon Island countries before. There is going to be this pivot to the Pacific that is finally now taking place. I think it's very important that this administration did that, very big win for the administration.

HARLOW: Okay. Thank you, Mike Lyons. Great to you have as always, Major Mike Lyons. Sara?

SIDNER: Just ahead, a transgender teenager in Mississippi missing her high school graduation after she was told she had to wear boys' clothes in order to attend. She tells CNN she would rather stand up for what's right than be humiliated. More of her story, just ahead.

HARLOW: And also, imagine hitting the biggest shot of your life in front of just the entire world. It's a Cinderella story that everyone is talking about this morning. That's next.