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Senate GOP Leaders Debate Ditching Border Deal; Trump's PACs Spent About $50M on Legal Bills in 2023; Biden Reaches Decision on Response to Killing of 3 U.S. Soldiers. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2024 - 06:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow with Phil Mattingly in New York.

We begin with breaking news overnight. House Republicans inching closer to doing something that has not been done in nearly 150 years: impeaching a cabinet member. The House committee overnight passed the impeachment resolution against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. We're live on Capitol Hill with where this goes next.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And Speaker Mike Johnson says the Senate's bipartisan immigration deal is, quote, "absolutely dead." What -- and who -- members say killed that deal.

And today, we could find out exactly how much of Donald Trump's donors' money went towards Donald Trump's legal expenses. Sources say it's in the tens of millions of dollars.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

HARLOW: We begin with the breaking news overnight. For the first time in 148 years, House Republicans are barreling towards the impeachment of a cabinet secretary.


REP. TONY GONZALEZ (R-TX): This is what's going to happen: the House of Representatives is going to impeach Secretary Mayorkas, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop it. That's going to happen.


MATTINGLY: It certainly seems that way. The early morning party line vote, laying bare a split-screen moment of wild politics and legislative dysfunction.

Just across the Capitol, the most substantial board of security package in decades now hanging by a thread as Republicans line up to kill it at the behest of their likely presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Instead, they're choosing to pursue two articles of impeachment

against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, an effort constitutional scholars say is questionable at best. And even Republicans acknowledge it stands no chance in the Democrat-led Senate.

All as the border crisis continues unabated with one Senate Democrat perhaps putting it best: quote, "This place is so goddamn dysfunctional."

HARLOW: There's that. Lauren Fox is live in Washington with more. Now that Mayorkas's impeachment resolution was passed, talk us through what happens next.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so now this heads to the floor. And what you are seeing from Republican leadership is they do anticipate this could come to the floor as soon as next week.

Of course, they have to ensure that they have the votes. They have a narrow two-seat majority, which means they really don't have much wiggle room here to lose Republicans who might be on the fence about impeaching Mayorkas.

You have heard from people like Ken Buck that they still aren't ready to back this effort.


REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): In my view, Secretary Mayorkas has not committed that. I am a lean no at this point. I'm still open-minded. I've also talked to the homeland security staff on why this impeachment should go forward. I'm leaning no, but I haven't made a final decision.


FOX: And I pushed the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Mark Green, yesterday whether or not he's confident they'll have the votes once it goes to the floor.

And he said that they are still continuing to work on that. He also told me that it doesn't really matter what the vote count is, because in his view, the important thing is that Republicans do their duty and move forward with this.

But of course, it does matter what the vote count is, because if Republicans aim to try and impeach Mayorkas and then they fail or can't bring it to the floor because they don't have the votes, that would be a massive misstep for GOP leaders.

MATTINGLY: Lauren, can we walk a couple hundred feet across the Capitol? You've been covering the negotiations -- the ins, the outs, the ups, the downs -- so closely over the course of the last couple of months. It seems like before it even sees the light of day, this is dead. What is the next play here on those bipartisan talks?

FOX: Yes, I mean, we still have not seen legislative text. And when you are waiting and waiting and waiting to actually see what is inside a bill and that text to become public, you start to wonder. Is this ever actually going to see the light of day, like you noted.

I asked Senator Chris Murphy, who's the lead Democratic negotiator, yesterday. I said what is the hold-up right now? And his argument is Republicans need to make a decision: Do they want to move forward, or don't they want to move forward, given the fact that there has been so much backlash coming from the House of Representatives, coming from Donald Trump to this package.

Right now, Republican leadership is debating whether or not to shelve this process and, instead of moving forward with a bill to help Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, that is tied to this border security package, perhaps they go back to the drawing board, take the border security package out of it and try to move along just Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan on its own.


Of course, that is a different strategy than what many conservatives within the Republican ranks wanted. But those same conservatives are the one who are saying we don't like what is emerging in this border deal.

Nothing has been decided yet, but obviously, that is going to be the thing to watch today on Capitol Hill -- Phil, Poppy.

HARLOW: For sure. Lauren, you got your hands full. Thank you for all the reporting.

MATTINGLY: Joining us now, former Republican strategist and pollster, Lee Carter; Chris Whipple, author of "The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden's White House"; and Democratic strategist Basil Smikle. Guys, thanks so much for joining us.

Lee, let me start with you. Because there's something the president said in Nevada that I thought ran contrary to what we're trying -- what Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to say out loud. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is zero chance I will support this horrible, open borders betrayal of America.

A lot of the senators are trying to say respectfully, they're blaming it on me. I said, That's OK. Please blame it on me, please.


MATTINGLY: We're not doing this because he's telling us to do it. And he's like, no, no, that's exactly what they're doing. And I appreciate it.

My bigger question is to take a step back. Tom Suozzi (ph) is running the special election up here in New York for a House seat for George Santos's seat. In the last ten days, it's become a lot easier to campaign on immigration as a Democrat, because we have a plan to point to.


MATTINGLY: When you look at numbers, does this end up helping Democrats if Republicans kill this at the behest of the former president?

CARTER: It might end up helping Democrats, except there was a -- there was a great piece in "The New York Times" that sort of explained Biden's failure in immigration.

HARLOW: Such a great piece.

CARTER: It really walks through every step of the way. There's been a lot of mistakes. He had a philosophy that he was going to go out there, and he was going to be a champion of the people. That he was going to show that government worked. And it hasn't worked.

And at every turn, it hasn't worked. I think that it's really on the Biden administration's hands. And now they're going at this moment saying we have a plan. We need Republicans. But we wouldn't do it before. And now it's all Republican's fault, Donald Trump's fault, et cetera.

I don't think that the blame game is going to work. I think they're going to have to come to the table with a solution. And I think the Republicans are trying to say, you know, look, we were saying this all along. And now it's too little, too late, and we need more.

Now, at the end of the day, it's going to be -- it's going to take a little bit for this to turn around. They think it might benefit Democrats a little bit, but I really do think it's still Republicans' issue that they own.

HARLOW: Chris, the end of that "Times" piece, I think, ended so well and sort of telling us where we are. They write he appears, meaning Biden, ready to run more as a leader, determined to keep people out and less as a champion of displaced people, pointing to Biden's comments: Look, this legislation that gave me more powers at the border were signed today, I would shut down the border right now and fix it quickly. That's a quote.

Talk about the evolution of Biden on this.

CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR, "THE FIGHT OF HIS LIFE": The evolution -- and it's important to remember that on -- literally on the first day of his administration, he submitted a -- a legislation proposal for -- to deal with immigration.

Republicans have never had any interest in solving the problem. They want to use it as a political cudgel. And I think they've managed to achieve the impossible here, which is that if this bill goes down, they will have handed a gift to Biden. They will have turned what was a liability into a political advantage for Biden.

And the -- you know, the ads, the political ads, just write themselves. I mean, you can imagine just Biden saying, Look, I crafted a bipartisan proposal to help solve the problem at the border and stem the flow of illegal drugs into this country. But the MAGA Republicans killed it. Why? Because they're not interested in solving problems. They're interested in chaos. And they want to run on this issue.

I think it's a political winner for Biden. I'd be running that ad relentlessly from now until the election, if it goes down.

HARLOW: Can I -- can I actually ask you a question on this? Because this was -- this was the line that Republicans used all weekend. He already has the power. We don't need to give him the power.


HARLOW: Does he have the power to do some of these things?

MATTINGLY: Not to the extent they think he does. A lot of the things they want him to do were either tied up in court or failed in court from Trump administration proposals.

I think 33 of the 35 Trump executive orders from his administration either were defeated in court or were very much hanging in the balance when Biden came in and undid a lot of them.

The other issue is funding. They need money to remain in Mexico to do a lot of these things. And HR-2, the Republican bill, doesn't have the money inside of it. Where are you going to get the money? Part of this proposal that Biden put forward had $14 billion for the money.

He wants to direct it in different places. But you don't have the financial wherewithal, and the courts are very much an open question.

HARLOW: That argument doesn't hold as much water.

MATTINGLY: Yes. No, it's tenuous at best.

BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Can we zoom out a little bit, because the concern that I have is with all of the Republican hand- wringing around immigration.

Where was the accountability when two Southern governors put human beings in buses and sent them North without any direction or understanding of where to go and what to do from there.

There is a tremendous lack of accountability from the very same Republicans that have complained that they have no legislative record, yet, they have an opportunity to actually pass a bill that they have -- that we haven't passed of its nature in 40 years. And then choosing not to do that.


Joe Biden has signed more executive orders on immigration than Donald Trump did. But he doesn't get credit for that. What he's actually doing is trying to manage a crisis in a more humane way than Donald Trump did.

Remember the -- remember the so-called Muslim ban? Because you had individuals that were so willing to do what he wanted to do. They didn't even think through the implementation and the outcome of something so dramatic and so draconian.

So my sense is that, yes, I think for some Democrats, Biden's language is a bridge too far. It is true that in Tom Suozzi's special election in New York, District 3, that Republicans are now using immigration to go and attack him in a suburban community that -- that really isn't seeing what they're seeing right over the border in New York City.

But I also think this is part of this -- a larger strategy where Republicans can't talk about reproductive rights like they were, so now they're talking about immigration policy. That really is what it comes down to as a strategy for 2024.

CARTER: But immigration has been something they've been talking about since 2016. I mean, Donald Trump ran on five things, one of which was the wall. I mean, immigration has been something we've been talking about.

And to be fair, the accountability on the governors with their stunts going up to -- and sending -- bussing, you know, immigrants --

MATTINGLY: It worked.

CARTER: It worked. It got the attention of a lot of Americans and also a lot of these -- the Democratic mayors are saying that we need to address this issue now. So by all accounts, you could say that it actually was effective.

SMIKLE: I don't think putting people on buses and not telling them where they're going to go and just dropping -- dropping them off in cities, their intention -- and they said this -- was to spite New York and Chicago and Boston, these liberal cities. Because they wanted to show people what the problems were at the Southern border. And I get that.

HARLOW: And they did.

SMIKLE: But I get that. But instead of trying to craft this sort of larger package of policy that actually could support these migrants coming into the country, they want to spite people. And that's not policymaking. That's just the politics.

CARTER: What are they -- what are they supposed to do in those states? You've got 6,000 people sleeping in facilities that are meant for 1,000 people. Like, what are they supposed to do?

SMIKLE: It's a crisis, isn't it? Let's fix the problem. Let's fix the problem. Let's not just have this conversation where we're saying we're going to draft this. We're not going to do it. Because I guarantee you, after 2024, we will not be hearing about this

in the same way. Ronald Reagan even had a policy on amnesty. Where is -- where is this now?

MATTINGLY: Well, you could argue that '86 policy set off the next three decades of being completely intractable.

SMIKLE: You see what happens when an -- when an administration and a community, particularly the evangelical community, decides they want to wrap their arms around -- around an immigrant community, it can be done.

MATTINGLY: No, that's very true.

We have a lot more to get to. And we're not letting you guys leave, because I love this panel. Lee Carter, Chris Whipple, Basil Smikle, stay with us.

Well, President Biden says he has made a decision about how his administration will respond to the drone strike in Jordan that killed three U.S. soldiers. What we're learning this morning.

HARLOW: Also new developments surrounding the special prosecutor in Donald Trump's election interference case in Georgia. Why he no longer needs to testify about an alleged improper relationship with the district attorney, Fani Willis.



HARLOW: So this morning, we're learning more about how much Donald Trump's PACs have spent in donor money to cover his legal bills over the last year. An exact dollar figure will come out later today when the filings are made with the FEC.

Sources say that the PACs have already spent $50 million to cover the four ongoing investigations he's facing. Our Alayna Treene joins us from Washington with more.

Not his own money. Donor money. And if that number is what the FEC reports, it's pretty staggering, isn't it?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it is a staggering sum, Poppy. I mean, 50 million -- $50 million is a huge amount of money. And like you mentioned, this is money coming from his political action committee, essentially donor money that is being used to underwrite his legal fees.

Now, Save America is the main political action committee. Funding his legal bills and his legal expenses. And remember, that is the group that actually had a flood of donations come in immediately after the 2020 election when Donald Trump was railing against and making false claims of widespread election fraud.

And so a lot of that money they had in the bank already before he even launched his campaign.

But $50 million is a lot of money. And I think what I'll be looking for when these FEC filings drop later today is exactly how much are they able to pay for this on their own, versus how much is Donald Trump having to pay for this.

We know that he's already had to pay roughly $5 million in the first E. Jean Carroll trial that he faced. This is not $5 million. This is a lot of money. And so I do expect we'll see, just with the math and the numbers that we have already -- of course, we expect to see more of that later today in these filings.

It does seem like Donald Trump is going to have to foot some of the bill for this. And of course, that is something that he is loathe to do. Donald Trump hates paying his lawyers. He's -- has a history of really stiffing lawyers.

And so I think that is something that we'll be watching for. And just another thing, just to give you a comparison of the amount of money that his legal expenses are costing, Nikki Haley spent roughly the same amount of money or raised the same amount of money, around $50 million over the past year.

And so this is just money that's going toward Donald Trump's legal fees. So again, a huge sum of money. And that number is only going to grow. He has four criminal indictments. If any of those cases go to trial, that number is only going to grow exponentially.

And so that's something that the Trump campaign is going to have to deal with as they look to how can they fund this moving forward.

HARLOW: Not to mention the appeal they've already said they're going to file in the E. Jean Carroll case. Thank you very much, Alayna. Appreciate it.

MATTINGLY: The embattled special prosecutor in Donald Trump's Georgia election interference case has reached a temporary divorce settlement just one day before a hearing where he would have had to answer questions about an alleged inappropriate relationship with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Trump and his attorneys are pointing to this alleged affair.


CNN Nick Valencia joins us now. Trump's team, though, still trying to get the case dismissed. Can you explain what actually happens next here?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning, Phil. It doesn't mean that those efforts by Trump's attorneys to dismiss the case go away. What it does mean, though, is that the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, he avoids a potentially embarrassing day testifying in court. And that was expected to happen today at a previously scheduled divorce proceeding. Wade was expected to field questions about his alleged romance with

his now boss, Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney. But he avoids doing that.

This temporary agreement, though, that's what it is. It's just temporary. It does not mean that Wade will have to -- does not mean that Wade is fully in the clear or, for that matter, Fani Willis is fully in the clear having to testify at a future divorce proceeding. But he just won't have to do that for now.

So the attorney for his estranged wife, Joycelyn Wade, tells us that this temporary agreement has to do with alimony and attorneys' fees. But they still have to divide assets and property.

And this is what they're telling us here in a statement: "While this negates the immediate need for a hearing, it does not settle the case. We are focused on the hard work of moving the case towards resolution, whether that is through settlement or trial."

Neither Nathan Wade nor Fani Willis have directly responded to these allegations that they were involved in an alleged romance, but Fani Willis is on the clock. She does have to respond to these written -- in writing to these allegations. The judge has given her a Friday deadline to do that -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: All right. Much more to come. Nick Valencia, keep us posted.

Well, the most powerful Iran-backed militia group in Iraq says it will suspend military operations against U.S. forces. What's behind this surprise -- surprising move?

HARLOW: And President Biden setting his sights on Trump territory. Why his campaign believes Florida is still in play for him.



HARLOW: President Biden has a plan for retaliation this morning. The president holds Iran responsible for Sunday's attack on a U.S. outpost in Jordan, an attack that killed three American soldiers; 40 others injured. Biden spent much of Monday huddling with national security advisers, weighing his options. He spoke yesterday outside the white House saying he knows what he will do but that he is not seeking war with Iran.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you made a decision how you'll respond to the attack?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. I don't think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That's not what I'm looking for.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Natasha Bertrand joins us live at the Pentagon.

I was a little bit, I don't know, surprised when he came out and said yes, obviously acknowledging we don't want a war with Iran, but what do you know about what the "yes" might mean?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Poppy, I mean, the Pentagon obviously has spent a lot of time presenting the president with different options for how he could respond.

And clearly, based on that sound clip, it appears that he has chosen a course of action here. But interestingly, that course of action doesn't necessarily have to be on one day or against one target or even just one method here.

According to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, he said that it is possible that what we are going to see is, quote, "a tiered approach, not a single action but multiple actions over time."

The challenge, of course, is going to be calibrating that response so that it deters these Iran-backed militant groups from continuing their many attacks on U.S. and coalition forces the Middle East but does not spark a war with Iran, something the administration and President Biden right there said they are trying very hard to avoid.

MATTINGLY: Natasha, we know that there are multiple Iranian proxies in the region. Have any specifically responded to what happened here?

BERTRAND: Yes. A really interesting development. Kata'ib Hezbollah, which is one of the main Iran-backed militias that has been conducting these attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, released a statement yesterday saying that, quote, "We are announcing the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government. We will continue to defend our people in Gaza in other ways."

Now, Kata'ib Hezbollah has a lot of influence within the Iraqi government. And every time -- or many times after they have attacked U.S. forces, the U.S. has responded by launching air strikes against Kata'ib Hezbollah inside Iraq, something that the Iraqi government has condemned very clearly.

But look, I mean, this is clearly a -- potentially a sign that they want an off-ramp here, but Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder said yesterday that he essentially will believe it when he sees it. Here's what he said.


PAT RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We have seen those reports. I don't have a specific comment to provide other than actions speak louder than words. I don't think we could be any more clear that we have called on the Iranian proxy groups to stop their attacks. They have not. And so, we will respond in a time and manner of our choosing.


BERTRAND: The general consensus here at the Pentagon, of course, is that three American service members died, and therefore, there has to be some kind of response by the administration, a sentiment shared, of course, by President Biden and his national security team.

HARLOW: Thanks so much for the reporting, Natasha. Appreciate it.

And today, the Federal Reserve board holds their first meeting of the year on interest rates. A decision they're expected to make. How it could impact you at home ahead.