Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

U.S. Intel: Iran Nervous after American Troops Killed; National Poll: Biden Leads Trump by 6 Points; Senate Grills Social Media Execs over Child Safety. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 01, 2024 - 06:00   ET


ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS: Commanders are the only team with a head coaching vacancy. Kasie, you're there on the ground in D.C. What are the fans saying? Are they worried they're ever going to get a coach?


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: The Commanders have been through a lot, Andy.

SCHOLES: They have, they have.

HUNT: They really have. Hey, can I ask you, though? Honestly, the thing I'm obsessed with is Travis and Taylor. Travis was on this podcast saying, like, he's got to get his head in the game. What do you make of it?

SCHOLES: Yes. You know, I'm sure at this point, he's used to all of this, and he'll be able to be fine. It's the Super Bowl. He's done it before. Not worried about Travis Kelce.

HUNT: He sure is. I'm not either.

All right. Andy Scholes, thanks very much.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: And thanks to all of you for joining us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

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

And this morning, U.S. officials believe Iran may be getting nervous about the proxy groups that it funds going too far. This is after a cruise missile launched by those Houthi rebels came within a mile of a U.S. destroyer.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden suddenly surging ahead of Donald Trump in a brand-new poll. It's just one snapshot, but the one group of voters who appears to be giving him the edge, we're going to explain who they are.

Plus, social media CEOs taking an absolute bipartisan beating on Capitol Hill accused of failing to protect our kids online. Mark Zuckerberg publicly apologized. It's not enough for many of the families who have been harmed.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

HARLOW: And we begin with news this morning that we are learning Iran's leaders are getting increasingly nervous about their proxy forces in the region after they killed U.S. troops and nearly hit a Navy destroyer with a missile.

U.S. Officials tell CNN Sunday's deadly drone attack in Jordan caught Iran by surprise and concerned its leaders, according to U.S. intelligence.

MATTINGLY: We're also now learning a cruise missile filed by Houthi rebels in Yemen came within one mile of hitting a U.S. Navy destroyer before it was shot down a couple of days ago. It is the closest a Houthi attack has come to an American warship yet.

All of these escalating attacks across the region underscoring a serious question over how much control Iran has over the militias and fighters it has been funneling weapons and money to. Once source noting the groups are hardly aligned and have, quote, "widely varying degrees of loyalty and fealty to Iran."

We're going to start off this morning with Natasha Bertrand, live at the Pentagon. Natasha, what more are you learning about the intelligence the U.S. has gathered on Iranian leadership?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Phil. So we are told that the U.S. has seen signs that Iranian leadership is concerned by some of the more recent escalations by its proxy groups.

I think it's important to remember that Iran does not have perfect command and control over the many proxy groups that exist in Iraq, Syria, and of course, the Houthis in Yemen.

And so what we're told is that, when the Islamic resistance, which U.S. officials have said is responsible for that drone attack that killed three U.S. service members on Sunday, launched that drone attack and ended up killing three Americans, that really kind of was a wake-up call for Tehran, and it made them nervous.

And they are not seeking an all-out war with the United States, and they have for that reason been trying to calibrate their approach in a way that kind of harasses U.S. and Western interests in the region via these proxy groups but doesn't necessarily back the United States into a corner where it feels forced to respond in a very significant way, by -- by striking Iran directly.

That is something that the Iranians don't want, and it's something that the United States does not want either.

So the other part of this is that the Iranians are increasingly nervous about what the Houthis are doing in Yemen, because the Houthis have significantly disrupted the global economy with their attacks on commercial shipping. And that really risks angering some of Iran's closest allies, some of its only allies including China and India. China has recently called for these attacks to stop. And the problem

here is that the Iranians have probably the least amount of control over the Houthis of any of their other proxy groups.

And so the question now: is Iran going to be able to reign them in at all? They certainly have an incentive to because of the fact that it is really not good for Iran's bottom line to be alienating some of its key allies here, Phil.

HARLOW: Yes. It's always been interesting to follow the fact that Iran does back them and supply money and weapons, et cetera, but doesn't have total control over the decisions they do and what they -- what they do.

So also, this comes after the White House has formally assigned blame for that drone strike that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan. How imminent, though, is the U.S. response?

BERTRAND: That is something that we don't know yet. Look, the administration has been signaling that this response is going to be multilayered. It is potentially going to be sustained over time.

And just yesterday, the administration fingered the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which is -- the Islamic Resistance, which is, you know, an umbrella group of these Iran-backed proxy groups, for this attack in Jordan. They stopped short of assigning direct blame to one of the groups, Kata'ib Hezbollah, which had previously said -- had supported these attacks.

But look, John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesperson, he said that we should expect to see a response that is complex and potentially longer term. Here's what he said.



JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: We'll respond on our own time, on our own schedule. I would also caution you not to -- not to think that the first thing you see -- we talked about publicly seeing -- the first thing you see won't be the last thing.


BERTRAND: Now, again, the U.S. does not want to go to war with Iran, and they have said that very publicly.

So the question is now, how are they going to calibrate their response in a way that hits these Iran-backed groups and tries to, you know, prevent them from ever being able to attack U.S. forces again, while also avoiding a direct regional war and a confrontation that embroils the U.S. for a long time.

HARLOW: Natasha, thanks very much for the reporting at the Pentagon.

Also new this morning, a dozen United States and Japanese warships, including two U.S. aircraft carriers, have been putting on a military show of force of sorts this week in the waters East of Taiwan.

Exercises occur regularly in the area, but the timing here is notable, as flare-ups in the Middle East threaten to steer focus away from China's military buildup in the South China Sea.

HARLOW: So this also comes as FBI Director Christopher Wray issued his starkest warning yet about China's ability to hack critical U.S. infrastructure at home here. Listen.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: China's multipronged assault on our national and economic security make it the defining threat of our generation.

China's hackers are positioning on American infrastructure in preparation to wreak havoc and cause real-world harm to American citizens and communities, if and when China decides the time has come to strike.


HARLOW: The defining threat of our generation. After a big thing happened this week, right, in terms of Xi guaranteeing Biden, our reporting that they will not interfere in the '24 election.

MATTINGLY: In the election. But I think the infrastructure has been a concern of law enforcement, homeland security, especially.

And Christopher Wray with a very jarring and almost visceral warning. Obviously, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has pushed back on it, said it's not exactly true.

But it underscores the complexity of this moment. We talked about the drills that are ongoing near Taiwan. That's the focal point of the Biden administration. That has been the focal point of President Biden's foreign policy over the course of the last three years.

And yet, once again, an administration is locked in, in the Middle East, in another crisis.

HARLOW: And how do the recent elections in Taiwan makes things even more --

MATTINGLY: No question.

HARLOW: -- potentially dicey.

MATTINGLY: Yes. There's no shortage of complexity. But from foreign policy to politics. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Joe Biden with a 6- point lead over Donald Trump in a hypothetical matchup.

Now, this is a swing from last month's poll that had the two just about even.

Our senior data reporter, Harry Enten, tells us it's Biden's biggest lead in a national poll in more than a year.

HARLOW: But it's a different story in a hypothetical and unlikely, but not impossible, matchup between Biden and Haley. The poll shows Biden losing to Haley by five points. That's two times the margin of error, by the way.

Haley is seizing on it because of that. She wrote on social media, quote, "Donald Trump loses big and we end up with President Kamala Harris."

MATTINGLY: Joining us now, CNN political analyst and host of "The Grio Weekly," Natasha Alford; former Republican strategist, Lee Carter; and "Semafor" reporter Shelby Talcott.

OK, Lee, you're going to need to explain all of this to us. Because we say this when there are bad numbers, or good numbers, regardless of the candidate, it is a snapshot in time. It is not what it's going to be ten months. It's not what it was six months from now.

When you looked into, like, deeper into this Quinnipiac poll, what stood out to you in the numbers?

LEE CARTER, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There's a couple of things. First of all, this is an outlier poll compared to the other poll. You have to say, is this an outlier, or is this the beginning of a trend.

Now, it very well could be a trend, because we saw the courtroom antics last week, and it could really be playing into how people are reacting.

But there's two things in particular that I think are worth noting.

No. 1, Independent voters broke for Joe Biden in this poll 52-40. That's a 12-point lead. That is significant.

And also with women. They -- women support Biden by 58 percent. That's up. He has a 22 percent advantage with women, up from 12-point -- a 12-point margin just a month ago.

Those are both really significant numbers and deciding factors and both independents and women are the ones that break for Nikki Haley on the other side.

And so I think that's going to be really, really interesting to watch.

Now, all of that said, when you look at the Real Clear Politics average, or the 538 average of all of the polls that are out there, Trump is still ahead by a couple of points.

But I'm really trying to see, is this a momentum moment? And I think it could be an early indicator that some of the things that happened over the last two weeks are going to be damaging Trump.

HARLOW: You're really fascinated by the spread among female voters there for Biden. SHELBY TALCOTT, REPORTER, "SEMAFOR": Yes, it's really interesting.

Because remember, the Biden campaign has made things like abortion a focal point of this election, particularly against Donald Trump.

And so it makes me wonder, is this, as you said, a trend? Is this something that female voters are starting to tune into a little bit more on a national level.

And from the Biden campaign's perspective, obviously, this poll is really good, but it's also showing, in their eyes, that that sort of messaging is working. And obviously we're going to see longer term, if it is, in fact, working.


On the flip side, I think this is a warning sign for Donald Trump's team. And one way that they are, you know, privately sort of trying to garner more female voters is by their potential vice president pick. And one of the arguments I've heard from their aides is that Donald Trump should pick a woman, because it might help him with that demographic.

NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But you think about the messaging, I mean, if you look at the ad that played in the NFL, we're talking about a doctor who says that she was somewhat apolitical, right? But when she was forced to have to make a decision about her life and her health, she was motivated to support Joe Biden.

So I think this is, again, an opportunity. Right? Women who maybe were open to going in either direction or didn't see themselves as political now are being forced to make a choice as they think about how this impacts their life.

CARTER: And that's not an uncommon reaction: 7 in 10 independent women are saying the primary thing that's going to drive them to the polls, that motivates them the most is actually the women's rights issues that are on the ballot.

Nine in 10 Democratic women say that's going to be a really, really challenging issue for Republicans.

The other thing I do want to point out about this poll, though, is that at the same time, another poll came out that did the seven swing states. And it said -- and it had Donald Trump ahead in every one of those seven states, between 3 and 8 points depending on the state. And I think it's just significant --

HARLOW: And that's where elections are decided.

CARTER: That's where elections are decided. It's like looking at the stats versus looking at the final score. You really have to say. This is the Electoral College. You have to look at it state by state.

MATTINGLY: And it also underscores, we're kind of in a choose your own adventure moment when it comes to you can pick whatever poll you want.

HARLOW: Sounds like a fun ride at Disney World or something.

MATTINGLY: Right, unless you think about the future of the country will be riding on it, to some degree.

HARLOW: There's that.

MATTINGLY: But I think the interesting thing for me is this bolsters two theories of the case: Nikki Haley's theory of the case, and Joe Biden's theory of the case.

And Donald Trump -- and we've heard this from campaign advisers -- has been able to succeed in the Republican primary. Because the idea that he couldn't beat Joe Biden started to dissipate over the course of months. Does this give Nikki Haley another chance at that very argument?

TALCOTT: Of course. Her -- one of her core arguments has been the electability argument: I would beat Joe Biden by wider margins than Donald Trump would. And so therefore, voters should vote for me, because it's a safer bet.

At the same time, it hasn't registered, in part because there are so many other polls showing Donald Trump ahead of Joe Biden, and Joe Biden's poll numbers are still suffering.

And so I don't think this one poll is enough to sway Republican voters, particularly after Donald Trump won Iowa and New Hampshire so big. But it does back up that Haley -- that core Haley argument that she is more electable than Donald Trump.

ALFORD: This poll answers a question for me, too, about why Joe Biden has been getting all of the blame and none of the credit for the work that he's been doing quietly.

Forty-six percent of voters saying that they judge the economy by how much goods are in the store, right, when they check out those eggs and the milk that we keep hearing about again and again.

And so I think that explains how they've been making the judgment, when you compare that with how Joe Biden has been selling his impact on the economy. So again, just more insight that Joe Biden may want to pick up on when he thinks about messaging.

HARLOW: Thank you. Stay with us, everyone. We've got a lot ahead.

MATTINGLY: House lawmakers overwhelmingly passing a $78 billion bipartisan -- that's right, bipartisan -- package on Wednesday, at least in the House. The bill would temporarily expand the child tax credit, restore a number of business tax benefits, as well as boost funding for affordable housing and disaster relief.

Lower income families would be able to claim more of the child tax credit, and those with more than one child would receive the same credit for each of their children, the same way higher income families do. Now, it would provide more help to the low-income families of roughly

16 million children. More than 80 percent of those who don't receive the full credit right now, because their families earn too little.

Now the measure heads to the Senate where there are load blocks. Going to surprise you when I say that. Republicans could block the bill with the filibuster over fears it would help President Biden get reelected. That may sound familiar.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley saying he thinks, quote, "passing a tax bill that makes the president look good mailing out checks before the election means that he could be reelected and then we won't extend 2017 tax cuts."

Now, just a point of clarity here, this isn't the tax credit that mailed out checks. So that's not actually factually true.

HARLOW: A couple of things.


HARLOW: One, this would, if they could get it through and signed by the president -- the White House has said they would back this -- lifts 500,000 kids out of poverty. OK.

Other thought is, when Chuck Grassley says that, do you think that means it isn't going to get through the Senate?

MATTINGLY: I think it's dicier than it normally would be for a bipartisan tax package. But I think that the momentum -- the House getting this through, particularly how they did it, adds a level of momentum that -- when we talked about this two weeks ago, I wasn't sure --


MATTINGLY: -- what exists. We'll see, though.

There are policy issues in this. The 2017 tax cut point that Grassley is making is a valid one: they're thinking longer term --


MATTINGLY: -- about whether or not they can reauthorize them long- term. But we'll see. There are tangible effects to the child tax credit, and that shouldn't be ignored.


HARLOW: For sure. So America with only 49 states? Not going to happen, but Nikki Haley giving Texas -- well, just listen to how she answered the question on Texas and any secession talk. That's ahead.

MATTINGLY: And tears and apologies in an explosive Senate hearing about keeping kids safe online. Suffering families, they say it's not enough. We'll explain next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us, I know you don't mean it to be so, but you have blood on your hands. You have a product -- you have a product that's killing people.


HARLOW: Quite a hearing yesterday on Capitol Hill. The Senate Judiciary Committee, both Democrats and Republicans, just grilling the CEOs of five major social media companies about the risks that their platforms pose to teens. Families who have experienced the dangers of social media firsthand, lost their children because of it, they were there.


SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): As a collective, your platforms really suck at policing themselves.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Your product is killing people. Will you personally commit to compensating the victims?

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): Children are not your priority. Children are your product.



HARLOW: The CEOs defended the steps they've taken to try to make those sites safer. Listen to them.


MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, META: Mental health is a complex issue, and the existing body of scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health outcomes.

Still, we're going to continue to monitor the research and use it to inform our road map.

EVAN SPIEGEL, CEO, SNAP: We provide in-app reporting tools so that people who are being harassed or who have been shared inappropriate sexual content can report it in the case of harassment or sexual content.

SHOU ZI CHEW, CEO, TIKTOK: I'm proud to say that TikTok was among the first to empower parents to supervise their teens on our app with our family pairing tools.

LINDA YACCARINO, CEO, X: You have my personal commitment that X will be active and a part of this solution.


MATTINGLY: There are several heated moments during the hearing, including one that led to this shocking moment from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.


HAWLEY: You're on national television. Would you like now to apologize to the victims who have been harmed by your products? Show him the pictures. Would you like to apologize for what you've done to these good people?

ZUCKERBERG: I'm sorry (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's terrible in knowing that to go through the things that your families have suffered, and this is why we've invested so much, and are going to continue efforts to make sure that no one has to go through the types of things that your families have had to suffer.


MATTINGLY: Let's bring in CNN senior media analyst Sara Fischer.

Sara, what was stunning about that moment is that so many of the responses felt so canned and so prepped and so familiar to past hearings. That seemed genuinely impromptu, and yet, it wasn't an apology for what Meta had done. It was an apology for what people had gone through. What do you -- what was your take from that?

SARA FISCHER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA ANALYST: That was the big moment of your hearing, Phil. Because to your point, it was so sudden. We weren't expecting an apology like that. We rarely see angles like that.

But I think my take is that none of it really matters, if I'm being honest with you. I mean, the Senate has introduced a bunch of bills to protect children online. None of them have gotten passed.

And so every time you have a hearing like this, you sort of have to shrug and say, Well, is this going to amount to anything? And I don't think so.

What this does is it creates a spectacle that they hope will bring momentum so they can pass bills. But let's be real: it's not an election year. They have till July. And I don't think this does anything than create some viral moments.

HARLOW: That's really sad. That's really sad for these families.

FISCHER: It is sad, because they are victims of a lot of issues. You know, it's not just child sexual material, but it's also things like bullying and mental health as you heard during the hearing. And these families want answers.

But the problem, Poppy, is that without any sort of regulation being passed, you're leaving solutions to the players, right, to the big tech firms.


FISCHER: And they've introduced a few things, because they want to get ahead of any regulation, but their businesses are not really, you know, inspired to be protecting kids. Their businesses are inspired to make money. They're publicly traded. Their stock matters.

So unfortunately, I don't think we progressed a lot in this hearing. But we are talking about it, and that, in some ways, is a little bit of a step forward.

MATTINGLY: Can you explain what you're describing right now is a very astute and nuanced observation of what happened yesterday, legislatively. Right? These are moments that they can put on campaign web sites. They are moments that they can put on YouTube. They are moments that they will get news clips for.

It doesn't necessarily move the ball forward legislatively, all while the companies are undercutting legislative efforts by trying to get out in front of them with half measures.

HARLOW: Lots of lobbyists.

MATTINGLY: And they have lobbyists all at the same time.

So explain to people who watch Josh Hawley, Marsha Blackburn and Sheldon Whitehouse, completely on the other sides of the ideological spectrum, who say how can they not get together and find an agreement on something?

FISCHER: Well, they've only done it once, Phil, in the past ten years. So we have a precedent. They passed one bill on child sex trafficking online.

But for all these other issues, they don't need to be taking priority for these senators, quite frankly, as something like passing a budget or something like passing something for their constituents that's very specific to their states.

This is the type of issue where they will get a lot of applause and a lot of support from their constituents if they address it, but passing a bill on it doesn't really help them politically.

And so that's why I think you see them using this as an attention grabber but not actually moving any bills forward.

I also think in terms of what these bills are going to look like, Internet policy is extremely, extremely complicated. If you move or change one law, you might inadvertently upend the entire Internet. And I think these lawmakers know that there's a lot of people in their districts and in their states who rely on the Internet for their jobs. So they're careful not to meddle too much in Internet policy.

HARLOW: But there's a way to adjust. We'll talk to Dick Durbin about this later, but to adjust what you're talking about, Section 230, Sara, and not completely get red rid of it.

Before you go, you know, what made a difference with cigarettes and those tobacco execs who faced similar grilling, you know, years ago on the Hill was lawsuits. It's when the states sued them. That's what makes the difference.

And now you have some state A.G.'s suing them. But do you think that's ultimately what it's going to take to change things?


FISCHER: I think honestly, Poppy, it's going to be data. I think what made a huge difference with the tobacco industry was that we had enough science to prove that cigarettes were a cause of cancer.

Right now, we just don't have enough science and data to prove a causal link that social media necessarily directly leads to all of these harms. We know it's a factor.

But to be able to put laws and restrictions on these industries; for courts to be able to say that these lawsuits, a lot of class action lawsuits are viable, you would need to have some sort of proof. And right now that proof is a little scant.

HARLOW: Thank you, Sara.

FISCHER: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Also new this morning, the federal government wants to make A.I.-generated robocalls illegal. The FCC announced the, quote, "Television Consumer Protection Act" after a robocall with a fake Joe Biden voice told New Hampshire voters not to vote in the primary.

U.S. officials worry A.I. will make it easier to spread disinformation in this election year. The agency wants to give states new tools to go after bad actors behind those calls.

Well, Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis under fire but refusing to step down from Georgia's election subversion case. Exclusive CNN reporting about why she's so determined to stay on board, next.

HARLOW: We're also learning more about what motivated a Pennsylvania man to allegedly decapitate his father and post it all online.


HARLOW: Well, new reporting this morning. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis does not plan to step down from the Georgia election subversion case after allegations emerged that she's had an inappropriate relationship with the lead prosecutor she hired on.