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CNN This Morning

Trump Narrowly Leads Biden in Hypothetical Rematch; Michigan School Shooter's Mom Testifies in Own Defense; How Congress Kicked the Can on Immigration. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 06:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's Friday. I'm Phil Mattingly with Erica Hill in New York. Poppy is off today.

We have brand-new CNN polling. It pits Trump versus Biden, Haley against Biden in hypothetical November matchups. One of those races, razor-thin margin, the other a blowout. He numbers also revealing how Americans are feeling about the economy, immigration, and the Israel- Hamas war.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a CNN exclusive this morning from Ukraine's embattled army chief. How he says his forces must adapt to less military aid from key allies, including America, as his own future is uncertain this morning.

And E. Jean Carroll's lawyer revealing why Donald Trump allegedly threw a stack of legal papers during a Mar-a-Lago deposition.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

MATTINGLY: What a week that saw President Biden and Donald Trump shift firmly toward a likely rematch in November. There's one thing that hasn't moved, at least according to new CNN polling, and that's Trump's narrow lead in the race. Just four points, identical to what it was months ago in the fall.

The findings underscoring what advisors on both sides acknowledge will be a super tight race, no matter what. But beneath the top line, the polling goes deeper. We're going to get a look at where each is gaining ground and where each is most vulnerable. We're going to dig into those numbers.

HILL: Plus, as Nikki Haley continues her defiant drive to block Donald Trump's nomination, the CNN polling gives her some new ammunition just weeks before that South Carolina primary, showing her beating Biden by 13 points in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up.

The big leader there bolstering Haley's message to Republican voters that she is the one who can actually defeat Biden in the general election. Here's what she told Jake Tapper in reaction to that CNN polling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIKKI HALEY (R), U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Republicans decide that they want to nominate Donald Trump, the same thing that happened in 2018, 2020 and 2022 will happen again in 2024. You can't keep doing the same thing and think you're going to get a different result. Donald Trump will lose the election for us.


MATTINGLY: CNN political director David Chalian starts us off this morning. And David, I've got to be honest, I resisted the urge to text you very early this morning. Because I'm fascinated by what's underneath the hood here. You have young children. I was respectful of that.

But what stood out to you on the top line numbers?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, as you noted, it's sort of the static nature of the race. I mean, look at the Trump/Biden match-up here: 49 percent for Trump, 45 percent for Biden. Just outside the margin of error, Phil. A narrow Trump lead. And that is identical to where we were back in October and November in our last poll in the fall.

You noted that Haley/Biden match-up, 52 percent for Haley, 39 percent for Biden. You see that 13 percentage-point spread. Of course, she's got to get here. Our poll also shows she's running 50 points behind Donald Trump nationally in the Republican nomination race.

So, yes, this is a selling point for her. No, Republicans don't seem to be buying that electability argument at the moment.

HILL: There's also an interesting look at how voters are feeling right now and how they feel about how things are going, David.

CHALIAN: And we see a slight uptick in terms of that perception about how things are going in the country. Not much of one, but a slight uptick.

So 35 percent in our brand-new poll, Erica, say things are going well in the country today. Thirty-five percent, not a great number. But it's better than the 28 percent that said that in October and November. And you can see, we haven't been up at 35 percent since December of 2022. So a slight uptick in the perception there.

Look at this broken out by party, guys. I think this is really interesting here.

Among Democrats, independents and Republicans, we see that uptick. So across the board, no matter which party you identify with, there is this increase in perception.

I also want to take a look here at Joe Biden's policies and how people perceive their impact on the economy. Fifty-five percent of Americans in our new poll say Biden has -- his economic policies have worsened conditions. Twenty-six percent say improved conditions. This really has not moved since last August. MATTINGLY: David, the -- in isolation, the numbers are not great once

again, but the trend lines, kind of what you're pointing out right now, are fascinating, really interesting to me. How else do voters think Biden is handling other big issues?


CHALIAN: Yes, you know, his overall approval is at 38 percent in our poll, which basic really where he is on the economy, Phil. He's at 37 percent approval.

The two issues where he overperforms his overall standing are on protecting democracy, 42 percent, and the situation in Ukraine, 41 percent approval.

But look, where he is underperforming his low approval rating, I should note, 34 percent approve of his handling of the Israel/Hamas war. And consistently, we see Joe Biden's worst issue in terms of approval by the American public, immigration.

I also want you to note here at how the immigration issue is proceeding and why I think we see Democrats starting to get on board with the idea of a border security bill here.

Back in 2019, 80 percent of Americans said the top priority dealing with undocumented immigrants in the U.S. should be a path to legal status. Now 68 percent say that.

Whereas the top priority should be deporting all undocumented immigrants. Back in 2019 it was only 15 percent, and now that's doubled, 31 percent. Clearly still a minority here, but 31 percent and a big increase, believe deportation of undocumented immigrants should be the top priority.

And in terms of whether or not the situation at the Mexican border is a crisis, you see here, Republicans have thought it was a crisis for a while. Independents now, 77 percent say it's a crisis. And even Democrats, we see two-thirds of Democrats calling the situation at the border a crisis.

MATTINGLY: That shift on the border security issue is astounding.

CHALIAN: I lost you.

MATTINGLY: I genuinely double-took when I read it. It's fascinating. David Chalian, we appreciate it. We've got a lot more to get into with you the rest of the show.

HILL: To that point, immigration we know it's one of the most important issues for voters. And we saw that even in the exit polls out of Iowa and New Hampshire.

To discuss further, let's bring in Republican strategist Doug Heye; CNN political commentator and Spectrum News anchor, Errol Louis; and former spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, Hagar Chemali. Good to see all of you this morning.

Errol, when you look at these numbers, what has and has not changed, frankly, when we look at the polling here? What do you think the takeaway should be for the Biden campaign? What will it be?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The number that should keep them up at night is the -- the independents kind of walking away, sort of falling into a more conservative camp, maybe looking askance at what the administration is or is not doing on the border especially, and also on the economy.

That's their margin of victory. That's their problem.

Democrats seem to be on board, not entirely enthusiastic. But you can run a mobilization strategy later in the campaign. But if you lose the independents, that's where you start really having problems in Arizona, in Georgia, in Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania, in the key states that made the difference four years ago.

MATTINGLY: Doug, we have to have the usual caveat. Polls are a snapshot in time. They don't say what's going to happen. They're not predictive. This is where they are in the morning -- in the moment.

And that's why I think what's underneath is so fascinating. Because we have seen a series of polls on the economy, even on top line where it seems like things are starting to tick up slowly. The bar was low. But they're ticking up. Similar here underneath the top line, but still like a long way to go.

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: A long way to go. And when you're on a campaign or Capitol Hill leadership, when you get new polling, you look at what you can take away to promote and what you can take away to discredit.

MATTINGLY: So what's your takeaway in this?

HEYE: Everything we know about American politics right now is described in that poll. Why do we not have a deal on immigration on Capitol Hill? Those numbers. Republicans and independents, basically, those numbers are going to hold on Capitol Hill. We're not going to get a deal. Those numbers explain why.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden, neck and neck. Nobody really wants it. It's sort of the resistible force versus the movable object. And you have Nikki Haley with her key argument: I can win better than anyone else. These numbers explain it all.

HILL: I can win better than anybody else. You look at those numbers. When you look at this, does this provide any sort of an opening for Nikki Haley at this point, realistically?

HAGAR CHEMALI, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, U.S. MISSION TO THE U.N.: I mean, I'm a believer that she shouldn't postpone her race. There are so many states coming up left that she -- that we need to see where there's actual traction there. But she made a really interesting point there when she said, you know,

Trump has lost already before. Trump-endorsed candidates have lost in midterm. So why on earth are we pursuing this strategy again?

But at the same time, if you see what happened on Capitol Hill, for example, when you were just talking about this, you've got this deal on immigration. They got to a deal on immigration. It is the best deal that they're going to get, that Democrats have -- for 30 years Democrats haven't come to a deal like that on immigration, and to get Ukraine aid.

But all the Republicans bow down to Trump, when Trump said, no, don't vote for it, because it would give Biden a win.

And so, while she's saying this, I agree with her, they're just -- they view Trump as their leader, and they can't get away from it.

MATTINGLY: Can I ask you -- you know, Doug makes a good point. If you're a political hand, if you're an adviser, you're seeing these and you're explaining what's going on, or you're just changing how your message is.


As a national security person, they see polls. I'm not saying they dictate how things go. But what's striking in this poll is the divide between young voters, or young individuals that are polled, on Israel/Hamas war and those that are older. And I think it underscores a very real problem, at least in the near term, the Biden team has. How do they solve that?

CHEMALI: So I'm glad you asked about this. Errol and I were talking about this earlier. That in the 20 years I've worked in foreign policy, I have never seen foreign policy dictate an election.

And that is including -- we have to remember, that is including times when we were in Iraq, right, Afghanistan, major wars, major drains on our resources, soldiers abroad getting killed. And so I just cannot believe that this issue will dictate the election for a few reasons.

First, because November is actually far for a war of this kind. Things in Israel/Gaza, wars of this kind, usually move very fast. So it's hard to know exactly where it will be by the time we get an election.

But also because, at the end of the day, a vote where you're voting for someone else or you're voting -- you're staying home is, without a doubt, a vote for Trump. And Trump is going to bring back the Muslim ban, and he's also going to -- he was more supportive of Israel than any other past president.

And so it's a very short-sighted view. So it's an important one. The White Houses understands it. Reaching out to that community is important. But I just can't see it dictating November elections.

HILL: It's not the only issue, though, right, that is challenging for Democrats when it comes to young voters. You have climate. You have the economy. They're not feeling great about the economy, even as you're seeing this uptick.

So, on a number of fronts, young voters are key. But does the campaign get that?

LOUIS: No, they --

HILL: They know that, I should say. Have they figured out their messaging?

LOUIS: Well, the messaging is -- is problematic at this point. I mean, one item that they've been pretty intense on for months now is student aid and getting some relief for that.

And yet, the very people for whom they've gotten this relief seem to be walking away or expressing dissatisfaction to pollsters or, perhaps, staying home.

They're going to have to try and figure that out, as well. They're going to have to get a team of credible surrogates out on the road, making the argument, making the case that this is better than the alternative.

You know, it's very different. You know, saying whether you like Joe Biden, that's really what the pollsters are asking. It's very different from what are you going to do when we come down the home stretch and it's time for early voting. And that's really sort of the key question.

MATTINGLY: Can I ask you, there has been kind of a murmur of Democrats who are convinced that the sky was imploding on their heads for several months, thinking, OK, the economic numbers are good. We're seeing some different polling numbers. Maybe things are starting to turn.

Would you draw that conclusion when you look underneath the top line in this poll?

HEYE: Potentially, if we go back to two years ago, Democrats were convinced the sky had -- not was going to fall, had fallen. They couldn't raise money. They had the wrong candidates. They did better than expected.

The challenge for the Biden administration here, and congressional Democrats is, yes, people are feeling better about the economy, but Joe Biden isn't getting any credit for it. That's the number that has to change.

MATTINGLY: It's a good point.

HILL: Good to have you all. Thank you, guys.

HEYE: Thank you.

HILL: Just ahead, a deadly crash in Florida. Four homes set on fire. The plane actually ending up inside of one of them. More on that, just ahead. MATTINGLY: And her son killed four classmates. Now Jennifer Crumbley is on trial for manslaughter, insisting she wouldn't have done anything differently.


JENNIFER CRUMBLEY, SON MURDERED FOUR CLASSMATES: As a parent, you spend your whole -- your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers. You never -- you never would think you have to protect your child from hurting somebody else.




MATTINGLY: This morning, we are learning that several people have been killed in Florida after a small plane crashed into a mobile home park.

Officials say the single-engine plane struck one trailer home in Clearwater and three others and caught fire. The FAA says the pilot reported an engine failure before the plane went off the radar, about three miles from the runway.


CHIEF SCOTT EHLERS, CLEARWATER FIRE & RESCUE: We have several fatalities, both from the aircraft and within the mobile home. We're still working to -- to make sure that there is no additional.


MATTINGLY: He also said crews were trying to tame hot spots at the scene. Still unclear how many people were on the plane. We will keep you updated as we learn more.

HILL: Later this morning, prosecutors in Michigan are set to begin cross-examining the mother of a Michigan high school shooter. Jennifer Crumbley is charged with manslaughter for her role in the deaths of four students.

The prosecution says she's at fault here for buying her son a gun and also for not getting the help he needed, the mental health help, despite warning signs.

Crumbley took the stand in her own defense on Thursday. CNN's Jean Casarez has more now on her testimony.


CRUMBLEY: That was the hardest thing I had to stomach, is that my child harmed and killed other people.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The mother of the Oxford, Michigan, shooter who killed four high school students in 2021, for the first time defending herself in court.

CRUMBLEY: I've asked myself if I would have done anything differently, and I wouldn't have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you could change what happened, would you?

CRUMBLEY: Oh, absolutely. I wish he would have killed us instead.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Jennifer Crumbley charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after she and her husband got a gun for their 15-year-old son days before the massacre. She has pleaded not guilty and appears to be shifting blame to her husband in her testimony.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is responsible for storing the gun?

CRUMBLEY: My husband is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Explain why you say he's responsible for that role.

CRUMBLEY: I just didn't feel comfortable being in charge of that. It was more his thing, so I let him handle that.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Crumbley maintains she had no reason to believe her son was a danger to anyone else.

CRUMBLEY: As a parent, you spend your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers. You never -- you never would think you have to protect your child from hurting somebody else. That's what -- that's what blew my mind.

CASAREZ (voice-over): She recounted the moment her husband called, telling her the gun was missing.

CRUMBLEY: Instantly, it just -- I'm like, oh, my gosh, he's got the gun. I didn't actually think he was at the school shooting it. I thought maybe he walked home and got the gun and was in the field by the school shooting. I just -- I didn't imagine my son actually going to the school and shooting.


And then when we got more updates, I was like, oh, my gosh, he's a school shooter. He's going to kill himself. Because in my mind, that's what school shooters have done, is killed themselves after.

So I yelled, and I talked to text and said, "Ethan, don't do it." Because I thought he was going to kill himself.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Revealed in court before Crumbley took the stand, journal entries of the shooter just days before he opened fire, killing four classmates.

He writes, "I have zero help for my mental problems, and it's causing me to shoot up the f'ing school. My parents won't listen to me about help or a therapist." The journal seen here was found in the shooter's backpack that he

brought with him that morning, spilled out on the school's bathroom floor.

However, Jennifer Crumbley testified her son never asked her to get help for mental health issues.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you recall there ever being a time where he asked you for -- to go to a doctor or get help and you said no?



CRUMBLEY: No. There was a couple times where Ethan expressed anxiety over taking tests, anxiety about what he was going to do after high school.

But not -- not to a level where I felt he needed to go see a psychiatrist or a mental health professional right away, no.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Crumbley described threats she says she and her husband received after the shooting.

CRUMBLEY: I was feeling pretty scared.


CRUMBLEY: Well, scared that somebody might hurt us.

CASAREZ (voice-over): The defense also attempted to portray Jennifer as a normal mother.

CRUMBLEY: Every year around Thanksgiving, I always cook Thanksgiving dinner. The day after, we would go cut a Christmas tree down. He was a big history buff. We can play Trivial Pursuit, and he would get me on history every single time.

CASAREZ (voice-over): Jean Casarez, CNN, New York.


MATTINGLY: Our thanks to Jean.

Well, back to Washington. The House passing a bipartisan bill to help struggling families. But one top Republican is concerned it would actually help President Biden get re-elected. Next, we're going to break down the difficulties in legislating in an election year.

HILL: And live pictures here out of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Folks gathered to celebrate, of course, Groundhog Day. To celebrate Groundhog Day. To celebrate Groundhog Day. Sorry. Next hour, Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual weather prediction, and we will bring it to you live.



HILL: Live pictures there for you of Capitol Hill this morning, where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is taking steps to hold the first vote on the border deal by Wednesday. And this, of course, comes as Republican House leaders suggest it could be dead on arrival.

Phil, for years, I have relied on your guidance, right, for all things Capitol Hill. Why is this always so hard?

MATTINGLY: How much time do you have?

HILL: Not enough, I don't think.

MATTINGLY: OK. Well, then I'm going to go to a tried-and-true thing, the cliche. Look, for all the high-minded eloquence Hollywood may want to attribute to the hallowed halls of the Capitol you just saw there, the reality is it's a building defined by cliches: Kicking the can down the road; stalemate; poison pill; nothing's agree to till everything's agreed to; circular firing squad; in flux; jet fumes; not in the cards.

They are undeniably tired and lacking in all creativity, but they have an odd way of narrating the rhythm of a place that, despite these rather low opinions, ratings from Americans, manage to reach agreement on the big must-pass bills eventually. Unless it's a presidential year.

Yes, that's another cliche but one that right now explains a Washington on the brink.


SEN. JIM LANKFORD (R-OK): So it's hard on its own. In a presidential election year, it's hard.


MATTINGLY: That's Senator Jim Lankford. He is the lead GOP negotiator on the immigration talks, and his view is not a minority view. That immigration deal, it's tangled up in a series of major legislative lifts -- emergency aid for Israel, Ukraine, and the Indo-Pacific, a bipartisan tax package, impending government funding deadlines. Oh, by the way, the Federal Aviation Authorization expires on March 8, as well.

These guys have lifts lawmakers never want to leave until an election year. Compromise is a bad word. Lawmakers have their eyes trained on the campaign trail. And motives, well, nobody seems to trust anyone.


REP. AUGUST PFLUGER (R-TX): And I would ask the president right now, President Biden, is it because we're in an election year that finally you get to the point where this matters?


MATTINGLY: And that's why lawmakers -- cliche alert -- take pains to clear the decks ahead of time. It happened in a flurry of legislative action in 2011 as President Barack Obama geared up for his re-election battle against Mitt Romney. And again at the end of 2015, ahead of Donald Trump's battle with Hillary Clinton. Deadlines punted until after the election, when partisan rancor ebbs. At the same time lawmakers eye the holiday season, desperate to escape Washington. There's your jet fumes cliche. Few things motivate lawmakers more than that ticket home.

Now, 2020 did demonstrate one of the few exceptions to the rule in the last couple of decades. A once-in-a-century pandemic did force major emergency action. And then, Congress largely closed up shop until after election day.

Today, as all signs point to a rematch between Donald Trump and President Biden. The stakes could not be higher. On Capitol Hill, a full-blown legislative train wreck is gripping the Capitol, all of it could have -- should have -- been addressed by the end of last year.

Instead, with House Republicans grappling with the narrowest of majorities and constant party in-fighting. They're now all inextricably linked together in an election year.


REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): Joe Biden's approval rating is at 33 percent. Why would we do anything to try to help improve that dismal number?


MATTINGLY: At the same time, the presumptive GOP nominee is now publicly flexing his interparty power to set tenuous immigration talks completely aflame.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (R) AND CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): 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: And key GOP senators, they're balking at the rare bipartisan deal in the House, the $78 billion tax package, on political and strategy grounds.

Like Senator Chuck Grassley, who suggested they punt the bipartisan tax bill, because it would be a win for President Biden. Every day that passes without a resolution, well, that's one day closer to election day, which means this, according to one top immigration negotiator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-AZ): I think whenever you're making a deal, every day gets longer and longer, and harder and harder.


MATTINGLY: Or to put it in Capitol Hill terms, after months of kicking the can down the road, there's a stalemate as lawmakers strain to block poison pills that would undercut any agreement.