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Biden Administration Preparing Response to Attack by Iranian- Backed Militia that Killed Three U.S. Service Members; Judge to Rule in Case against Trump Organization; Supreme Court to Hear Arguments regarding Donald Trump's Eligibility to be on State Ballots for Presidential Election; Biden Sees Union Support and Gaza Protests in Michigan; Young Michigan Voters Say They're Not Confident in Biden; Schumer: Border Deal Could Be Out as Soon as Today; Interview with Rep. Rob Menendez (D-NJ). Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 08:00   ET



BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: And now A.I. is moving us closer to understanding whale song. We may understand the lyrics one of these days to see exactly what they're saying. Is it a love song? Is it something else.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Are they singing "Baby Beluga" in the deep?


WEIR: Or baby shark.

HILL: Or baby shark. And that will be with you now for the rest of you day, and you had Bill Weir today.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: This is going to fascinating. I can't wait to watch. Also, you teased the one hunter left in Iceland. That was a tease. That was a very professional move. Bill Weir, appreciate you, as always.

Be sure to tune in, an all new episode of "The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper", one whole hour, one whole story, airs Sunday at 8:00 p.m. eastern and pacific only on CNN.

CNN THIS MORNING continues right now.

Good morning, everyone. It's Friday, the top of the hour. I'm Phil Mattingly with Erica Hill in New York. In just a few hours, President Biden and first lady and the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will head to Delaware to join grieving families of three American soldiers killed in Jordan and attend the dignified transfer of their remains at Dover Air Force base. The U.S. has blamed the deaths on an Iran-backed militia.

HILL: On Thursday, the Pentagon chief confirmed a multi-tiered response is coming. It is still unclear, of course, when the U.S. plans to launch that retaliation. Sources telling CNN, Iran did appear to be surprised by the attack by its proxies. Overnight, however, Iran's president said it would not start any war but did vouch to, quote, respond strongly to bullies.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is live this morning at the White House. So Arlette, here we are again. And this is, of course, also coming the day after President Biden signed that executive order targeting Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians. He is going to meet later today with the families of those fallen American soldiers as he is navigating this at home as well and dealing with everything that's going on in the Middle East.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he is, Erica, and the U.S. is preparing that response in retaliation for the deaths of the three U.S. service members. But for President Biden, his focus today will really be on one of the most solemn duties a commander in chief has, and that is attending the dignified transfer of those three U.S. service members. All from the state of Georgia, they include Sergeant William Rivers as well as two Army specialists who were posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant, Kennedy Sanders and Breonna Moffett.

Now, the president is slated to arrive at Dover around 11:30, and he's going to spend about an hour meeting with the families behind closed doors in addition to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff C.Q. Brown. They will also be on hand. And then they will be on hand as the dignified transfer of their remains take place.

President Biden spoke by phone to each of the families on Tuesday. And in that conversation, he gauged their interest about whether they would want him on hand for the dignified transfer. He said that they did accept that request. And we actually got some very rare footage of a moment where President Biden was speaking with one of the families, the families of Sergeant Kennedy Sanders. And when he informed them about the fact that they were posthumously promoting her to sergeant. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And by the way, we are promoting posthumously her to sergeant.

ONEIDA OLIVER-SANDERS, KENNEDY SANDERS' MOTHER: Wow. That is the best news I have heard today. Thank you so much. You don't know how much that means to us.

BIDEN: I tell you what, it means a lot to me. My son spent a year in Iraq. That's how I lost him. And one percent of all these kids are the ones that take care of 99 percent of us.


HILL: So quite an emotional moment. The families will have some time with President Biden to share stories about their loved ones and feelings after the loss of their loved ones as well. This is the second dignified transfer President Biden will attend as commander in chief. He attended one after 13 U.S. service men and women were killed in Afghanistan. Always a very emotional moment for these families and for the commander in chief.

Now, as for the response, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that they expect it to be a multi-tiered response. We are still awaiting word on when exactly that will be carried out. But today, the focus for the president will be on these families as he is on hand in Dover, Delaware, later this afternoon.

MATTINGLY: Yes, the most somber and solemn part of the job.

I do want to ask, we saw the press conference from the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin yesterday, the first time he had really spoken at length publicly since he was hospitalized. This is going to be the first time he and the president are together. Do we have any sense where they are on things after Austin did not tell the president about his cancer diagnosis?

SAENZ: Defense Secretary Austin said in that press conference that he apologized to President Biden and that he thinks that the president has been handling it graciously.


But this will be the first time the two men are together in public. I will note they were in a meeting in the Situation Room earlier in the week where they were talking about the possible responses the U.S. could launch to this attack that killed those three service members. But so far, the defense secretary has been back at the Pentagon, briefed reporters yesterday as the U.S. is thinking about what next steps they will be taking in this matter.

MATTINGLY: Arlette Saenz for us at the White House.

The fate of Donald Trump's business empire will soon be decided. We are now expecting the judge to issue a verdict within the next few weeks in Trump's $370 million civil fraud trial. It's just one of the many civil and criminal cases colliding head on with his presidential campaign in just the days ahead.

HILL: And Nikki Haley is calling out Trump and his super PAC for sending more than $50 million in political donations to cover his legal expenses.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Get ready to spend more campaign dollars on legal fees, because those court cases have just started. He has got two in March, and they go out for the rest of the year. It's unconscionable to me that a candidate would spend $50 million in legal fees. It explains why he is not doing many rallies. He doesn't have the money to do it.


HILL: Let's bring our CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig. So Elie, there is a lot on the calendar there. What are you watching most closely? ELIE HONIG, SENIOR CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So get your notifications turned

on on your phone, because there's a lot of things we are waiting for at almost any moment, including four different cases, some of them criminal and some of them civil. Let's start with the New York civil fraud case. The lawsuit brought by the New York State Attorney General Letitia James against Donald Trump and his businesses, alleging that they overinflated the value of their assets.

Now, two pieces of breaking news from last night. First of all, the judge had said he was going to rule -- he was going to try to rule by January 31st, which was a couple days ago. Last night he said, actually more like early or middle of February.

The other thing maybe related to that is we are learning Allen Weisselberg, the longtime CFO, may be working towards a plea deal to admit that he committed perjury in this case. And if that's the case, you can understand why the judge may want to see how that plays out. When the judge rules -- and by the way, this verdict will come from the judge, not a jury. First of all, there are still six remaining counts in this case. And one count, the judge has already found against Donald Trump and for the A.G.'s office. Then there's the question of how big will the monetary penalty be? The A.G. is seeking $370 million. And finally, will Trump use and his businesses lose their certificates, their ability to conduct business in New York.

Elie, in the political world, everybody is watching Jack Smith. They're looking at that one as the big case. There's a decision coming down in D.C. soon that could affect Jack Smith. How?

HONIG: We legal folks are getting inpatient here. So yes, Donald Trump, this is the criminal. He argued that he has immunity. We heard this oral argument three-and-a-half weeks ago. And I think given how quickly the court of appeals scheduled that argument, we thought they were going to rule real quick. Here we are going on three-and-a-half weeks. So people are wondering what's going on. Time is of the essence here because here is where we are for that argument, the court of appeals. Whoever loses, they'll try to get it, of course, up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the district court, the trial court, they have been on pause this whole time. Judge Chutkan has already made pretty clear in her other rulings, she's not expecting that March 4th trial date, which is now about a month away, that's not going to hold. But the question is, how quickly can they get it back there?

HILL: And there's also Georgia. Don't forget Fulton County.

HONIG: A couple things we do know when they are coming. Today we will see the official courtroom response in a brief, a written brief, from Fani Willis to the allegations that she's having an improper relationship with one of the outside people who is working on the case, Nathan Wade. She has not responded officially to that yet.

And let's not forget, the ballot challenge, the 14th Amendment challenge, Colorado has removed Donald Trump from the ballot. That case is going to the Supreme Court. The argument will be on Thursday. Watch it here on CNN. Trump's final brief is due on Monday. It's like the late, great Tom Petty said. The waiting -- come on.

MATTINGLY: It's the hardest part.

HONIG: There you go. I knew one of you would get it.

HILL: I love it when you bring in a Tom Petty on a Friday morning. Elie, thank you.

Also this morning, new CNN reporting on Trump's ballot battles, speaking of. So we learned the lead lawyers on both sides of that Colorado case actually have little to no experience arguing before the high court. So they are moving their operations to the nation's capital to try to tap into the wealth of experienced lawyers there ahead of those oral arguments on Thursday.

MATTINGLY: Joining us now, CNN senior Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic. Joan, the lead of your story is fascinating, one with no experience, one with relatively little experience. Is this rare?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: It is for this kind of big case. And they both have their fortes that I'll get to in a second, but here you have -- consider the stakes here. However the Supreme Court decides this could affect who is the next president of the United States. Imagine the pressure for these two advocates, one of whom has never appeared before the justices, one who has a handful of times but not in anything as consequential as the case we have before us. So that's why they are both -- they both as of this morning moved their operations to Washington, D.C., where they're going to tap into this network of lawyers who will help them practice.


And these practice rounds are not just to get a handle on the constitutional issues and the law at the center of the case, but rather how they present it. And they just don't want to practice, they want to surface the weaknesses of their cases so that they can fix how they will unspool things in real time before the justices. And they want to figure out how to get the justices, no matter what their questions, to always pivot back to the strong points of their respective cases.

HILL: Who plays the justices in these roles? How does that work out? so they make sure -- it's really a lot like debate prep, when we think about it.

BISKUPIC: It is. In fact, just as a quick aside, Erica, it's amazing how many really good Supreme Court advocate were high school debaters, because there is a debate prep thing to it. But what they have is these things called moot court. And you know the real court has nine justices, but an ideal moot is usually four or five justices to prepare. And what they do is they do take on the roles of real Supreme Court justices, because those will be the ones accepting -- deciding the case.

And Erica and Phil, these practice sessions are supposed to go exactly the way the real ones would go. A lawyer would stand and the lectern and start by saying, "Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the court?" You have about two minutes to present his opening, and then get pummeled by the justices.

HILL: And then get pummeled.

MATTINGLY: Then get pummeled. Joan's very matter of fact of putting it. Joan, I have to ask, because I would want you in my prep for this, because I feel like you would know all the inside details about what justices -- what makes them tick, what makes them happy, what pisses them off. What are some of the inside tips about particular justices?

BISKUPIC: Sure. And just to loop together your question and Erica's earlier one, as much as I watched these justices, I have never stood at the lectern. So the people who they have playing the justices are former members of the U.S. solicitor general's office and other advocates who have appeared dozens of times before the court, so they can really channel the justices.

But here is what I've observed from my seat, my chief seat over in the press section is that you have to be ready for wild hypotheticals that will really trip you up from, on the left Justice Elena Kagan, on the right, Samuel Alito. They seem to be able to pinpoint the weakest sections of a case, weaknesses that maybe the advocate didn't even know he or she had.

And then the really -- the important justices to keep an eye on are the people who are at the ideological center of the bench, and that is Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. You will need, either side will need all three of those for how this thing is resolved, because let's just say that, again, it could be a five-four ruling, but Chief Justice John Roberts does not want a five-four ruling. So he wants the center to be able to go with either the Trump -- the pro-Trump forces or those who are trying to keep him off the ballot, Phil and Erica.

HILL: So much prep that goes into all of this as the countdown begins. Joan, really appreciate it. Thank you.


HILL: The newest CNN polling shows Donald Trump narrowly leading President Biden in a hypothetical matchup. The president hitting the campaign trail with auto workers in Detroit. There are cracks, though, beginning to emerge when it comes to Biden's Michigan coalition.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not happy with Biden. But we understand that the other option is not an option that's favorable to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is just not somebody that I can trust.




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: The coalition that helped President Biden win Michigan and 2020 could be showing some cracks this year.

He visited the crucial battleground state yesterday to pitch his campaign to a roomful of United Auto Workers as he wholly focused on improving the lives of the middle class, but that state also has a large Arab-American population, some of whom showed up to protest Biden's support for Israel's actions in Gaza.

Now, Biden narrowly defeated Trump in Michigan back in 2020. CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us from Detroit.

Jeff, you talked to campaign officials, you talked to Michigan lawmakers. You're talking to voters. What are they telling you?


I mean, you could see that enthusiastic support from members of the labor union and you could hear that passionate anger from members of the Arab-American and Muslim communities here.

But in between, there's actually a lack of enthusiasm about the idea of a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, but taken together at this point, one of the biggest challenges facing the Biden campaign, that's rebuilding his winning coalition.


REV. CHARLES WILLIAMS, KING SOLOMON BAPTIST CHURCH: It is like two -- just two old White guys duking it out.

ZELENY (voice over): Reverend Charles Williams is bracing for a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, exhausted at the notion of a nine-month battle for the White House.

WILLIAMS: Some may feel I don't have any hope in Donald Trump or I don't have a hope in Joe Biden.

ZELENY (voice over): As pastor of King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, Williams was on the frontlines of soaring turnout among Black voters four years ago. He believes Biden can't win re-election through fear of Trump alone.

WILLIAMS: It's almost like your big brother or your big sister saying the boogeyman is under the bed, the boogeyman is under the bed. Sooner or later, you'll figure you know, is it really a boogeyman? You realize maybe, maybe this guy ain't the boogeyman.

ZELENY (voice over): One of the biggest tests facing the President is piecing together a vast fraying coalition, particularly in Michigan. Trump carried the state in 2016, along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but Biden flipped all three in 2020, a blue wall that led to victory.


ZELENY (voice over): His challenges are complicated by anger among Muslims and Arab-Americans over the Israel-Hamas war made clear by relentless protests.


ZELENY (voice over): Including as the president visited Michigan.

ADAM ABUSALAH, MICHIGAN RESIDENT: He's just not somebody that I can trust.

ZELENY (voice over): Adam Abusalah worked as a field organizer for the Biden campaign four years ago. He said he will not vote for the president again, seeing him as complicit in deaths of innocent Palestinians.

ZELENY (on camera): By taking this stand, do you wonder if it will help elect Donald Trump?

ABUSALAH: It probably will. We have seen four years of Trump, we have seen for years that Biden and people don't really see a difference between their presidency.

ZELENY (voice over): It was nearly four years ago when Biden pointedly presented himself as a bridge to the future.

JOE BIDEN, THEN CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, I view myself as a bridge not as anything else.

There is an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me they are the future of this country. They are the people --


ZELENY (voice over): Those cheers rang out in the gymnasium of Detroit's Renaissance High where these students are now following the presidential race.

MONTY WILLIAMS, MICHIGAN VOTER: I don't feel like he represents the young voter demographic at all.


ZELENY (voice over): It's the first time that Monty Williams and her friends can vote. Dante Parker said a vote for Biden is hardly guaranteed.

DANTE PARKER, MICHIGAN VOTER: He had been stuck in this system for far too long, and maybe he could venture outside of it to really make some progress.

ZELENY (voice over): The Biden campaign tells CNN it will draw sharp distinctions with Trump and earn the support of voters concerned about their rights, their pocketbooks, and our democracy. NORMAN CLEMENT, FOUNDER, DETROIT CHANGE INITIATIVE: We are not happy

with Biden, but we understand that the other option is not an option that's favorable to us.

ZELENY (voice over): Norman Clement said voters are eager to hear what Biden would do in a second term, not simply what he's done or tried to do.

ZELENY (on camera): Are you more worried about people voting for Trump or more worried about young voters and others not voting at all?

CLEMENT: I'm worried about the protest vote. My message to them is that we did that in 2016, we held our vote. Folks didn't come out.


ZELENY (on camera): Now, the Biden campaign, of course is well-aware of all these challenges, and they say they will fight to earn the support of Michigan voters and others, of course, not just simply asked for the vote.

But talking to these voters from various demographic groups, young voters, in particular Black voters as well, it is clear the president has some work to do.

Of course, that's one of the reasons he spent a significant amount of time here in Detroit yesterday, but one wildcard different from the 2020 campaign is that anger in the Arab-American community.

So certainly Michigan at the center of that blue wall, and the blue wall determines if President Biden goes back to the White House -- Erica and Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, something the Biden team is very, very aware of.

Jeff Zeleny on the trail for us. Thank you.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Today, we could get our first look at the Senate border deal that House Republicans say is dead on arrival. One Democrat blames it on the GOP's loyalty to Donald Trump.


REP. ROB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): You all are obsessed with the border because you bend the knee to the orange Jesus.


HILL: Congressman Rob Menendez will join us next.

MATTINGLY: And man we're watching another powerful storm that could barrel into California this weekend. Forecasters warning life- threatening flooding could hit central and southern California with up to a foot of rain. Previous storms have already saturated some areas, yesterday, it submerged vehicles.

The state says it has hundreds of firefighters on standby and two million sandbags positioned across the state.

We'll be right back.



HILL: This morning on Capitol Hill, we could see details of that long- awaited bipartisan border deal.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says the text will be released no later than Sunday. Speaker Mike Johnson, however, is vowing to tank any deal sent to the House arguing it doesn't do enough to secure the border. Democrats say the real reason for that is because Donald Trump told Republicans to kill it so that it wouldn't help President Biden's re-election campaign.

House Republicans have now instead been pushing toward impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. That effort drawing a final rebuke earlier this week from New Jersey Democrat Menendez.


MENENDEZ: With the global dynamic that we have, we have not lived up to our oversight obligation here on this committee because you all are obsessed with the border, because you bend the knee to the orange Jesus as you refer to him across the aisle.

That's what this is about and we have failed --


HILL: And Congressman Menendez joins us now in studio. He's also the son of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez.

Nice to have you with us in the studio. We heard your criticism there, right? We saw those comments getting a fair amount of pick up.

You're not the only person to criticize what's happening there when it comes specifically to immigration. We heard from Ken Buck -- Congressman Ken Buck saying he's a solid no on impeaching Mayorkas, saying his colleagues have failed to show evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors, but "The Wall Street Journal" Editorial Board saying, hey, your efforts will be better served in dealing with the border.

That said, things are moving. How concerned are you about this impeachment moving forward?

MENENDEZ: Well, it's a sham impeachment. It sets a terrible precedent for our institution. You can have policy disagreements, and that's part of the function of operating with the executive branch.

But Republicans know this is a political issue that plays well for their base, and so they are trying to maximize their efforts to use it as a political foil against the Biden administration, instead of dealing with the issue that we have and that we need to address. HILL: And so that's how -- they'll just continue to play out that way.

MENENDEZ: Absolutely.

HILL: Simply politics.

MENENDEZ: They're going to try to extract as much in the situation as possible. So they need to impeach Mayorkas so they can make Trump look strong on the border. That's what this is about. They're trying to tear public officials down so they make Trump seem more appealable and stronger on issues that matter to all Americans instead of working with Democrats, instead of working with the administration to come up with real solutions, that's what we were sent to Washington to do. They have no interest in doing that.

HILL: So when we look at where things stand on this immigration deal, in terms of working together, there has been GOP criticism as we know, and yet they're not the only ones criticizing it, you have Democrats who are saying, hey, this goes a little bit too far and just to be specific on that, Illinois Democrat, Delia Ramirez says it is dangerous, this compromise; out of California, Nanette Barragan saying the deal with setback real comprehensive immigration reform by 10 to 15 years. Is any of that Democratic criticism of this deal warranted?

MENENDEZ: Well, first, we haven't seen the full text, but from what we've heard, absolutely.

We need to get a better control of the border, but giving up on immigration policy without a guarantee it will do anything to change the dynamic at the border should be a nonstarter.

If you look at the supplemental, that was a real effort by the Biden administration to make improvements at the border and situations at the border, that wasn't enough for Republicans. Then we have the bipartisan negotiations out of the Senate, now, that's not enough for Republicans.

And if you look at HR 2, HR 2 is an inhumane approach to the border. It would lead to lives being lost on American soil because you wouldn't let NGOs do their job to help people who are in need. So yes, there's things that are really problematic.

We can't sacrifice who we are as a country as a nation of immigrants to satisfy Republicans who will never be satisfied on the border because they view it as a political win for themselves.

HILL: We're waiting on the text, right?

MENENDEZ: That's right.

HILL: As you noted. Based on what you know now, though, where would you stand?

MENENDEZ: We want to address this situation in a really thoughtful way. If there's bipartisan support for it, we will give it due consideration. If we change our immigration policies for the next 10 to 15 years to satisfy Republicans, that's going to be hard to accept.

HILL: That sounds like you have real reservations.


HILL: All right, you're not a no because you haven't seen the text, but it sounds like you're leaning that way.

MENENDEZ: That's right. I would like to see the text and the Hispanic Caucus has put out a set of principles that we'd like to see as part of our immigration policy, that includes addressing the border, so it is not just about how we bring people out of the shadows, how we protect DREAMers, it is a more comprehensive approach.