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U.S. Strikes Iranian-Linked Militia Targets In Iraq And Syria; U.S. Confirms Strikes On 85 Targets In Iraq And Syria; Polls Open For Democratic Primary In South Carolina; Nikki Haley Pushes For Competitive Race In Home State Of S.C. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired February 03, 2024 - 07:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thank you for joining us. It is Saturday, February 3rd. I'm Victor Blackwell.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Amaral Walker. We begin this morning with new developments out of Syria and Iraq after U.S. airstrikes Friday. Iraqi officials say at least 16 people were killed in those strikes. The Syrian military says the airstrikes caused "significant" damage to public and private property killing civilians as well as military personnel. Though CNN cannot independently verify this claim.

BLACKWELL: The Pentagon says bombers hit 85 individual targets used by Iran-backed militias and Iran's own revolutionary guard. The strikes are in retaliation for the deaths of three American soldiers killed in a drone attack in Jordan almost a week ago. President Biden says, the launch of airstrikes on carried out in Syria and Iraq are only the start of operations.

Look at this video. This is from what appears to be one of those strikes in Iraq earlier this morning. The mayor of this town says that strikes hit houses used for weapons storage. Iraqi military officials condemned the strikes as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

Team coverage now, CNN's Ben Wedeman, Nic Robertson, Kevin Liptak are with us. We're starting though with Katie Bo Lillis. The U.S. hit dozens of targets in both Iraq and Syria, and actually, the statement came out at the 4:00 p.m. Eastern hour yesterday after those strikes were carried out.

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, the U.S. military is striking a variety of different targets, 85 different targets associated or used by these Iranian-backed militia groups, as well as Iranian personnel themselves in Iraq and Syria, targets that included everything from rockets and missiles and other munitions stores to intelligence centers to command and control hubs, as well as logistic centers as well.

Now, the U.S. military, in the coming hours and days, will be doing what's known as a battle damage assessment, trying to use their intelligence capabilities to independently confirm as much as they can the level of damage that they were able to exact on these militia groups, as well as the number of casualties. The Iraqi government saying that 16 people have been killed, including civilians.

But again, we will await sort of the U.S.'s own assessment as well about the level of damage that they were able to, that they were able exact here and the number of casualties to include potential civilian casualties. The U.S. military up until now, of course, has said that they hit everything that they intended to hit.

What I think is important and what's significant to note here, Victor, is that the United States in these airstrikes targeted not only these Iran-backed militias that have carried out not just the deadly strike that killed three Americans at an outpost in Jordan last week, but more than 160 attacks on U.S. personnel across Iraq and Syria since the onset of the Israel-Hamas conflict in October. The U.S. also targeted here Iranian personnel who were operating co-located at times with these Iranian-backed militia groups.

This is an escalation from previous retaliatory strikes that the U.S. has done. This is the Biden administration trying to send a very clear signal to Iran about the support it provides these groups that are carrying out these attacks. Essentially, cut it out. We will watch and see whether or not it works. Victor.

WALKER: All right, Katie Bo Lillis, thank you very much. Obviously, a very delicate balance for the Biden administration. Let's go now to CNN Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman. Ben, we just heard moments ago from both Iran and Iraq condemning the strikes. What are they saying?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Iranians have said that these attacks are a violation of the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Iraq and Syria. The Iraqis have also said, as you mentioned, that it's unacceptable. They've called, they summoned the American Charge d'Affaires to the Iran, the Iraqi foreign ministry to submit an official protest.

At the same time, of course, the Iraqis are hosting 2500 American forces there so they're sort of talking out of both sides of their mouths, nonetheless it's clear that this, there is concern among many friends and foes of the United States that these strikes will exacerbate the tensions.

There are already five major active flashpoints in the Middle East, the Gaza war, plus the border between Lebanon, and Israel, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. And therefore, this first wave of strikes by the United States, many fear will make the situation even worse. Now, the United States has made it clear it's not going to strike Iran. It's focusing on these facilities in Syria and Iraq and perhaps down the line.


Also, again, the Houthis in Yemen, but at the end of the day, the consensus among diplomats and officials I've spoken to in the region is that the real key to reducing the tensions, to calming the waters, so to speak, is for the United States to finally get around to pressing Israel to end its war in Gaza. That would contribute greatly to a lessening of tension and certainly of violence. Amara.

BLACKWELL: I'll take it. Ben Wedeman for us there. Thanks so much. Let's go now to Wilmington, Delaware, where President Biden is spending at least part of this weekend. And CNN Senior White House Reporter Kevin Liptak is there. Kevin, what's the president saying about what Americans should expect will happen next, the next phase of this retaliation?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, American officials from President Biden on down are making clear that this was just the opening salvo. And really, in the days leading up to these strikes, we heard from officials that this would be a multi-phase response. It could last weeks, potentially months. And in this statement last night, President Biden said that this was not the end of the American reprisal.

He said, "Our response began today, it will continue at times and places of our choosing." And I think it's notable he said times and places plural. The president goes on to say, "The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world but let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond."

Now, what the next phase of this response looks like isn't exactly clear, and American officials are understandably reticent about describing in exact detail what we might see next. Of course, they will want to do that battle assessment on the ground to calibrate their response going forward, and certainly they will look to the response in the region as well as they decide how to proceed.

There are a number of other factors as well that could dictate the timing of the next phase, including the weather. And I think it was interesting listening to officials last night describing how much the weather played a role in the timing of this first phase. Officials looking for clear skies to ensure that they saw the targets and didn't have any unintended casualties.

It was notable because there was a significant gap between when President Biden approved these strikes and actually told us that he had decided how to respond and when we actually saw the response begin. But at the end of the day, this does move the United States, President Biden and his administration into a new phase of how they were managing this conflict.

He is trying to strike a balance here, trying to deter these groups, trying to prevent a wider war in the region, and also trying not to upend these very delicate negotiations to try and secure the release of hostages in Gaza and secure a prolonged pause in the fighting. President Biden certainly very mindful of not taking steps that would upend those very delicate, fragile negotiations. But certainly, this is now moving into a new, very delicate phase and President Biden certainly watching all of this very carefully going forward guys.

WALKER: Certainly, a tense time. Kevin Liptak, thank you very much. Back with me now is CNN's Nic Robertson in Tel Aviv and joining us as well, CNN Military Analyst, Retired Lieutenant General, Mark Hertling. Welcome to you both.

General, let's start with you. First off, I wanted to get your reaction to these attacks, this first round, and also just your take on what Ben Wedeman was reporting about how many in the region are concerned that this first round of retaliatory strikes by the U.S. could just inflame the situation further, make things worse.

GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I'm not sure I agree completely with Ben, Amara. What I'd say is these strikes against US forces have been going on long before the Israeli war started. So, it isn't just a direct response to what's happening in Gaza. There have been, we've counted 160 strikes since the, 160 plus strikes since the war in Gaza began, but there was an awful lot of strikes by PMF, the Iranian groups, the proxy groups, before that.

In fact, for decades. I was in Iraq in 2008 and was experiencing strikes from these groups. So, what you have to consider is what the President is saying. If our soldiers or our military personnel are invited into a country like they are in Iraq, or if there is an interruption in international shipping, like what's going on with the Houthis, in the Red Sea, in the Gulf of Aden, we are going to strike back. That's what's occurred.

It's gotten to a breaking point right now. And I think last night's strike was just the beginning, as so many have already said, of a longer campaign to strike not only the Popular Immobilization Front groups, but potentially the Houthis, and I expect that we'll see more strikes today. As concerns the weather, yes, it is very important to see the targets, but truthfully, these are all weather aircraft. They can strike at any time in any kind of weather.


The important part of the weather considerations is for the battle, the bomb damage assessment that occurs afterwards. Did we hit what we were aiming at? Did we strike what we meant to strike? What kind of damage occurred at those locations? I'm sure as the sun rises this morning, you've got satellites overhead assessing that kind of damage and saying, where do we go next? What kind of things are occurring in the area and what kind of targets should we consider off of our target list, which is probably well prepared and well planned.

WALKER: It makes sense that they consider the weather to get a literally a clear picture of the aftermath of the strikes. Nic, what is your sense of what happens next in terms of the response there in the region? We're already hearing from Iran, Iraq, Syria, the condemnation pouring in, then what?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the Iranians, no surprise, are saying this is a strategic mistake by the United States and it destabilizes the region. I think the Iranians, like President Biden and the White House and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, will be very aware of the enduring problem here. Since October 7th, it's become very clear how Iran uses its proxies in the region.

It was very clear to people in the region prior to that, but it's become strongly evident now, particularly with the Houthis, particularly what we're seeing with these militias in Iraq and Syria. So, the enduring problem is going to be what happens to, what happens to deal with Iran going forward, if we remember back to when that Iran nuclear deal was being constructed.

It wasn't just to stop Iran building nuclear weapons, but it was also to constrain what was widely described as its destabilizing influence in the region. And we're witnessing that destabilizing influence. So, Iran over the past 20 years has really built a strong network of proxies, and that will be the enduring issue.

And that will be understood in Tehran too. They know that the United States sees this. They know that, they understand that the United States understands that Iran is willing to use these proxies to disrupt shipping in the Red Sea or put pressure on its forces in Iraq and Syria. So, the enduring question becomes what does happen next? How do you deal with that long term?

And of course, everyone is walking on eggshells at the moment because of the concern about escalation with the war in Gaza, but this enduring issue isn't going away. Tehran will understand and will find its ways to respond to the United States to continue to try to put its pressure. The leadership in Iran isn't going to change its view, hasn't changed its view, doubles down, doubles down, doubles down. So, we're in that cycle at the moment.

WALKER: Yes, yes. So, then, on that point, General, I mean, is it feasible then to send a strong message or to deter future attacks by these Iran-backed militias in the future, especially when, you know, Biden has repeatedly said he does not want a wider war in the region, no conflict in the Middle East, but tactically there will be limitations if he wants to avoid a regional war.

HERTLING: Yes, certainly, Amara. One of the things that these strikes are doing is not only deterring future attacks but destroying the capability for conducting current attacks. You're not going to get everything. The popular mobilization fronts, as I've said so many times, they are like gangs.

We can name a few of them, the larger ones like Kata'ib Hezbollah, but there are literally dozens of these kind of popular mobilization front forces all across Syria, inside of Iraq, and in other locations. So, these strikes will certainly be consequential for many of them, but certainly we're going to see as soon as the strike ends, we're probably going to see another missile strike by one of these groups, another potential drone launch, but it won't be as significant in the future.

We used to have an expression where, you know, another car bomb doesn't necessarily mean that the forces have regenerated, but there is that capability. You're going to see a reduction in their capability to strike as these attacks by the United States go on. Again, don't know how long they're going to go on. But certainly, you know, it's taking out, it's destroying some of their key capabilities. And at the same time, telling them, hey, you are within the sights. You're in the target picture. We're coming after you next. [07:15:26]

And I think right now many of those groups are thinking, OK, a lot of strikes occurred last night, over a hundred of them. Who's going to be hit next? And if they're trying to move around, like some have said that they're trying to do, that we've given them too much of a warning, there's not a whole lot of places they can move.

And we continue to see where they're going. So, we can, the United States can track these forces as they move around the battlefield, but you can't move some of the arms caches and the rocket launch facilities and the drone production facilities. Those can be struck even as the forces move around.

WALKER: We'll leave the conversation there. General Mark Hertling, and Nic Robertson, great to have you both. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Still ahead, South Carolina's Democratic primary is today. What can the Biden campaign learn from a contest without a significant challenger.

Plus, a jury will soon decide whether the mother of a school shooter in Michigan should also go to prison for her son's crime.



BLACKWELL: The polls are now open in South Carolina for its new first in the nation, Democratic primary. It's the first time this cycle that delegates will be awarded for Democrats and 55 delegates are at stake.

WALKER: Nikki Haley will be in South Carolina this weekend, but President Biden will be on the other side of the country wooing donors in Los Angeles. Biden is expected to win despite Representative Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson being on the ballot.

CNN National Politics Correspondent, Eva McKend is at a polling location in South Carolina. Hi there, Eva. So, what are you hearing from voters across the state? Obviously, the black vote will be crucial for Biden, even though we know he will win.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning to you, Victor and Amara, from Columbia. Listen, this is an early test for President Biden with perhaps the most loyal constituency in the Democratic Party, black voters. And, you know, after traveling the state this week and speaking with black voters, I would say that the reviews are really mixed.

You have some particularly, particularly low-income folks, working- class folks, with real economic anxieties, who say that their lives have not gotten any materially better, even though that they routinely vote for Democrats.

You have others that are excited about President Biden. They still give him a lot of credibility for being former President Barack Obama's vice president. And then others who take a more pragmatic approach, who are really afraid of the prospect of former President Trump returning to the White House. And they say that they don't think about elections in four and eight-year cycles, but really think about the long-term implications for our country and that's why they're going to support President Biden. Take a listen to a little bit of what these voters told us.


GABRIEL FANT, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: We need a candidate who's going to stand up and stand up strong for us, or we're voting for the couch.


MCKEND: So, South Carolina Democrats, 60 percent of whom are black, they brought President Biden's campaign back to life in 2020. That is why he fought so hard for this state to hold the first in the nation primary. And when I spoke to Democratic National Committee Chair Jamie Harrison this week, he said that they're not only going to be running against Trump, they're also going to be making an affirmative case for President Biden, talking about how they lowered the cost of insulin, student loan forgiveness, as well as a number of other issues. Polls close at 7:00, this is an early gauge of the momentum that President Biden has among black voters in this region. Victor, Amara.

BLACKWELL: Eva McKend joining us from Columbia, South Carolina. Thanks so much. Joining us now is Larry Sabato, the Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Larry, good morning to you. So, let me ask you the question that I posed as we were coming out of the last block. How much can the Biden campaign learn from the results today when it's really not a competitive race? Some people maybe support the president but aren't going to come out and vote because they know he's going to win.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well, that's exactly right. And if anything, I think too much emphasis is being put on a South Carolina primary at the beginning of February when the election is in November. Now, can you learn some things? Of course, you want to see what the overall turnout is.

You certainly want to see if there's a protest vote of any kind, because the President does have challenges, although I must say, even though some polls are showing 60 percent support or so among black voters, I guarantee you just from history, it's going to be upper 80s to lower 90s by the fall. And now, that's because they're going to do the work necessary to make sure it's the upper 80s and lower 90s. Plus, the economy is improving and over those nine months that will have a direct effect on black voters and for that matter voters of all stripes and colors.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and, and the additional element here is that the likely opponent will be the former president Donald Trump, and we know how former president Trump rates with black voters and as our polls show the new CNN poll shows that that is actually the major motivator for a lot of people who say they will vote for Biden. They'll vote against Trump and -- and cast that vote for President Biden. Let me ask you this, another element in this new CNN National poll,

the Democrats were asked and Democratic-leaning independents were asked what's their biggest concern, if any, about President Biden going into 2024 general election? And five percent say that it is his handling of the war between Israel and Gaza. Four months into this, tens of thousands dead, we've seen all the protests. For as much as it is a political decision, is five percent enough to change U.S. policy? What's your reaction to five percent saying that this is their biggest concern?


SABATO: Well, every vote matters in general and for every election. But if you think back to 2020, even though Joe Biden won the election in the popular vote, which of course doesn't count except in individual states in America, but if you look back at that, he won the popular vote with a plurality of over 7 million. And yet, because of the electoral college, he actually won by about 42,000 votes. If they had flipped, Donald Trump would have gotten a second four-year term instead of Joe Biden winning that election.

So, every vote is important. Those five percent really matter, but there are loads of other issues that are motivating black voters. So, it's always multi-dimensional chess. That's what these great political people are paid for. And remember that the Democrats have to be worried about those independent candidates. I think more than Donald Trump, particularly with black voters, RFK Jr. They have to work on that because the name is magic with loads of Americans, but I think especially with black Americans.

WALKER: RFK Jr., about Dr. West?

SABATO: Yes, because Cornell West is not going to be on pretty ballots you have to look at where they're going to be, are they going to get on the ballots in the states that actually count because tragically American politics is now so uncompetitive that we could call forty two -- forty two states right now, you and I sitting here.

It's the seven, eight states that could actually flip that will determine the election. So, I don't think Cornel West is going to be on many ballots. RFK Jr., if he makes a deal with the Libertarians the way they're negotiating, it's possible he could be on all 50.

BLACKWELL: And again, the CNN poll found there's four points between former President Trump and President Biden just outside of the margin of error, and five percent say they're going to vote for someone else. So, that that third-party candidates certainly could be crucial here.

Let's look at the Republicans here in South Carolina. Nikki Haley, it seems to be moving the bar here of her performance. It's necessary in South Carolina to move on. Here's what she said this week.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think making sure it's a competitive race. Making sure that it looks close. If we do that, that will head us on into Michigan and Super Tuesday, and that's what we're looking for.


BLACKWELL: She says she doesn't need to win South Carolina. For as viable as her campaign is now, if it's still viable, if she doesn't win South Carolina or comes in double digits behind, what's the future look like for her heading into Super Tuesday?

SABATO: Well, I'd sum it up in one word, bleak. But look, if you can't win your home state, a state that you were governor of for six years in the not distant past, it's very difficult to explain that to people and to continue. Though, under our system, as long as she's getting money and there are a lot of donors who want to support her to send a message to Donald Trump, she can stay in the race. Nothing wrong with that.

And actually, Democrats might want to root for that because she's coming up with some very damaging lines against Donald Trump that can be used directly in the advertisements coming in the fall from President Biden and his team.

BLACKWELL: Larry Sabato, good to have you. Thank you.

SABATO: Thank you, Victor.

WALKER: Still ahead, a jury will now have to decide if the mother of a Michigan school shooter should go to prison over her son's crimes. That is next.



WALKER: In a pivotal moment -- it's a pivotal moment in a novel legal battle as a jury prepares to begin deliberating next week in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Jennifer Crumbley.

Her trial marks the first time a parent is charged due to their child's actions in a mass shooting. Now, the case captured national attention in 2021 when her son, Ethan, when he was 15 years old, shot and killed four of his classmates at Oxford high school in Michigan.

The firearm used was a Christmas gift from his parents. Crumbley's husband is set to be tried next month.

We're joined now by psychiatrist, Gail Saltz, and CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson. Good morning to you both.

Joey, let's start with you. And I did want to get your take on not just the closing statements, but Jennifer Crumbley's is testimony. And if you thought that, you know, her words strengthened the prosecution's case.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Amara, good morning to you.

I certainly think that they didn't strengthen the prosecution's case. In my view, they strengthened her case, the defense case. Why? Because she was able to put matters in context. Right?

Now, whether the jury believes what she's saying and credits it as another matter, but it's very important in a case like this, when you look at the issue of foreseeability. Was it foreseeable that this would or could occur?

Number two, was she on notice of her son's mental health maladies and issues? And number three, did she act reasonably? All that Amara, needed to be explained.

And so, if you start where this did start, which is at that drawing. Where you saw the drawing where Ethan Crumbley puts the gun and he says I want help, and he puts the blood, there called into this meeting. From her perspective, the school says hey, as we see the picture there, Amara, it's no big deal. Get him help within 48 hours. Do you want to take them home? Decisions made to leave him there, he feel better, she leaves.

That's her description of it. Right? Also, with respect to that, the school has access to the backpack, and of course, they give it back to him. Not searching or checking it.


What's the school's explanation? There was no reasonable suspicion.

Well, if there's reasonable suspicion to call the parents of the school because you're concerned about the son, wouldn't there be reasonable suspicion to check his backpack?

Just very briefly, on the issue of his mental health maladies. Her description is, I had no notice. I didn't know it looked like a regular family. There were indications at the school that he was sleeping, that things were missed, his life was a mistake. None of that communicated to her.

So, to the extent that she was able to put all these things in context, I think it could help her to the extent that the jury thinks that these are all excuses, then, it doesn't, it's a jury decision. Final, final point, and that is the makeup of the jury, I think is going to play big.

You have many mothers on the jury, you have many gun owners on the jury. And so, from their perspective, how are they processing that information? That's the big question.

WALKER: I mean, there is so many things that you laid out there that really was head shaking. Right? Especially the day of the shooting, without very disturbing picture, where he says, you know, something about his thoughts, about the thoughts, it won't stop me, and helped me.

And, of course, his mother voluntarily decided against voluntarily taking him home, even after knowing about this picture of this gun, and somebody bleeding there on the ground. Gail, to you from what we've heard, and also the text messages that were sent from Ethan to his mother or that he believed the house was haunted that there were demons there. Clearly, this was a troubled teenager. From your perspective, could the parents, prevented Ethan, from participating in this deadly shooting?

GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST: I think there were quite a few clues. And first of all, let me just start with saying, guns are the number one cause of death in children, period, the end. To buy your child a gun and not keep it safe is already, you know, a very publicly well-known risk, let's say.

From a mental health perspective, I think it's very unusual for a child to write in a journal, that they've asked their parents for help, because they are suffering in a mental health sort of way, and that their parent has refused. Who are they lying to?

You know, it's their personal journal. They told their friends. So, I guess the question will become, who do you believe? The mother or the son, in terms of having said, there's a problem. You know, if your child comes to you and says, I think I broke my leg, you know, any -- we would say, any decent parent would take the kid to the doctor.

If your kid comes to you and says, I am sad, I am struggling, I am having some very weird and scary thoughts.

Today, we would hope a parent would take a kid to a mental health professional. Either of those things could have stopped this from happening. That being said, parents make mistakes. All parents make mistakes. And it's harder with mental health for a lot of parents to accept, in their own minds that their child might be struggling with a mental health issue, and therefore, decide, of course, they need to take them to the doctor -- an appropriate doctor.


SALTZ: So, I think, you know, with a lot -- as Joey said, with a lot of mothers on this -- on this jury and a lot of gun owners, who are going to rationalize to themselves. Well, hey, I don't know if I would have done that. Because it's hard to see. It's hard to accept.



SALTZ: I don't want to accept -- I wouldn't want to accept that. That may be an issue.

WALKER: So many things fell through the cracks, right? From the parent's perspective. And also, from the school's perspective, Joey, do you think the school should face any charges?

JACKSON: Yes. Well, not charges, Amara, because that would be -- you know, somewhat dangerous and precedent setting, but certainly, lawsuits they are facing as to what steps that they could have taken.

You know, it came out a lot that the school was on notice as to what was occurring.

Now, the bigger issue, of course, is he had that as Ethan Crumbley. We know he is been -- he pled guilty, serving life without parole. The reality is, we'll see what happens with the school from a civil perspective criminally though, I think would be a bridge too far.

WALKER: All right. Joey Jackson, and Dr. Gail Saltz, great to see you both. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Coming up, Iran, Syria, and Iraq are all condemning the U.S. for its retaliatory airstrikes yesterday. President Biden is warning this is just the beginning. The latest on the strike is ahead.



BLACKWELL: Iraq, says U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria killed at least 16 people including civilians, injured 25 others. The CNN cannot independently verify those numbers, but the U.S. says the strikes targeted 85 strategic points across seven locations.

Syria is warning the U.S. that airstrikes could fuel Mideast tensions -- excuse me -- in what they called a very dangerous way.

The airstrikes were in response to a drone strike by Iran-backed militias on military base in Jordan. Now, it killed three American servicemembers and injured more than 40 people.

Some congressional Republicans are conceding they probably do not have the votes to impeach President Biden. The months long corruption investigation into the business dealings of the president and his son, Hunter Biden has turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. The official decision will come after depositions wrap up later this month.

But one House Republican tells CNN that she is willing to let the voters decide Biden's fate in November.

CNN's Melanie Zenona has more from Capitol Hill.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. Good morning, Victor and Amara.

There are serious doubts growing inside the GOP that their months long investigation into President Biden is going to wind up in impeachment.

My colleague Annie Grayer and I interviewed over a dozen Republicans for this story, including some who are close to the investigation. And what we found is that many Republicans still say that they just have not seen enough evidence yet.


These claims about President Biden, and that he profited off of his son's foreign business deals have really been at the center of the impeachment inquiry. And yet, Republicans have struggled to prove their claims.

There is also a calendar issue. A lot of Republicans are reluctant about impeaching the president as we get closer to the November election. And then there's the math problem. Republicans have a razor thin majority right now. They can only afford to you lose two Republicans on any party line votes.

And just listen to what some Republicans had to say about the impeachment inquiry. Mike Kelly said, I have seen nothing. Dan Newhouse, nobody is talking about that. David Valadao, I spent zero time on this.

And Nicole Malliotakis said, "Let the American people decide in November if they want to take this country in a different direction. I think that's probably most likely, considering the politics of the Senate."

Now, these dynamics could always change. There are a pair of high stakes depositions later this month with Hunter Biden and James Biden. That's the president's brother.

But at this point, Republicans telling us that the votes just aren't there yet. Victor and Amara.

WALKER: All right. Thank you so much, Melanie.

"FIRST OF ALL" starts at the top of the hour. What do you have coming up, Victor?

BLACKWELL: Well, we're going to start with the latest on the retaliatory strikes, that happened and the reaction to those. Then, we're going to focus on South Carolina. The new first in the nation primary for the Democrats. And we're going to speak with voters. Voters who are specifically in this group, or in the groups that President Biden is having some trouble with.

We have a college student who is with us, she is going to tell us her major concerns. Also, we have a woman fits a profile, we typically don't hear from rural American black voters. And she brings up an issue that we've not talked at all about thus far in this campaign. So, she'll engage with us about that.

And we've got a member of the campaign to follow up to tell us if and how the Biden campaign will deliver for these voters who were really not overwhelmed by the job the president's been doing.

Also, head of Iowa, we talked a lot about white evangelical voters. They are a power base in the Republican primaries, a Republican Party. That's just a small sliver of the larger evangelical group in this country.

There is a browning of evangelicalism, and many of the evangelicals have strength in the Democratic Party. So, we'll talk about the image of an evangelical in this country and the truth behind the numbers and how they vote.

Also, do you recognize this?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The soul train.


BLACKWELL: That's known as the soul train scream. That voice is of Joe Cobb. He's 80 years old, and now he is suing for back royalties. He says somebody owes his -- him some money for that.

Joe Cobb and his attorney are with us to explain their case.

WALKER: Great show kind of coming up. Thank you so much, Victor. "FIRST OF ALL," starts in just a few minutes at the top of the hour.



WALKER: An 18-year-old freshman has an eye for the record books scoring 51 points. CNN Sports Andy Scholes is here now. I mean her team scored 67. So, that means that she basically outscored the entire opposing team.



I mean, Amara, imagine like just scoring more than 75 percent of your team's points in a game.

WALKER: It's amazing.

SCHOLES: This is incredible. That's what JuJu Watkins did last night. And she was just feeling it from the start. And this one, she had it all going. She had a step back jumpers. He was knocking down shots from three. Juju like you mentioned, finished with 51 points in the Trojan 67 to 58 upset win over fourth-rank Stanford.

It was the most points in school history, the second most in a PAC 12 game ever. JuJu is the only freshman in the past 25 seasons to have a 50-point, 10 rebound game. Afterwards, she just couldn't believe it.



JUJU WATKINS, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GUARD: I'm still shaking. It was a great game. I'm just glad that we got the dub.


SCHOLES: All right. Check out the scene of the USC locker room afterwards. JuJu and her teammates jumping around. She had 51 to celebrate the achievement. And JuJu also posing for the iconic Wilt Chamberlain pick that we saw Luka Doncic and ULMB just do about a week ago holding up a piece of paper with the number 51. What a night.

All right. this week's difference maker. We feature someone very familiar with big time scoring performances in college and the WNBA New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu.

The sharp shooting guard is going to be taken on Steph Curry, NBA All Star Weekend, in a special three-point contest.

Our Coy Wire caught up with Sabrina while she was practicing with Team USA, getting ready for the Paris Games, and she credits her parents for helping her achieve her basketball dreams.


SABRINA IONESCU, NEW YORK LIBERTY GUARD: Coming from Romania, they didn't know any better. They came here spoke no English and just had to figure it out. And so, being able to watch them from a young age, just grind and find a way to make things work in America for a better life for us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With the first pick in the 2020, WNBA draft. The New York Liberty select Sabrina Ionescu from the University of Oregon.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR (voice over): Sabrina Ionescu is using her success and the lessons she's learned from her family to make an impact beyond the hardwood. Last year, she launched the SI20 Foundation to help build stronger communities.

IONESCU: A lot of these kids don't have the opportunity to have organized basketball, and I understand what it takes to be able to be surrounded by a professional basketball player. And being able to ask questions and a lot of the time it's really just they are so happy. And they smile and are so thankful for the opportunity to play. And hopefully, they can fall in love with the sport like I did and being able to do that is something that I'm really passionate about.


WIRE: What type of challenges have you seen today's youth facing when it comes to accessing the sport that you love?

IONESCU: Yes, just access, and especially, in some of these communities, parents are working long hours and being able to allow, you know, these children the opportunity to have supervision, but also just have structure and understanding what it takes to play with other kids.

Teamwork and communication is super important. So, being able to create a little bit of that in their adversity that they're facing in life is really important.

WIRE: You have talked a lot about how you watch Team USA growing up. What would it mean to you, now we're in the red, white, and blue to win a gold medal for Team USA.

IONESCU: It would be amazing being able to be a part of this from a really young age. I've started at 16 And, you know, kind of continue to grind every single year and wanting to be the best and win gold for our country.

And so, hopefully, you know, the plan is 2024 And that's what we're all here competing for, and just wanting to be the best teammate that I can be.


SCHOLES: Yes, Team USA is going to be in action starting Thursday. And Belgium, for a tune up game, as they're going to try to win their eighth straight gold medal.


WALKER: Very cool. Andy, thank you. Good to see you.

And thank you for joining us this morning.

"FIRST OF ALL" with Victor Blackwell is up next. Have a great day, everyone.