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Haley Stays In Race After SC Setback, Koch Network Cash Cut; Biden Calls Top Congressional Leaders To White House; Trump To Black Voters: You "Embraced" My Mug Shot. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 26, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we've got a live look at the Washington Monument and the Capitol behind me. Thank you very much for being up with us this morning. I'm Kasie Hunt.

Things just went from bad to worse for Nikki Haley on the eve of the Michigan primary. Fresh off of her loss in her home state of South Carolina, one of Haley's biggest backers has cut her off. The Koch network is officially suspending their financial support for the Haley campaign. Still, she remains determined to stay in the race.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can't have a candidate who is going to win a primary who can't win a general. You look at those first early states. They can say Donald Trump won -- I give him that -- but he, as a Republican incumbent, didn't get 40 percent of the vote of the primary.


HUNT: It's not really clear how much longer Haley can go on. If she does drop out where will voters turn? And what does she do about the question of whether she should endorse Donald Trump?

Axios publisher Nicholas Johnston is here with us on set. Nic, good morning. It's wonderful to see you.

NICHOLAS JOHNSTON, PUBLISHER, AXIOS: Good morning. It's great to be on set this --

HUNT: I know. After so many years of seeing your family --

JOHNSTON: Exactly.

HUNT: -- menus behind your chalkboard at home.

Look, let's talk about the future here for Haley. I mean, the Koch money is obviously important but that --


HUNT: -- organization is particularly critical ahead of something like Super Tuesday. That said, she's got a point. Forty percent of the party is not voting for Donald Trump.


HUNT: Where do they go?

JOHNSTON: I mean, the Koch money wasn't all the money. Like, she raised $13 million in January. As long as small donors are still funding her money -- it's not running a massive campaign. She could probably stay in indefinitely just with angry Democrats sending her money.

So I think it's a real open question as to how long she'll stay in. She has not made any hints of saying when she will drop out. She's been very committed as far as like look, we're going to go with this to the very end.

What is interesting to me is look at the rhetoric that surrounds both of the campaigns as we get closer to a possible endgame as Donald Trump begins to dial down those attacks after each of his wins. That may try and leave an opening for, like, Nikki to leave, and maybe good graces. If Nikki Haley begins to talk a little less differently about the former president, is that an opening to maybe a graceful exit? Of course, we don't know.

HUNT: Well -- I mean, look -- I mean, she can -- I feel like the anger from the Trump side is pretty intense toward Nikki Haley.

JOHNSTON: Right. Oh, absolutely.

HUNT: Like, I struggle to see kind of a reconciliation there.

And for her -- I mean, she's so leaned into -- and I think she's found success leaning into the sort of anti-Trump. She's not -- she's not going quite as far as Liz Cheney, for sure.


HUNT: -- but she does -- and this is the part that I keep getting stuck on. She does clearly want a future in the Republican Party. It seems obvious she wants to run in 2028 and that's why this conundrum about how she handles Donald Trump is so intense. Because she's lit up these supporters --


HUNT: -- by attacking him. He can't give that up.

JOHNSTON: Yeah, but she's not -- this is not -- she's not the first person to navigate this issue. We've been covering Trump for how many years now and how many candidates have we written about it and we've covered on television who have gone after President Trump in very personal ways. Who have been attacked by former President Trump in very personal ways.

Every single one of them -- almost to a man, except for maybe Chris Christie -- have eventually gotten on board and said Trump is the man to lead the party. Trump is the man to be the next president.

So, will Nikki Haley follow that exact same path? I've learned the hard way never rule anything out when dealing with Donald Trump.

HUNT: Well, that is true. I mean, I -- that is definitely a lesson I agree with you. I also -- I also have learned -- I mean, it is remarks. Just look at what Ted Cruz went through and now he is --

JOHNSTON: Exactly. Exactly.

HUNT: -- his -- he didn't endorse either but now look at him.

I mean, I guess the one thing that, for Haley, going forward is, like, what happens to -- and let me show you kind of how she put it, right --


HUNT: -- in talking about the 40 percent of people that backed her and what would be necessary to get them --


HUNT: -- on board. Take a look. This was her yesterday -- watch.



HALEY: The issue at hand is he's not going to get the 40 percent if he's going and calling out my supporters and saying they're barred permanently from MAGA. He's not going to get the 40 percent by calling them names. He's not going to get the 40 percent by trying to take over the RNC so that it pays all his legal fees.


HUNT: She has a point there, right? But I do take your point also. I mean, he does seem to have listened to his advisers much more. I mean, they put him out on stage before Haley even had a chance to --


HUNT: -- speak so he couldn't even really react to her. It seemed like the stuff that came out after her speech was a little bit angrier. But, you're right. He did stay on message.

Is that going to save him?

JOHNSTON: This is the $64,000 question of the entire election. Remember, Donald Trump won narrowly in 2016. He lost in 2020. Is he behaving in a way and he's running a campaign that can add votes to that tally?

And what Nikki Haley is saying, and I think it's a very valid point, is that he's not. And that there is a base for him and that he will not go above that. And if he can't go above that, then Joe Biden will be reelected and Nikki Haley is the only person who can expand the base.

HUNT: I mean, we've talked a lot and obviously, Trump romped in South Carolina.


HUNT: I'm not trying to take away from that. However, there do seem to be some warning signs in that exit polling data about the number of people who voted for Haley who said that they wouldn't vote for Trump. About that 30 percent who say if he's convicted of something that would be a problem --


HUNT: -- for them. I mean, what did you see?

JOHNSTON: Oh, 100 percent. Like, I view this interestingly -- is that if you view Donald Trump as a challenger, then, of course, he's on a -- on a barnstorming tour. He's won the first four states and no candidate has ever done that as a new candidate.

But if you view him as an incumbent, which you kind of can, he says he won the last election.

HUNT: Yeah, you absolutely can -- yeah

JOHNSTON: He'd been running as an incumbent. He's taking over the RNC. As an incumbent president, these numbers are disastrous.

If Joe Biden had gone into South Carolina in a challenge primary and only won 60 percent of that, we'd be going crazy here in Washington.

HUNT: And rightfully so.

JOHNSTON: Exactly -- wall-to-wall coverage. And so I think through that prism -- and I think that's what the Haley campaign is trying to emphasize that he's not as strong as you think he is.

HUNT: Yeah.

All right, Nic Johnston of Axios. Thanks very much for being here.

JOHNSTON: It's great to be here.

HUNT: Come back soon.

All right. Up next here, President Biden is going to meet with top congressional leaders at the White House tomorrow to try and push Congress to pass additional aid for Ukraine and avoid a government shutdown after congressional leaders failed to reach a deal to keep the government running last Friday.

All of this as concerns continue to mount about the consequences of inaction in Ukraine.


REP. BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R-PA): Ukraine is weeks away from giving up significant ground and we cannot allow Russia to win. So what we are doing is adding an additional pressure point to get a bill to the floor that has bipartisan support in the House.


HUNT: All right. Joining me now is congressional reporter for the Associated Press, Farnoush Amiri. Farnoush, good morning. Good to see you.

Let's start with what Brian Fitzpatrick said there. Now, why is Brian Fitzpatrick so important? He has been leading, along with Democrats, this effort to try to build a bipartisan alternative that they could potentially force onto the House floor over the objections of House leadership to try move quickly to get aid to Ukraine.

How realistic do you think this is? I mean, he appeared with one of his Democratic colleagues, Jared Golden, saying they are going to try to rush this -- this bipartisan. And it would have border money and policy changes in it, too. Do you see it happening?

FARNOUSH AMIRI, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I mean, normally -- and there's a -- if you look back there is a reason that discharge petitions have not been discussed more or reported on, mainly because they rarely go beyond even making it to 218, which is the required number of signatures to get on the floor, let alone passing when it gets on the floor.

But in this case, as Brian Fitzpatrick told CBS, he and the -- and Jared Golden and other centrist members of Congress have talked to the parliamentarian. Have gotten her -- the parliamentarian to go down from the 30-day requisite needed before it can write and come to the floor to seven days, which really changes the dynamic in this urgency that they're trying to portray.

And I think it's interesting if they can get 218 votes, but I would also just go back to the history of discharge petitions. The fact that they have not been successful in the past.

HUNT: They very rarely happen.

AMIRI: Yeah.

HUNT: I think you've got to go back to 2015 -- Charlie Dent. The very obscure kind of policy to even --

AMIRI: Or the minimum wage effort -- raise Democrats to raise the minimum wage. That also failed.

HUNT: Right, for sure.

So, Farnoush, one of the things that Democrats have been trying to do over the last couple of days is to really emphasize that the House Speaker is kind of at the fulcrum of history right now in how he decides to do this.

This was Sen. Chris Van Hollen over the weekend -- watch.


SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): So, the question is whether Speaker Johnson wants to be complicit in giving Putin a victory -- a win at this historic moment or not. And I do continue to have confidence that at the end of the day, the House will do the right thing. That enough members of the House will demand a vote because of this historic moment.



HUNT: How is Speaker Johnson -- I mean, he's a rookie in this job. I mean, how's he going to receive these kind of conflicting messages? Because he's got, on the one hand -- and Jake Sullivan was a little more positive in how he talked about it. He said Mr. Speaker, you can bend history if you want to -- against people who in his own party who are going to try to kick him out of the job. Who say that they're going to try to do to him what they did to Kevin McCarthy if he goes forward with this.

AMIRI: Yeah. I mean, the dynamics at play for Johnson are really similar for McCarthy. But the only benefit that he appears to have is that they saw what a dragged-out and, honestly, embarrassing process it was to remove McCarthy and to replace him.

And I think the fact that we're in an election year and the fact that Johnson is one of the more far-right speakers that the House has ever had, Republicans, including conservatives, are not willing to let go of the guy that they finally were able to prop up in this high post for something that they know they're going to have to let go of.

And I think, like, Johnson has done this before. He's had to make deals with Democrats and he turned out fine. I'm not as worried about his ability to stay in the job but I think it's really interesting to see what kind of deal he makes because he has said no more CRs. And he said that last time and he did it --

HUNT: Right.

AMIRI: -- and this time he's saying it again. But what deal he makes with Democrats in the last minute will be really interesting to see.

HUNT: Right. And, of course, Friday.


HUNT: They may or may not ruin your weekend as the --

AMIRI: Probably will.

HUNT: All right, Farnoush Amiri. Thank you very much --

AMIRI: Thank you.

HUNT: -- for being here today.

All right. Coming up at the top of the hour, Sen. Joe Manchin joins us live. Does Nikki Haley look like a third-party candidate?

And next, Donald Trump under fire for comments like this.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've all seen the mug shot. And you know who embraced it more than anybody else? The Black population.




TRUMP: We've all seen the mug shot. And you know who embraced it more than anybody else? The Black population. It's incredible. You see Black people walking around with my mug shot. You know, they do shirts. And I got indicted a second time, and a third time, and a fourth time. And a lot of people said that that's why the Black people like me because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against. And they actually viewed me as I'm being discriminated against.


HUNT: Former President Donald Trump under fire for those remarks at the Black Conservative Federation's gala in Columbia, South Carolina on Friday night. That was just hours before polls opened in that state's Republican primary. Trump went on to win there by double- digits but he did face criticism from his opponents over those comments.

The Biden campaign, in a statement, called them, quote, "shameful" and "racist: -- writing, quote, "Trump wants to take us backwards."

And his remaining Republican challenger, Nikki Haley, responded this way.


HALEY: It's disgusting, but that's what happens when he goes off the teleprompter. That's the chaos that comes with Donald Trump. That's the offensiveness that's going to happen every day between now and the general election, which is why I continue to say Donald Trump cannot win a general election.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in CNN political reporter Alayna Treene who covers Donald Trump for us.

Alayna, let me show you what Congressman Byron Donalds -- he's one of Trump's biggest supporters, honestly, in the Congress. He was on "MEET THE PRESS" over the weekend basically defending President Trump. Let's watch.


REP. BYRON DONALDS (R-FL): This is political persecution from the Department of Justice and from radical D.A.s throughout our country. This is something similar that Black people had to deal with, with the justice system themselves. What Americans don't want to see, especially Black Americans and anybody else -- they don't want to see a politicized Justice Department.


HUNT: So he, of course, made that again about Trump's focus on the Justice Department.

But I will say -- I'm curious -- your reporting -- Donald Trump has been very focused on trying to increase his support with Black voters, especially with Black men. I mean, is that what's going on here? What's your reporting telling you?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Yes, that's exactly what was going on there. And I mean, obviously, he was speaking to an audience where he thought that those remarks would land better. I think there's questions about that.

But the Black vote and trying to target Black voters is key to Donald Trump's campaign, especially as they are pivoting even more in earnest now after South Carolina, to a general election. They recognize that the general election is not going to be in the bag, unlike in the primaries where he was overwhelmingly the favorite in essentially every contest.

They know that it's an uphill battle against Joe Biden ahead of November. And because of that, they really want to chip away at his support with these key coalitions -- with these key different demographics, and the Black vote is one of them. And they very much -- know from my conversations, I don't think they form -- like, formally have their full plan yet on how to do that.

I think this rhetoric was some of Donald Trump speaking off the cuff; some of his team also prepping some of these remarks. They're still figuring out how they're going to try to court them and chip away at Biden's support, but they see that as crucial to helping them in a general against Joe Biden.

HUNT: Do you know -- I mean, do you know from your reporting which of those remarks were off the cuff and which were intended? I mean, where -- because, I mean, Haley does kind of have a point, right, that you never know what you're going to get when Donald Trump goes off the teleprompter. And from a strictly, like, political win elections perspective -- like, that's not great for the Republicans.

TREENE: Right. The ones that are a little bit more controversial where the ones I believe that Donald Trump was speaking not using the teleprompter.


And listen, this is something that his campaign also recognizes that they'll never be able to really change. Donald Trump will always be Donald Trump.

I know that even on Saturday when he was going to take the stage and give his victory speech in South Carolina, his team had repeatedly told him do not attack Nikki Haley. Do not attack Nikki Haley, and he didn't. He ultimately did not even mention her name. But they had no idea when he got up on stage whether or not he was going to.

And we saw in New Hampshire they didn't want him to go after her the way he did and, of course, he very sharply criticized her.

So that's going to be -- continue to be something that his campaign deals with even though, as they are saying, we need to shift to a general election. We want to leave Nikki Haley behind. They're encouraging Donald Trump to ignore her. They never can really control him. He's going to do what he wants to do.

And he loves speaking off the cuff at these events. They -- he feels like he's in a room with people -- all of his supporters. He feels emboldened by that. And I think you're going to continue to hear this type of rhetoric regardless of what his campaign tries to get him to do.

HUNT: For sure.

Let's talk -- let's flip this around and talk about -- I mean, you mentioned -- there is, for Democrats, a potential coalition problem, right?

And we can put the number of Gallup polling party affiliation among Black voters up on the screen here. In 2020, 77 percent Democrat, 11 percent Republicans. But then you look at a 2023 and that's changing, and it's not in Democrats' favor.

We're about to head to Michigan. Their primary is tomorrow.

TREENE: Um-hum.

HUNT: On both, honestly, the Democratic primary, in some ways, more interesting because of Arab-American voters. But it does seem to me that it's a state like Michigan where these changes in Black voting patterns could actually really impact the general election. Because just to remind everyone, Trump won Michigan in 2016 -- TREENE: Um-hum.

HUNT: -- barely, but he did win. And then Biden won it in 2020.

What's your sense of how the Biden campaign is going to look at this heading into '24.? I guess we are in '24.

TREENE: Yeah. I think that's, as well, something that the Biden campaign is still working on. I mean, this is going to be where a lot of these crucial races are fought. I think if you look at the battleground states, that both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are looking at and know they need to win -- places like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, as you mentioned. They are all places that are going to be very tough and we've seen go for Donald Trump in the past and go for Biden in 2020.

And I do believe that not just Black voters but Hispanic voters -- I know Donald Trump in Michigan, you mentioned, going really hard after the working-class voters and union voters that Biden has. That is where they believe the race will be won.

I think the issue is that even though both candidates have really been using their rhetoric from a general campaign perspective for weeks, their campaigns haven't necessarily built out the infrastructure for the general yet. So I think we're still waiting to see how they'll do that.

HUNT: All right, Alayna Treene for us. Alayna, thank you very much --

TREENE: Thank you.

HUNT: -- for being here.

All right, time now for sports.

Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark closing in on history as she tries to become the NCAA's all-time leading scorer.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Coy, good morning.


Caitlin Clark has shot her way within striking distance of the all- time scoring record set by Pete Maravich way back in 1970. He did this in just three seasons at LSU. Three thousand six hundred sixty-seven points is the goal and Caitlin Clark is so good that even when she scores 24 points, like she did in the Hawkeyes' win against Illinois yesterday, some consider it an off day.

And Clark, so much more than just a shooter, notching 15 rebounds and 10 assists, marking her 16th career triple-double. That's the second- most all-time behind Sabrina Ionescu.

So, Clark now needs just 51 points to pass Pistol Pete with two regular seasons to go, including the season finale. That's Sunday against number two Ohio State. Messi Mania alive and well and just as magical in season two for Miami

trailing one-nil in stoppage time to the L.A. Galaxy. The 36-year-old superstar playing tic-tac-toe with Jordi Alba before burying his first goal of the season to pull off a 1-1 draw.

And check him out, going three wide around the final turn. Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, and Kyle Busch in an epic three-way photo finish. Suarez edging Blaney in Atlanta by three one-thousandths of a second. It's the third-closest finish between first and second place in NASCAR Cup Series history. That's about 30 times quicker than the blink of an eye, Kasie.

From fast cars to a classic car. Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios returning to the rink in an old school Caddy as his hometown Chicago Blackhawks retire his jersey. But he wasn't the only one making a return to the shot (PH). Three-time Stanley Cup champ Patrick Kane back in the Windy City to face his former team for the first time since being traded away last year.

Listen to this.


Standing ovation from Blackhawks fans.


WIRE: The standing ovation lasted more than a minute. And despite now playing for the biggest rival, Kane getting another massive cheer when he scored the game-winner in overtime, giving the Red Wings a 3-2 win.


Finally, an accomplishment fit for a movie script. Twenty-nine-year- old Jake Knapp getting a win on the PGA Tour less than two years after working as a bouncer at a nightclub to make ends meet, finishing 19- under at the Mexico Open. He earns a cool $1.45 million.

And check out his family back in California, cheering as he tapped in the winner. And his girlfriend, total shock, rushing to give him a hug.

From bouncing at a club to swinging the clubs, Knapp says this is unforgettable.


PATRICK KNAPP, FIRST CAREER PGA TOUR WIN: When I have all these people ask me for autographs and pictures, and questions, and podcasts, and all that stuff it's like -- it's hilarious to think two years ago I was working security at a bar and it was -- it was a much different scenario in my life. So, I'll never -- I'll never forget this -- I mean, for the rest of my life, this will be my first win on the PGA Tour. Whether it's my first one and only one that I ever have or it's the first of many, this will always be one that I'll remember. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: To make this one even sweeter, Knapp gets an invitation to play at Augusta National in just over a month from now, Kasie.

HUNT: Oh, Coy -- that's just amazing.

WIRE: He is.

HUNT: Congratulations to him. Really wonderful.

And thank you, Coy, for being with us. I'll see you tomorrow.

WIRE: You got it.

HUNT: All right. Coming up here, flashing warning signs for Donald Trump even after a double-digit victory in South Carolina. Plus, ace campaign guru David Axelrod joins us to answer our burning questions. It's a new feature we're calling Ask Axe Anything.

We'll be back in just a moment.