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Johnson Speakership Under Threat; Blinken Seeking Unity On Ukraine And Israel; Ohio Newspaper Editor: "There Aren't Two Sides To Facts." Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 01, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a live look at Capitol Hill on this Easter Monday morning. Good morning to you. Thanks for being up with us. I'm Kasie Hunt.

The House speaker, Mike Johnson, dismissing threats from inside his own party to try to oust him. Here's what Johnson said last night on Fox.


TREY GOWDY, FOX NEWS HOST, "SUNDAY NIGHT IN AMERICA WITH TREY GOWDY": How does this motion to vacate help win back the majority or win a bigger majority?

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): I don't think it does, and I think that all of my other Republican colleagues recognize this is a distraction from our mission. Again, the mission is to save the republic and the only way we can do that is if we grow the House majority, win the Senate, and win the White House. So we don't need any dissension right now.


HUNT: CNN is now reporting that days after Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene filed the motion that would potentially spark Johnson's removal, the speaker began strategizing what we would describe as an unlikely ally, Congressman Matt Gaetz -- the same Matt Gaetz who spearheaded the effort to oust former speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Gaetz told CNN, quote, "I gave the speaker some unsolicited advice. That we've got to get into a fighting posture. And I was very pleased with how the speaker received that advice."

Even if Gaetz is in his corner, Johnson will still have to navigate some nasty intraparty politics over Ukraine aid. Johnson telling Fox News he does expect to bring the aid package forward when Congress returns from recess.

Joining me now to discuss all of this, Punchbowl News congressional reporter Mica Soellner, and Axios congressional reporter Stephen Neukam. Thank you guys both very much for being here. Good morning to you.

Stephen, let me start with you on Majorie Taylor Greene and what's going on here. It does seem as though she has kind of -- she could have been more aggressive in how she filed this motion, right?


HUNT: She sort of raised it, put it out there, and then they went home for recess. There's some questions about how we go forward.

But I do think it was interesting Johnson was clear with -- last night on Fox that he's going to go forward with Ukraine. That might mean that he needs Democrats to save him.

What are the dynamics here?

NEUKAM: Yeah. I mean, Marjorie Taylor Greene said when she filed the motion to vacate -- which is sort of just like you said, floating on the House floor right now -- that what would be a triggering event for her is the speaker going forward with the Ukraine aid. And that -- what we've seen, the reporting is that he's going to move forward with that. So that's going to be, I think, a dynamic that comes to a head when they get back next week.

HUNT: So, Mica, it's -- let's also remind everyone just how difficult Johnson's job is with the size of his majority. It's really the smallest, certainly in modern times.

And this is one of the things that Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote about on the platform formerly known as Twitter last week. She writes, quote, "It's Uniparty Speaker Johnson, not conservative Speaker Johnson." She says, "Look, kids, it's simple math. If Republicans keep leaving early we're going to lose the House. Under Speaker Johnson, George Santos was expelled and a Democrat won his seat.

Gallagher is leaving." She referring to Mike Gallagher who is thought of as a promising young up-and-coming Republican. "Leaving past the deadline for his district to hold a special election to replace him," which, of course, means that the majority is going to be even more narrow. She's pointing out the reality.

What's the significance of her posting this?

MICA SOELLNER, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Yeah. I mean, I think that a lot of this has been evident in this Congress. And I think that Speaker Johnson is in a position where he has -- he realizes that he has to work in a bipartisan manner if he's going to be at the top of leadership. And I think that's frustrated a lot of his right flank, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, who obviously also has issues with many members who are also House conservatives and kind of the rift there.

So I think that there is a lot of outrage about this and I think that Johnson is in a really difficult position where he's, like, having to be in a position of leadership, having to work with Democrats. And I think that his members are starting to realize that but are very unhappy about it.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, there's some irony here, right? Like, they ousted Kevin McCarthy for working less with Democrats than Mike Johnson is going to have to do more to keep his job.

NEUKAM: Well, they're sort of backing him into a corner to have to work with Democrats. I mean, we've heard that -- we can take Ukraine aid, for example. Everybody on Capitol Hill -- bipartisan -- Mitch McConnell in the Senate says there's an urgent need to Ukraine aid and there's one person on Capitol Hill who is in control of the path forward there. And they are putting him into a position with their sort of conservative pushback to have to partner with Democrats in --

HUNT: Yeah.

NEUKAM: -- the House.

HUNT: Be careful what you wish for --


HUNT: -- sometimes, right?


All right, to -- another -- just to change gears for a second, another member of the Republican Conference had some controversial remarks just to put it -- to put it mildly when he was talking about the war in Gaza. And he seems to suggest that nuclear weapons might be appropriate.

Let's just watch the clip. Let's watch what he said and then we'll discuss. Take a look.


REP. TIM WALBERG (R-MI): Um, we shouldn't be spending a dime on humanitarian aid I think. It should be like Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Get it over quick.


HUNT: So we do need to note here that the video appears to have been distributed online by a person affiliated with a Democratic advocacy group. The congressman's office released the transcript in reaction to the distribution of the video and here is his statement, Mica.

"In a shortened clip, I used a metaphor to convey the need for both Israel and Ukraine to win their wars as swiftly as possible without putting American troops in harm's way. My reasoning was the exact opposite of what is being reported. The quicker these wars end, the fewer innocent lives will be caught in the crossfire."

I will just say that's a heck of a way to say that fewer lives will be lost.

What do you make of his remarks?

SOELLNER: Yeah. I mean, I think that's really escalated rhetoric and I think that he's gotten a lot of pushback on what was seen on video.

But I will say that the war has really driven a wedge between lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. I think that this is going to be an issue that's going to be really critical in 2024. And you see a lot of Democrats getting pushback from progressive activists and even people going against the Biden administration.

And you're going to see Republicans really in a difficult position, too, with -- between supporting Israel and how far this should go in terms of how -- you know, when is enough enough when you see all these calls here for what's going on with Netanyahu's government as well.

So it's very, very emotional and it's very divisive.

HUNT: Yeah.

Stephen, what is your reporting on this particular question? Because I know it's put a lot, especially progressive and often Jewish, members of the Democratic Party in a tough spot.

NEUKAM: Yeah. I mean, it's put, like you said, a lot of them in a tough spot.

There is a bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill of the need to support Israel. What we've seen over the last couple of months -- last couple of weeks, specifically, is sort of this shift.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer gave that speech on the Senate floor calling for elections in Israel. That was sort of a tipping point and people responded -- Democrats responded to that, supporting him. And I think within Israeli politics that is -- that is something that has soured that relationship between the Democratic Party, specifically, and Israeli leaders.

HUNT: All right, Mica Soellner, Stephen Neukam. Thank you guys both very much for being here this morning. I appreciate it.

All right. Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken leaves for Paris on a two-stop trip to France and Belgium. He's going to set out by meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, seeking unity on Ukraine and Israel.

CNN's Nic Robertson is live in London for us with more on this. Nic, good morning. Always good to see you.

How will support from allies help the U.S. with the -- with these two conflicts? And what is the agenda for Blinken?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah, I think it's worth saying, of course, European allies -- and France, in particular -- will be looking to the U.S. to stump up the money in the same way that they finally got the European Union to do. Many tens of billions of dollars of money for Ukraine, giving the Ukrainians the ability to plan their military campaigns. And, of course, that money in the United States is very much stuck, so the French will be looking to see what they can learn from Blinken on that issue.

But the French -- this weekend, actually, their armed defenses minister said that France was going to be sending hundreds of old secondhand if you like armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine. That these would come over this year and next year. So that's important for Ukraine.

The French also saying that they'll supply some surface-to-air missiles -- some longer-range missiles that Ukraine desperately needs to shore up its air defenses.

But, you know, I think from the U.S. perspective, it is really going to be looking to see how much the Europeans can do in the shorter term until and if the United States can organize the huge economic support that Ukraine is desperately looking for.

We heard over the weekend that Ukrainian President Zelenskyy saying that they may have to all back on some frontline positions because they simply don't have the armaments there.

And the Belgians, as well, have talked about the -- their hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military commitment. The Europeans -- various different nations are making commitments and have made commitments on building more production facilities for artillery pieces, which the Ukrainians are in -- are in desperate need of.


So I think this is going to be a discussion about what more can be done to try to keep Ukraine going in the fight when Russia seems to be the one making the frontline gains at the moment, albeit small.

HUNT: So, speaking of Russia, Nic, and their conduct here it sounds like Vladimir Putin is trying to increase military conscription -- trying to add tens of thousands more people to the front lines.

What do we know about that push, and what does it say about how Russia is looking at this?

ROBERTSON: Yeah. So, Russia has announced the biggest conscription since the war began. It generally does this typically over six-month cycles. One hundred fifty thousand conscripts it's looking for between the ages of 18 to 30. They've upped the age from -- the upper limit from 27 to 30, so that tells you they're throwing the net of conscription wider.

It's kind of worth noting here that since the war began, Russia has conscripted more than half a million people into their fighting force. Now, they say these conscripts don't go in fighting Ukraine but I think what this tells you is that the Russians need to pull more troops into Ukraine because they're losing troops in Ukraine. And the conscripts will go and backfill around bases in other parts of the country and other functions that those more trained military personnel would be going to -- would be going to Ukraine to take up duties there.

So this really does speak to how much Putin needs more men to fight.

HUNT: Yeah.

All right, Nic Robertson for us live in London. Nic, thanks very much for being here. I appreciate it.

All right. Next here, a letter from a newspaper editor to every reader who supports Donald Trump. Plus, the men's Final Four matchups are set. The Bleacher Report just ahead.



HUNT: All right, welcome back.

How to cover former President Donald Trump is quite literally one of the hardest, thorniest questions facing us as journalists. It is something that I think about quite literally every single day when I wake up to join all of you. And it is especially true in the wake of January 6, which affected me both personally and professionally in addition to, of course, having enormous implications for our democracy. This is why this all stood out to me.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer decided they wanted to address this with their readers head-on over the weekend.

The editor, Chris Quinn, writes this. "The north star here is truth. We tell the truth, even when it offends some of the people who pay us for information. The truth is that Donald Trump undermined faith in our elections in his false bid to retain the presidency. He sparked an insurrection intended to overthrow our government and keep himself in power. No president in our history has done worse."

And joining me now is Chris Quinn. He is the editor of The Plain Dealer and Chris, thank you so much for being here. It's an honor to have you.


HUNT: So I loved how you approached this because you started with your readers -- with the people who write to you about this. Many of them, of course, are supporters of Donald Trump. And you write some of them are more thoughtful than others, shall I say.

But this is something that I have wrestled with because there are so many people in the country who support Donald Trump and many of them have reasons for doing that that have to do with the circumstances that they face. We don't want to lose empathy for those people. We don't want to not speak to those people. To be, you know, advocates and helpful in terms of providing those people with information.

But you sat down and you grappled with this question, and you tried to explain why you're doing what you're doing in the way that you're doing it. Can you explain a little bit more of that to all of us right now?

QUINN: Yeah. This was a very challenging piece to write. It actually took me almost six months to get my thoughts together.

I get two kinds of correspondence from Trump supporters and one is not nice. It's very condescending and sneering. And I kind of chalk that up to people who had felt left out of society. Donald Trump gave them a club to participate in. And there's nothing I can say or do to help them understand what we're doing.

But the other half write me with great courtesy and implore me for an explanation. They say you are dismissing a large segment of the country when you say that Donald Trump is the monster you describe him as and I don't see him that way. What do you say to me?

These are people that watch Fox News or Newsmax and they believe it because they -- it appears credible. Then they come to our platforms and see the opposite and they're conflicted because they like us. They read us for the sports coverage or the local news, or what have you.

So this was for them. I had to -- I owed them some sort of an explanation. And the reason it was so difficult is because I don't want to demean them. I don't want to criticize them.

But I can't stray from the truth. The truth is this guy is a monster. He's the worst president in history and many people understand that. Those who get their news from not credible sources believe what they're hearing.


HUNT: Yeah. I will just say I think that the decline in our local media has -- is a crisis for many, many reasons, but not least is that you, as a local paper, have a level of trust with people in your communities that is simply not possibly to establish when you are a national news organization. And I think that really comes through in this piece that you wrote.

And you said -- another piece of this to your point of what the truth is, you said, "Trust your eyes. Trump, on January 6, launched the most serious threat to our system of government since the Civil War. You know that. You saw it." And just before that you write, "This is not subjective. We all saw it. Plenty of leaders today try to convince the masses we did not see what we saw but our eyes don't deceive us.

And I think that this is the piece of it that gets me because I was there on that day and I looked out the window and I saw these people trying to attack the Capitol. And then, now, half of the -- these political leaders are trying to say no -- actually, that thing that you saw with your own eyes did not happen.

Was it that that really was the thing that underscored this the most to you as well? QUINN: Yeah. And look, it's heartbreaking what you're seeing today. I

come from a state where we've had senators like George Voinovich and John Glenn -- people who would never have stood by during these recent years and allowed what's happened to happen.

And today, we have J.D. Vance and we might have Bernie Moreno, whose claim to fame is they want to be puppets for Donald Trump. And it's not what we should be about.

And that's why I referenced that New Yorker piece in what I wrote because the New Yorker had a book review that looked back and said the reason Hitler came to the fore wasn't because a bunch of people went and voted to have a fascist leader. It was because the people in government, in trying to get power for themselves, appeased him and that allowed him to rise.

And that's what we have going on. Everybody knows what the truth is. The people in Congress were there. They were under threat from it. But for expedience, they are denying it happened.

HUNT: Do you think that those people who are looking to enable Donald Trump, as you say -- what is the -- their level of culpability here? I mean, obviously, you talk about Trump, himself, and his -- the actions that he takes and his role in trying to hang on to power. But these enablers -- I mean, what responsibility do they bear?

QUINN: I think they have full responsibility. I think journalists who veer from the truth are going to end up having full responsibility.

Look, we're a regional newsroom and we're doing well. We're actually one of the local newsrooms that's kind of figured it out and we're thriving and we're not in any danger of going away. But we have our limited influence.

And so, we're doing what we can. We're -- you know, we ask ourselves what's the right thing to do here? The right thing to do is to call this out, not to say there's two sides to Donald Trump. There aren't two sides to Donald Trump. Anybody who has been watching and trying to discern what the truth is here knows that this guy tried to destroy our entire system of government and will do so again. Somebody has to say it.

I wish people like Dave Joyce, a congressman from Ohio who is a good guy, would stand up and just denounce it. Because if you started to have a few people of good conscience do that, maybe we could stop this wave, which is frightening beyond belief.

HUNT: Well, I'm very grateful that you took the time to join us today, Chris, and I do commend reading this column. I will again say this is something I think about literally every single day because we don't want to be a resource. A place for people who want to support Donald Trump or who feel dissatisfied with the system in their own lives. I just had to make sure that those ears are continuing to be open to us as one -- is a challenge that I grapple with every day. And I really appreciated reading this.

I hope you'll come back.

QUINN: Thank you for having me. Have a good morning.

HUNT: Thanks. Chris Quinn, editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Thank you.

All right, time now for sports. Alabama, NC State, Purdue, and UConn -- after a dramatic Sunday of college hoops, the Men's Final Four is set.

Carolyn Manno has the morning's Bleacher Report. Carolyn, good morning.


The one-seeds that a lot of people expected to be there are there and we are getting a Cinderella of sorts, I guess. Eleven-seed NC State -- they wouldn't say they are -- led by a pair of super seniors in DJ Burns and DJ Horne pulling off another upset against Duke.

Burns bullying his way to a team-high 29 points, while Horne had 20 against the Blue Devils in the 76-64 comeback win.

And the Wolfpack needed to win five games in five days to win the ACC Tournament just to get invited to this dance, and now they've won nine in a row and are heading to the Final Four for the first time in 41 years.

Their head coach Kevin Keatts detailed what made his team so special this year.



KEVIN KEATTS, HEAD COACH, NC STATE: They're tremendous. Like, you ought to -- you ought to see us every day. They make it easy for me to wake up every morning and come to practice and work hard with them because of who they are as personalities. I will say this. I've learned more basketball from these guys than I learned in my entire career because they know how to work. They're great people.


MANNO: High praise there.

Purdue is Final Four-bound for the first time in 40 years. Tennessee All-American Dalton Knecht was brilliant, leading the Vols with 37.

But the Boilermakers' big man Zach Edey showing why he is the frontrunner to win his second-straight National Player of the Year award, scoring a career-high 40 points. He came up so big with a huge block with the game on the line to help seal the six-point win. And when you're seven foot-four you don't even need a ladder to cut down the nets. It was a great day for him.

Saturday's Final Four and next Monday's National Championship game are on our sister channel TBS and also streaming on Max.

And the Women's Final Four will be set later today, Kasie. Paige Bueckers and the UConn Huskies taking on JuJu Watkins and number-one USC.

But before that, all eyes will be on a rematch of last year's blockbuster national title game with Caitlin Clark's Iowa Hawkeyes looking to avenge their loss to Angel Reese and LSU. That game last year had a lot of trash talk. Both Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese making it clear there is no bad blood between them.


CAITLIN CLARK, GUARD, IOWA HAWKEYES: It's so good for women's basketball. And to be honest, I've watched a lot of LSU games and what they're doing for women's basketball, and the way their fan support is tremendous. And it's been fun to watch and they've had a great season. So I know it's going to be a great game and both teams are going to be ready to go.

ANGEL REESE, FORWARD, LSU TIGERS: I don't think people realize, like, it's not personal. Me and Caitlin Clark don't hate each other. Like, I want everybody to understand that it's just a super competitive game and, like, I just wish people would realize that. Like, once I get between those lines, there's no friends.


MANNO: That game was such a catalyst, Kasie, for so much interest around the women's game. This is must-see TV later tonight.

HUNT: It's absolutely must-see TV.

And I've got to tell you. You know, nobody asks. The guys are competitive. I mean, my goodness --

MANNO: Oh, forget it.

HUNT: -- like, how many balls are we going to have on the court?

MANNO: We don't have enough time. We don't have enough time.

HUNT: These women are competitive.

MANNO: Absolutely.

HUNT: I mean, I love it.

All right --

MANNO: I think it's very good.

HUNT: -- Carolyn, thank you. I appreciate it. See you soon.

Coming up next here, the battle for voters of color. President Biden conceding he can't win in November without them. Plus, 50 million Americans facing the threat of floods, tornadoes, and even April snow.