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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Democrats Battling Republicans And Each Other With Biden Agenda At Stake; China Promises To Halt New Coal Projects Abroad; Texas Restaurant Owner Kicks Out Customers For Wearing Masks. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 22, 2021 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning -- bottom of the hour. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Laura Jarrett. It is 30 minutes past the hour. Time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

Overnight, the House passed a bill to avert a government shutdown and suspend the debt ceiling, but the measure faces tough prospects in the Senate. Meantime, Democrats battling each other over major parts of the Biden agenda. More on all this in just a moment.

ROMANS: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott digging in on a fight over reproductive freedom. He signed a bill tightening restrictions on prescribing abortion-inducing drugs. The bill comes after Texas passed law -- passed a law banning nearly all abortions.

JARRETT: The FAA asking U.S. airlines to take a more aggressive action to combat a rise in unruly and violent passenger behavior during this COVID-19 pandemic. More than 4,300 passenger incidents have been reported since the start of the year. Officials say nearly three-quarters have been mask-related.

ROMANS: Happy Meals will soon be a little greener. McDonald's plans to phase out plastic toys in Happy Meals by the end of 2025. Instead, the fast-food giant will offer toys made from recycled bio-based and plant-derived materials. McDonald's says the move will cut the amount of plastic it uses annually in those meals by 90 percent.


WILLIE GARSON, ACTOR, "SEX AND THE CITY": I am done. I've listened to you talk about Aidan for what, 10 blocks and two years, and I've been a wonderful audience. And I ask you about my Marcus and all I get is --


JARRETT: Some said news overnight. Actor Willie Garson, best known for his role on HBO's "SEX AND THE CITY," has died after a brief illness. Garson had a lengthy career in T.V. and movies. He just reprised his role as Stanford Blatch for "SEX AND THE CITY's" follow- up "AND JUST LIKE THAT." Willie Garson was just 57 years old.

ROMANS: Sports announcers Melanie Newman and Jessica Mendoza will be part of ESPN history as the network's first all-women broadcast team to call a Major League Baseball game. That game will air September 29th.

JARRETT: This morning, deep uncertainty in the nation's capital with profound implications for your kitchen table economics. Here's the state of play. Democrats are fighting each other and Republicans. There's government spending, the debt ceiling -- two major economic proposals -- and this is all at the same time.

The House just voted to pass a government funding bill that includes the suspension of the debt limit, but Republicans are refusing to get on board. And now we have a high-stakes game of chicken developing with Democrats daring Republicans to shut down the government next week.

ROMANS: And Democrats also seem to be daring each other to kill President Biden's agenda. House progressives insist they will not vote for a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal on Monday if the Senate doesn't pass a $3.5 trillion measure that contains many of their top progressive priorities. Moderates are still insisting on a Monday vote. The two democratic factions calling each other's bluff.

Here is the speaker.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We're going to get our work done on our reconciliation bill as we have always said.

REPORTER: By Monday?

PELOSI: Because -- that's the plan. That's the plan.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pramila Jayapal said she will vote against this with half of her caucus if it's not passed Congress by then. (INAUDIBLE).

PELOSI: No, no, no. You know what? We'll cross these bridges when we come to them. This is called the legislative process.


JARRETT: President Biden will significantly ramp up his engagement with congressional Democrats today, meeting with members from all sides of the caucus.

ROMANS: All right, it is time for three questions in three minutes. This morning, let's bring in CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona. Good morning.

You know, Melania, last night, the House passed this government funding bill. All eyes now on the Senate. Does the Senate pass this or is the government still looking at a possible shutdown?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: I mean, there's pretty much zero chance that this bill passes the Senate. Democrats initially wanted to leverage this bill by putting on both disaster aid and funding for the government to try to get Republicans to vote for a debt ceiling hike. But, Mitch McConnell has made clear Republicans are not going to be on board with that and so it is doomed to fail in the Senate.

And Democrats still haven't said what their plan B is. I mean, really, the options come down to either reversing on what their original strategy was or trying to tack it onto this reconciliation package, which would enable them to pass it without any Republican votes. But that has its problems as well. I mean, it's a lengthy process. They would have to go back and amend the budget resolution.


Moderates also don't want to go down this route because they would have to actually name the price that they're raising the debt limit to.

And so, it's a lot of risk all around. Both sides are digging in very hard right now and it's just unclear what the path forward is going to be.

JARRETT: Melanie, it seems like some of the more progressive voices in the Democratic Party seem to have a lot of leverage right now. How did that happen, and how do you see this playing out?

ZANONA: Well, I mean, it's simple. When you have thin -- razor-thin majority in the House, anyone can have leverage as long as they ban together.


ZANONA: So whether it's the progressive caucus, which has some 90 members, or the centrists, who had 10 members and were able to hold things up last month with the budget resolution, as long as they're willing to defy their leadership they do have leverage.

In terms of how this all plays out -- again, also very unclear. Progressives are saying they are not going to vote for that bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Pelosi promised her moderates it would come to the floor next week. And so, potentially, we could have a scenario where this bill comes to the floor and does not pass.

Now, Biden is going to the Hill today. He is expected to talk with a number of different Democrats. He's going to try to play peacemaker. Him coming to the Hill could have some sort of an influence if he's leaning on these members and saying I need this to pass -- do this for me. But as of right now, these two wings of the party are in open warfare with each other and there's no signs that either is willing to back down at this moment.

ROMANS: There is so much at stake here. I mean, I really just want to mark the moment here. We're talking about a remaking of the American economy that's tilted toward working families, really -- tilted away from the advantages that have been given to companies over years and generations. And now, really, a big remake here. A lot at stake for real people, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Does the GOP really want to be viewed as the party that shut down the government if Democrats have the votes to keep it open? Does that backfire at home for people who value their Medicare checks and their Social Security?

ZANONA: You're right to point out what's at stake here. I mean, it's easy to talk about the political implications but this would be a massive remaking of the social safety net if they pass their economic package. And if the government shut down -- shuts down or defaults on its debt, that could have massive implications to the economy.

But I've talked to a number of Republicans and asked why do you feel comfortable opposing something like this? And they feel confident that Democrats are going to get to blame -- that they are in control of all three levers --


ZANONA: -- of power in Washington. And they say it's up to Democrats to figure this out. If they want to get out of government funding, if they want to hike the debt ceiling, that they can figure out the issue -- the solution on their own. But, of course, they also are adamantly opposed to the $3.5 trillion in spending and that is something they are certainly going to campaign on in the midterms.

ROMANS: Yes. Mitch McConnell, yesterday at his press conference, was very clear. He's like, you know, look -- Democrats have the White House, they have the House, they have the Senate. They can raise the debt ceiling. And they can own that -- they can own that image of overspending.

JARRETT: It seems like they're not sure. They want to, at least.


JARRETT: They're not all in agreement.

ROMANS: Exactly.

All right, Melanie. Nice to see you. Thank you.

JARRETT: Thanks.

ZANONA: Thank you.

ROMANS: Capitol Hill reporter for CNN.

All right. Wall Street's attempt to rebound after the worst losses in months -- that rebound fell flat Tuesday. The Dow just couldn't hold onto gains made at the open and closed down about 50 points. The S&P also fell. The Nasdaq managed a small gain. Plenty to worry about here. We're in a pandemic. There's inflation at home. In China, there's the implosion of this big real estate fund.

And the looming question today, when will the Federal Reserve pull back its extraordinary support for the American economy. The central bank is meeting and is not expected to announce that tapering, as it's called, today because a recovery has run into some roadblocks.

The Delta variant still keeping the economy from getting back to normal. Jobs growth is slowing. We talked about inflation weighing on the recovery. Plus, the debt ceiling drama makes it hard to imagine the Fed would pull back at this moment.

We will hear from the Fed chief Jerome Powell at his news conference -- his press conference this afternoon.

JARRETT: To COVID now. And while the CDC's vaccine advisory panel prepares to consider boosters for older Americans, many are still living under a threat from the unvaccinated.

In Kentucky, almost two-thirds of hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages. Three employees of a small school district in Lee County have died of the virus in less than a month.

Kentucky Republicans recently scrapped a mask mandate in public schools, but more than 90 percent of districts in the state are keeping them in place anyway.

ROMANS: In Pennsylvania, 30 percent of coronavirus patients are in the ICU, double the number from earlier in the pandemic. Hospitals there are now offering incentives, including signing bonuses and loan forgiveness, with drained employees raising concerns about patient care.

Meanwhile, there's an undercurrent of social shaming and pressure on people who are just trying to stay safe. This incredible story in Texas. A couple was asked to leave a restaurant for wearing face masks. They have a baby at home that's immunocompromised. They wore face masks to the restaurant.

JARRETT: How do their face masks hurt anyone?

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has tapped an anti-mask vaccine skeptic to be the state's next surgeon general.

And in North Dakota, a pediatrician and school board member is facing a recall effort after advocating for masks in schools. She says she will continue to fight.



DR. TRACIE NEWMAN, PEDIATRICIAN, SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: Even if it's unpopular, I'm always going to try to advocate what's best for children. We really saw marked effects on our kids. We've seen really rapidly increasing rates of obesity, anxiety, depression -- things like this. So I am really interested in preventing that again.


ROMANS: The misplaced anger is even spreading overseas. In Germany, a young gas station clerk was shot and killed after asking a customer to wear a face mask.

JARRETT: Very sad.

ROMANS: We'll be right back.


JARRETT: The climate crisis is at the top of the agenda at the U.N. General Assembly this week. President Biden announcing the U.S. will increase funding to help developing nations confront it. And now there's a major commitment from one of the world's biggest polluters.

CNN's newly-minted Beijing chief Steven Jiang live from Beijing for us this morning. Steven, congratulations. I haven't seen you since the news.


So talk us through. What is this commitment and how big of a deal is this?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Well, I think, Laura, as they say, with a fancy title comes great responsibility. And speaking of which, one such responsibility for world leaders, of course, is now tackling climate change.

And Xi Jinping, in a one-line announcement, said China will now stop funding overseas coal projects. Now, this is encouraging because before this announcement China was the only major funder of such projects left, and with this new policy could potentially shutter dozens of planned coal projects in 20 developing countries around the world, and that's something a lot of people have been waiting for a long time.

But the devil is always in the details and details are lacking here because we don't know when this new policy will kick in and if it's going to apply to both private funding as well as public funding.

And most importantly, probably, is we still don't know if and when China is going to stop building new coal-fired power plants domestically and start shutting down old ones. Because -- that's important because last year alone, China actually added as much new coal power as what they have just promised to potentially cancel overseas. So that's the level of coal consumption and production we are talking about here, which still very much relies on fossil fuels to power its economy, with coal accounting for almost 60 percent of its energy mix.

Now, this contradiction, obviously, often pointed out by both experts and U.S. officials, including John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy on climate change who was here recently telling us it was simply counterintuitive and counterproductive for China to continue its building spree of new coal power plants while insisting they're going to stick to their very ambitious climate goals.

So, Laura, expect Beijing to be under growing pressure, not only from the U.S. but also other governments, to do something on a domestic front about its coal use -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Steven. Thank you so much for laying all that out for us.

ROMANS: All right, business deals worth billions raising new concerns about foreign relationships and U.S. national security. The Biden administration investigating Zoom's deal to buy a U.S. software company. "The Wall Street Journal" reports the government panel known as "Team Telecom" is concerned about national security risks given Zoom's ties to China.

And, Axios is reporting the Secret Service, the FBI, and other federal agencies are buying surveillance drones from a company the Pentagon calls a potential national security threat. The Secret Service reportedly bought eight drones from DJI on July 26th. Part of the concern is the government exposing itself to malicious actors overseas when they are American -- when there are American-made alternatives.

JARRETT: The Justice Department says a marketing deal between two major airlines could mean higher prices for customers. The government filed an anti-trust lawsuit against American Airlines and JetBlue Tuesday. The DOJ claims their alliance to consolidate operations in New York and Boston will raise fares and reduce choice in those markets.

Now, the deal commits American and JetBlue to share revenues and coordinate on everything, including routes, schedules -- even plane sizes. American's CEO says the agreement actually benefits customers by adding a full-scale competitor against Delta and United in New York City.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this Wednesday morning. Looking at futures -- at markets, rather, around the world, Asian shares closed mixed, and European shares have opened higher here -- a bounce back of one percent in London.

That huge Chinese property fund Evergrande owns a $36 million interest payment on Thursday. Evergrande is trying to ease concerns of a collapse. It's negotiating that interest payment, so we'll see if that works.

On Wall Street, stock index futures at this hour are also leaning higher, but that stock market rebound yesterday fell flat. The Dow closed 50 points lower.

The main event today, clues from the latest Federal Reserve meeting on when the Fed will start a tapering, as they call it, of its pandemic stimulus program. The Delta variant, inflation, and the debt ceiling may cause the central bank to wait on pulling back that support. The Biden administration is cracking down on ransomware with

sanctions. The Treasury Department announced it will sanction the cryptocurrency exchange Suex for its alleged role in ransomware attacks. The department said over 40 percent of Suex's known transaction history is associated with illicit actors.

The department said last year, ransomware payments reached more than $400 million -- more than four times their level in 2019.

Major companies stepping up to create opportunities for Afghan refugees arriving in the U.S. Thirty-three major companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Pfizer, UPS, Tyson, and Uber -- they have joined the Tent Coalition for Afghan Refugees, founded by Chobani's founder and CEO.

Amazon said it will hire refugees in its warehouses and in tech and corporate roles. Pfizer will also plan to hire, train, and mentor refugees.

Chobani's CEO said Tuesday the moment a refugee gets a job, it's the moment they stop being a refugee. It's the moment they can start a new life.

JARRETT: Well, the Phillies rally for a dramatic walk-off win against the Orioles, keeping their playoff hopes alive.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


You know, there's less than two weeks left now in the regular season for Major League Baseball. All of these games super important for those teams trying to make it to the post-season.


And the Phillies really couldn't afford to lose to baseball's worst team, the Orioles, for a second-straight night. Down 2-1, bottom of the 10th, two outs, J.T. Realmuto coming through. He hits this one to right, just out of the reach of right fielder Anthony Santander. One runs scores and then Bryce Harper sprinting around, sliding in -- hair flowing.

Phillies win. Players rushed the field to celebrate. They get the win 3-2 in 10 innings. They remain three games behind the Braves in the NL East.

Now, the St. Louis Cardinals, meanwhile, remain just red hot. They beat the Brewers 2-1 for the 10th straight win. When this streak started, the Cardinals had just a five percent chance of making the post-season. Now, according to FanGraphs, they have an 89 percent chance. St. Louis, a four-game lead for that second wildcard spot in the National League.

All right. The U.S. women's national team back on the pitch dominating Paraguay again. The team scoring five goals in the first 15 minutes. Alex Morgan scoring a hat trick, and Carli Lloyd adding another goal in the eight-nil victory.

The women's national team is going to finish up their four-match tour by playing South Korea twice next month.

All right, a scary scene in New Orleans yesterday as the roof of the Superdome was on fire. The team says a pressure washer being used to clean the roof before painting burst into flames. The fire was contained to the gutter system and only a small area of the roof suffered minimal damage. One person did suffer minor injuries.

No events are expected to be impacted. The Saints haven't played at the Superdome since Hurricane Ida hit the city last month. Their first game back is scheduled to be October third against the Giants.

The football pendant containing the ashes of Packers running back Aaron Jones' late father has been found. Jones lost the pendant while running in for one of his four touchdowns Monday night against the Lions. It was an emotional game for Jones as it was his first at Lambeau since his father passed away from COVID complications during the off-season.

Jones tweeted that he is forever grateful to the head athletic trainer, Bryan "Flea" Engel, for finding it in the end zone around 1:45 a.m. in the morning.

All right, finally, crack open the worst first pitch ever file because we've got a new candidate, Conor McGregor, at the Cubs game last night. I mean, the ball pretty much goes sideways right out of his hands.

And you know, guys, we've seen a lot of bad ones. Conor McGregor, an all-time great promoter. I almost think he did that on purpose just so everyone would keep talking about it, right? Because that's --

JARRETT: I think it --

SCHOLES: -- pretty hard to throw it that bad.

JARRETT: It's pretty hard. I think it just shows --

ROMANS: I could throw it that bad.

JARRETT: -- sometimes your MMA skills might not actually translate.

ROMANS: Yes, exactly.


ROMANS: All right, Andy. Thanks for that.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

All right, a very busy day. The president's economic agenda hanging by a thread here this morning. JARRETT: "NEW DAY" will also have the authors of a new book on the Trump coup attempt. And the Texas couple that got kicked out of that restaurant for trying to keep their baby safe. Listen to this.


NATALIE WESTER, KICKED OUT OF RESTAURANT FOR WEARING FACE MASK: Our waitress came over, sat down next to me, and said so, our manager sent us over because I am nicer than he is. And yes, this is very political but you need to take your mask off.

TOM, OWNER, HANG TIME SPORTS GRILL & BAR: And I spent my money on this business.


JARRETT: All right, thanks so much for joining us. I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. Have a great day.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman alongside Brianna Keilar.

On this new day, the Gabby Petito case is now a criminal investigation. Authorities confirmed she was killed on her cross- country journey with her fiance, now nowhere to be found.

Plus, breaking news. Former President Trump targets his own niece in a $100 million lawsuit over a story in "The New York Times."

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A dangerous game of brinksmanship on Capitol Hill with the country about to run out of money to pay its bills.

And a couple from Texas kicked out of a restaurant because they were wearing masks. They will join us live this hour.

BERMAN: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, September 22nd. I'm John Berman and, yes, alongside Brianna Keilar this morning.

The frantic search intensifying this morning for the man who came home from a road trip without his fiance. And breaking overnight, the news the family of Gabby Petito feared most. It is her body found at a remote campground in Wyoming.

The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide nearly a month after she disappeared on a cross-country road trip with her fiance, Brian Laundrie. Now, as a criminal investigation officially begins, he is missing.