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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Playing Dealmaker To Get Dems On Board With His Agenda; U.S. And Mexico Try To Ease Congestion Under Bridge In Del Rio, Texas; China's Evergrande Faces Key Deadline As Investors Await Outcome. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 23, 2021 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Laura Jarrett. It's 30 minutes past the hour here in New York, and it's time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

Witnesses report seeing a commotion in Wyoming in a restaurant last month between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie -- one of their last public sightings before her death. Meanwhile, an underwater dive team has joined authorities in the search for Laundrie at the Carlton Reserve in Florida.

ROMANS: The FDA is granting emergency use authorization for a booster dose of Pfizer's COVID vaccine for people 65 and older, people at high risk of severe disease, and those with jobs that put them at risk of infection, like teachers and healthcare workers. They are also eligible. The CDC must now approve before booster doses can be given.

JARRETT: Secretary of State Tony Blinken set to meet with his French counterpart today on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. France had objected to a deal between the U.S., U.K., and Australia that cost the French a multibillion-dollar submarine contract. President Biden and Macron spoke Wednesday in an effort to mend the rift.

ROMANS: Severe drought in the west could cause Lake Powell to drop below the level needed to generate hydroelectricity. New modeling shows a small chance of a shutdown next year, growing to 34 percent in 2023. Lake Powell is the nation's second-largest reservoir and produces power for nearly six million customers from Nebraska to Nevada.

JARRETT: Melvin Van Peebles has died. The playwright, musician, and movie director was considered the Godfather of modern Black cinema.


MELVIN VAN PEEBLES, PLAYWRIGHT, MUSICIAN, MOVIE DIRECTOR: When did you people start getting so interested in Black folks?


JARRETT: He was best known for writing, directing, and starring in the landmark 1971 film "Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song." Van Peebles was 89 years old.

ROMANS: "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" will kick off its 47th season with four first-time hosts. Owen Wilson will host the season premiere on October second with musical guest Casey Musgraves. He'll be followed by Kim Kardashian West, Rami Malek, and former cast member Jason Sudeikis, who won big at the Emmys this week.

JARRETT: To Washington now, and the conflict within the Democratic Party between centrists and progressives is coming to a head with President Biden trying to play the ultimate dealmaker here. The president spent Wednesday trying to bridge the divides that threaten to derail his cradle to grave $3.5 trillion spending bill and the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package. But a string of recent setbacks is making it even more challenging to pass his legacy- defining agenda.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has always been open to negotiations and discussions and knew that he was not going to be, alone, able to wave a magic wand and pass a proposal.

I think the president wants to hear from everybody on what they're most excited about, what concerns they may have. And he wants to play a role in hopefully unifying members of the party around the path forward.


ROMANS: Centrist Democrats have made it clear they do want a major reshaping of the economy but first, they want a vote on the hard infrastructure bill on Monday as promised. Progressives insist they will not vote for that plan unless they get the human infrastructure bill at the same time, also as promised. So how do you square these two points of view?


REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): We're going to have a very productive day on Monday coming up. That's when we're going to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package that we've been working on for months. It got 50 Democratic senators and 19 Republicans last month, and now we're going to get it across the finish line.

REP. MARK POCAN (D-WI): As we've said all along in the House, these two bills are going to move together, so I don't anticipate there will be a vote that's set up for failure. But I know there's myself and 50 members who would vote no if we can't get the entire Biden agenda done. It's really important that we do that and I think that's what we're working towards.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JARRETT: At the same time, a new Gallup poll puts President Biden's approval rating at its lowest level to date -- 43 percent -- in part, because of failing support among Independents.

ROMANS: Complicating matters, a looming government shutdown in a week, and a potential default if the debt ceiling isn't raised. Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, say Democrats will have to do it alone, even though he has been saying this for years.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The debt ceiling legislation is a time that brings us all together.

In the case of the debt limit, we need to act quickly given the new uncertainty from the large cost of storm recovery.

During the years when I was the leader of the minority in the Senate, I don't think there's any chance we'll allow the country to default.


JARRETT: Sort of a different tune now, blaming it all on Democrats.

And failing to raise the debt ceiling in time could halt payments that millions of Americans rely on. Payments like paychecks to federal workers, Medicare benefits, military salaries, tax refunds, Social Security checks, and payments to federal contractors.


ROMANS: All right, COVID broke childcare, folks. There's a hiring crisis at daycare centers across the country. We're getting a sense of how the workforce has changed because of the virus.

The American workforce has shrunk 3 1/2 percent. The bar and restaurant workforce down nearly eight percent. And in childcare -- look at that -- the workforce down 12 percent. The childcare industry down more than 125,000 jobs. Childcare workers in high demand as many parents return to offices, but good luck finding people to take the jobs.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very hard. Everywhere is hiring. Unfortunately, again, being a home daycare, I'm just a small business so I can't offer $12.00, $15.00, $20.00 an hour like bigger companies can. And I've been shamed on Facebook, actually, for it.


ROMANS: Childcare workers have quit in droves. A big challenge, as you heard there, is pay. The typical childcare worker earns about $12.00 an hour. The pandemic puts their health at risk just going to work, and the remaining childcare workers, frankly, are burned out. The hiring crisis in childcare could force more parents -- particularly, women -- to stay at home and out of the labor market. It is all a potential threat to the economic recovery.

JARRETT: I had no idea that the rates of employment were down that much for childcare workers.

ROMANS: This is a real issue, especially as we go into next year when offices are going to start filling up again. Childcare is --

JARRETT: Employers expect you to come back to work.

ROMANS: It's a real problem here. And I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say child -- the COVID crisis broke childcare.


ROMANS: The model is broken. There's got to be some fix. Of course, in the $3.5 trillion plan from the -- from the White House --


ROMANS: -- and Democrats, there is help and there are subsidies for childcare.


All right, to immigration now. Mexico taking steps to ease congestion under the Del Rio International Bridge where thousands of migrants are still gathered this morning. Now they're busing some migrants from a border city across from Del Rio to southern states in Mexico.

Some of these people -- look at these pictures. These are people -- these are parents so desperate they are struggling to stay above water as they get their kids across here.

The Biden administration is also taking new action to deal with the border.

CNN's Rosa Flores is on the ground for us in Del Rio, Texas.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Laura, Christine, the number of migrants who are under the bridge in Del Rio, Texas waiting to be processed by U.S. immigration authorities is dropping. Some of those migrants are being deported; others are being released into border communities.

According to a non-profit here in Del Rio, in the past three days, nearly 1,000 migrants have been released. The mayor of the city of Laredo telling CNN that a temporary immigration processing facility is expected to go up there on Friday and they're expecting that about 1,000 migrants will be processed there every single day.

Now, despite the dwindling numbers here in Del Rio, we've learned that a field hospital has gone up just yards from this camp. I talked to the chief medical officer. He says that in the first 24 hours, about 70 patients were treated. But since this camp went up, about 1,000 migrants have been treated there.

Now, the Biden administration wrapping up the number of deportation flights to seven a day. Now, according to the administration, these flights will not just depart towards Haiti but could also include countries like Chile and Brazil. Why these countries? Well, according to the administration, these are transitory countries for Haitians. In other words, they say that Haitians have been living in those countries for several years now -- Laura, Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Rosa. Thank you for your great reporting.

Of course, the crisis at the border didn't exactly creep up on the White House. Priscilla Alvarez is live in Washington. And Priscilla, border agents in Del Rio started asking for more resources, we're told, all the way back in June.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN IMMIGRATION REPORTER: That's right, and border patrol agents didn't expect that there would be 14,000 people underneath the Del Rio International Bridge, but they say they saw the warning signs. So dating back in June, border patrol agents in Del Rio started asking for additional resources from management as they saw a growing number of migrants crossing that part of the border.

Now, Del Rio is a remote part of the border. It has limited capacity and capability to process large numbers. And going back in October -- last October -- there were around 10,000 arrests at this part of the border. Then in June, that number went up to 30,000. So they put out those calls for help and it seems that they went unanswered.

Now, the Department of Homeland Security has surged 600 agents to Del Rio to help process the migrants underneath this bridge, but agents say they did that when things were already out of control -- Christine.

ROMANS: Influx at the border. It seems -- this seems to happen a few times a year and there are a lot of different reasons. Sometimes it's rumors, sometimes it's seasonal, sometimes it's jobs. The jobs are a big draw, often.


Why is it happening this time? Is it the same set of reasons different than a few months ago? What do we know?

ALVAREZ: This is really an unprecedented year for the reasons that you mentioned.

So it hasn't -- the fiscal year hasn't yet ended and we've already reached more than one million arrests on the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, who is included in that one million? There are people who have crossed more than once and they account for part of that one million. There's the record number of unaccompanied minors. They come from,

typically, the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and are oftentimes seeking asylum in the U.S., fleeing dangerous conditions at home.

And then there are these migrants underneath the bridge that are primarily Haitian. They, as you heard Rosa say, fled Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, have been living in South America for several years, and as jobs dried up in South America have made their way north.

So there's a number of reasons. In many cases, the pandemic has exacerbated the conditions back at home for these migrants that has, in part, contributed to them coming north. But what it reminds us is that these migratory flows extend well beyond Central America. They go to South America and to other parts of the world -- Christine. ROMANS: All right, Priscilla. Thank you so much for that -- Laura.

JARRETT: So even with all the changes to how this administration approaches immigration, the parents of 303 migrant children who were separated at the U.S. southern border under the Trump administration have still not been found -- 303.

According to a new court filing by the Justice Department and the ACLU, the parents of just 34 children have been found since August. Fifty migrant children have been reunited with their parents in the U.S. since the Biden administration created a task force on this.

We'll be right back.



ROMANS: It is crunch time for China's heavily indebted Evergrande group. It's the sprawling Chinese real estate conglomerate facing a critical test today. It's due to pay an $83.5 million interest payment. Not clear yet whether it can meet those obligations or slip closer to default.

Investors have already been rattled by the risk that one of China's biggest developers could collapse, sending shockwaves through the world's second-biggest economy.

Let's go to CNN's David Culver. He is live in Shenzen, China with more.

David, Evergrande's struggles are compounded by a broader trend in China where there's a real, like, crackdown on capitalism. I mean, we've been watching each of the pieces of this story for the last few weeks and months and it's fascinating -- this move toward common prosperity in China. Tell us more.

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You are speaking right to the core of all of this, Christine.

We're here in Shenzen because this is the headquarters of Evergrande. And we drove by the office today. You can see some of our footage. It has a lot of security out front.

They have had recent days of protest for not only folks who are employees there but also people who are homeowners who have invested money and look for this real estate giant to deliver on building their homes. But that has not been the case as they've had to halt many projects and are facing some $300 billion of debt.

Now today, some good news with this company, and that is that they seem to be moving forward with paying off the interest on one of their bonds. However, it remains unclear if they're going to move forward with several other looming repayments that are in the pipeline here.

But to what you were speaking about, Christine, as far as this broader issue that's at play and, really, this narrative that's been coming out for several years. And oftentimes you have politicians, certainly in the West, who will say something -- maybe even in campaign mode -- and that is just rhetoric and never really turns into action.

But you don't have to go far back -- really, just to 2012, when President Xi Jinping took power here. And he began to say really quite strongly that there is going to be a need for common prosperity. That China needs to return to this idea of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

We're starting to see that play out, even nearly a decade later, and it's not just with Evergrande. It's with several major tech companies that have been feeling the pressure from Beijing.

And this is beyond Beijing trying to put pressure to show who is boss. It's about trying to purify the party. That's certainly what has been said all the way from the top. So you can look at Chinese financial records that ultimately -- they're looking higher up, and that is to (INAUDIBLE) President Xi Jinping.

So all of this is incredibly important, especially for those who may be in the U.S. saying, Christine, why does matter? Well, we know China's on the way to becoming the world's largest economy and it is deeply intertwined with everything that's playing out in the U.S.

ROMANS: Absolutely, and even some of the moves on its human capital if you will, like limiting video gaming and these sorts of things in terms of the --

CULVER: Right.

ROMANS: -- population. All of that goes toward that bigger, longer- term goal of common prosperity.

CULVER: It's all connected.

ROMANS: It is.

All right, David Culver. Thank you -- really interesting. Nice to see you.

JARRETT: All right. Some strong criticism of Facebook this morning from Salesforce chief executive Mark Benioff. He's already compared Facebook to big tobacco. Now, Benioff says social media sites should be held accountable for ignoring the misinformation on their platforms.

He spoke with CNN's Matt Egan.


MARK BENIOFF, FOUNDER, CHAIRMAN, AND CEO, SALESFORCE: I think in the case of some of these social media companies, especially Facebook, you can see that they don't really care that their platform is filled with all of this misinformation.

And look at how it's affected the world. You can talk about the political process, you can talk about the climate, you can talk about the pandemic. In each and every major topic it gets connected back to the amount of mistrust that is happening and especially, the amount that is being seeded by the social networks. It must stop now.


JARRETT: Facebook has tried to say they have protocols in place, but a "Wall Street Journal" report found that it was essentially on notice that Instagram is toxic for teenage girls. However, the features that the company has identified as the most harmful remain a key part of its makeup.


ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Looking at markets around the world this Thursday, you can see a mixed performance in Asia, though a gain there in Hong Kong. And European shares have opened higher here -- a decent bounce there.

And Wall Street also looking for a bounce. Stock index futures are up. The Dow back above -- well above 34,000.

Stocks rebounded Wednesday after the Fed's interest rate meeting. The Dow closed up 338 points. That snaps a four-day losing streak and that was the best day since July. The S&P 500 also had its best day since July. The Nasdaq, its best day in a month.

Look, Fed officials are not ready quite yet to roll back massive stimulus, but it's coming. They indicated it could start tapering, as it's called, later this year.

The red-hot housing market finally settling down, but look at home prices. They are still so high. The median home price in August was $356,700. That's up almost 15 percent from a year ago. This has been going on 114 straight months over year-over-year gains in home prices.

Home sales dropped last month, both from July and from a year ago, breaking two months of increases, but inventory is still low. Economists at the National Association of Realtors say that home prices should start to normalize once there are more homes on the market.

Last month, United Airlines told its employees get vaccinated or you will be put on leave. It says 97 percent of its employees are vaccinated. It told employees they had until September 28th. Unlike some companies, the airline is not allowing weekly COVID tests as an alternative.

Major companies have announced vaccine mandates or requirements, but United is the only one to make it a true mandate, meaning you cannot work -- you can't have the testing in lieu of it.

JARRETT: Imagine if all companies had done that.

Speaking of vaccines, want to compete in the Winter Olympics next year? Well, American athletes will have to be vaccinated.

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

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Laura.

The 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, less than five months away, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has taken a strong stance to make sure everyone is safe.

Starting November first, Team USA will require all staff, athletes, and others using training centers and facilities to be vaccinated. The mandate is going to extend to the entire delegation starting in December.

The U.S. is expected to send around 240 athletes to the Winter Olympics, but the mandate is going to impact hundreds more who are hoping to make the final squad.

The International Olympic Committee has been encouraging vaccines but they didn't require them for athletes who competed in the Summer Olympics. The 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled to begin February fourth.

The Tampa Bay Rays are the first team in the American League to clinch a spot in the playoffs after yesterday's 7-1 win against the Blue Jays. This is the third straight the defending A.L. champs punch their ticket to October -- the first time since 2011 that they've done so in front of their home crowd.

Of course, there are going to be bottles popping in the locker room after this win but they are hoping to have an even bigger celebration in the coming days. They have a chance to win the division title as soon as Saturday night.

The Yankees, meanwhile, taking full advantage of the Blue Jay's loss. Gleyber Torres knocking in the game-winning run for the Bronx Bombers as part of a four-run, eighth-inning rally to beat the Rangers 7-3. Now, with the win, New York leapfrogs Toronto by half a game for the final A.L. wildcard spot with nine games to go.

The Yankees still trail the red-hot Red Sox by two games for the first wildcard spot. Boston getting some dazzling defense from Jose Iglesias. Look at that backhanded scoop, flipping it behind the back to Xander Bogaerts, who turns an incredible double-play. Sox get their seventh win in a row -- five of them in those yellow jerseys. They beat the Mets in here.

All right. Finally, when is a home run not a home run? Well, check this out. Braves slugger Adam Duvall hit a ball that looked like it was caught by Diamondbacks outfielder Jake McCarthy, but it actually bounced out of his glove and over the wall.

Duvall's teammate Austin Riley, though -- he thought it was caught, so he starts running back to first base. But in the confusion, Duvall accidentally passes Riley on the base pad. By rule, the runners who were already on base get to score. But Duvall is called out, only credited with a two-run single instead of the three-run homer.

Now, Braves still win it 9-2. They lead the Phillies by three games in the N.L. East.

All right, you've heard of fastball, you've heard of curveball. Look out for that furball. Rookie, the Trenton Thunder's bat dog, got a little too excited yesterday and ran onto the field in the middle of the game. Once he realized that he wasn't supposed to be there, the hound on the mound races straight back to the dugout like a good boy.

I think we all can agree that Rookie is still a very, very good boy, indeed. I mean --


WIRE: -- he put the whole game on pause if you will.


JARRETT: He just wanted to get in the mix.

WIRE: Yes.

ROMANS: The hound on the mound. That's some incredible writing, you know. I've got to tell you, Coy, that's some genius -- oh, wow.

WIRE: We're here for a respite from the rest of it for you from the sports department. A little bit of fun.

JARRETT: Thank you, Coy.

WIRE: Uh-huh.

ROMANS: Thanks -- nice to see you.

All right, 55 minutes past the hour. The underwater search for Brain Laundrie resumes this morning. And what's at stake on Capitol Hill? Just about everything. "NEW DAY" picks it up from us, next.

Have a great rest of your day. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. Have a great day, everyone.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman on this new day.

There are some new clues in the search for Gabby Petito. What a witness saw just hours before she disappeared.

And drama on the Hill. Democrats turning on each other while President Biden fights to move his agenda forward.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Pfizer gets the green light for -- to start giving booster shots to some Americans. We'll ask the former FDA commissioner about the next steps.

And why one of China's most famous and wealthy actresses has just been erased from the internet.

KEILAR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, September 23rd.