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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Lawmakers Begin Bipartisan Gun Safety Talks; Biden Hopeful for Bipartisan Agreement on Gun Safety; Justice Department to Review Police Response, Chief's Role; Biden Outlines Plan to Address High Prices in WSJ Op-Ed; EU Agrees to Partial Ban of Russian Oil Imports. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2022 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Tuesday, May 31st. It's 5:00 a.m. here in New York.

Thanks so much for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.

Good to have you back.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. Nice to be back.

I'm Christine Romans. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Just hours from now, we could find out whether Uvalde, Texas, has a chance to become the tipping point for gun safety in America. It hinges on nine senators, four Republicans and five Democrats, who will begin talks later today.

President Biden promised action on guns after talking to survives and families from Uvalde, but knows full well that he needs Republicans on board.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there is a realization on the part of rational Republicans, and I consider Senator McConnell a rational Republican, and Cornyn is as well. I think that there is a realization on their part that today, we can't continue like this. We can't do this.


ROMANS: All right. Bright and early this Tuesday morning, CNN's Jasmine Wright is in Washington for us.

And, Jasmine, you heard the president called Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, the senators spearheading these talks, rational Republicans. Does that bode well for the White House?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN REPORTER: Well, I think, Christine, only time will tell, but I think that the president sure hopes that it does. He said that it was his hope and prayer that people are being becoming more rational about these things especially after the two back to back major mass shootings.

Now, I think that the president, he said that he is optimistic about having Republicans like Cornyn deputized by Mitch McConnell leading these efforts, but he also acknowledged that in terms of executive actions, that he believes there's only a limited amount of things that he can do unilaterally really begging the need for the Republicans to come here to the table.

Take a listen.


BIDEN: There's the Constitution. I cant dictate this stuff. I can do the things that I've done and any executive action I can take I'll continue to take, but I can't outlaw a weapon. I can't, you know, change the background checks. I can't do that.


WRIGHT: Now, the president said that he had not yet held extensive negotiations or any direct negotiations with Republicans on the issue of gun law reform following these two shootings. But I think one thing that is sure, we could see just how close or far apart Republicans and Democrats are after the talks begin today because we heard from the president in that moment he said once again that he did not believe that the Second Amendment was absolute and he said that that it shouldn't be possible for people to fire up to 300 rounds again talking about these assault weapons.

Now, Cornyn for his part, he focuses extensively here on mental health when he talked about how he was approaching these issues. So once again compromise can seem kind of far away apart or far away when you think about just how Democrats and Republicans are approaching this issue differently -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Jasmine, thank you.


JARRETT: Speaking of Senator Cornyn, he says he sees common ground as these bipartisan talks kick off later today.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): First and foremost is keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill or criminals. To me, that should be a point of consensus. But I think that we also need to look at some of the school safety measures. Obviously, there was a failure point there where the door was basically propped open and he was able to gain ready access to the school. And then obviously in small towns like Uvalde, they don't have the resources for training for law enforcement, first responders, that perhaps larger areas like San Antonio, Dallas and Houston do. I mentioned access to mental health treatment and diagnosis is

absolutely critical because of course the background check system is administered by the FBI, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. There are limitations under federal law what sort of firearms that you can buy and own and maintain, particularly if you have a criminal or mental health record. And we'll be looking at all that.

I will do as I've always done and that is try to lean forward and meet my colleagues across the aisle halfway particularly on matters involving the seriousness and gravity that this does.


JARRETT: All right. Let's bring in Tyler Pager, White House reporter at "The Washington Post."

Tyler, good morning. So great to have you on EARLY START.

You heard Cornyn layout there what he hopes to achieve. It's pretty modest when you are talking about background checks, mental health.

What do you think is realistically going to come out of this process?


TYLER PAGER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, look, obviously, it is not as far as Democrats would like to go on this issue, something that they have been fighting for, for quite some time. But I've spoken with sources on the Hill and at the White House who say that they just want to get something done at this point. They understand it is unrealistic to see the sort of expansive gun reform that they have been pushing for, but anything would be progress from where we are now.

So I think senators like Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut who is leading these negotiations for the Democrats along with Chuck Schumer would really like to see some sort of compromise. And so I think background checks are something that they will really target as an area where they hope that they can get ten Republicans to join them and supporting them, but there is some fear that this is going to be a repeat of the process after the Sandy Hook shooting where they negotiated for weeks and months and ultimately couldn't get the votes to pass that bill which mostly centered on background checks.

JARRETT: Yeah, the Manchin-Toomey bill was centered on background checks and made plenty of concessions and it still didn't get through.

ROMANS: Yeah, it is so frustrating because they had some drills recent -- very recently, they had drills in Uvalde over school shootings. And you talk about -- John Cornyn talked about mental health funding. You know, some states have cut mental health funding. So they talk about the small modest solutions, modest solutions, or pieces of the solution, but when you look at practice, you know, this country doesn't put these things -- these common sense things in to practice. And Mitch McConnell has a decades-long history of opposing gun safety

proposals. The president very pointedly called him and John Cornyn rational Republicans. What is that strategy do you think, the thinking behind the scenes there at the White House?

PAGER: Yeah, we've heard the president say that before. We heard him talk a lot about that during the campaign when he ran for president, that he said that Republicans would have an epiphany and they would work with Democrats to get things done. That has largely not been the case during the Biden presidency, but I think it is part of the mantra that President Biden believes from his decades in the Senate.

And I think one of the other things that's important to note here is that Democrats want Republicans to work with them and get the deal done. So I think that the president is being conscience not to degrade Republican senators at a time when Democrats are looking to find a compromise. I think if we don't see something get done in the coming weeks and months, that tone is likely to shift, but for now there is an opening and I think that Democrats want to stay optimistic about trying to get something done.

JARRETT: And that opening with midterms just around the corner this November. How does that change the calculus for the White House? You know, you ever such great sources over there, what are you hearing sort of behind the scenes?

PAGER: You know, look, I think there is recognition that there is a limited time window at this moment. I think that -- I spoke recently with Arne Duncan who was secretary of education during the Obama administration and played a big role after the Sandy Hook shooting on that bill you brought up and he said it is important to get a vote right away, to use tragedy and the momentum that comes with to force senators to vote.

But as you pointed out, the midterms are coming up and people will hit the campaign trail and the partisan gridlock will only increase. So I think that there is a real sense in the White House that there is a limited time window they need to really push these senators to get to work quickly and see if they can find compromise or else that window will expire and they will hit the road for summer recess and then start campaigning full-time.

ROMANS: All right. Tyler Pager, nice to see you of "The Washington Post". Thanks for getting up early with. Thanks, Tyler.

PAGER: Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: All right. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just proposed a new gun bill banning handgun sales and possession of military style assault weapons.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADA: We're introducing legislation to implement a national freeze on handgun ownership. What this means is that it will no longer be possible to buy, sell, transfer or import handguns anywhere in Canada.


ROMANS: Capping he says the number of guns in his country. Trudeau says the bill would also increase criminal penalties for smuggling guns while also taking away licenses from people who commit domestic violence or criminal harassment.

JARRETT: New audio obtained by ABC News appears to show police in Uvalde, Texas, knew children were still alive inside that classroom but waited instead in a hallway for backup.


DISPATCHER: Advise we do have a child on the line. Child is advising he is in the room full of victims. Full of victims at this moment.


JARRETT: Now, CNN has not been able to independently confirm the source of that audio or exactly when it was heard.

ROMANS: It's awful.

All right. The Justice Department now conducting an independent review of that police response.

As Nick Watt reports, the school district's police chief could be a key focus.


JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I do believe that this is absolutely one of the worst police failures in modern U.S. history.


Those defenseless children in those classrooms had nothing. They were relying on the police.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But the police were waiting outside the classrooms, treating this not as an active shooter but as a barricaded suspect situation.

COL. STEVEN MCCRAW, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: For the benefit of hindsight where I'm sitting now, of course, it was not the right decision. It was the wrong decision, period. There's no excuse for that.

WATT: So the killer was inside a school filled with children for over an hour before he was stopped dead. And not before he murdered Alfredo Garza's daughter, Amerie Jo.

ALFREDO, FATHER OF AMERIE JO GARZA: They needed to act immediately, you know? There's kids involved. You know, there's a gun involved.

WATT: Officials say this man made the decision not to go in -- Chief Pedro Pete Arredondo of the Uvalde School District PD.

CHIEF PEDRO "PETE" ARREDONDO, UVALDE SCHOOL DISTRICT POLICE DEPARTMENT: Safety measures were taken to make sure that we had a safe release for the rest of the district, throughout our city of Uvalde.

WATT: A pair of brief appearances in the hours after the slaughter, and Chief Arredondo hasn't been seen by the press since.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: As far as his employment status is concerned, that's something beyond my control and I have no knowledge about.

WATT: Could lives have been saved, fewer kids shot, injured kids treated earlier and survived? That remains unclear. There was an initial burst of fire then a lull during which kids inside called 911, pleading for help. Then more shots. Seemingly directed at a door.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There's so much information, so much communication, so much room for error that the only thing we do know is that by eliminating the threat quickly, you will save the most lives.

WATT: A 50-year-old Uvalde native, Arredondo was approved as chief by the school board in 2020. At the time, the super said they were impressed by his experience, knowledge, and community involvement, with, they said, 27 years in law enforcement at another school district in Laredo, Texas, and here in the city of Uvalde police department.

In March, Arredondo posted about active shooter training at the Uvalde High School.

MCCRAW: The doctrine requires officers, every officer who lines up, stacks up, and goes and finds where the rounds are fired at and keeps shooting until the subject is dead, period.

WATT: So, Arredondo's decision went against established active shooter doctrine, and we're told, against the facts on the ground.

MCCRAW: From what we know, and we believe there should have been an entry as soon as you can.


WATT (on camera): Chief Arredondo was elected to the city council in Uvalde earlier in May and he was supposed to be taking his oath of office this evening in a special session. But we are told that that meeting, that special session, has now been canceled. The mayor says that the focus will stay on the families at this time.

And in a statement he also said this: Pete Arredondo was duly elected to the city council. There is nothing in the city charter, election code or Texas constitution that prohibits him from taking the oath of office. To our knowledge we are currently not aware of any investigation of Mr. Arredondo. (END VIDEOTAPE)

JARRETT: All right. Nick Watt, thank you for that.

Up next, brand new this morning, President Biden on the offense against inflation ahead of a key White House sit-down today.

ROMANS: Plus, Europe's boldest move yet to try to starve Vladimir Putin's war machine of money.

JARRETT: And China not so happy after a U.S. senator's surprise trip overseas.



ROMANS: Soaring inflation top of the agenda when President Biden sits down with Fed Chief Jerome Powell at the White House today. Ahead of that meeting, the president lays out his inflation fight in a "Wall Street Journal" op-ed, he writes: With the right policies, the U.S. can transition from recovery to stable steady growth and bring down inflation without giving up all these historic gains.

Let's bring in Rachel Siegel who follows the Fed for "The Washington Post."

Those historic gains, Rachel, that he was talking about are job creation in 17 states, you have record low statewide unemployment rates. He is talking about the recovery and moving into a new phase, a more sustainable phase. Yet this inflation story, something that you write that the fed have really got behind the 8-ball on very early here.

Tell us more.

RACHEL SIEGEL, ECONOMICS REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: That's right. So if you look back over the course of the pandemic or even more recently over the past year and a half, there has been a steady series of really misreads of the economy both from the Federal Reserve and from officials in the Biden administration over what exactly -- what's happening in the economy.

It is difficult to see through foggy data points about whether the job market was healing, where inflation was made worse by the pandemic or supply chain issues. And all along, the Fed's message really was hard to read in real time. Looking back now, we can see that they really did miss inflation and are now having to step in a bit too late. But they are trying to catch up as quickly as they can given how uncertain it was to track the economy over the past year and a half.

ROMANS: And let's be fair, there were a lot of disconnected things that all together fed into this big story line. For example, rental car prices. That is because they sold off their fleets. And then you have the supply chains. And then you had consumer spending changes. All of a sudden ways that we couldn't have predicted consumer spending change, but from the very beginning the Fed kept saying that it is transitory, Janet Yellen saying maybe a 3 percent inflation rate sometime in 2021.


And that was just -- that was just all wrong. But here we are where Biden is saying, yes, three parts to handling inflation. One part is the Federal Reserve's responsibility, the Fed is the inflation fighter to be fair. But the administration and Congress need to make more affordable homes for Americans, right, and they want to continue to reduce the federal deficit. This is what the Biden plan is. That's a lot to do all at once.

Is it -- is it possible?

SIEGEL: It is a lot do all at once. He did mention plans to make housing more affordable by building more units. The Biden administration has taken steps to increase oil supply in order to help bring down prices at the pump.

But as you mentioned, controlling inflation is chiefly the responsibility of the Federal Reserve. And the Fed's main tool is through raising or lowering interest rates. They have a plan this year to raise interest rates in some of their most aggressive moves in decades, but only time will tell not only if that is enough but if interest rates are enough to meet the kind of inflation problems that you layout, raising interest rates cannot build more houses, it cannot increase oil supply, it cannot provide more rental cars or used cars.

These are all the problems swirling around the economy that interest rates might not be a match for it.

ROMANS: Yeah. And people really screamed by gas prices. You know, you had record high gas prices over the weekend but at the same time, you don't want the federal government setting gas prices. I mean, that's not -- that's not what we do here.

Later today, the president and treasury secretary are going to meet with the Fed Chief Jerome Powell. What does Biden need to say to Powell to make some progress here?

Again, this is the purview of the Fed, fighting inflation is the Fed's job.

SIEGEL: That's right. And it is a rare meeting. It's also a bit of a tricky meeting. There is a very respected important line between elected officials and between the Federal Reserve. It's a line that was not at all respected during the Trump administration when President Trump routinely pressured Jerome Powell to make the economy work the way Trump wanted to.

There's no sort of mirror image of that for the Biden administration, but it is clear that inflation has become the top economic concern and priority for officials of the Fed, for officials at the White House. And how the two sides communicate over that is not only important for the legacy of the Biden administration and the legacy of the Fed, but frankly for the entire economy moving forward.

It's both their jobs to make sure that controlling inflation and cooling the economy down just enough doesn't upend the very strong recovery that we've had given where we started at the beginning of the pandemic.

ROMANS: I mean, the pandemic really -- and you could argue that the Fed and the White House have been dealt a really terrible hand of cards, but how they play those cards is so critical here and we still have to see some progress.

Rachel Siegel, thank you so much. Nice to see you.

SIEGEL: Thank you for having me.

JARRETT: Coming up, President Biden drawing the line on firepower for Ukraine. What he is not willing to give, next.

ROMANS: And a hurricane's direct hit on a stretch of tourist beaches.



JARRETT: New this morning, the European Union agreeing to a partial ban on imports of Russian oil as part of a new sanctions package against the Kremlin over its war in Ukraine.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us live in London on this story.

Clare, Europe is, of course, the biggest buyer of Russian oil, so what impact will this have on Putin's war machine.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Laura, there is no simple answer to that question. On the one hand, crude oil is Russia's biggest export and as you said, Europe pre-war was its biggest customer, it bought about 60 percent of Russian crude exports. So, it is very significant. It is very likely to hurt Russia's budget which is about 45 percent of it by oil and gas in 2021.

So it is significant but there are other things at play here. One is that Europe has already been cutting back on its oil imports and meanwhile the amount of revenue Russia has made has only been going up because the price has been going up, ironically the disruption they caused playing into their own hands.

And secondly, because the way this is structured, this is being phased in over time. Ninety percent of Russian oil will be banned in Europe they say by the end of the year. That could give Russia more time to sign contracts with alternative customers. We've already seen China ramping up. India has significantly ramped up its purchases of Russia oil this year.

Listen to what Europe's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, had to say about that today.


JOSEP BORRELL, EU TOP DIPLOMAT: Certainly, we cannot prevent Russia to sell their oil to someone else. But we are the most important client for Russia. They will have to look for another one and certainly they will have to decrease the price. The purpose is for the Russians to get less resources, less financial resources to feed in the war machine. And this certainly will happen.


SEBASTIAN: Well, this is a very complex market and it is likely that Western officials don't actually want all of Russian oil to come off the market because that could lead to prices going even higher sending, you know, oil and gas prices around the world even higher. They touched their highest point today since early March, Laura.

JARRETT: All right. Clare, thank you so much.

ROMANS: So President Biden says that he will only go so far when it comes to arming Ukraine.


REPORTER: Are you going to -- are you going to send long range rocket systems to Ukraine?

BIDEN: We're not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that will strike into Russia.