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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

White House Predicts Biden Will Talk Human Rights With Saudi Crown Prince; Russia Extends WNBA Star Brittney Griner's Detention To July 2; Yellowstone Flooding Causes Catastrophic Damage, More Rain Expected. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 15, 2022 - 05:30   ET




BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Drones and people to train us," says the commander, Lt. Oleksander, a veteran of the French Foreign Legion. "We've shown we will fight. We will learn to use these weapons." And that will take time, and time is a luxury this nation at war cannot afford.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, central Ukraine.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Ben, for that.

Up next, the touchy subject Joe Biden will bring up when he meets with the Saudi crown prince next month.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: And why a gas tax holiday, as good as that sounds, isn't as simple as it sounds.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

White House officials are now predicting President Biden will, in fact, bring up human rights when he meets next month with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after criticizing the Saudi leader in the past over the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: The president does not set aside human rights concerns. With leaders all around the world, routinely, he brings up our values and our foreign policy, and our commitment to human and civil rights. And I suspect he will do that, clearly, on this trip as well. We don't set that aside.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JARRETT: Even some Democrats, though, are calling the president's planned meeting with the crown prince a mistake.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I wouldn't shake his hand. I want nothing to do with him. And I understand the president has to deal with a whole variety of difficult issues but I wouldn't go. This is someone who was involved in the premeditated murder and dismemberment of a U.S. resident -- a journalist.


JARRETT: International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joins us now from London. Nic, good morning.

Our Stephen Collinson wrote an analysis piece with this headline: "Saudi crown prince outlasts U.S.' moral outrage, with a little help from soaring gas prices." Is he spot-on here?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, he is. And look, the Saudis anticipated that the moral outrage would ebb and that President Biden wouldn't be as tough in the White House as he was on the campaign trail. It turned out to be a little different to that. The relationship certainly sank lower and got more rocky than the Saudis had anticipated but they always figured it would come back around to this moment.

And there are some really hard realities here. This is not just about real politic for President Biden, but it's real politic for the United States. This is not the United States of the Nixonian era or even the sort of Bush Sr. era. This is us almost a quarter of the way into the 21st century.

The world has changed. China is more powerful. Russia has a lot more leverage than it used to in the Middle East, in part because the United States has sort of withdrawn commitments in the Middle East, in part because it has endured some long and painful and brutal wars there.

So there's a reality here when President Biden wants something from the Saudis it's not as easy as it used to be. You cannot just sort of turn on a tap and ask them to push out more oil, which is part of the background, of course, of the -- of this moment to bring down surging oil prices and fuel prices around the world. But it's a moment that was going to come.

So, Biden's critics can be tough on him but he's the leader of the United States. I think this is certainly how the Saudis would see it. He's the leader of the United States. He has to deal with the real situation today. And the U.S. doesn't have the clout it used to so it does have to make compromises like this.

JARRETT: All right, Nic Robertson. Thank you so much. Appreciate your analysis as always. ROMANS: All right. Here at home a small -- excuse me -- a small break in the rise of gas prices. The national average price for regular dipping one cent to $5.01 a gallon overnight. Gas prices still up five cents in the past week; up 54 cents in the past month.

President Biden vows to do something -- to do something about those gas prices.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a plan to bring down the cost of gas and food. I'm doing everything in my power to blunt Putin's gas price hike.


ROMANS: Could that plan involve a gas tax holiday? We've heard so much swirling about that.

Let's bring in Grace Segers who covers Congress for The New Republic. So nice to see you.

You know, in theory, it sounds great and will give everybody a break on gas taxes, which is -- you know, depending on where you live, can be 10, 20, 30 cents a gallon. But there's just no simple one thing. It's not as simple as it sounds.

Politically, do you think a gas tax holiday is something that could happen here?

GRACE SEGERS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW REPUBLIC (via Skype): Well, there's a reason that you are only seeing vulnerable Senate Democrats and House Democrats really pushing this. So, in the Senate, that means Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, Sen. Hassan of New Hampshire, Sen. Warnock of Georgia. All of these Democrats are up for reelection in November.

And, of course, they're saying we have a very easy way to get the cost of your gas bill down. That is to suspend the federal gas tax, which is about 18 cents across the country. So it seems very simple but there are a lot of hidden strings to it, which is why, so far, you're only really seeing those vulnerable Democrats endorsing it.

ROMANS: And also, one of the drawbacks is that it helps pay for the national highway fund. Like, we actually fix our roads --


JARRETT: Infrastructure -- oh.

ROMANS: -- and we -- you know, I mean, so if you don't get this revenue today you have to get it somewhere tomorrow. So it -- you know, it's kind of like pushing it down the road I think.

JARRETT: So then, Grace, why go through all this if they can't get it through the Senate? SEGERS: I think it's very much a messaging bill right now because we know that Republicans don't like it. Multiple Republicans have called it a gimmick. A lot of Democrats have actually called it a gimmick.

Sen. Joe Manchin, who often is the thorn in Democrats' side on a lot of their favorite issues -- he has also come out a little skeptically against the gas tax. He is nervous about it.

So I think this is just a way for these vulnerable Democrats to go to their constituents and say look, I have a plan -- I'm trying. I can't get it through the Senate but I do have an idea for how to address this issue.

ROMANS: We heard the president talk about shipping companies when he was in L.A. -- about how much profit they are making. We've heard him talk about energy companies -- their record amazing profits. Talking about price gouging from companies.

You've heard greed-flation is something that progressives have been talking about. That inflation is being fed by corporate greed.

And now you have Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden drawing up a surtax on big oil, trying to rein in that industry's skyrocketing profits.

Is that feasible or is this also a messaging move here?

SEGERS: This is also probably unlikely to get its way through the Senate. I think that this might have a bit more support in the Senate among Democrats. There are lots of Democrats who are really angry with oil companies. But there's definitely enough pushback from the Republican side, mostly, but also a little bit from the Democratic side.

And concern about well, what if companies just raise prices pre-tax? What if they just increase the demand and then the supply gets lowered?

So there are a lot of concerns about this. And I think that ultimately, this is another example of where you're seeing Democrats try to do something. But really, it's probably not going to happen and they're just trying to show voters that they're trying to do something. That they know this is painful.

ROMANS: Yes, that weekly trip to the gas station. On every corner, you've got the sign of the -- of the prices.

JARRETT: A reminder.

ROMANS: I mean, that is -- that is what they're -- what they're up against. And, you know, all of these factors that -- there's just no simple solution to all of these multiple factors feeding into to.

Grace Segers, The New Republic, thank you so much.

JARRETT: Thanks, Grace.

ROMANS: All right. Just ahead, new signs the American housing market might be cooling down.

JARRETT: I like the sound of that.

And next, a disappointing new development in the fight to free a basketball star being held in Russia.



JARRETT: A big blow to efforts by the U.S. government and the public to free Brittney Griner. Russia has now extended her detention. The WNBA star was being held since February when she was arrested at an airport in Moscow for alleged drug smuggling.

Let's bring in CNN State Department producer Jennifer Hansler. Jennifer, good morning. What do we know about this extension?


According to Russian state media, Brittney Griner's detention has been extended until at least July 2. As you mentioned, she's been in Russian imprisonment since February. This is not the first time they have extended this detention. This is at least the second time they have done so.

And it is a blow to her supporters. Her agent came out yesterday and said this is further proof that Russia is holding her as a political pawn.

Now, the U.S. State Department considers here to be wrongfully detained. They do not believe there is warrant for her to be held in Russia under those charges. And take a listen to what State Department spokesperson Ned Price said yesterday about this latest development.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: I've seen the reports emanate from Russia that her detention has been extended. Our position, for some time, on this has been very clear. Brittney Griner should not be detained. She had been -- she should not be detained for a single day longer.


HANSLER: And now, Price went on to say that both Brittney Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, who is also detained in Russia, should be released. They have spent way too long in Russian imprisonment, he said.

I think it's notable Laura that Price said that he found out about this development about Brittney Griner's extended detention from state media as well. The Russian government did not tell the U.S. government about this development, according to Ned Price. And it is also notable that although the U.S. Embassy had access to

her last month, her agent said she hasn't made a single phone call in the more than 100 days --


HANSLER: -- she's been imprisoned there.

JARRETT: Wow, that's really tough.

And I know that the team -- her team met with the State Department while they were there playing in Washington, D.C. What can you tell us about that meeting?

HANSLER: Well, that's right. They were here playing in D.C. and they were able to have a meeting with officials from the bureau of hostage affairs as well as the bureau that deals with cultural affairs and sports diplomacy.

Their members of the team and the coach had statements after that meeting. They said it was productive. They're confident in the work that the State Department is doing. But they are going to continue to amplify this message that it is past time to bring Brittney Griner home, and they are calling on the Biden administration to do whatever they can to make that happen.

JARRETT: All right, Jennifer, thank you so much for staying on top of this one. Come back to us as you learn more.

HANSLER: Thanks, Laura.

JARRETT: Shifting gears here. Unprecedented rainfall at Yellowstone National Park causing catastrophic damage and stranding dozens of residents. The dangerous flooding forcing rangers to close every entrance and to keep them shut for several days.

And look at the water rushing. Video shows washed-out or eroding roads and bridges. Flooded homes, businesses -- some partly or fully collapsing.


Dozens of people trapped by the waters had to be airlifted out by plane or chopper, and some in surrounding communities have been left without safe drinking water or power.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need people in this temporary situation to reduce their electrical load as much as possible until we get things back to a normal state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's still a wild river. It's a national treasure, you know. But it has a temper, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JARRETT: A national treasure. And now, officials are bracing for the possibility of even more flooding in the coming days.

That video is just scary.

ROMANS: Yes, it really is.

All right. Just ahead, high stakes today as the Fed makes its most aggressive move in decades to try to tame inflation.



ROMANS: All right, to sports this morning. The St. Louis Cardinals miss out on a no-hitter at the last possible moment.

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

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. This is like running a race and getting to the finish line then bam -- falling just before you get there.

Miles Mikolas came so close to the Cardinals' first no-hitter in 21 years. The fans are on their feet. They're waiting to take in a piece of history in St. Louis.

Mikolas, two outs, ninth inning, needing one strike to throw just the second solo no-hitter of the season. But the Pirates' Cal Mitchell plays party pooper, bouncing one over the fence for a ground rule double. Six strikeouts, one walk in the 9-1 win.

It's a historic night and well, you could see the anticipation and the collective sighs as Mikolas and the fans watched the ball bounce. But the fans did give him an ovation, letting him know that he still pitched an incredible game.

And great teammate that he is, Mikolas showed love for his defense after the game -- listen.


MILES MIKOLAS, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS PITCHER: It kind of stinks to not finish that out. I mean, I don't have one yet. I've got friends that have and it would have been nice to join that conversation.

But I can't say enough about our defense tonight. I mean, we were -- we were everywhere we had to be and making fantastic plays all game. And I kind of feel like I -- like I let them down after all that great defense that I got today.


WIRE: And guess who's back? Serena Williams set to make a return to tennis in 12 days at Wimbledon, the third Grand Slam of the year. It's the first we'll see Serena competing since her injury there last year. The 40-year-old accepting a wildcard invitation, posting this photo on

the grass yesterday with the caption "SW and SW19, it's a date." SW19 is Wimbledon's postal code in London.

Serena has 23 Grand Slam singles titles -- still chasing Margaret Court's all-time record of 24. It's been more than five years since Williams' last major title win.

And the U.S. Tennis Association announcing yesterday that tennis players from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete at the U.S. Open in August. They'll have to do so under a neutral flag, though. That means that Russian Daniil Medvedev, who won the men's singles last year, will be able to defend his title.

Wimbledon remains the only Grand Slam to ban players from those two countries.

The U.S. Men's National Team with a little bit of sunshine on a wet and really muddy night in El Salvador. Trailing by one in the 91st minute, Jordan Morris comes off the bench to score the equalizer, heading in Luca del la Torre's cross.

Next up for the Americans, a pair of exhibitions in Europe in September. Then the World Cup opener in Qatar against Wales on November 21. The MVP of that game is going to be the person doing the laundry.

All right, finally, this little birdie got the best seat in the house for yesterday's Marlins-Phillies game, Christine -- front and center in front of the centerfield camera at Citizens Bank. Good game, too. The bird saw Miami score three runs in the top of the ninth for an 11- 9 comeback win.

Here's looking at you, Christine, for an awesome Wednesday.

ROMANS: I have a theory.

WIRE: What's that?

ROMANS: I think he saw his reflection and he just wanted to look at how good he looked, you know? Just taking a look at himself.

WIRE: He's a beautiful bird, shaking that tail feather.

ROMANS: Coy Wire. All right, thanks, Coy. Nice to see you.

WIRE: You, too.

ROMANS: All right. Stunning news for fans of the K-pop supergroup BTS. The boys are hitting pause.


BTS, KOREN BOY BAND: Singing "Permission to Dance."

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: All right, the South Korean boy band says they are taking a break. They're going to focus on solo projects. One of the group's seven members telling fans they're going through a rough patch and they're trying to find their identity. The announcement coming in a video that was part of their annual Festa celebration to mark the band's ninth anniversary.

All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" starts right now.