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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden to Declare Support Today for Gas Tax Holiday; State Officials Testify About Trump's Pressure Campaign & Threats; Senate Vote Advances Bipartisan Gun Legislation. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired June 22, 2022 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, June 22nd. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. Good morning, everyone. It's 5:00 a.m. exactly in the East.

We begin with news just in to CNN.

Today, President Biden plans to announce his support for a federal gas tax holiday. Right now, the national average for a gallon of regular, $4.96. Of that, 18.4 cents is a federal tax that you would potentially save in a gas tax holiday.

Any tax suspension would require of course action by Congress. But the president will give a speech today throwing the administration support behind a three-month gas tax holiday which would breathe new life into an issue that has so far been stalled on Capitol Hill.

CNN's Kevin Liptak is live for us bright and early this morning in Washington, D.C. with this news.

Kevin, what's the administration saying about this?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, officials are certainly very bullish on this move. And it is something that the White House had been considering for months. They held off until now, but clearly, President Biden wants to show that he is taking some initiative on this issue.

And so, in a speech later, today the president will call on Congress to pass a three month suspension of the gas and diesel tax. He wants to go until the end of September. He will also call on states to temporarily suspend their own gas taxes and he will renew these calls for oil and gas companies to up their refining capacity.

And so, administration officials claim that taken together, all of these steps could potentially save Americans $1 per gallon at the pump. But, Christine, that's a huge could because there are a lot of ifs and unknowns about these policies.

Mainly, this is a wish list. The president doesn't have actually control any of these things. And it hasn't gained a lot of traction in Congress so far. One of the reasons is that these taxes go towards paying for highways and roads and the president did try to ally some of those concerns yesterday.

Listen to what he had to say.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a giant infrastructure bill we passed -- giant -- $1.2 trillion.

REPORTER: So you'd be worth -- it would be worth it for you to --

BIDEN: Sure. It's not like, you know, it's like before. Look, it will have some impact. But it's not going to have an impact on major road construction and major repair.


LIPTAK: Now, perhaps the biggest concern is ensuring that the savings from the tax suspension actually get passed along to consumers. And a lot of economists say that given the current supply and demand dynamic, that retailers will essentially take those savings themselves, raise the base price of gas, and that consumers won't necessarily see any savings.

So I did ask administration officials about that yesterday and they said that President Biden would call on companies to make sure that the savings are passed along, but they did acknowledge that simply suspending the tax won't solve the whole problem.

ROMANS: Yeah, the devil definitely in the details there.

And, Kevin, some people call a gas tax holiday simply a gimmick. By some people, we need Biden's old boss. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: We're arguing over a gimmick to save you half a tank of gas over the course in the entire summer, so that everyone in Washington can pat themselves on the back and say that they did something.

Well, let me tell you something. This isn't an idea designed to get you through the summer, it is an idea designed to get them through an election.


ROMANS: So what is the White House telling critics who say that this is more about optics than actual practical price at the pump?

LIPTAK: Yeah. Well, the argument here is essentially that even small steps, steps that aren't necessarily going to solve the entire problem, are still worth taking. And I think that you will hear the president in his speech today say essentially that he is taking this seriously and he will also try to pin blame on others.

And you've already heard him try to scapegoat, of course, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, but he will also I think go a little harder after the oil companies, telling them to increase their capacity at refineries.

Of course, refineries are also running right now at close to 90 percent capacity. So it is not clear where that additional capacity will come from. But you have seen over the last several weeks and even the last several days this deteriorating relationship kind of between the White House and these oil companies. Yesterday, the CEO of Chevron wrote to President Biden and accused him of trying to vilify the American corporations.


President Biden shot back yesterday saying that that CEO was sensitive, saying he didn't know that they could get their feelings hurt so quickly. So it's unclear how that is necessarily going to resolve itself.

But President Biden clearly trying to seize on the politics of all this as he himself confronts a political problem with these high prices -- Christine.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right. Kevin Liptak, thanks for laying that all for us. Thank you.


JARRETT: And now to failed schemes, lies and intimidation. That and more the central focus of the January 6 committee's hearing on Tuesday as the panel tried to show the American public how the former president and his allies pressured state officials in key battleground states to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Arizona House speaker and life-long Republican, Rusty Bowers, recounted his conversations with Trump and Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani as they pressured him to lend his support to unfounded allegations of vote are fraud.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): At some point, one of them made a comment that they didn't have evidence but they had a lot of theories?


SCHIFF: What exactly did he say and how did that come up?

BOWERS: My recollection, he said, we've got lots of theories. We just don't have the evidence. And I don't know if that was a gaffe or maybe he didn't think through what he said, but both myself and others in my group, the three in my group and my counsel, both remembered that specifically and afterwards kind of laughed about it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Lots of theories, we just don't have the evidence.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also testified about the harassment and the threats he faced for refusing to go along with Trump's question to find 11,780 votes and overturned the will of the people.


SCHIFF: And, Mr. Secretary, why didn't you just quit and walk away?

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: Because I knew that we had followed the law, and we followed the Constitution. And I think sometimes moments require you to stand up and just take the shots. You're doing your job. And that's all we did. But I had to be faithful to the constitution and that's what I swore an oath to do.


ROMANS: Let's bring in Matthew Brown, national correspondent for "The Washington Post."

Thanks for getting up for us this morning. Look, one of the more powerful parts of the hearing is showing how this strategy, Trump's election lies, hurt public servants. We heard from two yesterday including an election poll worker Ruby Freeman.


RUBY FREEMAN, FORMER FULTON COUNTY, GA ELECTION WORKER: I lost my name and I've lost my reputation. I've lost my sense of security, all because a group of people starting with number 45 and his ally Rudy Giuliani decided to scapegoat me and my daughter Shaye to push their own lies about how the presidential election was stolen.


ROMANS: How important is to show the human toll of Trump's disinformation campaign here do you think, Matthew?

MATTHEW BROWN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. I think that this is one of the key things that the committee was attempting to highlight here.

And one of the most important facts to me that came out of the hearing yesterday was the fact that many of election officials who had worked in Fulton County elections like Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss no longer work just because of the onslaught of threats and intimidation that were part of this pressure campaign launched by Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

They are attempting to show in the committee hearings that not only did Trump's campaign hurt public trust in elections and spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of the 2020 vote, but also that they are now hurting the basic infrastructure of how we decide our own elections and our own lawmakers in this country.

JARRETT: Matt, we also heard from three Republicans yesterday, Rusty Bowers, Brad Raffensperger and Gabe Sterling, all by the way people who supported the former president and Bowers going as far as to tell the "AP" that if it was a choice between Biden and Trump, he would still choose Trump, which is amazing given that he was up there crying yesterday.

But they testified without reservation that Trump and his allies were asking -- what they were asking was just wrong. It was just flat-out wrong legally and morally.

Will the fact that the committee is using Republicans by and large to make their case make any difference here? Are the people who would be persuaded by that type of testimony listening?

BROWN: Look, it is very clear that Donald Trump's influence in the Republican Party is still very significant. His conspiracy theories and misinformation about the 2020 election still have a large sway over at least the plurality of Republican voters.

However, that said, when you look at these cases like Rusty Bowers, like Gabriel Sterling and Brad Raffensperger testifying and also what we heard yesterday with RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel saying that she was also pressured by Trump to help enlist the very infrastructure of the Republican Party itself to overturn the election -- when you hear testimony like that, it does show that you don't have to be a Democrat or a person who is left of center to believe that what Trump did in the 2020 election was wrong.


And that you can stand up for the U.S. Constitution and our basic election administration while still holding on to the Republican principles.

ROMANS: And what we heard again and yesterday was the direct involvement of the president in his own words, pleading and cajoling these officials in different states trying to --

JARRETT: For hours.

ROMANS: -- trying to rewrite history.

What are you watching for next in these hearings? We have top DOJ officials set to speak tomorrow.

BROWN: Yes. So far, the committee has gone and shown that Trump pressured his vice president, he pressured state and local officials. And in the coming hearings we'll definitely be seeing the effort that Trump used inside of Washington to take control of the Department of Justice or influence officials there. It will be very interesting to see especially given the role that the Department of Justice might be playing and eventually prosecuting Trump whether or not -- how Trump's influence there was actually played out and what the officials will be testifying. That is what I will be looking at very closely.

JARRETT: All right. Matt Brown, thanks for getting up bright and early for us. We'll have you back soon.

ROMANS: Thank you.

BROWN: Happy to be here. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. The January 6 committee announced that its next hearing tomorrow will focus on Trump's pressure campaign on the Justice Department. Scheduled to testify, three high ranking DOJ officials who refused to go along with the baseless claims of voter fraud by Trump and his allies. The hearing starts Thursday at 3:00 p.m.

JARRETT: All right. CNN projects Trump endorsed Katie Britt will defeat Mo Brooks in the Alabama's Republican Senate runoff, winning by nearly a 2:1 margin. Remember Trump initially endorsed Brooks in the primary but dropped him after Britt -- after Brooks I should say urged voters to move past the 2020 election. Britt is the former chief of staff to retiring Senator Richard Shelby. She thanked Trump for helping her wrap up her campaign in style.


KATIE BRITT (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: People across Alabama miss his America first agenda and we ae going to go to the United States Senate to fight for it each and every day. Thank you.


JARRETT: Before he endorsed her, Trump claimed had Britt was, quote, not in any way qualified for the job.

ROMANS: All right. Just ahead, lawmakers race to get a gun safety bill to President Biden's desk.

JARRRETT: Plus, passengers raced to safety from a plane in flames.

ROMANS: And Beyonce's ode to the race to quit your job.



JARRETT: A major step forward for gun safety legislation. The Senate has advanced this bipartisan bill just hours after the group of Democratic and Republican senators released the text of it. Now, if it passes, it would be the first to pass Congress this decades.

CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill for us covering this one.

Daniella, good morning.

So what comes next here, what needs to get done? DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Now that it advanced

procedural vote, it is the big vote, the vote to break the filibuster, of course, there needs to be at least 60 senators to vote to advance the legislation to break the filibuster. But last night is the clearest sign yet, Laura, that that will likely happen because there were 14 Republicans who joined with all 50 Democrats in the Senate to advance that very, very monumental gun legislation.

So now, of course, the Senate is speeding through trying to get this passed before they go on a summer recess starting this weekend, of course, Fourth of July weekend.

And look, Republicans of course, there were more moderate Republicans signed on to the legislation including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Very notable that leadership supported this.

But take a listen to what Chuck Schumer said really putting it -- explaining how monumental this is that the Senate might be acting. Congress in general might be acting on gun safety legislation for the first time in over 30 years.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This bipartisan gun safety legislation is progress, and will save lives. While it is not everything we want, this legislation is urgently needed. As the author of the Brady background checks bill which passed in 1994, I'm pleased that for the first time in nearly 30 years, Congress is backed on the path to take meaningful action to address gun violence.


DIAZ: Now, of course, Democrats and Republicans spent the last couple weeks to try to reach a deal on this. Legislative text only came out hours before that first procedural vote last night. One thing that I do want to mention is that in this legislation, they will close the so-called boyfriend loophole, Laura.

The law now will bar anyone who is convicted of a domestic violence crime against someone who they say has a, quote, continuing serious relationship of a romantic and intimate nature with having a gun. That is incredibly notable this is going to obviously close a loophole in buying a firearm that Democrats and Republicans were working on. Of course, there will be funding to implement and incentivize statements to implement red flag laws, as well as mental health crises centers.

So, of course, Democrats and Republicans really doing a victory happen here that they were able to reach this deal. Of course, they do plan to rush this through because they do go to congressional recess by this weekend.


And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that once the Senate passes this bill, Laura, they will make an effort to pass it in House as soon as possible, so they can get it to President Joe Biden's desk. JARRETT: All right. Things are moving quickly here in Washington. Thanks, Daniella.

ROMANS: Yeah, first time they have moved in decades.

Just ahead of a Federal Reserve hearing on Capitol Hill this morning, former Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn says that corporate America is frustrated with the Fed for getting inflation so wrong.

The Fed Chair Jerome Powell testifies this morning this front of the Senate banking committee as the Fed faces intense criticism for high inflation, plunging markets and threat of a recession.


GARY COHN, IBM VICE CHAIRMAN: I think that the business community is disappointed in the Fed having taken as long as they did to come to the reality what the business community saw. The business community has been seeing wage inflation for well over a year. They have been seeing input costs go up for well over a year. So the business community has been seeing real inflation for a long period of time.


ROMANS: Cohn says the Fed was behind the curve. The Fed actually is still stimulating the economy long after inflation was a clear problem. You know, the Fed had been buying up all of these mortgage securities and all these other securities to prop up the economy during the crisis and was still doing so even after it was very clear that the economy was really worrying ahead. So he is critical of the Fed on that.

JARRETT: We'll see what Powell says today.


JARRETT: Just ahead for you, word of another American killed in the fighting in Ukraine.

ROMANS: And compelling evidence out of the January 6 hearings. What will the Justice Department do with it?



ROMANS: Welcome back.

New this morning, at least 285 people are feared dead and hundreds more injured after a powerful earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan. The 5.9 magnitude quake struck the Paktika province, south of Kabul. It's the near the Pakistan border.

Officials say with heavy monsoons in the area, the quake made homes especially vulnerable. The World Health Organization says its teams are providing emergency response. JARRETT: The State Department confirms a second American has been

killed fighting for Ukraine. Stephen Zabielski of Upstate New York died in mid-May while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in the southern part of the country. He was 52 years old and is survived by his wife and five stepchildren.

Last week, two Americans fighting for Ukraine were captured and detained by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk.

ROMANS: All right. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expected to hold a virtual meeting today with families of Americans being held overseas. Those families pressing the Biden administration for action to secure the release of loved ones who have been wrongfully detained.

It comes as we learned Matthew Heath, a marine veteran held in Venezuela now for nearly two years attempted suicide.

Let's bring in State Department producer Jennifer Hansler.

Good morning, Jennifer.

What are the families of these detainees saying to the Biden administration?

JENNIFER HANSLER, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT REPORTER: Well, Christine, there is one clear message that these families are sending to the administration and that is that they want to meet with President Biden. There is a growing sense of frustration that their cases are not being taken seriously, not being made a priority and they're not being treated urgently enough. And they say time is of the essence.

There's also a sense that it will take President Biden's direct involvement in these cases to bring their loved ones home, that going to him will be the key to making progress.

Now, one of these groups, they call themselves the Bring Our Families Home Campaign. They sent a message to the president on Monday, and they told him, quote, you are the only one who can ensure that their freedom is restored. Now, one of the members of the leadership of that group, Neda Sharghi, whose brother has been detained in Iran for years, told me that they chose to send the letter now after demonstrating in front of the White House about two months ago because they don't know how else to be heard.

And this frustration was underscored, Christine, by two things that happened this week. One of those is that detained WNBA star Brittney Griner who has spent months in prison in Russia was unable to call her wife on their anniversary on Saturday. Her wife Cherelle told 'The Associated Press" that Brittney tried 11 times to call the U.S. embassy through a number that she was given but no one was there to pick up the call and connect it.

The State Department has said that this was logistical error that they deeply, deeply regret, and that the call was rescheduled. But Cherelle said it doesn't matter. That it damaged her sense of confidence in the State Department, especially because they haven't spoken in the entire time that Brittney has been detained.

And, as you mentioned, that marine veteran Matthew Heath attempted to take his own life this week. His uncle Everett Rutherford was on "NEW DAY" yesterday and take a listen to what his message was to the administration.


EVERETT RUTHERFORD, UNCLE OF MATTHEW HEATH, WRONGFULLY DETAINED AMERICAN IN VENEZUELA: What we're looking for is the opportunity to tell them to use every tool in their tool kit, to use every opportunity to talk to the Venezuelans with the objective of bringing Matthew home.


HANSLER: So that's the message he wants to bring to President Biden, that they need to do everything possible to bring Matthew home right now.

ROMANS: Jen, what is the White House saying? How is the White House responded to these families?

HANSLER: Well, a White House official told CNN that they have no higher priority than the safety and security of these Americans overseas, whether they are detained or not. And that they can only imagine the pain that these families are feeling right now and that they appreciate the feedback that the families are giving them.

However, this official did not commit or confirm that President Biden would meet with these families -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Jennifer Hansler, thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning.

JARRETT: Still ahead for you, just how backed up is the IRS right now? We've got some word about last year's tax returns.

ROMANS: First, passengers run for their lives from this plane on fire.