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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

White House Looks To Capitalize On Big Legislative Wins; U.S. Naval Warships Enter Taiwan Strait, First Since Pelosi Visit; Unmanned Artemis 1 Scheduled To Lift Off For The Moon. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 29, 2022 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Republic visions of winning a huge majority in the midterms appear to have dimmed lately as Democrats gain some momentum. The GOP is still considered likely to retake the House in November but the size -- the size of that majority matters for party leader and potential speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. Good morning, John.

House Republicans -- I don't know, they seem a little --


ROMANS: They seem a little less optimistic over a big sweep -- a big majority in the midterms, which is putting pressure on, of course, McCarthy's path to speakership.

How is the dynamic shifting here?

HARWOOD: Well, it's a number of things, Christine.

First of all, something we've talked about before for a couple of months now, gas prices have been going down every single day. So one of the most conspicuous sources of inflation pressure and economic pain for American households has been diminishing steadily. That creates a better environment -- a less intense focus on inflation because as long as that was in the news, that was crowding out most other things.

Secondly, President Biden has gotten a big chunk of the agenda that his party so desperately wanted -- in particular, the climate piece. In particular, changes to prescription drug costs going forward. All of those things are things that unite the party. They're causing President Biden's approval ratings to lift up a little bit.

And then the final factor is the behavior of Republicans themselves, led by Donald Trump. We're seeing the specter of Donald Trump grossly violating records laws by taking records to Mar-a-Lago that he should not have had -- some of them highly classified and top secret. And that controversy playing out with the president's strong resistance to it is underscoring the point that Joe Biden has been making about extreme Republicans and the danger of Republican rule.

And all of those things combined together to improve the climate for Democrats, as you mentioned, now favored to win the House -- but it's not impossible either.


HARWOOD: And they're getting in a stronger position to hold on to the Senate.

ROMANS: I mean, bottom line -- you say images of Biden as a feeble septuagenarian -- well, you can kind of put that side-to-side with pictures of him smiling with his coat off, campaigning in his aviators, right? I mean, it's just kind of a different Biden. All the -- all the information is the same but it's a different Biden.

HARWOOD: He's got a little spring in his step right now. He is relishing the idea of going to political combat with Republicans this fall having done most of what he wanted to do. It's one thing to try to campaign against Republicans while you're still trying to build your own record. For the first two years of his presidency, Joe Biden has built this record.

Now he can go try to sell it and sell both the positive characteristics of it from his point of view and not of Democrats, and also what he sees as the danger of Republicans taking power in the government again. And Donald Trump helps very much make that part of the argument.

ROMANS: You know, last week you mentioned that Biden labeled Republicans who have stuck to the MAGA movement -- he called them semi-fascists and he called them MAGA Republicans. I think he was really making a distinction between Republicans and MAGA Republicans. We get to the midterms, the sharper the president's criticism has become.

But now, some Republicans are demanding he apologize. Here's what the governor of New Hampshire said.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): Horribly insulting. He -- I mean the fact that the president would go out and just insult half of America -- because, effectively, have of America votes Republican, half of America ultimately votes Democrat. You know, it swings a little bit one way or the other. But effectively call half of America semi- fascist because he's trying to stir up controversy.

He's trying to stir up this anti-Republican sentiment right before the election. It's just -- it's horribly inappropriate, it's insulting, and people should be insulted by it. And he should apologize.


ROMANS: Any chance he'll apologize?

HARWOOD: Oh, I don't think so. I think President Biden feels pretty comfortable levying those attacks on Republicans at a time when many of them are continuing to repeat -- and they're being nominated for high office -- the lie that Trump won the election. Of course, he didn't. He lost to Joe Biden.


The Republicans have been trying to put in position secretaries of state in some places or top elections officials who have not respected election outcomes, certainly in 2020, raises a question about whether they'll respect future election outcomes.

I think the president combining that with some of the moves from the right to constrain what people learn in schools and other aspects of the culture war -- I think President Biden feels very comfortable. And, of course, his fellow Democrats rally to that language.

So I don't think you're going to see any apology despite that appeal from Gov. Sununu, who is one of the moderate Republicans.

ROMANS: Right.

HARWOOD: He, himself, has been, of course, critical of Trump and so, it helps Republicans that he's the one who made that argument. But I don't expect Joe Biden to back away from it.


All right, John Harwood, thanks for dropping by this morning. Have a great rest of your day.


ROMANS: OK. Beto O'Rourke is off the campaign trail. The Texas Democrat has been diagnosed with a bacterial infection. After receiving care at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, he is resting at home.

O'Rourke is challenging Republican Greg Abbott for governor. All of O'Rourke's campaign events have been postponed until he recovers. His illness comes at a critical point in the race for Texas governor as O'Rourke tries to narrow Abbott's lead in that race.

All right, the U.S. drawing a line on Taiwan, sending two Navy warships through the Taiwan Strait. It's the first U.S. naval transit since Nancy Pelosi's visit to the island that heightened tensions between the U.S. and China.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby says the move sends a clear and consistent message to Beijing.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: The United States military will sail, fly, and operate wherever international law permits us to do so. This Taiwan Strait transit between these two cruisers -- this was planned long ago. It's very consistent with our desire to make sure that we can continue to work towards a free and open Indo-Pacific.


ROMANS: All right, let's bring in CNN Will Ripley. He is live in Taipei for us. Good morning, Will. Good evening to you there. How is China responding?


Well, China actually has had a muted response, which is surprising a lot of analysts who were expecting perhaps some sort of military show like what we saw after Nancy Pelosi's visit, the U.S. House speaker, when China encircled this island of Taiwan with military exercises.

China actually basically saying that this is not a threat to their security. Even their most tabloid state media, The Global Times, kind of -- you know, basically downplaying this. And people are wondering why. When the U.S., for the first time in at least four years, sends two warships through the Strait at the same time -- you know, why would China not make a bigger deal of this?

It might be because they've cut off communication lines with the U.S. So if there was Chinese warships interacting with these U.S. cruisers it could potentially -- there could be a misunderstanding and they wouldn't have any way to directly communicate because China stopped communication after Pelosi's visit.

It could also be because, frankly, Beijing is wary of more international blowback given that there's been a lot of condemnation over their activities -- their wargames around this island, which they've claimed as their own territory for more than 70 years.

We're also tracking another new development right now involving these unidentified drones that have been sighted flying over Taiwanese military bases. We have footage and you can see how close this drone actually got. You can see the soldiers moving around -- running around. They fired flares to try to warn these drones away. And also, in one instance earlier this month, threw rocks at a drone.

The latest drone sighting was just on Saturday on the Taiwanese territory of Kinmen Island, which is a very short distance from the mainland -- six miles or so.

And so, Christine, the question is are these Chinese drones or are they some other operator? It's really unclear at this point, although the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did say there's no need to make a fuss about this -- about what -- this is how they put it -- Chinese drones flying over Chinese territory.

ROMANS: All right, Will Ripley for us. Thank you so much.

All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Looking at markets around the world, a tough session in Asia. And Europe has opened lower -- sharply lower for Paris and Frankfurt. And on Wall Street, stock index futures looking to start the day soft here.

The Dow was crushed on Friday, plunging more than 1,000 points after Fed chairman Jerome Powell warned the fight against inflation is far from over. Investors did not want to hear that. They're not grappling with the prospect of more aggressive interest rate hikes and what that might mean for the health of the economy.

The Dow, the Nasdaq, and the S&P 500 have all lost more than four percent last week.

The Fed chief twice warning the cure to high inflation will cause pain for households. Talk like this sending stock investors running.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIR: While higher interest rates, slower growth, and softer labor market conditions will bring down inflation, they will also bring some pain to households and businesses. These are these unfortunate costs of reducing inflation, but a failure to restore price stability would mean far greater pain.



ROMANS: Pain -- that word. Summer doldrums, right -- late summer doldrums? No way. Once minor economic reports are now scrutinized for any clues to how well the Federal Reserve is battling red-hot inflation.

And it is another consequential week. Housing news early this week, an August jobs report Friday.

The Fed, of course, has raised interest rates three times this year and clearly is not done. The suggestion from the Fed chief that more large rate hikes are on the table unraveling that late summer rally in the S&P 500 -- again, down more than three percent and it's looking weak again this morning.

Despite the gloom, though -- and this is important -- despite the gloom and the hawkish Fed, the job market has remained quite strong. The jobless rate near a 50-year low of 3 1/2 percent. The big question -- will the Fed's medicine result in job losses?

Senator Elizabeth Warren, this weekend, warned that the Fed risk -- the Fed chief risks tipping the U.S. economy into recession.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): There is nothing in raising the interest rates -- nothing in Jerome Powell's tool bag that deals directly with those, and he has admitted as much in congressional hearings when I've asked him about it.

Do you know what's worse than high prices and a strong economy? It's high prices and millions of people out of work. I'm very worried that the Fed is going to tip this economy into recession.


ROMANS: Senator Warren has been a critic of the Fed chief and this strategy. We will wait to see what happens next.

All right, NASA is set to launch its most powerful rocket ever this morning. Details on the agency's mission to one day return people to the moon, next.

Plus, Taylor Swift dropping a bombshell at last night's MTV Video Music Awards.


TAYLOR SWIFT, SINGER-SONGWRITER: I thought it might be a fun moment to tell you that --


ROMANS: What she announced, next.



ROMANS: So, we are just a few hours away from the planned launch of NASA's Artemis 1 rocket, the first of three planned missions that will return man and woman to the surface of the moon for the first time in 50 years.

CNN innovation and space correspondent Rachel Crane is live at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Rachel, how are the launch preparations proceeding this morning?

RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, there are a few delays this morning that NASA is dealing with. Unfortunately, there were some weather delays overnight, which cause the propellant loading to be delayed a little bit. Also, the team had to work a hydrogen leak. So NASA is saying they are about an hour and 15 minutes behind schedule at this point.

But the good news is that Mother Nature is on our side as of now. NASA is saying that weather conditions are 80 percent favorable for the start of this 2-hour window that begins at 8:33 eastern time this morning. But due to those delays that I mentioned, it looks as if this launch will happen more towards the back half of that 2-hour window. And towards the back half, NASA says that the weather doesn't look quite as good -- only 60 percent favorable conditions.

But all of these delays -- all the issues that the teams have had to overcome so far -- it hasn't stopped the excitement here. And just based on the traffic alone this morning, Christine, there is a lot of excitement. Along the highway, people were camped out already at three in the morning, coming to watch this launch.

As you pointed out, it is an uncrewed launch -- the first -- kicking off the Artemis program for NASA, which will land the first woman on the moon and the first person of color hopefully, in 2025.

So, there's a lot of buzz in the air, a lot of energy, and I know space enthusiasts all around the world and certainly here at Kennedy Space Center are hoping for a successful launch today.

ROMANS: Absolutely. And, you know, Artemis, in Greek mythology, the twin sister of Apollo, right? Apollo, the famous mission that sent man to the moon.

But this isn't an exercise. This is not just an exercise in nostalgia. Ultimately, this is a preparation for a trip to Mars. What more does NASA want to learn from these Artemis missions?

CRANE: That's right, Christine. You know, the first time we went to the moon back in the '60s it was more about flags and footprints. We were in a race to beat the Russians there. This time, NASA is intent on creating a sustained presence on the moon in order to use the lunar surface and the lunar environment as a jumping-off point to getting to Mars.

And although this is an uncrewed test launch, there's a lot of room in that trunk on that huge rocket right there. So, NASA isn't wasting any time. They've loaded it up with tons of science and experiments, including 10 CubeSats.

Now, I had the opportunity to speak with the chief exploration scientist Jacob Bleacher about his favorite experiment that's on board, of these 10 CubeSats. Take a listen to what he had to say.


JACOB BLEACHER, NASA CHIEF EXPLORATION SCIENTIST: It's hard for me to point at one but we're going to learn about ice on the moon. We're going to learn about the environment through which our astronauts and other hardware are going to need to fly. We're going to learn about how to navigate. We're going to take high-resolution images.

Just together, the amount of information we're getting from these separate individual CubeSats is tremendous.


CRANE: Now, I know Jacob was pretty diplomatic with this answer there. But, Christine, I've got to tell you -- my favorite experiment that's on board is a CubeSat that's actually going to make a hard landing on the moon here.

So, hopefully, all of that will unfold. But first, we have to get this rocket off the ground, so fingers crossed that happens today, Christine. ROMANS: Fingers crossed, indeed.


Rachel Crane, you're going to have a lot of fun today -- I know you will -- and you'll be bringing it to us. Thank you very much.

All right, from the moon to the stars. All the stars were out last night for the MTV Video Music Awards. The night's biggest moments included Taylor Swift making history with her Best Solo Director win for the 10-minute short film of her song "All Too Well." And she shocked everyone with the announcement of the October 21 release date for her new album.

Also, a showstopping medley performance from Video Vanguard winner Nicki Minaj.

Let's bring in Alexandra Canal, senior entertainment reporter at Yahoo Finance. OK, you get to stay up late for your job to watch these things. It's all too late for me.

But Taylor Swift making history teasing her new album. She looked pretty good there. What's your take?


ROMANS: I love it.

CANAL: I mean, she came out to play on this red carpet. And I think -- you know, for Taylor Swift, she doesn't really go to all the awards shows, all the red carpets. So the second that she came out, fans were so excited, talking all about it on Twitter.

You mentioned that album, October 21. It's going to be called "Midnights" and she revealed that it's 13 songs that she wrote during 13 sleepless nights. So, you know, knowing Taylor Swift, that is going to be some really hard-hitting songs -- some love songs, maybe some breakup songs. So she's just awesome and I think fans are really, really excited to see her.

And then we also had, really, a ladies' power hour, I would say. We had Nicki Minaj receiving the Video Vanguard. A lot of really prominent artists have received that award, like the Beatles, David Bowie, Britney Spears. During her speech, she called out mental health and referenced some of her icons like Michael Jackson, as well as Whitney Houston.

And she also received her own award of the night, Best Hip Hop Video, so she had a great name. She was also a host.

So we had -- we had a lot of great female --

ROMANS: Great night for her.

CANAL: -- power last night. ROMANS: And this. After a 6-year hiatus, Britney Spears making a comeback with the release of "Hold Me Closer," which is a collaboration with Elton John.

CANAL: Yes, it a collaboration with Elton John. This is a really big moment for Britney Spears. The first major music release since the end of her 13-year conservatorship. As you said, the first piece of music that we've gotten from Britney in six years.

And she has been really happy about this song, posting all about it on social media. It is number one in the U.S. and number one in dozens of other countries.

And for Elton John, it's interesting, too, because he's basically taking a song from the past and popifying them. I don't even know if that's a word but I'm going to make it up because that's essentially what he did with Britney Spears.

And earlier this summer he had another collaboration with pop star Dua Lipa with "Cold Heart" -- basically, taking elements of "Rocket Man" and remixing them, making them a little poppy.

So, dude is like everything old is new again -- not just in music but, really, Hollywood in general.

ROMANS: Well, and then dragons --


ROMANS: -- very old -- and that's new again. They've -- HBO Max renewing "House of the Dragon" for another season?

CANAL: Yes. Just after one episode, "House of the Dragon" has been greenlit for season two. Now, this comes after a blockbuster debut last Sunday -- 9.99 million people tuning in to watch this show across each HBO and HBO Max. This was by far the most successful series premiere for HBO. And they committed a lot of money to this show -- $10 million to $15 million per episode and a marketing budget of --

ROMANS: Per episode?

CANAL: Per episode, and a marketing budget of $100 million. That's on par with most theatrical temples.


CANAL: They are really banking on this. But the "Game of Thrones" fans -- I mean, they're hardcore --


CANAL: -- so I'm not surprised that this show (INAUDIBLE).

ROMANS: I'm not even a hardcore fan and I watched the -- I watched the premiere last week, so -- CANAL: You have to. You want to be a part of the pop culture conversation.

ROMANS: And it is a big conversation.

Alexandra Canal, thank you so much. Nice to see you.

All right, in Bend, Oregon, officials say two people were killed and one injured when a gunman opened fire at a shopping center. Investigators believe the suspect began shooting in the parking lot with an AR-15-style rifle before entering a Safeway grocery store.

When officers arrived, they could hear gunshots but later found the body of the person they believe to be the shooter. No shots were fired by law enforcement so it appears the gunman died by suicide, although officials did not explicitly say so. Police say they believe he acted alone.

All right, next, the final countdown to NASA's mission to the moon.



ROMANS: All right, let's look at these live pictures. It looks like there could be a delay here at the Kennedy Space Center as they are fueling up this huge rocket -- powerful rocket. We're going to be following the mission to the moon. We have special coverage throughout the morning. Stay tuned so you can time your viewing party -- right -- your watch party for this Artemis 1 launch.

"NEW DAY" is going to have the latest on the Artemis 1 -- the countdown there, and when the launch happens a little more now than a couple of hours from now.

Thanks for joining me here at EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" picks it up right now.