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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Truss To Become Shortest-Serving PM In British History; Economic Turmoil In U.K. Leads To Truss' Downfall; Today: Sentencing Hearing For Former Trump Adviser Steve Bannon; Independent Women Voters Could Decide PA Senate Race; Biden Announces More Oil Reserve Sales, Infrastructure Funding In PA; Ukraine Pleads For Help As Russia Destroys Power Sites. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 21, 2022 - 05:00   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Friday, October 21. I'm Christine Romans. A big question right now after the sudden resignation of British Prime Minister Liz Truss. The biggest of all, who will replace her? The ruling conservative party wants a new leader in place within days.

Remember, Truss' leadership campaign took about eight weeks, which turned out to be longer than she spent in office. CNN's Scott McLean is live in London. Scott, where do things stand right now?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, so there are no candidates who have officially declared themselves in the race. But the leadership race is well underway happening though largely behind closed doors. And that is because candidates will be horse trading, negotiating, trying to persuade their parliamentary colleagues to actually support them, because the bar to even get into this race is quite high.

There are more than 300 Conservative MPs and it'll take the support of at least 100 to even get into the race. This does not favor more minor candidates who are popular maybe with a certain wing of the party or popular with party membership. This favors the known quantities already, people who already have a well-established track record already.

And it's possible that there could only be one, one candidate who actually reaches that 100-vote threshold, in which case we'll have a new prime minister of Britain on Monday. Otherwise, there could potentially be up to three in which case the Party MPs would whittle down the list to two and then put those to a party vote. But because of the shortened timeline, that we're talking about choosing a party leader by the end of next week, it would have to be an online vote of the party membership which brings up all kinds of concerns about reaching members and also about cybersecurity as well. The odds-on favor, Christine, at this point is Rishi Sunak. He's the former chancellor. He has plenty of economic and financial credibility, especially considering the fact that he seemed to predict correctly what would happen if Liz Truss' disastrous policies were actually put into place. But he is also known as the architect of Boris Johnson's downfall. And so there is some particularly bad blood between them.

Penny Mordaunt is another possible contender. She's the leader of the House of Commons right now. And Boris Johnson, if you can believe that, Christine, is also potentially putting his name into the race as well. But he comes with an enormous amount of baggage as you can imagine. He was forced out of office. He resigned only six or seven weeks ago after scandal, after being found to have held parties at Downing Street in the depths of lockdown.

I should also mention quickly that there is a parliamentary investigation into whether or not Boris Johnson misled MPs over that party gate scandal. It hasn't even had time to start yet. And so, if that investigation were to find that he did actually mislead MPs, then potentially he could be suspended as an MP altogether, which of course, would throw this country into even more chaos.

ROMANS: Yes, just a fascinating situation. Remember, it was her economic policies that led to this downfall in an era of rising now interest rates and high inflation. These politicians have just very little room to make mistakes here.

Thank you so much for that, Scott McLean. We'll talk again soon.

Liz Truss promised she would ride out the storm after taking office six weeks ago, instead of political hurricane of her own making forced her to step down. More now from CNN's Bianca Nobilo.


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Devastating resignations and fierce criticism. On Thursday afternoon, British Prime Minister Liz Truss gave in to the reality.

LIZ TRUSS, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: I recognize though, given the situation, I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liz Truss is elected as the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party.

NOBILO (voice-over): It was just her 45th day in office. There was no time for a honeymoon period. Queen Elizabeth died on her second day. She will have been the shortest-serving Prime Minister in British history. Parliamentary rules mean the Conservatives are still in charge. Its MPs can choose the new prime minister.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The public must be looking at this thinking, what on earth is going on? This is the governing party. GRAHAM BRADY, CHAIR, CONSERVATIVE PARTY 1922 COMMITTEE: Absolutely. And -- absolutely. And I think we are deeply conscious of the imperative and the national interest of resolving this clearly and quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To speak out last week, the Prime Minister --

NOBILO (voice-over): The opposition Labour Party says enough is enough.

SIR KEIR STARMER, LEADER OF U.K. LABOUR PARTY: And the public are paying with higher prices, with higher mortgages. So we can't have a revolving door of chaos.


We can't have another experiment at the top of the Tory party. There is an alternative and that's a stable Labour government.

NOBILO (voice-over): Economic issues are at the heart of her downfall.

TRUSS: I have a bold plan to grow the economy through tax cuts and reform.

NOBILO (voice-over): When she took office last month, her government announced big energy subsidies but also massive tax cuts for the rich and lifting a cap on bankers' bonuses.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wasn't the only one that thought it was a mistake.

NOBILO (voice-over): Markets those traditional Tory allies also disapproved. The pound tanked. The Bank of England trying to prop up the economy. And it got worse. She fired her chancellor in charge of the economy. You turned on promise after promise.

On Wednesday, her Home Secretary left too, excoriating Truss, is pretending not to have made mistakes.

Wednesday night, MPs were allegedly physically manhandled in parliament in an effort to win a government vote. One Tory MP called it an absolute disgrace.

CHARLES WALKER, U.K. CONSERVATIVE MP: I've had enough. I've had enough of talentless people putting their tick in the right box, not because it's in the national interest, but because it's in their own personal interest.

NOBILO (voice-over): The coming days will determine this country's future for years to come. Tory MPs openly say Truss has destroyed their party's reputation for fiscal responsibility. Finding a consensus candidate will be no easy task for the Conservatives and with some MPs voicing support for a return of Boris Johnson, the rifts of wider than ever.

Bianca Nobilo, CNN, London. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right, Bianca, thank you so much for that.

A federal judge throwing out a lawsuit brought by six Republican led states challenging President Biden's Student Debt Relief Program. The judge ruling the states failed to demonstrate how the policy was causing them harm and appeal is expected. In another victory for the President, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett rejected a separate challenge to the Debt Relief Program, declining to take up an appeal by Wisconsin taxpayers' group.

President Biden goes to Delaware today to talk up Student Loan Forgiveness. His executive order cancels up to $10,000 in loans for individuals making less than $125,000 a year and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients in that same income range. The first loan cancelations could begin Sunday.

Jasmine Wright joins us this morning bright and early from Washington. Good morning, Jasmine. The President has not said too much about the Student Loan Forgiveness plan since issuing that executive order. Why is he highlighting it today?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN REPORTER: Well, Christine, it's a new political strategy for the White House. The President over the last few weeks has been touring the country promoting really his official agenda, as well as talking to donors. But that is kind of instead of those larger candidate rallies that we know, we've seen from past presidents experiencing their first midterms, we can think of former President Trump, former President Obama, the White House hasn't been doing that as much.

Now yesterday, we saw the President give a speech in Pennsylvania at a bridge on infrastructure, a popular policy. And then afterwards, he met up with Senate candidate John Fetterman at a sandwich shop before going to a closed-door donor event. Now that kind of new strategy represents a political reality for this White House, which is the fact that although things that this President has passed, like student loans with executive order, or like the bipartisan infrastructure bill through Congress, he still remains an unpopular president and one that some Democratic candidates in those tighter races don't exactly want to be on that big stage with.

Now, yesterday, Biden's Chief of Staff Ron Klain, he really defended this new strategy while on with Anderson Cooper. Take a listen.


RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Both President Obama, I was here, I'll share responsibility for it, and President Trump got walloped in the midterms. So I don't think it should surprise anyone that we're not using the strategy that failed in 2010 and the strategy that failed in 2018. Instead, what you're seeing is the President is traveling the country with Democrat elected officials, with Democratic candidates, and he's talking about the issues that really impact people. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT: So there we heard from Klain, talking about former presidents getting walloped, of course, this White House was trying to avoid that outcome as they tried to keep hold of their democratic majorities in the House and the Senate. So I think we can expect this new political strategy from the White House to continue.

Although yesterday, President Biden said that he had been requested by candidates in the Senate, in Nevada, Georgia, two places he hasn't yet gone in the run up. Of course, we know those are very, very tight races that could determine control of Congress. Though today, of course, you will see him touting as he has been in the last few days, some of those policy achievements that he's done by executive order in the run up of these three weeks. And then afterwards, he's expected to spend the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Jasmine, nice to see you. Thanks. Have a nice weekend.


All right today, the sentencing process begins for former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. He has been convicted of contempt of Congress and he's pushing back against the prosecutor's recommendation that he served six months in prison. Bannon is seeking probation.

In a new court filing, his lawyer says, "Mr. Bannon should not be punished for speaking out against official overreaching. Defiance in the face of government wrongdoing is reverence for justice."

A victory for actor Kevin Spacey, but his legal troubles are not over. A New York jury found Spacey not liable for sexual battery in a civil case brought by fellow actor Anthony Rapp. After only about an hour of deliberations, jurors determined Rapp did not prove that Spacey touched him intimately in 1986 when he was 14. Two other charges were previously dismissed.

Spacey still faces multiple charges of sexual assault in London. He pleaded not guilty.

All right, rolling blackouts in Ukraine after Russia's attacks on the country's energy infrastructure. Plus, what Republicans have planned for the economy if they win back Congress in November? And the voters who could decide the critical Senate race in Pennsylvania.


LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Women are the reason we can win. Don't piss women off.



[05:15:19] ROMANS: The Senate race in battleground Pennsylvania could determine control of the U.S. Senate. Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman is locked in a tight race with Republican Mehmet Oz. Both candidates zeroing in on the Philadelphia suburbs where female voters could make the difference. CNN's Jessica Dean is on the ground for us.


DR. MEHMET OZ, CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATOR: I'm Dr. Oz, I approve this message.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As ads for the hotly contested Pennsylvania Senate race flood the airwaves in the final weeks of the campaign, it's the Philadelphia suburbs where women may end up deciding the outcome.


DEAN (voice-over): The four so-called collar counties, the suburbs that surround Philadelphia, are home to some of the state's most affluent and educated female voters and they have a big independent streak.

BERWOOD YOST, CENTER FOR OPINION RESEARCH FRANKLIN AND MARSHALL COLLEGE: We know that these voters have moved in recent years towards Democrats, but they have a long tradition of voting for Republican candidates.

DEAN (voice-over): Most of the women we talked to have voted or considered voting for someone in both parties.

LINDSEY, BUCKS COUNTY RESIDENT: In the past, I was independent and I would vote on either side, but it's become clearer and clearer that I need to vote democratically.

SHARON JACKSON, BUCKS COUNTY RESIDENT: In 2016, I realized that there needed to be a change. And so, at that point, I decided that I was going to become a Republican.

DEAN (voice-over): Berwood Yost has studied Pennsylvania voter trends for years.

YOST: It's really going to be an interesting push cool between these concerns that voters have about the economy and inflation, and then concerns about abortion rights.

DEAN (voice-over): In Bucks County, Pennsylvania women we spoke to named three key issues swaying their decision, the economy, crime, and abortion rights.

JACKSON: I'm voting based on our economy and based on the crime.

DEAN (voice-over): Sharon Jackson said the country is moving in the wrong direction.

JACKSON: I go to the grocery store and I'm like, oh my goodness, this cost me $250. Oz has more to offer to me. And to -- I think that has a lot more to offer to our state.

DEAN (voice-over): But for others, abortion rights remain top of mind. And they plan to vote accordingly.

LINDSEY: John Fetterman.

DEAN (on-camera): Why?

LINDSEY: Because I care about reproductive rights.

DEAN (on-camera): Yes. Is that the biggest issue for you?

LINDSEY: It is. There's a lot of other issues. But right now, I've become a single-issue voter.

BERYL HIRSH, BUCKS COUNTY RESIDENT: I'm afraid of the abortion issue. Whether or not my own personal opinions of that, it's nobody's business.

DEAN (voice-over): The candidates are targeting these suburban women in different ways.

FETTERMAN: John Fetterwoman.

DEAN (voice-over): Fetterman is leaning into the issue of abortion rights.

FETTERMAN: Women are the reason we can win. Don't piss women off.

DEAN (voice-over): While Oz released an ad this week emphasizing political moderation.

OZ: Extremism on both sides makes things worse. We need balance, less extremism in Washington.

DEAN (voice-over): Both campaigns signaling they understand the potential impact of these voters in a race where the result could determine control of the Senate.

Jessica Dean, CNN, Philadelphia.


ROMANS: All right, it's the economy stupid as James Carville famously said, and Republicans think it'll help them in the midterms as they blame President Joe Biden and his policies for inflation.

Let's discuss with CNN Politics' Senior Writer Zachary Wolf. Zach, so nice to see you this morning. Here's an example of how life is more expensive for families right now, a trip to Disneyland in California for a family of four over $1,000 a day. You go to the grocery store or the gas station, every week you are confronted with high inflation. Republicans have been campaigning hard on the economy. Here's House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: That's why in the commitment to America, we will be energy independent that lower your price. We'll take away this runaway spending. We'll make America more productive to curb inflation what the Democrats have brought us.


ROMANS: So that's some of what Republicans say they do. What else do Republicans plan to do to curb inflation? And how realistic are those plans?

ZACHARY WOLF, SENIOR WRITER, CNN POLITICS: Well, you heard McCarthy there referred to the commitment to America, that's kind of their catchphrase platform for the year. And if you really drill in on their website and listening to them and, you know, and then on the trail, it boils down to three things. They want to cut spending, they want to increase energy production, and they want to, you know, lower taxes, essentially.

Lowering taxes, they can't really do without a Republican president and it would also raise inflation, giving people a bunch of money, their money or not, but flooding the market with money would raise inflation. So that's, you know, kind of not something to think about.

You know, putting more gas out there, President Biden is trying to do that. Republicans would expand, you know, leasing so they would get more gas out there. It would take some time. That's not going to happen overnight.


So really the thing that they can do is cut spending. And simply by virtue of being in Washington, they will stand in the way of a democratic majority to initiate more spending, and that would theoretically, address inflation to some degree.

ROMANS: Yes. There's also the risk of though, you know, taunting the debt ceiling, right? That's -- that would be a problem. And I would point to Liz Truss and what's happening in the U.K. right now for any kind of ideas of big, you know, conservative plans for government that did not work there at all. Here's what President Biden's Chief of Staff Ron Klain says they are doing.


KLAIN: The President's announcement yesterday to try to bring down the price of gasoline further, by releasing more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, setting a minimum price to rebuild the reserve, those kinds of things are going to really help families with their everyday expenses. You heard the President talking about infrastructure today in Pennsylvania, bringing down the cost of getting goods to market.


ROMANS: They're trying to get that message across here. How is the White House's effort helping Democratic candidates in tight races, or is it?

WOLF: Well, I mean, you heard the woman in Jessica Dean's piece talking about her grocery bill. I think that the kitchen table issues, there's unfortunately for President Biden, not so much that they can do right now. And you see in the polling that just recently, the economic mood is really starting to drive voters and maybe even more than the abortion issue for Democrats.

So, it's like turning an aircraft carrier. Presidents always get blamed for the economy --


WOLF: -- when it goes bad and they get maybe some credit for it when it's going well. It's not going great right now, or at least voters don't think it's going great. So President Biden is going to get some blame.

ROMANS: Polls show Republicans getting closer to control of the House in the Senate. And one poll shows that voters trust Republicans more to handle the economy. It's such an interesting, I mean, that is sort of embedded in the psyche of voters that somehow the GOP is a better steward of the economy. Why do you think that is?

WOLF: I think the Republicans have been very effective this year at blaming President Biden for inflation. And, you know, you talk to economists, there is a link between spending and inflation. So there's something there. On the other hand, they are saying he is solely responsible for the inflation and that's not exactly right. But they have used that as the sort of mantra and I think that that is one thing. It's as simple, it's followed. It's easy to follow --


WOLF: -- and his peers through that he is responsible for this.

ROMANS: Bidenomics is is what they call it. Looks great on a bumper sticker, but it's, you know, we've had a war in Ukraine and a pandemic, and there's a lot of things happening all at once that we've never once in a lifetime for sure.

Zachary Wolf --

WOLF: Right.

ROMANS: -- nice to see you. Have a great weekend.

WOLF: You too.

ROMANS: All right, the state of Arizona referring a report of voter intimidation to the Justice Department. And Russia ordering the arrest of a journalist for allegedly spreading misinformation.


[05:27:35] ROMANS: Ukraine is pleading with allies for help after Russian strikes knocked out as much as 40 percent of its power infrastructure. Rolling blackouts now have begun across the country. And now a senior government official warns that Russia could open a new front in this war.

CNN's Nic Robertson joins me live from Kyiv this morning. Nic, the Russians are planning to use Belarus to cut off military supplies to Ukraine?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: This is the concern that Ukrainian officials have right now. Belarus is already being used for Russian fighter jets, the MiG-31 and also for their cruise missiles, the Kalibr cruise missile. But when the alarms go off here in Kyiv, often it's because Ukrainians have spotted the jets or the missile systems getting ready to fire up.

But this is a bigger new concern, because what they're seeing is equipment, military equipment and logistics supplies coming in from Russia and moving west in Belarus. So rather than an attack across the border of troops coming in from Russia, from the north, into Ukraine, they now think that the threat is shifting West, and that these troops could potentially cross the border from Belarus into Ukraine. And that would be a huge worry and concern.

And part of this may be, Russia trying to distract and stretch Ukrainian forces, take them away from the offensive in the south, make them deploy more forces to the north, but that's a concern. Electricity here also a concern. Not so many overnight strikes on power infrastructures across the country, although there were several in the center of the country.

Here in Kyiv, for example, rolling blackouts began or sort of set blackouts began at 9:20 this morning. And authorities are saying, look, you will have four hours where you don't have electricity and then a period of six hours where you will have electricity again, and then another four hours off. So it's four off, six on.

And this is what people are facing and the instructions are, fill your water tanks, make sure you've got enough water supplies, make sure your power banks, your phones are all charged up. Make sure -- in the wintertime now you get extra blankets and extra socks. It is real that weather is cold. The power cuts are happening. And the government, in the meantime, is trying to sort of repair those facilities that have already been damaged, Christine.

ROMANS: Just unbelievable. All right, thank you so much, Nic.

Russia is ordering the arrest of a former state television journalist who flashed that sign during a live broadcast six months ago, saying the Kremlin was lying about the Ukraine war. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz live in London with this part of the story. Salma, what does this mean for her now that she's already out.