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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

New Polls Show GOP Regaining Momentum for House Takeover; Liz Cheney: January 6 Committee Won't Let Trump Testimony Become a Circus; Former Chinese Leader Led Out of Room As Party Congress Ends. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired October 24, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Here we go. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, it is Monday, October 24th, I'm Christine Romans. We begin with the midterm elections now just 15 days away. Early voting already under way with more than 5.8 million ballots cast in 39 states.

Right now, polls and political spending suggests Republicans are surging and stand a good chance of retaking the House of Representatives with a solid majority. Recent surveys show the reason for that surge, the economy, inflation, and to a lesser degree, crime. Early this Summer looked like the anger at the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe versus Wade would give Democrats a chance to hold back the red tide and keep control of the house.

Now it looks like that abortion-fueled momentum may have peaked too soon. Democrats are having to split their messaging between abortion and the economy.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Nobody said we're doing abortion rather than the economy. But it's about both. And I can tell you that, that issue is very provocative and encouraging people to vote across the country --


PELOSI: Having just been there, and not sitting in Washington, but while going around the country.


ROMANS: Let's bring in CNN's political analyst Margaret Talev; Managing Editor at "Axios". Nice to see you so early this morning starting the week, Margaret. We're looking at this polling, you know, new "ABC" and IPSOS polling showing more voters trust Republicans to handle the economy and crime, now they favor Democrats on the abortion issue.

You can see it there. But Senator Bernie Sanders has been warning Democrats to focus on the economy to win this election. How can Democrats prove they can handle the economy and inflation?

MARGARET TALEV, MANAGING EDITOR, AXIOS: Well, good morning, Christine. Yes, I think this is certainly what we're seeing now in these closing two weeks of this race, and it's not just Bernie Sanders, it's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi making the same argument both on Sunday shows, but also in a dear colleagues letter, making clear that's what she thinks is the correct messaging for her colleagues.

And this is how the Democrats are doing it. They are emphasizing the initiatives, the legislation and spending plans that they and Joe Biden have passed, including what they call the Inflation Reduction Act, but can probably best be described as that clean energy and prescription drug plan, emphasizing that over the long-term it will reduce costs for especially seniors, but everyone who relies on prescription drugs --

ROMANS: Yes --

TALEV: And allow the negotiation for drug prices. You're starting to see Democrats lean into preemptive criticism of Republicans also when it comes to what are Republicans going to do to your social security? What are Republicans going to do to your Medicare? And what's going to happen on future debt-ceiling fights.

And some of this is just a return to health care, which has actually been the most powerful weapon for Democrats in recent years in closing arguments in both 2018 and 2020 is hitting on that health care message for years has been about the Affordable Care Act, and whether Republicans would erode those protections.

This year, Democrats tried to make the health care argument synonymous with reproductive rights and abortion rights, and are now understanding the health care argument and economic argument also, and that's what they're doing.

ROMANS: Margaret --

TALEV: They may be late, you know.

ROMANS: Yes, we're seeing Margaret, huge numbers of early voting ballots cast across the country here. Georgia as of Sunday has over 750,000 votes cast. What do you make of this trend? Who is voting?

TALEV: Yes, it's the question that we'll be analyzing after the fact when it's just in the rear-view mirror. But look, these early 2018 -- these are 2018 levels. And four years ago, that was enough to put Democrats over the top. It doesn't necessarily mean the same thing this year, and the reason why is COVID.

Those COVID patterns set in 2020 where people became very comfortable with early voting. That's what predominantly Democrats want to do now. And so the question is, does this show huge enthusiasm, new voters coming out, new women voting for abortion protections, or is this just the people who would have voted any way voting early?

[05:05:00] Maybe some voting early because they're concerned about restrictions

at the polls, challenges at the polls, long lines, you know, fights over can you get a bottle of water in line, and saying I don't want to mess with that, I'm just going to vote now. If they're voting now, that's great. But it doesn't mean a Democratic surge between now and election day. And so I think, that's, you know, that's one of the big questions here.

ROMANS: President Biden told "MSNBC" Jonathan Capehart this about the 2024 race. Listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason I'm not making a judgment about formally running or not running, once I make that judgment, a whole series of regulations kick in. And I have to be -- I treat myself as a candidate from that moment on. I have not made that formal decision, but it's my intention, my intention to run again. And we have time to make that decision.


ROMANS: He has a 42 percent approval rating according to CNN's poll of polls average. What do you make of his intention to run for re- election here? The word intention, I guess.

TALEV: I think Joe Biden and Donald Trump both have an intention to run, and that, that will be the -- that's the framing until -- if and until it changes. And I think both are reluctant to blink or make any kind of another move as they watch the other one. And they also want to get through the midterm elections, and for Biden, he just sees no margin in turning this into a conversation about 2024 until they get past the next two weeks.

But the minute those two weeks are over, it is going to set off a new wave of speculation inside the Democratic Party about what's happening.

ROMANS: Yes --

TALEV: But I think until we hear otherwise, assume the president is running for re-election.

ROMANS: All right, Margaret Talev, nice to see you this morning, have a great rest of your day. Thank you.

TALEV: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right, Congresswoman Liz Cheney says the House January 6th Committee expects former President Donald Trump will comply with the committee's subpoena. But she says any Trump testimony will be behind closed doors to avoid political theater.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We are not going to allow -- CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS, NBC: Tell us the spectacle is

not going to be --

CHENEY: The former president -- he's not going to turn this into a circus. This isn't going to be, you know, his first debate against Joe Biden and the circus and the food fight that, that became. This is far too serious set of issues.


ROMANS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also weighing in on the Trump subpoena. Does she think he'll testify?


PELOSI: I don't think he's man enough to show up. I don't think his lawyers --


PELOSI: Will want him to show up because he has to testify under oath. But i don't think he'll show up. I don't think he's man enough. We'll see.


ROMANS: Let's bring in Michael Zeldin; former federal prosecutor and the host of "That Said" with Michael Zeldin podcast. Nice to see you this morning, Michael. Representative Cheney said --


ROMANS: This about Trump not complying with the subpoena.


TODD: If you don't get cooperation from him, do you have time for this legal fight?

CHENEY: We have many alternatives that we will consider if the former president decides that he is not going to comply with his legal obligation. The legal obligation every American citizen has to comply with a subpoena.


ROMANS: And so what do you -- what do you think she means by many alternatives?

ZELDIN: It's to take it to court. And there is really not much beyond that. They could theoretically impose the powers that the house inherently possesses and bring him in under some sort of house arrest, but that hasn't happened since the 1800s. So I think really all they can do is what they did in the case of Steve Bannon, which is refer to the Justice Department, seek contempt, go to court.

That took over a year with Bannon. And I think that's what they're facing here if Trump decides not to appear voluntarily.

ROMANS: Now, you say that the four-page schedule attached to the subpoena is what's so telling here about their request for Trump's cooperation.

ZELDIN: That's right, because in the schedule, which is -- and this is what we want you to talk about aspect of the subpoena -- is very specific information about conversations between Trump and people on various types of platforms, signal communications or sort of secret communications, it seems like they know a lot already about who was speaking to Trump and what they were talking about.

And so, this is really sort of a heads up to Trump as we know what's going on here, and we're going to give you a chance to come in and talk about it. But if we don't get it, though we'll fight for it, we have enough to already make a referral to the Justice Department and that's what we'll do.

ROMANS: So in a separate legal drama unfolding or surrounding the president and people around him, Senator Lindsey Graham is asking the Supreme Court to block his subpoena from the Fulton County grand jury. That's the grand jury investigating attempts to overturn the election results.


Graham is arguing that his efforts in Georgia were legislative activities, protected by the, quote, "speech or debate clause of the U.S. constitution." Explain to us what that is.

ZELDIN: Under the speech and debate clause, it provides that if you are a legislature acting in your official capacity, you cannot be brought in by another branch to testify about what you're doing. In this case would be the court requiring him to come in. He said everything I was doing was legislative.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, two Trump judges and another judge said, no it wasn't. The communications you had with the White House, with the Trump campaign about the efforts to overturn the results in Georgia are not official duties. Those are private, political duties, and you have a duty to come in and testify.

He said I still disagree and he's asking the Supreme Court to intervene. I don't think he has a good case for that. But you never know.

ROMANS: Steve Bannon was sentenced to four months in prison for defying a subpoena from the January 6th Committee, Michael. This after the government argued for a maximum six months in prison and a fine of $200,000. What do you make of the sentencing for Bannon?

ZELDIN: I think it was a good sentence in that, normally, in a case like this, a defendant might get 30 days to probation as the typical sentence. He got four months. They're going to run concurrently between the two different sentences. He could have served eight theoretically, but four months in jail is a lot of time in jail. Anyone who's been a defense lawyer and has visited their clients in

jail knows that four hours, no less four months is a long time. So, I think it sends the message that the court wanted to send, which is, you can't thumb your nose at the judicial process and legislative subpoena process.

And you're going to go to jail eventually because I don't think there is an appellate issue that will get this conviction reversed.

ROMANS: All right, Michael Zeldin, nice to see you this morning. Thank you so much.

ZELDIN: Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: Right, the U.S. dismissing Russia's fears of Ukraine using a so-called dirty bomb during a phone call with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Sunday. Russia's Defense Minister made the claim that Ukraine was planning to use the weapon, which of course, spreads radioactive material using conventional explosives.

The State Department as well as Ukraine and the U.K. say the allegation is a false flag operation. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen live in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, with more. So how is Russia responding to this false flag accusation?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Russians continue to blame the Ukrainians and are alleging, Christine, that the Ukrainians are plotting to use what they call a dirty bomb, which would be some sort of nuclear device on their own territory. And you know, certainly were some pretty troubling words coming from the Russian defense minister, and also pretty troubling because he made these allegations in phone calls with the defense secretaries of four NATO countries.

The U.S., France, Britain and, of course, the Turks as well. The three countries, the U.S., Britain and France all saying that they don't believe any of this is true. They're saying this looks like transparently false information, and could be used as a pretext for further escalation here in Ukraine. And it was quite interesting because the Russian defense minister, when he spoke to the French defense minister, he said that he feared that there could be an uncontrolled escalation here in this country.

Unclear why exactly the Russians are saying this, but certainly right now, it looks like on many parts of the battlefield here in Ukraine, they are continuing to lose. But what they are doing, and what they're certainly continuing to do, Christine, is hitting the civilian infrastructure of this country very hard.

It was an extremely tough weekend here for the folks in Ukraine, and especially on Saturday, there were flurry of Russian strikes especially towards the west of the country, hitting that critical infrastructure. Hitting power plants, but also, of course, hitting civilian areas as well. And if you look at the place that I am right now, Zaporizhzhia, this is an area that's in the south of Ukraine. It's very close to Russian position. So what they do here is they use

less of those long distance missiles, but they use missiles that are normally used to shoot down planes and hit civilian areas with them. Obviously, the propensity for civilian casualty is extremely high, Christine.

ROMANS: Just a terrible weekend, you're right, in Ukraine. Thank you so much for that, Fred. All right, debate night in America -- debate night in Florida, what to watch for when Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist tangle. Plus, a dramatic moment caught on camera as China's president tightens his grip on power.

And a warning for parents about the rising number of children being stricken by respiratory viruses.



ROMANS: Chinese leader Xi Jinping cementing his grip on power. Xi emerges from the Communist Party stronger than ever, securing a third term as party chief surrounded by his loyalists. A dramatic moment on the meetings final day was captured on tape. China's former top leader seated next to Xi Jinping was escorted out of the room. CNN's Selina Wang live in Hong Kong. What is the Chinese media, Selina, saying about that incident, if anything?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, well, look, that video has gone viral abroad, but it's not being reported on inside China. And every time we talk about this topic, well, our signal gets blocked inside China, the CNN signal goes to color bars.

But what's really interesting is that a Chinese state media account posted a statement on Twitter which remember, is blocked inside China in English, saying that the reason why China's former top leader, Hu Jintao was escorted out of the room was because of health reasons. The reason why that video is so bizarre and shocking is because the party congress, which happens once every five years is highly scripted and choreographed.

Everything is meticulously planned. And if you look at that video, there are some confusing moments, and then Hu Jintao is eventually led out of the room. He looks reluctant to leave. He whispers something, it appears, to Xi Jinping, then pats the premier Li Keqiang on the shoulder.


Now, I've been speaking to experts who say they don't buy this health explanation especially because of the timing. This video was taken by journalists who were in the room. So journalists were allowed in the room when this happened. But regardless, it was a symbolic moment. Many people see it as a representation of the end of Hu and the collective leadership that he wielded, while Xi Jinping, he's all about one man rule.

ROMANS: Yes, and Xi has consolidated his power base. What does it mean for China going forward in the world?

WANG: And I think what's important to mention here is that we were expecting him to consolidate power, but the extent to which he's turned his power near absolute, that was shocking and unexpected. Stacking top leadership positions completely with his allies and prodigies.

This means increasingly only one man's opinion matters in China, and the fear is that he's surrounded by an echo chamber of yes men which increases the chances of poor decision-making because none of his subordinates want to tell the person at the top that poor things are happening.

Now, in terms of what this means for the world, expect to see Xi Jinping double down on what he's been doing. So more communist party control over Chinese society. More crackdowns on dissent. More tensions with the United States. More aggression and intimidation of Taiwan. Xi Jinping is a man who believes China no longer needs to follow U.S.-led international system, and he sees a new world order, one that's no longer dominated by the West, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, his control of the Chinese economy also expanding by the day. Selina Wang, thank you so much, nice to see you this morning. A major storm could bring early season snow out west, and the U.S. Education Secretary says they're moving full speed ahead on student debt relief despite a court putting a temporary hold on the program.



ROMANS: All right, a major storm this week is packing early season snowfall, heavy rain and severe thunderstorms. Winter weather advisories and warnings have been issued across several western states. Let's go to CNN's Pedram Javaheri with the forecast. What are we expecting this morning P.J.?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Christine, we got snow showers coming in across parts of the west here as you noted, and looking at nine -- parts of nine states dealing with these Winter weather alerts, upwards of 20-plus inches observed in areas of Montana. And again, the energy shifting farther towards the east and expect some snow showers across portions of the Rockies as well to kind of go along with what is played out here.

And of course, this is the first of the transition into the seasons here, getting in the beneficial snow showers and wet weather as well and cold weather alerts across areas of the western U.S. for some spots in the higher elevations. This cold is 19 degrees, so, yes, Christmas eve, about two months from today and you're seeing these transitions happen into some wintry conditions.

But really, the big story is getting beneficial rainfall. We know parts of Washington State, Oregon state, 60 percent to 80 percent of these states underneath drought conditions. And we're going to get some beneficial rainfall out of this as well, and translate that into the higher elevations into some beneficial snowfall.

So lots of good news when it comes to the system moving off towards the east and bringing with it some much-needed rainfall in lots of the U.S.

ROMANS: All right, thank you so much for that --


ROMANS: Nice to see you, Pedram.


ROMANS: All right, it's DeSantis versus Crist going head-to-head in the debate tonight in the race for Florida governor. What to expect. Plus --


ROMANS: How do you prepare for the possibility of a recession?

MIGUEL PATRICIO, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, KRAFT HEINZ: We need to prepare for the worst and --


ROMANS: My one-on-one interview with the chief executive of Kraft Heinz. And --


ROMANS: Yes, the Philadelphia Phillies are going to the World Series. Who they'll face in the "BLEACHER REPORT" ahead.