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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

China Signals It Could Ease COVID Restrictions After Protests; Biden Hosts French President Macron At White House State Dinner; Winter Storm Brings Heavy Snow In Western U.S.; Another Setback For Biden's Loan Forgiveness Plan; WH: Biden To Meet With Prince And Princess Of Wales In Boston. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 02, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on "EARLY START," China show signs of softening its strict COVID rules. Did the protesters win?

Last call for early voters in Georgia, Warnock and Walker now in the final lap of the race before Tuesday's runoff.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Viva La France and God bless America.

ROMANS: Biden and Macron toast to their enduring alliances, but sobering questions remain, like, how to deal with Vladimir Putin.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Christine Romans. We begin with signs that China may be ready to ease the draconian COVID restrictions that have transformed daily life and sparked violent protests in cities all across the country.

According to state media, the official in charge of China's COVID response says the country faces a, quote, new stage and mission in pandemic controls.

Their remarks follow a surge of anger with the government's Zero COVID Policy and its human cost that has led to unprecedented public protests and calls to oust President Xi Jinping in at least 19 Chinese cities in the past week.

Let's bring in CNN's Steven Jiang. He's live in Beijing. Is this a signal, Steven, good morning, that the protesters, I guess, won here or had their voices heard at least?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Christine, here's the thing. The authorities here have not even acknowledged that protest took place, let alone admitting the demonstrations have prompted the changes and adjustment in their enforcement in recent days. So what's going on here seemed to be a two-pronged approach in terms of the official response to the protests.

On the one hand, they have been ramping up their clamp down any open dissent. We have been speaking to some protesters who told us police have tracked them down actually, by geo locating their phones to protest locations. Others who are detained told us they were forced to unlock their devices to hand them over to police as, quote-unquote, evidence.

So there's a lot of both high-tech and low-tech surveillance and crackdown going on. But on the other hand, we have noticed changes on the ground in terms of officials in multiple cities lifting long- standing lockdowns and reducing or even removing testing requirements among certain segments of the population.

And in some cases, for the first time, people who test positive are being allowed to quarantine at home instead of being sent to those mass facilities often in horrific conditions. But the problem here is a lack of consistency or clarity. And the underlying challenges facing the authorities obviously remain the same in terms of the relatively low vaccination rate among the elderly, and the lack of medical resources in dealing with a potential surge in severe cases.

So Zero COVID is not going away overnight. But this time, one thing that's different, Christine, is the shifting in their messaging and propaganda. For the first time, state media has stopped demonizing the virus, and instead, they're saying things like the Omicron Varian is much milder and a weaker than its predecessor.

So seemingly, they were setting the stage for an eventual exit from the Zero COVID Policy. Christine.

ROMANS: Just fascinating. All right. Steven Jiang, thank you so much for that.

All right. President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, presenting a united front against the war in Ukraine. Macron and France's First Lady, attended the first state dinner of Joe Biden's presidency last night. And while the two leaders agree Ukraine must be supported by the West, they do not see eye to eye on when to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


BIDEN: I have no immediate plans to contact Mr. Putin. Mr. Putin is -- let me choose my words very carefully. I'm prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact, there is an interest in him to decide and he's looking for a way to end the war. He hasn't done that yet.

If that's the case, in consultation with my French and my NATO friends, I'll be happy to sit down with Putin to see what he wants has in mind.


ROMANS: Melissa Bell has the latest for us from Paris. And, Melissa, what is the French President hoping to achieve with this visit to the U.S.?

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you mentioned, Christine, those disagreements over how to negotiate with Vladimir Putin when to do so, and it's something that's divided them within that alliance since this began with Emmanuel Macron taking a much more conversational tone with the Russian president, insisting that some conversation was better than none.

But more profoundly, there are these divisions on questions of energy and trade with Europeans extremely upset about the Inflation Reduction Act and all the consequences that it's likely to have on the European economy. This was really a bilateral meeting that we saw yesterday that was about trying to find some common ground. We don't really have the specifics yet, but both presidents came out suggesting that some wriggle room had been found specifically with looking to invest in emerging industries jointly.


So there has been some progress there. But, of course, these state visits just there had been back in 2018 with a very different American context are really about the pomp and circumstance and the celebrating of an alliance. That is as old, Christine, as America itself. Have a listen to what happened at the White House at that very elaborate and spectacular state dinner last night.


BIDEN: Please join me in raising our glasses, which neither one of us have. There you go. We're raising our glasses. To President Macron and his wife, Brigitte, to France, ladies and gentlemen, to the history binds us, and the values that still unite us and to the future we're going to forge together, Viva La France and God bless America.


BELL: There'll be a meeting in Washington this morning between President Macron and digital leaders. He will then head off with his wife to New Orleans, of course, a lot more history there for France. That will involve meeting with the governor. There also a memorandum of understanding between the countries will be signed on climate issues.

But this is really going to be much more about the cultural aspects of Louisiana and, again, all that French history in that part of the United States. Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, interesting. OK. Thank you so much. Melissa Bell in Paris.

Back here, inflation issue number one for Americans for a year now, now noted relief in prices at the pump. A gallon of regular gas now cheaper than it was before Russia invaded Ukraine. The national average price now 3.45, that's according to AAA below 3.54. That was the average on February 24th, the day Russia's invasion began. The price of gas has dropped nearly 15 cents in the last week and more than 30 cents over the past month.

Now to a storm system expected to bring heavy snow out West, parts of Colorado could get a foot by the end of today. In California, the Sierras are already blanketed with snow with another two feet possibly expected this weekend.

Let's get to meteorologist Derek Van Dam. Just how much snow could they see out West?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine. This is not a typo, one to three feet, that's from two different storm systems right now, just in time for meteorological winter which started yesterday, by the way, remember astronomical winter starts on December 21st.

So this is a look at the latest weather alerts over six million Americans impacted by this, by the way, Salt Lake City included within a winter storm warning. I want to show you the radar there because snow levels there are crashing hard. That's a telltale sign, a cold front has moved through. Precipitation changing over to snow. So Interstate 80, Interstate 70 moving East and West is going to be quite dicey this morning.

Now, we had two storm systems, one, now moving off towards the East. And then a secondary storm is going to continue to pile on the snow for the same locations here in Nevada mountain range, has a high avalanche potential going forward this weekend, because of the amount of snow, the fresh fallen snow and also the impressive winds that will be whipping across this region.

Look at some of these snowfall totals at the ski resorts making skiers and snowboarders rejoicing, but really causing some headaches on the interstates and the local roadways as well. Lower elevation, we'll see rainfall, that's for San Francisco, Los Angeles, right through a better part of the weekend.

Here's a look at the wind forecasts. The front range of the Colorado Rockies, get this, 60-mile per hour winds. You factor in the dry conditions that are in place, as well as the ongoing drought and we have the potential for some fire weather. That's why we have a critical fire outlook for portions of the Oklahoma Panhandle, as well as the sections of the central plains into Kansas. So lots to take note of this weekend, but the big storm system impacting the West and the Pacific Northwest. Christine.

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

VAN DAM: Pleasure.

ROMANS: Well, this morning, a bipartisan bill to head off a crippling nationwide rail strike is on President Biden's desk awaiting his signature.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In this vote, the yeas are 80, the nays are 15. One senator responded present. Under the previous order requiring 60 votes for the passage of this joint resolution, the joint resolution is passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: The Senate, Thursday, passing that legislation, they followed the lead of the House to impose a tentative rail agreement. Without congressional action, a strike could have caused major supply shortages and sent the economy reeling.

Now, unlike the House, the Senate failed to pass a measure that would have added paid sick leave, something progressives and union members had pushed hard for.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): On the one hand, we don't want to shut down the economy. On the other, we don't want to say to rail workers, if you have a heart attack or you break your leg, you either show up to work or you're going to lose your job.


ROMANS: President Biden praising Congress for passing the bill and sparing the country of, quote, Christmas catastrophe.


Another legal setback for Donald Trump, a federal appeals court halting a special master's review of documents that were seized from the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate. The ruling removes a major obstacle to the Justice Department's investigation into Trump's mishandling of sensitive government records. The three-judge panel ruling, a U.S. district judge should not have intervened by calling for a special master in the first place.

All right. It's the final stretch and the rematch between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker in Georgia. Today is the final day of early voting before Tuesday's Senate runoff election. More than one million early ballots have already been cast in Georgia. Both Warnock and Walker have campaign stops today as the candidates make their closing arguments to voters across the state.

All right. Three months since Joe Biden moved to forgive student loan debt and not a penny has been wiped away. What's the holdup?

Plus, Harvey Weinstein's second rape trial about to go to the jury in Los Angeles.

In Iowa, first in the nation for presidential primaries that could soon change.




BIDEN: My campaign for president, I made a commitment. I made up -- coming up, that we provide student debt relief. And I'm honoring that commitment today. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. That was President Biden three months ago rolling out his plan to forgive student loan debt. What's at stake here? Relief of $10,000 or $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients. Onerous debt to be wiped away for people who make $125,000 a year or less.

Now, so far, not a penny has been forgiven. It is a legal battle playing out -- excuse me. Let's bring in Dave Aronberg, the State Attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida. This goes to the Supreme Court oral arguments begin in February, until then, legal limbo.

You got a couple of cases here and Eighth Circuit court case. The Texas case pending before the Fifth Circuit. This is the Eighth Circuit court case now going to the Supreme Court. What -- there's no relief until the Supreme Court weighs in? I guess, and maybe not ever.

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Correct, Christine. And I think that this program was in great jeopardy. The Eighth Circuit, now, they've ruled against the Biden ministration. And now it's before the Supreme Court.

And in the Eighth Circuit, it's been filed by a bunch of Republican- led states who said they're harmed because they're losing tax revenue over this proposal. And if the Biden administration wants to do this, they need to go through Congress, because Congress and only Congress has the power of the purse.

And since this is a very conservative Supreme Court with a six-three majority, I think the states are probably going to win just like they won with the eviction moratorium. Remember that one?


ARONBERG: Biden -- the Biden proposal was thrown out by the Supreme Court for the same reason. I think this one is probably going to be thrown out as well.

ROMANS: So what's the legal argument from the Biden admission side? They say they're using pandemic era powers to be able to do this?

ARONBERG: Right. They said it's authorized by Congress by a 2003 statute called the HEROES Act, that gives the administration, through the Department of Education, the power to suspend regulations and issue relief.

But Biden himself said that the pandemic was over. And that's going to be used against him his own words. And also it's tough to show a direct tie, I think, between people who have debt and the pandemic. Did the pandemic cause them a financial hardship to pay off that debt? You got to show a direct line in front of this Supreme Court. They're going to be really critical.

ROMANS: In the meantime, for people who are watching this, who are waiting for that money, I mean, they did pause student loan payments again into next year, so there's a pause on those payments while the legal battle plays out. So what alternatives is the Biden administration, beyond that, have to all these people who are in limbo?

ARONBERG: They're going to have to go to Congress. The way to do this is by getting the legislature to do it, and they could have done it perhaps under the previous Congress controlled by the Democrats. It's going to be a lot harder to do it under a Congress with Republican leadership.

ROMANS: All right. Dave Aronberg, so nice to see you this morning. Thank you very much. A lot of people have been asking us about this question. Like, when is this going to happen? There's a portal. It's live. I'm ready to have this debt wiped away, but it's the courts here. This is where it sits right now, the courts. Dave Aronberg, have a great weekend.

ARONBERG: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Quick Hits across America right now. Jurors and Harvey Weinstein's second rape trial in Los Angeles are expected to get the case today. The disgraced movie mogul is charged with rape and sexual assault and both involving four women.

An arrest warrant issued for former Tampa -- former Tampa Bay Bucs receiver, Antonio Brown, in Florida. Tampa Police say Brown was involved in a, quote, domestic battery incident with a woman.

President Biden proposing a new order for Democratic primaries in 2024. The new calendar has South Carolina first followed by Nevada, New Hampshire, then Georgia and Michigan. Iowa, not pictured.

Ahead, a dangerous mystery unfolding in Spain. Who is sending letter bombs? The U.S. Embassy, one of the targets.

Plus, President Biden set to meet up with the Royals in Boston.



ROMANS: President Biden travels to Boston today for a fundraiser. While there, the President will meet with the Prince and Princess of Wales. William and Kate are getting the royal treatment on their own visit to Beantown.

Let's bring in CNN's Scott McLean. He's -- McLean, he's monitoring the royal visit from London. What are they doing in Boston, Scott?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, after the last few days, it seems like they are trying to salvage what's left of this three-day U.S. tour, the first time they've been in the country in the last eight years.

Later this afternoon, we now know that the two will be meeting, as you said, with President Biden. It's described in his calendar as a greetings. We don't know precisely how long this will take place for. But it's interesting to note that Biden is going to be going to the Royals, to the place that they were already scheduled to be at, rather than vice versa.

And under normal circumstances, I would also be telling you, Christine, about the Earthshot Prize Initiative, something that William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales, helped to found last year. This gives out prize money to help encourage solutions to the climate crisis. But right now, the Royal Family, frankly, is trying to deal with another crisis, allegations of racism made against an 83-year-old member of the Royal household who is also William's godmother.

And it is not just that, it is also the fact that yesterday day two -- day two smack dab in the middle of this three-day tour, Netflix released the trailer for the "Duke and Duchess of Sussex" Harry and Meghan's new docu series program. And this trailer is less than 60 seconds long. It has very little dialogue in it, but it makes abundantly clear in that short space of time that this is going to be another huge headache for the Royal Family.

Of course, it is well established that William and Harry, the brothers, have had a pretty fractious relationship over the last few years. If you consult the British tabloids, they're describing this as sort of a revenge of the Sussexes, maybe even sabotage of their U.S. trip.


In the trailer, you see pictures of Harry and Meghan, some of them they're looking sad, maybe even anguish, maybe even crying. And that tells you a lot about what's potentially to come in this series. Remember, it was last year as well, Christine, that Harry and Meghan sat down with Oprah Winfrey and Meghan made the claim that there were concerns and conversations within the Royal Family about how dark her son's skin would be when he was born.

One other thing to note and that is that charity campaigner who made these allegations of racism against William's godmother. She made clear last night in an interview with CNN that she does not want this to be swept under the rug. She thinks that the broader Royal Family, the monarchy has an issue with racism that needs to be addressed the Royal Family, Buckingham Palace for this part says that there has been that the godmother has apologized, though the charity campaigner says not directly.

ROMANS: Yes. And that we should be clear about what that incident was, it was -- the two women were together in an event. And the 83-year-old aide to the Royal Family kept saying, where are you from? But where are you from? And the woman kept saying, I'm English. No, what's your nationality? Where in Africa are you from? And sort of was very uncomfortable experience according to everyone around them.

All right. Nice to see you. Thank you so much. Scott McLean. Thanks.

MCLEAN: You bet.

ROMANS: All right. Another big twist at this year's World Cup.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kai Havertz there sitting on the center backeat, (inaudible) goes into that back post, and then lays it across for the full crew.

ROMANS: Four-time champion Germany bounced from the World Cup even after its four to two victory over Costa Rica. While Japan punched its ticket to the knockout round with a major upset of Spain.

Let's go to CNN's Amanda Davis live in Doha, Qatar. Hard to believe Germany's out.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: It is hard to believe. If it wasn't this World Cup and what we've seen over the last couple of weeks, it really was another of those action packed World Cup nights here in Doha with the thrills and spills reverberating around the streets and the (inaudible) as the action played out on big screens. It was quite something, Christine.

The big headline, as you mentioned, the ball was in, but Germany are out amidst massive controversy. It was a huge VAR technology call for Japan in their game against Spain, deciding the ball hadn't gone out of place. So that allowed Japan's second goal to stand. So the Blue Samurai fighting back from a goal down to take the victory and that meant that Germany's win over Costa Rica was not enough to see them through. Huge, huge disappointment for the four-time world champions. A second straight group stage exit for them. And they joined Belgium as the other big European heavyweight licking their wounds here this morning.

Morocco though, the other big winners, sparking wild celebrations with their victory over Canada. They became the team flying the flag for the Arab nations heading into the Last 16, booking their place for the first time in 36 years. Coach Walid Regragui and Achraf Hakimi, they got a standing ovation as they walked into their press conference.

And afterwards, Regragui, the coach had declared he sees no reason why this side should stop here and that they can go on and win this tournament. But just before the start, the buildup in earnest of the rounds of 16, of course, that big U.S. clash against the Netherlands. We've got their final group stage matches taking place here today.

Brazil and Portugal, we already know a through, so that leaves two spots yet to be decided. Massive clash with a whole lots of history between Ghana and Uruguay. Ghana hoping to settle a score from 2010. Cameroon need to beat Brazil to make it through. They say they're preparing for this one, as if it's a final.

A little bit of humor from the Serbian coach, Dragan Stojkovic, ahead of there must-win against Switzerland. He says he hopes there are as many holes in the Swiss defense as there is in their cheese. You can't complain with a bit of a cheese joke on you.

But the USA, for their part, have their final training session and news conference shortly. Star man, Christian Pulisic, gave no guarantees on his fitness yesterday, but he did sound positive. He said he's doing everything he possibly can in his power to be there on Saturday, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes. And certainly they wouldn't be where they are right now without him. So everyone's so grateful for his performance so far.

All right. Amanda, thank you so much.

Quick Hits around the globe right now. A Norway-based human rights group says Iranian security personnel shot and killed a 27-year-old activist in northern Iran. The man was celebrating his own team's World Cup loss to the U.S.

Spain increasing security measures after six letter bombs were discovered over the past week, one targeting the U.S. Embassy was detonated in a controlled environment. No one was hurt.