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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

DeSantis Mostly Avoids Harsh Rhetoric In State Of The State Speech; Today: Memphis To Release 20 More Hours Of Video As Probe Is Complete; Texas Sued By Women Who Say State's Abortion Bans Put Their Health At Risk. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 08, 2023 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis striking a very different tone in his State of the State speech Tuesday. The potential GOP presidential candidate mostly veered away from the divisive rhetoric that's been the hallmark of his recent speeches. You know, he never used the word woke not even once, but he didn't leave the culture wars entirely behind.

Let's turn to CNN's Steve Contorno live in St. Petersburg. Woke mind virus is something I think every time I see his face he says it so much. Was this a new Ron DeSantis? What can we expect from him?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Well, Christine, I don't know if this is a new Ron DeSantis. We'll find out soon enough. He's going to speak just a few miles from me later today so I guess we'll know then.

But look, the fact remains that there is a whole long list of priorities that are divisive and ideological that DeSantis and Republican lawmakers are pursuing this legislative session.

It includes things like restricting abortion to as early as potentially six weeks in a pregnancy. It includes lifting permits to carry a concealed gun in public. They want to ban gender studies and diversity and equity and inclusion programs on college campuses.

The bill that last year said you couldn't teach sexual orientation or gender identity until third grade -- that's back, extending it to eighth grade. There are bills targeting teachers' unions and liable laws, and in-state tuition for undocumented students. The list goes on.

And DeSantis has a plan to rack up as many legislative wins as he can and there's really nothing Democrats can do to stop him. The Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers. DeSantis knows this. And really, they can push through anything that he wants.

And this is an advantage that DeSantis has over the other potential 2024 contenders. You know, Donald Trump -- he can't use executive authority anymore. Former Gov. Nikki Haley -- she can't set a legislative agenda or sign bills. DeSantis can do all of that. And over the next 60 days he intends to flex that power -- use the legislature to rack up as many policy wins as possible before he makes a decision on whether or not he wants to run for president, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Steve Contorno. Thank you so much.

Let's bring in Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief at The Boston Globe. Jackie, are we watching Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis leverage his policy wins -- policies related to abortion access, allowing concealed firearms in public, targeting drag shows? Are we watching him use those wins to launch a presidential campaign?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE (via Webex by Cisco): I mean, it seems -- it certainly seems like that -- what he is doing.

And he's going on the road. I mean, he's going to Iowa, he's going to Nevada. He's going to some of these early states that we all know are the hallmark of testing the waters for a presidential campaign. And, you know, I'm sure he's going to target his message to who he's speaking to in each of these states.

And we're just at the beginning for the Ron DeSantis potential presidential campaign.

ROMANS: Larry Hogan, meantime -- the former Maryland governor -- has a -- I guess a traffic report of sorts for Republicans, Jackie. He says a multi-car pileup of candidates would result in Trump being the nominee -- listen.


LARRY HOGAN, (R), FORMER MARYLAND GOVERNOR: They ought to run only if they believe that they have a chance of winning the nomination and becoming president. And I think while I'd encourage people not to have a huge crowded field, I think people ought to make their own mind up about -- and I think more voices in the debate and more people talking about moving in a different direction is probably good.


ROMANS: Do you think, Jackie, other Republicans will listen to that warning?

KUCINICH: I think it remains to be seen, Christine, because there are so many that are -- we know are thinking about running. But he seems to be appealing not only to those who think they can be president but those who might be use -- who use the presidents here -- use a bid for national office to sell books. To raise their national profile.

And just asking them to take a step back and maybe think about what happened in 2016 when you had some of -- who were thought to be the best and the brightest of the Republican Party knock each other out and have -- and resulted in former President Trump gliding right on through that primary.

ROMANS: I want to ask you about -- some Republican senators and House members rejected this Tucker Carlson attempt to downplay the insurrection -- whatever kind of performance art that was on that program.

KUCINICH: Yes, right.

ROMANS: What do you think it says about the divisions in the Republican Party now -- that you saw so many voices stand up and say that what Tucker Carlson was doing about January 6 was wrong?

KUCINICH: Yes. Jess Bidgood has a really good piece in The Boston Globe today about that division that you just spoke of, talking about how this footage that Tucker Carlson has been airing has again surfaced this division that Republicans haven't really settled on how to talk about January 6.

You have those who reflexively defend the former president, and then you have those who actually acknowledge reality and that it actually was a riot and an insurrection that day. And you saw that play out in front of you yesterday on Capitol Hill. And we'll have to see how this plays out in the presidential campaign because you can't imagine that January 6 isn't going to be something that's going to be talked about as we go forward into this early contest.


ROMANS: Yes. To say nothing of all the Dominion lawsuit revelations about what Tucker Carlson and other people at Fox really think about Donald Trump --


ROMANS: -- and about January 6. I mean, it's what they say on T.V. and it's what they really think. It's just a complete different story.

Jackie Kucinich, thank you so much.


ROMANS: Nice to see you.


ROMANS: All right.

New this morning, 20 additional hours of video footage will be released today in the Memphis police beating death of Tyre Nichols. Thirteen police and four fire department employees have been charged in Nichols' January death. The Memphis city attorney says the investigation is now complete.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz takes a closer look at the fallout.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Christine, Memphis city officials set to release some 40 hours of video from the Tyre Nichols incident. They announced that their investigation -- the administrative

investigation into these officers is now complete and that 13 officers were brought up on administrative charges. Seven of the officers have been fired, three have been suspended, and two actually -- their charges were dismissed and so they are back on the job, and then one of the officers resigned.

So a total -- a total of 13 officers were brought up on civil charges and administrative charges there with the department. Of course, five of those officers have been charged by the Shelby County D.A. there in Memphis.

But obviously, it's going to be a significant day as we get to see new video, new recordings, new audio of the day of the incident that certainly, hopefully, can answer some questions about the initial stop involving Tyre Nichols. What led up to it. All of this set to happen later today -- Christine.


ROMANS: Shimon Prokupecz -- thank you, Shimon.

A new study from the Journal of Pediatrics reveals a significant increase in the number of young children who have died from opioid overdoses. In 2018, opioids contributed to more than 52 percent of poisoning deaths of children age five and under. That number up from over 24 percent in 2005.

The new study can't explain how the young victims got ahold of these drugs. However, medications like fentanyl, which is 100 times stronger than morphine and can kill quickly, do not come in childproof packaging.

Five women denied emergency abortion care because of the near-total ban in Texas are now suing the state for putting their lives at risk. They are joined by two doctors in this landmark lawsuit filed Tuesday that seeks to clarify what qualifies as a medical exemption to the ban.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty reports from Washington.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amanda and Josh Zurawski were thrilled last year to tell family and friends that after years of trying Amanda was finally pregnant. Then, four months into her pregnancy, her water broke.

AMANDA ZURAWSKI, TREATMENT DELAYED BECAUSE OF TEXAS LAW: You're 100 percent for sure going to lose your baby. We just kept asking isn't there anything we can do? Isn't there anything we can do? And the answer was no.

SERFATY (voice-over): But doctors in Texas said they couldn't do an abortion. Amanda became septic and needed a blood transfusion. Her family flew in because they feared she would die. Amanda lost her baby but survived and is not the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed Monday in a Texas court against the state and the Texas Medical Board.

NANCY NORTHUP, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: Because abortion is a crime in Texas, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. What the law is forcing physicians to do is weigh these very real threats of criminal prosecution against the health and well-being of their patients.

SERFATY (voice-over): Amanda and four other Texas women and two doctors are asking the court to clarify that abortions can be performed when a physician makes a good faith judgment and that the pregnant person has a physical emergent medical condition that poses a risk of death of a risk to their health, including their fertility.

JESSIE HILL, PROFESSOR OF LAW, CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY, REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS EXPERT: It's particularly unusual for people to be willing to bring these lawsuits in their own names and not to use a pseudonym, and to really share these personal details about their lives.

SERFATY (voice-over): Another new front, a battle between Walgreens and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Last month, attorneys general from 21 states that have passed anti-abortion laws wrote to Walgreens about sending abortion pills through the mail.

Walgreens says they won't distribute abortion medication in those states, saying in this letter to the Kansas attorney general that Walgreens "does not intend to ship Mifepristone into your state." Newsom countered with a tweet. "California won't be doing business with Walgreens or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women's lives at risk." He didn't specify what business his state has with the drugstore chain.


Mifepristone is also used in miscarriages.

HILL: Not to stock this medication in particular states really is most likely to harm those patients who would benefit from being able to use the medicine for miscarriage where it's perfectly legal.

SERFATY (voice-over): Back in Texas, Zurawski mourns the loss of her daughter. Her ashes in this necklace.

ZURAWSKI: I needed an abortion to protect my life and to protect the lives of my future babies that I dream and hope I can still have some day.

SERFATY (voice-over): Because of the scarring in her uterus from the infection she may not be able to have more children. She's starting fertility treatments in the hope of one day having the baby she and her husband have dreamed of.

SERFATY (on camera): And CNN has reached out to all the defendants in this Texas case. A spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he is, quote, "Is committed to doing everything in his power to protect mothers, families, and unborn children and he will continue to defend and enforce the laws duly enacted by the Texas legislator."

Now, we have not heard back from the other defendants, the Texas Medical Board, and its executive director. In addition, CNN has also reached out to the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, and has not yet heard back.

Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right, the House Republican-led subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic holding its first hearing today. It's expected to focus largely on the intensifying debate over whether the virus was the result of a lab leak. The hearing will feature testimony from three GOP witnesses who have all said the virus may have accidentally escaped from a lab.

Here is what Dr. Anthony Fauci said to Anderson Cooper about these potential theories.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, FORMER CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: They're talking about information that they have that we don't have privy to, so we don't really know. But I don't think there's a really correct and verifiable answer to your question. It just still remains unknown at this particular point.

There are two theories as we're all familiar with now. One is a lab leak theory. The other is that it was a natural occurrence from an animal spillover. The one thing is that we have to keep an open mind about this until there's definitive evidence.


ROMANS: The lab leak theory recently gained a boost when the Department of Energy and the FBI Dir. Christopher Wray revealed they believe the virus most likely escaped from a Chinese lab. Finding the truth though difficult, officials say, because Chinese authorities are not cooperating.

Just ahead, analysts warning the U.S. debt default could be catastrophic, potentially setting this country back of generations. We discuss the implications ahead.



ROMANS: All right, your Romans' Numeral this morning is 48.4. The probability of a half-point Fed interest rate hike sitting at 48.4 percent right now according to markets. That's up from just over 30 percent.

Here's why. Fed chair Jerome Powell cautioned that rates are likely to head higher than expected. Recent economic news shows a strong U.S. economy and inflation data is cooling only slowly.

Looking at markets around the world, Asian markets finished lower. European markets mixed this morning. And on Wall Street, stock index futures also leaning a little bit higher here.

Markets fell sharply following those hawkish comments from the Fed -- the Fed chief. The Dow fell nearly 600 points. The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 also dropping more than one percent. Powell's comments foreshadow (audio gap) rate hikes when the Fed meets later this month.

On inflation watch, by the way, gas prices rose three cents overnight to $3.45 a gallon.

Data on job openings, quits and layoffs, also all due out later this morning. It's going to give us a really good read on what's happening in the job market.

I want to bring in Jeanna Smialek, Federal Reserve and economy reporter for The New York Times. And Jeanna, I want you to listen to a little part of Powell's testimony from yesterday.


JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: The latest economic data have come in stronger than expected, which suggests that the ultimate level of interest rates is likely to be -- to be higher than previously anticipated. If the totality of the data were to indicate that faster tightening is warranted, we'd be prepared to increase the pace of rate hikes.


ROMANS: That's pretty clear -- the Fed chief right there -- higher for longer. That's the takeaway for interest rates.

JEANNA SMIALEK, FEDERAL RESERVE AND ECONOMY REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via Skype): Yes, definitely, and I think also the takeaway -- the thing that really surprised markets is that it might not just be higher but it might also return to being faster.

You know, we've seen the Fed on this really clear pathway towards slower, more gradual rate increases. They've been sort of trending towards and then as of February, were moving at this quarter-point per meeting pace on rate increases. And the idea there was to sort of give them time to look around and see how the economy was faring and figure out what might happen next. And there was really no sense that they might speed back up.

And yesterday, he very firmly locked that possibility onto the table and so I think that's really come as sort of a shock to a lot of investors.

ROMANS: I mean, so much of the information we've had about the economy in the past couple of months has been stronger than expected. I mean, the resilience of the economy has been remarkable for the consumer and the job market. We're going to get weekly jobless claims. We'll get a reading of

private sector payrolls. We get the big jobs report on Friday. And then next week we get more inflation data. There is a lot here for the Fed to mull over.

SMIALEK: Absolutely. And I think the reason that you saw them not committing to anything too firmly and really sort of walking everything back onto the table but not declaring what they're going to do is we do have those two numbers -- the jobs report and that big inflation report next week -- before their next meeting on March 22.

And so if you're Chair Powell and you're thinking about how to sort of position ahead of that meeting you're probably hesitant to say anything too declarative because you might lock yourself into a corner.


And so I think the idea here is probably to make sure that markets were on watch and realize that more might be coming than they had previously anticipated but without committing to that so firmly that they feel like they're obligated to do it.

ROMANS: Yes. Inflation is down considerably since the last time he spoke before Congress, right -- last June when we were looking at nine percent inflation. Six-point-four percent though is still way above their two percent target.

And then there's this other crisis brewing, right, where you have the government that needs to pay the bills for what it's already spent. You know, this debt ceiling drama. Moody's Analytics warned that a debt default would be catastrophic and would set the country back for generations.

I'm wondering here how we can walk and chew gum at the same time. The Fed is trying to handle the inflation story and get the economy to cool down without shoving it into a recession. And then you have our elected leaders who have their own shot at putting us in a recession for a completely different reason.

SMIALEK: Yes. You know, it was interesting. I was talking to an economist at JPMorgan yesterday and he said that he really doesn't expect that high of a peak for exactly this reason. He thinks that the Fed is not going to be able to hike rates this summer once it becomes obvious that the debt limit crisis is devolving into serious drama.

So we know that we have until some time in the summer for the government sort of to pose (PH) up to that X date -- a date at which they have to make an agreement or else they risk sort of not being able to pay the bills. But that's fast approaching when we think about sort of the path ahead for monetary policy. They only have a few more meetings between here and there.

So I think these two issues are really going to end up colliding at some point. It's just a question of when, really.

ROMANS: Yes. This is -- this is not a drill, right? I mean, this is -- this is -- it's happening and it gets closer by the day.

All right, nice to see you, Jeanna. Thank you so much, Jeanna Smialek.

SMIALEK: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

Outgoing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz no longer refusing to testify before Congress on the company's labor practices after Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders threatened a subpoena vote this week. Schultz will appear before the Senate Health Committee on March 29.

Starbucks has been vigorously fighting a wave of unionization for about a year. Schultz has repeatedly said he doesn't believe workers should unionize.

President Biden's candidate for the Federal Communications Commission, Gigi Sohn, withdrawing her nomination yesterday. Sohn's chances of confirmation crumbled after Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he would vote against her, citing her partisan activism and ties to far-left groups.

In a statement, she -- Sohn rebuked her opponents for what she called cruel attacks on her. She also blamed major cable and media companies using dark money for sinking her nomination.

We'll be right back.



ROMANS: All right.

Embattled railroad company Norfolk Southern will be the focus of at least two government investigations in the aftermath of two train derailments in the U.S. state of Ohio. The Federal Railroad Administration is conducting a 60-day safety review of Norfolk Southern. And the National Transportation Safety Board is also opening an investigation into its safety culture. That probe will encompass multiple incidents and three deaths since December 2021.

Norfolk Southern's CEO scheduled to testify at a U.S. Senate hearing on Thursday.

All right, it is International Women's Day. In celebration of that Mattel is giving seven female STEM trailblazers their own one-of-a- kind Barbie dolls hoping to inspire girls to embrace the fields of science, tech, engineering, and mathematics.

The American Wojcicki sisters are included in the group of seven dolls. Susan, the CEO of YouTube and the CEO of 23andMe; and Janet, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology.

All right, California's San Bernardino County reporting at least one storm-related death from its historic winter blizzard. More than a foot of snow has fallen creating these huge drifts, cutting access and keeping many people trapped in their homes. Efforts are underway to rescue residents in several areas.

Let's go to meteorologist Chad Myers. We're now learning that some California residents are urged to prepare two weeks of essentials ahead of, what, expected flooding this week?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Significant. This is the worst-case scenario -- an awful lot of snow -- near season record for snow across the Sierra on the higher elevations here. Even some of the lower elevations down to about 3,000 or 4,000 feet have snow.

And something you're going to hear about a lot over the next couple of days, an atmospheric river. Back in the old days we called it the Pineapple Express but not all of them come from Hawaii. It's an atmospheric river of moisture that will pour onshore into California. It will make a lot of rainfall in the lower elevations, but also rain on the snow and melt some of that snow.

Now, the highest of elevations probably don't get melted -- they just get heavier. What do the people here in Southern California not need? Heavier snow on top of their roof in their homes. This is going to get very, very dense and that is going to get very, very heavy.

So here's where we are right now. We are going to see the rain into Southern California. The problem, Christine, is that all of this rain and all of this flooding -- all of this melting all has to go one place. It all has to go out through the Golden Gate Bridge -- under the Golden Gate Bridge. Because all the way from down here in Bakersfield to all the way north of Redding, that only goes one way. The coastal ranges here and here stop the water from draining into the ocean. It all drains right through San Francisco, and that's where all of this is eventually going to go.

And this is the significant problem we're going to see here with some of these rivers rising significantly.