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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Brandon Johnson Scores Upset Victory In Chicago Mayor's Race; U.S. Lawmakers Arrive In Taiwan After Tsai-McCarthy Talks; 50 Million Americans Face Threat From Storm That Killed 5 In Missouri. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 06, 2023 - 05:30   ET




OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Progressives in Chicago are still celebrating their upset victory in the runoff for mayor. Brandon Johnson, a Democratic Cook County commissioner, locking down a stunning come-from-behind victory to defeat moderate former school superintendent Paul Vallas in a race heavily focused on crime and policing. That battleground would seem to favor the more conservative Democratic candidate.

But I spoke to Johnson shortly after his victory about how he'd turn that focus to his advantage. Take a listen to some of our conversation.


JIMENEZ: One, great to see you. I want to get right into this.

One of your messages during the campaign, but also now that you've won, is you want to be a mayor for all of Chicago. Obviously, you have the teachers' union and others on your side, but the police union didn't endorse you. And, for example, with public safety they're not the whole equation but they're a pretty big part of it.

How do you bridge that gap and others?

BRANDON JOHNSON, (D) CHICAGO MAYOR-ELECT: Well, thank you, and I appreciate the time.

Look, we're already doing that. As I have indicated throughout this process, being a mayor for the entire city of Chicago is the type of leader that the city of Chicago deserves and wants. Last night was a remarkable display of a multicultural intergenerational movement -- Black, brown, white, Asian, young, old, the interests of working-class people literally on the front pages across the city of Chicago and quite frankly, across the country.

So I'm very much excited about what has happened in the city of Chicago and I'm certainly looking forward to bringing all of the people that will ultimately trust me to provide the guidance and support that's needed for a better, stronger, safer Chicago -- bringing all of those interests together.

JIMENEZ: And I was based there for a number of years. I covered basically what -- ended up being Lightfoot's administration there. And one of the things that stuck out to me was some of her back-and-forths with the -- with the teacher's union and obviously, they've endorsed you here. But there are tough decisions to make in that space. I can imagine there will be situations where you do have to tell them no.

Do you have any specific areas in your mind that you know are going to be tough to work through, and how you may have to respond there?

JOHNSON: Well, I mean, our focus is going to be getting towards a yes. And what people want in the city of Chicago -- they want full investments -- affordable housing, reliable and safe transportation, an environment that actually works for people. These are the things that the city of Chicago came together around yesterday and we didn't shy away from that.

And so whether you are someone who relies upon public education, or public transportation, or our health care system, I'm going to be the mayor that I -- that I promised to be, and that's someone who loves people enough to invest in them. And that's what our focus has to be -- investing in people and getting to a yes -- as many yeses as we possibly can. And that's the work that all of us will participate in.


JIMENEZ: And when it comes to public safety, I don't have to tell you that crime is a major issue for many voters. You've talked about investing in a smart way to combat -- to combat crime. What do you mean by that, and how is that different than what some have accused you of wanting to defund the police?

JOHNSON: Well, what it means is we want to prevent violent crimes from taking place, right? That's what everybody wants. I've indicated this multiple times. My wife and I -- we're raising three young children in the city of Chicago. We love living where we live but it is one of the most violent neighborhoods in the entire city of Chicago.

What I want for my family -- I want for every single family throughout the city of Chicago, and what that looks like is youth employment. There's a direct correlation between youth employment and violence reduction. There is a direct correlation between investing in mental health services. Making sure that our mental health centers are open. And ensuring that people have access to affordable housing -- a pathway to home ownership.

You know, the wealth gap that exists in this country is -- it's quite severe. There's a direct correlation between the economic viability of a community and its proclivity towards violence, right? So we can actually solve the systemic problems that have been -- that have been pervasive for a very long time by actually investing in the things that work. And again, that's health care, housing, jobs, education, transportation. We can do that and I'm confident that we will do that together. JIMENEZ: And nationally speaking -- I know you have to go so I want to get this question. Nationally, a lot of people looked at this race as a battle of two Democratic ideologies. I mean, you had Sen. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren endorse you.

Point blank, what do you think the results of this say to Democrats who might be looking from the outside in?

JOHNSON: Well, it's certainly a testament to what it means to actually run on our values. I mean, we don't have to shy away from actually representing the interests of working people.

You know, look, there's been a great deal of trepidation and fear that has been promulgated by the extreme right wing, and every single election cycle we set up these false choices, and we don't have to accept those anymore. That as Democrats we get to lean into our values and our values speak clear that investing in people is the pathway forward.

And I'm grateful, and excited, and humbled that the city of Chicago has become a benchmark for the rest of the country for a better, stronger, safer Chicago. The people of Chicago overwhelmingly said let's invest in people and that's what Democrats get to hold to. No matter where you live in the great union let's invest in people and let the marker of the city of Chicago be a testament to what it takes to run on our values, and we don't have to shy away from those.

Thank you.

JIMENEZ: Well, Mayor-elect, when you got to this point you said a few months ago people didn't know your name. If you didn't know, now you know. I think that -- I think that applies here. Thank you for taking the time this morning.


JIMENEZ: Mayor-elect Johnson -- he did the hard part of getting elected but now comes the harder part of actually trying to lead the city.

So to talk about that and so much more let's bring in senior political correspondent at The New Republic, Daniel Strauss. Good morning, Daniel. Thank you for waking up.


JIMENEZ: So I want to start with the more progressive candidate won in Chicago and we also saw a liberal judge win a seat in Wisconsin's Supreme Court this week -- obviously, big for the respective jurisdictions. But for those looking from the outside in what does this all mean for other Democrats watching, especially those running in the 2024 election, for example?

STRAUSS: I would actually caution that for -- to anyone who thinks that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is in ascendancy because even as the liberals enjoyed a big victory in Wisconsin with this Supreme Court win there, there was a state Senate seat where Republicans won.

So -- and I think what Mayor-elect Johnson said in the clip you just played really illustrates what voters found so appealing. In both cases, the candidates stuck to their values and did not propose some radical change that was too extreme and unpalatable to the voters.

Again and again, we're seeing Democrats win across the country because they are not proposing overly radical positions but still, proposals that liberals in the party really, really like. But when they -- when voters are faced with massive election overhauls with outlawing abortion it's pretty clear where they will go from these past few elections, and Democrats have really benefited from that.


JIMENEZ: And the issue of abortion, obviously, one pretty central in that Wisconsin Supreme Court race that Janet Protasiewicz essentially ran on that. And she could be the key to how challenges to that state's abortion ban is decided.

And in Wisconsin, in particular, obviously -- OK, it says one thing to Democrats who are watching. OK, how does this -- how does this help our potential momentum? But it also says something else to Republicans.

What do you think it says to those in the opposing party, especially those in the more MAGA wing of the Republican Party?

STRAUSS: I mean, the Republicans in the more MAGA wing of the party are clearly not inching away from their positions or their support for Donald Trump. We see that in Trump's fundraising prowess in the days around his indictment.

What I have heard from Republicans is that this is a sign that there need to be better candidates. Candidates that can reach out to a broader audience and not necessarily change their positions but really speak to their values in a way that will attract voters. And I think that's what we're going to see in the next few elections.

JIMENEZ: And former -- shifting gears, I should say -- former Vice President Pence won't appeal a ruling that compels his grand jury testimony exploring January 6, and this will mark a pretty significant turning point. Pence could be a crucial witness for special counsel Jack Smith. All this as he weighs whether to challenge Trump for the presidency.

Does his participation in that investigation do anything politically as far as his potential challenge to Trump?

STRAUSS: It's interesting. I think Pence here is walking a fine line. He's been critical of Trump on January 6 but, at the same time, he has been eager to tout his time in the Trump-Pence administration, which is a deliberate reference to where he was in that administration as successes and victories that he was, in part, largely responsible for. And so I think the fact that he has agreed not to appeal here shows that he wants to create some distance from Trump but like every other candidate in this Republican primary field now or in the future. They -- that interest does not extend to alienating Trump's activist base, which we -- which remains one of the most valuable sects of the Republican Party right now.

JIMENEZ: Yes. And staying within this election, Nikki Haley's campaign revealed she has raised $11 million since announcing her presidential bid -- $7.8 million on hand. Trump and DeSantis campaigns each reported a whole lot more cash on hand. But keeping up with Trump over time, I don't have to tell you, could prove pretty challenging as far as fundraising.

But how can Nikki Haley break through? It seems we're talking a lot about Pence; we're talking a lot about Trump. How -- where does Nikki Haley -- what is her angle to try and break through this noise -- this political noise?

STRAUSS: That's been one of the persisting questions Republicans have been asking each other in this primary right now. And look, $7.8 million cash on hand six weeks out from announcing -- that's not terrible. But you're right. Like, when you stack that against the war chest that Ron DeSantis has, that Donald Trump has clearly shown that he can foster and cultivate, it's pretty clear that Haley needs to establish some kind of lane that's viable.

Her campaign will say that they're running on their own. That they are their own candidate. That they're unique and over time voters will flock to her.

But it remains a little unclear to the larger electorate and the larger political scene just exactly who she is. Is she the anti-Trump? Is she sort of the post-Trump candidate? Where does she fit into this? And right now it's not totally clear.

JIMENEZ: Yes. Well, it will all be interesting to see how it shakes out, and I don't have to tell you that either. Daniel Strauss, thank you so much for joining us.

STRAUSS: Thanks.

JIMENEZ: Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" tensions are rising after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's meeting with Taiwan's president. How China is responding, next.

And next here, Milwaukee Brewers rookie outfielder Garrett Mitchell hitting a walk-off homer in the ninth, sweeping the Mets. The sensational performance in our Bleacher Report ahead.



JIMENEZ: A bipartisan group of U.S. House members arriving in Taiwan overnight to meet with business and government leaders. On Wednesday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during her historic visit in California, in spite of threats from China. Meanwhile, Beijing dispatched several ships yesterday spotted off the coast of Taiwan.

CNN's Steven Jiang is live in Beijing. Steven, Taiwan has never been such a popular destination for U.S. lawmakers it seems. How is Beijing reacting to this meeting between McCarthy and Tsai Ing-wen?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Omar, the irony here is the more Beijing squeezes Taipei internationally the more popular Taiwan seems to become, as you mentioned, a destination for politicians and lawmakers not just from the U.S. but other Western countries as well as it's increasingly seen as being on the front line in this global competition between democracy and autocracy, as President Biden has put it.


As for Beijing's reaction to this meeting between Speaker McCarthy and President Tsai, relatively restrained so far. Very rhetorical and predictable with their officials blasting the Taiwan leader and U.S. politicians and issuing some vague threats and warnings.

That's in stark contrast to what we saw last year when then-Speaker Pelosi went to Taiwan. Right after her trip the Chinese admitted they conducted days of large-scale live-fire drills around the island.

So the difference this time, according to analysts, the president's visit to the U.S. relatively low key by design, according to U.S. and Taiwanese officials we spoke to. But more importantly, her trip coinciding with several high-profile visits here in China -- one by a former Taiwan president whose party is considered to be pro-Beijing. So the Chinese don't want to overreact to have it backfire on them in future Taiwanese elections.

And more importantly, Macron, the French president, and the European Commission chief von der Leyen -- they are here at a critical time in EU-China relations after the Russian invasion. So the Chinese certainly don't want Taiwan tensions to distract this very high-stakes meeting -- Omar.

JIMENEZ: Steven Jiang, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Well, back here, stateside -- or it's not jockeying on the geopolitical stage, but it is jockeying at one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world. The 87th Masters tournament tees off this morning and all eyes will be on Tiger Woods and the weather.

Carolyn Manno has this morning's Bleacher Report. Good morning to you.


Well, the big headline here has been this clashing of the LIV Golf players and the PGA Tour players, and weather can be a little bit of an equalizer. It should be a beautiful spring day in Augusta today, but the forecast is not looking great beyond that with storms and temperatures set to fall this weekend.

So, Tiger Woods teeing off just after 10:15 eastern this morning and for him, maybe more than anybody else in the field, getting off to a great start is crucial if he wants to compete for that record-tying sixth green jacket. He has said in the past that it is harder for him to keep his body loose in colder conditions since that life-altering car crash a couple of years ago. The terrain at Augusta is also famously tiresome. But Tiger says not to write him off just yet.


TIGER WOODS, 5-TIME MASTERS CHAMPION: I can hit a lot of shots but the difficulty for me is going to be the walking going forward. It is what it is. Whether I'm a threat to them or not, who knows? People probably didn't think I was a threat in '19 either but it kind of turned out OK.


MANNO: Love that swagger.

Elsewhere, LSU's women's basketball team celebrating their first-ever national championship back home in Baton Rouge yesterday. This moment overshadowed somewhat by an interview given by the team's star Angel Reese, who says that her team will not be going to the White House. Reese responding to an idea from first lady Jill Biden to also invite Iowa to Washington, who lost to LSU. Dr. Biden walked those comments back, but Reese feels it's too late for that.


ANGELA REESE, LSU TIGERS FORWARD: I'm not (INAUDIBLE). I don't accept the apology. You can't go back on certain things that you say. I mean, you felt like they should have came because of sportsmanship, right? They can have that spotlight. We'll go to the Obamas. We'll see Michelle. We'll see Barack.


MANNO: The school, however, has already accepted the invitation to the White House. The Obamas declined to comment on the topic.

And Brewers' outfielder Garrett Mitchell was the hero of the night at the ballpark, Omar, but he might be in hot water with his wife. The rookie launching his first career walk-off home run against the Mets. But listen to what he had to say after the game.


GARRETT MITCHELL, OUTFIELDER, MILWAUKEE BREWERS: You know, I was thinking about this but when my wife doesn't show up to the games usually something good happens. Going into that at-bat I was like, well, she's not here so I might as well do something fun.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MANNO: I don't know if you guys -- you can't see it but Omar's jaw is on the floor right now. I mean, his wife's getting into it, Omar, tweeting a mean girls' meme saying, "Me trying to sneak into the stadium on Friday after my husband said he plays better when I'm not there on live television."

The big question here is where will he be sleeping for the season? I --

JIMENEZ: I don't even know if the couch -- it's probably on the floor at some point.


JIMENEZ: Wow. I -- that's not -- that's not what you want to say. But hey, I don't know. I'm not in his head.

MANNO: Maybe it's a -- yes. Athletes are superstitious. I don't know. This could be trouble moving forward.

JIMENEZ: Carolyn, thank you so much.

MANNO: You're welcome.

JIMENEZ: I really appreciate it.

To more serious news today, we have more than 50 million Americans facing a severe weather threat from the same powerful storm system that spawned 11 tornadoes, leaving five people killed and a trail of destruction in Missouri. People from Texas to New York are now bracing for damaging winds, large hail, and more potential twisters.

Meteorologist Britley Ritz has the forecast. Britley, where is this storm expected to hit the hardest?

BRITLEY RITZ, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, right now we're focusing in on Texas right up through the Tennessee Valley and thankfully, the severe weather threat is starting to taper back a bit. A lot of lightning though involved across parts of Texas right on up into Louisiana and Arkansas. Even parts of Tennessee tapping into some of those thunderstorms. But nothing severe at the moment.


Still focusing in on the hail and wind threat. We had lots of hail reports coming in out of south Texas earlier this morning. But back up into the Carolinas and right up into the mid-Atlantic, wind and hail some of the bigger threats.

Also, flooding a big concern. You'll see areas in yellow. Houston, Austin, and Shreveport, Louisiana all included in that. An additional two to three inches of rain and isolated higher amounts up to six a possibility over the next two days.

Timeframe here -- 3:00 in the afternoon on Thursday, some of the hardest-hit areas bringing in that heavy rain. But again, the severe threat really low. And we'll hold on to that threat as we press into the upcoming afternoon hours.

JIMENEZ: All right. Britley, thank you so much.

And thank you all at home for joining us. I'm Omar Jimenez. Goodbye from me, but say hello to "CNN THIS MORNING," which starts right now.