Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Controversy In Massachusetts Town's School Chief Search; Bed Bath & Beyond: No Severance For Thousands Of Laid Off Workers; DeSantis Hits Political Rough Patch Ahead Of Potential 2024 Run. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 21, 2023 - 05:30   ET



OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Police say they're looking at all the angles to determine how it was stolen. You'll never catch me.

The Starship rocket from SpaceX blowing up minutes after launch. Why the company isn't calling it a failure.

And Bed Bath & Beyond not giving severance pay to thousands of workers. We'll explain.


JIMENEZ: Here is today's fast-forward lookahead.

A midnight deadline for the Supreme Court on a critical abortion case. Justices must decide whether to uphold restrictions from a Texas court that rolled back FDA approval on the abortion drug Mifepristone.

A status hearing this afternoon in New Mexico after prosecutors said they planned to dismiss the manslaughter charge against Alec Baldwin in the fatal shooting on his movie set "Rust."

Also this morning, President Biden is set to sign a new executive order making environmental justice a key mission for his administration in an effort to tackle the effects of pollution on health.


Now, there's been controversy over hiring a new school superintendent in Easthampton, Massachusetts, near Springfield, after one candidate told me he believes his job offer was rescinded because he used the word "ladies" in an email to address female school officials. And then, the next candidate selected withdrew after initially accepting the position.


VITA PERRONE, FORMER CANDIDATE FOR EASTHAMPTON SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT: When I walked in this building today to meet with a group, I felt like I was coming home. I don't think I could have kept the smile off my face if I tried.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): This is how Vito Perrone's journey began to superintendent of the Easthampton School District in the Springfield, Massachusetts areas.

PERRONE: Which is a position I've always aspired to.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): But he says it all ended with three words in an email -- "Ladies, good evening," as he addressed the committee chair and her executive assistant, laying out contract requests for his salary, vacation days, and more.

It ended up though being a goodnight for his chances at superintendent, he believes, telling CNN he was told it was a microaggression and that he apologized, and when he was growing up "ladies and gentlemen" was a term of respect. People talk about a teachable moment in the classroom. Could that have been a teachable moment? Unfortunately, he never got the chance.

He's gotten support though from many in the Easthampton community where he was once a principal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an embarrassment. I think he would have been a tremendous superintendent here.

MAURITA EATON, EASTHAMPTON RESIDENT: It's a term that's used for respect. Maybe it's old old-fashioned to some people but I think it's overblown and was used as an excuse not to hire him.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Part of a statement released from the chair of the school committee says, "I was insulted," but also nothing it wasn't their only concern, laying out requests Perrone made in that email over salary, vacation, and sick days. "There were too many concerns before we had even begun negotiating the rest of the contract," the statement continued, despite Perrone feeling these were just requests. That they never got to any negotiations.

JOE GANNON, EASTHAMPTON RESIDENT: I think they made the right decision. I just wish it hadn't been another fricking piece of bloody meat thrown into the pool with those culture wars.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Perrone's opportunity was rescinded so they went to the next candidate who was flagged by a student shortly after as having posted, quote, "conservative transphobic rhetoric" on social media, complaining about trans women in high school athletics. Not long after being selected she pulled out of the running, continuing the ongoing saga for the school district.


JIMENEZ: And we've attempted to reach Erica Faginski-Stark for comment but haven't gotten a response.

The school committee executive assistant, one of the two people initially addressed as "ladies," followed up on social media saying she wasn't offended by the word but respects anyone who may be. Meanwhile, thousands of Bed Bath & Beyond employees will not receive severance after the company announced last month the closure of 400 stores.

So let's bring in CNN Business reporter Nathaniel Meyersohn. OK, one, good morning. Great to see you. We both are awake after the NBA Playoffs. That's a separate discussion.

So for starters here, thousands are not going to get their severance. They're on the verge of bankruptcy or they -- and they're on bankruptcy watch. And now we've learned that laid-off employees aren't getting severance. So what -- tell us about your reporting on this. What are you hearing?

NATHANIEL MEYERSOHN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Right. So, Bed Bath & Beyond is in deep financial trouble. They're closing stores and laying off workers. And one of the ways the company is trying to save money right now is they're not paying workers severance and they're not matching their 401k contributions from last year.

And employees are shocked by this. They feel betrayed by the company. I spoke to one worker in New Jersey who has been with the company for 18 1/2 years. She said it was like a punch in the gut when she found out that she wasn't receiving severance and felt strung along by the company.

JIMENEZ: And, you know, the timing of some of this also raises questions, especially in New Jersey, right?

MEYERSOHN: Yes. So in New Jersey, where this employee worked as well, 1,300 employees were laid off just days before a new state law was set to take effect that made severance mandatory for employees, and so employees feel like the timing of the layoffs was intentional. Ironically, this law was designed in response to Toys R Us and Sears, and other major retail bankruptcies where those chains also didn't pay their workers severance.

JIMENEZ: I mean, my mind immediately goes to are there any protections? I mean, is there -- is there any federal law around severance pay? Is there -- is there any requirement there you know of?

MEYERSOHN: So as I learned in my reporting there is no federal requirement for severance pay for blue-collar workers. It may come as a surprise to a lot of people. All that employers have to do when they -- when they engage in large-scale layoffs is give workers 60 days' notice. There's no severance requirement. Oftentimes it's just white- collar employees who receive severance.


And at Bed Bath & Beyond executives are going to get paid severance. The CEO is eligible for about $7 million in severance. So you can imagine how the rank-and-file workers feel not getting any severance and seeing their CEO potentially walk away with $7 million.

JIMENEZ: Yes, I know. It's a situation -- I'm glad you're keeping an eye on it. It obviously affects so many people.

Nathaniel Meyersohn, thank you so much.

Now, the test flight of SpaceX's Starship got off the ground Thursday, but that was the good part. Like I said, that's the good news. The less good news came about four minutes later just before Starship was due to separate from the super-heavy booster rocket helping push it into orbit. SpaceX says several of the booster's 33 rocket engines failed, sending the spacecraft tumbling, at which point the automated flight termination system blew up the rocket for safety reasons.

Now, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk putting the best face on the explosion, tweeting his team "learned a lot for the next test launch in a few months."

Coming up next hour on "CNN THIS MORNING" the suspect accused of shooting a North Carolina 6-year-old and her parents appear in court.

And next, right here, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hits a rough patch on his way to the national stage.



JIMENEZ: Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing an unexpected uphill battle as he eyes a presidential run. DeSantis has been making trips across the country ahead of an expected bid and collecting some not-so-great headlines along the way. Conservative allies have questioned some of his recent moves.

CNN's Jessica Dean has more.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When it comes to political battles Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis usually finds himself on the attack.

GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: I said I'm not going to sit back and try to skirt issues. I'm going on offense. I'm going to take the bull by the horns. I'm going to go in there and we're not going to leave anything left to chance.

DEAN (voice-over): But as DeSantis nears an official entrance to the 2024 race he's hit a rough stretch with potential allies expressing concern about his policy stances and others questioning his approach to wooing GOP lawmakers to back his not-yet-announced candidacy.

DeSantis' recent move to sign a six-week abortion ban during a late- night private ceremony after returning from out-of-state travel prompting concern from top GOP donors, including billionaire Ken Langone, who told The Washington Post he wants the Florida governor to moderate his stance on the issue and to, quote, "Be a little more conciliatory."

Some of DeSantis' political rivals also criticizing his action on abortion.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: Of course, that's a horrible position to be. And it's upsetting a lot of folks because a lot of Republicans are realizing it's going to hurt our message and hurt our ability to win.

DEAN (voice-over): DeSantis also visited Washington this week where he met with Republican lawmakers seeking to build support for an expected campaign.

REP. DAN MEUSER (R-PA): He's got a lot of factors to consider and one of them is his constituent, the former president, Donald J. Trump.

DEAN (voice-over): But former President Donald Trump and his team are one step ahead, planning a separate dinner at Mar-a-Lago with lawmakers and locking down support from several members of the Florida GOP delegation.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Did anyone ever hear of DeSanctis -- DeSanctimonious.

DEAN (voice-over): The push by Trump is part of an effort to target the Florida governor on a number of fronts, including going after DeSantis on the airwaves with ads from a Trump-aligned super PAC.

TRUMP POLITICAL AD: DeSantis has his dirty fingers all over senior entitlements.

DEAN (voice-over): Other rivals are calling out DeSantis for threatening additional action in his yearlong feud with Disney.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I don't think Ron DeSantis is a conservative based on his actions towards Disney. I mean, where are we headed here now? That if you express disagreement in this country the government is allowed to punish you? To me, that's what I always thought liberals did.

DESANTIS: Greetings from the free state of Florida.

DEAN (voice-over): But DeSantis remains on message, drawing big crowds in South Carolina on Wednesday.

DESANTIS: Florida shows that leadership really matters, results matter. And I think if you look at our results they are second to none.

DEAN (voice-over): In New Hampshire, the governor headlined a dinner for the state Republican Party that broke fundraising records.

DESANTIS: We cannot get distracted and we cannot afford to lose because freedom is hanging in the balance.

DEAN (voice-over): And while he eyes a likely June announcement, DeSantis boasts a massive war chest of cash and the super PAC backing him is raising big money as it builds out a ground game and launched a new ad this week. DESANTIS POLITICAL AD: Trump should fight Democrats, not lie about Gov. DeSantis. What happened to Donald Trump?


JIMENEZ: Thank you, Jessica.

Now for more on the state of the 2024 presidential race let's bring in CNN political analyst and the Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe, Jackie Kucinich. Jackie, great to see you.

So, DeSantis has a platform --


JIMENEZ: -- the GOP loves but he can't seem to get GOP support even, in some cases, from his own state. Florida Rep. Greg Steube, who has endorsed Trump, described it like this to Politico. "DeSantis has never once reached out to him during his five years in Congress nor replied to his multiple attempts to connect."

So a two-part question from me here. Is it just too little too late on that front for DeSantis? And related, at this point, it seems like all roads to a GOP nomination go through Trump?

KUCINICH: Well, so the importance of Greg Steube, who you just mentioned -- he fell off a ladder and ended up in the hospital and he never heard from DeSantis. Usually, politicians would reach out, particularly if you're looking for someone's support. But if that happens to someone in your state, in particular, you would normally see -- you would have an outreach operation that would say hey, give this guy a call.


DeSantis hasn't done that. He hasn't reached out to a lot of Florida members. And these little pockets of support do make a difference. I don't know how much endorsements matter in the long run but in these early days who is backing you and who is fueling this rise really does matter.

So -- and in the -- on the other side, former President Trump has reached out to members. He is asking for endorsements but not kind of expecting them.

And there was -- when DeSantis was first -- when he first started testing the waters here -- and he hasn't done anything official yet, which we should say -- there was some concern among those who know him about his ability to connect with people, to build support. And I think we're seeing parts of that right now.

JIMENEZ: Yes. No, it's definitely something to watch when that bid eventually, as many assume, will happen.

Now, pivoting to another person who has been dancing around an announcement, President Biden. We are hearing he will finally be announcing his run for reelection next week. So explain what is the thinking behind the timing here because obviously, we've been dancing -- we've been doing this dance for a while.

KUCINICH: Well, right. I mean, I think a lot of us had heard he was going to do this in February or March and it has been -- it's been now -- we're almost to the end of April. I guess we're mid-April now. But this would be the anniversary of when he announced the last time, I believe, and Biden really does like these things that have a natural beginning and end.

So -- but there also hasn't been a rush. I think a lot of us have expected him to announce. It's not like he's going to have trouble raising any money. It's not like he has any serious challengers at this point. So there's a lot of reporting it's going to happen early next week and I know you're going to be watching and so am I.

JIMENEZ: Yes, we're going to -- look --


JIMENEZ: -- 2024 is going to be here before we know it and then it's truly off to the races.

KUCINICH: In about a year.


Jackie Kucinich of the Boston Globe, thank you so much.

KUCINICH: Thanks, Omar.

JIMENEZ: Well, there is no place like home for the Golden State Warriors as they cruise to a huge win against the Kings.

Carolyn Manno has this morning's Bleacher Report. OK, I mean, my God. The Warriors really just came through --


JIMENEZ: -- and destroyed.

MANNO: This has been a very chippy playoff so far. I guess I would say that. And then you've got the odds stacked against the defending NBA champs heading into last night's game three.

The Warriors had never been done two games to none with Steph Curry in the fold, and the team was also without Draymond Green who was serving a suspension that he picked up on Monday. But it all turned out to be extra motivation for Chef Curry cooking up something special on his home court. Once again, Steph scorching the Kings for 36 points, which included six threes. Golden State never trailed on the way to a commanding 17-point win.

And after the game Curry told the "INSIDE THE NBA" crew that his team is not planning to go away quietly. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPH CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS GUARD: We've been, what, just 28 series I think, and this is the first time that we've been done 0-2. So just embrace the challenge. We haven't done anything yet. We know there's a long way to go but we knew the consequences if we would have lost this game and we didn't want to let that happen.


MANNO: Meantime, things getting very chippy early between the Sixers and the Nets. So this started in the first quarter. Brooklyn center Nic Claxton tried to taunt MVP favorite Joel Embiid by stepping over him. And as you might expect, that did not go over well. So this was Embiid retaliating with a kick between the legs. The officials gave him a flagrant one-foul but allowed him to stay in the game.

You could see the two kind of staring at each other. It was that kind of game.

But this is what had a lot of people talking in the third quarter. Sixers star James Harden was tossed after elbowing Royce O'Neale below the belt. The refs called this unnecessary and excessive contact. This doesn't sync up for me and certainly not for Harden.

Here's what he had to say after Philly's 102-97 win.


JAMES HARDEN, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS GUARD: It's just a natural basketball reaction. And I didn't hit -- I didn't hit him enough -- hard enough for him to fall down like that. But for a flagrant it was unacceptable. Like, this is a ballgame. You've seen around the league things that are much more worse than what that play was.


MANNO: Meantime, Suns star Devin Booker is playing like a man on a mission against the Clippers. He dropped 45 points powering Phoenix to a 5-point win and, more importantly, a 2-1 series lead. Booker has five 40-point games in the playoffs, matching Charles Barkley for the most in Suns history.

Three more playoff games on the schedule tonight beginning with the Hawks hosting the Celtics. Tipoff set for 7:00 eastern there.

And a feel-good story for you, Omar, here as we say goodbye. After being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma earlier this year, White Sox closer Liam Hendriks is now cancer free. He confirmed that on Instagram. He's in remission after chemo, he said.

Unclear when the all-star might be back in the lineup. He wasn't placed on the team's 60-day injured list so in theory he could be back before the end of May. But it might be a longer road to recovery to get back up to speed. Good news, though. At some point, the White Sox are going to have one

of the closers in the game back with a clean bill of health, which is what's important right now.


JIMENEZ: It's one of those reminders that some things are so much bigger than sports and I'm sure he can't wait to get back out there.

MANNO: Oh, yes.


And I'm also hoping my Hawks don't get swept by the Celtics but a man can dream.

Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" charges against actor Alec Baldwin dropped. What prosecutors are now saying. Also, an explosive and costly day for Elon Musk.


JIMENEZ: All right, everybody, our top of the morning, the top songs of the week on Spotify.


DRAKE, CANADIAN RAPPER: Singing "Search and Rescue."



JIMENEZ: Ah, Drake is number one -- I love that song -- with "Search and Rescue."

Here is number two.


MORGAN WALLEN, SINGER: Singing "Last Night."


JIMENEZ: Morgan Wallen with "Last Night."

And number three.


SZA, SINGER: Singing "Kill Bill."


JIMENEZ: And on that note, I'm done. I'm sending it off to you all at "CNN THIS MORNING." I'm Omar Jimenez.