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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

House GOP Passes Debt Limit Bill Hoping to Force Biden to Table; Disney Sues DeSantis After Board Votes to Seize Control Back; President Yoon to Address Congress, Meet VP, Secretaries of State and Defense; Columnist Testifies in Battery & Defamation Case Against Trump. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 27, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

House Republicans say they have done their part to avert a national and global financial crisis by passing a bill to lift the debt ceiling.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 217 and nays 215. The bill is passed.


ROMANS: This morning, the Republicans hope the bill they passed Wednesday will force President Biden to negotiate a debt limit deal that will include the deep federal spending cuts they want.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy addressed Mr. Biden directly in remarks a short time later.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You said at the very beginning we had to show you a plan even though the Democrats have shown no plan. Not only did we show you a plan, we are the only ones to pass a plan. So I think it's up to you now whether the economy goes in any trouble, it's you. Because the Republicans raised the debt limit, you have not.


ROMANS: CNN's Phil Mattingly reports on the prospect for Republicans to get what they want.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, for weeks, House Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy made clear he knew the legislation Republicans were trying to get through the House floor, had no future. It was debt on arrival in the Senate. The president certainly objected to it but he thought it would force President Biden to the table, to start negotiations over raising the debt ceiling as the calendar gets closer and closer to a potentially catastrophic default.

The White House response to House Republicans succeeding in their efforts to pass that bill? Nothing has changed. White House Officials making very clear the Republican bill not only is a nonstarter but it will not set up a meeting between President Biden and Speaker McCarthy over the debt limit. They are happy to discuss longer term budget and fiscal issues, but when it comes to the debt sealing, their position is the same as months -- they want a clean debt ceiling increase and they want it off the table and then willing to have the negotiations, and if it wasn't clear from White House officials, well, the president just a couple of hours before the vote made it clear himself. Take a listen.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm happy with meet with McCarthy but not on whether or not the debt limit gets extended. That's not negotiable.

MATTINGLY: What's jarring about this moment is the White House has made clear, that, yes, this maybe how things worked in the past and sequencing and strange way that Congress and the White House observe works particularly over the course of the last 14 years related to these debt ceiling standoffs is Republicans pass a bill knowing it won't go anywhere just to get in the room to star the actual talks.

But White House officials have made clear they don't want to do the same thing done over the course of the last 13 or 14 years, they want to take this off the table as a potential crisis and a point of leverage for one party in government that holds one chairman in Congress. That means they're not moving any time soon, which is, of course, a problem if Republicans don't agree to put a clean debt ceiling onto the floor, which they have made abundantly clear they won't.

So, the big question in Washington right now is, how does this end? Someone is going to have to break. There is no threading the needle or finding some pragmatic middle ground between these two positions. They are completely -- completely against one another. White House officials right now feel they hold the political high ground on this issue and believe the Republicans eventually have to break. Whether they do? Well, the U.S. economy may depend on it.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.


ROMANS: All right. So, a battle is ahead on this. And every day, the U.S. draws closer to the so-called x-state when it runs out of money to pay all of its bills. The actual debt ceiling of $31.4 trillion was already hit January 19th.

Unable to borrow more, the Treasury Department is using what are called extraordinary measures, moving money around, delaying some investments to make sure everything is paid. And sometime soon as quickly as early June, the accounting tricks will run out and the U.S. risks defaulting on its obligations.

Now, assuming interest payments get top priority, every family would then face cuts. Every family would face cuts. Social Security payments could be delayed, and veterans could receive an IOU piece of paper instead of benefits in a bank account. Federal employees could be furloughed, and it would be catastrophic, simply catastrophic for financial markets where the credit worthiness of the United States is the cornerstone of the global financial system.

A default on the debt would trigger market crashes that would crush business in consumer confidence. That could further shock the financial system and throw the economy into a recession.


Treasury securities could tank, interest rates spike, the dollar would sink, and economies around the world would reel.

That is the reality Congress is sleepwalking toward unless it raises the debt ceiling and figures out the politics -- how to put the politics aside and get this done for the American people.

All right. Cracked windshields and dented hoods from Texas to Florida on Wednesday as heavy hail belted the region. This is Palm Bay, Florida.

In Texas, hail stones up to 4 inches sent people running for cover. And not just people, tennis-ball sized heal and this bull hoofing it for cover. The man who shared the video said bull is find if you're wondering.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is in the weather center.

The pictures really tell the story. What's the main concern today, Derek? Is it flooding?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I would be doing the same thing, right, getting to cover as quickly as possible. The bull is on to something there.

There is a potential for hail today, but also, the potential for flooding, that's kind of a slow moving disaster across the Midwest. We will talk about that in just one moment. But you got to see this photo, 4-inch in diameter sized hail. Think about what it takes to create something like that, the droplet of water starts to form and get pushed into the upper levels of the atmosphere by updraft of a thunderstorm and it has to be so powerful that it supports the weight of a grapefruit-sized hail stone to stick into the atmosphere and freeze and eventually fall. I mean, that is just incredible.

Right now, we have a line of thunderstorms is moving into the Baton Rouge area. So batten down the hatches, if you're watching this morning, maybe you're up earlier. You're an early riser. That's our severe weather threat. That's level 2 of 5 across the gulf

coast. Large hail and damaging wind gusts and isolated tornadoes but greatest chance of hail today really around the extreme southern portions of Texas and along the coastline of Florida as well. Lesser sized hail there, but the potential for monster sized hail across southern Texas.

Let's take you to the upper Midwest. This is the other big story we're following. There is some rainfall in this forecast. It doesn't look that impressive but it's the cumulative effects of record breaking snowfall that took place this winter. That has led to flooding along the Mississippi River, the Red River, and other tributaries leading into this particular area.

We got 400-mile stretch of flash or flood warnings, I should say, stretching from Minneapolis southward St. Louis, right along the Mississippi River and places like, well, let's say, Davenport, the Quad Cities is expected to crest this weekend and we're talking about a 21.6 foot forecast crest for Monday and Tuesday. According to the government there, the water will be at the base of the south employee entrance of the Quad City times building.

So that just kind of puts it into perspective. You can see the flooding they are contending with.

ROMANS: Yeah, that's my hometown and my dad who is not a meteorologist tells me they're expecting within a foot of the record when that river crests.

VAN DAM: That's right.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much. Nice to see you, Derek Van Dam.

VAN DAM: All right, Christine. You too.

ROMANS: All right. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking a short time ago in Jerusalem as he tests his presidential ambitions overseas.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: In Florida, we treat antisemitism the way we treat racism. And if it's not appropriate to attack somebody on the basis of their race, which is not, it should not also be okay somehow to engage in antisemitic trope.


ROMANS: Now, back home in Florida, Disney filed a federal lawsuit against DeSantis, accusing the governor of retaliation. Just minutes after the governor's hand-picked board voted to try to claw back power the previous board handed over to Disney.

CNN's Steve Contorno has more from Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STEVE CONTORNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Walt Disney Parks and Resorts filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in federal court against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The 77-page lawsuit alleges that he engaged in a year long effort to punish the company for its opposition to a state law that bans the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.

According to the lawsuit, the company's First Amendment rights were violated by Governor DeSantis and there was, quote, a targeted campaign of government retaliation orchestrated every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney's protected speech.

In a statement to CNN, DeSantis' office criticized Disney and said, quote, we are unaware of any legal rights that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state.

The lawsuit is the latest escalation in a year-long fight between DeSantis and Disney, one of the state's largest companies. And it now heads to a federal court where a judge will decide who is the victor.

For CNN in St. Petersburg, Florida, I'm Steve Contorno.


ROMANS: It'd be one fascinating case to watch.

All right. The president of South Korea is in Washington set to address Congress this morning and a state lunch with the vice president and secretary of state, and then a meeting with the secretary of defense.

Last night, President Biden toasted the two nation's ties at a fancy state dinner.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To our partnership, to our people, to possibilities, and to the future of the Republic of Korea and the U.S. that we create together.


May we do it together for another 170 years.


ROMANS: A state dinner full of symbolism about the ties between the two nations.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is live in Hong Kong.

So, Kristie, what underlies all the ceremony and fanfare here? What are the U.S. and South Korea trying to demonstrate?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, they are celebrating a new agreement aimed at deterring North Korea. The U.S. has pledged to give South Korea more insight into its nuclear planning as well as a new U.S. commitment to deploy a nuclear armed submarine in South Korea for the first time since the early '80s, a very symbolic show of force. And in return, South Korea agreed to not pursue its own nuclear arsenal.

Here's President Yoon.


YOON SUK YEOL, SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Our two countries have agreed to immediate bilateral and response to respond swiftly, overwhelmingly and decisively, using the full force of the alliance, including the United States' nuclear weapons.


STOUT: The deal raises two key questions. Number one, is it enough to reassure South Koreans because opinion poll show majority of South Koreans support their country having their own nuclear weapons. And secondly and critically, is it enough to deter North Korea?

Last year, North Korea fired a record number of missiles. It has continued to fire more this year, including that new solid fuel ICBM.

You know, President Biden repeated his offer to floor fiscal year to hold talks but he also offered a stark warning to North Korea, vowing the end of whatever regime that launches a nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies. And we are still awaiting comment from Pyongyang.

And, Christine, separately, China's ministry of foreign affairs has just weighed in and Beijing warned the U.S. and South Korea against provoking confrontation with North Korea.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Kristie Lu Stout.

And this at that dinner yesterday that maybe some of you would like to see. This is a moment where the South Korean president I guess serenaded the United States.


ROMANS: Classic rock. Some of America's best exports there, right? All right.

STOUT: That was amazing. Yeah, I mean, he got a standing ovation. This was considered an unexpected moment.

Look, President Yoon, he said that "American Pie" was one of his favorite songs during his student days but this is really nice. After he sang that song, President Biden gave him a gist. A guitar signed by Don McLean. How classic is that?

ROMANS: That is classic and classy. Al right. Thanks so much, Kristie Lu Stout.

All right. This morning, three major national newspapers running an ad pushing for the release of Evan Gershkovich from Russian detention. Yesterday marked four weeks in captivity for "The Wall Street Journal" reporter whom Russia accuses of espionage. Today's full page ad signed by the editors and publishers of "The Journal", "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times." It calls for Gershkovich's immediate release and notes reporting is not a crime.

All right. Just ahead, the deadly end for an escaped prisoner on the run.

And a woman accusing Donald Trump of rape decades ago about to face cross examination in court.



ROMANS: All right. In a few hours, the woman accusing former President Donald Trump of rape will take the stand again in New York. Columnist E. Jean Carroll is set to face more questioning from her own lawyer before Trump's legal team gets its change to cross examine her. Carroll is accusing Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. Trump denies those allegations.

CNN's Paula Reid has more.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Writer E. Jean Carroll taking the stand in the second day of her civil battery and defamation case against former President Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you looking forward to testifying today?

REID: The first question her attorney asked why she finally took her case to court: I'm here because Donald Trump raped me and when I wrote about it, he said it didn't happen. He lied and shattered my reputation, and I'm here to try to get my life back.

Carroll alleges Trump raped her in a department store in the 1990s.

E. JEAN CARROLL, SUING DONALD TRUMP: It was a fight. It was -- I want women to know that I did not stand there, I did not freeze, I was not paralyzed. It was over very quickly. It was against my will 10o percent, and I ran away.

REID: She spent hours Wednesday testifying on the alleged assault, which Trump denies. She told the jury she didn't picture anything about what was about to happen when the pair were shopping in the New York Bergdorf Goodman.

Through tears, she recounted how he suggested she tried on a body suit in the lingerie department and coax her into the dressing which plagued me for years because I just walked into it, walked in. She told the jury Trump shoved her against the wall, and then the assault began.

I always think of why I walked in there to get myself in that situation, but I'm proud to say I did get out, I got my knee up and pushed him back.

She's now suing Trump for unspecified monetary damages and to get him to retract this October 2022 social media post, reading in part, I don't know this woman. This woman is not my type.


But in 2019, Trump acknowledged this photo from the 1980s showing the two chatting.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I have absolutely no idea who she is. There's some picture where we're shaking hands, it looks like, at some kind of event.

REID: Trump, who isn't expected to appear at the trial unless called to testify, posted Wednesday, calling the case a, quote, made up scam.

The judge in this case reacting strongly to Trump's public statement, telling his lawyer that it opens up the client to a, quote, potential liability.


REID (on camera): On Thursday, Carroll will continue to face questions from her attorneys and then she will face cross-examination by Trump's lawyers who have alleged that she is completely fabricated this story for political reasons. Now even the most experienced defense attorneys will tell you that cross-examining someone who has alleged a sexual assault is a delicate task.

Paula Reid, CNN, New York.

ROMANS: All right. With more on this, let's bring in Lexie Rigden, a criminal defense attorney.

So nice to see you this morning.

So, how effective do you think her testimony was so far? What did she need to get across yesterday and did she do it?

LEXIE RIGDEN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think that she did. I think her testimony was effective because it was very detailed. And so, if you're sitting on the jury, you're going to think, you know, he's saying it's a lie. Donald Trump is saying it's a lie and it's all made up.

If you're sitting on the jury and hearing that level of detail it makes it that much err believable that it actually happened. So we weren't there, obviously. We have courtroom sketches and everything like that to rely on and everybody who has been in there watching it. But I think she did a good job from what is being reported.

ROMANS: What about the judge here warning Trump's lawyers about his posts on Truth Social saying the case is made up scam? They say it could open Trump up to a new source of potential liability. What does that mean?

RIGDEN: Well, I mean, that's right. He's -- this is kind of like the Alex Jones issue when that trial was going on and he would stand on the courthouse steps and pontificate when he wasn't on the stand. So that is an issue. I mean, you can't taint the public. The jury is supposed to be shielded from anything that is going on outside of the case. They are supposed to just pay attention to this case. It could open him up potentially for a new suit.

There could also be other penalties for potentially obstructing justice, in terms of trying to sway the jurors. So, it's just -- I mean, it's kind of on brand, I don't think no one is necessarily surprised but it opens up a host of issues including potentially a mistrial because you don't want somebody coming to court and saying, you know, my aunt told me what Trump was tweeting the other day and it affects my judgment in the case and all of the work and time is for naught in that case.

ROMANS: I wonder, do you think that Carroll's lawyers will use the "Access Hollywood" tape, that vulgar tape that surfaced in the 2016 campaign with the then-candidate said something to the effect of when you're famous, you can do whatever you want? Do you think that will surface in this case?

RIGDEN: I definitely do. I mean, I think -- I believe that the judge had previously ruled that that could be used and they would be fools not to use it. I mean, it dovetails into exactly what her story was, which helps boost her credibility because he is saying it to somebody else in a completely unrelated circumstance years later.

So I definitely think they are going to use that. They also have -- I mean, it's a 30-year-old case so that is the difficulty for her for sure. She can't remember exactly when it took place which is definitely something that will come up on cross.

But she does have the two outreach witnesses who apparently are going to testify and an employee from Bergdorf Goodman as well. That with the tape and two other women who apparently will be testifying about their alleged sexual -- bad sexual encounters with Trump. There's going to be -- there's going to be a decent amount of evidence against him in this case.

ROMANS: The former president has said numerous venues I don't know this woman she not my type. I couldn't have raped her because she's not my type. Do you think Trump will testify, that we'll have something official from him?

RIGDEN: I don't. I don't think he's going to testify. His lawyers are hedging and haven't confirmed but I think it's pretty clear he is not going to. Ultimately, his reputation and the fact he is running for president and he has more significant actual criminal issues, I think that that is probably more important to him.

I can't imagine the circus that would ensue if he did testify and then subject to cross-examination and everything he said. Especially in the midst of what is going to be his presidential campaign. He just doesn't need that out there. So I think he probably took a calculated -- he made a judgment that not testifying which I'm assuming he is not going to testify. He might and they I'll be wrong but I don't think he is going to.

Not testifying is probably a smarter idea and let this play out and then he can say to his supporters, if she prevails, you know, they found that I did wrong and verdict in her favor but I wasn't there and they didn't get to hear my side of the story and gives him the ability to say that.


ROMANS: Right. Lexie Rigden, thank you so much.

RIGDEN: Thank you. You, too.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now.

One of four escapees from a Mississippi jail break has been found dead. Police say Dylan Arrington died in a fire following a shout out with law enforcement in Carthage Wednesday. The other three escapees from the Hinds County jail are still missing.

Oklahoma's parole board has denied clemency for death row inmate Richard Glossip despite his unprecedented support from the state attorney general. Glossip is set to be executed on May 18th.

Former Fugees rapper Pras Michel is found guilty on all ten counts of international conspiracy in a scheme to help China influence the U.S. government. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

All right. Coming up, China's Xi and Ukraine's Zelenskyy on the phone for an hour. What they talk about, and the unintended consequences of panda a diplomacy.