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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Ukrainian Women Work As Miners And Blacksmiths As Men Fight In War; Today: Voters Head To Polls In GOP Governor's Race; New Retail Sales Forecast Expected To Show Increase For April. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired May 16, 2023 - 05:30   ET




NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (on camera): Is it good? You like it, huh?

TETIANA, COAL MINER: Yes, I like it.

ROBERTSON (on camera): You wanted to be a miner?


ROBERTSON (on camera): Yes. Your family -- your grandfather --


ROBERTSON (on camera): -- your father was a miner.


ROBERTSON (on camera): Yes, yes, yes.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): She used to work above ground but when miners got called up to fight and martial law cleared women for dangerous jobs she jumped at a job deep in the mine.

TETIANA (through translator): I always wanted to work here but girls were not allowed. When many men were conscripted the mine had to keep working. So to protect our country the girls stepped up.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): She works six-hour shifts -- three days one, one day off. Earns more than previously and wants to keep her underground job when the war is over.

TETIANA (through translator): My work is not physically difficult. I like it a lot. I would like to continue working here.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In this bastion of male-dominated tradition that may not be so easy.

OLEKSANDR, LEAD ENGINEER (through translator): I think when the war is over and we will win, I think women will return above the ground and do women's jobs.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Yet, even chief engineer Oleksandr admits without Tetiana and many other women the mine could not have kept going.

OLEKSANDR (through translator): Around 700 of our miners got called up to fight. Our women wanted to help both the mine and the country. So far, 46 women are working under the ground now.

ROBERTSON (on camera): There hasn't been a general mobilization of women but plenty of traditional male-only workplaces are finding women stepping up and taking jobs that before the war would have only gone to men.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Maria is among them for the love of Ukraine and of her husband.

MARIA KOBETS, BLACKSMITH, KOBETS FORGE (through translator): I knew the theory, but the practice turned out to be a little harder.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): She took up his blacksmith job when he got called up to fight last year. They bought the forge together a few years earlier -- invested their future in it.

KOBETS (through translator): This is my husband's passion and his life's business. I decided to support him to keep his job alive while he is serving.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): She shows me a video of husband Andre working at the same anvil pre-war. His artwork -- some "Game of Thrones" themed -- selling in the U.S. and Europe for hundreds of dollars.

She is focusing on simpler stuff -- ornate kabob skewers.

KOBETS (through translator): I very often cry in the forge here. My husband is defending us and that is very dangerous. But this work helps me to hold on and not fall apart.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Women have been here before. Remember Rosie the Riveter, icon of women at work in World War II? She and others cracked the glass ceiling. More than a hint of Rosie in Maria and perhaps of changes here, too.

KOBETS (through translator): It's tiring work but it's interesting. I would like to do it when I feel like it, not when I have to do it.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Maria, Tetiana -- two of many who bravely stepped up -- no doubt, more challenges ahead.

Nic Robertson, CNN, in a coal mine in Eastern Ukraine.



Quick hits around the globe right now. The Biden administration is warning that Iran and Russia are in a full-scale defense partnership. The Biden administration hinted that more sanctions on both countries could be on the way.

At least six people are dead in a fire inside a hostel in New Zealand's capital city of Wellington. About 100 people were thought to be inside that hostel. Dozens remain unaccounted for.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko appeared in public for the first time since Russian Victory Day on May 9. There was speculation about his health when he appeared unwell during those ceremonies.

Voters head to the polls for primary day in a red state with a blue governor. And the Major League player borrowing from a football playbook.



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

President Biden will once again meet with congressional leaders on the debt limit today. Sources tell CNN there were productive staff-level negotiations over the weekend.

The former CEO of Silicon Valley Bank will testify before a Senate committee this morning. He reportedly plans to apologize and testify that no bank should have survived -- could have survived the run that gutted SVB back in March.

Today, Philadelphians will vote in the mayoral primary elections. Nine Democrats are running for their party's nomination. The one Republican candidate will run uncontested.

It's also primary day in Kentucky as Republicans set out to choose a nominee they think can unseat Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

CNN's Eva McKend has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, three, two, one.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER (voice-over): Republicans in the Bluegrass State heading to the polls Tuesday to pick a nominee to take on Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in a race that's testing former President Donald Trump's influence with GOP voters.


MCKEND (voice-over): State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a former staffer for Sen. Mitch McConnell and a rising star in the party after his 2020 Republican convention speech.

CAMERON: That's why I am voting for Donald Trump for president.

MCKEND (voice-over): Cameron is considered a top contender, along with Kelly Craft who served as Trump's ambassador to Canada and later, the United Nations.

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, Kelly. You're doing fantastically well.

MCKEND (voice-over): But Trump has endorsed Cameron, joining him in a tele-rally Sunday night.

TRUMP: I have no doubt he's going to be a fantastic governor.

MCKEND (voice-over): The endorsement resulting in bitter barbs traded between the two candidates --


CAMERON: And then I got the endorsement and your team has been scrambling ever since.

MCKEND (voice-over): -- and in TV ads --

CAMERON POLITICAL AD: Only one candidate for governor has been endorsed by President Trump.

MCKEND (voice-over): -- while Craft has focused in on Cameron's ties to McConnell --

CRAFT POLITICAL AD: My opponents are career politicians who'd rather follow than lead.

MCKEND (voice-over): -- and his handling over the Breonna Taylor case, allowing the Justice Department to investigate Louisville's police department.

CRAFT POLITICAL AD: They failed Kentucky's law enforcement.

MCKEND (voice-over): Craft, who is the wife of a billionaire coal magnate, has loaned her campaign more than $9 million, while Cameron has raised a total of nearly $1.5 million.

PENNY GERTING, KENTUCKY VOTER: They both are cutting each other's throat. That's what I think.

MCKEND (on camera): And you don't like that.



GERTING: No. They're slandering each other.


MCKEND (voice-over): Cameron has focused on a law and order message and would make history as the first Black Republican governor elected in the U.S.

MCKEND (on camera): Why do you think that you are best suited to take on Gov. Beshear?

CAMERON: We've seen a governor who has sat idly by as the far left has tried to move into our state. We need to have a governor that says enough and will stand up for the values of Kentucky.

MCKEND (voice-over): Craft has centered her campaign on culture war clashes.

KELLY CRAFT, (R) KENTUCKY GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: We have to take woke not only out of our education but out of our government, out of our family, out of our businesses.

MCKEND (voice-over): Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has focused his campaign on rural areas of Kentucky --

RYAN QUARLES, (R) KENTUCKY GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Let me be the candidate that unites our state.

MCKEND (voice-over): -- hoping to win over voters who may be turned off by Craft and Cameron's Trump-fueled fight.

TRES WATSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Not all politics is local. That's kind of a test here. Can you still run a campaign in the state talking about local issues and running a very localized campaign and win, or have we entered an era in politics where if you're running for a local office you have to have a position on Ukraine.

MCKEND (on camera): And the challenge for all of these candidates is really getting Kentuckians to vote. Typically, in this state, gubernatorial primaries are low-turnout affairs. The Secretary of State's office telling us they only anticipate about 10 to 15 percent of registered voters, so of the approximately 3.4 million registered voters to actually participate in this primary.

Eva McKend, CNN, Lexington, Kentucky.


ROMANS: All right, to sports now.

The Dallas Stars are heading to the NHL's Western Conference Final for the second time in four seasons.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Good morning, Coy.


Probably the most two exciting words in all of sports, game seven. Win and you advance. Lose and you have the entire off-season to think about it. That was exactly the situation in Dallas night for the Stars and the Seattle Kraken.

After a scoreless first period, Roope Hintz showing hints of greatness, putting the rope-a-dope on them -- look at that. Top shelf putting the Stars on the scoreboard late in the second.

Then, in the third -- you heard the saying "way to use your head?" Well, how about way to use their head. Twenty-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston ricocheting the puck off the goal tender's helmet into the back of the net. Stars making the Kraken crack winning this one 2-1.

And the Stars are now going to face off against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final starting Friday night. The Carolina Hurricanes facing the Florida Panthers in the east. Game one of that series set for Thursday.

The NBA's Western Conference Championships tipping off tonight -- a rematch of the 2020 version. LeBron James and the Lakers heading to Denver to take on the only top seed remaining, Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. Two-time league MVP Jokic chasing his first-ever NBA championship. In fact, the entire franchise has never even made it to the finals.

LeBron is chasing his fifth title. His Lakers are the first seven-seed to reach the Western Conference Finals since 1987.

Here's LeBron.


LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS FORWARD: At the end of the day it's just basketball. It's basketball. Go out and play. We're all here for a reason. Obviously, we've got -- we've got an opportunity to be great and that's what we want to do. We want to showcase why we -- why we should be here in the Western Conference Finals and go out and perform. I love it.

MICHAEL MALONE, DENVER NUGGETS HEAD COACH: Getting to the finals is all that matters. The fact that it is the Lakers makes it probably that much more special for a lot of people that support us. And if that's going to allow Ball Arena to that -- to be that much more excited and crazy then I'm all for it.


WIRE: All right, let's get our EARLY START play of the day, Christine. A's first baseman Ryan Noda totally biffs (PH) on a routine ground ball, but then totally redeems himself, chasing down the bobbled ball and running away from the base. He goes full-on football player and hike, hike straight between his legs and straight to the pitcher Adrian Martinez, who beat the runner out at first. Talk about zero to hero.

The Diamondbacks ended up winning 5-2 though. The A's haven't had much to cheer about lately. They are a league-worst record 9-34.

Finally, adding another chapter to his incredible story. Bills' safety Damar Hamlin was named the winner of the George Halas Award by the Pro Football Writers of America yesterday. The award is given each year to the NFL player, coach, or staff member that overcame adversity to succeed. Hamlin was cleared to resume football activities last month after he suffered that cardiac arrest on the field in January.


Now, Denny Kellington, the Bills assistant athletic trainer who helped save Hamlin's life, gave a powerful commencement speech at his alma mater Oklahoma State over the weekend. He told the graduates that a good education should prepare you for any crisis you may face.


DENNY KELLINGTON, BUFFALO BILLS ASSISTANT ATHLETIC TRAINER: Thankfully, we restored Damar's heartbeat. We were ready. It's a bit odd to be the person reporters are talking about when they say Denny Kellington is a hero. It's very humbling. I've said repeatedly that I am not a hero. But I will tell you what I was that day -- I was ready. When unexpected doors open or life changes course trust that your experiences have led you there and you will be reading.


WIRE: Incredible, powerful message there from Denny Kellington, Christine. You never know how, you never know when, or you never know for whom, but you might just be a hero someday.

ROMANS: Yes, amazing, right? That story just still gives me goosebumps.

All right, nice to see you, Coy Wire.

WIRE: You, too.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" congressional staffers attacked by a man with a metal bat. What police are learning about a possible motive. And next, right here, shopping and spending. The mighty American consumer. What can we expect today about the American's -- America's economy.



ROMANS: All right, your Romans' Numeral this morning -- look at all the zeroes -- 17 trillion. Americans' debt crossing a record $17 trillion during the first quarter. Consumer debt up $148 billion from the fourth quarter of last year.

We're talking mortgages, auto loans, student loans, and credit cards. Retail cards -- also increases. It was also the first time in 20 years that credit card balances did not decline after the holidays as they usually do. Credit card debt nearly $1 trillion here.

Looking at markets around the world, Asian markets finished mixed. China's retail sales and economic output weaker than expected in April. European markets are also mixed at this hour ahead of trade data and first-quarter GDP numbers from the EU.

On Wall Street, stock index futures right now are leaning lower but not decisively so. We'll see what happens when the opening bell rings.

U.S. markets rose yesterday as Wall Street continues to grapple with this ongoing debt ceiling crisis. The Dow snapping five consecutive sessions of losses. Just the idea that they're talking was supportive for Wall Street.

Retailer Home Depot will report first-quarter earnings after the opening bell.

And on inflation watch, gas prices fell a penny overnight to $3.53 per gallon.

Also this morning, a critical reading on retail sales expected to show a bounce back after retail spending fell in March.

I want to bring in Claire Tassin, retail and e-commerce analyst for the Morning Consult. Good morning. Nice to see you, Claire.

CLAIRE TASSIN, RETAIL AND E-COMMERCE ANALYST, MORNING CONSULT (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning. Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: So I'm wondering what you're expecting today because consumers have been remarkably resilient over the past year or so. Do you think that's going to hold?

TASSIN: Resilience has absolutely been the word of the year here. You're correct there. We are expecting a soft increase in the retail sales numbers this morning, which will be a welcome news after a few months of decline. A lot of that is going to be driven by the gas number and auto, so I'm really going to be paying attention to the core retail sales number, which is a little less volatile. But we're still expecting a soft increase there.

ROMANS: Yes. I think it's so interesting. Gas prices have gone up, what, like 30 percent over the past year. That acts as like a tax cut for consumers, right, when they don't have to spend as much for their daily commute.

And we know that retail spending slipped in March. That was around recession fears and worries about the banking crisis. Do you think that's all in the rearview mirror here?

TASSIN: Unfortunately, not entirely. So we don't just poll consumer spending. We are also polling on consumer sentiment. And every month I'm asking people how they're feeling about inflation and how it's impacting their household budgets.

Just two weeks ago, 85 percent of Americans said that they're very concerned about the way inflation is impacting their household budget, and that is actually back up to the series high that we saw when inflation was at its peak. So while we did see a bit of a dip in consumer concern about inflation, over time that has re-risen over the last two to three months, which has me concerned.

And we are seeing people are still trading down, delaying a lot of purchases, especially from higher-income individuals where they've largely been insulated from a lot of these effects. We're really starting to see that hit the upper incomes.

ROMANS: Yes, but travel and leisure and hospitality -- in those kinds of areas people seem to be just moving forward and spending differently, I guess.

But then you have this potential default on the government debt. Explain to me what that means, I guess, for the average consumer. Are they worried about that yet or does that seem like Washington insider baseball at this point?

TASSIN: They are worried about it but I think it's hard for the average consumer to fully grasp what that would mean for the economy and for the individual. So they're worried about it because we know that -- they know they should be worried about it, but I think it's hard to see how it's going to impact them at an individual level because we haven't seen it.

ROMANS: Yes. I mean, if there were to be a debt ceiling breach and protracted problem you would see consumer spending fall for sure because we wouldn't have all that money --

TASSIN: Absolutely.

ROMANS: -- moving through the economy. It would be just recession -- for sure, a recession and just devastating.

All right, Claire Tassin of Morning Consult.

TASSIN: Absolutely.

ROMANS: Thank you so much.

TASSIN: Thank you.

ROMANS: We now have an idea when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will say out loud that he's running for president. And special counsel John Durham's report on the Trump-Russia investigation. Major takeaways coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING."




THE WEEKND, CANADIAN SINGER: Singing "Save Your Tears."


ROMANS: That's "Save Your Tears" by The Weeknd.

The singer now says he's ready to kill The Weeknd, changing his name on all social media accounts to his birth name, Abel Tesfaye. The artist told W Magazine his next album may be the last he issues under his former name. Remember when Prince did that -- changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol? Note to The Weeknd, Prince eventually changed it back. The artist previously known as Prince changed it back to Prince.


Our top of the morning, the top car exporters in the world. China is number one, so far this year, selling the most cars, like the BYD you see here, in foreign markets. Selling in foreign markets -- that's a first in recent history getting up on top. Japan with brands like Toyota and Nissan drops to second place. Germany, where Volkswagens and BMWs were born remains in third place.

All right, thanks for joining me. I'm Christine Romans. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.