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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy Face-to-Face Today for Debt Limit Talks with Just Over a Week to Go Before the U.S. Defaults; Ukraine Claims it Still Holds Part of the Burned Out City of Bakhmut; Senator Tim Scott Gets into 2024 Presidential Race. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 22, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Right now on EARLY START, Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy face-to-face today for debt limit talks with just over a week to go before the U.S. defaults. Plus, Ukraine claims it still holds part of the burned out city of Bakhmut. But how much of it and for how long? And Senator Tim Scott getting into the race for president today with Florida's Ron DeSantis not far behind.

Good morning, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Christine Romans, this Monday. President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are set to meet again today as they try to strike a deal to lift the debt ceiling. Only ten days until June 1st, that's the earliest estimated date the government might not be able to pay all of its bills. McCarthy spoke to the president Sunday by phone from Air Force One as he flew home from Japan.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I believe it was a productive phone call. And so, at the end of the phone call, what we agreed to do is we're going to have Congressman Garret Graves and Patrick McHenry get back together with -- he's going to ask his team, get back together. So, we can walk on through literally what we've been talking about, I think some of the challenges here they might not completely understand how we're coming about this.


ROMANS: All right, CNN's Jasmine Wright is live for us this Monday morning in Washington. All right, productive, that was the word that people really zeroed in on. Earlier this weekend, it was a pause in the negotiations. Last week, it was -- we have a format for talking to each other. How are negotiators doing this?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, well, clearly, a lot has happened in the last 24 hours when we saw a major breakdown in negotiations earlier in the weekend. You're right, President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, they both described this call that happened on Sunday as the president was flying back on Air Force One as productive. After that, their staff continued to meet late until Saturday, the

pair are expected to meet today, Monday, at the White House, sometime in the afternoon. Now, we know, really, that this is a major shift in just tone from both president and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this weekend. President Biden, we saw in Japan after being optimistic for a couple days while in Japan on Sunday, we saw him really issuing really stark and kind of grave warning, saying that it's really possible that Republicans could use default against him politically. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't guarantee that they wouldn't force a default, by doing something outrageous. I think there are some MAGA Republicans in the house who know the damage that it would do to the economy. And because I am president, and president is responsible for everything, Biden would take the blame, and that's the one way to make sure Biden is not re-elected.


WRIGHT: So President Biden yesterday in Japan, he issued that stark warning, he basically said that the Republicans' positions were extreme, saying that they had significant disagreements. And also saying, in terms of specifically what some of the issues were, he talked about revenue streams. He said that Republicans wanted to take revenue off the table.

He said for his part, it's not off the table. Now, we heard from McCarthy a few hours later who said that the president told him that it was off the table. So, obviously, we're hearing some major miscommunication, and also these two sides are really far apart. Now, our reporting over the weekend showed that the latest GOP proposal added in a couple of things that weren't initially in there, including immigration components as well as more requirements for food stamps, as well as the six-year spending caps.

Three things that the White House have basically said they don't want to do. So very far apart, but obviously, not a lot of times. So we will see President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy meet today, this afternoon in a high stakes conversation as they really try to barrel towards avoiding some sort of default, but again, only a couple more days really until that hard deadline of June 1. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Jasmine Wright, I know you're following every twist and turn, thank you so much. All right, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen doubling down on her estimate that as early as June 1st, the government will run out of financial movers and default on at least some of its debt for the first time since 1789.


JANET YELLEN, SECRETARY OF TREASURY, UNITED STATES: I indicated in my last letter to Congress that we expect to be unable to pay all of our bills in early June and possibly as soon as June 1st.


And I will continue to update Congress, but I certainly haven't changed my assessment. So, I think that that's a --


YELLEN: Hard deadline.


ROMANS: Yellen says, quote, "there will be hard choices to make about which" pills -- "bills go unpaid if the debt ceiling is not raised." Meantime, some Republicans like Pennsylvania Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick are suggesting the deadline isn't as hard as Yellen has been making out.


REP. BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R-PA): The June 1st date was probably -- according to Secretary Yellen, the earliest possible date, a technical default would mean that we don't have enough cash-flow to pay the interest on our debt. We do have enough cash-flow to do that. We're going to start to see the state tax revenues come in about the second week of June. So I think we are OK on that. We will have time.


ROMANS: All right, Fitzpatrick did say both sides should still treat June 1st as the deadline even if there's some leeway. All right, Republican Senator Tim Scott expected to launch his run for president today in his home state of South Carolina. Scott is the only black Republican in the Senate when he launched a presidential exploratory committee in April, he said he has been shaped by his evangelical faith, his race and by growing up the son of a single mother.

He's joining a growing GOP field including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who one Republican source says it's likely to soft-launch his 2024 campaign as early as Wednesday. Another sources cautions, though, DeSantis may change that plan just to annoy the media.

All right, turning to Russia's war on Ukraine. Officials in Kyiv say Ukraine is still holding on to at least a small part of the eastern city of Bakhmut. On Saturday, the Wagner mercenary group and the Kremlin claimed Russia had completely taken this bombed-out wreck of a town. CNN's Clare Sebastian following events in London. What do we know about the status of Bakhmut?

And I guess why it's significant. I mean, they've been fighting over -- and this just -- I said a wreck of it. I mean, it is a wreck at this point.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, parts of it completely razed to the ground, Christine, as we've been seeing recently in these kinds of images. The state has -- says clearly disputed right now, Russia as you say claims to have taken all of it, Ukraine -- and this is something we've known for a few weeks now, has been really holding on to just a tiny amount of the western edge of the town itself, really focusing more on the flanks, potentially trying to encircle the city.

They have made some gains in recent weeks to the northwest and southwest there. And the commander of the land forces visited the area on Sunday, said the fighting continues. They continue to advance on the flanks, though he did acknowledge that they retained only what he called a very insignificant part of the town itself.

So, look, I think, clearly, there's a real propaganda value of this to Russia, to claim victory of this town where there's been so much fighting for so many months. This is playing very heavy in the Russian media. Ukraine --

ROMANS: Yes --

SEBASTIAN: Unwilling to hand them that propaganda victory, but there's also a tactic here for Ukraine, despite the fact that Bakhmut as you say, mostly destroyed despite the fact that the outcome of this particular battle, most analysts will tell you unlikely to determine the outcome of the war as a whole. It may be worth Ukraine's -- well, to keep Russian forces in that town to stop them from going to other parts of the frontline where they may be looking to launch this long- awaited counteroffensive.

ROMANS: All right, Clare Sebastian for us, thank you this morning, we know you'll keep following that. President Biden saying the U.S. and the rest of the G7 nations have Ukraine's back in its fight against Russian aggression. The president announcing a new $375 million military aid package as he met with Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the Ukrainian president's historic visit to the G7 Summit in Japan.

CNN's Anna Coren is live in Hong Kong for us this morning. And Anna, what was Mr. Biden and the G7 countries' message to Ukraine when President Zelenskyy came to Hiroshima?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, absolute solidarity, Christine. President Zelenskyy's surprised visit to Japan for the G7 Summit was certainly worthwhile. Not only -- and did he show up support for Ukraine, he also secured more military funding from the United States. U.S. President Joe Biden announced a new military aid package to the tune of $375 million, including ammunition, artillery, armored vehicles and training.

Now meeting on the sideline of the G7 which wrapped up in Hiroshima yesterday, President Biden said the U.S. was fully committed to helping Ukraine for the long-term. Take a listen.


BIDEN: What the people of Ukraine are defending, what you've achieved is a matter for the entire world to observe, and they're in awe of what you've done so far, really and truly, it's incredible. Together with the entire G7, we have Ukraine's back, and I promise we're not going anywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COREN: Not going anywhere. Now, this was the first meeting between

Biden and Zelenskyy since the U.S. president flew to Kyiv back in February.


To date, the U.S. has provided $37 billion to Ukraine, and Christine, President Biden discussed U.S. support for joint effort with allied and partner nations to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, something the Ukrainians have been pushing hard for to defend their territory. And we heard from President Biden, he voiced support for a just peace in Ukraine. And so the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty was non-negotiable, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Anna Coren for us in Hong Kong, thanks Anna. Paul Whelan says he has growing confidence in U.S. diplomat's ability to win his release from the Russian prison where he's been held. Whelan has been wrongfully detained since December 2018 when the Kremlin charged, then convicted him on espionage charges that he strongly denies.

Whelan speaking exclusively to CNN from the forced labor camp where he's been held. He said he still fears the U.S. could neglect his case, and that's even more true now that Russia has wrongfully detained "Wall Street Journal" reporter, Evan Gershkovich.


PAUL WHELAN, FORMER U.S. MARINE: I have been told that I won't be left behind. And I have been told that although Evan's case is a priority, mine is also a priority. And people are cognizant of the fact that this is having an extremely negative impact on me and my family. And I'm told that the government is working, you know, tirelessly to get me out of here and to get me home so they can then focus effort on Evan and his case.


ROMANS: Whelan says he is confident the wheels are turning, but he wishes they would turn a little bit faster. Right, just ahead, the Marine veteran charged with killing a man with a chokehold in New York subway tells his side of the story.

Plus, a deadly crash at a soccer stadium, what might have caused that? First, what could Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy say to each other today to keep the U.S. from defaulting on its debt?




MCCARTHY: Look, there's no agreement on anything. We've all said our peace about where we are, and we're trying to find common ground to then get this done. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That's Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the current state of debt-ceiling talks. President Biden is set to meet today with the house speaker after another weekend without a breakthrough. Let's bring in Lindsey McPherson; senior congressional reporter at "CQ Roll Call". So nice to see you. So from your -- where -- in your mind, where are we here? Have they made any progress?

LINDSEY MCPHERSON, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, CQ ROLL CALL: I mean, certainly, we do not seem at all close to a deal based on what they've said publicly and privately. And one good phone call, which is apparently, you know, McCarthy and Biden both seemed a little more optimistic about their phone call yesterday, does not get them significantly closer to a deal.

The Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden will meet again today. But my assessment is that if they don't actually start moving in on actual parameters to this deal today, they need to start thinking about a short-term option, because June 1st, the hard deadline that Janet -- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said it is -- this rapidly approaching, and they don't have time to write the legislative language and pass it --

ROMANS: Yes --

MCPHERSON: Through both chambers in Congress before June 1st.

ROMANS: Yes, and I was just looking at the cash balance, treasury cash balance is $57 billion right now. So it only takes a few big bills for that to be -- to dry -- to dry up. Even though there will be some state tax receipts that will be coming into Treasury. But we are really here, I mean, we're counting the pennies.

Let's talk about the hang-ups here. Here's what we know about the work requirements Republicans are pushing for negotiations. What has been the Democratic reaction to these proposed cuts? I mean, GOP essentially wants work requirements for some of these social safety nets, and specifically, raising the age for able-bodied beneficiaries, and the amount of hours per week. So up to age 55. Is this a nonstarter for Democrats or something that they can compromise on?

MCPHERSON: For the vast majority of congressional Democrats, they say it's a nonstarter and that they don't want to negotiate on any of the programs that the Republicans want to expand or add work requirements to. Joe Biden has specifically ruled out changes to Medicaid, so that seems to be off the table even though Republicans obviously wanted that.

So then we're talking about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also known as food stamps, and then the temporary assistance for needy families. And those are smaller changes in the Republican bill, but still significant to Democrats. They feel like Republicans just want to attack poor people, basically, in their mind, and they don't want any part of that. So, I don't -- it's hard to see a compromise on that, but it is very

important to Republicans. You know, Speaker McCarthy has called that a red line for negotiation. So that's definitely --

ROMANS: Yes --

MCPHERSON: One of the major -- points.

ROMANS: And both parties blame each other for the hold-up in negotiations. You know, that's what I'm hearing a lot of here. Do you -- do you think that they can pass some kind of a deal -- first of all, they have to come to a consensus, then they have to convince both like extremes in each party to agree to it, and they have to do that all before the U.S. defaults on its debt? That's a tall order.

MCPHERSON: Well, that's why they're having such a hard time coming to a deal, as getting the extremes in each party. Because normally, when you build this bipartisan deal, you're looking for both a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans to have a big center coalition to pass a deal like this.

But as the parties move farther to the extremes both on the left and the right, it is harder to build that center coalition. And so that's what they're really struggling with. It's what can we do that will have the majority of our party on board so we don't look like it's a bad deal for us. Because at the end of the day, it has to be a good deal for both sides, and it's really hard to see what that compromise looks like.

ROMANS: Yes, I mean, what's really frustrating is, if you want to have a serious discussion about America's debt not choking this country in the decades ahead, this is not how you have that conversation.


This is anything, but you know, this is -- this is distraction and drama, not necessarily physical discipline, but they are really deep in it now. All right, Lindsey McPherson of "CQ Roll Call", thank you so much.

MCPHERSON: Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, the mayor of New York says more than 70,000 asylum seekers have come to the city, and 42,000 of them are still here. He says New York is becoming overwhelmed and he is calling for the burden of migrant resettlement to be shared by more cities throughout the U.S. CNN's Gloria Pazmino has more.


GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): And for several days, Mayor Eric Adams has been talking about the city of New York needing financial intervention from the federal government. In recent weeks, he has been asking the surrounding suburbs around the city of New York to help and to share their quote-unquote, "burden" of having to provide shelter and resources to migrants that continue to arrive here in New York City.

In the last several days since the expiration of Title 42, the city has continued to see a record number of arrivals in the city every single day. According to city hall, they are seeing hundreds of people arrive per day. The city has set up the Roosevelt Hotel, which you see here behind me, as a welcome center, a place where migrants can arrive and be connected to resources and eventually be placed in a shelter while migrants figure out their next move.

Now, in the meantime, Mayor Eric Adams is asking the federal government to step in and for neighbors around the city of New York to help out.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK STATE: If this is properly handled at the border level, this issue can be resolved while we finally get Congress, particularly the Republican party to deal with --


ADAMS: A comprehensive immigration policy.

PAZMINO: Now, it's not the first time that the mayor makes this request of the federal government. And he has also clashed with his neighbors outside of the city of New York in recent weeks. Some municipalities in the area have filed lawsuits trying to stop the city from busing migrants to their suburbs, citing a lack of resources and saying that they don't have the infrastructure to help migrants.

But the city has said that they also are running out of space and resources, specifically, shelter capacity continues to be a major issue here in the city as more migrants continue to arrive, and many of them are in need of shelter. In New York City, Gloria Pazmino, CNN.


ROMANS: All right, quick hits across America now, the man accused of choking a homeless person to death on a New York City subway train spoke for the first time. Daniel Penny told the "New York Post" he would do it again if there was a threat and danger. Penny is currently out on a $100,000 bond.

At least, five people were shot, three fatally in a nightclub shooting in Kansas City, Missouri, early Sunday morning. Authorities say all five victims are believed to be adults, two remain hospitalized. Nebraska Republican Governor Jim Pillen is expected to sign a 12-week abortion ban into law today. There are exceptions for sexual assault, incest and medical emergencies.

Right, just a short time from now, historic rendezvous in space. But first, training Ukraine's troops to build their own bombs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's a measure, even on the eve of an expected big counteroffensive of just how much help Ukraine's military still needs.




ROMANS: Welcome back. The former Prime Minister of Pakistan tells CNN the government itself is, quote, "doing everything to dismantle Pakistan's democracy." Imran Khan was charged with corruption and ceased from a courthouse in this dramatic arrest earlier this month. He denies the charges and the country's Supreme Court ruled the arrest unlawful and ordered his release on bail.

Speaking to CNN's Fareed Zakaria, Khan said there's no rule of law in Pakistan. CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us live from Seoul. What did he mean by that, Paula?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, what Imran Khan had said is that what we're seeing at the moment, according to him in Pakistan is a dismantling of democracy. He has consistently criticized the current government and also parts of the powerful military, saying that they were behind him, losing his position as prime minister in April of last year.

And he pointed out that they have been trying to dismantle democracy ever since. Something, of course, the military and the governments deny. Now, he did say that some 10,000 of his supporters have been arrested. He criticized the fact that they are going to go through a military court rather than civilian. That's something that human rights organizations criticize as well.

And he said on Tuesday, tomorrow, he'll be going to Islamabad to the high court, and he believes there's an 80 percent chance he will be re-arrested, which could lead to more unrest. Now, he is in pains not to blame the whole of the military, it is very powerful in Pakistan, but he does say it is the former -- sorry, the army chief's fault that he was deposed.


IMRAN KHAN, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF PAKISTAN: All I know is that in the last six months, he just worked to remove my government. He's openly afterwards in an interview claimed that he decided that I was too dangerous for the country.

And so, my government was ousted. Since then, all I have said is that the solution to Pakistan's problems are in free and fair elections. Because that's the only thing that would bring political stability in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HANCOCKS: He also believes that his life is in danger. He says there

was an assassination attempt on him in November of last year. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Paula, thank you so much for that. All right, it seems increasingly likely that Ukraine will be getting F-16.