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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

80,000 Sudan Refugees Flee To Chad As Fighting Enters Sixth Week; Target Pulls Some Pride Merchandise Citing Threats Against Staff; Panthers Sweep Hurricanes To Reach Stanley Cup Final. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired May 25, 2023 - 05:30   ET



CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL REPORTER: I think read into that this will continue to reinforce the Russian narrative that this is a defensive war rather than an unprovoked invasion and will give them cover to launch sort of vengeful attacks on Ukraine. So that's what the Kremlin is saying.

The U.S. assessment though is with low confidence. They don't -- they aren't sure that it was the Ukrainian special forces. They're still weighing other options, including Russian or Ukrainian nationals operating outside of state bureaucracies within Russia. That's something they're looking at.

But this is still an incident that leaves a lot of questions unanswered and it's still problematic for both sides. It's embarrassing for Russia, on the one hand, still that these drones managed to hit the Kremlin. And for Ukraine, with all of these sort of suspicious incursions into Russian territory, it does raise questions, especially as it takes delivery of Western weapons that come with assurances from Ukraine that they won't be used to attack Russian territory -- Christine.


All right, Clare Sebastian. Thank you, Clare.

Quick hits around the globe right now.

Further traces of the four missing kids in the Colombian Amazon Rainforest have been uncovered. It's been more than 23 days since the children went missing after a plane crash.

Today, investigators in Portugal are extending their search for clues into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. McCann disappeared 16 years ago at the age of three.

A man who was left paralyzed can walk naturally again after brain and spine implants. The devices provided a digital bridge between his brain and spinal cord.

President Biden just hours away from making history with a big announcement. And Target now pulling products from stores after a major backlash.



ROMANS: The U.N. says more than a million people have been displaced in Sudan as fighting there enters its sixth week. Of the more than 300,000 fleeing to neighboring countries, 80,000 have gone to Chad.

CNN's Larry Madowo has more.


LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The kids cry constantly. The adults look weary of war. The pained faces here are a reminder of the horrors that drove them out of Sudan.

At this refugee camp across the border in Chad, sadness stalks almost everyone. As fighting intensified in Sudan's western Darfur region they had to run or risk getting killed.

Koubra Abdullah left so suddenly that her son got lost in the chaos.

KOUBRA ABDULLAH, SUDANESE REFUGEE IN CHAD (through translator): My brother is still back there. I heard he was injured. I was forced to come to Chad to seek safety.

MADOWO (on camera): Would you go back to Sudan?

ABDULLAH (through translator): No, no. The only reason I will go back is to bring my child and my brother here. There has been too much insecurity for too long.

MADOWO (voice-over): Because of decades of conflict in Sudan, many of these refugees had already been internally displaced several times.

Mastiura Ishakh is 22 but hasn't known a permanent home for most of her life.

MASTIURA ISHAKH, SUDANESE REFUGEE IN CHAD (through translator): I'm worried about all the people we left behind, especially my mother who could not cross the border. I keep asking myself how I can get her to Chad.

MADOWO (on camera): I noticed they're mostly women and children here. Where are the men from Sudan?

ISHAKH (through translator): The men told us to take the children and cross the border so they can stay behind to defend themselves and our property, if necessary.

MADOWO (voice-over): The U.N.'s refugee agency says close to 90 percent of new arrivals in Chad from Sudan are women and children. Many still traumatized but they will need a lot of support to heal.

MADOWO (on camera): We had expected to meet refugees as they arrived in the border town of Koufroun, right across from Sudan, but just before we arrived it was hit by a rocket. That is why refugees are being moved away from border towns to places like this in Gaga (PH).

MADOWO (voice-over): CNN traveled with the USAID administrator Samantha Power to eastern Chad. The U.S. is giving more than $100 million to support the over one million people displaced by the war across Sudan and in neighboring countries.

SAMANTHA POWER, USAID ADMINISTRATOR: We met one woman whose eye had been gouged -- basically, with somebody just attacking her -- and she's seeking medical care here in Chad.

Horrific violence which triggers for so many of these people also memories of previous horrific violence.

MADOWO (voice-over): It's a full-circle moment for her. She was in Chad in 2004 writing in The New Yorker about Sudanese civilians fleeing the Janjaweed military in Darfur.

POWER: When you talk to them you feel like you're in a time warp because they're describing Janjaweed coming in with their knives and their machetes, killing people, raping women.

MADOWO (on camera): Is it surreal for you being here hearing these stories when you heard them 20 years ago as a reporter?

POWER: Well, I feel lucky this time, at least, to be working at USAID, a big development humanitarian agency. At least there's something I can do. But fundamentally, there is no substitute for the root causes getting addressed for these two warring generals to put their own power grabs aside and put the interests of these people who are fleeing, sometimes for the fifth time in their lives.

MADOWO (voice-over): Chad, one of the world's poorest countries, had about 400,000 Sudanese refugees before this latest surge.

PATRICE AHOUANSOU, DEPUTY REPRESENTATIVE, UNHCR-CHAD: We need to collectively work with all the actors in support to the government of Chad to ensure that resources are mobilized to address the urgent needs of the -- of the refugees.

MADOWO (voice-over): These are the innocent victims of a deadly power struggle in Sudan. The poor and most vulnerable who have nowhere to go. Just another chapter in the life hardship.

Larry Madowo, CNN, Gaga, Chad.


ROMANS: Larry, thank you so much for that.

All right, here is today's fast-forward lookahead.

The founder of the Oath Keepers will be sentenced for his role in the Capitol riot today. Stewart Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy. Prosecutors are seeking 25 years. Today, President Biden will nominate Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs. If confirmed, it will be the first time the top civilian in uniform defense chiefs are both African American.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration set to release its hurricane season forecast this morning. Hurricane season begins June first and averages 14 named storms.

All right. Target now pulling some products that support Pride Month after facing backlash from an anti-LGBTQ campaign.

I want to bring in Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN Business reporter. He's been covering this. Walk us through what happened here with Target and why it's pulling LGBTQ merchandise.

NATHANIEL MEYERSOHN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Right, Christine. So for the past decade, Target has celebrated Pride Month. Every year it has a collection. This year it has about 2,300 products -- mugs, t-shirts, stationary -- that sort of stuff.

But this year it was the -- it was the target of a viral anti-LGBT campaign led by activists on social -- far-right activists on social media and conservative news outlets like Fox News that spread a lot of misinformation and misleading claims about some of the products that Target was selling in the pride collection, and it led to a hostile work environment for employees. There were videos of people stomping on merchandise and stepping on some of the pride signs.

So Target made the decision to remove some of the merchandise. It cited threats to workers' safety and their sense of well-being.

ROMANS: And so, I suppose that the LGBTQ lobby thinks they've caved, essentially, yes? Is that the response?

MEYERSOHN: Right. So, gay rights supporters are really frustrated with the response from Target here.

Governor Gavin Newsom, of California, called out Target's CEO Brian Cornell. He said he sold out to the -- to the far-right.


MEYERSOHN: And not only did we -- did we see that, but there's a very strong -- very strong support for LGBTQ rights. Younger folks -- about 21 percent of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ. So this could lead to backlash from these --


MEYERSOHN: -- customers as well.

ROMANS: And this isn't the only company that has found itself in a difficult position where it's sort of damned if you do, damned if you don't. I mean, talk to us a little bit about these other companies and this trend where they find themselves being criticized on both sides.

MEYERSOHN: Right. So this is happening as there's a wave of anti-LGBT legislation. The Human Rights Campaign said there are about 70 anti- LGBTQ bills this year enacted. That's a record.

And so these brands are caught in the middle of these culture wars over gender identity, sexual orientation.

Disney has been -- you know, been the subject of a -- of a battle with Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida over the so-called Don't Say Gay law. We've seen, obviously, Bud Light targeted really heavily for its -- for its work with -- just one Instagram post --

ROMANS: Right.

MEYERSOHN: -- with a trans activist -- a single post. And Nike also as well.

So there are -- these -- it's difficult for these brands to navigate this incredibly polarized environment right now.

ROMANS: Yes, it really is. All right, so interesting.

Nathaniel Meyersohn, nice to see you. Thank you.

All right, to sports now. The Florida Panthers sweep the Carolina Hurricanes and now they're going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 27 years.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


So here's hoping the Celtics can get a win tonight because between the NBA and NHL these conferences finals -- not been great. You've got two sweeps already. Vegas can sweep the Stars tonight.

But what a run these Panthers are on. They entered with the fewest points of any team in the playoffs. Now they're four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

And the engine behind it all has been Matthew Tkachuk, the breakout star of these playoffs. He did it again last night. The game was tied at three in the final seconds and Tkachuk rips the game-winning goal with just five seconds to go. This was his second goal of the game, ninth of the postseason, third game-winner in the series.

Panthers, after going down 3-1 to the Bruins in the opening round, have won 11 of their last 12 and are heading to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in their history.


MATTHEW TKACHUK, FLORIDA PANTHERS WINGER: I still think not many people believe -- I mean, like the people in this area support and believe in us but I have to tell you the truth -- there's not many people out there that do. Kind of that similar feel of being the underdog and trying to prove people wrong again. And being in it with the guys and seeing the belief and seeing just the calmness to us is really something special.


SCHOLES: All right. Can the Celtics keep their season alive tonight in game five in Boston? They got a huge win in game four against the Heat to avoid the sweep and are trying to become the first NBA team ever to come back from down 0-3.


MARCUS SMART, BOSTON CELTICS GUARD: Now we've just to go win another one. That's all that matters. We're taking one game at a time. We understand the odds are stacked against us but we're a team that believes in this no matter what and we've just got to keep going. And all that matters is the next game.



SCHOLES: All right, tipoff 8:30 Eastern on TNT. Celtics actually eight-point favorites for game five.

All right, finally, what an up-and-down night for Phillies' shortstop Trea Turner, including some barbs from his mom after getting booed by fans in the seventh inning for striking out during a potential rally. The Phillies $300 million man came up again in the ninth with the Phils down to their final out and launches a two-run game-tying home run. Philly finishing off the comeback in the 10th beating the D-backs 6-5.

And afterward, Turner -- well, he explained how his mom Donna helped him deal with the pressure.


TREA TURNER, PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES SHORTSTOP: My mom prepared me for anything in this -- in this game and in this world. So she was tough on me from an early age and not much fazes me. So --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is she ever booing?

TURNER: She told me today she was booing me. She actually texted me and said good game except for your fourth at-bat. And I said yes, not a good one. And she said I was booing you, so --


SCHOLES: There you go, Christine. Maybe you just need to boo your boys a little more and it will help them build that confidence and nothing will faze them.

ROMANS: I don't know. Booing is not in my repertoire yet but maybe I'll take some advice.

All right, nice to see you, Andy Scholes. Thank you.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" the first full day of the Ron DeSantis race for president. It's also expected to be one of the busiest travel days of the year. More on that just ahead.



ROMANS: All right, your Romans' Numeral this morning, 43. Only 43 percent of non-retired adults think they're going to have enough money to live comfortably when they retire. That is the lowest level since 2012. Less affluent Americans are especially concerned. Gallup says workers are worried about the high cost of living, the safety of the money -- their money in bank accounts, and the risk of recession.

Looking at markets around the world right now, Asian markets finished mixed. The Hang Seng, though, down nearly two percent amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in China. European markets are lower. The German economy slipped into a recession following two consecutive quarters in negative growth.

On Wall Street, stock index futures right now barely mixed here.

Stocks fell on Wednesday. The Dow down four days in a row. Investors worried about the stalled debt ceiling negotiations. Fitch Ratings agency warned the partisan breakdown in D.C. could mean the U.S. loses its AAA credit rating. But Moody's is, quote, "confident" the federal government will not suffer its first-ever default.

On inflation watch, gas prices rose a penny overnight to $3.57 a gallon.

And a lot of data today with the jobless claims, a first revision for first-quarter GDP, pending home sales, mortgage rates -- all of that due out today.

All right. But this weekend is Memorial Day and with it comes one of the busiest travel days of the year. According to AAA, more than 42 million Americans are expected to travel.

Joining me now with what to expect, Zach Wichter, consumer travel reporter for USA Today and author of the weekly "Cruising Altitude" column. So nice to see you.

So, 42 million -- we're back to pre-pandemic levels now for travel.

ZACH WICHTER, CONSUMER TRAVEL REPORTER, USA TODAY, AUTHOR, "CRUISING ALTITUDE" COLUMN: Oh, yes, it's fully back. Airlines are super booked for this summer. It's going to be crazy in the airports so pack your patience.

ROMANS: Yes. This will be a test, I guess, of whether the airlines, staffing, airports, and the FAA all have their stuff together.

WICHTER: That's absolutely right.

So last summer we saw one of the big issues was staffing with airlines. This summer the airlines have done their best over the past year to hire as many people as they can and they're doing better.

The big problem seems to be -- that I'm keeping my eye on is staffing at the FAA. So air traffic controllers -- they still haven't been able to get rehired to the same level that they were at before the pandemic. In fact, here in the northeast, the FAA asked airlines to cut their schedules in New York and kind of the surrounding areas --

ROMANS: Really?

WICHTER: -- just because there aren't enough air traffic controllers to handle the amount of flights the airlines are hoping to fly here this summer.

ROMANS: You just heard that number. I said 43 percent of non-retired adults say they don't have enough money to retire. But, boy, it seems like everybody's got enough money to fly. I mean, seriously, the pent- up demand for travel -- and air travel, in particular -- has been really amazing, hasn't it? We're expecting to see that at the airports this summer.

WICHTER: Yes, definitely. And it's a really interesting point that you make because airfares in many markets are higher than ever. Airlines are reporting record profits kind of across the board.

ROMANS: Right.

WICHTER: So people are really spending on those tickets. They want to get out there.

ROMANS: I just was looking at some domestic travel to Southern California and was surprised, though, it was pretty affordable. You say that's where you're going to find deals, if you will, on domestic travel in the U.S.

WICHTER: That's absolutely right. So the most expensive tickets right now are international. People -- as borders open, as we continue this COVID recovery, people really want to get out there.

Domestic flights -- those are where the deals are. Obviously, we're pretty close and now with Memorial Day --


WICHTER: -- right around the corner for booking, so they may be more expensive --

ROMANS: Right.

WICHTER: -- than they would have been if you'd booked a couple of weeks ago. But if you're still looking for a deal keep your eye on those domestic tickets this summer.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right, if you're planning a last-minute getaway what's your advice?

WICHTER: Like I said, keep your eye on domestic tickets and just track those prices. There are deals to be had, you've just kind of got to do your research and look out for them.

ROMANS: I know, and a lot of people haven't taken a big trip in a couple of years and they're just -- I mean, it's about -- more about the timing than the money, I think, for a lot of people.

WICHTER: Exactly.

ROMANS: All right, Zach, so nice to see you. Thanks for coming in.

WICHTER: Yes, great to be back. Thank you.

ROMANS: Have a great weekend.

WICHTER: You, too -- thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Time is running out for the White House and House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling. Why one official tells CNN the prospects for a deal are grim, ahead.



ROMANS: Our top of the morning, we remember Tina Turner with her top chart hits.


TINA TURNER, SINGER: Singing "What's Love Got To Do With It."


ROMANS: "What's Love Got To Do With It" topped the charts for three weeks back in 1984. It was, of course, Turner's big comeback single after a few years of failed solo records. The song also won a Grammy for Record of the Year.


TURNER: Singing "We Don't Need Another Hero."


ROMANS: "We Don't Need Another Hero" from the movie "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome." That hit number two the next year in 1985. She also starred, of course, in the movie with Mel Gibson.


TURNER: Singing "Typical Male."


ROMANS: And then "Typical Male" also hit number two a year later in 1986. It was from the album "Break Every Rule" -- the follow-up to "Private Dancer."

Just an icon, right?

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