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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Political Crisis Grow, Tensions Mount Amid Mass Protests In Niger; Biden Administration Launches New Income-Driven Student Debt Repayment Plan; Arkansas Judge Blocks Law Criminalizing Librarians And Bookstores. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired July 31, 2023 - 05:30   ET



CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- forward slowing but surely very, very difficult and very spread out in sort of several key areas across this 800-mile front line.

We're hearing this morning from the deputy defense minister that she says in the last week they've liberated two square kilometers around the city of Bakhmut. That equates to 37 square kilometers in that specific region in that access since the start of the counteroffensive. That's about two-thirds the size of Manhattan for context.

But Ukraine is a huge country so this still is very slow and they are making gains in the south as well as they try to split Russia's gains in half and cut off that land bridge between the Donbas and Crimea, having taken one small town of Staromaiorske at the end of last week. So inching forward there.

They're heavily using these Western weapons that they've been donated but still very, very difficult, Omar.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Clare Sebastian, thank you as always.

The political crisis is growing in the West African nation of Niger. Regional leaders have issued sanctions against the recent military coup and the president of neighboring country Chad met Sunday with coup leaders and with ousted President Mohamed Bazoum hoping to find a peaceful solution.


Protesters in Niger.


JIMENEZ: Meanwhile, thousands turned out in support of the coup waving Russian flags outside the French embassy. Niger is a former French colony.

CNN's Larry Madowo reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Angry Nigerians smashing windows of the French embassy in the capital, Niamey. Thousands of people outraged at the country's former colonial power a day after it suspended aid and financial support for Niger with immediate effects. "Down with France," some said, condemning French support for ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

Unable to get into the heavily protected compound, a window is set on fire and a French flag trashed -- a common sight since Wednesday's military coup. Security forces eventually deployed tear gas to disperse the protesters.

France warned it would retaliate immediately and in a strict manner in case of any attacks against its embassy, nationals, army, or diplomats that leaves the (INAUDIBLE) Sunday, adding that President Emmanuel Macron will not tolerate any attack against France and its interests.

The military junta that ousted the West African country's democratically elected president came to show France and the world that it has the backing of the public.

MAMAN SANI, PROTESTER (through translator): We also came out to tell this little Macron from France that Niger belongs to us. It's up to us to do what we want with Niger -- what we want. We deal with who we want and how we want. We reaffirm our support for the army.

MADOWO (voice-over): A sea of people outside Niger's Parliament denouncing France and some raising Russian flags. As anti-French sentiment has grown in the country many have warmed up to Russia. "Long live Putin and long live Russia," the protesters say, demanding that foreign armies leave the country.

France has about 1,500 troops in Niger -- a key ally in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. The U.S. has about 1,000 troops in the country involved in counterterrorism operations.

IBRAHAM, RETAILER (through translator): As citizens of Niger, we are against French bases, American bases, Canadian bases, Italian bases -- all the bases that are in Niger. We don't need them.

MADOWO (voice-over): The head of the Presidential Guard, Gen. Abdourahamane Tiani, deposed his boss and declared himself Niger's new leader on Friday, saying he would suspend the constitution and rule with a so-called national consult for the safeguard of the homeland.

ZEINABOU BOUKARI, PROTESTER (through translator): They're really brave and I support them 100 percent. We've really suffered a lot. We've suffered a lot because they are our children. A lot of blood has been shed in Niger. We want peace. We want peace.

MADOWO (voice-over): In neighboring Nigeria an emergency summit of the economic community of West African states, ECOWAS. Regional leaders announced sanctions, including closing borders, a travel ban and no- fly zone, freezing assets, and a deadline. ECOWAS giving the Niger junta one week to reinstate President Bazoum and threatened to take all measures to restore his government. OMAR ALIEU TOURAY, PRESIDENT, ECOWAS COMMISSION: In the event the

authorities' demands are not met within one week, take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force. To this effect, the chiefs of defense staff of ECOWAS are to meet immediately.


MADOWO (voice-over): But many protesters in the streets don't want any ECOWAS military intervention or involvement. And the military junta says it's ready.

RTN TELE SAHEL, COLONEL-MAJOR AMADOU ABDRAMANE (through translator): We, once again, remind ECOWAS and those who wish to adventure in this of our firm determination to defend our country.


MADOWO: A short while ago, the military junta in Niger claiming that France intends to carry out military strikes to free President Mohamed Bazoum. This spokesperson of the coup leaders claims that France has used some officials of the former government -- the foreign minister acting as the head of government and the head of the National Guard to sign some documents that allow France to carry out military strikes.

We have reached out to the French government and we have reached out to these former ministers and we haven't heard back yet. But this is an escalation in this situation where already, the regional bloc ECOWAS has said they have one week to restore President Bazoum or it will also use force. And the African Union now warning that this risk to stabilize not just Niger but the entire Sahel region, which already suffers from so many instances of terrorism, Omar.

JIMENEZ: Larry Madowo, incredible reporting as always. Thank you.

Just ahead for us here on EARLY START, the Panthers' quarterback left hanging by a young fan. What happened here? We're going to tell you.



JIMENEZ: All right, it's officially crunch time for the U.S. Women's soccer team when they take on Portugal in their final group stage match at the World Cup tomorrow.

Carolyn Manno has our morning's Bleacher Report. Great to see you.


JIMENEZ: OK, so for starters, how do we rebound from the tie last match?

MANNO: I know. This is really tough. The pressure is mounting. In all likelihood, they must win here or else they're knocked out of the tournament. They're two-time defending world champs. They know about pressure. But

they do need at least a drive if they're going to get out of this knockout stage.

The U.S. women have actually never been eliminated in the group stage before so this isn't where fans imagined that the team would be in their quest for this unprecedented third consecutive title this early. But Megan Rapinoe, playing in her fourth and final World Cup, says that the scrutiny comes with the territory here and that this team is built for it.


MEGAN RAPINOE, PLAYING IN FOURTH AND FINAL WORLD CUP: Everybody is like, OK -- like, we have to perform better and we have to get this result. I mean, I think that is something that just always gets passed down through the generations of this team. It's like, no, we go into these moments like hell, yeah. This is exactly where we want to be.

It's like a pressure moment and that's what the tournament is now. Every single game from here on out is that pressure moment and, like, that's the best part of being at the World Cup.


MANNO: Nobody relishes the pressure more than Megan Rapinoe.

The U.S. women playing their third and final match in the group stage of the Women's World Cup tomorrow. You're going to need an alarm to watch this one, although you guys at home are up pretty early. Kickoff against Portugal set for a dark and early 3:00 a.m. Eastern, but maybe you'll tune in. I know I will be.

Major League Baseball's trade deadline coming up tomorrow night. The biggest deal so far went down over the weekend. Pitcher Max Scherzer is now a Ranger after being dealt from the Mets. The three-time Cy Young Award winner joining Texas in the thick of a playoff push. Right now, the Rangers have a one-game lead over the Astros in their division. But that was huge news.

Pirates centerfielder Josh Palacios had a birthday celebration he will never forget on Sunday. The now-28-year-old providing his own fireworks with a two-run walk-off home run in the 10th inning to beat the Phillies 6-4. He is now the first Pirate to ever hit a walk-off home run on his birthday. He had three hits in the game and was actually just called up from the Minor Leagues on Friday. So, happy birthday to him.

Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers taking issues with Bronco's head coach Sean Payton's recent comments about former Denver head coach and now Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Payton blasted the 2022 Broncos, taking aim at his predecessor specifically, saying quote, "It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL." He later apologized for those comments.

But Rodgers apparently took it personally. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AARON RODGERS, QUARTERBACK, NEW YORK JETS: It made me feel bad that someone who has accomplished a lot in the league is that insecure that they have to take another man down to set themselves up for some sort of easy fall if it doesn't go well for that team this year. I thought it was way out of line, inappropriate, and I think he needs to keep my coaches' names out of his mouth.


MANNO: And this will not be the last time that we hear about this story because Payton's Broncos scheduled to host Rodgers and the Jets in week five of the regular season. Jets fans already have their calendar circled for that one.

And lastly for you this morning, Panthers quarter Bryce Young quickly becoming a favorite to most fans in Carolina -- most, not all, though, Omar, OK? The overall number-one pick in the draft signing a jersey for this cute little guy. He tried to give him a fist pump but the kid just walked away. He didn't see it. So the Heisman Trophy winner did the next best thing. He just gave it to himself.

JIMENEZ: Look, that's what you've got to do.


JIMENEZ: Also, that kid must have been an Auburn fan or something, you know? He just -- he was like I'm not going to stick around for this (INAUDIBLE) winner.

MANNO: Yes, and sometimes you just make your own lemonade. Be like I've got to (INAUDIBLE).

JIMENEZ: Carolyn Manno, thank you. It's always great to see you.

MANNO: You, too.

JIMENEZ: Elsewhere in the world, we are looking at the man formerly known as Kanye West returning to the platform formerly known as Twitter. The company, now called X, says it reinstated Ye's account. However, he can't monetize it and no ads will appear next to his posts.

West's account was suspended in December for violating the rules on inciting violence when he posted multiple anti-Semitic comments.

Now, Twitter has since launched a content enforcement strategy called "Freedom of Speech, Not Reach." It says the tweets that are labeled in violation received 81 percent less reach or impressions.

Next, right here on EARLY START, the Biden administration launching a new website for student loan borrowers to apply for lower payments. We'll tell you how low they can go.

(COMMERCIAL) [05:49:03]

JIMENEZ: The Biden administration is not giving up on getting students at least some relief from their loan debt. It's launching a beta website for a new income-driven repayment plan where federal student loan borrowers can apply for lower monthly loan payments. Some could even be as low as zero dollars per month.

CNN's Arlette Saenz has more.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The Biden administration is taking some new steps to offer relief to some student loan borrowers, with some borrowers potentially seeing their payments go as little as zero dollars per month. Now, this was rolled out by the Department of Education in a beta website opening up applications during a test period for the latest version of the income-driven student loan repayment plan that the administration is calling the "Save Plan."

Now, this would apply to those who have federal student loans. Private student loans are not part of this. It applies to current loan holders as well as future borrowers as well. This plan would be based on your income and family size.


And the Department of Education is estimating that one million borrowers could potentially see their payments go to zero dollars per month. This will be based on discretionary income. So, that money that you have after paying your taxes and also other living expenses. And individuals who are making $32,805 or less and families of four making $67,500 or less -- they would see their monthly payments wiped down to zero.

Another interesting component of this plan is that as you are paying off the student debt, the interest would no longer accrue on those federal loans.

Now, others, when this plan goes into full effect next summer -- they could see their payments cut in half and ultimately, could have them all forgiven if they make their payments on time for 10 years.

So this is the latest effort from the Biden administration to try to offer relief to student loan borrowers after the Supreme Court had struck down President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan. Now, there have been income-driven repayment plans in the past going back decades.

And officials that I spoke with believe that they do have the legal standing -- the legal grounds for this type of program because Congress has given them authority to build these income-based repayment plans. So, ultimately, they do not think that there will be a successful legal challenge since they haven't seen those with this plan in the past. Arlette Saenz, CNN, traveling with the president in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.


JIMENEZ: So, to talk about all of this, let's bring in Eli Yokley. He's a political analyst for the Morning Consult. Eli, great to see you.

I want to start with the student loan plan is in direct response -- I would say, obviously -- to the Supreme Court striking down the Biden administration's plan for student loan forgiveness. How do we think things are going to go this time around?

ELI YOKLEY, POLITICAL ANALYST, MORNING CONSULT (via Webex by Cisco): Well, the Supreme Court's decision was pretty popular. Over half of voters supported that move by the court.

You know, the Biden administration's plan on student loans wasn't really that popular with the overall electorate. It was something that enthused Democrats and young people, but it was a pretty tough sell with the American people.

JIMENEZ: Well, and I -- and I think, too, your latter point there that it enthused some Democrats, it enthused some young people. Obviously, we are heading into a major presidential political cycle and some from at least a political lens would look at this as key in Biden's attempt to sway some young voters -- some young voters who I think it's fair to say he would need in order to clinch re-election.

Do you think, though, that this would actually work? That it would move the needle enough to make any sort of significant difference?

YOKLEY: It might with some people. I mean, these elections are about margins, especially as close as the contest between him and Donald Trump looks. Young people are a key part of the Democratic coalition. When young people vote, Democrats win. Right now, he has about a 10- point lead over Trump among the youngest voters in the electorate.

About a third of these folks think that student loans should be a big priority for Washington to take on. But look, young people are like everybody. They think about the economy as a whole just like older voters do as well. And so, the Biden administration taking on things like inflation will go a long way to help making folks face some of these cost issues.

JIMENEZ: So more keeping it in the wider lens of the economy, you're saying, as opposed to just keeping it within the student loan lens.

YOKLEY: Yes. I mean, that's where voters are and that's where Democrats --


YOKLEY: -- are still struggling. The president struggles on the economy issue and Democrats on Capitol Hill do as well. JIMENEZ: Yes.

So, Vice President Kamala Harris is on what her office is calling her summer conference tour. She's blasting Republicans, calling out their culture war issues -- making less plans -- sometimes last-minute stops to speak about education, reproductive rights, and gun safety.

And according to our CNN reporting there is a conscious effort by both Biden and Harris aides to build her up.

So, really, the question with that is do you think Harris will be an effective messenger for Biden's re-election campaign?

YOKLEY: I think Kamala Harris is pretty effective with groups that matter for Democrats. She's popular with Black voters who are going to be key next year. She's popular with young folks. And she's also popular with the donor community, which the president really needs to support his campaign. I think a lot of the reporting suggests it's pretty easy to get her on the road.

And we've seen how she's responded to some of these things that have popped up, be it comments by Ron DeSantis down in Florida about race- based curriculum. Be it some of the legislators in Tennessee, when she showed up pretty quickly after that. She's pretty agile. She's fast.

And a lot of Republicans are taking note, too. A lot of the messaging the Republicans have been pushing out in recent months has been trying to tear her down. Clearly, they see her as somebody the Democrats are going to be leaning on if not next year, in presidential election cycles to come as the future of the Democratic Party.

JIMENEZ: I think her significance has been played out, too, in some Republican circles as they look at President Biden's age heading into a potential next administration.

Eli Yokley of the Morning Consult. Thank you so much for being with us.

YOKLEY: Yes, any time.


JIMENEZ: In Arkansas, a judge has temporarily blocked a state law that would have held librarians and bookstores criminally liable for providing minors with materials deemed harmful. That move came just days before the law was set to take effect and weeks after a group of libraries, librarians, bookstores, and publishing groups filed a lawsuit arguing that a section of the law violated the First Amendment. They also argued the law could lead to the removal of young adult and general collections with sexual content.

Now, Republican Gov. Sarah Sanders signed the law in March. Her communications director says she continues to support the law despite the ruling, which is subject to appeal.

Now, coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" that summer cold you've been battling could actually be COVID-19. What doctors are saying this morning.

Plus, a school district in New Jersey has reached a settlement with the family of a preteen girl who died by suicide after she was bullied. The girl's parents will join "CNN THIS MORNING" in the 7:00 Eastern hour.



JIMENEZ: Our top of the morning today, the top movies in the box office. Take a guess.


Clip from Warner Bros. Pictures "Barbie."


JIMENEZ: "Barbie" still dominating the box office. It made $93 million in its second week. Saw it, loved it.


Clip from Universal Pictures "Oppenheimer."


JIMENEZ: Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" made $46.2 million in its second weekend. I also saw it and also loved it.

And in third place --


Clip from Walt Disney Studios "Haunted Mansion.


JIMENEZ: Disney's "Haunted Mansion" debuted in third with $24.4 million. Fun times at the movies.

Thanks for joining us, everyone. I'm Omar Jimenez. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.