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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Ukraine Making Gradual Gains In Counteroffensive; Capitol Physician Medically Clears McConnell For Work; Spanish Soccer Chief's Unwanted Kiss Sparks Days Of Reckoning. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 01, 2023 - 05:30   ET




OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Here is today's fast-forward lookahead.

The final number of people unaccounted for in the deadly Maui fires will be released today. The official death toll remains at 115.

Interest begins accruing again today on student loans for the first time since March 2020. Borrowers won't need to take any action until their first monthly payment is due.

And drivers will see gas prices near all-time highs today heading into Labor Day weekend. The national gas average is $3.83, just short of the record set in 2012.

Tropical Storm Idalia beginning to make its way back out to sea after lashing Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, but officials say the threat isn't over.

Here's a live look at Virginia Beach. They're warning beachgoers over this holiday weekend to be cautious of dangerous rip currents.

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar has the forecast. Allison -- I mean, does this mean people should stay out of the ocean this weekend or is it just about being cautious?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think it's really just about being careful and a lot of these thoughts. Look, it's the last official weekend of summer. Everybody wants to get out. You want to go to the beach. You want to take advantage of the nice weather.

But yes, there are going to be some pretty high surf, waves up to 10 feet, and the rip current threat pretty much up and down the East Coast for the most part. So, yes, if you do have plans to go to the beach just make sure you are extra cautious. Pay attention to the flags and any advice that the lifeguards may be giving in certain areas.

Elsewhere across the U.S., the big concern is going to be heat building in the Central U.S. and also, we've got some very heavy rain that's been making its way across the Desert Southwest. Several flash flood watches and even flood warnings across the Southwest at this time -- specifically, that area stretching between Phoenix and Las Vegas. Those are going to be two areas of concern today.

But it also stretches down into Tucson, as well, and up into portions of Utah. For tomorrow, a similar area but we start to see it spread a little bit farther to the north, looking at the potential there for some isolated flooding.

The Central U.S. -- you're going to start to see that heat begin to set into place this weekend, then it begins to spread across portions of the Northeast and into the mid-Atlantic as we start off the first full week of September.

Take a look at this. Minneapolis, 100 degrees. Yes, still looking at triple-digit temperatures Sunday. Their average this time of year is only 78 degrees. Chicago not much better. Going to see those temperatures getting into the mid-90s for the holiday weekend. Their normal high is just about 80 degrees.

Again, you've got a lot of these areas that are going to be looking at temperatures -- we're talking 20, even as high as 30 degrees above average. So it's no -- it's no surprise you're going to have about 100 potential record temperatures as we go through the holiday weekend. The vast majority of them again focused across the Upper Midwest but as that heat spreads you're going to start to see some additional records beginning to pop up across the Northeast, as well as the mid- Atlantic.

So stay -- try to stay as cool as you can for this final summer weekend. Omar, back to you.

JIMENEZ: The Midwest -- who would have thought? I mean, a lot of places it's going to be hot.

Allison Chinchar, thank you.

Now, President Biden says he plans to visit the hurricane-battered areas in Florida tomorrow. He made the announcement after visiting FEMA headquarters to thank staff for their work responding to the storm and after formally approving a major disaster declaration for the state.

Recovery efforts are just beginning in the Big Bend area of Florida where Idalia hit as a Category 3 hurricane Wednesday morning.

CNN's Carlos Suarez is on the ground with more.


CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Broken tree branches, toppled fences, pieces of wood, and other debris scattered everywhere.

Heather Greenwood is cleaning up around the Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast she helps manage, grateful the business and her nearby home are still standing after Idalia.

[05:35:00] HEATHER GREENWOOD, MANAGER, CEDAR KEY BED AND BREAKFAST: Look at what is positive about it all. I mean, our house is still standing -- some are not -- but nobody lost their life. All of our cats were still here.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Greenwood, who spoke to "OUTFRONT" just before Idalia hit --

GREENWOOD: I'm going to make sure that I'm around to be able to help out the people that did stay.

SUAREZ (voice-over): -- now says she feels blessed as she helps her community recover and rebuild.

GREENWOOD: It's on the high -- one of the highest points on the island. The storm surge would have had to been above 15 feet.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Cedar Key officially saw a storm surge of nearly nine feet. And with many homes and businesses destroyed not everyone in the area is as upbeat as Greenwood.

ANNETTE ROWE, CEDAR KEY RESIDENT: It's very devastating and sad. It's very sad.


ROWE: Heartbreaking. We're just going to pull together and come together.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Idalia left a path of destruction in Georgia and South and North Carolina, but Florida suffered the worst of the storm, including Tampa Bay, Clearwater Beach, and St. Petersburg, which also experienced record storm surges.

Cities, like Crystal River, say entire areas flooded. These satellite images showing the before and after.

GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: People losing homes, losing businesses. Really, really a lot of work that needs to be done.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis toured more damaged areas Thursday promising funding help for all 25 counties that fell under the hurricane warning. President Joe Biden formally declared Florida as a major disaster area.

DESANTIS: And I know it's going to be a lot of work but we will get everyone back on their feet.

SUAREZ (voice-over): A hopeful message for people who lost everything during the storm, including these homeowners in Horseshoe Beach, which sits squarely in the middle of the Big Bend area.

LORRI GILBERT, HORSESHOE BEACH HOMEOWNER: My dad always said if we ever had a direct hit right off the Gulf that it would not last.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very painful. I tell my daughter I can't hardly even talk about it. And I loved that old house right there like a family member.

SUAREZ (on camera): While the damage is widespread, many of the folks that we spoke to here on Cedar Key believe that things could have been a whole lot worse. Many of the homes more inland appeared untouched. The power is back on -- but without running water, some of the folks that we spoke to said their driving back onto the mainland to spend the night.

Carlos Suarez, CNN, Cedar Key, Florida.


JIMENEZ: Well, Ukrainian forces say they've penetrated the first line of Russian strongholds in the eastern region of Zaporizhzhia. The sign of gradual progress comes as U.S. and Western allies are noting, if not complaining, about the slow pace of Ukraine's counteroffensive.

CNN's Nada Bashir is tracking the story from London for us. What are the signs that Ukraine is actually making headway against the dug-in Russian forces here?

NADA BASHIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL REPORTER: Well look, Omar, Ukrainian officials have previously said that the road to victory would be long. And you're right -- the counteroffensive has certainly not gone as quickly as international allies would have hoped or anticipated. Those gains that they're making on the ground certainly have been -- or not been as substantial as they would have hoped.

But we are beginning to see some positive indications on the ground as Ukrainian forces edge closer and closer to that network of fortified trenches on the southern front. And just, in fact, in the last few hours, Ukrainian military officials have said that their units are now on the southern Zaporizhzhia front. That they are consolidating their positions there following some progress made.

And just in the last few days, we've seen Ukrainian forces advancing around the village of Robotyne, which was secured by Ukraine in the Zaporizhzhia region last week. So we have seen some advances, of course.

And meanwhile, in the southern region of Tokmak, this is a strategical, logistical hub for the Russian Armed Forces. They relied on Tokmak for the resupply of both ammunitions and fuel. We are beginning to see Ukrainian units advancing towards this town as well. So, certainly, some positive indications on the ground as that counteroffensive continues into its third month.

But it's not just on the front lines where we are seeing that progress. We're beginning to see a shift in Ukraine's military strategy -- a real focus and emphasis now on drone warfare. And it's not just, I mean, Russian-occupied territories where we are seeing these drones being used against Russian targets, but it is in Russian territory.

Now, it's important to note that Ukraine typically doesn't admit or claim responsibility for attacks on Russian territory, but we've heard indications in the past from Ukrainian officials that such attacks would continue to increase in both range and scale. And that's certainly what we've seen over recent weeks -- a sharp uptick in the number of attempted or successful drone attacks against Russian targets in Russian territory.

Just this morning, yet another attempted drone attack, according to the mayor of Moscow, on the capital. They say that the Russian air defense systems were successful in downing that drone. But we heard earlier in the week from a presidential adviser to the Ukrainian president say that the emphasis here -- the focus here is on ensuring that people within Russia feel the war at home.


JIMENEZ: Yeah. Nada Bashir, thank you so much.

A Capitol physician has medically cleared Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell to continue his schedule after he appeared to freeze up for about 30 seconds at a news conference on Wednesday.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (No response to reporter's question).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you hear the question, Senator? Running for re-election?


JIMENEZ: Silent as his aides asked him "Did you hear the question?"

A similar incident happened back in July in front of reporters.

A spokesman tells CNN he, quote, "Felt momentarily lightheaded" but there are still questions about his ability to continue in his leadership role.

Let's bring in Stef Kight, a politics reporter at Axios. Stef, good to see you.

Look, there's been a lot of political support for McConnell from those in office, including from President Biden. Is there any reason to think that'll change?

STEF KIGHT, POLITICS REPORTER, AXIOS (via Skype): They are going to have to see whether we continue to see these episodes. Obviously, these concerns and questions around age -- the age of people leading our country continues to come up.

It's not just McConnell, of course. We also saw similar conversations around Dianne Feinstein as she's been missing for months because of her own health issues. She's 90 years old. And that's also impacted Democrats' ability to push judicial nominations through.

This is a question and a conversation we keep coming back to over and over again in the 118th Congress, which is one of the oldest Congresses in history when you look -- when you're looking at average and median ages there.

So, of course, right now, we're seeing people kind of rally around McConnell. And, of course, these are sensitive conversations to be having and we'll have to see whether we start actually seeing people start to bring up the possibility of him needing to step down if we continue to see these instances.

JIMENEZ: And it really is the question of the moment right now heading into the presidential elections. And look, Trump is only three years younger than Biden but it seems that age is a question the Biden campaign has to deal with more than on the Trump side.

Why do you -- why do you think that is?

KIGHT: Well, for one, of course, people are going to be raising questions about the sitting President of the United States. But we have seen when you're looking at polling of Democrats -- when you look at Democrats who say that they would rather see someone other than Biden as the Democratic nominee, age keeps coming up as one of their top concerns, whether it's instances where he has maybe fumbled publicly in answering questions or, of course, there's been a few moments where he has tripped or fallen publicly. All of those images, of course, add to people's concern about Biden's age.

But you do raise a good point that Trump also is not young. He's 77 years old. He is also nearing 80. And if we end up with the two oldest candidates running for the White House next year, I think we will continue to see these conversations not just directed at President Biden but also at Trump if he does end up the GOP nominee.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. I mean, he also -- if he got another term he would be into his 80s by the time that term finishes.

Now, the judge overseeing Trump's Georgia election subversion case greenlit cameras into the courtroom. I mean, if the trial starts during campaign season, is that a -- is that a positive politics-wise for him? I mean, how does that change the dynamics of the election here?

KIGHT: For one, it certainly seems that this will encourage people to pay more attention to these trials. I've looked at some Google trends data and various data showing whether people are paying attention to coverage of these various indictments and interest has been waning with each of the new indictments against former President Trump.

But if there is access to footage within the court, that seems that it might provide more coverage, provide more insight into what's actually going down, and provide more interest.

The question is whether we see Trump kind of perform for his base watching this happen -- watching the trial. Whether this is something that Trump and his team feels like they can actually turn in their favor. We've certainly seen them push the images that we saw over the weekend. There -- they seem to be approaching this with a lot of bravado. They've indicated that they're not -- they're not concerned about these trials so far. But on the other hand, if these cases are significant and prosecutors paint a clear story in court, it could ultimately end up hurting Trump as he moves towards the election in 2024.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, we will see. The Trump campaign says they've raised millions off of his mugshot. I think in some -- in some respects they're proud to have -- or they're using, I would say, these trials politically to their favor.

Stef Kight of Axios, thank you so much.


In less than two hours, the coach of the Men's National Soccer Team in Spain faces reporters at a news conference to announce his lineup for upcoming matches. But he'll undoubtedly face questions about the unwanted kiss that Spanish soccer chief Luis Rubiales imposed on star player Jennifer Hermoso at the Women's World Cup.

Atika Shubert is live in Madrid. Atika, so how did -- how did this unwanted kiss go from a sports story into what is now a full-fledged day of reckoning in Spain?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, some people think that it was Jenni Hermoso that filed the original complaint. She, of course, was the one who received that unwanted kiss. But, in fact, it was a complaint filed by a man who has been watching the Federation for some time, monitoring for abuse of power.

We actually had a chance to meet with him and speak with him about the case. Take a listen.


SHUBERT (voice-over): At the moment of Spain's triumph, an unwanted kiss now threatens to bring down Luis Rubiales, the powerful president of the Spanish Football Federation. Rubiales apologized but it was not enough, and he became the target of national anger -- a wave against sexism in sport triggered, in part, by Miguel Angel Galan, at his unassuming office in Madrid -- officially, the head of the national training center for football coaches. Unofficially, the longtime nemesis of Rubiales and the Football Federation.

He says he has filed more than 50 complaints against the Federation, one of which landed the previous president in prison. Now, he hopes to take down another with this kiss.

MIGUEL ANGEL GALAN, CENAFE: (Speaking foreign language).

SHUBERT (voice-over): "It was a sexist and intolerable act -- a chauvinistic act," he said to CNN, "by a president who is already plagued by corruption scandals and sexism."

Steeped in traditions, Spain's Royal Football Federation has long ruled over the nation's lucrative football fortunes. When this furor broke, Spain's prosecutor was already investigating

Rubiales for trafficking in influence and bribery, allegations Rubiales has consistently denied. CNN has reached out to both the Federal and Rubiales. Neither have responded.

And now, women footballers have entered the professional ranks. They are demanding equal pay, rights, and structural change, says the president of Spain's Women's League La Liga F, Beatriz Alvarez, who has had her own disagreements with Rubiales.

BEATRIZ ALVAREZ, PRESIDENT, LA LIGA F: (Speaking foreign language).

SHUBERT (voice-over): "In that Federation meeting -- that totally delirious speech he made," she says, "look at how they applauded him. It is unacceptable. It shows that more than the president has to change. The entire model has to change."

As the scandal grows, at the Rubiales hometown church, his mother went on a hunger strike to support her embattled son, briefly hospitalized. She continues to defend his innocence, even as others close to him are speaking out.

His own uncle, Juan Rubiales, told Spanish news El Mundo that the kiss was just the tip of the iceberg.

JUAN RUBIALES, UNCLE OF LUIS RUBIALES: (Speaking foreign language).

SHUBERT (voice-over): "I was not surprised by that at all," he said. "He is an extremely arrogant man who has not acted as a president should. Instead of being a political leader, he wanted to be a warrior who sees ghosts and enemies everywhere," he said. "In the end, his own worst enemy was himself."

Spain's historic win at the Women's World Cup, it seems, is forging a path for change in more ways than one.


SHUBERT: Now, we've seen allegations of corruption starting to resurface. But also, there have been 15 new complaints since Galan filed that original complaint over the kiss. We understand from the Counsel of Sport that those range from everything from sexual assault to abuse of power.

So while the Federation is hoping to have their press conference and business as usual, they are likely to be facing a lot more questions -- Omar.

JIMENEZ: Wow. Antika Shubert, thank you.

Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING," Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finally discloses his trips on a GOP megadonor's private jet. Why some are calling it too little too late.



JIMENEZ: Taylor Swift is now entering her movie era.


TAYLOR SWIFT, SINGER-SONGWRITER: We're about to go on a little adventure together and that adventure is going to --


JIMENEZ: Oh, boy. Swift is bringing her Eras Tour to a movie theater near you. Now I can actually see it.

Starting October 13, fans will be able to watch the whole thing on the big screen. Eras is on track to become the highest-grossing tour of all time.

Speaking of all time, this is an all-time day. Braves star Ronald Acuna -- wow, look at that Taylor Swift. I mean, look, that show -- it looks like an incredible show. But Ronald Acuna Jr. hits a grand slam that landed him in the record books.

Carolyn Manno has this morning's Bleacher Report. I'll say he hit a grand slam in more than one way here.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I think you are spot on about that. I mean, Ronald Acuna Jr. had himself a day yesterday. The 25-year-old Braves outfielder, one of the favorites to win the National League MVP, with one swing of the bat put himself in a club of one. And that was after joining the marriage club. Check this out.

In the second inning against the Dodgers, Acuna breaks a 1-1 tie with a grand slam home run. But this was not just any homer -- it was his 30th of this season and that makes him the first player in Major League history to hit 30 dingers and steal 60 bases in a single season. That slam loomed large in an 8-7 Braves win. And he would finish the game with three hits and a stolen base.


That's not the most memorable part of this day. At least it's up for grabs. I mean, earlier, he married his longtime girlfriend Maria in a small ceremony at a house in the mountains about 45 minutes from the team's hotel. The couple have two young sons together. Acuna hoping to postpone the honeymoon until November after the World Series. But what a day for that man.

The first full week of college football underway as well and it started out with a bang. Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes tossed in this 70-yard touchdown pass to Money Parks in stride on the Utes' first play of the game against the Florida Gators. The score sends the home crowd into a complete frenzy and immediately set the tone for the 14th-ranked Utes' 24-11 win.

And this is only the second career start for Barnes. Usual starting QB Cam Rising still recovering from a knee injury that he suffered in the Rose Bowl. So an impressive effort there.

And lastly for you this morning, Omar, John Isner's 17-year tennis career came to an end on Thursday, but he did not go quietly into the night. The 38-year-old lost to Michael Mmoh in the second round of the U.S. Open. And the nearly four-hour-long marathon match ended with a final set tiebreaker.

Afterwards, he held back tears and thanked the fans for their support.


JOHN ISNER, 16-TIME ATP WINNER: This is a -- you know, this is why I've worked as hard as I have my whole life to play in atmospheres like this. And, of course, I may not win them all, as we know, just like today. But to play in this crowd and in front of this crowd and have the support I had is pretty special. So thank you and --


MANNO: Fitting he went out that way. His family was there. He's best known, Omar, for playing the longest singles match of all time at Wimbledon. That was back in 2010. That lasted over 11 hours across three days. He needed 183 games, so wasn't quite able to get it done but still went out like a champ, fighting to the very end.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. I mean, look, anything shorter than that I think feels like a win in more ways than one.

Carolyn Manno, great to see you.

All right, everyone, that's it for me. I'm Omar Jimenez.

Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" though, we've got a lot to get to. Former President Trump pleading not guilty in the Georgia election interference case. Why he wants to separate his trial from his 18 co- defendants ahead.