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House Speaker Battles To Keep Government Open and Keep His Job; This Week: Biden, Zelenskyy Address U.N. General Assembly; Iranian Foreign Ministry Says Five American Prisoners Expected To Be Released Today. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 18, 2023 - 05:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and thanks for getting up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's a few seconds before 5:30 here on the East Coast.

But we have breaking news overseas. Five Americans wrongfully detained in Iran are expected to be released today after years of complicated negotiations between Washington and Tehran. News of the release coming from Iran's Foreign Ministry.

Our other top stories this morning.

Donald Trump telling NBC it was, quote, "my decision" to push the false claim that he won the 2020 election and to try and overturn the election results. A key premise of special counsel Jack Smith's case is that Trump knew the election claims he was making were false but pushed them anyway.

One of Trump's co-defendants in Georgia has a critical hearing later this morning. Former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark is trying to get his case moved to federal court. He argues that he acted on behalf of the federal government and should be tried before a federal judge.

And Kevin McCarthy still in his own party's crosshairs this week as he fights to keep the government open and keep his job as speaker. McCarthy was on Fox over the weekend trying to rally Republicans to avoid a shutdown.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I want to make sure we don't shut down. I don't that is a win for the American public and I definitely believe it will make our hand weaker if we shut down.


HUNT: Hmm.

Last night, House Republicans did finalize a deal on a short-term funding bill, or at least they cracked one, but big hurdles still remain to avoid a shutdown.

And Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz not backing down from this threat to make a motion on the floor to oust Kevin McCarthy from his job and pick a different speaker. Gaetz posted this on the site formerly known as Twitter. Quote, "I do not stand alone. A critical mass of Republican lawmakers are with me, not Kevin."

McCarthy dismissed Gaetz in the Fox interview.


MCCARTHY: These are individuals. They have a right to do what they want. But I am only going to focus on the American public.

Look, I showed in January I will never give up. We have made great progress here in changing this Capitol. And when you change Washington you get enemies. I got Adam Schiff. I got Eric Swalwell upset because I kicked him off the Intel Committee. You've got Matt Gaetz working with Swalwell to try to throw me out. That's all well and good but I'm not going to be deterred from that.


HUNT: Hmm.

All right. Joining us now to talk about all of this is CNN political analyst, and the Washington bureau chief for The Boston Globe, Jackie Kucinich. Jackie, thrilled to have you here this morning. Thank you so much for getting up with us.

McCarthy is having to put out fires in all directions and obviously, the most -- the one that's burning the hottest right now is government funding. Step one, they have to get something passed through the House, but then it's going to have to go to the Senate. And the Senate has very little interest in this deal that the hardliners seem to have cracked over the weekend with potentially, the Freedom Caucus. We're still kind of getting the details of it.

What is _- what is the end game here? I mean, this is -- I think what we were pre-staging when he had the speaker fight on the floor back in January but, hey, here it is. It caught with him.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE (via Webex by Cisco): And we all knew this was going to happen. And now, you saw him being a little more aggressive last week -- at the end of last week when he was essentially saying to Gaetz, OK, fine, just do it. But -- and so far, the deals that he has struck, both with the White House when -- the last time this happened, and these little ones that are being crafted around the edges -- you mentioned the struck by some members of the Main Street conference or caucus and the hardliners. That also kind of seems DOA at this point but we'll have to see how they work out.

I know that they are going to have a -- they'll be talking about this today and tomorrow and potentially, vote on Thursday. McCarthy has said he's going to put it on the floor whether or not it's going to fail. None of these are really recipes for success for him.

And I think this ends with the government is going to have to be funded and they're going to have to pass something that's going to pass the Senate. And what they're working on right now might get past their conference -- maybe -- fingers crossed if you're Kevin McCarthy. But even then that's not assured.

And will this make the hardliners angry enough to trigger that motion to vacate? You know, Kasie, we're all just watching to see when and if that happens.

HUNT: Yeah, and that motion to vacate, of course, what -- congressional speak for ousting Kevin McCarthy


HUNT: That's what that motion would do.


HUNT: Obviously, this is -- this is driven not entirely from inside the Congress; it's driven from the outside as well. And it's part of --


HUNT: -- the broader story of what's going on in the Republican Party.

Donald Trump was asked by NBC to weigh in on this showdown. He, of course -- surprise, surprise -- encouraged the hardliners to keep pushing ahead, shutdown or no shutdown. Take a look.


KRISTEN WELKER, MODERATOR, NBC "MEET THE PRESS": Do you think Republican hardliners should abandon their to shut down the government over their spending priorities now that there is this impeachment inquiry?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. I think -- and if they don't get a fair -- we have to save our country. We're at $35 trillion in debt. We have to save our country. You know, the --


WELKER: So you would shut down the government? You'd support that?

TRUMP: I'd shut down the government if they can't make an appropriate deal -- absolutely.


HUNT: Hmm, that's got to have hit hard with Kevin McCarthy.

KUCINICH: And it's not just former President Trump. It's Mike Pence. It's Ron DeSantis. I mean, the calls aren't just coming from inside the House. They're coming from outside the House as well. And McCarthy has to be feeling this pressure.

And this deal, I think which cuts across the board about one percent and just gets them to October 31, you're already hearing from those most hardline members that they are not going to support it.

So again, no one envies Kevin McCarthy. Everyone knew his job wasn't going to be easy. But just trying to settle the herd inside his conference doesn't even talk about what's going to happen next and how to get this across the line so it doesn't get immediately smacked down in the Senate, which is what they're headed for right -- at this very minute.

HUNT: And we should underscore the people it could hurt the most are Americans who rely on a functioning federal government. It looks like we may -- certainly, it's hard to see the path forward to making sure it's still open come October.

Jackie Kucinich, thanks very much for being here this morning. I really appreciate it --

KUCINICH: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: -- and I hope you'll come back.

And President Biden is joining world leaders this week at the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York. The president arrived there Sunday. Both Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are set to address the assembly on Tuesday. They're also expected to meet here in Washington, D.C. later in the week.

CNN's Richard Roth joins us live from New York. Richard, it's wonderful to see you.

Zelenskyy is likely to appeal for more support for Ukraine's counteroffensive against Russia. What else is on the agenda for the global leaders this week?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's another guest, the president of Iran who will speak to the General Assembly hours after President Zelenskyy of Ukraine.

Now, the release of the prisoners that you've been talking about all morning certainly comes at a good time for Iran timing-wise. But, of course, Iran still has major differences with the International Atomic Energy Agency -- inspectors being barred, operations shut down. It's gone on for years.

President Biden, yes, will be at the U.N. tomorrow meeting with different countries and, as you mentioned, a meeting on Thursday with President Zelenskyy.

The mood of this U.N. General Assembly with the awful name of UNGA, standing for the U.N. General Assembly in its 75th year, is really the world has so many problems. No matter where you will look in the hallways this week, it's either climate change; Africa, north-south and funding; Ukraine -- tons of issues. They're not going to solve them all in four or five days.

HUNT: That is -- that is an understatement. UNGA, a terrible nickname, terrible traffic in New York.

Richard Roth, thanks very much for being up with us. We really appreciate your reporting. Keep us posted throughout the week.

And, of course, Richard mentioned the breaking news that we have this morning. Iran says give Americans detained in Iran are expected to be released today. We're going to have a live report on that coming up next.

And Republican presidential candidates are focused this week on abortion. How the differences in their positions could change the race ahead.



HUNT: Welcome back.

We are following breaking news this morning. Five Americans the U.S. government says have been wrongfully detained in Iran are expected to be released today. That's according to Iran's Foreign Ministry. A Qatari jet is on standby to bring them home. Five Iranians in U.S. custody are also expected to be released.

CNN's Becky Anderson joins us now live from Doha, Qatar. Becky, what do we know about when exactly they could be headed home?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, we are slightly delayed on the schedule that we were given earlier on today. I'm here at Doha airport on the tarmac where that Qatari jet, which is currently on the tarmac in Tehran, will deliver those five wrongly detained Americans -- hostages, effectively -- into the hands of the American negotiators here. They will leave here on an onward flight to the U.S. at some point later today.

We were hoping that within the next hour, that flight would have arrived here. But as we understand it, those five American citizens -- Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and Morad Tahbaz, plus two American citizens who have not been identified -- haven't, as of yet -- as we speak -- boarded that flight in Qatar. We will be given an indication when that flight is in the air and has left Iranian airspace at which stage they will be about an hour-an hour and a half flight from here.

As we understand it, at present, though, this should be the end of what has been a yearslong nightmare for these prisoners.

As you rightly suggest, this is an exchange, effectively -- a very complicated and complex deal which involves the exchange of five Iranian prisoners who are currently in jail in the U.S. for sanction- busting and the release of $6 billion worth of Iranian funds, which because of sanctions have been frozen in a South Korean bank account for some time. As we understand it, those funds have now been unfrozen.

And the role of Qatar in all of this has not just been to mediate this deal, which has been 18 months in the making. But those funds -- the $6 billion worth of Iranian funds will be transferred here to the Qatar Central Bank and will be strictly controlled in how they will be spent by the Iranian government. The understanding, as far as Washington is concerned, is that those funds will only be used for humanitarian goods -- i.e., food and medicine -- much needed, as you can imagine, by the Iranian population.


Back to you.

HUNT: Indeed.

Becky Anderson, thanks very much for that update.

Now we're going to go to the campaign trail, beyond the polls, to these quick hits across the trail.

Republican candidates not named Trump barnstormed Iowa over the weekend with Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pence all addressing Hawkeye State voters. At the forefront, the issue of abortion. It's always a hot topic among the evangelicals who dominate the Iowa GOP.

But this weekend, Nikki Haley was warning her party not to go too far -- watch.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You go and you put this ban of 15 weeks and what does it do? It has everybody running from us. I'm going to fight on the side of life every chance I get, but I'm not going to demonize people in the process.


HUNT: And in an interview on "MEET THE PRESS," Donald Trump seemed to agree with her.


TRUMP: Other than certain parts of the country, you can't -- you're not going to win on this issue.


HUNT: Meanwhile, Ron DeSantis focused in on another issue that we've all been talking about. The Florida government, also campaigning in Iowa, argued that 80 is just too old to be commander in chief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're watching what's going on now. You know, it's sad. I mean, honestly, it's sad. I don't think the presidency can be successfully discharged by somebody that's 80 years old. This is nothing against either of them. I'm the governor of Florida, for Pete's sake. I've got a lot of great 80-year-olds.


HUNT: That was clearly aimed at President Biden, but he is only about three years older than Donald Trump. And the 45th president has slipped up a couple of times in recent days. When he was addressing Republicans in Washington he misspoke and said Obama when he meant Biden. And then there was this.


TRUMP: And we have a man who is totally corrupt and the worst president in the history of our country who is cognitively impaired, in no condition to lead, and is now in charge of dealing with Russia and possible nuclear war. Just think of it. We would be in World War II very quickly if we're going to be relying on this man.


HUNT: So, he slammed someone for being cognitively impaired, and then -- World War II already happened. He seems to forget that.

All right, with all that's happening on the campaign trail -- and here to break it down with us is CNN national political reporter Daniel Strauss. Daniel, good morning. Thank you so much for being with us.


HUNT: So, when Trump spoke to Megyn Kelly last week he passed on the chance to criticize Biden's age. Now, we just heard Trump refer to Biden as quote-unquote "cognitively impaired." Again, not mentioning he's too old.

A new CBS poll showed that only 34 percent of voters think that if Biden is reelected he would make it through a second term. If you compare that to -- there are 55 percent who think that that's true for Trump.

What should the Biden campaign be doing here? I mean, they basically are the same age.

STRAUSS: Right, and that's what the Biden campaign -- the core of their counterargument to those attacks is. It's that they are the same age. This is really not about how old they are but more a stylistic approach, a temperament approach.

And that Trump, for all of his perceived vigor, is really just louder than Biden. That Biden has always been calmer. And that was the pitch to -- the Biden campaign offered the first time around -- the last time around in 2020 -- that Biden's whole argument -- theory for the case was that he wanted to lower the temperature. And that's the argument that they are trying to make here again, although it's not so much that they don't want to lower the temperature; it's that they don't want it to rise again.

HUNT: Right.

So, Daniel, let's dig in on the abortion question. This is something that I am -- have been following very closely and that is very clearly a fault line. We know that the -- obviously, the campaign -- the actual voting is going to kick off in Iowa where this is such a salient issue.

Ron DeSantis' team also sent out a statement after the Trump comments came out on NBC saying that DeSantis was more aggressive on this issue and more interested in seeing bans -- harsher bans implemented.

But this is becoming a real fault line because we have seen time after time when abortion is on the ballot this has been a winning issue for Democrats -- for people who want to see -- in the wake of Roe v. Wade falling more access to abortion.

How does this play out going forward?

And Nikki Haley -- I've got to tell you -- really interesting. She did this on the debate stage, too, really staking out an interesting piece of ground as the only woman on the stage.


STRAUSS: Yeah. And look, in the past few weeks, we've been hearing that there is some -- there is increasing excitement about Haley, partially because of how she has approached and addressed abortion, both on the debate stage and on the campaign trail. What we're seeing though, really, is that Republicans are more interested in looking at an approach -- an argument that won't concede their strict abortion views but also appeal to a larger audience.

So it's not so surprising that there -- that Haley would receive a positive response to this because she's not necessarily saying don't -- excuse me. She's not necessarily saying concede on abortion to push back the early days of the ban. What she's saying is that she is not interested in -- I guess as the clip you played earlier -- harming people or demonizing people in the process.

HUNT: Right. She's just pointing out that if there -- if Republicans are too harsh in the rhetoric about this, they run away from the party. And that's not something other candidates have been willing to say out loud.

Daniel Strauss, thank you very much for being up early with us. I hope you'll come back, sir.

And breaking news this morning. Five Americans detained in Iran are expected to be released today, according to the Iranians. We're going to have a live report ahead.

And the United Auto Workers strike enters day four. Where negotiations stand right now, coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: Welcome back.

We might be seeing more of John Fetterman's hoodies and shorts on the Senate floor. Senators have long been subject to a formal dress code in the chamber, enforced by the Senate's sergeant at arms, but no longer.

Majority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement, quote, "Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor." Schumer did note, however, that he will continue to wear a suit.

I wouldn't look for Schumer to be in a hoodie or a Hawaiian shirt any time soon. Staffers, by the way, will still have to wear that formal dress code.

All right, Dallas Cowboys two, New York football teams, zero. The franchise that calls itself America's team -- mm-mm, no, no -- is off to dominate -- a dominating start this season. I don't -- thankfully, I love the end of your -- of your read this morning, Coy --


HUNT: -- so I'm going to let the Cowboys think slide --

WIRE: Oh, we'll get to your Orioles, girl -- don't worry. Don't you worry.

But are these Cowboys for real? For real, for real, and it starts with their defense. After one of the biggest season-opening shutout road wins in NFL history last week against the Giants, they're facing the Jets.

And former number two overall pick Zach Wilson starting for the injured Aaron Rodgers. And New York is going to be having nightmares about Micah Parsons. He went full-on Freddy Krueger, Kasie, on Wilson for the first of his two sacks here. A team-high seven --

HUNT: Oof.

WIRE: -- pressures for him as well. Yeah, exactly.

Now, watch this -- Harrisburg, PA's finest. Parsons again tackling Dalvin Cook, whipping the ball away and recovering the fumble. That is phenomenal. Dan Quinn's defense would then intercept Wilson on the Jets' final three possessions.

The final score 30-10. The Cowboys winning their first two games by a combined score of 70-10 -- look out.

Coach Brian Daboll's Giants -- they looked like they were cruisin' for another bruisin', Kasie. But down 20-0 at halftime to the Cardinals, the coach must have gone full-on MLK "I have a dream" at halftime because Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley led four-straight touchdown --

HUNT: Wow.

WIRE: -- drives. Jones finding Isaiah Hodge -- Hodge is there -- tying the game at 28. And then Graham Gano, Gayes. Giants would kick the game-winner 31-28. Whoo-hoo.

Now, listen to this, Kasie. Play of the day here. Bucs three over the Bears with two minutes to go. All the defense needs is a stop, but they got that and more from Shaq Barrett. Intercepts Justin Fields' pass and fights his way into the endzone. It's his first career touchdown.

But then watch Barrett. He blows a kiss to the camera. He dedicates this play and the win to his youngest daughter, 2-year-old Arrayah, who drowned in the family's pool earlier this year. His message, this one is for you, baby girl.


SHAQ BARRETT, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS LINEBACKER: I always play for my family already, but then having, like, the extra incentive and making me want to go a little harder for it. The camera was on me after I made the play. I told her I love you and miss you, and wish you was here. And so, I'm glad I'm able to still get some spotlight for her.


WIRE: Now, the Bucs win 27-17. They're undefeated at 2-0.

Shaq Barrett is a leader on the field and in the community, inspiring his team and beyond.

All right, I hear you're an Orioles fan, Kasie, so this one's for you, kid.

HUNT: I am.

WIRE: Baltimore rallying from down a run in the ninth, then again in the 10th inning before finally scoring the winning run in the 11th to beat the Ray. And yes, you know it. We know it. This means the Orioles clinch a spot in the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

Is that what you were doing afterwards? Like, looking at your TV. Were you jumping up and down, pouring Sprite and Gatorade all over yourself?

HUNT: I mean, this is just awesome. I love this for this young team. These guys have just inspired the city. Those crowds in Camden Yards packing that stadium. Baltimore -- I mean, it has been a rough -- it has been a rough bunch of years to be an O's fan but the city loves the team.


I saw one of the local outlets reported that the Baltimore Orioles ran out of beer in the clubhouse afterwards and starting pouring condiments on each other's heads.

WIRE: Yeah, whatever will work. I love that.

HUNT: I will -- I will take it. It's going to be a great postseason. Our hearts go out to those guys.

So, Coy --

WIRE: We're going to have some fun in the playoffs, girl. Let's go.

HUNT: We better.

Coy, thank you very much.

WIRE: Yeah.

HUNT: It's great to have you this morning.

And thanks to all of you for joining us. I am Kasie Hunt. We've got big breaking news this morning. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.