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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

House GOP Infighting Escalates Over Plan To Avoid Shutdown; Pennsylvania Governor Launches Automatic Voter Registration; North Carolina GOP Challenger Seeks To Unseat House Democratic Incumbent. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 20, 2023 - 05:30   ET




JERRY STILLER, ACTOR, "SEINFELD": The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I've got a lot of problems with you people. Now, you're going to hear about it.


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to EARLY START on this Wednesday, September 20th, which I guess is as good a day as any to celebrate Festivus for the rest of us.

House Republicans started yesterday celebrating, actually. They emerged from yesterday's talks about a government shutdown talking not about a compromise that could keep our government open until October but instead, about "SEINFELD" -- comparing their meeting to Festivus, which as you heard there and you might remember, is the airing of grievances. Merry, merry?

The bottom line, things are not looking good on Capitol Hill. A vote to advance a major defense bill failed on the floor yesterday after five Republicans voted against it, possibly presaging what's to come next week when funding for the government is set to run out.


REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): Hopefully, some of my colleagues will see the light of day quickly. But with a September 30th deadline approaching, obviously, that time is quickly dwindling.


HUNT: His Republican colleague, Mike Simpson, was more blunt off- camera, our hill team reported. Quote, "Man, this is stupid," he told reporters. "I've never seen a time when a shutdown is good policy or good politics."

And across the Capitol, reporting were -- reporters were asking members of the Senate over there -- they like to think of themselves, of course, as the upper chamber -- if now is the time to step in and get the kids in the House in line.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I can't predict in advance how this is going to unfold but what I do think is critically important to the American people is for the government not to shut down -- not to shut down. That's job one.


HUNT: Job one.

For more, let's bring in a man who has seen it all, John Bresnahan, of Punchbowl News. John, thank you for getting up early with us to help us understand this complete and total mess.

You have, in fact, seen a lot. You know, how many shutdowns have we covered together on the Hill? But I guess what I want to know from you is does this one feel different from the others?

JOHN BRESNAHAN, CO-FOUNDER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS (via Skype): No, it feels like the same thing. It feels like a slow-motion crisis unfolding. It feels kind of like 2015 to be honest, when Republicans shut down the government for 16 days under President Obama. Then speaker John Boehner was -- I remember him sitting in his office and he's puffing cigarettes and he hated the whole thing but he couldn't stop it. It feels somewhat like the same. Like McCarthy has lost control of portions of his conference and he can't stop what they're doing.

HUNT: Yeah, no. And can you sort of take us, I mean, behind the scenes here? What are his options?

BRESNAHAN: Well, we -- in fact, we wrote our Punchbowl News AM today about this. He can do a couple of things right now.

He can try a kitchen sink approach -- what we're calling -- which is throw in everything House Republicans want. They want to cut spending by tens of billions of dollars. They want to throw in all these border security options. They want to -- they want to go after DOJ. They want to do other stuff.

So he can try something and just give his guys everything they want and try and pass it. There's no guarantee he can do that.

He could reach out to Dems and do it. He could reach out to Dems and try and do -- Democrats and do a bipartisan approach, or conversely, he could do nothing and he could wait for a shutdown to start on October 1, or possibly wait for the Senate to see if the Senate will bail them out.

So he doesn't have a huge universe of options and none of them are great for him right now.

HUNT: So, John, in the past when the government has shut down, usually what gets us out of it is that pressure builds and builds and builds and people start to feel the pressure and they start to hear from their constituents. And finally, they say OK, I've had enough.

I wonder if the politics haven't changed so much that may no longer be the case. If that's true, first of all, do you agree with that? I mean, do you think our politics has changed and what these members are hearing is so different that they're ultimately not going to feel this kind of pressure? And if that's the case, how the heck do we get out of it?

BRESNAHAN: I do think that they will feel pressure. And you could see the White House today --

HUNT: OK, that's a relief.

BRESNAHAN: -- release the -- yeah. (INAUDIBLE) the thing.

I think the big thing here is the military troops issue, OK? When we had previous shutdowns, military troops -- for instance, in 2018-2019 -- that shutdown, which is the longest in history, which was a partial shutdown, went down for 35 days under President Trump. They had the -- the troops were getting paid.

In this case, the troops will not get paid. So how can you be pro- troop and not pay them? It's fine. It's one thing if you live in the rural Midwest and government workers in Maryland and Virginia aren't going to get paid. But if troops -- U.S. troops are not getting paid that's a huge issue. But that won't happen until mid-October.

We could have a shutdown that goes on for a couple of weeks and then members realize -- the Republicans realize that they're not getting anywhere. They're not going to win this fight.


The president always wins a shutdown. It happens all the time. The Democratic presidents -- because there were Republican Congresses and Democratic presidents when we have shutdowns -- generally, they always win these shutdowns. So we've got to -- we've got to see how that plays out.

I do think that there will be -- what happens in a shutdown is that the -- when the FAA -- when the airplane flights start getting delayed and those kind of issues -- when they impact everyday Americans that's when the pressure will get so big on members that they'll do something.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, and the troops thing is -- I'm so glad you pointed that out because you're right, that is something that people will absolutely start to notice and is different from what happened in the past.

Obviously, John, some of this is people egging them on from the outside. Ron DeSantis was asked about this. We know Trump was egging these folks on. Take a look at what DeSantis had to say yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STUART VARNEY, FOX BUSINESS HOST, "VARNEY & CO.": Are you on the side of the conservatives in the House who will possibly push the government into a shutdown?

GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think they're pushing for doing what they said they would do. I would argue the opposite, though. I think it's the people that want to continue the status quo that are in favor of shutdowns.


HUNT: I mean, what do you make of that? I mean, this kind of thing does throw fuel on the fire for the rebels in the House.

BRESNAHAN: It does, and they have a fair point. I mean, there is a fair point. Government spending is out of control. The deficit through the first 11 months of this fiscal year -- the government's fiscal year was $1.5 trillion. And we're not at war and we're not in an economic crisis. That's a huge deficit.

The interest rates -- paying interest on the deficit is the third- biggest line item in the budget. It's going to get bigger if interest rates keep going up. So they have a point.

But shutting down the government is never an option. I've been covering government shutdowns since 1995. It never works. You never get what you want. It's like the -- it's like the debt limit in a debt crisis. They -- if you -- Americans may not love government but they hate it when it's shut down, OK?

HUNT: Right.

BRESNAHAN: So this is not the way to solve it. The way to solve it is for them to have -- sit down and have some kind of deal -- a long-term deal. And right now, the parties are so polarized it's hard to see how they cross that gap.

HUNT: Right. I mean, I feel like we're going to be here next week and the week after that talking about this but, I mean, maybe I'm wrong. Certainly, Mitch McConnell, as we heard, is making the exact argument you are, which is I've seen this movie before and I don't really want to see it again. But I think we're on track for it.

John Bresnahan, thank you very much for being up early with us. It's great to have you.

All right. Lawyers for Hunter Biden are telling the court that the president's son plans to plead not guilty to three felony gun charges that he is facing. In a new court filing, Biden's legal team says that they are not seeking any special treatment but asked the judge if his first court appearance can be made remotely. Biden was indicted on the charges last week after his plea deal with federal prosecutors fell apart.

And the governor of Pennsylvania launching automatic voter registration. CNN's Danny Freeman live in Philadelphia with more. Danny, it is wonderful -- you and I used to be on the air at another network that shall not be named -- together. We used to work together. It is wonderful to be here in the CNN family with you and I really appreciate you getting up early.

Because I saw you filed a story yesterday and I think it's really important because of the role that Pennsylvania is going to play in our presidential election. Josh Shapiro, a rising star, Democratic governor, already talked about as somebody who may eventually run for president, making this change himself.

Explain to us why it's so important and the difference it could make when we're sitting here counting votes on election night come 2024.

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, absolutely. And first, I'll say it's so good to be on air with you here at CNN as well. It's a treat. Thank you for having me, Kasie.

So, yesterday, Josh Shapiro announced this program that now, Pennsylvania is going to become an automatic voter registration state. Now, this might seem semantic, but it actually can be a pretty big change.

Basically, the difference is that -- you know this well, Kasie. If you go into PennDOT -- a DMV, basically, to get a new I.D. or renew your driver's license, or get a new driver's license, basically, this program will automatically take you through the voter registration process. Now, you have to opt out if you don't want that to be part of your DMV process. And in the past, it used to be you had to opt in to starting the voter registration process while getting your I.D.

Now, Josh Shapiro -- he ran on this when he was running for governor -- in fact, when he was attorney general. He said that he wanted to make voting more accessible for Pennsylvanians and this, in his words, is basically a promises-kept moment now that he is in the governor's mansion.

And Kasie, it can be huge for not just presidential races coming up here in Pennsylvania but also remember, we have a very competitive Senate race that is going to start happening in 2024.


In fact, this week, a lot of people are reporting that David McCormick, on the GOP side, is finally going to enter the race and he'll be going up against -- potentially, if no one jumps into the GOP primary with him -- Sen. Bob Casey, an incumbent and well-known Democrat in the state.

Now, Kasie, as you can imagine, Republicans -- they jumped all over this pretty quickly. Stephen Miller, formerly of the Trump administration -- he called into question if citizenship will be taken into account. The governor's office says, of course, you're already in a government office. Citizenship will be taken into account.

But I just want to say one thing before I jump off, Kasie. The House -- the Pennsylvania House GOP -- they released a statement that I thought was interesting and I'll just read part of it. The House Republican leader Bryan Cutler, wrote, "The problem here is actually not necessarily the end but the means." He said that "This unilateral action on the eve of what is likely to be a hotly contested and close election will cause many Pennsylvania voters to continue to question the security and results of our system."

The reason I bring that up and highlight it Kasie is because the Pennsylvania House Republicans -- they're not saying ultimately that this is even a bad idea. They are just concerned that a) maybe the governor shouldn't have done this. Maybe it should have been a legislative action. And b) other, perhaps, Republican voters who thought there were problems with --

HUNT: Sure.

FREEMAN: -- election in 2020 -- they might be concerned with another voting procedure.

But the governor says not going to be a problem. It's going to get more Pennsylvanians registered to vote.

HUNT: Right. And his -- the argument they are making too is that it's actually going to be more secure because with new Real I.D. laws and other things you're going to know more about people as they're registering to vote. I think that presages the argument we are going to hear, certainly from the Trump campaign. I mean, it's what we heard in 2020. If they lose Pennsylvania we'll hear it again in 2024.

And I think we should also cut through and just say the bottom line is more people voting, which this could lead to, typically has benefited Democrats. Certainly, that's the perception among both political parties. So I think that's part of why you're seeing this infighting.

Danny Freeman, great report. I really appreciate you getting up early and being with us today. Thank you.

FREEMAN: You bet.

HUNT: And a new poll sums up some of Americans' feelings about -- feelings about politics in one word, and it is a word that starts with "F". That's next.

Plus, a new candidate for Congress from North Carolina joins us up next. Don't go anywhere.



HUNT: Welcome back at 5:45 here in the East. Time for today's fast- forward lookahead.

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set to meet today on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Biden has encouraged Netanyahu to abandon plans to overall -- overhaul his country's judiciary. And the Federal Reserve set to wrap up its latest policy meeting in

Washington this afternoon and outline its next steps in fighting inflation. Analysts are anticipating no immediate changes to interest rates.

And the Biden administration is set to hold a briefing with the U.S. Senate on Ukraine today. It comes amid a push for another $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. Senators meet with President Zelenskyy tomorrow.

And while the 2024 presidential election obviously gets the most attention in politics there are, of course, congressional elections next November as well, and they will play a major role in deciding which party controls Congress. They will, in fact, determine which party controls Congress.

Among those running for a chance at a seat in the House is North Carolina State Rep. Erin Pare who defeated a Democratic incumbent in 2020 to win her current position in the Statehouse. Pare is the only Republican representing North Carolina's largest county -- that's Wake County -- in the entire North Carolina State Assembly.

And she joins us right now. North Carolina State Rep. Erin Pare, welcome to the show.

STATE REP. ERIN PARE, (R) NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE (via Webex by Cisco): Thank you, Kasie. Thanks for having me this morning.

HUNT: So you are a top recruit for the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy who, obviously, has played a longtime role in bringing people like you into the party. It's something he prides himself on. And you're going to be running in a highly competitive swing district. We know at the end of the day it's almost always Independent voters. As much as we often talk here, at least about how swing voters are a dying species, they still often make the difference.

How do you plan to appeal to those Independent voters, especially if Republicans have Donald Trump at the top of the ticket in 2024?

PARE: Right. Well, thank you for that.

Well, I am representing a swing area in Wake County in North Carolina, which is our largest county and one of our bluer -- bluest counties, actually. I'm the only Republican, as you mentioned, serving in the General Assembly from Wake County. And I was able to flip my current House seat in 2020 from Democrat to Republican and then hold that seat in 2022 with nearly eight percent of the vote. So running in a swing area and resonating with Independents is not a foreign territory to me.

And I think it's really simple. You know, look, I'm a mom of two school-aged children who are in public school. I'm a military wife to an Army Ranger, retired. I'm a business owner. And I'm a conservative. And I used to be a PTA president. Of course, I'm a state legislator.

So I've been talking to people in my district for many years about what's important to them and the issues that are important to them are the issues that are important to me.

HUNT: Sure.

PARE: And that's the future of my kids -- education, the economy, public safety, just to name a few.

HUNT: Right, and that is exactly the line that Republicans I talk to every day say that their candidates need to be on. And clearly, you've gotten the message from the NRCC, among others.

Let's talk a little bit about a critical fault line that is emerging -- yes, in the presidential race but also in our politics across the map and in almost every -- at almost every level of government, and that's abortion. This is something you've been outspoken about.

Former President Donald Trump posted comments about abortion on his Truth Social platform. And he wrote, in part, quote, "Without the exceptions, it is very difficult to win elections." He's, of course, referring to exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. Adding that, "In order to win in 2024, Republicans must learn how to talk about abortion."

Now, this is something you helped to usher in -- North Carolina's law that bans most abortions at 12 weeks. And you've argued recently that Republicans can win on this issue. The former president is saying that's not the case. What do you say to him?


PARE: Well, I think that it's common-sense policy. And what we did in North Carolina is we took the Supreme Court judgment that sent that decision back to the states and we put in place the most pro-life piece of legislation that the state has seen in the last half-century. And that worked for the people of North Carolina and that was where the people of North Carolina are on the issue.

And you're right. I was one of a few legislators from the House that worked with the Senate to craft that bill and I think it was a reasonable, common-sense bill. It also supported women facing unplanned pregnancy, families and children, dedicating meaningful funding to help them from the state, which I think is equally as important.

But look, I think that we as public policy people -- elected officials from up and down the ballot -- need to always prioritize the protection of innocent human life. And I'm pro-life. I've always been pro-life.


PARE: And I have two very special people to me who are why I am and continue to be and will always be pro-life.

But I think we need to take a compassionate perspective to this difficult issue and understand that unplanned pregnancies, no matter what the circumstances, can be very devastating -- HUNT: OK.

PARE: -- for people and to navigate through. And I think that compassionate perspective is really important for Republicans.

HUNT: All right. Quickly, before I let you go -- and I realize it's brief here, although I appreciate you getting up to do this -- the House Republicans right now are in a state of disarray, to put it mildly, and the government is about to shut down.

If you were in Congress today would you side with those who are opposed to Kevin McCarthy and are willing to shut down the government, or not?

PARE: When I'm in Congress I'm going to take the perspective and the tools that I've used at the Statehouse, which is balancing a budget, being responsible about spending, lowering taxes, and being dedicated to (INAUDIBLE).

HUNT: Forgive me, it is a yes or no. Yes or no, or with the hardliners?

PARE: Well, I think you can look at my record and understand that I'm a common-sense person who looks at a business perspective, understands money, and understands that we need to have budgetary accountability and responsibility. And that includes lowering taxes, being responsible at how -- about how we spend other people's money -- taxpayers' money -- and take a keen eye to (INAUDIBLE) --

HUNT: Is it responsible to shut down the government?

PARE: -- fiscal responsibility. And I think that's very important.

HUNT: Is it responsible to shut down the government?

PARE: Of course, not.

HUNT: All right.

PARE: And we need to make sure that our troops are paid.

HUNT: Indeed.

North Carolina State Rep. Erin Pare, thank you very much for being willing to play ball with us this morning. I really appreciate it. And we will be in touch if you're here in Washington in the year. Thank you.

PARE: Thank you very much.

HUNT: All right.

And Attorney General Merrick Garland in the hot seat on Capitol Hill today. How he plans to defend the Justice Department, ahead.

And time is running out as House Republicans struggle to agree on a government spending plan.



HUNT: Welcome back.

A new report from Pew Research Center shows that despite the country's extreme polarization, 65 percent of Americans say they always or often feel exhausted when thinking about politics. And they have some choice words about it, too. As you can see in this helpful word bubble created by Pew, Americans' top descriptions for the current state of politics range from divisive and messy to toxic, hellish, and this choice word that begins with "F".

I'm not sure I've ever seen that in a Pew Research Poll before. It stood out to me. There you have it.

All right, let's go to sports now. Colorado coach Deion Sanders comes to the defense of a Colorado State player who has received death threats over a late hit during Saturday's game.

Andy Scholes is here with this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


So, Coach Prime -- he has Colorado off to an impressive 3-0 start. But the double-overtime win in the Rocky Mountain Showdown did come at a cost. The Buffaloes' two-way star Travis Hunter -- he suffered a lacerated liver on a late hit by Colorado State's Henry Blackburn. So the Ram's senior was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play but he remained in the game.

Now, on Monday, Colorado State Coach Jay Norvell -- he said Blackburn and his family had been receiving threats since that hit. But yesterday, Coach Prime made it clear that no player should ever receive death threats over a game.


DEION SANDERS, COLORADO HEAD COACH: Henry Blackburn is a good player who played a phenomenal game. He made a tremendous hit on Travis on the sideline. You could call it dirty. You could call it he was just playing the game of football. But whatever it was it does not constitute that he should be receiving death threats.

I'm saddened if there is any of our fans that's on the other side of those threats. I would hope and pray not. But that kid was just playing to the best of his ability and he made a mistake.


SCHOLES: Now, Travis Hunter was released from the hospital on Monday and is going to miss at least Saturday's game against number 10 Oregon. All right. We had one of the best soccer goals of the year yesterday

in the Champions League match between Lazio and Atletico Madrid. Down by one late in stoppage time, Lazio's goalkeeper Ivan Provedel went up the field and the gamble paid off. Headed the ball into the back of the net as they snatching a tie out of the jaws of defeat. The crowd there going absolutely bonkers.

Provedel becomes just the second keeper in Champions League history to score a goal that did not come from the penalty spot.

All right, to baseball. Angels taking on the Rays last night. With two outs in the eighth inning, rookie shortstop Zach Neto crushes the game-tying home run into the left-field seats. And no one was cheering more than his mom, Maggie, who was watching her son play in the Majors for only the second time. Neto called the night just a childhood dream.

And the best part is the Angels bullpen managed to get that ball back and they got it to Neto's mom for a souvenir. Pretty cool there.

L.A. did, though, end up losing that game 6-2.

And if that was not enough to pull at your heartstrings, Dodgers reliever Brusdar Garterol -- he pitched a scoreless eighth inning with his mom in the stands from Venezuela. And not only had she never watched him pitch in the Majors before, they hadn't seen each other in seven years. So after retiring the side in order, he pointed to his mom and broke down in tears as he would go on to hug his teammates in the dugout.


So what a night for the moms there in Major League Baseball, Kasie.

HUNT: Andy, you're going to make me cry before six in the morning. I love it. Oh my God, I love Neto. That was amazing to watch.

Thank you, Andy, for that, very much.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: We'll see you tomorrow.

Thank you all for being up early with us. I am Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.