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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

House Dems Weigh Risks of Saving Kevin McCarthy; Today: Zelenskyy Meets with Biden & Lawmakers; Polls: Trump Has Big Lead As Fight for 2nd Heats Up; Russia Launches Wave of Attacks Against Ukraine. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 21, 2023 - 05:00   ET




An unlikely alliance? Are Democrats Kevin McCarthy's only hope to stave off of the government shutdown and keep his job?

Plus, brand new CNN polling in the 2024 race on the Republican side, the fight for second place now shifting. We'll have that.

And Ukraine's president about to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Can Volodymyr Zelenskyy convince a divided Congress to keep the money flowing to war torn Ukraine?


HUNT: Good day to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Thursday, September 21st, 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast, 2:00 a.m. out West.

And today, we begin with what is really unthinkable here in Washington. Could Democrats step in to save Kevin McCarthy?

Well, right now, the Democrats are talking about that as a possibility, although they certainly would have demands to make of their own were they step in to save him.

Here is Michigan Democrat Dan Kildee. He said quote: If somehow Democrats are asked to be helpful, it's not just going to have to be out of the kindness of our hearts -- to put it mildly.

There are just days to go until the September 30th deadline the end of next week. The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is still holding out hope that he can do this with Republicans alone.

Last night, he briefed his conference on a new plan to keep government open for another month.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are very close there. I feel a little bit more movement to go. We are in a good place where we are.


HUNT: OK. Despite that optimism, McCarthy still faces intense unrest from his right flank. There's no answer here. Conservative hard-liners are still threatening to derail the plan, and try and oust McCarthy from his powerful perch atop the house.

Their plan A on the Republican side among leadership is still to try and get enough votes from their own party to get it through the House.

But listen to what Congressman McHenry had to say about this. You should listen to McHenry. He's a speaker in waiting. He really knows the game. Just listen to how he talked about.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): That is what the speaker trying to do, is build consensus among Republicans to produce a funding mechanism sufficient for Republicans to pass.


HUNT: All right. Plan B, if it's on the table at all, is much trickier and much riskier. Could he count on Democrats who are weary of GOP dysfunction and may be willing to make a deal?

Listen to -- well, I guess we have quick sound bite from Chip Roy, who is one of those hard-liners who advised Kevin McCarthy, basically that that would be a bad idea. Take a look.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Would the speaker's job be in peril if he relies on Democrats?

REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): It wouldn't be a good move.


HUNT: An understatement.

Let's bring in CNN's Annie Grayer.

Annie, good morning. Thank you very much for getting up early with us.

This is something, you know, and I feel like we see this from time to time when these difficult situations pop-up. Certainly there was conversation about it when come McCarthy was trying to win the speaker's gavel in the first place. Where it pops up and says hey maybe Democrats could bill us out. The reality is that in many ways would be political suicide for Kevin McCarthy. I mean, this is really two very bad options for him at this point.

What's McCarthy's new plan, what did he say, has them in a good place and is there any chance that this is different from yesterday? ANNIE GRAYER, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Kasie, good morning. I

mean, the short answer is we'll see. Republicans met four hours behind closed doors last night and emerged with what they say is a new plan to keep government open for one more month. And this plan would have deeper spending cuts and provide more border security measures.

But there's a math problem here. Only four Republicans can be against this measure. And there is as many as seven, Kasie, who've said that they are against. So with nine days until the government runs out of money, Kasie, this is not where Republicans thought they were going to be.

HUNT: Yeah. So, let's talk about the possibility of Democrats stepping in here because right now, it seems to me. And I know that you are running around on the Hill every single day. So you have a very sort of moment to moment feel of where this stands but really this seems like something that is being generated by Democrats. I feel I am hearing Patrick McHenry kind of say like, let's not go there, because if we go there, this whole thing could really fall apart.

How realistic is this idea that Democrats could step in to save McCarthy here?


GRAYER: Yeah, Kasie, it's definitely being talked about. I mean, Democrats are looking around, realizing the same math that, you know, everybody is. That the government will run out of funding in nine days. And the question they are asking on their own caucus is do they want to let Republican infighting cause government shutdown.

Now, the Democrats who do want to cut a deal with the Republicans want some of their own priorities reflected in whatever deal gets made to fund the government. You showed that SOT by Congressman Dan Kildee.

You know, Democrats are going to come to the bargaining table. But they need some of their needs met. Now, Kasie, this is a very politically tricky question because if Democrats do cut a deal with Republicans. Then, Kevin McCarthy's speakership is really at risk.

Members on the right have said that if McCarthy were to work with Republicans, they would try to move to oust him as speaker. Right now, these conversations about a bipartisan deal, Kasie, are happening at the member level. I should say that McCarthy and the top Democrat in the House, Hakeem Jeffries are not engaging in conversations at this point, because they know that the second they do, you really can't unravel that. You cannot pull it back.

So the question is going to be, Kasie, are Democrats going to work with Republicans if Republicans cannot from the government on their own? And then, two, if Republicans try and move to oust McCarthy, will they be there to support him and keep him in his job?

HUNT: Right, because that would be the second piece of this. And it's very layered for Democrats, too. There's potential backlash on the left. And, of course, there is always the kind of raw political calculation

around a shut down. Everybody fully expects Republicans would take the blame this. And should Democrats build him out of the political bind, there's going to be pressure on that as well.

Any, let us change gears briefly because I want to look ahead to today. Ukraine's President Zelenskyy is going to meet behind closed doors with several lawmakers. He is of course trying to convince them to keep helping him in his war against Russia.

How big is that the task for him today?

GRAYER: Kasie, this is a tall order. Zelenskyy is going to be on the hill making a personal plea to members of Congress to help him in his war against Russia. The White House has been very clear that they want Congress to pass more Ukraine funding.

But there's a split in Congress right now, specifically among Republicans. A number of Republicans don't want another set going towards Ukraine. So, really, this is going to be Zelenskyy meeting with smaller groups on the House and the Senate. This is not going to be a public speech like we have seen last time.

And we're going to have to see what comes out of this conversations, Kasie, but really what today shows is just the divide in our government over what role our country should be playing in a war in Ukraine.

HUNT: Well, if anybody can convince them, Volodymyr Zelensky certainly has shown that he is the person who's capable of advocating for his country more capably than anyone in the world. Annie Grayer, thank you very much for being up with us today. We really appreciate it. We really appreciate it.

And today, the Senate will vote on two more top military nominees after confirming General CQ Brown to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday. Senator Tommy Tuberville has refused to drop the hold that he has on more than 300 military promotions from months. So, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reluctantly broke with Senate tradition and moved to vote on the three big promotions separately.

Here's what both men had to say about it.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: It's not the path the vast majority of senators on either side of the aisle want to go. But Senator Tuberville is forcing us to confront his obstruction head on.

SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): Finally came to a little bit of a conclusion. But it's about time. We should have done these a long time ago, but we're making progress. Again, I still have my holds. And we will continue to do that, and we might bring some more up ourselves, you know, through our petition that we are able to get down. But it's - I'm glad we're making some progress. It's just that -- it's a win for the legislative branch.


HUNT: All right. Today, the Senate is going to vote on General Randy George to be army chief of staff and General Eric Smith to be commandant of the Marine Corps. They are already working in an acting capacity.

And new polling shows that Donald Trump is maintaining his big lead for the GOP presidential nomination as the rest of the field duke it out for second place. Our new CNN poll in New Hampshire has Trump leading with 39 percent, and Vivek Ramaswamy jumping into second place with 13 percent. It's a real dogfight for second place. That means Ron DeSantis, the man once thought to be Trump's chief rival has dropped to third place with just 10 percent in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile in Iowa, a Fox poll shows that Trump is out front with 46 percent there. Here, DeSantis, according to this poll, still holding on to second with 15 percent but Nikki Haley in third with 11 percent.

And in South Carolina, another Fox poll shows that Trump again at 46 percent. This is close to the national average. But this time, Haley, the state's former governor, comes in second at 18 percent. She's, of course, well known there. DeSantis lands in third again with 10 percent.

All right. Just ahead here. What President Biden is expected to give to Ukraine's president at the White House today.

Plus, Kari Lake's next move in Arizona.

And a rare outing for Donald Trump. Turns cheesy at an Iowa pub.


HUNT: Welcome back.

Overnight, a massive missile attack on civilian areas across Ukraine. With at least two people killed in southern city of Kherson. Officials there are calling it Russian night terror.

In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, officials warned residents to stay in shelters due to heavy Russian shelling. The capital Kyiv wasn't spared either. Several people reported wounded there.

The army chief says Ukrainian air defenses took out 36 of 43 Russian missiles.


Some of the attacks targeting Ukraine's power facilities for the first time in months. The attacks come ahead of President Zelenskyy's talks with President Biden and with lawmakers today in Washington.

CNN's Katie Polglase joins us now live from London. Katie, good morning. These major attacks overnight just as Zelenskyy

is about to meet with President Biden and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Cannot be a coincidence?

KATIE POLGLASE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: It's certainly very interesting timing isn't it. And, clearly, while it will aid Zelenskyy's message here saying that, clearly, the Russian aggression is very much still there, and this is something civilians are experiencing on a daily basis. You mentioned two people killed. That was in the south in Kherson. It was two men in a dormitory. And meanwhile in Kyiv, several injured, and one of them just a nine year old girl.

This is demonstrating that these are not soldiers. These are civilians getting impacted. This is what Zelenskyy is trying to say in his message. Not only at the U.N. but also today to Biden and to lawmakers as well, that there is a brutality in this war, that civilians are still experiencing.

And clearly, he wants more aid as a result. It has already been this new package promised by the White House. And that is mentioning things like anti-aircraft defense capabilities, precisely for this kind of shelling. It's kind of aerial attack to defend against it.

Again, you mentioned energy infrastructure. That is another fear that as we go into as official target energy infrastructure, damaging not only areas that keep people warm, but the power grid, things like make life bearable in the winter months in Ukraine.

All of this was what Ukraine is asking for from the United States, and clearly as he knows talks to the Republicans as well, the concern is that this aid is now up for debate. And clearly, from these attacks overnight, it's very urgent for him that the aid remains in place -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Katie Polglase, thanks very much for bringing us up to speed this morning.

And let's talk more about Zelenskyy's packed schedule in Washington today and the stakes in Ukraine.

CNN's Max Foster joins us from Paris where he is traveling today.

Max, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and President Biden both made very forceful pitches for world leaders to support Ukraine against Russia's invasion at the U.N. That was earlier this week.

What do you expect to be on the agenda for today as they meet again in Washington?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, forgive me for the noise first of all. Charles is about to arrive here in the next hour. He's going to meet with the kids. He's going to play table tennis with them, so they are very excited.

But, currently, he's down in the Senate doing a speech. And he's going to mention Ukraine there, had to big topic here between diplomats as well. And I think what's most interesting for me, or from our perspective, about Zelenskyy's visit to Washington, isn't the meeting with Biden, it's with meetings with Republicans because we know what it's like as a global states but he's a master of the craft.

But he's throwing himself into domestic U.S. politics in Washington, and there's a concern that he might become a partisan figure to look closely associated with Biden. And therefore Republicans are going to start attacking Zelenskyy as the Biden type figure. So, if he can convince Republicans, he's also keen to work with them. I think that's going to really show how his mastery of this. Even our own polling is showing that more American Republicans are unfavorable to Zelenskyy than Democrats.

So it's very sort of a -- it's a really tough chance for him to try to master American politics which you know better than anyone, Kasie, is a complex affair for a foreigner, especially.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, I think we can straight-up call it a mess, because currently, it's a mess and, you know, that's the really the challenge, because he does have Republican allies for sure on Capitol Hill. It's just a minority of the Republican Party right now. That is, as you point out, a very interesting way of looking at it. And you're right, it is a tricky thing for him.

So, Max, I do want to talk about those kids behind you because you, of course, in addition to being our international global anchor, and regular voice here helping us understanding what's going on overseas, you're also our royal correspondent. I have to say, I have a fondness for the royal family. I've lived in the U.K. for a while, and I am a big fan.

What is Charles on the road doing today? And how is that covering the new king? I have to say, I missed the queen. But hey, you know, it is what it is.

FOSTER: I know, she was very popular here as well, like she wasn't so many countries around the world because she's been around for so long and she handled things so well. What we're seeing from Charles is he handled things slightly differently. First of all, he's traveling, the queen couldn't do that later on her life.

So, the British government has now got this global asset they can deploy, so far going incredibly well at the Elysee Palace yesterday, where I saw Charles and President Macron come together. They have a really good chemistry. Something very different from what we saw between Macron and Boris Johnson.

So this is all about building relationships between Britain and France, and it desperately needs it.


And Charles is doing a pretty good job there. He's doing it like by emphasizing the long term ties between these two allies, so he is about to, well he's currently addressing the Senate, which is a rare honor as well. And he's going to talk about how we came together during the war, but also on Ukraine, and how we have to protect Western freedom and its values.

And it's basically to say Ukraine has got to win this war. So, he's getting involved in international relations in the way the queen would've never done.

HUNT: Yeah, no, it's remarkably interesting. And, yes, it does make a lot of sense that King Charles and Emmanuel Macron has a much different, better rapport than Boris Johnson and Macron. Okay, Max Foster, thank you so much, sir. Always great to have on the show. I hope to see you tomorrow.

All right. Coming up, a judge's new decision in Hunter Biden's gun case, and the next Trump White House aides latest allegations, this time, against Rudy Giuliani.



HUNT: Welcome back.

We've got quick hits across America now.

A man at the center of a right wing conspiracy theory about January 6 has pled guilty to disorderly conduct. Ray Epps was part of a group who went through Capitol barriers that have been torn down. Conspiracy theories had claimed he was an undercover agent and this charge further undercuts that conspiracy theory.

Sources tell CNN that election denier Kari Lake is planning to launch a Senate campaign. The Arizona Republican lost the 2022 race for governor, but insists that she actually won. Incumbent Senator Kyrsten Sinema hasn't said if she is running for reelection.

And President Biden has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington later this year. They met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this week. Relations between these two leaders have been strained for months over Israel's judicial reforms. That's judicial changes I would say.

All right, now this. We're going to be talking so much about abortion politics throughout this upcoming election year, and how this issue gets talked about is going to be a critical piece of covering it and understanding why it is unfolding the way that it is.

And to that point, I want to show you an ad. This is from Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear's reelection campaign. He is a Democrat obviously in a red state. This is a very striking new ad, abortion rights -- about abortion rights, and it squarely takes aim at Republican challenger Daniel Cameron's support for the states abortion ban, one that critics say is practically draconian.

I just want you to take a look at it because there's a lot to think about here. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was raped by my stepfather after years of sexual abuse. I was 12. Anyone who believes there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it's like to stay in my shoes. This is to you, Daniel Cameron, to tell a 12 year old girl she must have the baby of her stepfather who raped her is unthinkable.

I'm speaking out, because women and girls need to have options. Daniel Cameron would give us none.


HUNT: Regardless of where you are on this issue, a lot of courage to speak out the way that that young woman did right there.

Cameron, the Republican candidate, has reportedly soft in his position in recent days and says he would sign a bill that did make exceptions for rape or incest. More than $65 million have so far been spent on this Kentucky race. Look for more ads with compelling personal stories like this to unfold as we cover this over the next year.

All right. Just ahead here, President Biden, taking an elephant in the room head on, and new GOP polling in New Hampshire. Ron DeSantis drops like a rock in the Granite State.