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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Talks At Fundraisers About His Age; CNN Poll: Trump Leads In New Hampshire As DeSantis Drops; GOP Urges Schumer To Enforce More Formal Dress Code. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 21, 2023 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for getting an early start with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. It is just after 5:30 here on the East Coast, 2:30 out west.

The big story at the bottom of the hour, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is fine-tuning a new plan to keep the government open. He is calling for deeper spending cuts and new border security measures. He's trying to satisfy some of his party's conservative hardliners.

But meanwhile, Democrats are starting to talk about whether they might be willing to help him keep the government open. Conservatives say, though, that he could lose his job if he starts courting those Democrats.

President Biden holds bilateral talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the White House today and is expected to unveil a new package for Ukraine. Zelenskyy is also set to meet with lawmakers behind closed doors to answer questions about U.S. support in Ukraine's slow counteroffensive.

And a rock-solid lead in the Granite State. A new CNN poll shows Donald Trump leading the GOP pack in New Hampshire with 39 percent. But the race for second is heating up. Ron DeSantis has dropped 13 points since July. He and Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, and Chris Christie only a few percentage points apart.

All right. Last night, the former president, Donald Trump, did something that he rarely does. He stopped by a bar.


Cheering at an Iowa bar where former President Donald Trump stopped to hand out pizzas.


HUNT: This is Trump at the Treehouse Pub and Eatery in Bettendorf, Iowa. Trump is a teetotaler. He doesn't drink. But he did hand out a few pizzas. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. You got a pizza? Here you are. You got a pizza? Give it to him.


HUNT: We do not normally see that kind of campaigning from Donald Trump. It's interesting to see those pictures.

He's been stepping up his appearances in Iowa -- five events over six weeks. The Iowa caucuses, of course, are less than four months away.

President Biden, meanwhile, is not yet out on the campaign trail fully but he is making a more forceful pitch to donors behind closed doors. At a pair of fundraisers this week, Biden making the case that democracy is back on the ballot in 2024.

And he actually has started to address that issue that his advisers have tried to ignore. He told a fundraising crowd last night, quote, "A lot of people seem focused on my age. Well, I get it, believe me. I know better than anyone. But there's something else I know. When I came to office and this nation was flat on its back, when democracy was at stake, I knew what to do to redeem the soul of this nation."

Let's bring in Shelby Talcott, politics reporter at Semafor. Shelby, good morning. It's great to have you.

Let's start with Biden here. It was -- it's interesting that he's starting to take on these age concerns a little bit more directly, making the argument that actually, age equals experience. It was telling. It's not something we hear from him a lot.


What do you make of it?

SHELBY TALCOTT, POLITICS REPORTER, SEMAFOR: Yeah. I think this simple answer here -- and we talked about the age issue last week. And as I said then, it's on voters' minds and it's -- Biden's team is seeing it in the polls. And so, their solution -- they recognize that voters are concerned about his age so they're trying to confront it head-on. And this is kind of the pivot we're seeing -- is instead of ignoring the issue let's talk about it. Let's confront it head-on.

At the same time, I think Biden's team is not convinced that the age issue is going to be number one, number two, or even number three for voters when they head to the polls. They're not convinced yet that it's going to affect him all that much, particularly because you see some of these other really important issues like the abortion topic and democracy, as he's argued, on the ballot. And so, they're -- they remain confident that those are going to be the things that voters are going to go to the polls and have at top of mind.

HUNT: For sure. So, let's talk about Trump for a second because we did see -- you know, he's making this push in Iowa. This, obviously, about the primary campaign. He's basically trying to put away Ron DeSantis in Iowa because we do know that if somebody comes close to him there it could really shake up the narrative in the Republican primary race.

What's your -- he hates doing the kind of campaigning that we saw at that bar in Iowa -- he much prefers big rallies -- but they've got him doing it anyway.

What does that say?

TALCOTT: Yeah. I think it says exactly what you just suggested and it's that they recognize they do have a solid lead in some of these early -- in all of these early-voting states, particularly Iowa, and they're doing their best to make sure that lead remains.

And it's really important now for Trump to start going out on the ground because all of his opponents are essentially living in Iowa and they're banking on exactly what you said. If we get close enough to Trump in Iowa -- they don't have to win is their argument. They don't need to beat him in Iowa. But if they even come in a close second the race becomes very different.

And so, even as we're seeing Trump kind of shift his messaging, in some ways, to a general election strategy, he's still kind of trying to close the door and wrap up this primary early.

HUNT: Yeah -- no. It's a very interesting two-pronged strategy from the Trump campaign even as they, of course, face multiple indictments, which that doesn't seem to matter in the Republican primary but is going to be a big thing in the general election.

Let's shift gears, Shelby, and talk about what's going on on Capitol Hill. Because we have Democrats now talking amongst themselves about whether they should try to bail Kevin McCarthy out of this jam and do so, in part, to get some of their own policy priorities across the line. But obviously, from McCarthy and team, that has its own set of issues and they don't seem ready to go there yet.

And part of that is because of what I'm about to show you, which are Matt Gaetz and Chip Roy talking about what might happen if McCarthy were to play ball with Democrats. Take a look.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): If Speaker McCarthy relies on Democrats to pass a continuing resolution, I would call the Capitol moving truck to his office pretty soon because my expectation would be he'd be out of the speaker's office quite promptly.

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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: What's the riskier strategy for McCarthy -- let the government shut down and bear that cost or try to work with Democrats and face the music on that?

TALCOTT: I mean, that's the ultimate question, right? And the big thing here -- we talked about it last week also -- this is going to be a tough few weeks for McCarthy. We're seeing that.

It is essentially a lose-lose situation because on the one hand, if he tries to cut a deal with Democrats you get the government and that's obviously a big plus in a lot of voters' minds. But on the other hand, is he going to be able to hold on to his position if he does that?

And again, the hard-right faction of this Republican Party recognizes that they have a lot of power here and they're using it, and they're not afraid to use it.

And what has also really complicated this situation is last night, Donald Trump weighed in and essentially told the party to hold the line. And so that, I think, is going to reenergize some of these Republicans who don't want a deal and who don't want McCarthy to cut a deal or fund the government.

It's going to be an interesting few days on Capitol Hill.

HUNT: To say the least.

All right. Shelby Talcott, thank you very much for being here this morning. We really appreciate it.

TALCOTT: Thanks.

HUNT: And former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson now claiming in a new book that Rudy Giuliani groped her on the day of the Capitol attack. You'll remember she was a star witness at the January 6 hearings last year.

In her new book "Enough," Hutchinson writes that the president's personal attorney put his hands, quote, "under my blazer and then my skirt at the January 6 rally." Hutchinson says that there were witnesses to the encounter.


An adviser for Giuliani calls the claims a, quote, "disgusting lie."

And a federal judge has ordered Hunter Biden to appear in person for his arraignment now set for next month. Special counsel David Weiss had asked that the president's son be required to attend the court hearing to show the public that he is not getting special treatment. Hunter Biden is expected to plead not guilty to three felony gun charges.

So, the chances of lawmakers wearing flip-flops during filibusters or hoodies during hearings probably still pretty slim. But ahead, how Republicans are blasting the new Senate dress code or lack thereof.

Plus, the race for second place. What new polls are telling us about 2024.


HUNT: Welcome back -- 5:45 on the East Coast, 2:45 out west.

Time now for today's fast-forward lookahead.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will huddle with senators in Washington this morning before his bilateral meeting with President Biden. It comes as the U.S. considers another multibillion-dollar aid package for Kyiv.


Alex Murdaugh is expected to formally plead guilty to nearly two dozen federal fraud and financial crimes today. The disgraced South Carolina attorney already serving life in prison for killing his wife and son.

And UAW negotiators will meet with Stellantis officials today -- a day after they met with General Motors and Ford. Stellantis and GM have temporarily laid off dozens of employees due to the strike and thousands more have been idled at several plants.

And new overnight, new CNN polling in the critical early primary state of New Hampshire. The top line, there is actually some movement in the race. Donald Trump, though, still ahead with 39 percent, short of where he's been polling nationally.

But the poll shows an absolute dogfight for the second slot. Ron DeSantis has dropped 13 points since our last poll there in July, down now to 10 percent. And he's now been outstripped by Vivek Ramaswamy with 13 percent and Nikki Haley with 12 percent. And even Chris Christie, who has 11 percent support in the Granite State.

There is no one better to help us understand what all of this means than CNN's Stephen Collinson. He spends each and every day thinking through the day's events, offering us a thoughtful and measured, but sweeping analysis of where we are in the campaign in the country. We at CNN wake up to it every morning. Stephen, thank you so much for being here.

And I want to share with our viewers a little bit of what you write this morning. You say, quote, "The state of the Republican race is this: Trump is not yet unbeatable but the conditions in which he could be beaten are still far from materializing."

So explain this and what it means in the context of what we now know about where things stand in New Hampshire.

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: Right. So political professionals always say it's early when we're at this stage of the race. The problem here is that it's not quite so early as it was. We're four months away from the first votes being cast in Iowa. I think what this poll shows us in New Hampshire is that there is a

market for a candidate other than Trump. Six in 10 voters basically are looking at somebody else other than the former president. The problem is you've got four or five candidates there all around 10 percent, so the anti-Trump is being split.

Normally, in a conventional presidential race you would expect Iowa and New Hampshire to whittle down that field and then the race would proceed through all the other big primaries after that. The problem is that Trump is so strong. That he is so familiar to voters. He's almost more like an incumbent running for reelection in this race than he is an outsider --

HUNT: Yeah.

COLLINSON: -- challenging a sitting president.

So if he's not hurt by his rivals in Iowa and New Hampshire then it's very hard to see how he doesn't win this nominating race.

And as I said, time is short.

HUNT: Yeah -- no.

COLLINSON: Previous races -- 2008, for example. Obama didn't really gather pace until the end of November.

But we've got to start seeing one candidate, I think, emerge as the anti-Trump candidate, coalescing the opposition. Otherwise, it's hard to see how the topline dynamic of this race shifts.

HUNT: Yeah -- no. I mean, look, this is what we were -- we've been talking about for the last year in terms of before these candidates started jumping in the race in 2016, the problem was the opposition to Trump was so splintered and it allowed him to kind of waltz right through with that chunk of the party that has always been diehard supporters. And it does really look like we're seeing that same -- that same movie again.

I mean, one question I do have for you Stephen. Looking at this New Hampshire poll is that it sort of struck me that hey, like, maybe the debates actually do still really matter in terms of figuring out who -- if we're going to get a second candidate -- that person might be. I mean, we saw Nikki Haley get a little bit of a bump. Obviously, Vivek Ramaswamy. DeSantis didn't really make any big mistakes in the debate but he also didn't stand out the way you would have expected the number one potential challenger to Trump to stand out.

What's your take on that? I mean, do you think these are still critical moments -- these debates? We've got another coming up next week.

COLLINSON: I think it depends on whether you think that the debate is to choose who comes second in the nominating race or if there is a credible challenger to Trump. If you had, for example, Nikki Haley beginning to obliterate the rest

of the field, other candidates concluding that they didn't either have the money or the support to go on and the field got a lot narrower, that's a possibility.

But Trump is so powerful because after New Hampshire and Iowa, the race goes much -- to a much bigger playing field. For example, South Carolina. Even though Nikki Haley is the former governor of South Carolina and is very popular there, that is a state that I think is one of the most pro-Trump states in the nation. Trump does very well down there. It's really hard to see that he gets hurt then.


Moving forward into the Super Tuesday contest, these are big national -- big TV contests, really.

HUNT: Right.

COLLINSON: Massive amounts of delegates at stake.

There is the wrinkle, of course, that he's due to go on trial -- an absolutely unprecedented occurrence in a U.S. presidential election -- around the Super Tuesday primary. But if he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, any question the Republicans might start to look at this race and think wow, Trump is not going to be electable because there's a possibility he could be a convicted felon by Election Day in November and we should maybe choose someone else. That may be too late by then.

So --

HUNT: Yeah.

COLLINSON: -- time is really short for someone to come and be the anti-Trump.

HUNT: Now, it is. And you write further on in your piece that his rivals are not using that criminal liability against him. And the reality is it may backfire among the Republican base so they really are very, very stuck on that point.

Stephen Collinson, thank you so much for joining us this morning. I hope you'll come back.


HUNT: All right. Coming up next here -- just ahead, the U.S. sending hundreds more troops to the southern border. What officials are saying about the surge of border crossings, coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: Welcome back. Some Senate Republicans not too pleased with the informal dress code -- really, the lack of dress code -- on the chamber's floor. All but three Republicans signed a letter sent to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer demanding that he change it back. The letter was spearheaded by Florida Sen. Rick Scott.


SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): This has got to change back. We've got to have decorum. We've got to -- we've got to dress the way the American public would expect their U.S. senators to dress.


HUNT: What's the worst that could happen? Here is Sen. Susan Collins earlier this week. She said, quote, "I plan to wear a bikini tomorrow on the Senate floor." Of course, she did not.

Here's Democratic Sen. John Fetterman, known for his shorts and hoodies in the Senate halls. Quote, "If those jagoffs in the House stop trying to shut our government down, and fully support Ukraine, then I will save democracy by wearing a suit on the Senate floor next week."

And I will leave you with Sen. Elizabeth Warren.


REPORTER: Do you think it should be changed?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): I just think there's a whole lot more important things for us to worry about. So I'm fine as long as people cover all the private parts.


HUNT: It's important to note that there are 44 standing rules of the Senate. None of them cover a formal dress code.

I will say there's a lot of officers waiting for promotions, troops will go unpaid if the government does shut down. There are many very important things that Congress has on its plate right now.

All right. Let's go now to sports. The Chicago Bears are going into Sunday's game without a defensive coordinator after Alan Williams unexpectedly up and quit yesterday.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Good morning, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, good morning, Kasie.

You know -- so this is pretty serious how all of this went down. So, defensive coordinator Alan Williams -- he missed last weekend's game against the Buccaneers for what he called personal reasons. And when asked about his status this week, Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said multiple times, "I do not have an update." Well, yesterday afternoon, Williams quit, releasing a statement saying he was taking a step back to take care of his health and family, adding that he does plan to coach again.

The Bears are 0-2 so far this season and play at the Chiefs this weekend.

All right, college football. LSU safety Greg Brooks underwent emergency surgery last week to remove a large brain tumor, according to his family.

Coach Brian Kelly said Brooks had dizziness resulting from vertigo last week. That prompted him to have an MRI that revealed the tumor. His status for the remainder of the season still up in the air as he and his family await biopsy results.

On Saturday, the Tigers hose Arkansas where Brooks played for three seasons before transferring to LSU.

So, Kasie, we're certainly rooting for Brooks to have a full recovery.

HUNT: Yeah. And Andy, I'm a brain tumor survivor myself. I know what the stress is like when you have to wait for that biopsy to come back. I also know that getting that MRI when you have those kinds of symptoms can really make all the difference in the world.


HUNT: So prayers up to Brooks and his family.

SCHOLES: Certainly. And Kasie, my mom actually had a large brain tumor removed 25 years ago, so I know all too well about this as well.

HUNT: Wow.

SCHOLES: So certainly wishing Brooks the best as he awaits for those results.

HUNT: My best to her, too.

SCHOLES: Yeah. Thank you so much.

All right -- now elsewhere, Lionel Messi's return to Inter Miami's lineup -- it was short-lived and now he's back on the sidelines again. So the soccer superstar was subbed off in the 37th minute of last night's game against Toronto, suffering from muscle fatigue.

And after the 4-nil win, Inter Miami's coach said the 36-year-old Messi is going to miss Sunday's game at Orlando in order to rest. So all those fans who planned that Messi-Disney World vacation -- well, you can now spend some extra time at Magic Kingdom.

Inter Miami hopeful Messi is going to be ready for the U.S. Open Cup final against Houston next Wednesday. All right, and finally, a candidate for catch of the year. Check out

Braves fan Grady Rikard. He's going to snag this home run ball from the Phillies' Nick Castellanos with one hand while holding his young daughter Riley (PH) in the other. But then he puts her down and immediately chucks the ball back onto the field. This was a family outing after Grady's wife Brittany had given birth to their fourth child just three weeks ago.


GRADY RIKARD, CAUGHT HOME RUN BALL: As it was coming in, I said that one's got to go back because we can't accept any Philly balls out here. Not the home run I was hoping to catch today but I've still got some time, so maybe Acuna will get one to me as well.

BRITTANY RIKARD, WIFE OF GRADY RIKARD: It was terrifying. There was a lot happening -- newborn, three other kids. I just -- yeah, I just froze. And thankfully, Grady was dad of the year and caught it.


SCHOLES: Now he didn't end up getting an Acuna home run ball and the Braves lost that game. But, I mean, just the wherewithal to catch the ball, Kasie, put daughter down, and immediately chuck the ball on the field. Now, that's an all-timer.

HUNT: That is a true sports fan right there, you know?



HUNT: You've got to do the right thing for your team in that kind of a moment. Also, I loved Riley in the corner there licking her ice cream cone or whatever that was while dad gives an interview.

SCHOLES: No idea what was going on, yeah.

HUNT: Props to that whole family.

All right, Andy, thank you so much --

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: -- for being with us this morning.

And thanks to all of you for getting an early start with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.