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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

House GOP Leaders Send Members Home For Weekend As Government Shutdown Looks More Likely; Michigan A.G. Calls GOP Fake Electors She Charged "Brainwashed"; Some Trump Rivals No Longer Afraid To Criticize Him. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 22, 2023 - 05:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sent the chamber home on Thursday after what you just heard there -- another stinging failure on the House floor. Six hardliners tanking a vote to advance funding for the Defense Department. That's usually one of the easiest packages to pass.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY(R-CA): It's frustrating in the sense that I don't understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate. There's a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down.


HUNT: It is the third time that Kevin McCarthy has lost this kind of procedural vote. It's known as a vote on the rule. To put that in perspective, the three previous House speakers -- Boehner, Pelosi, and Ryan -- they never lost a vote on the rule. It is a slap in the face and a real indicator of just how much power Kevin McCarthy doesn't have as he tries to play his part in governing the country.

And moderate Republicans are now so frustrated they are turning to say that they want to work with Democrats.


REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): I am not going to be party to a shutdown. It does not serve a purpose. By the way, you save no money. You're going to end up costing the American people more money with a shutdown. So it's really illogical.

At the end of the day, any final bill is going to be bipartisan. And if somebody doesn't realize that they're truly clueless.


HUNT: Clueless.

Joining us now with more, Margaret Talev, the director of Syracuse University's Democracy, Journalism, and Citizenship Institute, and a senior contributor at Axios. Margaret, thank you as always for being here. It's great to have you.

Kevin McCarthy is in a real bind here between the hardliners on his right and moderates like -- that was Mike Lawler, who represents a Biden district, so to speak, who is telling the truth, right? The Senate is controlled by Democrats. They're going to have to work with Democrats if they want to keep the government open.

It really seems like -- I mean, weren't we having this same conversation, like, a week ago? It's -- we're nowhere closer to this getting resolved.

MARGARET TALEV, DIRECTOR, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY DEMOCRACY, JOURNALISM, AND CITIZENSHIP INSTITUTE, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS (via Webex by Cisco): Kasie, I think that's right. Speaker McCarthy has adopted a strategy for the course of this year of appeasement to deal with the right flank of his wing and I think we are now really fully seeing that appeasement policy hit its limits.

I thought his quote about why he doesn't understand why they won't just agree to have -- put ideas to the vote and that he's surprised that they're burning the house down. I thought that was a very instructive quote because it tells you both his philosophy for leadership in the current context, which is just put it up there. Let them have their vote so they can take it home to their base and let's move on with things. We've seen the limits of that now.

But also, I don't -- like, I don't think it's surprising actually at all. I think this is -- this has been baked in the cake since January that this is how this part of the caucus will behave, right?

So what are his choices? Of course, there's the obvious choice right in front of us. He can cut a deal with Democrats and, you know -- I don't know if he could actually avert the shutdown but he could make it a very short shutdown. To do that would -- I'm not sure if it would end his speakership but it would definitely forge the vote on his speakership. And because he hasn't been that good at counting votes so far, that would be a very precarious place for him to be, right?

HUNT: Yeah.

TALEV: Or let this play out a bit more and -- so that's where we are now with these waning days. He's just sort of stuck trying to figure out which of two dangerous political choices for himself to take.

HUNT: Yeah, and let's just kind of explain that motion to vacate a little bit more. That would be something Matt Gaetz, who has become familiar to people, would go down to the floor and move to vacate the chair for the speaker, and that would force a vote.

And this is why things are so perilous because Democrats, I think on a policy -- on the policy, right, they could probably come to a deal to get something together. If McCarthy could give Democrats a little bit of what they wanted -- Democrats -- enough of them would vote with Republicans to pass a continuing resolution that might keep the government open.

But the challenge is then they might have to turn around and support McCarthy on that vote to keep him as Speaker of the House. And that is very politically tough for Democrats, no?

TALEV: It is to this extent, right? They're not going to support someone further to the right of McCarthy. They're not going to support someone in the right flank. Democrats -- just playing out this hypothetical exercise -- would, in theory, have the ability to support a more moderate Republican -- a swing district Republican and cobble together the votes to completely upend Republican leadership.

I don't -- no one is actively talking about any of these things right now.

HUNT: Right.

TALEV: Everyone is talking about the shutdown. So I think it's all hypothetical.

But when you see, for example, McCarthy being unwilling to publicly stand with Zelenskyy yesterday -- just that picture -- unwilling to give him that slot for the joint address, that is a reflection of divisions not just in American politics but inside his own ranks. That's why he can't do it.


HUNT: Right.

No, you're right that it's hypothetical, although I don't think that Gaetz making a motion on the floor to vacate the chair is so hypothetical at this particular moment in time.

TALEV: I agree.

HUNT: But let's dig on that -- on what you mentioned there because I want to show everyone the one picture that we have -- I guess maybe there's like three snapshots. They look like they were maybe taken on an iPhone. It's Zelenskyy standing next to McCarthy and Jeffries on the House side. It's, as you can see, not great quality. This was not a public photo op with reporters.

It's a huge contrast to what Schumer and McConnell -- we showed everybody that video a little earlier in the show of them walking down the hallway with him. He was sitting next to President Biden at the White House.

And we also are reporting that McCarthy denied a request because he obviously controls whether or not Zelenskyy gets to make a joint address to Congress. He said no. And as you say, that's signs of divisions in McCarthy's conference.

What does it say also about the state of the Republican Party and how it's changed? TALEV: Well, I think it does foretell that if -- depending on who the next Republican nominee is for president -- but let's say it were to be Donald Trump returning as the nominee -- that if he were reelected president you could see a seriously difficult path for Zelenskyy to maintain that pipeline of U.S. support, and funding, and training.

And there have been questions about how a shutdown would impact the training and assistance that's already in the pipeline. I expect that we'll hear more from the Pentagon. One of our colleagues, I think at Politico, has been reporting this -- that the Pentagon is going to maybe come out and clarify that they can consider some of the Ukraine training assistance to be sort of essential and therefore not impacted by the shutdown.

But the White House is asking for 24 billion extra dollars for Ukraine. Zelenskyy is begging for this support. What the White House is able to push through the pipeline at this point, mid-shutdown, is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So Ukraine assistance is not maybe going to stop but the money, at some point, is not going to be there unless they can reach an agreement on this.

So the Republican caucus is divided over this. Senate Republicans are standing firm with Zelenskyy. But House Republicans, particularly in hard, red districts where there is movement toward nationalism and populism, and an argument that --

HUNT: Yeah.

TALEV: -- the U.S. has more needs and we don't have time to be the country's policemen.

In the polling that we've done at Axios, I just want to make clear -- with our polling partners -- what we found is that many of those same voters who say we can't -- we shouldn't be the world's policemen and we shouldn't be paying for Ukraine also say that it's vital for the U.S. to remain the most powerful country on the Earth. So --

HUNT: Interesting.

TALEV: -- there's a little bit of dissidence there. The reason the U.S. is the most -- has been the most powerful country on the Earth is because it has spent the most --

HUNT: Right.

TALEV: -- to other nations and use its force that way.

HUNT: That's an important point.

Margaret Talev, thanks very much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it.

TALEV: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: And now to this. Michigan's attorney general calling the 2020 Republican fake electors that she charged "brainwashed." Speaking at an event with liberal activists, Dana Nessel said that the defendants really believed that they did not break the law because they are still convinced that former President Trump won the election. Now some are saying her comments were inappropriate and that they undercut the validity of her prosecution.

CNN's Marshall Cohen joins me now with more. Marshall, what else did Nessel say, and why does this matter so much?

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Kasie, good morning.

You don't see this every day. It is the attorney general of Michigan, Dana Nessel, who charged the fake electors earlier this year. On Monday, she was at an event -- a virtual event with some liberal groups speaking pretty cavalierly about the case. I want to let you listen to it for yourself, so let's play that clip of Attorney General Nessel.


DANA NESSEL, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: People talk a lot about oh, why don't you start flipping some of those people so that they can become witnesses against the remaining defendants -- the worst-acting defendants? The problem is these are people who have been brainwashed.

And when I say brainwashed, how do you flip someone who concedes that they did everything that they're accused of doing, but what they say is we believe that we were in the right? We think that Donald Trump is the real winner of the election. They legit believe that. They genuinely believe it.

So how do you -- how do you make -- somebody can't even plead guilty if they wanted to because they can't admit that what they did violated the law because they still think they're right?


Ingham County, where Lansing is located, is a very, very Democratic- leaning county. But I worry that there will be people who just won't care that they clearly violated the law because they believe that the ends justify the means and that it's OK to do as long as the endgame is getting this autocrat into office who will surely be the end of democracy in this nation.


COHEN: So, Kasie, why does this matter?

First of all, this is an ongoing case. You don't often hear the chief law enforcement officer of a state speaking like this about an ongoing matter that her own office is prosecuting.

I spoke to some of the defense attorneys representing those fake electors. They think this actually might be a gift to help their defense.

Look, if you're so brainwashed, then how could you possibly have the criminal intent that you need to break the law? That's one of the elements of the forgery crime that she has charged that she would need to prove in court.

And even outside attorneys who are not involved in this case and support this case -- support this prosecution -- they think that Nessel may have crossed the line.

Kasie, I also do want to mention after we obtained this tape of that event we reached out to the attorney general and her office did not respond.

HUNT: All right. Marshall Cohen, thanks very much for bringing us that important story. I really appreciate it.

And United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain threatening more targeted strikes at Ford, GM, and Stellantis plants by noon today if the stalemate between the union and the Big Three doesn't end. Nearly 13,000 workers are already on the picket lines since last week. They want 40 percent pay hikes in the next four years, a four-day week, and other benefits.

All right. The days of Republicans being afraid to criticize former President Trump seem to be waning. How his GOP rivals are starting to stand up to him, next.

Plus, Hollywood writers and studios may return to the bargaining table today. Why some feel the strike could end soon. That's ahead.



HUNT: Welcome back. Now to quick hits across the campaign trail.

To criticize Trump or to not criticize Trump? That has always been the question for anyone challenging him for the Republican nomination. The answer to that question has been changing in recent weeks as his rivals start to become more open to attacking a man they were once afraid to criticize for fear of angering his incredibly loyal base of voters.

But here was Nikki Haley on the campaign trail in New Hampshire yesterday when a voter asked a quintessentially New Hampshire "Live Free or Die State" question: how will history remember Trump?


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Time does funny things. My thought will be that he was the right president at the right time. He broke things that needed to be broken.


HUNT: OK, she did give him something. But then there was this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HALEY: He was thin-skinned and easily distracted. He didn't do anything on fiscal policy and really spent a lot of money, and we're all paying the price for it.


HUNT: Very interesting.

I also want to show you what Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had to say in an interview earlier this week.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, you know, he was born to great wealth. I'm a blue-collar kid that had to work minimum wage jobs to get where I was. He did, obviously, a lot young in business. I volunteered to serve in Iraq and serve in the military.

I could serve two terms. He would be a lame duck on day one. I ran 16 points better than him in Florida in my most recent race than he did in his most recent race.


HUNT: Ready with a rapid-fire series of things when he was asked what differentiates him from Trump.

All right, let's bring in Daniel Strauss, CNN national political reporter. Daniel, good morning. It's great to have you.

What do you make of this overall change in these rivals starting to turn on Trump, mostly in a policy way but even DeSantis there was a little bit personal, saying he was basically born on third base?

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah. Look, it's a clear sign that nothing else has been working so far. Time is ticking down before the Iowa caucuses and polling has shown that Trump is the far and away frontrunner in this field. And nothing else has worked so far.

Most of these candidates that you just replayed clips from have tried ignoring him or taking a light touch to him, but that has not cut down his lead. So at this point, direct contrasts are the only alternative. And the argument still as former Gov. Haley made is that maybe he was the right president for the time but now is different.

HUNT: Yeah, and a lot has changed.

And it's going to be interesting to see what plays out on the debate stage. Trump's not going to be -- going to be there. But I wonder if we're going to see more -- a lot more Republican candidates taking it to him.

Listen to what Chris Christie had to say about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he had any guts he'd get on the debate stage. And he's got things to say about me? Stop hiding behind your social media site -- your failed social media site, Donald, and start taking me on directly. Show up and stop being a coward.


HUNT: Now, Christie has kind of always been in this camp, but Nikki Haley also criticized Trump for not showing up.

What do you think we're going to see next week that might be different?

STRAUSS: I doubt we're going to see Donald Trump on the debate stage because he --

HUNT: Right.

STRAUSS: -- hasn't been there.

Look, it's going to be a stronger contrast. There are going to be more pugilistic approaches by all of the candidates -- that's pretty clear. And we're going to see more pointed arguments about why each of the likely six candidates on the debate stage deserve to be president rather than, sort of, a light touch and rather than --


HUNT: Right.

STRAUSS: -- Donald Trump was a great president, as Vivek Ramaswamy said in the first debate. It's just going to be --

HUNT: Well, we might hear that from Vivek, I would say.

STRAUSS: We might hear that from Vivek but the rest of the field will not be lapping praise.

HUNT: Yeah.

So, Daniel, I want to switch gears because we have this new CNN polling just out this morning. We just learned about it here. We talked about it a little bit at the top of the hour.

But Joe Biden, a commanding lead in New Hampshire. What really interested me in our poll is this. That every -- voters in New Hampshire were asked: Anyone else you'd like to see run in the Democratic primary? Thirty-seven percent of voters said yes.

But the reality is they couldn't give anybody a really strong name. Only seven percent said they wanted to see Sanders run. Five percent for Pete Buttigieg. Four percent for Gavin Newsom.

It's the classic situation, right? You can't beat somebody with nobody. So on the one hand, the president incredibly strong heading into the primary season. On the other hand, still facing some serious discontent in the party.

STRAUSS: Yeah. And look, I've heard this from Democratic strategists and operatives to many of the most likely presidential contenders in a future presidential cycle. There is just no one serious and viable who is willing to challenge Joe Biden. And the slight nudging that they've gotten has resulted in them saying things like you're doing a disservice to your party by even encouraging us to think about this. So I really doubt that in the end there is going to be some kind of alternative.

At the same time, though, we also need to take a step back and realize that we have not seen a direct contrast between the Democratic -- the sitting Democratic president and the Republican nominee. And I think that is where we're going to see dramatic changes in the polling right now.

Usually, in any presidential cycle there is a shift in polling and support when voters have a one-to-one comparison to make, and that's what the Biden reelection campaign is betting on. That whoever the nominee is in the end, they will be able to strongly contrast with and that's when they will start to feel an advantage.

HUNT: Yeah, although they're certainly -- I've talked to a lot of Democrats across the country, especially in that sort of blue wall in the Midwest, who are pretty nervous about what the head-to-heads are looking like between Trump and Joe Biden behind the scenes right now.

Daniel Strauss, thanks very much for being here this morning. I really appreciate your time.

All right. House lawmakers heading home after Republicans failed a third time to debate the defense funding bill. Why a government shutdown now looks more likely than ever. That's ahead.



HUNT: Welcome back. Three minutes before 6:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

The 49ers blow past the Giants, extending their regular season winning streak to 13 straight.

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


You know, remember, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy -- he was Mr. Irrelevant a year ago. The last guy taken in the draft. Well, he has not lost a regular season game since becoming the Niners' starting quarterback. And it certainly helps when you've got superstars like Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel on your side.

McCaffrey here is going to run it in for a four-yard touchdown. He's scored in 12 straight games, tying Jerry Rice's Niners record. Now, Deebo, meanwhile -- he had six catches for 129 yards, including

this 27-yard touchdown catch there.

The 49ers would beat the Giants in this one 30-12 to improve to 3-0 on the season.


BROCK PURDY, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS QUARTERBACK: Obviously, you want to win every game. But we have a high standard. We have a standard that we want to be the best versions of ourselves. And so, for us, it's sort of like yeah, we win -- we win the game, which is most important, which is great, but there's stuff out there that we can clean up and be better at.


SCHOLES: All right.

And it's the end of an era for the U.S. Women's Soccer Team after nearly a decade. Julie Ertz played in her 123rd and final match last night against South Africa. After goals by Lynn Williams and Trinity Rodman, Ertz ended up leaving the game in the 35th minute. She got a big standing ovation when she came off the field.

The Americans would go on to win 3-nil. And afterwards, the emotional captain spoke to the crowd there in Cincinnati.


JULIE ERTZ, 2-TIME WOMEN'S WORLD CUP CHAMPION: I'm beyond grateful to represent this crest for as long as I have. I want to thank you to my teammates and for the great win tonight. To any young girl that's out there that dreams to be here, it's worth it -- every part of it.


SCHOLES: Now, the teams play again on Sunday in Chicago and that's going to be the last game for Megan Rapinoe, who is also retiring.

All right. And finally, Travis Kelce opening up about the rumors that he's dating Taylor Swift -- well, sort of. The Chiefs tight end was asked on The Pat McAfee Show if he wanted to talk about his relationship with the pop star everyone -- the relationship that has everyone on the edge of their seats.


TRAVIS KELCE, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS TIGHT END: It's life, baby. It's life. I threw it out there. I threw the ball in her court. And, you know, I told her, you know, maybe -- I've seen you rock the stage in Arrowhead and you might have to come see me rock the stage in Arrowhead and see which one's a little more lit. So we'll see -- we'll see what happens in the near future.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [06:00:05]

SCHOLES: And Kasie, we'll see if all of this mystery -- if we finally get any answers this Sunday. Maybe Taylor Swift will show up in a Kelce jersey to his game against the Bears.

HUNT: Whenever you can do Taylor Swift and sports in the same -- I mean, it's like golden for television.

All right, Andy Scholes. Thanks very much, sir.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: Have a good weekend.

SCHOLES: You, too.

HUNT: And thank you all for joining us. Please do have a wonderful weekend. I'm Kasie Hunt. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.