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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

U.S. House to Press Forward with Spending Cuts Despite Government Shutdown Risk; Bipartisan Calls for Democratic Senator Menendez to Resign Grows; Hollywood Writers Reach a Tentative Deal with Studios to End their Strike. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 25, 2023 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Right now on EARLY START, Kevin McCarthy's hail mary pass. And the speaker moved the ball forward just days before the U.S. government is set to shut down. Plus, pressure grows on the Democratic U.S. Senator under indictment, accused of taking gold bars and many other expensive glittery things as bribes.

And new this morning, the big breakthrough in Hollywood. Writers just reached a tentative deal with studios to end their strike. Good day to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, I'm Kasie Hunt, it is Monday, September 25th, shortly after 5:00 a.m. here in Washington, where a government shutdown just five days away, it's 2:00 a.m. out west, where Republican candidates already starting to camp out ahead of Wednesday's presidential debate at the Reagan presidential library.

And President Biden and former President Trump both preparing to head to Detroit, where workers are on strike against the big three automakers. And we haven't even gotten to the senator who was busted with wads of ill-gotten cash and gold bars in his monogrammed jacket pockets. It's a long way of saying, this is going to be an incredibly consequential week for our country.

Let's dig in. This morning, agencies across the government and Americans across the country are bracing for a shutdown that would furlough millions of workers, contribute to travel delays, likely hurt border security and even disrupt paychecks for U.S. troops if it continues long enough.


SEN. MARK KELLY (D-AZ): I'm really concerned about next week of the government shutting down. If there's a government shutdown, border patrol agents are not going to get paid. This is going to -- I mean, if we think it's bad today, just think about what that looks like.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION, UNITED STATES: Shutting down air traffic control training at the exact moment when the country recognizes the need for more, not less ATC staffing, and when we finally got cancellations back at or below normal rates, and the air traffic controllers would be working in the towers, they wouldn't get paid, they're under enough stress as it is doing that job.


HUNT: It's a grim outlook indeed. Joining us now, Mariana Alfaro; she's a politics reporter for "The Washington Post". Mariana, good morning, thank you so much for being with us. With this shutdown looming, obviously, this is really all about infighting in the GOP. They just can't get it together.

But the reality is, there are really devastating consequences if this shutdown indeed happens, and honestly, all my sources are telling me that it seems inevitable at this point. I mean, are you hearing the same -- is there any way there isn't a shutdown this week?

MARIANA ALFARO, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST : Yes, it really looks like we're heading that way. Again, Kevin McCarthy hasn't been able to strike a deal with very much a handful of rebels within his conference. So it doesn't seem as if a CR continuous solution is going to happen this week, even if the Senate does send one through within hour, it's just fair. So, I do think we're headed that way, too.

HUNT: Yes, we already are seeing these agencies kind of prepare for the shutdown. The reality is, a lot of these essential workers would still be asked to show up to work. But they wouldn't be getting paychecks regardless. You saw the Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg talk a little bit about how this might affect flight delays.

I know, I've certainly dealt with this in my life. I think a lot of Americans have experienced those issues, they're likely to get worse here. I mean, we saw during the last prolonged shutdown, yes, they wanted TSA agents to show up, but a lot of them called out sick because they weren't getting paid, they were going -- you know, some of them talked about, I remember, driving Uber and other things to try to make ends meet, just because they were forced to. What ultimate impact do you think this has both on those people? But then also politically, who gets blamed?

ALFARO: Yes, I mean, we saw last shutdown, it was kind of a chaos at the airports -- chaos in a lot of different agencies. I remember speaking to real regular Americans, as their all jobs, we were saying, I can't pay my bills, I can't even get my kids a birthday present. Because it really draws away from, you know, that weekly or biweekly paycheck.

And again, you know, there's this idea that, you know, President Biden is going to be, you know, blamed for the shutdown. But I think it's been bad -- made very clear that it's not President Biden doing these negotiations. Clearly, there's a very small group of all that in the GOP. So if anything, I think Democrats are really going to carry that message across and say, it wasn't us who did this, it was a very small group of like MAGA Republicans as the president has called them.


And I think that they're already getting the blame, even from Republicans in their own party. They're saying you guys are the ones working with Democrats to shut the government down.

HUNT: Yes, I was going to say even Kevin McCarthy is basically saying, hey, this is a really bad plan, we're going to get blamed for this, why are we doing this? This people just want to bring the house down. All right, let's switch gears, I want to talk about Senator Bob Menendez; the New Jersey Democrat obviously under pressure.

More and more of his state's congressional delegations are calling on him to resign after he was indicted for this. And to any of you who, you know, turned off the TV on Friday, didn't watch over the weekend, if you haven't seen these pictures, they really speak for themselves, and they're worth looking at, even if you didn't see them before, you can see wads of cash, gold bars, those jackets they got senators.

The senator's monogram plastered across them, that's a convertible that they bought for his wife. The allegations are that he took these bribes in exchange for using his powerful role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to help Egyptian-American business associates, who according to the filing also purchased that car for his wife, and they paid her for a job that required little to no work.

His fellow Democratic senators seemed to squirm when they were asked about it over the weekend. Take a look.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): This is a very serious charge, there's no question about it. In terms of resignation, that's a decision to be made by Senator Menendez and the people of New Jersey.

SEN. KELLY (D-AZ): These are serious and shocking charges, bribery, corruption. I've never seen anything like this. I think Senator Menendez is going to have to think long and hard about the cloud that's going to hang over his service in the United States Senate.


HUNT: A cloud. And Senator Menendez, we're expecting him to hold a press conference today. He canceled an event over the weekend. What do you -- what do we expect to hear from him?

ALFARO: I mean, he has not backed down. He said he's not guilty and that he's not going to, you know, fight these allegations, and that have been very clearly laid out. So, I will expect to see him today, he's not backing down and saying, you know, I'm still going to stay here, I'm not going to listen to those calls.

They're saying -- again, he could still say that he will listen to all of these leading Democrats and New Jersey. The allegation, but it doesn't seem like that's the case so far. And his wife's liars have also said that they have not -- you know, that she's innocent. So, I think they're going to deal with her on this, because he's done that before.

You know, he's really fought through these allegations and succeeded. So I think that he probably thinks that, that playbook will work for him again.

HUNT: Yes, I know, you're referring to the last time he was indicted, and a mistrial was ultimately declared there, and he's -- you know, still there. But you know, the reality is Democrats in the congressional delegation, many of them would like to sit in the seat. He's already got one primary opponent, and it does seem like this time, the folks over at the Justice Department took their time.

They marshaled that evidence, and well, the pictures speak for themselves. Mariana Alfaro, thanks very much for being with us this morning, I really appreciate your time. And breaking overnight, the strike that had paralyzed Hollywood for months could be ending. The Writers Guild of America says they've reached a tentative agreement with a major film and television studios to end the strike.

And the union could authorize members to go back to work as early as tomorrow. The agreement does have to be officially ratified. Donald Trump skipping the second GOP primary debate set for Wednesday, he is going to the Motor City instead. Plus, President Biden also heads to Michigan this week. But he'll be doing something no other sitting president has done before. We'll tell you about that. And the U.S. has now weighed into the diplomatic showdown between Canada and India.



HUNT: Welcome back. The U.S. Ambassador to Canada revealing what Prime Minister -- what led Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to blame the Indian government for the assassination of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil. David Cohen; the U.S. ambassador told "C-TV", the information came through Five Eyes, which is the Intelligence-sharing pact between the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Cohen also says that the U.S. is deeply concerned about the allegations.


DAVID COHEN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CANADA: The United States takes very seriously these allegations. And you know, if they prove to be true, it is a potentially very serious breach of the rules-based international order in which we like to function. This is something we're treating, we take very seriously, and we think it's very important to get to the bottom of it.


HUNT: CNN's Max Foster joins us now from London with more. Max, always good to see you, I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Let's dig in here --


HUNT: Though, how could this information affect the U.S. relationship with India? I mean, this is -- this is an incredibly significant thing. I've got to tell you, it's not -- it's just not really something that happens in -- on this continent. FOSTER: Most interesting, because you know, the Five Eyes is a very

established mechanism. And it's of huge benefit to all five countries involved. Normally, you know, they're seeing the same intelligence basically, and that's effectively what Canada is saying. The evidence came from that system, not necessarily from us, that's the implication, perhaps from America, put into the system and that's what we're basing our sort of views on, that's what Justin Trudeau is saying here, and really criticizing India over that.

So, then you have to ask the question, why aren't the other Five Eyes members coming out in support of Canada and accusing India of the same? I think that just speaks to the global dynamics right now. All of those countries see India as a counterbalance, their best counterbalance to China in terms of global dominance.

And that relationship just matters so much to America, the U.K. -- U.K. by the way is trying to sign a trade deal with India.


So, I think unless they see firm evidence that this actually happened, that India was behind the murder, it's very difficult for any of them to come out.

HUNT: How do -- what do you think this says about India's position on the world stage. Because, you know, I take your point, it's a counterbalance to China. I mean, from the American perspective, you know, historically, it's been -- it's been a democracy and the U.S. has been able to kind of identify with India on that footing. But obviously, the prime minister has, you know, shared some of the same authoritarian tendencies that we've seen with Donald Trump here.

You know, Trump identified with him in a way that, you know, the current government identifies with him a little bit less, certainly, President Biden identifies with him a little bit less. How does that complicate, you know, how we should be thinking about it, and the actions that the U.S. may or may not take in this context?

FOSTER: Well, you know, how do you judge the U.S. will see Canada as NATO allies, should be supporting Canada, but on the other level, realistically, working with India is the one way of counterbalancing China. And on -- you know, there are many issues that you and I wouldn't agree with, which is blowing up in India. I speak to Indian journalists quite regularly and they can't get access to Modi.

They feel suppressed by Modi, there's lots of values that India doesn't share with the United States. I think it is a big challenge. But economically, India is growing. It could -- it's set to become the third largest economy in the world. America needs another economy to work with, it also needs a diplomatic ally, a conduit between China and the U.S.

For example, I just think they're all sitting there in Washington right now, trying to work out how to handle this. They don't want to upset India. They don't want to upset Canada. And what they're saying is really important for Canada to investigate this. Let's see what the evidence is, they're not actually coming out and backing Canada, even though it might be all based on U.S. Intelligence.

HUNT: Right, and I do think it was pretty interesting that David Cohen was willing to say this publicly. It does speak to the commitment anyway that the U.S. has, that the information would transfer this way because -- I mean, let's be honest, as we said at the top, I mean, this is a pretty remarkable event to take place just over the border. Not something that's terribly common to make an understatement, shall we say. Max Foster --

FOSTER: Yes, that's true --

HUNT: Thanks very much for being up with us --

FOSTER: Thanks, Kasie --

HUNT: This morning, I really appreciate it. All right, coming up, Cassidy Hutchinson opening up about the fallout from her January 6th testimony. And after months of picket signs and reruns, writers could soon be back to work in Hollywood.



HUNT: Quick hits across America now. Ex-Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson defending her bombshell testimony last year to the January 6th Committee. In her first TV interview since then, she said that she felt torn, but ultimately compelled to come forward.


CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE AIDE: What would I have to gain by coming forward? No, it would have been easier for me to continue being complicit.


HUNT: There's going to be much more from Hutchinson tomorrow when she sits down with CNN's Jake Tapper at 4:00 p.m. Eastern ahead of the release of her new book. And Mexico has agreed to deport migrants from its border cities to their home countries. It's part of an effort to curb the recent surge of migrant crossings into the U.S.

And new this morning, the writers' strike looks like it's just about over after nearly five months. The union and Hollywood studios reached a tentative agreement Sunday, writers could return to work as soon as tomorrow. Now, let's go to the other big walkout, that one doesn't appear to have an end in sight right now.

President Biden is expected to walk the picket line with members of the United Auto Workers Union tomorrow in Michigan as they expand their targeted strikes. It's believed that no sitting president has ever done that before, and it will come one day ahead of Donald Trump's speech to workers in Detroit. Trump has been criticizing Biden's decision to join the picket line. Trump, of course, counter-programming the debate. But Transportation

Secretary Pete Buttigieg says that Biden's move is all about supporting workers.


BUTTIGIEG: He's a pro-worker president. He's an unapologetically pro- union president. And you know, not just in contrast to the anti-union policies of the Trump administration, but really, with respect to presidents of both parties over the last half century, he's proud of the fact that he is the most pro-union and pro-worker among them.


HUNT: And CNN's Jasmine Wright joins us now with more. Jasmine, good morning. What kind of statement does this trip make?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, well, it's an extraordinary amount of support that President Biden will offer strikers of the United Auto Workers group. Really, it's an unprecedented for a president to go on the striking lines, we haven't heard of it so far. So the president is basically going to be making a historic trip on Tuesday.

Now, it also comes after he faced a lot of political pressure as those strikers were asking him to do more to support them more. We just heard from Buttigieg right there, calling him the most pro-union president, the most pro-worker president. Well, strikers wanted to see President Biden actually live up to that label. As we've seen him over the course of the last three years really bringing in labor movements inside of the White House, holding those events, they wanted to see that in real-time on the picket line.

And now we're going to get to see that. That also includes UAW President Shawn Fain who actually invited President Biden on Friday after that invitation went public, that's when we heard from the White House that President Biden would be going. But also Fain withheld the UAW's endorsement of President Biden, unlike, some of the other labor unions that we know gotten in early before Biden.


So, really this is going to be a test for Biden in this space. Now, of course, not a lot of details are very clear going into this trip. We know that the president travels with a pretty large footprint, probably the White House is still working out some of the details, I'm sure we'll hear about that later on today and into tomorrow.

But we also don't know how long on the ground he will be, how long on the picket line he'll be as we know that he's expected in a fundraiser in California later Tuesday night. But we know, the president is making this trip, he calls historic, the White House is really revving it up as a real show of force for his support in union -- in these union negotiations. Something that presidents don't normally do, get involved --

HUNT: Sure --

WRIGHT: In these disputes.

HUNT: Right, well, and I think the picture is likely to be striking, if in fact, as you note, the Secret Service can figure out how to get him into those crowds safely --


Always pretty tricky. But the politics here with the unions looking for that endorsement especially with such a pugnacious union leader out there with the UAW, all very interesting. Jasmine Wright, thanks very much for being here this morning. I appreciate it.

And time is running out to avoid a crippling government shutdown. How you could feel it just ahead. And what Senator Bob Menendez is planning to do today after he was indicted.