Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

McCarthy Insists Threats To Oust Him As Speaker Are Not Influencing His Handling Of Talks; Ukraine: Russia's Black Sea Fleet Commander Killed; Trump Takes To Truth Social With Attacks. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 26, 2023 - 05:30   ET




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

And now there are just four days until the government shuts down and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is insisting that his strategy is not just one aimed at keeping his job.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (D-CA): I'm not worried if someone makes a motion. I'm not worried if somebody votes no. I'm going to wake up each and every day with the same thing that drives my opinion of what needs to be done -- solving these problems -- and that's what I'm going to do. And I'm going to work with people who want to get that done. If that was driving my decision, wouldn't that have driven my decision-making 15 times before?


HUNT: I've covered him for a long time. There's some -- there's some stress on his face there.

McCarthy was, of course, referring there to the marathon week that he spent on the House floor trying to secure the gavel in the first place. That was back in January. And if you remember, it was a battle that seemed to almost come to blows. You see there McCarthy walking away from that heated moment with Matt Gaetz. It was really encapsulating. What we saw then is what we are seeing play out now as we careen towards this government shutdown.

President Biden is actually on the same page as McCarthy here. He is blaming the same faction in the GOP that is so frustrating McCarthy.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just a few months ago, the Speaker of the House and I agreed to spending levels for the government. Now, a small group of extreme House Republicans -- they don't want to live up to that deal, and everyone in America could be faced with not -- with paying the price.


HUNT: All right. Joining us now, Jackie Kucinich, a CNN political analyst and the Washington bureau chief for The Boston Globe. Jackie, it's always wonderful to have you.

As you heard there, Biden very clear on who he blames for the looming government shutdown. The reality is Kevin McCarthy is blaming the same set of people.

How do you think this ends at this point? I mean, all my sources, from what I can tell, think we are heading straight for a shutdown. Are -- do yours agree?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah, they surely do, Kasie, and there is every reason to believe that.

Right now, what the House is going to work on today and what they're set to work on this week are bills that will do nothing to prevent a government shutdown. It's these four spending bills and they're just trying to get it onto the floor to be debated. They don't even know if they have the votes to pass these priorities that conservatives really want that are dead upon arrival in the Senate and certainly, at the White House.

So, really, they're spinning their wheels trying to build up goodwill at this point. All the while, the clock keeps ticking.

HUNT: Yeah -- no, it's a great point.

And speaking of the Senate, I'm glad that you raise that because as much as Kevin McCarthy doesn't want to work with Democrats in the House, our government is divided and whatever does pass here is going to have to be bipartisan simply because of the reality that Democrats control the Senate and they also have to pass this.

And to that point, we're kind of starting to get a sense of what the Senate is trying to do to avert this catastrophe, which it sounds like may involve now passing something that is actually relatively clean. It might leave Ukraine aid aside, it might leave disaster relief aside, and just keep the government open for 45 days. That actually could put McCarthy in a tough spot.

How do you think this plays out between the two chambers in the final days this week before this potential shutdown?

KUCINICH: I'm not to venture a guess at this point, Kasie, but it certainly --

HUNT: Yeah.

KUCINICH: You're absolutely right that it would -- that it would put McCarthy in a really tough spot, even keeping the government funded for those 45 days with this clean continuing resolution.

That said, it is really quite striking that the Senate is considering removing Ukraine aid even for this short time, particularly because the vast majority of senators believe that Ukraine aid should be in. They are just now wagering that they're not going to be able to get that through the House. They need Kevin McCarthy to get something through. This could get Democratic and potentially, some Republican votes.

That also, as you know, Kasie, puts Kevin McCarthy in a really tough spot because he needs the majority of his caucus -- or conference -- excuse me -- to get this over the line. And we're just not headed in that direction right now.


HUNT: Right, we're not.

And again, this is putting McCarthy stuck in between the hardliners who he has tried over and over again to appease, basically, including, in part --


HUNT: -- opening an impeachment inquiry into Biden and trying to give them what they want. They keep saying no.

And then on the other side, he's got these moderates who are saying look, like, we're going to work with Democrats if we can't figure this out. That, of course, potentially puts the gavel at risk, which is how we -- for McCarthy -- which is how we opened this.

But I will say it's not clear that there's anybody except Kevin McCarthy who could even get the gavel in the -- in these circumstances.

I want to show you what Ken Buck had to say -- Congressman Ken Buck -- when he was asked about this by my colleagues late yesterday afternoon. Take a look.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Before I let you go, do you think Speaker McCarthy will weather this?

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): I do, and I mentioned before I don't think anybody wants this job. It is a horrible -- you know, herding cats is a very difficult process and we've got cats with big egos in this building. It is very difficult to do.


HUNT: "I don't think anybody wants this job," Jackie.

KUCINICH: It's quite the endorsement. HUNT: Yeah -- no. You could see it on McCarthy's face there in that -- in the B-roll of him walking in. I mean, he looks so much older than he did six months ago if we're being completely candid.

KUCINICH: Right. I mean, that -- and that has been the question. If not McCarthy, who? And I'm sure there are some folks on the hard right that will raise their hands but they likely don't have the votes to get to where they needed to be. We saw this in the 15-vote -- the 15 marathon votes earlier this year. So I guess he's got that going for him -- that no one else wants his job.

HUNT: There is -- I mean --

KUCINICH: I mean, at the conference.

HUNT: No. I mean, look, I think that that's really -- at the end of the day, you can't beat somebody with nobody. I mean, how many different contexts are we going to have? The presidential race, the speakership. It applies across the board --

KUCINICH: That's true.

HUNT: -- but it really underscores the continued problems that the Republican Party is having. And the reality is they have enormous consequences right now looming for so many millions of Americans.

Jackie Kucinich, thank you very much for being with us. I hope you'll come back soon.

KUCINICH: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right.

Senator Bob Menendez, meanwhile, is digging in as calls for him to resign grow louder after his indictment on bribery charges.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey's senior senator.


HUNT: You might recall an FBI search of Menendez's home turned up these gold bars, and they found nearly a half-million dollars in cash. Some of it was in these jackets. They're embroidered, you can see there, with Menendez's name. He said in that press conference that this was just from his personal savings account.

He, of course, is charged with taking bribes as part of a conspiracy to benefit a trio of New Jersey businessmen and the government of Egypt. A reminder: he was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until he had to temporarily step aside.

On Monday, Menendez offered this public defense of his actions.


MENENDEZ: For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facings confiscation in Cuba. I have always worked to hold accountable those countries, including Egypt, for human rights abuses and repression of its citizenry, civil society, and more.


HUNT: A half a million dollars in case of an emergency. I don't know how many of us keep that kind of money stashed under our mattresses in case of an emergency.

Also Monday, though, new calls for Menendez to step down with Democratic Senate colleagues Sherrod Brown and Peter Welch joining Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

All right, now this. The House panel looking into the possible impeachment of Joe Biden has unveiled the witness list for their first hearing. House Oversight chair James Comer says the panel will hear from, quote, "legal and financial experts about the crimes that the Bidens may have committed as they brought in millions at the expense of U.S. interests." I think we need to underscore that right now, there is no hard evidence that ties the president to this.

The witnesses, though, in this hearing will include a forensic accounting expert, a former assistant attorney general in the DOJ tax division, and a George Washington University law professor. None of them, at this point, appear to have direct knowledge of what House Republicans have alleged about President Biden.

And Ukraine is claiming a major victory against Russia this morning. Officials say that their Friday attack on the annexed Crimean peninsula has killed the commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet, Viktor Sokolov, along with 33 other officers. Moscow says that only one serviceman has died as it launched more missiles and drones in Odesa over the last 48 hours.


CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us live now from London with more. Clare, what can you tell us about Viktor Sokolov's reported death -- whether it will have any effect on Russian attacks in the region? And this claim of that many officers is significant.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's very significant, Kasie. No word at all from the Russia side as of yet on the fate of Adm. Sokolov. You tend to find in this conflict that the bigger the blow to the Russian Armed Forces, the less information they put out. But we have also not independently verified his death.

This is coming from the Ukrainian side who say they carried out a special operation on Friday. It was dubbed "Crab Trap" designed to coincide, they said, with a meeting of the senior leadership of Russia's Black Sea fleet. They say that as well as Adm. Sokolov, 33 officers were killed and 100 others injured.

Really significant. This would be the decisionmaker of this huge grouping of ships -- submarine personnel on the Black Sea. It also underscores the increased, I think, capabilities of Ukraine's intelligence and long-range strike capabilities -- significant as they continue to lobby for U.S. long-range weapons.

As for whether or not it will affect the level of attacks in the Black Sea, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Navy says these are continuing but described it as like a chicken running around without a head. So, making the point that without this admiral in charge, things are somewhat chaotic.

It's hard to know exactly, though, has this is going to play out over the course of the hostilities -- Kasie.

HUNT: An evocative analogy.

Clare Sebastian, thank you very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

All right, Donald Trump saying he wants to buy a handgun. We will tell you how that went. And what happens to an NFL player's jersey sales when the Swifties show up.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Quick hits across the campaign trail now.

Former President Donald Trump visited a gun shop in South Carolina on Monday admiring the weapons on display.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What's the difference in price between that and a Glock?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A Glock is $550 to $600. These are from $300 to $400 depending on which one.

TRUMP: Oh, that's a difference (PH).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the Glock, you charge a premium because of the name.

TRUMP: Yeah, yeah, I think that's right.

They like me.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): They like you. TRUMP: I've got to buy one. I want to buy one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, you won't want this one (PH).

TRUMP: No, I want to buy one.


TRUMP: I want to buy one.


HUNT: "I want to buy one," he says.

So a campaign aide wrote this on the platform formerly known as Twitter after this encounter. Quote, "President Trump purchases a Glock in South Carolina."

OK, there is just one teeny tiny issue with that. President Trump has been indicted four times and while he can keep any guns that he may already own, he is not currently allowed to buy one.

Here is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Their website says, quote, "A person who is under indictment or information for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year cannot lawfully ship, transport, or receive a firearm or ammunition." Whoopsie.

The aide later clarified that President Trump did not buy the gun and he deleted the tweet.

The president has also been taking to Truth Social to post a variety of claims which I will discuss with my next guest. Joining us now is CNN's Daniel Strauss. Daniel, thanks so much for being here.

So this gun flap -- it's a small example, but it is a reminder that even though the former president seems to be Teflon with GOP voters and seems to be on a glide path to the nomination, he is under indictment. And if he's running against Joe Biden in a general election he is going to be a candidate on trial. It's not something I don't think that we are discussing every day. And like I said, it was a small example here in this gun shop but it says something really big.

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah. I mean, it's not unusual for candidates to -- for presidential candidates, especially in a Republican primary, to visit a gun shop. But it is unusual and it is new ground for the country for a general election candidate to be facing indictment and have to juggle both trials and those indictments and the regular sort of requirements of campaigning. Those are going to be the two major obstacles that the former president is going to have to deal with should he get the nomination to be President of the United States in 2024.

HUNT: Right, right, right. So the other thing Daniel that I want to kind of -- I want to try and make sure we cover this with a certain degree of perspective, but I want to put up a graphic that we made that just has a couple of the things that Donald Trump has been out there saying in recent days on Truth Social.

The first, he suggested that Gen. Milley, the top U.S. general, should be executed. He argued that Comcast, owner of NBC, should be probed for treason. He also called Nikki Haley, a rival in the primary and his former U.N. ambassador, "Birdbrain."

These are things that we don't necessarily focus on that much the way we might have in previous campaigns. And I understand why, right? But taken together, I think they underscore again the nature of the campaign that he is currently running and the way he thinks. And I think it's just worth showing and reminding voters across the country that this is potentially one of their top two choices for President of the United States, Daniel.

STRAUSS: Yeah, and for -- I mean, look, he has close to 100 percent name recognition or as much as any presidential candidate can have. And the truth is that most voters know what they're getting with Donald Trump.


Poll after poll and pollster after pollster that I've talked to said that there is a swath of the Republican Party that is just not going to move from Donald Trump, no matter if he buys a handgun illegally or calls another candidate birdbrain, or anything else. And that's just the reality we live in right now.

HUNT: Yeah. And I do think one of the things on that slide is worth -- is worth highlighting and that is what he had to say about Comcast and NBC News. He writes -- again, he's upset with the coverage generally. But he writes, "...almost all dishonest and corrupt, but Comcast, with its one-side and vicious coverage by NBC, and particularly, MSNBC, should be investigated for its country threatening treason."

This was enough to get the White House -- or the Biden campaign, I should say, to respond. Actually, I think it was the White House -- Andrew Bates -- talking about this and basically saying that Freedom of the press is a fundamental constitutional right. Abusing the presidential power and violating the constitutional rights of reporters would represent an outrageous attack on our democracy and the rule of the law.

You know, I think -- I think worth underscoring -- in the -- in the event that Trump were to get reelected, which if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee, considering the divided nature of our politics is not an impossibility, there are very real questions about how he might use the apparatus of government to go after his stated enemies.

STRAUSS: Yeah. And the reporting that's been out there shows that he does have more of a plan for another term in office than he did the first time around in 2016 and the theme would be revenge. That -- and he's even said this himself. So that's one major difference that 2024 campaign cycle Trump has compared to 2020 campaign cycle or 2016 campaign cycle Trump. And he has spelled out on Truth Social and in speeches what he would like to do and who he's paying attention to if he were to get another term in office.

HUNT: All right, Daniel Strauss. Thank you very much for walking through some of that with us. I always appreciate your time and hope you'll come back soon.


HUNT: All right. Just ahead, hundreds of migrants sleeping on the streets of El Paso, Texas. How officials backlogged with millions of immigration cases are preparing for yet more arrivals. That's coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: Welcome back.

It is 5:56 here on the East Coast. Time for today's fast-forward lookahead.

President Biden heading to Michigan today to march on the picket line with striking United Auto Workers. Union president Shawn Fain will join him.

And House lawmakers return today with just four days to reach a government spending deal to try to avert a government shutdown. They are going to vote instead on bills to fund different departments, which honestly face incredible uncertainty in final floor votes. And the process -- that process moves so slow. Good luck.

All right, the Writers Guild could authorize "return to work" today after reaching a tentative deal with Hollywood studios. That comes before the agreement is ratified by all 11,000 members.

All right, sports now. Swift and Kelce were back together again last night and, no, it's not the Swift and Kelce that Eagles out there might be thinking of.

Andy Scholes -- you've got the morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.

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

You know, Travis Kelce's brother Jason -- he's a Pro Bowl lineman for the Eagles. Well, Phillies starting running back -- it's D'Andre Swift. So the Kelce-Swift combo at it again on Monday night and fans were having some fun with that.

Now, Swift had himself another good game, rushing for 130 yards in this one. Jalen Hurts, meanwhile, not his best game but he did throw this strike to Olamide Zaccheaus for the touchdown there in the second quarter. The Eagles' defense then didn't give up a touchdown until the fourth quarter as they would win easily 25-11. Philly now 3-0 on the season.

HUNT: Fly, Eagles, fly.

SCHOLES: Haha. I know you liked that, Kasie.

HUNT: Sorry.

SCHOLES: Yeah. So it was a good night for Jason Kelce.

And his brother Travis -- well, he's seen his popularity soar since his relationship with Taylor Swift was confirmed on Sunday. According to Fanatics, Travis Kelce's jersey sales surging more than 400 percent this weekend. He's now among the top five in the league. Now if that wasn't enough, he also gained more than 300,000 followers on Instagram.

And Patriots head coach Bill Belichick -- he was even asked about the new power couple.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where do you fall on that -- Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift, power couple in the NFL?

BILL BELICHICK, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS HEAD COACH: Travis Kelce has had a lot of big catches in his career but this would be the biggest.


HUNT: Not wrong --

SCHOLES: It would.

HUNT: -- Bill Belichick. Not wrong.

SCHOLES: Yeah, he's not wrong, right?

Now, we did have a doubleheader on "MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL." The other match-up, a rematch of Super Bowl LVI. Things very different though than they were 19 months ago. Bengals 0-2, Rams 1-1 after going 5-12 last season.

This was an offensive struggle. Hobbled Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford -- they combined for one touchdown and three interceptions with Logan Wilson picking off Stafford twice. The Bengals did finally get the first touchdown of the game in the third quarter. A 14-yard run here by Joe. And the Bengals -- they would hold off a late Rams charge to win this game 19-16 picking up their first win of the season.

All right. And finally, this is the last week of the regular season in baseball. The Astros, in a complete freefall, heading into Seattle last night after getting swept by the Royals over the weekend. But Justin Verlander -- vintage performance. He had a shutout into the ninth inning. The Astros win that one 5-1.


Here are your AL West standings right now. The Rangers also won last night so they still have that lead. It's going to be very interesting Kasie as we get into these final few days of the regular season, who could win that AL West.

HUNT: Indeed, and it's going to have me asking you all kinds of questions about exactly which Orioles playoff game tickets I should be buying to make sure that the home game doesn't have me up until midnight before I have to come be here and do this show. I'm also thinking I might --

SCHOLES: I'm hoping they get a day game for you.

HUNT: I might buy a Jason Kelce jersey just to kind of, like, make the guy feel better, right?

All right, Andy. Thank you very much.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: And that's to all of you for joining us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.