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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

GOP Contenders, Minus Trump, Debate Tonight; Biden Says "Yes," Auto Workers Deserve 40 Percent Raise; McCarthy: House to Consider Stopgap Bill, Likely Today; At Least 100 Killed As Fire Rips Through Wedding Party in Iraq. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2023 - 05:00   ET




The big day for the GOP. The Republicans who want to be your president face-off in California with one big exception. No elephant in that room.

Plus, Joe Biden walking the line. The president tries to strike a balance between striking autoworkers and Detroit's Big Three.

And --


REPORTER: Will you run for reelection, Senator Menendez?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): I'm here to do the work for the people of New Jersey.

REPORTER: Will you run for reelection, sir?


HUNT: Embattled senator and gold bar collector, Bob Menendez, grilled on the run about his federal bribery charges.


HUNT: Good day to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Wednesday, September 27th, 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast, 2:00 a.m. in southern California, on a hugely consequential day ahead in the race for the White House.

For one thing, we are just hours from the second Republican debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. But it's not Reagan casting a long shadow over tonight's proceedings. It is, of course, Donald Trump even though he won't be among the seven candidates on the stage. That leaves his rivals in the awkward position of shadow boxing, trying to explain how they score points against Trump if he were there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he owes it to all the voters to show up, defend his record, articulate what he would do going forward and what he might do differently, and he's not willing to do that.


HUNT: The number two contender, Ron DeSantis there, telling Fox that he will highlight Trump's unkempt promises from 2016, including the border wall, eliminating the national debt and draining the swamp.

Trump himself will be counterprogramming the debate with his speech to union workers, all this just one day after President Biden walked a UAW picket line. He raised a few eyebrows when he answered yes when he was asked if those striking employees should get the 40 percent raise that they are demanding.

Just a day earlier, the White House has stressed that the president was there to show solidarity, not to get into the specifics of the union's fight with carmakers.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's standing with the workers. We are not involved in negotiations. That is something for them to decide.


HUNT: Presidents, of course, have traditionally tried to stay above the fray in labor negotiations.

Let's bring in CNN's Isaac Dovere live in Washington, who spends his days and nights reporting primarily on Democrats, but, of course, politics in general.

And, Isaac, let's start a big picture here, 2023 has been very unpredictable in politics. Can we just talk a little bit about the pictures we saw there for the sitting president visiting autoworkers on the picket line? It does seem like an important moment for Biden.

ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Look, he talks about how he's the most brilliant president ever. He wants to show that all the time, he does not seem completely happenstance that he sowed up in Michigan, which we know will be a state that there's a lot of focus on, obviously a state that Trump won in 2016, and that bidden carried by a sizable margin in 2020, and obviously not a huge margin but Trump is going back there tonight as a part of the fight in 2024 happening already here now in September 2023.

HUNT: Yes. Trump of, course trying very hard to project himself as the inevitable nominee and run in a general election.

Isaac, you just had a piece public there or so minutes ago on And I really enjoyed reading this. You're basically running about a new strategy that Biden has because as we know from all this polling from talking to voters, that people are concerned about President Biden's age. And what it would, should he get reelected, he will be obviously, considerably older than he is now, but he's got a new strategy here, and trying to deal with it and I think we should point out they haven't been really dealing with it at all. But now, he's kind of using some humor.

I want to show everybody one of the -- one of the quotes that you included in your, piece I wanted to see it on I'm hoping you can explain some of this to us on the other side. Watch.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I remember when I was young and we have something in common. I got elected in the Senate when I was 29 years old the only difference is he was eligible when he got elected to take office.


I had to wait 17 days to be eligible. That was 827 years ago, but it was a while.


HUNT: Eight hundred and twenty-seven years ago, and he's, of course, standing next to Maxwell Frost who's the first Gen Z person elected to Congress. What does this all say to you?

DOVERE: Look, Joe Biden is old. It's just a fact of things. He is the oldest president ever and he has been sensitive about that fact in the past.

HUNT: As we all are.

DOVERE: Sure, and he's been sensitive about it I should say for many years. But one of the things that he is grappling with, obviously going to the election is how voters would feel about that. Some advisers have said to him that one way to do this, to deal with this is to make light of a little bit, make joke of it.

And you see from Joe Biden coming out more and, more where he is behind the scenes is a sense of humor. And he's got a sarcastic cunning sense of humor. I've heard it. You've seen the pop up over the years, but it's been showing up a lot lately, and one of the ways that he's doing it is to try to diffuse this age questions a little bit. He's referred to.

He's been around for 800 years. He said it last week at one -- at a fundraiser. I know I don't look at -- but I started when I was 30 years old. And this is all trying to take this and move it slightly from the center of people's minds.

HUNT: Yeah. Well, Isaac, it honestly strikes me that I think that one of the things, certainly the people I talked to in Democratic circles, when they're hand-wring about the age stuff, I think partly they felt as though the White House was just ignoring it, getting angry at people who brought it up, trying to pretend it didn't exist.

There is something that feels a little bit more authentic about them actually being willing to come out and say, okay, yeah, I'm old. It's funny, let's move on. I mean, do you think that's part of the calculation, too, because -- I mean, I do think a lot of people obviously phrase questions about the kind of in solitary of the Biden White House and the way they are defensive about this. What do you make of that?

DOVERE: It's not something that we're going to announce here as a big innovation politics, that authenticity is something that people look for these days.

And with Joe Biden, though, that has always been the strength of this, right?

HUNT: Yeah.

DOVERE: People feeling that it being just a regular Joe, as he likes to say. And this is maybe a way to them in some people's minds. Some of the people that I spoke to about this felt that way. Brendan Boyle, congressman from Philadelphia, said to me that's the authentic Joe, that's the Joe that he has seen behind the scenes, making jokes about things.

But again, he is old and as just a matter-of-fact, and so not letting it be this giant, looming subject that nobody can really talk about is part of what's going on here.

HUNT: No, for sure. All right. Isaac Dovere, thanks so much. I really appreciate you sharing your reporting for us here with us. Thank you.

DOVERE: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. In just a few hours, Senator Bob Menendez appears in federal court to be arraigned on the federal bribery charges. Meanwhile the list of lawmakers calling for the New Jersey Democrat to resign has grown to include at least half the Senate Democratic caucus. Among them, New Jersey senator, junior senator, Cory Booker.

Menendez though remaining defiant, rejecting those growing calls to step down.


REPORTER: Will you run for reelection, Senator Menendez?

MENENDEZ: I'm here to do the work for the people of New Jersey.

REPORTER: Will you run for reelection, sir?

MENENDEZ: As I said, I'm her to do the work for the people of New Jersey.

REPORTER: Why won't you resigned, sir, Senator Menendez?

MENENDEZ: Because I'm innocent. What's wrong with you guys?


HUNT: What's wrong with you guys, Menendez says, in case you didn't catch the crowd there at the end.

Four codefendants, that's his wife and three of the New Jersey businessmen also named, they're going to appear in court today.

And, with the government shutdown looming now less than four days away, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says the House will consider a stopgap funding bill that includes money for border protection, likely today. McCarthy says the Republican -controlled House will consider the stopgap and they are called continuing resolutions or CR as the jargon in the Hill.

He's going to consider whether not GOP leaders are sure the votes are there to pass it.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'll bring up the CR regardless, because remember what it is. This is a stopgap funding to keep government open and securing the border. I don't know anyone who's opposed to that. I think that's what people want to be.


HUNT: McCarthy there is essentially daring his hard-line Republican members to vote against the measure. McCarthy dismissed a bipartisan Senate version of a stopgap funding bill that was floated yesterday. He said, quote, let me know when they actually past it.

Don't forget, those hardliners have been more than willing to embarrass Kevin McCarthy publicly. So, something to watch on the House floor today.


All right. Coming up, more on that big debate tonight as top Trump rival seek to dull his momentum. Good look there.

Plus, a New York judge rules Donald Trump is liable for fraud. We're going to break down what that means for his latest civil case.

And Hunter Biden sues Rudy Giuliani, again, details ahead.


HUNT: Just about 5:14 on the East Coast. Let's go overseas now.

At least 100 people are dead after fire ripped through a wedding party in Iraq. Officials say the disaster was set off by the fireworks and candles being used during the celebration and as the wedding hall was covered in highly flammable panels that violated safety regulations.

As for the bride and groom, a wedding guest tells local media that they are devastated but they are safe.

Right now this, officials say more than 47,000 people have been forced from their homes, in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan have no arrived in neighboring Armenia. And they are more coming.

Nagorno-Karabakh is home to 120,000 ethnic Armenians. It's a mountainous enclave. But territorially part of Azerbaijan, but it's been controlled by ethnic Armenians for 30 years. But Azerbaijan launched a lighting offensive there last week, saying that they've taken back full control of the breakaway region.

And now, residents are fleeing by the tens of thousands, fearing that a full scale ethnic cleansing is underway. Azerbaijan denies those claims but that's a risk that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh are not willing to take.

CNN's Max Foster live in London with more on this.

Max, good morning. It's always nice to see you.

A real humanitarian crisis is unfolding in this region. What happened to cause this to happen now?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, it was sudden. The world wasn't expecting. And what the analysts are telling us is that there's a shift in dynamics there. So, imagine that Armenia traditionally are Russian ally has been upsetting Russia recently. Russia has been talking about these unfriendly actions of Armenia.

So, Armenia has been sending aid to Ukraine. This hosted U.S. troops for exercises also signed up to the International Criminal Court which would mean if President Putin ever step foot in Armenia, they'd have to arrest him. None of these things have been welcomed, obviously between Russia.

So, suggesting that Azerbaijan has seen the opportunity here to go in and clean out Armenians, ethnically cleanse is the accusation. And they have no response from Russia, so they saw an opportunity here and indeed that has happen. You know, Russia hasn't stepped in to prevent this from happening.

HUNT: Right. No, and I think that such an important context, Max, essentially Russia had been a security guarantor for Armenia and for Armenians in this region. And with them, essentially throwing up their hands, you're now left with this really difficult situation. And we are seeing increasing calls for western countries to pay attention to what's going. You saw the White House put out a statement yesterday, talking about this, and about Western and American support for those who are fleeing.

And, of course, there is a really dark history here for Armenians in terms of whether they've been protected, or frankly not protected by the Western World. What do you think the imperatives are for supporters fro freedom democracy and human rights.

FOSTER: Well, in a way, it's contained at the moment because this region is not internationally recognize as part of Azerbaijan. So, while it's contained, you know, it's difficult for other countries to get too involved in America as it were. The Americans are clearly concerned about the humanitarian crisis, ethnic cleansing happening there.

They want to send in observers. They're also frankly behind the scenes concerned about this flaring up into wider war. But without Russia getting militarily involved, this, you know, that's not seen as too much of a concern. But you don't want a situation where the Armenian military is fighting the Azerbaijani military. And then another war escalating on the edge of Europe.

HUNT: Yeah. No, it's such a good.

All right. Max Foster, thank you as always for being with us, sir. I'll see you tomorrow.

FOSTER: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Indicted Democratic Senator Bob Menendez facing growing calls to resign from within his own party. But why his defend -- finding defenders from across the aisle. That's ahead.

And yet another biting incident involving President Biden's top Commander. How the family plans to handle this, next.



HUNT: All right. Quick hits across America now.

Hunter Biden is suing Rudy Giuliani and his former attorney, claiming that they hacked his personal devices and then share the information. The lawsuit comes as Republicans launch an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, first related to his son Hunter.

All right. Police arresting more than a dozen people in Philadelphia after multiple stores were looted Tuesday night. Police say this has nothing to do with peaceful protest last night that came after a judge's decision to dismiss all charges against Officer Mark Dial in the fatal shooting of Eddie Irizarry.

And JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, warning that the Fed could still raise interest rates even more to try to cool inflation. When he added the world might not be ready for a 7 percent interest rate. He made those comments in "The Times of India". A warning from a significant economic voice.

And Commander Biden bites another Secret Service agent. This is making it the 11th known incident that President Biden's two-year-old German shepherd has been involved in. Officials say the family isn't working on new training and they add that the injured officer is doing okay.

All right. To weather now, we've got more rainfall expected in Washington, Oregon and California today. Let's get straight to our weatherman, Derek Van Dam.

Sir, good morning.


HUNT: Always great to see. What are we seeing across the country?

VAN DAM: Yeah, you know, we're talking about the Pacific Northwest. We love our night owls on the West Coast, don't we? I think it's about, what, 2:30 in the morning there, and if they're turning in they're going to see this rainfall and they know it's falling outside of the window outside of their houses, from Seattle, southward Into Portland.

This is the second wave of what we call an atmospheric river, just a river of water in the sky basically producing some rainfall. But what's abnormal about this is that it's occurring in this time of the year.


We typically get these types of weather patterns into the winter. So what we're looking forward to this that could bring event to the fire season throughout the Pacific Northwest. A very defined low pressure system on this water vapor satellite imagery, and that is what's pushing in all this moisture from the Pacific Ocean, and that the center, in itself across the state of Washington and Oregon.

And much needed rainfall as well. Check this our, in 39 hours Seattle has received just an inch and a half of. But the entire summer, we're talking June to September 22nd, we only had an inch of rain. So we want to see this, we want more of it and maybe it's a bit too early for some people, but nonetheless, this will help extinguish some of those flames that are still going on across the Pacific Northwest.

Some notable rainfall totals, more rain on the way as the system moves in -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right. It sounds like the rain is welcome, but if it comes down too fast, I hope that the flooding impacts that aren't too intense for those folks.

Derek Van Dam, thank you very much for being with this, and for the not to our night owl viewers, we love having those who are not actually up early, but instead up late.

So thank you, Derek. See you tomorrow.

All right. Just ahead here, who is expected on stage for tonight's GOP presidential debate in California? And who's not?