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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Candidates Square Off In Second Republican Presidential Debate; Manchin Undecided On Voting For Biden If Election Was Now; Senate Unanimously Passes Formal Dress Code. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 28, 2023 - 05:30   ET





NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is infuriating because TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps that we could have.


HALEY: And what you've got -- honestly, every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber for what you say. He always talks about what happens on day one. You better watch out because what happens on day two is when you're in trouble. Day two, in Florida, you banned fracking.

TIM SCOTT, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ten cents on the gallon in South Carolina. As the U.N. ambassador, you literally --

HALEY: Bring it, Tim.



Good morning. Thank you for getting up early with us. I am Kasie Hunt.

You heard Nikki Haley right there coming out swinging and bringing a little bit of swagger to that debate stage last night. The former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. showed up ready for a fight, taking it to Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, and most of all, to Vivek Ramaswamy.


HALEY: Honestly, every time I hear you I feel a little bit dumber for what you say.


HALEY: Because I can't believe that here you've got a --

RAMASWAMY: You know, I'm (INAUDIBLE) a Haley (INAUDIBLE). HALEY: -- TikTok situation. What they're doing is these -- 150 million people are on TikTok. That means they can get your contacts, they can get your financial information, they can get your emails, they can get text messages. They can get all of these things. China knows exactly what they're doing. And what we've seen is --

RAMASWAMY: Let me just say this is important. This is very important for our party and I'm going to say it.

HALEY: -- you've gone and you've helped China. They'll make medicines in China; not America.

RAMASWAMY: We should stop -- we will -- excuse me. Excuse me.

HALEY: You are now wanting kids to go and get on the social media that's dangerous for all of us.


HALEY: You went and you were in business with the Chinese that gave Hunter Biden $5 million. We can't trust you.


HUNT: Wow.

Haley did get the biggest poll bump of any candidate in the wake of the first debate. Perhaps that helped inspire her performance last night, or maybe it was this.


DEF LEPPARD, ROCK BAND: Singing "Pour Some Sugar on Me."


HUNT: Haley apparently gets fired up to Def Leppard. That's what her campaign said. They put out her debate prep playlist yesterday. Dolly Parton was on there. So was Post Malone, Ozzy Osbourne. Hey, you know, whatever it takes.

And there's a sign that Team Trump was paying attention. His campaign put out a fact sheet in the middle of the debate titled, quote, "The Real Nikki Haley."

Let's bring back our panel -- Alice Stewart, Doug Heye, Margaret Talev, and Shelby Talcott.

Margaret, we've already been talking about this through the course of the show but for everyone who is just waking up with us the fact that the Trump team -- I mean, when other candidates are attacking you, you know that you have made a difference and you are, honestly, a threat.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS, DIRECTOR, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY DEMOCRACY, JOURNALISM, AND CITIZENSHIP INSTITUTE: Yes, and there are a couple of things going on Kasie, right? One is that I think Donald Trump's campaign is happy to put Ron

DeSantis in his place, and they know that if they do a press release about Nikki Haley it's also going to signal that they don't really see DeSantis as that much of a threat. But there is national polling that suggests that in a general election matchup, Nikki Haley actually would give President Biden a much bigger run for his money perhaps even than Donald Trump. So donors are looking at her.

And she has used, so far, these two debates, building on the first debate last night, and the second one to do two things. To distinguish herself on foreign policy and her knowledge of foreign policy and a more traditional peace through strength kind of approach. But also, to show that she should not be sort of marginalized as a female candidate. That she can be every bit as tough and, in fact, use her status as a woman to kind of put her rivals in their place. And I think that's what you were watcher her employ kind of both of those strategies in the debate last night and against Vivek Ramaswamy, in particular.


HUNT: Yeah, no. And I have to say that look on Ron DeSantis' face that we saw -- them standing next to each other while she hit him where he was just kind of laughing. I mean, it's -- I love the semiotics of these moments on the debate stages because oftentimes they say so much more than the words that are actually coming out of these candidates' mouths.

But I'm also glad that you raised foreign policy because I think it's important to note Nikki Haley was on that stage, as you point out, talking about a more traditional Republican muscular foreign policy.

That was the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. They were standing under that mockup of Air Force One -- that big plane. Anyone that's ever been in that room knows how that feels.

And Shelby, I want to bring you here in a second. But first, I want to show everybody what was actually said about the major foreign policy issue of the moment, which is Ukraine and whether or not Republicans in Congress are going to allow the U.S. effort to continue to fund Ukrainian forces and President Zelenskyy is actually going to continue or if they're going to stop it in its tracks.

Take a look at what the candidates had to say on this issue.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's in our interests to end this war and that's what I will do as president. We are not going to have a blank check.

SCOTT: Our national vital interest is in degrading the Russian military. By degrading the Russian military, we actually keep our homeland safer. We keep our troops at home.

RAMASWAMY: We have to level with the American people. We have to level with the American people on this issue. The reality is just because --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are leveling with them.

RAMASWAMY: Just because Putin is not an evil -- Putin is an evil dictator does not mean that Ukraine is good. This is a country that has banned 11 opposition parties that has actually --

HALEY: A win for Russia is a win for China.

RAMASWAMY: That is not true. This is a country whose president, just last week --

MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vivek, if you let Putin have Ukraine, that's a green light to China to take Taiwan. Peace comes through strength.


HUNT: So, Shelby, again, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. No Trump on that stage. But Vivek Ramaswamy was essentially parroting some of the things that Trump's supporters have started to say and some of the approach that Trump himself takes in this party.

What was your take as you -- as you covered this in terms of who won on these exchanges? Because, I mean, the rest of the debate stage was still taking kind of the classic traditional Republican muscular approach. But, I mean, honestly, that's been really out among the MAGA base.

SHELBY TALCOTT, POLITICS REPORTER, SEMAFOR: Yeah, and that's entirely correct. And what's really interesting is this divide that we saw on the debate stage is playing out within the Republican Party as a whole and across the country.

And what I'm seeing when I go and speak to voters is more voters -- more Republican voters seem interested in the Vivek Ramaswamy-Donald Trump point of view when it comes to foreign policy issues -- particularly Ukraine -- than they do the Mike Pence-Nikki Haley kind of traditional conservative viewpoint.

And so this is going to be really interesting. It was a big issue in the first debate. It was a big issue in this debate. I expect it's going to continue to be a major issue in the debates to come and in Congress, and across the country.

HUNT: Doug Heye, what do these exchanges tell you about the state of this, especially considering how it stands here in Washington right now?

DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, when you -- Kasie, when you run for office you're making a decision: are you going to be a leader or are you going to be a follower? And I think we saw some of that last night where some folks are trying to lead on this issue and others are saying this is where the MAGA base is and, therefore, I have to follow that. And it says that if you're -- if you're going to take that latter path you're not running from a position of strength; you're running from a position of pandering.

And ultimately, we heard Nikki Haley and we heard Mike Pence say if we fail in Ukraine or if Ukraine fails, not only does that help Russia but that helps China invade Taiwan as well. That's true. It's also bigger than that.

I was in Poland the week before last speaking at the Polish Economic Forum. If you walk the streets of Poland in Krakow, in Rostov, and other cities like that, this is not an -- this is not an issue in theory. It's an existential issue --

HUNT: Yeah.

HEYE: -- because Poland's next. Moldavia -- Moldova is next. Countries right on those borders are scared to death of what may happen there.

And this is where Republicans should lead; not follow.

HUNT: Yeah, that's such an important perspective.

HEYE: The Reagan Library is a great venue to do that.

HUNT: It's a very important perspective, Doug. I'm so glad you raised that.

Alice Stewart, the other significant issue in this primary -- it's a domestic one -- has to do with abortion. And for all of the significant back-and-forth and differences on that stage that could have been displayed there was actually relatively limited conversation about it. It didn't come up until really late in the debate.

But let me show you one moment where it finally did and then we'll talk about it on the other side. Take a look.


DESANTIS: The former president -- you know, he's missing in action tonight. He's had a lot to say about that. He should be here explaining his comments to try to say that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing.



HUNT: I mean, it's -- it -- this is one situation where Donald Trump has clearly got an eye on the general electorate. He's seen that abortion is an issue that has really energized Democrats and is damaging Republicans electorally. And he is talking about it in that way. It's giving an opening to Republicans on stage who have more conservative opinions and, frankly, want to win in Iowa where this is a very central issue to try to take advantage of it.

Do you think Ron DeSantis succeeded there? And what is the right way for the -- for candidates who are trying to take on Trump to be approaching this?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, the best way is to bring up the abortion and pro-life issue early and often whenever you have the opportunity.

Look, I will say that this was a Fox Business debate and they were focusing more on economic issues and foreign policy, and the key -- one of the key issues, abortion, didn't come up quite as much, which is unfortunate.

Look, Republicans across the spectrum do give Donald Trump credit for nominating three Supreme Court justices that helped to overturn Roe v. Wade. He gets credit for that.

But the fact now that he is backpedaling on this important issue and softening his position to more of a general election issue -- that is, like, a key area of target for any of these candidates to go after him. Because evangelicals and the pro-life community in Iowa, and New Hampshire, and South Carolina do not look at abortion as a 'let's make a deal' issue.

They want these candidates to be pro-life today, tomorrow, and in the general election. And those candidates on the stage will do so, but Donald Trump is making his play for the general election audience and that is a prime area of target that they can attack him on.

HUNT: All right, we're going to have much more with our panel coming up next.

Just ahead, our vote for the most cringeworthy moment of last night's debate. Plus, yesterday, I got Sen. Joe Manchin's take on the 2024 race.


HUNT: If the election were being held today, would you vote for Joe Biden for reelection?





CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They are taking the worst of their members and defending them rather than advocating for our kids. And when you have the President of the United States sleeping with a member of the teacher's union there is no chance that you could take the stranglehold away from the teachers union every day.

PENCE: You mentioned the president's situation. I've -- my wife isn't a member of the teachers union but I've got to admit I've been sleeping with a teacher for 38 years and -- full disclosure.


HUNT: No -- just no.

Let's bring back the panel. Alice, Doug, Margaret, and Shelby are here.

Margaret, I think we've titled this, like, most cringeworthy moments from the debate. I can't. What -- why are they talking about education this way?

TALEV: Right. My parents only ever did it twice, so it's me and my sister. So, ew.

HUNT: Oh my God, Margaret. Oh, no, no. Too early for that, too.

HEYE: It just gets worse. It just gets worse.

TALEV: Right, OK. So, right, exactly.

So that was definitely the cringeworthy -- I know. It just was the cringeworthy moment of this hour, but that was the cringeworthy moment --

HUNT: I love you for it.

TALEV: -- thank you -- of the -- of the debate.

You know -- but to be honest, other than that cringeworthy moment, to me, the cringiest part was just that everybody was yelling at each other. And it's like this whole group of seven people is all trying to break through and displace Trump and nobody's doing it because they're all yelling at each other. I found it really hard to watch for the duration because of that dynamic.

HUNT: Yeah.

Shelby Talcott, weigh in on that. Did you have the same impression?

TALCOTT: Yeah. No, I completely agree. And I'm not going to say how many siblings I have. But beyond that --


-- I will say that -- what I will say is it was distracting. The entire debate was just largely people talking over each other.

And the moderators, at one point, said hey, listen, when you guys talk over each other nobody can hear anything, and that was completely accurate. So you ended up losing a lot of whatever they were trying to say because there were three or four people talking at the same time.

And it was kind of a mess. It was kind of sloppy. And I think that they lost a lot out of it because of that.

HUNT: So, Doug Heye, are you an only child?

HEYE: I'm not. I think my -- I don't think my brother is watching right now. We're not going to talk about this.

HUNT: Fair enough.

One of the -- one person I kept hearing try to get in through the chaos was Tim Scott. It seemed like he was trying really hard to make a bigger impression. And one of the criticisms of him after the last debate was that he, frankly missed an opportunity. He may not have made mistakes but it wasn't -- he missed an opportunity.

Did he -- did he take his opportunity this time?

HEYE: Well, I think nobody worked harder to insert themselves and, unfortunately, unsuccessfully, than Gov. Doug Burgum. And Doug's got to work really hard to be successful at some of these things and really speak out -- all Dougs.

But clearly, Tim Scott showed a lot more fire than we saw in the last debate and throughout the campaign. His campaign was saying this was going to be a big night for him, and it was.

But again, we have to remember what are these candidates running for?

My prediction for Vivek after this is we're going to see him doing commercials on buying gold or sleeping pills, or things like that -- not as a serious contender for a cabinet position or president.

This nomination is not about who comes and rockets into third place after this debate. It's about who can take on Donald Trump, if anyone, and we're still looking for that person.

HUNT: I have to say there were a lot of My Pillow ads throughout this Fox Business debate, so point interestingly taken.

Alice Stewart, I think this is probably going to be our final word on the Tim Scott-Nikki Haley question. This is a little bit behind the scenes, but when I talk to my sources there is a lot of bad blood between those two camps right now, and I think you saw a little bit of that on the stage, too.


STEWART: Well, we saw a lot of bit of that on the stage. And look, southern hospitality was out the window with the two candidates from South Carolina. It was astounding to see. But clearly, Tim Scott went after her for gas taxes in South Carolina when she was governor and she went after him for what she says he hasn't been able to do in Washington. It was -- it was shocking. But again, a lot of bad blood and they put it out there for all the world to see.

But she really held her own again, as she did the first debate, with Vivek Ramaswamy. And let me just say in closing that I think one of the best tweet responses to this was from Marc Caputo from The Messenger. And he said, "Find someone who loves you as much as Nikki Haley hates Vivek Ramaswamy." I think that pretty much sums up her performance on the debate stage. HEYE: And by the way, Kasie, the dynamic that we saw last night with

Nikki Haley and Tim Scott is very reminiscent of Jeb Bush versus Marco Rubio. It's personal, it's state politics, it's about appointments to Senates, and loyalties.

HUNT: It sure is.

All right. We don't know how many siblings Alice has. We're going to leave it that way.


HUNT: Alice -- three, OK.

Alice, Doug, Margaret, and Shelby --

HEYE: Mental images.

HUNT: -- thank you for being up late with us. I really appreciate your time.

Police, meanwhile -- up next -- in Baltimore arresting a suspect -- arresting the suspect in the murder of a young tech chief executive. Her family and friends holding a touching vigil. The emotional words from her father, ahead.



HUNT: If the election were being held today, would you vote for Joe Biden for reelection?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Well, I never thought about that because I have not gotten to that point yet. I think there's an awful lot to be sorted out before even coming down to it.


HUNT: So you're not saying yes. You're not saying yes, you would vote for him for reelection today.

MANCHIN: I'm not saying yes or no on this. I'm just saying that I'm looking at the state of my country and where I believe that we need to be.


HUNT: Very interesting.

We focused this hour on the Republican candidates' challenges as they try to break through in the shadow of Donald Trump, but President Biden does have some of his own challenges. They are not quite as obvious but there are questions about his age and his approval ratings have led to his campaign worrying about a possible third-party challenge. Of course, one person that they're watching very closely is West

Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. And, of course, we listened to what he had to say. The fact that he wouldn't acknowledge -- said he hadn't thought about whether or not he was going to vote for President Biden, I'm sure it's going to turn some heads in the White House.

All right, let's go to this now. Senators drawing the line at hoodies and shorts in the quote-unquote "Upper Chamber." Members unanimously passing a resolution Wednesday that officially requires business attire on the Senate floor.

The move came after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer decided to stop enforcing what had been an unwritten dress code that sparked a backlash inspired by Sen. John Fetterman's preference for more casual attire, shall we say. Fetterman calls the criticism bizarre.


REP. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Mr. President --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Majority leader?

SCHUMER: -- though we've never had an official dress code, the events over the past week have made us all feel as though formalizing it is the right way forward.

SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): I'm not wearing hoodies on the floor as well, too. I have maintained to just do the -- you know -- you know, from the door. And it was never my plan to do that. So it's really just kind of a part of -- another bizarre part of the whole thing.


HUNT: Bizarre.

After the vote, Fetterman's office also issued a statement. You are looking at the statement. It is a viral meme of "KING OF QUEENS" actor Kevin James.

And then there's this. Secretary of State Antony Blinken singing the blues on Wednesday.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Singing Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man."


HUNT: Wow. That's Blinken playing electric guitar delighting the crowd at the State Department with a special rendition of "Hoochie Coochie Man" by Muddy Waters. He was performing at a launch event for a new initiative to use music as a diplomatic tool promoting democracy.

Blinken joked -- "Hey, if this doesn't clear the house, I don't know what will." Well, his voice -- it's not really bad.

All right, game time is over in Portland as Damian Lillard heads to Milwaukee in a blockbuster 3-team deal.

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

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

So this has been the trade we've all been waiting for in the NBA for months. Most thought Damian Lillard was going to end up in Miami. It turns out, though, he's heading to the Bucks. Lillard now going to be paired with Giannis Antetokounmpo, giving Milwaukee arguably the best one-two punch in the NBA.

And this was a huge 3-team deal. All-Star guard Jrue Holiday going to the Blazers, along with multiple draft picks. The Suns also sending DeAndre Ayton to Portland as well. Phoenix getting a bunch of role players back, including Grayson Allen.

Now, after the deal, the Bucks moving to the betting favorite to win the NBA title. And TNT's Charles Barkley -- well, he agrees with that.


CHARLES BARKLEY, ANALYST, TNT "INSIDE THE NBA": I think it's fair to say that the Milwaukee Bucks are the favorite going into the season to win the NBA championship. Now you're going to have Giannis and Damian. Man, that is going to be explosive. If I were the Milwaukee Bucks, I'm going to tell you -- this is what I think they were thinking. You can beat Giannis and Damian. I'll take my chances against anybody.


SCHOLES: All right, to baseball where the Braves Ronald Acuna Jr. made history last night against the Cubs. After tying the game with an RBI single in the 10th, Acuna steals second right there. That was his 70th stolen base of the season and with it, Acuna became the first player ever to hit 40 home runs and steal 70 bases in a season.

Then moments later, Ozzie Albies would come through with the single. Acuna would score to win the game for the Braves in a walk-off 6-5. Braves clinch the one-seed in the National League with their 102nd win of the season.

And elsewhere, a huge game between the Astros and Mariners. Coming into the night, Seattle trailing Houston by a half-game for the last wildcard spot in the AL. So the Astros were up 4-3 in the sixth. Hector Neris on the mound. He gets Julio Rodriguez to strike out here to end the inning and then had some words for J-Rod. Well, that would cause the benches to clear. Umpires, though, were able to keep them all separated.

The Astros -- they would go on to win the game by a final of 8-3. They now have a game and a half lead over the Mariners for that final wildcard spot in the American League. And it's going to be a fun weekend, Kasie. I'll tell you what, four days left now in the regular season -- five playoff spots still up for grabs. So going to be some fun baseball to watch.


HUNT: I can't wait.

Andy Scholes, thanks very much --

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: -- for that. It's always great to see you.

And thank you all for joining us this morning. I am Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.