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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

4 Republicans Debate in Battle to be Trump Alternative; Blinken: Israel Taking Steps to Better Protect Gaza Civilians; Police ID Professor As Suspect Behind Deadly Shooting at UNLV; U.S. Military Grounds Fleet of Osprey Aircraft After Deadly Crash; Nevada Grand Jury Indicts 6 Pro-Trump Fake Electors. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 07, 2023 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Thursday, December 7th. It is 5:00 a.m. here in Washington.

It's 4:00 a.m. in Tuscaloosa, the site of last night's final GOP debate, ahead of Iowa. It is 4:00 a.m. there where, more importantly, the first primary contest, the caucuses of the 2024 race, will take place less than six weeks from now.

What we saw last night was Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy fighting to become the GOP's top alternative, the number two, to the far and away frontrunner Donald Trump.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have delivered results. And that's what we need for this country.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We passed pro-life bills. We moved unemployment from 11 percent to 3 percent.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that I can reach the next generation.


HUNT: It took a good 20 minutes before any one of the four finally said the obvious out loud.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fifth guy who doesn't have the guts to show up and stand here, he is the one who as you put it is way ahead in the polls. And yet these three guys who are all seemingly to compete with, you know, Voldemort, he who shall not be named.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: The name, of course, Donald Trump, he skipped out again. Without him on stage, Nikki Haley who had the most momentum going into the debate, well, she had a target on her back.


RAMASWAMY: You have a corruption problem. And I think that that is what people need to know. Nikki is corrupt.

DESANTIS: Her donors, these Wall Street liberal donors -- they make money in China. They are not going to let her be tough on China.

HALEY: I love all the attention, fellas, thank you for that.


HUNT: With little to lose, Chris Christie put the focus back on Trump and would not let up.


CHRISTIE: Is he fit to be president or isn't he? Governor DeSantis, you're a smart man.

DESANTIS: They would argue that --

CHRISTIE: No, they would.

DESANTIS: No, they wouldn't, Chris.

CHRISTIE: They would strike the answer because you're not answering. Is he fit?


CHRISTIE: No. Is he fit or isn't he?

DESANTIS: You have your -- you have your thing -- you have your thing.

CHRISTIE: No, I don't have my thing. He's the thing. Is he fit or isn't he?

DESANTIS: We do not want to do someone that's almost 80 --

CHRISTIE: You are talking about him being 80 years old. Ron, is he fit? Ron, Ron, Ron --

MODERATOR: Governor DeSantis --



HUNT: Wow. All right. Let's bring in our panel. Vice president of Targeted

Victory and former senior adviser to Tim Scott's presidential campaign, Matt Gorman, former deputy White House press secretary under Donald Trump, Sarah Matthews, and "Bloomberg" politics correspondent Christian Hall.

Good morning to all of you.

I want to start with broad takeaways here. Matt, let me start with you. I mean, all eyes were on Nikki Haley. She handled this debate a little differently than she has in the past.

Is this something that's going to help her continue the momentum we've seen or were there moments that are not going to work in her favor?

MATT GORMAN, VICE PRESIDENT, TARGETED VICTORY: It was a little different for her than it was in the past. I was curious whether she'd be a little dismissive of the attacks that came her way or whether like the previous three, she was wielding the oppo book a little bit, was able to strike back a little bit harder.

She didn't really strike back as hard as she did the first three. I thought Ron DeSantis actually got better as the debate went on. He landed some points on the exchange with her whether China or transgenderism. He is somebody who actually has gotten better in a relative sense over these last four debates. He stood out for me over the course of the night as someone who actually over-performed.

HUNT: Interesting. I want to show everyone, you mentioned how people were going after Nikki Haley. And as I watched some of these moments, it did seem to me that she kind of stepped back from the way she had taken on some of the attacks head-on in the previous debates, but she got some backup from Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, who honestly was back to form in this debate it seemed to me.

But take a look at how -- how Christie defended Nikki Haley and, Sarah, I'll ask you about it on the other side.


CHRISTIE: We're now 25 minutes into this debate and he has insulted Nikki Haley's basic intelligence. Not her positions. Her basic intelligence.

She doesn't know regions. She wouldn't be able to find something on a map that her 3-year-old could find.

Look, if you want to disagree on issues, that's fine.


And Nikki and I disagree on some issues. But I'll tell you this, I've known her for 12 years which is longer than he even started to vote in a Republican primary, and while we disagree with some issues and we disagree about who should be president of the United States, what we don't disagree on is this is a smart accomplished woman, you should stop insulting her.


HUNT: Pretty remarkable, Sarah.

SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY, TRUMP WHITE HOUSE: Yeah, I thought Chris Christie did a better job defending Nikki Haley's campaign and candidacy than he did his own honestly last night on stage. And I think that that speaks volumes. And I do think that maybe if I'm reading the tea leaves here, if Chris Christie does end up dropping out, I know he said time and time again that he won't drop out before New Hampshire, but if he does, or even if he drops out sometime after that, then I think that we could see potentially a Nikki Haley endorsement coming from him because he definitely had high praise for her.

And, look, she was definitely taking all the arrows last night and I thought that she performed well amongst all that pressure. And I do agree with Matt though, it did seem like there was a change in strategy and I wonder if that was a decision by her team to just not punch down, because she obviously has the momentum on her side and has had the rise in the polls. And so it felt like she just chose to rise above it all and I thought she looked like the adult in the room.

HUNT: Yeah, basically just trying to say, hey, you know, thanks for paying so much attention and at one point she said you know what, no, I don't want to respond. There is no -- why should I give them the time of day basically.

Christian, I want to turn back to Donald Trump who obviously was not on the stage. And show a little bit more of this exchange where Chris Christie really pushed Ron DeSantis on this question of whether or not Donald Trump was fit for office. Take a look.


CHRISTIE: Is he fit or isn't he?

DESANTIS: You have your thing -- you have your thing --

CHRISTIE: No, I don't have my thing. He's the thing. Is he fit or isn't he?


DESANTIS: We do not want to do someone that's almost 80 --

CHRISTIE: You are talking about him being 80 years old. Ron, is he fit? Ron, Ron, Ron --

MODERATOR: Governor DeSantis, let him finish --


CHRISTIE: He won't answer.

DESANTIS: He is almost 80 years old.

CHRISTIE: He's afraid to answer.


HUNT: Christian, I mean, Christie is not wrong here. Donald Trump is in fact looming over this field despite his absence. What were your takeaways from this?

CHRISTIAN HALL, BLOOMBERG POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: No, absolutely. I mean, a really big part of Chris Christie's campaign was really focused on, you know, taking down Donald Trump, in big part through the debates. If you were Christie, I'd be a little bit nervous though about how he is going to make it on the next debate stage or even how he is going to continue in the race.

But I will say that the biggest obstacle for Nikki Haley in New Hampshire is Chris Christie. So I thought it was really intriguing how he went into this defense of Nikki Haley on the debate stage last night. I think it was a little bit of a peek into what could happen if he does decide to step aside.

HUNT: Yeah, no, I think that it is the question. I think that you put your finger right on it. And it was interesting to me that Christie has been out there attacking -- trying some attack lines on Nikki Haley in his television interviews and other things, but we didn't really see that on the debate stage, which I agree was telling.

Matt, our Gary Tuchman has been spending time during these debates hanging out with Iowa voters which kind of gives us a bit of an interesting window into how this is being received. Not by those of us here who work and breathe this all the time, but by the likely caucusgoers that will make some of the decisions here.

Take a look at a little bit of what Gary learned from voters last night as this was unfolding. Watch.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Who thinks Christie won the debate? Zero of the eight. Who thinks DeSantis won the debate? One of the eight. Who thinks Haley won the debate? One, two, three, four, five, six. Who thinks Ramaswamy won the debate? Zero.


HUNT: Pretty telling there. I mean, not a single hand goes up when he asked if Christie won the debate and many when Nikki Haley -- when asked about whether Nikki Haley did. That really does seem to me to be the dynamic right now in this race. And raises further questions about what Chris Christie does in the context of New Hampshire.

GORMAN: Sure. And I guess my question would be he is at 11 percent. He is not at 2 percent or 3 percent. I mean, at the end, my boss Senator Scott was. And so really if you are him, there is no real reason to get out yet. As long as you are polling at that level, he's been second and third News Hampshire, he's polling above DeSantis in the state.

I think one of the things that caught my eye, and I didn't watch the whole segment with Gary was, whether votes were changed. I think in large part to have a game-changing moment. What I mean by that, a moment that actually changes the polls in large part. Not just 4 percent to 7 percent.

You actually got in the players in the field. I think what hamstrung a lot of these debates is, without Trump on the stage, you can't have a moment like Christie kneecapping Marco Rubio before the New Hampshire debate, or Elizabeth Warren going after Michael Bloomberg in 2020 on his settlements.


So I think what you need do, to make real lasting polling changes, you need everybody there. Without that, you have these small incremental increases only.

HUNT: Yeah, it's a very good point and, of course, again, we try to hammer this this morning. No Trump -- without Trump, how we're not going to learn -- we can't learn whether or not things can actually fundamentally change here, which of course his team knows.

All right. We're going to have more with this panel later. I'm very grateful for all of you being up early with us this morning after a late night watching the debate. We'll be back with you soon.

But this up next, police in Las Vegas identify the suspect in a deadly shooting at UNLV. What makes this gunman different from other campus shootings, up next.

Plus, Secretary of State Antony Blinken offering praise and criticism on the Israel-Hamas war.

And what's next for Kevin McCarthy? Just week after losing his speaker's gavel, he is out.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken offering new perspective on the Israel-Hamas war. Speaking on the CNN's "KING CHARLES" program last night, Blinken praised Israel for taking what he called important steps to better protect civilians in southern Gaza. At the same time, he says more needs to be done describing the death toll in the Gaza Strip as gut wrenching.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is live in London with more.

Clare, good morning. What does Blinken say he wants to see?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kasie, we've heard this from him before, but he said that we cannot have a repeat of what happened in the north in the south. This is something that he's said on a recent visit to Israel. He said that there were positive signs from Israel in the latest stage of these events, that they are designating safe area, that they have this new system that he alluded to where you can sort of look at a QR code and it shows you exactly which neighborhoods that you need to evacuate from and where to.

But he said more needs to be done, they need safe corridors for people to move to the safe areas, once they get there, there needs to be enough food and water and medicine. So, look, I don't think that he has a conclusion yet on whether things are different now in the south. Certainly that is what we heard from the state department spokesperson on Wednesday saying that it is still early days. They wouldn't say whether or not things are actually different in how Israel is conducting this war at the moment.

And, of course, the thing to bear in mind is that in terms of protecting civilians, it just got harder now that they have moved to the south because this is where so many of the civilians from the north have already evacuated to, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Clare Sebastian for us this morning, thank you very much for that report.

Up next, the U.S. military just grounded an entire fleet of aircraft after a deadly crash. We'll tell you why.

And more of Nikki Haley catching heat at last night's Republican debate.



HUNT: Quick hits across America now.

Police have identified a 67-year-old college professor as the suspected gunman behind the deadly shooting at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Three people were killed and a fourth person was injured. No word yet on a motive.

The Pentagon is grabbing its entire fleet of osprey aircraft following last week's deadly crash in Japan which claimed the lives of eight Air Force members. Preliminary investigation found technical problems with the aircraft.

A Nevada grand jury has indicted six people for allegedly acting as fake electors working to overturn Joe Biden's election win in 2020. The state's attorney general saying, quote, we cannot allow attacks on democracy to go unchallenged.

All right. Time now for weather. The powerful storm drenching the Pacific Northeast is triggering floods and potential mudslides, that's pushing east, bringing the threat of severe weather and even tornados to the Southern Plains. Let's get straight to our weatherman Derek Van Dam.

Derek, good morning, always great to have you. What should people be looking out for today?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, I think residents across the Pacific Northwest are going to be happy to say finally good-bye to this atmospheric river that's caught -- brought the flooding and deluge of rain and snow recently. But no one across the Deep South wants to have the sloppy seconds, right, because this storm is going to bring that energy to the Gulf Coast states and produce the severe weather threat that you mentioned, Kasie. First on Friday, this is more of a hail threat across Arkansas, northeast Texas, southwestern portions of Oklahoma.

And check this out -- I want you to see how the threat increases for the day on Saturday. So we're trying to give you a head's up because we are looking for the potential at least for some severe thunderstorms that could become a bit cyclonic, meaning that they could have some twists in the atmosphere, maybe a tornado or two popping up, but that's for the day Saturday. Again, the hail threat on Friday.

This is the storm system that has brought havoc across the northwest, it is coming to an end, winding down, but cooler weather behind it is allowing for the changeover from rain to snow. So a few inches of snow across the spine of the Rockies.

But notice how that transfer of energy moves across the eastern half of the country, picks up a bit of gulf moisture and then we start to see the thunderstorms fire up because we get the collision of air masses. And then along the East Coast, this weekend, Saturday into Sunday, this will be a major rainmaker and potential windmaker for many of the East Coast cities.

So if you are traveling out of D.C., New York or Boston, heads up, could have some travel plans interrupted this weekend. The snow will stay north of I-95, but look at this, overall, a wet weekend. I do believe Thursday and Friday, so today and tomorrow will be dry, but Saturday and Sunday. That's a different story for the East Coast.

You can see the high parked across the Southeast, that's bringing the pleasant conditions to Atlanta and Charlotte, but it is that storm system across the northwest that will change the southwest forecast going forward.

Here's a quick look at your temperatures. And, Kasie, just for you, once again, 48 and beautiful in our nation's capital.

HUNT: Lovely, although it sounds like I'm going to need to make some plans to exhaust my --

VAN DAM: Yeah.

HUNT: -- exhaust my children inside this weekend. Thank you, Derek.

VAN DAM: Plan ahead.

HUNT: Derek, thank you very much. I'll see you tomorrow.

VAN DAM: You're welcome. Okay.

HUNT: Up next here, four Republican presidential candidates facing off to become the party's second choice after former President Trump.

We'll have a look at the debate's most memorable moments up next.

And former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he is resigning from Congress. How he says he wants to serve America in new ways, ahead.



HUNT: Good morning, thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt.

With the Iowa caucuses less than six weeks away, four Republican presidential candidates went after each other on a heated and sometimes insulting debate stage in Alabama last night. Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy sparred over a number of issues, trying to set themselves apart to become the key rival, the number two to frontrunner Donald Trump.

Trump, of course, skipped all four debates including this one. And his absence loomed large.


CHRISTIE: The fifth guy, who doesn't have the guts to show up and stand here, he is the one who as you just put it is way ahead in the polls. And yet, I've got these three guys who are all seemingly to compete with, you know, Voldemort, he who shall not be named.


HUNT: Nikki Haley who has gained momentum in recent months became a target for Ramaswamy and DeSantis.