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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

CNN Poll: Biden Struggling In Swing States Michigan And Georgia; Israel Pushing Palestinians Into Undeveloped Southern Area; Zelenskyy To Visit U.S. With Ukraine Aid Stalled In Congress. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 11, 2023 - 05:30   ET



MICHELLE PRICE, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Because it's a state where he did have a bigger margin.

You know, it was interesting to me in these polls numbers, too, was that there's a good chunk of the voters who are interested in supporting Donald Trump that say they didn't vote in 2020. So these are the people who are coming into the process. People who, for some reason, sat out in 2020 but are now seeing a reason to get engaged. Now, whether that is because they are dissatisfied with Joe Biden or because they're seeing something compelling in Donald Trump's message we're not really sure.

But Democrats have quietly, and sometimes a little bit louder, been talking about -- there's concerns about the soft way that Joe Biden has started his reelection campaign. He's only had one or two rallies. He's mostly just fundraising right now --


PRICE: -- and this might be a sign that he needs to actually get out and start having some of those events, including places Michigan.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean -- and Michigan is a place where we saw a lot of the early flags for Trump in -- back in 2016 when there were a lot of people believed that he couldn't win at all.

Voters are telling us in these polls that President Biden's stamina is a big concern for them -- sharpness and stamina, I should say. You can see there that voters have -- 69 and 66 percent of voters have concern about the sharpness and stamina of Joe Biden. It's much less for Donald Trump. This is a bit of a stand-in for age but I think it underscores there are only three years difference between them -- that this seems to be how voters are seeing this.

How should the Biden campaign grapple with this?

PRICE: I mean, this is -- this is going to be an ongoing issue for them. There have been some concerns around how loose they let the president be on stage. There were concerns about tripping. We heard -- they haven't actually committed to even doing debates. There are people who are close to the president who say that when you're in the room with him he's very sharp. He has his moments.

But you notice Donald Trump -- he doesn't ever say that Joe Biden's too old. He attacks him on a sharpness level. And he's very eager to debate the president. So for Democrats for Biden's campaign -- what they're -- what they'll need to do is to try to convey that he can go toe to toe with Donald Trump and tangle on any policy issue on the debate stage.

HUNT: One interesting finding in this poll as well, we tested a hypothetical 2024 -- or, I'm sorry -- this is not the CNN poll; this is The Wall Street Journal poll that's out over the weekend. They tested Nikki Haley and President Biden and the results are pretty -- well, you can see Haley is above 50 percent, which is a significant place to be in such a closely divided electorate.

Now, I will say -- caveat -- a lot of voters don't know as much about Nikki Haley as any opposing campaign would make sure that they would learn over the course of a hard-fought presidential race. That certainly, I'm sure, would bring that number a little bit down to earth. But it does seem to help make the case for the Haley people in terms of her electability and how she would do against the president.

What's your takeaway from this?

PRICE: Yes. I mean -- and this is not the first poll that has found this either. This is something that the Haley campaign has been pointing out for weeks and maybe a couple of months now that she actually -- of everyone who was in the field when it was a little more crowded and even as narrow as it is now, she polls the best against President Joe Biden.

With a female candidate, there's the potential for a history-making presidency and that can always excite people and it can add to your numbers. You know, this is the reason why some of the donors are very excited about her because they're looking at the general election and they see here as the most electable.

HUNT: Michelle, the other sort of thread we've been polling on here over the course of the last week or so is the former president, Donald Trump's, authoritarian bent, I suppose you might describe it as. Because there was a piece in the Times -- The New York Times over the weekend from Peter Baker who -- longtime White House reporter and analysis writer who wrote about this over the weekend.

And Donald Trump clearly read it and saw it because he was out attacking Peter Baker. And yet, he was essentially repeating -- reiterating the claims that he would be a dictator on day one. Take a look at what Donald Trump had to say.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Baker, today in The New York Times -- he said that I want to be a dictator. I didn't say that. I said I want to be a dictator for one day. But The New York Times said -- and you know why I wanted to be a dictator? Because I want a wall, right -- I want a wall, and I want to drill, drill, drill. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: So there he is -- there you go. He's repeating that although he is insisting still, just one day.

What's your takeaway?

PRICE: Yeah. I mean, this is -- this is a thing that the Trump campaign is clearly concerned about. The fears that this will turn off Independent voters in the general election. It could be a problem for him because generally, Americans find a dictator or an authoritarian a scary prospect.


You know, as much as they've tried to tamp this down the words coming from the president -- from the former president's own mouth saying I will only be a dictator on day one is not exactly doing much to shoot that down.

Some of his supporters kind of act like this is a tongue-in-cheek thing. It's kind of a joke. And that has been something for years with his rhetoric that his -- there's been kind of a tongue-in-cheek attitude from some of his supporters.

But if you're the Biden campaign -- I mean, you're just stitching that right into an ad and saying look, this is the other guy. He's not ruling out being a dictator.

HUNT: For sure.

All right. Michelle Price, of the Associated Press, thank you very much. I really appreciate you being here.

All right. Donald Trump, over the weekend, saying he will not testify at his civil fraud trial in New York today. The surprise reversal comes after days of him vowing to take the stand in his own defense.

He posted this on Sunday on social media. Quote, "I have already testified to everything and have nothing more to say other than that this is a complete and total election interference (Biden campaign) witch hunt that will do nothing but keep businesses out of New York."

OK, let's bring in criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Andrew Cherkasky. Andrew, good morning to you.

Is this Donald Trump finally listening to his own lawyers? What's going on here?

ANDREW CHERKASKY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR (via Skype): Well, it must be because I think at a stage like this you have to look at what has already come into evidence.

And, of course, he was called as a witness previously by the prosecution where he was examined for the better part of a day and had the opportunity to testify on his side as well. It didn't go all that well, with the judge reminding him that this wasn't the campaign trail. Rather, this was a trial regarding his businesses.

But he did have a chance at that time to fully testify. And I think that this would have just been a rehash of what he had already had to say and it seemed as though his attorneys were advising him of that, even though he had earlier promised he was going to testify again. Now it looks like he is -- he is done for the rest of this trial.

HUNT: I bet his campaign team is actually OK with this as well, in addition to his actual -- his actual legal team.

To a different case. Rudy Guiliani is in federal court. There's a decision to be made on how much he owes the two Georgia election workers that he lied about. The judge has already said and ruled that he is liabel for defamation.

How much could Guiliani have to pay here?

CHERKASKY: He is looking at upwards of $40 million and all he is fighting over right now is how much that verdict will be. So a jury is expected to be sat today or throughout this week. He has already conceded his liability back in July. He has no more fight as to whether his comments were or were not defamation. He has conceded that.

He said that he did so because of his rising legal costs. But it was amidst his repeated violations of discovery orders that he essentially conceded his liability, ending that discovery battle that he was in. Ending the increasing legal bills but now putting on him an excessively high potential for a very, very large verdict against him.

It remains to be seen what he's going to say and what his defense is going to be, but I think the only thing he can do is ask for mercy.

HUNT: Yeah. I guess we'll have to keep an eye on that and see what happens.

On another topic, since you're here, let's cover all of the Trump- related issues. There are legal challenges to bar Trump from appearing on either primary or general election ballots, depending on the suit, in 2024 under the 14th Amendment. A lot of these are being dismissed in courts across the country.

What does that tell you? What's going on here?

CHERKASKY: Well, clause three of the 14th Amendment prohibits an individual from becoming president if they've engaged in insurrection. Now, how you define that is part of the battle that's going on.

We have to remember President Trump hasn't been charged with, much less convicted of insurrection either in federal court or through the impeachment proceedings. So as he stands right now, the way in which they're trying to raise this insurrection is by doing so through the state courts.

Now, Colorado said that he had committed an insurrection in that state court proceeding and now it's at the Supreme Court. But they had said at that lower court that it did not bar him from being on the ballot. So the Supreme Court has recently heard arguments that are wide- ranging from questions of whether the definition of insurrection was correct, whether he's technically an officer of the United States, and whether the 14th Amendment would apply in this case.

And like you said, there have been challenges in many states. It hasn't landed yet. There has been no state that has ruled to keep him off the ballot. I think if that were to happen this would be most certainly headed to the Supreme Court and may go either way.

HUNT: For sure.

All right. Andrew Cherkasky, thank you very much for being up with us this morning. I really appreciate your time.

CHERKASKY: Thank you.

HUNT: Just ahead here, where do Israel and Hamas stand now as Gaza's humanitarian crisis worsens by the day?


And President Biden planning to welcome a special guest to the White House this week. We'll tell you who it is and what he's looking for.


HUNT: A key negotiator says Israel and Hamas are now showing the quote, "same willingness" now to resolve the war as they did before November's weeklong truce. The prime minister of Qatar says talks continue even with Gaza in the midst of what he calls an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.

Israel's military says it hit more than 250 Hamas targets from Saturday into Sunday, including the southern city of Khan Younis.

Clare Sebastian joins us live now from London. Clare, good morning.

The Israel Defense Forces are urging civilians to evacuate much of Khan Younis. Where does the military want them to go?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kasie. CNN actually reached out to the IDF on this and they said that they are now pointing civilians to an area called Al-Muwasi, which is a 20- square-kilometer area on the coast just west of Khan Younis.


Now, there are significant doubts about what the situation there will be for civilians if they can make it -- 1) because it's not even clear if the message will get through given how patchy the internet has been in Gaza, and 2) because there are a number of U.N. agencies -- humanitarian groups have raised concerns that Al-Muwasi is not really ready to receive this many people. That there aren't sufficient facilities and that there hasn't been a pledge, really, from both sides to stop fighting in this area. So very unclear even if the civilians make it there.

And for context, this is Khan Younis, which is an area where so many people from the north have already evacuated to. So we may be looking at people being displaced for the second or third time in this conflict. And again, as I said, a very unclear situation as to what they will find if they are able to evacuate.

HUNT: So, Clare, what it is about the current set of circumstances that mean -- make it so that Israel and Hamas are less willing to make a deal now even after that -- the truce seemed to go smoothly by all accounts?

SEBASTIAN: Yeah, it was remarkably smooth given that these are two warring parties that are essentially bent on each other's destruction.

Look, the reason why the talks collapsed was there was a red line for Israel. They said that Hamas was refusing to release more women and children. So, essentially, fulfill the terms of the original deal before discussing other groups like men and soldiers. They, of course, put that as a red line in the context of credible reports of horrific sexual violence against women on October 7. So that was that.

There have been concerns in the past certainly from the Qatari onus (PH), the key mediator here, that the expanded ground operation complicates this. There may also be concerns that now we know -- certainly, Israel said that two IDF soldiers were severely wounded in an attempt to rescue hostages on Friday -- that may also complicate matters -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right, Clare Sebastian for us in London. Thank you very much for that report.

President Biden hosting a special guest at the White House tomorrow. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will make his case to American lawmakers this week for more aid for his war-torn country. His last- ditch lobbying effort comes as Congress remains stalled over an aid package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine's war effort. The aid caught up in Republican demands for changes to U.S. border policy.

Lawmakers have just one week to pass the package before they're scheduled to head home for the holiday break.

Let's bring in Stef Kight, politics reporter at Axios. Stef, good morning.

This seems like a last-ditch rescue mission on Zelenskyy's part. He has been able to move the needle in the past. He's been a pretty effective -- an incredibly effective, frankly, advocate for his country, but things have really turned against him here in Washington of late.

Can he move the needle here?

STEF KIGHT, POLITICS REPORTER, AXIOS (via Skype): I mean, certainly, Zelenskyy's decision to visit Washington again shows just how desperate Ukraine is to ensure that they get this additional aid from the U.S. And it's also a sign of just how far apart Democrats and Republicans are still on reaching any kind of deal on this massive aid package that includes the $60 billion for Ukraine.

And, of course, this comes after last week when we heard President Biden even say that he was willing to look at immigration policy changes in order to meet the demands from Republicans in order to get his aid package through.

And I do think it will be interesting to see whether Zelenskyy is able to convince some of these Republican holdouts to get behind Ukraine's effort. Whether he does again with these conversations with leadership on both Republican and Democratic sides in the House and the Senate -- whether he is able to again convince people that Ukraine is a country worth supporting, worth backing, and really describe to these members of Congress how desperate things are getting in Ukraine right now.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, it doesn't seem to me that the urgency is there to get this pushed through before the end of the week. I mean, what's your latest reporting on that?

KIGHT: It certainly seems like the timeline is going to be a tough one to see it through on this, especially given that we haven't really seen much momentum behind any kind of a border deal at this point. There was some optimism a couple of weeks back when it seemed like the bipartisan group of senators were meeting regularly and making progress. But it seems that things have kind of fallen apart since the past weekend and maybe there had been ongoing talks.

But as we know historically, immigration and border issues are just such a sensitive issue for Republicans and Democrats. It's very hard to find those bipartisan issues that they can all rally around.

And you have to keep in mind there are both Republicans who won't vote for Ukraine aid unless there is border security measures, border security policy changes. But there are also Republicans who are not going to vote for this no matter what is included in it because they no longer support continuing to give U.S. aid to Ukraine. So there are many reasons for Republicans not to really be trying to move this forward.


HUNT: Yeah. They really tied themselves up in knots over this.

On another topic, Stef, the House Republicans are set to vote tomorrow -- or plan to vote tomorrow to formalize the impeachment inquiry into President Biden. Do they have the votes at this point, and what happens if they do?

KIGHT: You know, we are starting to see moderates who, in the past, have been more hesitant to get on board with voting for an impeachment inquiry. We've been hearing from moderates who are now willing to move forward, at least on this formalization of an inquiry.

Again, this isn't an impeachment vote per se and so many of them feel that there is enough cover for them to get on board with this to enable the committees that have been doing this investigation work to continue and to have maybe some more legal backing if they are fighting over subpoenas when it comes to White House officials or the president's family.

And there's also the fact that Hunter Biden did face new federal charges last week over tax evasion, which has added additional political cover for some of these more moderate Republicans who maybe were more hesitant to back this in the past.

HUNT: I know. It's an interesting point for sure.

All right, Stef Kight of Axios. Thank you very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

KIGHT: Thanks for having me.

HUNT: And just ahead here, Patrick Mahomes livid. The referee's call that kept Travis Kelce from pulling off an incredible play that would have won the game.



HUNT: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw an all-time tantrum after a penalty wiped away a potential game-winning touchdown against the Bills.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Coy, I can't say I blame the guy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: It's arguable -- reasonable, I guess. Good morning to you, Kasie.

This one does if you're a Chiefs fan because you'd hope the officials would just let the players play the game, though officials did get this one right. But if you're a Bills fan, let's go Buffalo!

Chiefs down three with under two minutes to go. Patrick Mahomes finds Travis Kelce, and then watch them. Backyard football taking action. Travis Kelce -- he will pass it back to Kadarius Toney who takes it in for the game-winning score, potentially. But he's offsides. Look at this. His toe is on the line, OK? So it gets called back. And Patrick Mahomes just venting, letting out his frustration -- slamming his helmet.

And now, after that, Bills win 20-17

Mahomes not able to hold his emotions back post-game either, even during the presser. Listen to this.


PATRICK MAHONES, QUARTERBACK, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: I saw the picture and I mean, he probably is, I mean, barely off -- barely offsides. But for him to take the game into his hands over a call like that that doesn't affect the play at all -- at all -- it didn't affect anything. I mean, loss -- it's just tough because regardless if we win or lose, just for it to end with another game and we're talking about the refs, man, it's just not what we want for the NFL and for football.


WIRE: All right. To be the champ you have to beat the champ, and the Cowboys eviscerated Jalen Hurts and Kasie's defending champion NFL Eagles and Dak Prescott.


WIRE: I'm sorry, I had to do it. I know, too soon.

Dak Prescott had two touchdowns on the night but Dallas' defense was putting a hurting on your boy Hurts all night. Jalen taken down by Micah Parsons, who plows through four-time Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson, sacking Hurts and joining Hall of Famer Reggie White as the only players in NFL history with 12 sacks in each of their first three seasons.

Dallas hammering Philly 33-13. Now 15 straight wins at home for the boys.

Your play of the day goes to the Ravens, now 10-3 thanks to Tylan Wallace. The back-up punt returner steeling the show in overtime against the Rams.

WBAL Radio with the call.


ANNOUNCER: One tackle, 35, along with 40. Wallace on the 40. Still on his feet, 30, 20, 10! Celebration time! No flags. Wallace in the end zone. (INAUDIBLE) and the Ravens win it in overtime!


WIRE: Seventy-six yards for the score -- just the fourth walk-off punt return touchdown in overtime in NFL history. It was Wallace's first-ever game returning punts in the league. He's showered by teammates in the locker room afterward with a lot of praise and a lot of water bottles.

Finally, Bronny James making his highly anticipated collegiate debut for USC last night just five months after suffering cardiac arrest during practice. LeBron -- Daddy-O -- in the stands to see Bronny challenging his old man, soaring for a huge chase-down block. He came off the bench, Kasie, and played 16 minutes. He had just four points but he had three rebounds, two steals.

USC would lose the game. But it's a huge win for Bronny and his entire family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRONNY JAMES, GUARD, USC: I just want to say I'm thankful for everything. Mayo Clinic -- everything they helped me with. My parents, siblings who supported me through this hard time in my life. And also, my coach and my teammates, and my other coaches that have been with me since the -- since the start. And yeah, I just want to be -- I just want to say thanks -- thank you.


WIRE: Such an encouraging and relieving story, right, Kasie? The family had announced that Bronny has a congenital heart issue that was then corrected with surgery. But so good to see him out there doing what he loves to do.

HUNT: Yeah -- no. It was absolutely wonderful. So glad that he is -- he is well.


And Coy, I know you've done a lot of reporting on the health of athletes and young athletes in sports. I mean, what do you see, hear -- and parents -- is there kind of -- they're not LeBron, right, but they're still worried about their kids.

What should they be looking out for?

WIRE: Yeah. I think there's hope, right? This gives hope that it's not all the end if something comes up or pops up. And it's big stories and big names like this that shine light on these sorts of things to give that sort of hope for everyone out there.

HUNT: Yeah -- no. You're absolutely right.

All right, Coy Wire. Thank you very much as always.

WIRE: You got it.

HUNT: See you later this week.

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