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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: President Zelenskyy In Washington, Pleading For Aid; Biden Challenger Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) Goes On Attack; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) On Backlash From Progressives Over Border Talks. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 12, 2023 - 05:30   ET




REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): We understand the crisis there. I understand the necessity of ensuring that Vladimir Putin does not prevail in Ukraine and march through Europe. I'll explain to him that while we understand that I've made my position very clear literally since the day I was handed the gavel that we have to take care of our border first.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Republicans, and only Republicans, are holding everything up because of unrealistic maximalist demands on the border.


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's bring in Mica Soellner, congressional reporter for Punchbowl News. Mica, good morning.

Is Zelenskyy's mission basically already a failure? Is there any hope for him to change minds here?


We're going to see these talks happen on Capitol Hill today with President Zelenskyy be probably the most critical in his third visit to Capitol Hill this year. Zelenskyy will be having an all-senators meeting today and then he'll meet with Speaker Johnson who, of course, is an even deeper Ukraine skeptic than former speaker Kevin McCarthy was. So this is a really critical time.

This comes as the GOP in both the House and Senate are growing increasingly skeptical and are growing against Ukraine aid. So we're going to see what happens here but this is going to be a huge test in terms of the future of aid.

HUNT: Mica, the U.S. public support for Ukraine has actually been waning. We're nearing the two-year anniversary of the invasion. In June, 29 percent of Americans, so about one in three, said that America was doing too much to help Ukraine. That number in October, up to 41 percent.

I hear this in the way that Republicans talk about this on the Hill. They continue to say -- I think the line is we need to do our own border first before we help other people.

Is -- are they reflecting what we're seeing in public opinion?

SOELLNER: I think that's the justification a lot of the members who are more recently kind of going into this anti-Ukraine wave of House Republicans and even Senate Republicans. But we have seen skepticism early on, especially from the right flank in the House. I think it's interesting to note that the Senate -- some Senate Republicans are now growing in the way that has kind of been this way in the lower chamber before. So a lot of people will say it's polling and then what they're hearing in their district. But I still won't say that there's quite a few defense hawks who are extremely worried about this trend.

HUNT: Mica, the lead Republican negotiators also already saying that this is basically something that's going to have to get punted until after Christmas. Is that your understanding on the timeline? Is there any hope to get this done in 2023?

SOELLNER: It's possible but right now, it's very difficult. Obviously, we're going to see -- Congress is supposed to depart after this week so there's a huge time crunch. And it's really -- there's still a lot of roadblocks with no hope left right now in terms of how these negotiations are going. So if this -- if it doesn't happen this week I would say it's very unlikely. And with that, the future of the aid is really in question for next year.

HUNT: Yeah.

Mica, on another topic, there's going to be a key meeting today in the push that Republicans are making to formalize their impeachment inquiry into President Biden. What do we expect from that?

SOELLNER: Yeah. So we should expect House Republicans to have the vote to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Biden. What's surprising is that we have seen most moderate Republicans or I would say pretty much everybody I've talked to on Capitol Hill say that they are open and will vote on this with the exception of Ken Buck -- actually, a Freedom Caucus member who has been skeptical on impeachment this entire Congress.

But it will be interesting because we're going to see these vulnerable Republicans justify their vote, saying we're opening to -- we're opening an inquiry, which means we're just trying to get more information. We're not impeachment the president, which is an important distinction that members have been making.

HUNT: Mica, what changed here -- because for the longest time, the votes weren't there for this?

SOELLNER: I think that there's a lot of growing pressure in the House, especially -- we've seen the way that members in the right flank of Congress have kind of corralled the agenda and have really pushed leadership into formalizing impeachment into backing impeachment not just on Joe Biden but possibly one on Sec. Mayorkas, too, next year.

So I think it's just become a big topic and there's a lot of pressure on moderates right now and they're seeing that in -- possibly in their districts. The more we hear about and the more leadership is pushing this, too. So I think that a lot of this is a pressure campaign.

HUNT: All right, Mica Soellner of Punchbowl News. Thank you very much for getting us started in this half hour. I appreciate it.

All right, now this. Dean Phillips, congressman from Minnesota, is lashing out against President Biden. He is a longshot presidential candidate and he is struggling to gain traction. Phillips is launching a series of escalating attacks suggesting President Biden is too old, a threat to democracy, and unelectable. This despite initially saying he didn't want to demean or diminish the president during his campaign.

Let's bring in CNN's Isaac Dovere who has new reporting on Phillips' campaign this morning. Isaac, good morning to you.


ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning.

HUNT: I read your new reporting with interest. I was up in New Hampshire with Phillips a couple of weeks ago. You call the campaign chaotic and increasingly negative. I think the Daily Beast labeled it a "midlife crisis" campaign.

What did you learn when you were out on the trail?

DOVERE: Well, look -- first of all, what Phillips is trying to do here is beat Joe Biden in a primary and that's a hard task. But when you see him walking around New Hampshire you see a guy who is tapping into something that is definitely there. Some -- a lot of frustration with Joe Biden and a lot of anxiety about where he is and where he stands in the polls against Trump.

But there is, for Phillips, a real turn toward this very negative kind of campaigning talking about Biden's threat to democracy. Talking about him being too old to campaign. He told me he didn't think Biden would be up to it. I said to him, "You got into this campaign saying that you were trying to strengthen Biden maybe," and he said, "That's impossible. His weakness, now I see, predated me."

And he's gotten also into all sorts of other policy prescriptions that are really far from where he started as a moderate. I said to him, "What do you make of this campaign? -- that is pretty far from, as you said, getting into it and saying he wasn't in this to demean the president. And he said to me, "It's not what I intended." It's things that are surprising to him and that he's getting much more -- a much more negative view of the state of democracy, the state of the Democratic Party, and even the state of Joe Biden than he ever thought going in. HUNT: Didn't -- I didn't intend for it to be this way and yet, I am completely in control --

DOVERE: Right.

HUNT: -- of my own campaign.

So, I spoke to Phillips last month and this is what he told me about his overall plans for the campaign. Take a look and then I know you've got some updated reporting -- watch.



REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN): Most importantly, if I do not succeed on March 6, I will wrap this up with grace. I will get behind either the president or whoever the eventual nominee is.


HUNT: So, Isaac, is that still the plan?

DOVERE: That is not the plan. That is among the many things that have changed about the plan there. That -- he was saying March 6. That's Super Tuesday. A lot of primaries then.

Now what he is saying is that the plan is to hopefully get -- 42 percent is the internal benchmark that his campaign has set for New Hampshire. The reason why they've set on that number is because in 1968, that's what Eugene McCarthy got against Lyndon Johnson. Johnson won the New Hampshire primary but was so embarrassed by the Democrats turning away from him that he ended up dropping out of his campaign.

Phillips says that that's what he wants to happen for Joe Biden and he's going to keep on making that case into the spring -- into June -- maybe even into the convention.

He points out that in 1968, Hubert Humphrey won the nomination despite not winning even one primary then. McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey, both Minnesotans, he points out now.

And he also points out that he's a superdelegate himself, so he will have some role at the convention no matter what, even if it's a very small one, and that he intends to keep on pushing this. Look, we'll see if that ends up being what happens here. But it is a changing rationale, and a changing campaign, and a changing plan.

HUNT: So what happened when you took all of this to the Biden campaign?

DOVERE: I posed to them a number of questions. Whether they were worried about Phillips. Whether they felt like he was accentuating some of the president's weaknesses. Whether they were worried about New Hampshire. And I got basically a number of one-word answers -- you can see them in the piece -- nope, no, not really -- those sorts of answers.

HUNT: So the Biden campaign is basically yeah, OK -- don't need to spend too much time --


HUNT: -- on this. Yeah, go ahead.

DOVERE: That's their -- that's their response. But again, when you -- watching Phillips walk around, even just on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, there is this level of discomfort about Joe Biden which is very real.

And what I observed with these New Hampshire voters is that when he says are you ready for a change, they say yes. Are you worried about Biden? Like I said, they say yes. It's when he tries to sell them on him that Phillips doesn't make the sell and doesn't connect quite as much.

And you do see voters who say well -- Democratic voters -- if this is -- if Biden's going to be our choice then we just have to get behind him. But that's about as enthusiastic as people get at this point about Biden.

HUNT: Yeah. It is -- it's a really interesting lens with which to look through at, kind of, Biden's challenges. So I do recommend the piece. And Isaac Dovere, thank you very much for

being up to share it with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

DOVERE: Thank you.

HUNT: All right.


President Biden facing progressive backlash over his recent border talks with Republicans. And the secret space mission scheduled to blast off tonight.


HUNT: Welcome back.

President Biden is angering some in his own party this week as he negotiates with Republicans for changes in U.S. border policy in exchange for aid to Ukraine and Israel. Biden is willing to make, quote, "significant compromises" with the GOP on immigration in order to pass the aid. But the president is now facing backlash from progressive Democrats who oppose major changes to U.S. border policy.

The chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus issuing a joint statement yesterday saying, quote, "President Biden knows that is not what Democrats stand for" and calling the negotiations, quote, "unconscionable."

Let's bring in Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan. Congresswoman, it's always wonderful to have you on the show.

We do know the White House is now more engaged in these border security talks and some of these issues already under negotiation this week. They're talking about asylum standards, humanitarian parole, deporting people more quickly.


The is Biden administration too far here or do you want to see them continue to work to compromise with Republicans on this?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): Look, I think they've got to sit down and talk with everybody. We have needed to do some kind of comprehensive immigration reform and border legislation for years -- quite frankly, for decades. It's a tough subject. People have a lot of strong emotional feelings.

It impacts the national security of this country through a lot of humanitarian issues connected with it. We have more -- we have businesses that need workers. It's complicated.

But -- and, by the way, I'm not somebody that thinks borders should be tied -- been tied to supplemental critical funding for Ukraine and humanitarian aid for Gaza, but here we are.

I think the president needs to make sure he's negotiating with Republicans and Democrats. And if we get something done, which we need to do some year -- we actually need to -- we -- they're tying it, as you know, to supplemental funding for Ukraine and humanitarian aid in Israel. I think it's unlikely it's going to get done this week. But the president needs to have Republicans and Democrats in the room.

HUNT: What do you think is the bigger political challenge for the White House here? Obviously, in -- from a general election perspective, the border is a significant challenge with Independent voters. But new polls -- we've got a new poll out of your home state of Michigan that shows Democrats -- one in four don't approve of President Biden, young voters are breaking for Donald Trump, and there's not a lot of enthusiasm.

DINGELL: Look, the only thing I'm going to say about this poll, it didn't surprise me. And a year out -- I warned -- you know, everybody knows I'm now the famous one that tried to warn everybody in '15 and '16 that we had a problem and nobody listened.

The thing I'm going to say about these polls, it's gained people's attention. We know what we have to do to go in and win this campaign. It's going to be hard-fought.

And it is -- Michigan is a very complicated state because it's young voters, as you just pointed out. We still have to work on union voters who supported Donald Trump eight years ago. When you go in a hall and you get mixed reactions. And the Mideast has very much complicated Michigan in a way I've never seen before in my lifetime.

I also know what we need to do and we've got to start getting -- the president's got to come in. He's got to meet with these groups. All of us have got to do a better job of talking about what has been done to save the economy. And we also have to define who Donald Trump is and the things that he has said in his record and how they'll impact Michigan.

HUNT: Do you feel like the White House is -- the Biden campaign is listening to you?

DINGELL: Uh, yes. I --

HUNT: (Laughing).

DINGELL: I actually do. My phone calls get returned.

And I think people know -- you know, we finally got a state director appointed. The state director is going to be there.

And I'm going to tell you this. The vice president had a very serious talk with me and she -- she's very focused on these issues. I think the White House probably doesn't want me talking directly to President Biden too much. But the vice president came looking for me. She understands what's got to happen in Michigan. I want to say that to you.

And I think there are a lot of senior people inside the White House that get, OK, this really is a problem and now we've got to get to the things that we've got to do to make sure that we're addressing them.

HUNT: Wait. Why doesn't the White House want President Biden to talk to you directly?

DINGELL: That was sort of my joke. But I'm kind of known for my candidness. In case you've never noticed, Kasie, I don't -- I tell people what I think.

HUNT: It's part of why I love having you here.

DINGELL: I do. And I get in trouble some mornings but I tell people what I think.

HUNT: Fair enough.

One particularly contentious issue has been obviously, the university presidents who testified before the House in an antisemitism hearing. The president of the University of Pennsylvania stepped down.

There has been pressure on Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard. The Harvard Crimson, this morning -- this is just in -- is reporting that the governing board is going to say that Claudine Gay should stay in her position.

Do you think that's the right move?

DINGELL: Look, I think these campuses are a mess. I'm going to use that word. I have spent a great deal of time on the campus at the University of Michigan. I have met with all of the groups on a regular basis and they're torn apart.


I think that the three presidents who testified on the Hill did a terrible job -- let's just all acknowledge that -- and they were lawyered.

And if you read my weekly letters that I've been putting out -- I do a newsletter every week -- I've been talking about free speech and the importance of protecting the basic rights of the Constitution, but when did -- when do you cross lines?

And when you are on campus -- I've gone to (INAUDIBLE) and I've met with these kids. They walk down the street and people yell "Death to Jews." But when I'm walking -- talking to the Arab-American and the Muslim students the women are afraid to walk across campus. They've had hijabs torn off their head. And quite frankly, they've had people defecate in front of their rooms.

It's unacceptable. There is fear on these campuses. And the presidents can be legalistic -- we've got to protect free speech. You need the exchange of ideas. But these presidents need to understand that our campuses are being torn apart. People are hurting on all sides. People have families that are impacted on all sides. So what they've got to do is remember that there's heart and soul that's got to come to this.

Our delegation had a meeting with President Ono from the University of Michigan and all the top administration. And I was very clear your campus is hurting. They're torn apart. You've got to go in there.

I had one meeting -- the best meeting I'd had with the kids -- and said do you want to talk to me about how you feel? One of the young Jewish women expressed her fear of wearing her Star of David. And then another young man said, "I'm Jewish, but my friends are Arab- Americans." They've even organized some of the protests but they're not antisemitic. There are people coming on this campus that are the ones that are tearing down the sites and stirring up trouble.

And the third student said to me, "How can we just have conversations like the one you're having with us." Everything goes immediately into screaming and we really want to talk about how people feel. What's happening. How you solve it.

That's what campuses need to be doing. They need to understand they've got people on their campuses that are scared. They are physically scared. They're hurting. And campuses are a place where we need to learn, remind people of history, and try to find ways to bring people together; not to continue to tear them apart.

HUNT: All right. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan. Thanks very much for your perspective this morning. I really appreciate your time.

DINGELL: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. Still ahead on "CNN THIS MORNING" the Supreme Court taking on a make- or-break decision about the prosecution of former President Trump.

And with just five weeks until the Iowa caucuses, Florida governor and Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis joins Jake Tapper live from Iowa to take questions directly from voters. The "CNN REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL TOWN HALL" airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.



HUNT: The Titans stun the Dolphins, pulling off one of the most improbable comebacks in the NFL in years.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Coy. Good morning.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: What's going on, Kasie?

Teams down by 14 in the final three minutes have lost the last 767 games. ESPN analytics gave the Titans just a .3 percent chance of winning but it didn't matter.

Down two with two touchdowns to go -- with 2:46 to go. And check out Will Levis, the rookie, hitting DeAndre Hopkins for the touchdown.

Tennessee would go for two and get it, so it's a six-point game now, right? Well, after some great defense, Tennessee has a shot. Levis to Hopkins again for the big play. Levis threw for 129 yards in the final two drives and that set up King Henry. Derrick plowing in for the touchdown and the lead. Levis all fired up again and getting a huge hug from the head man, Mike Vrabel.

Tennessee wins 28-27, becoming the first team in seven years to overcome a 14-point deficit in the final three minutes.

Giants rookie quarterback Tommy Devito, Kasie, is a whole vibe -- Jersey through and through. But Devito's agent, Sean Stellato, is a riot -- a zoot suit riot. Come on.

HUNT: Oh my God.

WIRE: A chef's kiss -- yes.

And how about Devito's dad Tom kissing Stellato and Stellato kissed him right back as Tommy Boy and Saquon Barkley helped New York take the lead early in the third.

And if that gets kisses, what does a game-winning drive deserve, Kasie? Giants down one with under a minute to go. Devito hitting Wan'Dale Robinson for a big gain, and that sets up Randy Bullock for the field goal as time expires. Devito leading the Giants to three- straight wins, beating the Packers 24-22.

Details of Shohei Ohtani's blockbuster 10-year, $700 million deal with the L.A. Dodgers are out. Now listen to this. He's only getting paid $2 million a year during the actual life of the contract. Twenty million for 10 years. And the other $680 million starts coming in the year 2034 after the contract expires.

A source familiar with the terms of the deal tells CNN that this was an easy decision and all about Ohtani being a team player. The 29- year-old pitching and hitting sensation is coming off two MVP seasons in the last three years with the Angels.

Check this out. Sabres commentator Rob Ray is a real hockey guy. He takes a puck to the face and doesn't bat an eye. All right, to be fair, he probably did bat an eye. But anyway, Rob Ray says he just put a wad of paper on it. We've got a show to do, Kasie. He calls the rest of the game. The Sabres win 5-2 over Arizona.

I can't imagine getting hit in the face like that and just keep on chucking. He said he's probably going to need stitches. But it's all good, he says.

HUNT: Oh my gosh. I mean, I love our viewers but I've got to say if I was hit in the face with a hockey puck, I'm not doing this. I don't know if I would still be here.

WIRE: Call for backup, trainer.


HUNT: Coy, can we talk about Ohtani for a second? I mean, that's an incredible deal but it's kind of stunning they're putting off so much of it.

WIRE: Yeah. I mean, you go from, what, $70 million a year to $2 million a year. And it was all about freeing up the Dodgers to be able to go out and land some other big free agents and some other key players for Ohtani to star around. And they could be good for a very long time.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, look, it speaks well of the guy, I have to say. The more --

WIRE: Yeah.

HUNT: I feel like the more we learn about him the more impressive he becomes.

Coy, thank you very much.

WIRE: You got it.

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