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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Just One Week Until The Iowa Caucuses; House And Senate Leaders Reach $1.59 Trillion Deal On Government Spending Levels; Victims Still Being Pulled From Rubble From New Year's Earthquake. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 08, 2024 - 05:30   ET



MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS, DIRECTOR, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY DEMOCRACY, JOURNALISM, AND CITIZENSHIP INSTITUTE (via Webex by Cisco): They're really still going after each other and they're sort of attacking him contextually. You're seeing Nikki Haley say things like I'm not going to just attack Trump -- no. I don't care who wants me to do it.

So it is this very strange dynamic where you have people who want to take over the lead but are unwilling to go after target number one.

It is, as it has been for weeks now, a race for second and it is an expectations game, ultimately. Will Donald Trump win by the blowout numbers predicted or will Haley and DeSantis be able to hem him in a little bit?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And that is the question. If there is a strong second place in an early state like Iowa or New Hampshire, how does that affect the dynamics down the line? I mean, Trump and his allies are already sowing doubt about the election results.

And Trump ally Elise Stefanik said this yesterday about certifying the election.



REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): We will see if this is a legal and valid election. What we're seeing so far is that Democrats are so desperate they're trying to remove President Trump from the ballot.


JIMENEZ: So this is obviously looking down the line to the general election. But how are Democrats preparing to tackle election denialism that we are likely going to see this cycle?

TALEV: Uh, President Biden is sort of at the front of that effort right now and you've seen him, Omar -- as he kicks off, officially, his reelection effort -- do it by doing things like the Valley Forge speech the other day in Pennsylvania where he's sort of reminding voters of the January 6 legacy and the stakes. And you'll see the president today in Charleston, South Carolina paying respects to Mother Emanuel Church, recalling that horrific mass shooting.

So he's talking about things like violence, radicalism, and what he sees as Donald Trump's role in fomenting those issues.

But when you hear then from people like Elise Stefanik trying to sow doubt both about the validity of a future election in November, and also sort of pre-countering those arguments. That's really what you're seeing and it's giving sort of a permission structure to Republicans who may want to vote for Trump again or who are undecided when you have Republicans in leadership saying there's nothing to see here. He didn't do anything wrong. It's Democrats who tried to manipulate the election.

So she talked about a number of things, sort of asserting that there were problems in Pennsylvania. There were not. You can trust the Pennsylvania election results from 2020.

But that is what you see going on is Democrats trying to make the case that Trump is unfit to serve another term because of January 6 and his handling of other issues, and Republicans who are friendly with Donald Trump countering that ahead of these key early Republican --


TALEV: -- caucuses and primaries.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, and obviously, that's a top campaign target for President Biden and Democrats as you mentioned.

That said, though, several key Biden allies are voicing concern about the state of the president's reelection bid. President Obama reportedly articulated this during a recent private meeting with Biden.

And James Clyburn, one of Biden's key allies who helped him secure the Black vote in South Carolina, told CNN this yesterday.


REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): I'm very concerned and I have sat down with President Biden. My problem is we have not been able to break through that MAGA wall in order to get to people exactly what this president has done.


JIMENEZ: So how does the Biden campaign respond to some of these worries?

TALEV: By stepping up their efforts to shore up core parts of the Democratic vote. And again, that's why you're seeing him head to South Carolina ahead of South Carolina's Democratic primary contest even though Joe Biden will emerge from that.

But look, Biden's problem isn't that there aren't Americans who are really worried about Donald Trump and his legacy. It's that the Americans who are part of Biden's coalition are softer. He's lost support through African American voters. He still holds a majority of support of African American voters -- clear majorities -- but not with the same intensity as in 2020, according to the polls. That's very troubling.

So you're going to see Biden dually attacking Donald Trump's legacy but trying to shore up key elements of the Democratic base to get them to turn out for him between now and November.

JIMENEZ: Now, on an administration issue, but it could affect politics, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is under fire for not disclosing that he was rushed to the hospital last week where, as reporting goes, he still remains. It left senior administration officials, including President Biden, in the dark for several days.


Now, Austin is 70 and their whole concerns about credibility in reports from a Department of Defense perspective and how sure we are as far as our defense responsibilities there. But could concerns about how that was handled -- about how his health was handled say anything about how people would handle, potentially, the health of President Biden if we got into a situation like that -- who, of course, is 81 -- or are those two issues sort of separate?

TALEV: I mean, I think they are separate but it doesn't mean that they won't be conflated for political purposes. And already, you're seeing a lot of Republicans demanding accountability on Capitol Hill. In fairness, you're seeing Democrats demand accountability, too. Both top Democrats as well as Republican leadership on the House Armed Services Committee saying this is really unacceptable.

People inside the White House saying that was sort of unacceptable. And Austin trying to make clear within the last couple of days that was his decision and his screw-up; not the White House's.

So I think we're starting to see more details emerge from the Pentagon -- a slightly clearer picture but still a lot of questions about what was the medical procedure he was going in for. Why wasn't anyone notified then, much less a week later when he became ill with pain? Much less, days after that?

And so, there are questions inside the administration among Democrats and certainly among Republicans who are going to try to -- once Lloyd Austin is back in better health -- perhaps haul him up to Capitol Hill or compel him to answer some of those -- some of those questions.

It is a longstanding practice and expectation in a civilian role like that, especially this close to the top of the chain and in the middle of so much military tension not just in Ukraine because of Russia but in the Middle East right now -- concerns around China -- to have the head of the Defense Department out for several days. Even leadership inside his own ranks not really necessarily understanding where he is.

So a lot of questions to answer. It could become a political football for President Biden but right now, it's largely Lloyd Austin's problem to contend with.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. As you mentioned -- look, you can't ever stop someone from completing -- conflating issues for political gain. We'll see how much that actually comes into fruition.

Margaret Talev, of Axios, thank you so much.

TALEV: Thanks, Omar.

JIMENEZ: Congress is one step closer to averting a government shutdown later this month. House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Sunday that they agreed to a $1.59 trillion top line budget for fiscal year 2024. But while they now have a deal on funding levels, lawmakers don't have much time to approve the funding bills that would actually avoid a shutdown. And already, Johnson is facing pushback from far-right House Republicans who wanted steeper cuts. The Freedom Caucus is calling the agreement a quote "total failure."

So let's bring in Farnoush Amiri, congressional reporter for the Associated Press. Great to see you.

So let's start out with what is actually in this deal. What did they agree to here?

FARNOUSH AMIRI, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS (via Webex by Cisco): The majority of it we saw last summer when then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden were negotiating on the Hill to come up with a top line number. It is -- it is -- it continues with that but it's $16 billion in addition to that. And I think more importantly, what it isn't is what many -- $30 billion short of what the Senate wanted, which includes Senate Republicans and defense spending.

But it is -- it is pretty much within the parameters of the deal that Kevin McCarthy made with President Joe Biden last summer.

JIMENEZ: Now, look, this is just sort of the first step -- the top line funding that they've agreed to at this point. But what about some of the policy-sticking issues? Where are we, in particular, with the tying between foreign aid packages and the U.S. southern border?

AMIRI: Yeah. I mean, those negotiations are still ongoing. I think it's important for everyone to know that these are two separate funding tracks and the conversation around securing the southern border, which is negotiations that have happened over the holiday break and will continue into this week, are going on. And as the further along the war in Israel gets, the more urgent that -- the Biden administration is going to make the point that the more urgent that aid is going to get.

So we'll likely see a deal or at least the parameters of a deal come out in the next week or two. But I think the most important thing right now is the funding of the government, which like you said, they have around eight to 10 days to do the first trench of. JIMENEZ: Yeah. And as you pointed out, of course, we've got two separate deadlines that we're dealing with here if things weren't already complicated enough.


Now, look, I want to -- I want to touch on something separate but also related -- is that Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border today for a quote "operational visit" just as House Republicans are plotting and pushing for his swift impeachment.

How are House Republicans planning on doing this, and is this something that seems to actually have legs?

AMIRI: Yeah, it's interesting. We've all, including myself, have been focused on the impeachment effort of President Joe Biden. And so, up until now, really, Republicans, including Speaker Mike Johnson and before him, Kevin McCarthy, have tried to avoid and kick down the road the efforts by some of the more far-right, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, to impeach Mayorkas, and they didn't feel like it had the support of the caucus.

But right before they went on break they sent the latest effort by Marjorie Taylor Greene to the Homeland Security Committee. And since then, the leader of that committee, Mark Green, has released a report where they've called -- they've said Mayorkas has -- you know, has committed a dereliction of duty. That he is directly responsible for the surge in migrant crossings at the southern border and that he, in their words, has committed high crimes and misdemeanors and deserves an impeachment proceeding. So that's going to begin in earnest this Wednesday with the first hearing.

But it's really interesting that this is happening at the same time as efforts to move forward with President Joe Biden's impeachment efforts and it will happen on the same day that they're going to hold his son in contempt of Congress.

JIMENEZ: A full slate to start the year.

Farnoush Amiri, of the Associated Press, thank you so much.

AMIRI: Yeah, thanks for having me.

JIMENEZ: Of course.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Saudi Arabia in just a few hours to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after a stop in the UAE. It's his fourth visit to the Middle East since the October 7 Hamas attacks.

Earlier, he sat down for hostage talks with senior Qatar officials. And at a joint news conference, the Qatar prime minister said the killing of a senior Hamas leader in Beirut last week could affect the fragile negotiations. CNN's Melissa Bell joins us from Paris. So, Melissa, Sec. Blinken

heads to Israel later today as well. What's your sense of the -- of these complicated hostage talks at this point? What can we expect to see?

MELISSA BELL, CNN SENIOR PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Omar, they were pretty complicated even before the killing of Saleh al-Arouri last week in Beirut -- the first bombing in Beirut by Israel since the 2006 conflict, Omar. So a distinct ratcheting up of tensions -- of the violence. There's been an initial response from Hezbollah over the course of the weekend into Israel where they managed to hit an Israeli military base 10 kilometers inside of Israel.

And the fear of that escalation -- that spread, of course, is ever- present. That will be at the forefront of Antony Blinken's conversations with his Israeli counterparts and other Israeli officials when he arrives in Israel later today.

But, of course, the question of those 132 hostages already reopening negotiations given that imams of both Hamas and Israel seemed unlikely now even more difficult.

This is what the Secretary of State had to say in Qatar at that press conference you mentioned a moment ago about the aim of this particular trip to the Middle East.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and even more suffering. So, from day one, among other priorities, we have been intensely focused on working to prevent the conflict from spreading.


BELL: And there isn't just, of course, the fear of increased violence along that northern border with Lebanon, Omar. There is what we've been seeing over the course of the last few weeks the increased attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. There have also been increased attacks on American base by Tehran-backed militia groups in the country.

All of these things very much feeding Antony Blinken's message to regional leaders and that he will take to Israel itself today that the fears that have been expressed so much over the course of this conflict that this could escalate now seem to be becoming realized more clearly day by day, Omar.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, a lot of factors at play here.

Melissa Bell, thank you so much.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, the countdown is on. How the GOP candidates are stacking up with just seven days to go until the Iowa caucuses. That's next.

Plus, the Buffalo Bills pull off a huge comeback in the fourth quarter. What does that do to the playoff picture? We'll explain.




MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm hoping that the good people of Iowa that I got to know so well in my campaign, the good people of New Hampshire and South Carolina will look at this moment and recognize that elections are about the future and we need new leadership in the Republican Party. We certainly need new leadership in the White House.


JIMENEZ: That was former vice president and one-time Republican candidate for president Mike Pence telling CNN's Jake Tapper what he is hoping for out of the 2024 Iowa caucuses next Monday, a week from today.

Now, in Iowa, despite Trump's commanding lead in the polls, rivals Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie, and more are all making their last-ditch attempts to carve themselves a path to the GOP nomination.

So, let's bring in Republican strategist and former RNC communications director, Doug Heye. Doug, good to see you.


JIMENEZ: Look, you ran comms for the GOP for the 2012 caucuses. What are you looking for in this last week before Iowa here?


HEYE: For me, the whole word is margin. Donald Trump is clearly going to win in Iowa. What is that margin? Is he 12 points ahead of Ron DeSantis in second place? Is that 25 points? The bigger that margin is I think the harder it is for DeSantis and also Vivek Ramaswamy to move forward outside of a -- or after Iowa.

I was not so much about who wins it. It's about who survives that process. It winnows the field down. And if you're Vivek or Ron DeSantis, where you've crisscrossed that state and you've been through all 99 counties -- going to small towns like Emmetsburg and Palo Alto, which is in northwestern Iowa, or Winterset, about an hour east -- or an hour west of Des Moines -- you're putting in the hard work. And if there's no reward for that it's going to be very hard for them moving forward to justify their continued existence in the campaign.

JIMENEZ: And obviously, as the field winnows -- as it -- as it shrinks support could potentially rally around folks like Ron DeSantis or even Nikki Haley, depending on the state. But obviously, DeSantis has invested so much in Iowa. Someone like Nikki Haley has been surging in New Hampshire.

What does this do to the field if Trump wins in Iowa and New Hampshire -- maybe not convincingly but by under double digits -- but Ron DeSantis takes Iowa and Nikki Haley takes New Hampshire? I'm talking second place for those two.

HEYE: Yeah, it looks like that's the most likely scenario is they come in second respectively in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Again, I think that the question of the margin is interesting here. If it's somewhat close for DeSantis he can live to fight another day and justify his existence as a continued candidate. If it is a -- if it is a big lead by Donald Trump that becomes very hard for him to do.

Same thing with Nikki Haley. With Haley, though, it's been interesting to watch. For a long time we were hearing this term -- like, Nikki- mentum. That she was surging in the polls. And we didn't really see it in the polls until recently. But the surge is real.

The question is how early was the surge? Was it too early? And what will her numbers be not coming out of Iowa but, really, then going into New Hampshire? If she keeps that in single digits, she moves into South Carolina with some momentum. Donald Trump still should win South Carolina at this point in the race, but it Nikki Haley keeps it close that's going to cause people in South Carolina and other states, potentially, to look in different directions.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, we will see.

Now, on the campaign trail this weekend, Donald Trump decided not only to revive the issue of Obamacare again but also to mock the late John McCain for the injuries he sustained during his service in the Vietnam War.

I want you to take a quick look.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to fight for much better health care than Obamacare. Obamacare is a catastrophe. Nobody talks about it.

You know, without John McCain we would have had it done. But John McCain, for some reason, couldn't get his arm up. Remember? He does (mocking McCain). That was the end of that.


JIMENEZ: All right. So just from a policy and political perspective, what do you make of his revival of the Obamacare issue and some of those old feuds? Do you think it's helpful for him at this point?

HEYE: Well, I think on the Obamacare issue it potentially is helpful for him, but there comes a challenge. And I know this, Omar, from my work in the House Republican leadership is we passed a lot of repeal measures of Obamacare, some of which were signed into law by President Obama.

But we weren't very successful in trying to replace Obamacare with anything. We had our smartest actors in the room -- the committee chairs of the jurisdiction. People like Paul Ryan, for instance, and Fred Upton who is no stranger to this audience as well. And we couldn't even get a white paper together.

And so, with four years of Donald Trump in the White House, some of that time having a Senate majority and House majority, not being able to do so says that he's probably not going to be successful at it again. But clearly, there's a part of the Republican base that still wants to hear that message.

On the comments with John McCain, I just try to ignore those as best I can. It's one of those distractions that we get from Donald Trump as obviously a lack of grace and class, but that's part and parcel for who he is.

JIMENEZ: And it's part of the support that he's garnered -- that style.

So, Doug Heye, I've got to leave it there. Thank you so much for being with us.

HEYE: Thank you.

JIMENEZ: Meanwhile, rescue operations are still underway just over a week after the New Year's Day earthquake on Japan's western coast. Now, in recent days, firefighters have been able to save at least two elderly women trapped in their homes.

CNN's Marc Stewart is live in Seoul, South Korea for us. Marc, these rescues come as the death toll is rising.

MARC STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Omar, it is so hard to believe that it's only been a week since this quake and yes, there have been some very difficult times.

But people in Japan are really clinging onto these hopeful moments if you will, especially the rescue of an elderly woman, in particular -- a 90-year-old. She was trapped between two floors of this home she was in actually stuck under some furniture. But after being trapped for about five days, rescue crews were able to get her.


One doctor on the scene told NHK, Japan's public broadcaster, that yes, she was injured but she was able to communicate.

In fact, as we hear different accounts from the scene of this rescue, mind it be very late at night under rain, there has been a sense of comradery among these rescue workers. In fact, one person saying that all of the different crews -- the fire, the police, the medical people all said "almost there, almost there" as they were pulling her out of the home. Despite this moment of levity, though, there are some very Herculean

tasks still facing Japan, particularly with infrastructure. Roads are damaged. They are cracked. Trucks cannot go into these impacted areas.

Getting food is proving to be a struggle. We saw video from one grocery store that recently opened up. Even rations for rice are difficult to get.

So until these infrastructure problems are solved, Omar, it's still going to be very much a difficult story out of Japan.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, and thank you for following all of it. Marc Stewart, thank you.

Now, early this morning, the first U.S. lunar mission in decades.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Five, four, three, with have ignition and liftoff of the first United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket, launching a new era in space flight to the moon and beyond.


JIMENEZ: Now, it's scheduled to touch down on the moon next month with equipment to gather data for future missions. It's part of NASA's preparations for eventual missions to Mars.

Now, to last night's Golden Globe Awards.


OPRAH WINFREY, AWARD PRESENTER: And the Golden Globe goes to "Oppenheimer."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the Golden Globe goes to "SUCCESSION."


JIMENEZ: That theme song gets me every time.

But, Christopher Nolan's epic "Oppenheimer" won Best Drama Motion Picture. And, as you heard, HBO's "SUCCESSION" won Best Drama Television Series. Both incredible.

And "Barbie" to become the first-ever award for Cinematic Achievement. "Barbie" was actually the most nominated film with nine nods, but it left with only two Globes. Still a great movie.

There was also football on last night. The playoffs are set. Fourteen teams trying to make it to Vegas and play in Super Bowl LVIII.

Coy Wire is live from Houston this morning ahead of the College Football National Championship game. Coy, we're going to get to that in a moment. But first, let's talk about the pros here.

(Audio difficulty)

We've got a lot of sports as we -- we're going to get back to Coy in just a moment.

But let's start with the Bills and Dolphins. It was the final game of the regular season. The Bills were down seven early in the fourth quarter. The winner takes the division. And let's go Buffalo.

Deonte Harty, hero of western New York this morning, taking the punt all the way for the score -- 96 yards, leaving the fastest team in the league in his dust. And this game tied at 14. You could see the reaction there on the sideline.

Then, Josh Allen caps off the comeback finding Dawson Knox for the go- ahead touchdown as Buffalo rallies 21-14, clinching the division and a home game next Sunday against the Steelers.

Meanwhile, the Eagles are literally and figuratively limping into the postseason on top of losing five of their six last games. Star wide receiver A.J. Brown left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury, as you can see there, while Jalen Hurts suffered a dislocated finger early in the second, though he did come back in.

Now, keep an eye on both of them as Philly tries to regroup as they head to Tampa to play the Bucks on Monday.

So here's the full bracket. 49ers and Ravens get the first-round byes. Also, a couple of great reunions. Rams QB Matt Stafford returns to Detroit to play the Lions. And Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill heads back to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs.

All right, today is Black Monday, when NFL teams part ways with coaches.

Bill Belichick's 24-year run with the Patriots might be over. After winning six Super Bowls and amassing the most postseason wins in history, the Patriots have had a losing record three of the last four years.

And then, my team, the Falcons. Atlanta's Arthur Smith was furious at Saints coach Dennis Allen when his team scored with just seconds left to go, up 48-17. Smith has had a losing record in each of his three seasons in Atlanta.


JIM HARBAUGH, HEAD COACH, MICHIGAN WOLVERINES: A pretty similar comparison to Super Bowl week. It's got that -- it's got that same feeling, you know? I mean, it's that -- it's what you're striving for just to be simply known as world champions or national champions. That's what you're going for.


[06:00:16] JIMENEZ: And that was Jim Harbaugh, the head coach of Michigan. Michigan plays the University of Washington tonight for the College Football National Championship. It is going to be a great game.

Thanks for joining us, everybody. I'm Omar Jimenez. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.