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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

DeSantis Targets 2024 Opponents on Abortion; Grandmother Convicted for January 6 Capitol Attack Reports to Prison; Speaker Johnson Defends Spending Bill to Resistant Conference. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 10, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's just before 5:30 here on the East Coast. We have a busy week for the former president, Donald Trump, just five days away from the Iowa caucuses. The former president's bouncing between the courtroom and the campaign trail, leaving Iowa to make voluntary, repeat voluntary court appearances in both New York and D.C. this week for his civil fraud trial and his election subversion case.

Those court appearances, however, of course not stopping Trump from attacking his political rivals, especially Nikki Haley. He's turning his ire on her as she builds momentum in the race.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nikki Haley has been in the pocket of the open borders establishment owners her entire career and she's a globalist, you know, she likes to globe. I like America first.


HUNT: According to new CNN polling, Haley has now cut Trump's lead in New Hampshire down to single digits. But before she gets to New Hampshire, Haley of course looking to hold her own in Iowa. She's going to go one on one against rival Ron DeSantis for the first time.

And tonight's CNN Debate, it's the candidate's last opportunity to position themselves as a Trump alternative before the primary season's first votes are cast.

For more on all this, let's bring in CNN Political Analyst and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Boston Globe, Jackie Kucinich. Jackie, morning. It's always wonderful to have you.


HUNT: Let's talk about the debate. First of all, I mean, it's going to be these two standing on their own for the first time, but they're going to have to make a decision. Are they attacking each other? Are they going after the front runner, Donald Trump? I feel like, I have some suppositions, but I'm curious kind of what you're looking for?

KUCINICH: Well, the past is prologue. I think you're right that they're probably going to attack each other. They haven't really -- they've been sort of going after the former president here and there on the campaign trail where they're asked direct questions about it. And each kind of has their little tagline that they've said. I think Haley says that chaos follows him. DeSantis has said that, you know, he's going to be a better implementer of Trump's agenda. That said, the two of them haven't going after each other because I think they know that, two can go in.

Only one can be second place in Iowa because former president just has such a lead there. It's hard to see one of them taking one of them surpassing him. Crazier things have happened. However, it does look me 20, 30-point lead is a pretty -- is a pretty tough order this late game.

HUNT: Right. Yeah, I hesitate to predict anything, but that does feel like a relatively insurmountable lead. So Ron DeSantis obviously, you know, I think the big question, I mean, honestly my big question is whether we're going to come out of Iowa saying, hey, does DeSantis perform closer to where we thought he might, or whether there are going to be questions about whether his campaign is ending.

He is really staked at all there. And you can really see this in how he talks about abortion, which is of course kind of the classic issue for the conservative Christian voters that typically, you know, pick candidates in Iowa.

I want to show you a little bit of what DeSantis had to say, criticizing both Trump and Nikki Haley on abortion last night in a Fox News Town Hall. Take a look.


RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He attacked pro-life legislation like the heartbeat bill here in Iowa and said it was a terrible, terrible thing. Now, that was not what he said when he was president. She has chastised pro-lifers saying, you know, you shouldn't be talking about putting women in prison. Nobody's talking about that. I've not met a single pro-lifer that has ever talked about that. That is a trope that the left in the media will use, and yet she's indulged that. She's indulged some of these other tropes.


HUNT: So of course what's interesting about this to me as well, Jackie, is big picture, this is really our first time doing one of these elections post-Dobbs with Roe v. Wade having fallen. I mean that explains a lot about why Nikki Haley talks the way she does about this issue. Do you think this is going to work for Ron DeSantis?

KUCINICH: It might work in Iowa, but pretty much everywhere else, just going and looking at the calendar. I don't know that he -- OK, let's just stop. He needs to win Iowa -- he needs to come in second in Iowa, full stop. I mean, that is what he's trying to do, what he can to make that happen.

And you're right, Haley and the former president to an extent are looking at the map. They're looking at how abortion has played both in the midterms and in these ballot initiatives where it was literally on the ballot. The abortion rights groups really have a perfect record on those ballot initiatives. And that when people actually go and vote on this issue. They tend to side with abortion rights just more broadly.

So that's -- they're making a political calculation. And so as Ron DeSantis here, by just going all in and trying to come out of Iowa with that second-place trophy. So he can continue because he's spent so much money and so much time in that state that nothing less is really going to do for him if he's going to continue.

HUNT: Right, because it's -- I mean, it's as much about narrative as it is about where you actually fall in the order of winners and losers. So let's talk about the looming. You know, we've sort of been assuming all the way along because we haven't had any reason to do otherwise, that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee and you can already see Trump and Biden fighting against each other as the new year has opened.


Donald Trump made some comments about the economy that the Biden campaign responded to yesterday. I just want to remind everyone of what Trump said a day or so ago and then I'll show you what Biden's team talked about yesterday afternoon. Take a look at what Trump had to say.


TRUMP: When there's a crash, I hope it's going to be during this next 12 months, because I don't want to be Herbert Hoover. The one president, I just don't want to be Herbert Hoover.


HUNT: So saying the quiet part out loud, and if you think about this in the way people in Washington often do, this is what the Biden campaign said yesterday in a statement. They wrote, quote, "Donald Trump should just say that he doesn't give a damn about people, because that's exactly what he's telling the American people when he says he hopes that the economy crashes." Was this a mistake for Donald Trump? Anyone going to care that this is how kind of he put this?

KUCINICH: It's just -- it's kind of the next thing in a long line of things that the former president says. I'm sure he does, because he knows that if the economy isn't doing well, it's beneficial for him as a presidential candidate, you know, how it actually impacts actual people, is, you know, details, I guess.

And with -- you know, this has been an issue that the Biden campaign has staked a lot on. They've been very proud of the fact that they've been able to avoid a recession and have made it a focal point. So I wonder if we're going to hear more of that from the former president as more people start paying attention. But I can't say I'm surprised that he said something like this, just looking at the naked politics of it all.

HUNT: Yeah, for sure. All right, Jackie Kucinich for us. Thanks, Jackie, very much for being with us this morning.

KUCINICH: Thank you.

HUNT: All right, the White House has denounced Donald Trump for referring to the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6th as, quote unquote, "J6 hostages" this week, saying, quote, "It's offensive."

Now, one of those rioters, a Pennsylvania grandmother, has just begun a lengthy prison sentence for her actions on that day. Here's CNN's Donie O'Sullivan.


DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How do you feel when you watch this?

RACHEL POWELL, PINK HAT LADY, JAN. 6 PROTESTER: You know, I think I'm more numb when I look at this stuff. It's like surreal to me. I mean, look how angry I look.

O'SULLIVAN: You'd admit this is a bad look?

POWELL: Totally.


POWELL: You know how dumb I feel when I look at this picture? Like, oh my goodness.

O'SULLIVAN: Rachel Powell, also known as the Pink Hat Lady, is about to begin a five-year prison sentence for her role in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. She's a mom of eight and grandmother of six, and she's spent most of the last three years under home detention in rural Pennsylvania.

POWELL: Is this what you expected from an insurrectionist, a terrorist? How do I have time to plan an insurrection when my life is busy like this? Making pie, raising babies.

O'SULLIVAN: Why did you decide to go to D.C. on January 6th?

POWELL: Well, how often does a president ask you to come to a rally? Doesn't happen.

O'SULLIVAN: At some point this goes from peaceful protest to you having an ice axe in your hand breaking a window, trying to get into a capital. How did that happen?

POWELL: It got violent and it was violent for a while and I'm completely in pain. And --

O'SULLIVAN: Because you had been hit?

POWELL: Oh man, I had been hit with a baton, I'd been grabbed and thrown. I'd been sprayed. I mean, my whole body was on fire. I don't think there was rational thinking in my head at that point. And I didn't have an ice ax, that passed through the crowd. Somebody put it in my hands and it was only in my hands long enough to take out that window pane. And yet I've been charged with a deadly weapon.

O'SULLIVAN: Somebody give you the ice ax?



POWELL: I don't know.

O'SULLIVAN: You don't remember?

POWELL: I don't know who they were. I don't know where it came from. I don't know where it went.

O'SULLIVAN: I grew up, and I guess you probably did too, of being told, you know, please have to tell you to do something, you should probably do it.

POWELL: Mm-hmm.

O'SULLIVAN: That didn't happen that day, of course. The police were telling you guys to go away.

POWELL: They never actually told us to go away. I never had an officer look at me and say, you need to leave or I'm going to arrest you.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Footage like this of Rachel seen here in the fur hooded coat pushing against a police line, and messages she posted on social media condoning violence ahead of January 6th were used by prosecutors to argue that Rachel wasn't just a peaceful protester who got caught up in the chaos of the day.

(On camera): Do you regret that day?

POWELL: I regret, I have a lot of remorse for ruining my family's life. I mean, in one day, I destroyed everything, really for nothing. I don't have remorse for attending protests. I don't have remorse for speaking out and saying that I believe that the election is stolen. I do have remorse for breaking a window and destroying my whole family's life and for thinking irrationally and not realizing like why don't you just sit down at this protest?


O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): A federal judge convicted Rachel on nine counts, including destruction of government property, obstruction of an official proceeding, and engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds.

POWELL: I'm sorry, it's like my last weekend before I go in. But, um, like I love my children so much. And it's still like the last thing that they can take from me. That'll be the hard part. And I don't deserve this. And my kids don't deserve it. Like, have we not been through enough? Like, that's the last thing that we have to lose is each other.

O'SULLIVAN: Prosecutors said Rachel showed nothing but contempt for the court and legal system.

(On camera): You said, you know, that you feel dumb, setup.




O'SULLIVAN: Why do you feel duped?

POWELL: With January 6th? I can cannot prove it was a setup, but I feel like what if it was.

O'SULLIVAN: Rachel isn't alone. A quarter of Americans believe the conspiracy theory the January 6th attack was instigated by the FBI. People watching this might say, well, you're a dupe by Trump and everybody around him and the election wasn't really stolen and you buying into this has kind of ruined your life. Do you ever feel a bit pissed off with Trump?

POWELL: No, absolutely not. I don't. I've had problems with this election process for years and years. 15 years ago, if there would have been protests about election fraud, I would have gone to those because our whole country and everything about our lives is determined by voting.

O'SULLIVAN: Surely in the last three years being locked in here, have you ever had a moment where you're like, you know, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Biden actually won the election. Maybe I'm the conspiracy theorist.

POWELL: No, not at all.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): She's due to spend the next few years behind bars, but she believes one man could change that.

POWELL: So this hat says, "Rachel, we love you." Trump. My -- three of my sons, they met Trump. And you can actually see them one of the times here. Trump was very encouraging to them. He's made it clear he's going to pardon us.

O'SULLIVAN: There's a lot riding on this election --

POWELL: Totally.

O'SULLIVAN: -- for the country, but also personally for you.

POWELL: Oh, man. For me, it's huge. For me, it's like life or death. It's huge.

O'SULLIVAN: If Trump wins, you could get out of prison?

POWELL: Correct. I will get out of prison.

O'SULLIVAN: And what makes Rachel's story all the more incredible is she didn't even vote for Trump in 2016. She says it was with COVID and lockdowns and restrictions on movement during 2020 that she became particularly politically engaged. And of course that journey brought her to the Capitol on January 6th, where she was found guilty on nine counts for her role in the January 6th attack. She began her prison sentence in a federal prison in West Virginia on Tuesday. Back to you.


HUNT: All right, thanks to Donie O'Sullivan for that report.

Coming up next here, a senator tells us how he really feels about an embattled colleague.


SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D) PENNSYLVANIA: That sleaze ball has to go.





REP. MIKE JOHNSON, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: This is not what we all want, it's not the best deal that we could get if we were in charge of both chambers and the White House. But it's the best deal that we could broker under the circumstances.

We've got the pedal to the metal, we're going to get the job done.


HUNT: Props for some tough camera work right there. That was House Speaker Mike Johnson responding to criticism from right-wing lawmakers over the top line spending agreement that was negotiated with Senate Democrats this week and assuring his right flank, quote, "I am a conservative" as they threatened to block the deal ahead of the first funding deadline on January 19th.

Let's bring in Mychael Schnell, Congressional Reporter for the Hill.

Mychael, good morning. Always great to see you. This is exactly what Kevin McCarthy got thrown out for. Conservative Congressman Kevin Hern, he's really a leader on the right, had this to say about the possibility of a government shutdown over this disagreement. Take a look at what he had to say.


REP. KEVIN HERN, (R) OKLAHOMA: There's a likelihood we could have a -- we could do short term, you know, a shutdown, not a CR, but a shutdown so that there's a real urgency to get these appropriation bills passed.


HUNT: So basically he's saying we're not going to pass another temporary bill to keep the government open while we figure it out. Instead, we're going to let it shut down so that there's more urgency and we're more likely to be able to get what we want. What do you hear in those comments and what are you preparing for in terms of what happens next?

MYCHAEL SCHNELL, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE HILL: Yeah, Kasie, this is a serious wrinkle in this conversation about government funding that a number of these House conservatives are OK with the government shutting down, even though historically speaking nobody ever wins a shutdown, they usually lose leverage throughout a shutdown, and typically speaking when the shutdown finally ends, you don't end up getting any wins that you had sought out getting when you actually allowed the government to shut down.

But nonetheless, this posture from House Republicans is concerning. And look, it's a different situation in the Senate. The top Senate Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Congress is obviously going to have to pass a short-term continuing resolution. They have that top-line spending deal, but there are still a lot of steps and hurdles that need to be cleared before they can actually get this process wrapped up. It was a step in the right direction, but not a panacea to the problem.


So what we're going to have to do now is see, is Speaker Johnson going to put a short-term continuing resolution on the floor? Previously he said that he is done with CRs, that he wants to fund the government through regular order, go through all 12 appropriations bills.

We're hearing from a number of conservatives, you just showed Kevin Hern right there, there's no appetite, there's little appetite for a CR among those conservatives, so once again it's a New Year, but it's another shutdown watch, and it's another situation that's putting the Speaker of the House in a very tough position.

HUNT: A rookie Speaker of the House. I think we should still underscore that as well. Mychael, on another topic, Senator Bob Menendez, who's been indicted for accepting bribes from Egypt and Qatar, went down to the Senate floor yesterday to give a fiery speech in his own defense. His colleague, John Fetterman, had this to say about it afterward.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Menendez went to the Senate floor today, forcefully denied the allegations against him and said the government is, significantly the media --

FETTERMAN: Oh, no. Oh, he did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your thought?

FETTERMAN: Oh, I know. Yeah, he's a victim. Yeah, he's a victim. But hey, I've been calling for that sleaze ball has to go. And I don't know why we have to get rid of Santos and we could keep somebody like him around.


HUNT: Mychael, why is he the only Senate Democrat who's willing to say that out loud?

SCHNELL: Kasie, this is what happens when we see Philly meets Jersey when we see language like sleazeball.

HUNT: I do not disagree with that.

SCHNELL: The news in the halls of Congress. Look, John Fetterman has been extremely outspoken on this matter. There have been a handful, a number of Democrats and Republicans who have called on Senator Menendez to resign. He's actually only one who has called on Menendez to be expelled. It's a difficult situation. You've proven, there's innocence until proven guilty. There's nerves about setting a poor precedent. I mean we saw this entire saga go down in the House as Fetterman mentioned with George Santos. There were multiple attempts to oust him from office despite the allegations against him, the indictments against him.

Ultimately the House went down the path of expelling him but it does set a precedent of an individual who was expelled without having a, you know, with just being indicted and not being convicted. So I think there's this apprehension and fear among a number of senators of setting that precedent but John Fetterman from the start has not been fearful of that. This is the second superseding indictment. He's following through with saying look this guy has got to go.

HUNT: All right, Mychael Schnell of "The Hill." Mychael, thank you. Always grateful to have you.

SCHNELL: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right, up next, Meta is adding new features to Facebook and Instagram, how they might be able to protect your teenagers. That's coming up on "CNN This Morning."


[05:56:46] HUNT: All right, time now for sports. Jets Quarterback Aaron Rodgers does not apologize to late night host Jimmy Kimmel as their feud continues. Andy Scholes has this morning's bleacher report. Andy, what is going on with this?

And it seems like we may have lost Andy. Are you back, Andy?


HUNT: There you are.

SCHOLES: I'm here. I was here the whole time. I don't know what happened.

HUNT: Oh, yeah.

SCHOLES: Satellites, you know? Satellite. Jimmy Kimmel, you know, he blasted Aaron Rodgers, Kasie, on his first show of the year on Monday for insinuating that he was going to be on the Epstein list. Now, Kimmel said, he didn't know Epstein, never met him.

Kimmel threatened to sue Rodgers over his comments but also said he would accept Rodgers apology if he offered one, while Rodgers did not apologize during his weekly appearance on "The Pat McAfee Show" yesterday. And instead wanted to clarify that in his original comments he did not mean that Kimmel's name was on the list.


AARON RODGERS, NEW YORK JETS QUARTERBACK: I totally understand how serious an allegation of pedophilia would be. So for him to be upset about that, I get it. But I'm not stupid enough to accuse you of that with absolutely zero evidence, concrete evidence. That's ridiculous. So I wish him the best.

Again, I don't give a shit what he says about me. But as long as he understands what acts he said, and that I'm not accusing him of being on a list, then I'm all for moving forward.


SCHOLES: All right. Elsewhere, we had two huge upsets in college hoops last night. Top ranked Purdue going down at the hands of Nebraska, 88 to 72. The Huskers beating a top ranked team for the first time since 1982.

And as you can see, the students having a blast there rushing the court as were the students in AMES, The Cyclones, Milan Momcilovic, an incredible fadeaway jumper here in the final minute. Iowa State taken down second ranked Houston, handing the Cougars their first loss of the season.

All right, in the NBA, the Miami Heat, inking Erik Spoelstra to the richest coaching deal in American sports history. Spoelstra's extension, according to ESPN, is for eight years and worth more than $120 million. Spoelstra has been the Heat's coach since 2008, leading the team to two NBA titles and six Eastern Conference crowns.

All right. Now, on the court, the Lakers were hosting the Raptors last night. Under 30 seconds to go, RJ Barrett here called for a charge that wiped away a game time three for Toronto.

The Lakers shot 23 free throws in the fourth quarter and held on to win this one, 132 to 131 after the game. Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic was furious with the Raps.


DARKO RAJAKOVIC, TORONTO RAPTORS HEAD COACH: That's outrageous. What happened tonight, this is completely BS. This is shame. Shame for the referees, shame for the league to allow this. They had to win tonight? If that's the case, just let us know so we don't show up for the game. Just give them a win. But that was not fair tonight. And this is not happening first time for us. Scottie Barnes is going to be all-star. He's going to be the face of this league. And what's happening over here during whole season, I've been calling the back. It's a complete crap.


SCHOLES: Probably going to see you fine for that comment, for those comments and finally one Lakers fan had a heck of a night. Fidel Olmos, a $100,000 for that half-court shot right there. It was only the third time in his life he said he's made a half-court shot, Kasie. And that's a progressive jackpot.


Now, it goes down to $25,000. So you know, I feel bad for the person if they make the next shot because they get $75,000 less.

HUNT: That's pretty awesome, though. I mean, how often, such a -- that's great. Congrats to him. I love it.



HUNT: All right, Andy Scholes, thank you very much for that. Thanks to all of you as well for joining us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere, "CNN This Morning" starts right now.