Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

GOP Candidates Hit Campaign Trail In New Hampshire; CNN Goes Inside Trump Town USA; U.S. Carries Out Additional Strikes Against Houthis In Yemen. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 17, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. It is 5:30 here on the East Coast.

This morning, Republican presidential candidates making their pitches to voters in New Hampshire ahead of the primary six days from now and following Donald Trump's landslide victory in Iowa.

The GOP frontrunner made a brief appearance in court Tuesday for his New York defamation trial. He's going to be back there today where the writer, E. Jean Carroll, is set to take the stand.

In the Granite State, Trump was joined by Vivek Ramaswamy who endorsed him after dropping out of the race himself. The former president mocking his two remaining rivals, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley.



DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the hell happened to him, by the way? Man, did he go down. Ron DeSanctimonious -- did he go down like a rock. I don't even want to talk about him because I don't want to waste it.

I do want to talk about Nikki. She was OK -- not great. She was not great. She's not tough enough to deal with these people.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in politics reporter for Semafor, Shelby Talcott. Shelby, good morning. Thanks so much. It's always good to see you.

You are in New Hampshire after the Iowa caucuses. Give a sense of what you're feeling on the ground there. Trump is clearly trying to push against Nikki Haley. He's throwing everything he has at her, including -- you know, we shouldn't be surprised by this -- or we should still be surprised by this but it seems incredibly predictable as well from the former president. He used her given name, which is Nimrata, in this Truth Social post.

He misspelled her name, which is something -- it's kind of a device he uses to be disrespectful. I mean, you've seen him do things like that before, whether it's mispronouncing or misspelling, or anything like that.

What do you -- what do you make of Trump picking this time? I mean, this has always been her name. Why is he doing this now?

SHELBY TALCOTT, POLITICS REPORTER, SEMAFOR (via Webex by Cisco): Well, listen, I think it's pretty clear that New Hampshire is Nikki Haley's best shot at really competing with Trump, and in some of these recent polls not just competing but potentially coming out on top.

Now, I do think Donald Trump has some momentum heading into here just because of how strong his victory was in Iowa. But this is a very different demographic than Iowa. This is a demographic that really plays to Nikki Haley's strengths and that -- and we're seeing that result in the poll -- in the poll numbers. And so, what Donald Trump is trying to do, as you said, is throw everything to the wall.

His campaign is working overtime in this state. He's on the ground more than we have ever seen him be on the ground this campaign cycle. And so I think that tells you a little bit something about how his campaign views her in this state, in particular.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, it's -- this is one place where she potentially does have a chance to put a dent in his sense of inevitability, although I've got to be honest with you. After those results in Iowa, it seem like that -- the hill is that much steeper to climb.

I want to touch on some of what we heard from Haley yesterday. There was an interview that she did where she talked about -- she was asked about another TV host's statement that it would be hard to win as a person of color in the Republican primary -- a woman of color, specifically. She was asked about that. Here's how she responded -- watch.


BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS HOST, "FOX & FRIENDS": Are you a racist party? Are you involved in a racist party?

NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. We're not a racist country, Brian. We've never been a racist country. Our goal is to make sure that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect, no, but our goal is to always make sure we try and be more perfect every day that we can.


HUNT: And, of course, those -- her campaign, actually in a statement afterward, affirmed that comment.

What do you make of how she said that and whether or not it matters in the context of a Republican primary? TALCOTT: We're a week out and so I'm not incredibly confident that at this point it matters. I think a lot of people here in New Hampshire have likely already made up their minds. But it is newsy, particularly because of her Civil War comments just a few weeks ago.

And so this does seem sort of like a trend when it comes to Nikki Haley talk about this particular subject and I do wonder if it will dissuade some of these undecided voters from coming out to vote for her. This is a topic that people care about, particularly in New Hampshire. And so I am curious to see if it is going to affect her ultimately come the 23rd.


HUNT: Yeah. You know, that's actually a really interesting point because again, it does seems like -- and if you dig into some of the polling that shows Haley within single digits of Trump it relies heavily on undeclared New Hampshire voters. To get to that number she would need those undeclared voters to show up for her.

What is your sense of how that is playing in the context of -- and the Democrats don't have a competitive primary? Dean Phillips is in the primary. But the president's not on the ballot. He's had to mount this write-in campaign. And I know I've talked to some people who are a little bit nervous that Nikki Haley potentially being able to take on Trump in New Hampshire is something that could dissuade those undeclared voters from going and writing in Joe Biden.

What are you -- what's your sense of kind of the dynamic and the interplay there?

TALCOTT: Yeah, I've also heard that and so I do think that's a concern for some people.

Listen, Nikki Haley has sort of this moderate old-school Republicanism argument and so a lot of voters here in New Hampshire who just genuinely don't like Trump are going to be really thinking hard about whether they can come out and vote for a Republican given how different her policies and positions.

And really, her argument -- her whole argument here in New Hampshire has been that she is going to separate herself from Donald Trump. She's going to be less chaos. That the country needs to move on. And that's an argument that a lot of undecided voters are being swayed by.

And so I have heard that concern and I do think it's going to be interesting to see how many people ultimately actually turn out for her.

HUNT: All right, Semafor's Shelby Talcott. Shelby, thanks so much as always. Stay safe on the trail.

All right. Up next here, after months of negotiations, senior lawmakers unveiled a $78 billion deal Tuesday to expand the child tax credit and restore several popular business tax breaks. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimating that expansion could lift at least half a million children out of poverty when fully in effect.

The three-year proposal is a rare example of bipartisanship on taxes. It would also boost subsidies for affordable housing, crack down on tax fraud, and increase disaster assistance.

And while negotiators hope to pass that framework by the upcoming tax filing season they face several hurdles in an incredibly busy Congress. I'll believe it when I see it.

And in a small Virginia town business is booming at an old church- turned storefront. It's known as the Trump Store. They sell everything Trump there. And as CNN's Elle Reeve found out, indictments are very good for business.


WHITEY TAYLOR, OWNER, TRUMP TOWN USA: The mugshot was really hot. And this stuff lasts probably about two months -- it stays really hot. But the first week that we -- the mugshot came out we sold like 2,000 t- shirts.

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): What's that?

TAYLOR: That's Trump's balls.

REEVE: Are they?

REEVE (voice-over): Whitey Taylor runs a busy Trump store in Boones Mill, the town of fewer than 500 people in southwestern Virginia. We visited a week after Christmas with the Iowa caucuses just days away. Taylor predicted Trump would win the Republican nomination and then business would really boom.

TAYLOR: You can only get these here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much are these?




REEVE (voice-over): Customers were bullish, too. What the superfans bought offers some insight into what they want politically. The merch is not just simple campaign slogans. It's defiant -- even vulgar -- aimed at buyers who enjoy being mad at the state of America and think there's one guy who will fix it.

REEVE: When Trump was indicted for all these different things did people stop buying his merchandise?

TAYLOR: No, they bought it more.

REEVE: Why? TAYLOR: Because they knew it was like Russia collusion. This is all -- just all bull (bleep) -- made up bull (bleep). Now he has gained a lot of people because of this administration that we have now -- yeah. We --

REEVE: You get people coming and saying that?

TAYLOR: Oh, yeah -- definitely, yeah. They'll just come in and say never again will I be that stupid, you know.

WILLIAMS: Hi. Welcome to the Trump Store.


REEVE: What have you observed about what people are looking for?

WILLIAMS: People want our economy better. They're very scared I think because of the way things are going. They feel like where we're at right now is not -- is, like, stagnant.

REEVE: Were you interested in politics before Trump?

WILLIAMS: Yes, and it's strange because I've also been Democrat.

REEVE: Really?

WILLIAMS: Yes. So I am a firm believer in believing in a person and system that's going to make positive changes. I think in the past, I made some quick judgments about my voting. And so I'm very more selective and it's more thought put into it.

REEVE: Why did you come in today?

DALE COPELAND, SHOPPER FROM NORTH CAROLINA: To get some Trump stuff so I can advertise and support him. In '06 and '08, I, like, lost everything I had.


REEVE: Yeah.

COPELAND: But I barely survived. I mean, I don't know I did. And this is leading up to the same thing again.

MARY-JEAN PALMER, SHOPPER FROM FLORIDA: I often wonder what encourages people to be a Democrat because I don't see a lot of kindness. I don't see a lot of help for our country. And I see a lot of talk and no action.

REEVE (voice-over): He got into this business at the very beginning of Trump's takeover of the Republican Party. Taylor's a serial entrepreneur and attention seeker, and he prayed to God to guide him while selling racing merch at the Daytona 500.

TAYLOR: My son said, "Dad, what's God telling you?" I said, "He came in my spirit. He wants me to help Trump." I said, "I'm going to order 1,000 t-shirts." He said, "Dad, but that's

crazy. You know how crazy you get. Just get 100." I said, "Go big or go home, boy." I said, "If God is telling me, we'll sell every one of them and if not, we'll throw them in the trash can and leave."

All we had was a white t-shirt that said "Hire the Vets, Fire the Idiots, Trump 2016" on the front -- red, white, and blue. And on the back, it said "Finally Someone With Balls, Donald J. Trump," OK? And I became known as the balls man on the tour.

REEVE (voice-over): Taylor opened the store in the fall of 2020 inside a 100-year-old church. After the election, the big seller was "Stop the Steal."

REEVE: Did you think the election was stolen?

TAYLOR: There's no doubt that the election was stolen -- yeah.

REEVE: And what did you think of January 6?

TAYLOR: It was a bad thing. But if you look back and you actually look at the tapes and stuff they were let in.


TAYLOR: But they still should have never went inside, OK? You never go in somebody's house or a house -- a public house like that -- yeah.

REEVE: Does that complicate what you think of Trump at all that he --

TAYLOR: No, no.

REEVE: Why not?

TAYLOR: Definitely not. Because he definitely didn't tell them go and storm the house.

REEVE: Would you have any interest in running this store if Trump weren't so controversial?

TAYLOR: I doubt it. I like his controversy. You know, we need something that we can laugh about and be happy about.

There's liberals that think they can in here and actually tell me what to do. The last one was a professor from UNC and she was just telling me what a great job Biden's doing. And I tried to tell her to leave.

REEVE: But do you not appreciate, you know, her coming in --

TAYLOR: Oh, I --

REEVE: -- and wanting to mix it up a little bit, you know?

TAYLOR: Oh, I love it, yeah. But she don't want to hear what I have to say. She wanted me to only hear what she had to say.

REEVE: You've said that you want to rename this town Trump Town?

TAYLOR: Why not? The boons (PH) are dead. The mill is gone. Let's change.

REEVE: Do you think other people would support you with that?

TAYLOR: Not really, but it doesn't really matter. It's good controversy if it never happens.

REEVE (voice-over): Elle Reeve, CNN, Boones Mill, Virginia.


HUNT: Our thanks to Elle for that very illuminating report.

All right. Coming up for us here, a high-stakes meeting at the White House today where President Biden is going to discuss with congressional leaders, up next.

And the U.S. launching new strikes targeting the Houthis in Yemen. What this means for the possibility of a wider war in the region ahead.



HUNT: Welcome back. Fifty-six a.m. (PH) here in the East. It's time for today's fast-forward lookahead.

The Board of Elections in Illinois is meeting later this morning to consider a challenge against Donald Trump's candidacy. Colorado and Maine have already moved -- removed Trump from their ballots and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Trump's appeal in the Colorado case.

Today, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a major case involving the power of federal agencies. They're going to debate how much deference courts should give to the agencies' interpretations of the laws they are charged with enforcing. This is a very, very broad power these agencies have.

President Biden meeting with congressional leaders at the White House today. They're going to discuss funding for Ukraine, Israel, and the southern border. The president is proposing a $110.5 billion package that's been blocked by Republicans.

Those critical negotiations here at home come as tensions continue to grow in the Middle East. The U.S. dropping new strikes on the Iran- backed Houthis in Yemen Tuesday targeting anti-ship ballistic missiles controlled by the group. Officials now warning ships to avoid the Red Sea until further notice due to the risk of Houthi retaliatory attacks.

The Biden administration is also expected to redesignate the Houthis as a global terrorist entity after delisting them as such in 2021. Let's bring in CNN military analyst, the retired U.S. Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton. Colonel, good morning. It's always wonderful to see you.

This third round of strikes against the Houthi militants in Yemen -- what kind of impact is this making?


The -- at the moment, that impact is kind of hard to discern but it's very clear from the first series of strikes that they probably degraded somewhere around 30 or so percent of the Houthi's capability to attack shipping in the Red Sea. So that's a pretty substantial portion but obviously, it's not enough to stop that -- these kinds of attacks, and that's what's making the difference. So this is going to have to take some time before we see any noticeable degradation of the Houthi's capability to attack these ships.

HUNT: So, if it's going to take time to degrade this capability -- I mean, how realistic is it for ships to avoid the Red Sea as has been advised, especially for a long period of time?

LEIGHTON: Yeah. So it really depends on the types of goods that these ships are carrying and what their destination is. In some cases, it's going to be really tough for them to avoid the Red Sea and the transit area up to the Suez Canal. So that's going to be a difficult commercial decision.

The problem that we're running into is basically the same one that we had around 50 years ago when things were cut off after the '67 war in -- between Israel and Egypt.

And so, when the Suez Canal was closed at that time you had shipping having to cross around the Cape of Good Hope around southern Africa. And that, of course, adds a lot of travel time to those ships and it increases the price of goods. Oil prices increased just in the wake of the latest attacks and they'll probably go up further because of this kind of movement that they have to make. They have to go around Africa for probably a long period of time.


HUNT: Right. Pretty remarkable.

Colonel, the -- this redesignation of the Houthis as a terrorist entity -- I mean, first of all, why did they delist them in 2021, and what implications does relisting them have? I mean, what are they able to do that they -- that they can't if they're not listed this way?

LEIGHTON: Right. So the basic idea, Kasie, is that the reason they were delisted was really kind of as a favor to the Saudis who were trying to negotiate a deal with the Houthis. The Saudis and the Houthis had been engaged in a war over the past nine years. And the reason to delist them was basically to, in essence, allow the

Houthis to function more or less normally but as a kind of a gesture of goodwill. The problem is they didn't take that gesture of goodwill in the spirit that it was intended.

And it is one of those areas where what the administration has to do in order to properly prosecute the Houthis in terms of the war effort but also, more importantly, in terms of financing. That's why if they go back on the terrorist watchlist then it becomes something where they get financial sanctions posed against them. They also have an impact on Houthi personnel. If they are caught traveling somewhere they could conceivably be arrested for being a member of the Houthi crew.

HUNT: In terms of finances -- I mean, does this give them additional tools to prevent the Iranians from transferring money at all?

LEIGHTON: Yes. Potentially, it would because the idea Kasie would be that any bank transactions through the international banking system could be blocked because it would be seen as terrorist financing.

Now, of course, Iran is under sanctions themselves so they have a system that they've established that allows them to circumvent a lot of the sanctions.

So a lot of this is symbolic but there are some practical impacts on financing issues as well as operational issues for the Houthis.

HUNT: All right, our CNN military analyst, the retired U.S. Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton. Cedric, thank you.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Kasie.

HUNT: Up next here, a mother in Ohio accusing police of raiding the wrong home and injuring her child. How officials are responding ahead.

And a new Miss America has been crowned. How she went from the U.S. Air Force to pageant queen coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: Talk about the power of the pen. Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan says he used a ballpoint pen to puncture an airbag and free a teenager from her overturned vehicle in Tampa on Sunday night. Hogan's wife says she and her husband were leaving dinner when the car flipped over right in front of them. She calls it an absolute miracle that the girl was not seriously hurt.

Fifteen people had to be transported from Saturday night's Chiefs- Dolphins playoff game in Kansas City because of the subzero temperatures. According to fire officials, a total of 69 people needed some kind of aid. The temperature at kickoff was minus-4 degrees with a windchill of minus-20, making it the fourth-coldest game in NFL history. All right, time now for sports. The last two NBA MVPs square off in a much-anticipated showdown in Philadelphia.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher report. Andy, good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, good morning, Kasie.

You know, this matchup -- it kind of brings me back to my childhood. We just don't have many seven-foot superstar centers that go head-to- head anymore. But Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid is as good as it gets. And Embiid -- you know, he's the reigning MVP. Nikola Jokic is the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

Jokic had 24 points and 19 rebounds as his Nuggets had a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. But that's when Embiid would just take over. The Sixers center scoring 10 points in a row. He gave Philly a nice lead. Embiid would finish with 41 points and 11 assists. He's the first opposing center this season to have more points and assists than Jokic in a game.

Philly would win this matchup 126-121.


JOEL EMBIID, CENTER, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: He's the best player in the league, you know. He's the Finals MVP. So I just told him keep going. I'll see you -- I'll see you in two weeks. Keep doing your thing and that's why you're the best in the league.

NIKOLA JOKIC, CENTER, DENVER NUGGETS: I'm not playing against him; I'm playing against Philadelphia. So it was a good matchup, probably.


SCHOLES: I like the way he added "probably" to that.

Elsewhere, the Suns hosting the Kings. Sacramento was cruising to a win in this one. They were up 113-96 with about five minutes to go. But then, Kevin Durant and the Suns just turned it on. They closed the game on a 23-4 run. And K.D. made two free throws with 1.8 seconds left.

Phoenix would get an improbable win, 119-117.

Durant finished with 27 points. He was asked afterwards how they were able to stage that comeback to which he said, "I have no clue."

All right. In women's basketball, Iowa's Caitlin Clark continues to chase the all-time NCAA's scoring record. She scored a game-high 32 points in a blowout win against Wisconsin last night, passing Brittney Griner for fourth place on the list along the way. Clark is now 222 points from setting the record. She's averaging 31 points per game so far this season, so at her current pace she could move into first place by the middle of February.

All right, and a rough night for Wisconsin. It continued in Happy Valley. Penn State upsetting the 11th-ranked Badgers 87-83. It was the Nittany Lions' first win over a top-15 team since 2021. And the students who were enjoying a rare snow day there in University Park rushing the court to celebrate there, Kasie.


And their coach, Mike Rhoades -- he actually offered all those students discounted chicken finger baskets if they would come to the game and also free tickets because it was a 9:00 tipoff and all the snow. But as you can see, many of those students took him up on those free tickets and discounted chicken baskets. A good time there.

HUNT: Never underestimate the power of a free or discounted meal when you're a college kid, let me tell you.


HUNT: Andy, thank you so much for that.

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