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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Haley Speaks To New Hampshire Voters At CNN Town Hall; Hunter Biden To Appear Before House GOP For Private Deposition; Biden Draws Contrast With Trump's "Trickle-Down" Economics. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 19, 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.

And the 2024 race is racing toward New Hampshire. Just four days left until Tuesday's Republican primary. Donald Trump, of course, still dominating the field.

South Carolina's former governor Nikki Haley took the stage at a CNN town hall Thursday after her third-place finish in Iowa. She reiterated her view that America was quote, "never a racist country." Haley answered questions from voters on a range of topics, including Trump's argument that presidents should have immunity even when they commit crimes.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you get just total freedom to do whatever you want? No. That's never the way it was intended to be. There needs to be accountability. No one is above the law.


HUNT: And a few moments after that she said this.


HALEY: I said I would pardon him. This is no longer about whether he's innocent or guilty. This is about the fact how do we bring the country back together.


HUNT: Governor Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, back in Florida where he said indictments against Trump took the spotlight as he entered the race last year. He also criticized Haley's poll numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nikki Haley cannot compete with Donald Trump there. And the fact that she can't do it there, she can't do it anywhere. She's certainly not going to do it in South Carolina.


HUNT: And even though Trump is up by 30 points, approximately, in Haley's home state, he has been targeting her as too weak to take on Biden.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She would not be able to handle that position. She would not be able to handle the onslaught.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in senior politics reporter for Axios, Eugene Scott. Eugene, good morning. It's always wonderful --


HUNT: -- to see you.

Let's start on this immunity question, actually, and the way that both of these candidates handled talking about that. Haley, in particular, just saying he's not above the law. Obviously, disagrees with the Trump legal strategy here but insisting that she would still pardon him should he be convicted and she have that power.

SCOTT: Yeah. Haley is trying to win Trump supporters and Independents at the same time, and what's difficult about that is that these voting blocs actually often have different views on Donald Trump and how he should be handled.

Many Independents are very frustrated with who Donald Trump has been since leaving the White House and have expressed real concern that he continue much of the problematic behavior that he displayed while president. And many of the base love him and want him to keep doing what he's done, and support his plan for retribution towards his enemies, and could get behind him actually doing something again that could lead to him maybe needing to be pardoned again.

And so, Haley's trying to straddle the fence. Whether it will actually lead to a second-place finish is to be determined. It certainly won't lead to a first-place finish based on what polls are giving us now.

HUNT: So, Eugene, let's talk about DeSantis for a second. This was a pretty illuminating interview he did with Hugh Hewitt.

He's said before that the legal problems that Donald Trump has have basically crowded everything out, right? That, like, if Trump hadn't been indicted in the first place there would have been a lot more oxygen for this primary and perhaps the MAGA base wouldn't have consolidated so quickly in Donald Trump's corner. But he also -- yesterday, in this interview -- said that he regrets

his own media strategy at the outset, which really stood out to me as someone who was trying to get an interview with him back when he was contemplating -- before he had announced running for president. And their attitude was simply, oh, we don't need to talk to you or anyone else in the national media.

Take a listen to what he had to say to Hugh Hewitt.


DESANTIS: I came in not really doing as much media. I should have just been blanketing. I should have gone on all the corporate shows. I should have gone on everything. I started doing that when we got into the end of the summer, and we did it. But we had an opportunity, I think, to come out of the gate and do that and reach a much broader folk."



HUNT: Remarkably reflective, honestly.

SCOTT: Um-hum.

HUNT: You don't hear candidates do that as much, especially when they're still in the race.

What do you make of DeSantis' comments there, and is he right that it was a mistake not to do more media?

SCOTT: It certainly was. I mean, many of us were trying to get return calls or emails from his campaign.

But we know that much of the strategy coming from him and many politicians like him is to stay away from mainstream media. They vilify many people outside of the conservative media not realizing how many people that they're trying to reach actually watch CNN, actually read Axios. And so, you're losing and missing an opportunity to connect with many of the voters that you hope will get you where you want to go.

The reality is that when you're trying to beat someone as popular as Donald Trump, no matter how much good press you got in Florida after the pandemic, you really need to connect with people beyond your base in that state if you're going to be victorious -- and he didn't do that.

HUNT: Yeah, it's so interesting. And he, in particular, has talked about how the conservative media has been all in for Trump. And I wonder if there's a sense -- there's a missed opportunity in places where people would have been more willing to hear from him than that conservative media echo chamber that so many of these candidates like to spend all their time in. Eugene, let's talk, also, briefly about this -- there's a -- the Supreme Court is having to consider, obviously, whether Donald Trump is going to be allowed to remain on the ballot in Colorado. It's going to be the key test for all these other states as well.

SCOTT: Yeah.

HUNT: There was a pretty ominous filing on Thursday. His legal team said in a brief, quote, "That the decision will promise to unleash chaos and bedlam if other state courts and state officials follow Colorado's lead and exclude the likely presidential nominee from their ballots."

This language, "chaos and bedlam" -- I mean, I take their point on a legal front that it could be --

SCOTT: Um-hum.

HUNT: -- legally very chaotic if all these states are making decisions. But it also echoes some of the language that we heard in the run-up to January 6.

SCOTT: Right.

HUNT: This threat that there is going to be some sort of force unleashed if Trump doesn't get what he wants.

How do you read into this, and do you feel as though it's ominous?

SCOTT: Yeah. I mean, his critics certainly view it as a threat but so do some of his supporters who want him to return to the White House -- or, at least, conservatives, at least -- but don't want to see a return of January 6.

There's real concern about whether or not Donald Trump will be able to walk away from this campaign -- this contest right now as a loser if things do not go the way he wants and accept the results of everything, and this statement suggests that maybe he will not. And it's really unfortunate to many people who are still healing from the repercussions of January 6, which was not anywhere near as long as many people think it was despite some people seeming to want to rewrite what actually happened.

HUNT: Yeah.

All right, Eugene Scott. Eugene, thank you very much for that. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

SCOTT: Thanks -- you, too.

HUNT: All right. Another stopgap spending bill is on the president's desk this morning after Congress passed it just in time for today's funding deadline. The short-term extension will avert a partial government shutdown until March. That gives lawmakers some time to focus on another matter that is keeping them busy -- the immigration deal that is splitting the Republican Party. As Senate negotiators scramble to put together a bipartisan deal on

the border and Ukraine funding they've got a new stumbling block, former President Donald Trump, whose opposition to the deal could kill it in the House entirely, lawmakers tell CNN.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But will it be harder to get behind a deal if President Trump opposes it?

SEN. MIKE BRAUN (R-IN): I think so.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): There are some folks, without question, that don't want to get any solution to a problem because they think that might help the other side. Do you think Donald Trump has influence on Republicans? Yeah.


HUNT: You can hear that in Mitt Romney's tone.

Let's bring in Farnoush Amiri. She is congressional reporter for the Associated Press. Farnoush, good morning. It's always wonderful to have you.

Those quotes that my colleague Manu Raju snagged from Mike Braun and Mitt Romney came in response to this Truth Social post from Trump. He wrote that House Republicans should not accept a border deal at all unless they get everything they're demanding.

How do we think that the House Speaker Mike Johnson is going to react to this? Because he obviously -- should the Senate pass some sort of deal in a bipartisan way he's going to be under pressure to put it on the House floor. But it's entirely up to him whether to do that.

FARNOUSH AMIRI, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yeah. I mean, Speaker Mike Johnson has said -- he told reporters in the past few days that he's spoken regularly with the former president about this border deal, about funding Ukraine and potentially, Israel, and the supplemental negotiations that are going on. And to -- for the president to put out that statement -- I mean, it puts immense pressure on Speaker Mike Johnson who already, yesterday, barely got the majority of his conference to support a C.R. to fund the government.


So this is really exuding the challenges that many people thought that Johnson would be able to overcome that Kevin McCarthy couldn't, but it's nearly identical issues that both men have had in leading this really, really contentious caucus.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, I'm having flashbacks to when Paul Ryan was the speaker and Donald Trump was president. He'd fire off a tweet and all of a sudden, the planned day in Congress would go entirely off the rails -- AMIRI: Yeah.

HUNT: -- because he could no longer control his own -- his own conference.

What's your sense, Farnoush, of -- you know, we're seeing some threats to vacate the chair, which is what happened to Kevin McCarthy, if he moves forward with this -- one from Marjorie Taylor Greene.

How real do you think the possibility is that Johnson might get thrown out of his job considering how messy it was to get him in there in the first place?

AMIRI: Yeah. I mean, it depends on who you talk to on Capitol Hill. But I think -- I mean, if you look at the 30,000-foot larger scene here -- I mean, do House Republicans, after everything that they went through from January of last year to the end of the year where they lost one speaker and, like, painfully tried to elect one -- do they want to go through that process again in an election year where House Democrats look very likely to regain the House?

I -- most people that I speak to say that there is not the support there. Again, we have to remember it was Democrats who helped push along the motion to vacate. Who helped support those eight Republicans in kicking Kevin McCarthy out. I don't believe the support is there again for them to do that in this case, either. So I don't think it's a viable issue right now but, of course, it's going to be hanging over Johnson's head every time he has to make a difficult decision like he did --

HUNT: Yeah.

AMIRI: -- this week.

HUNT: Fair enough.

So, Farnoush, you've also covered what's been going on with Hunter Biden. And we have learned that yesterday, the House Oversight Committee announced he's going to come in for a private deposition. February 28 is currently what it's set for.

AMIRI: Um-hum.

HUNT: They've been insisting for months that he just wouldn't do that. Why'd they change their tune?

AMIRI: Well, they've been involved in these negotiations, as you just mentioned, since September, October, November. They've been trying to get Hunter Biden -- and he is obviously the star witness besides the president himself in their impeachment inquiry. So it is a stunning revelation that they were able to come to this agreement, as you said, after months of defiance.

What we believe the difference is, is that they were able to make negotiations to publicly release the transcript in a timely fashion. As folks like myself who cover these long, long, long private depositions -- usually, all you do is -- Republicans come out and tell you one thing; Democrats come out and tell you one thing. And it's really hard as a reporting standpoint but just as a fact-finding standpoint to find out what really happened.

So I think that the Hunter Biden team was able to secure some of those assurances that his words would not be taken out of context. They won't be using them frame them and cherry-pick them for their own political gain.

HUNT: Really interesting.

All right, Farnoush Amiri of the Associated Press. Farnoush, thanks so much for being here on a Friday.

AMIRI: Yeah.

HUNT: Have a great weekend.

AMIRI: Thank you. Bye.

HUNT: All right. Up next, President Biden on the campaign trail touting his accomplishments. His challenge, getting the message through to voters. That's next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

President Biden was in North Carolina yesterday trying to rev up his reelection campaign, touting the $3 billion in broadband internet funding he secured for the state. Biden also taking shots at former President Donald Trump's economic policies and condemning him for saying that he hopes the economy crashes.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our approach is a fundamental break from trickle-down economics supercharged by my predecessor. My predecessor -- everything was trickle-down but not a lot trickled.

He wants to see the stock market crash. You know why? He doesn't want to be the next Herbert Hoover. As I told him, he's already Hoover. He's the only president to be president for four years and lose jobs, not gain any jobs. Frankly, to put it very politely, he doesn't know what he's talking about.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in Margaret Talev, senior contributor at Axios and director of Syracuse University's Democracy, Journalism, and Citizenship Institute. Margaret, good morning. It's always wonderful to have you. Can we sort of start on why he went to North Carolina? Because I'm not going to lie -- I'm a little confused considering there are a host of other swing states that are likely more winnable for the president. Do we know why they picked this place?


I mean, look, I think we're in -- I think we're about to see the president and the vice president go out on a campaign to reach women and to reach suburban voters, and to talk about economic as well as personal issues, like reproductive issues in a different way.

So I think -- look, all -- nationally, most of the eyes are focusing on those early Republican primary states but Joe Biden is trying to get headlines in his own way. And he feels, right now, that the economy and trying to put the burden on Donald Trump for the economy is the way to do it.

I think that his challenge is really going to be, Kasie, perception. It is -- it's true that Donald Trump had historic job losses on his watch. That's because of the pandemic. It's also true that a lot of the economic problems that Joe Biden has contended with, including inflation, are a product of the pandemic.

The difference is that many Americans whose votes Joe Biden needs don't feel that way. They say I remember when things were cheaper and times felt better and easier during Donald Trump, and I remember the things got more expensive during Joe Biden. So making the -- noting the fact that things actually turned under Trump is not necessarily the way to change voters' psychology about this.

And we, at Axios, do this monthly swing voter focus groups. Our most recent ones out of Nevada showing that a lot of those swing voters who went from Trump to Biden may actually be open to going back to Trump now because of their perceptions about Biden and the economy. So we are watching that. It's just a focus group, but watching this as a trend.


HUNT: Yeah, it's very interesting.

Margaret, can we talk about New Hampshire for a second because the president's not on the ballot up there? It's not a contested Democratic primary necessarily, but it does seem a little bit like a risk that they took there.

Are they worried about it at all, especially considering the narrative of Trump's dominance that's emerging from the Republican primary?

TALEV: Yeah. And Kasie, of course, you know the backstory and many of your viewers do, but in case you're tuning into this late, the reason he's not on that ballot, among other factors, is because Biden and the DNC wanted the South Carolina primary to come first. And New Hampshire said nope, that's our prerogative -- we get to do it. And so, as a result of DNC bylaws and all kinds of stuff, he's not going to be on that ballot.

It's not going to prevent him, obviously, from being renominated as the Democrats' nominee, but it does make it possible that somebody like Dean Phillips could actually emerge with more numbers on top.

So, to your point, the -- Team Biden has begun this sort of quiet campaign of trying to make sure the Democrats write in Joe Biden so he doesn't have a technical embarrassment on this ballot. And they're actually working quite hard at it but they don't won't to talk about it officially.

So I think you're going to see them tout a win in New Hampshire, assuming that his numbers post. And if it's a bust and someone else emerges with the Democratic numbers you're not going to hear them talking about it all except for saying that contest didn't matter. But it's like a super-awkward twist and it's what happens when a state pushes back against the party's strategy.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, it's going to get even more interesting, I have to say, in 2028 that they did that.

Margaret, what -- how are Democrats viewing what happened in Iowa, especially in the Biden campaign? I mean, I know they were basically counting on Trump being the nominee. But have they -- I mean, how have they reacted to it? Are they adjusting their strategy at all?

TALEV: Look, this is what Biden's been preparing for for quite some time but the strength of it shows them the enthusiasm that many in the Republican base have. That is problematic for Joe Biden given the sort of weaker enthusiasm on his side.

I think that is part of why you're going to see on this 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, coming up in a matter of days, the president and vice president going out there to sort of counterprogram around New Hampshire. Because that -- not just health care but women's rights -- reproductive rights is the way to tap into the Democratic enthusiasm -- Democratic base enthusiasm.

HUNT: Right.

All right, Margaret Talev of Axios. Margaret, thank you, as always.

All right. Up next, Attorney General Merrick Garland sounding off on former President Trump and political bias accusations at the Justice Department. The CNN exclusive interview ahead.



HUNT: The divisional round of the NFL Playoffs kicks off tomorrow with the frontrunners for MVP and Rookie of the Year going head-to- head.

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


So, as a Texans fan, I can confirm this is the most excited the fan base has ever been about the team. You know, they've been so bad for so long but now, C.J. Stroud has the team two wins from the Super Bowl. And Stroud, at 22 years old, already the youngest QB to ever win a playoff game. And he continues to shine brightest when the stakes are the highest.

The Texans -- they're going to need another incredible effort from him as they're 9 1/2 point underdogs against the Ravens. And all the pressure is really on Baltimore and quarterback Lamar Jackson. He's the overwhelming favorite to win his second MVP award, but he's just 1-3 in the playoffs. The Ravens -- they have never scored more than 20 points in any of those games.

Now, Lamar -- he was asked how confident is he that they'll be able to do better than that.


LAMAR JACKSON, QUARTERBACK, BALTIMORE RAVENS: I'm very confident. Very, very confident. Extremely confident. You know, just keeping my mind focused on the assignment and not letting anything into it -- into my mind that will mess up my -- mess up my thoughts for the game, and stuff like that. And it is great.

C.J. STROUD, QUARTERBACK, HOUSTON TEXANS: We don't really pay attention to what people say. It's not up to them what goes on on the field. So it's really just up to us to go out there and do our jobs. And we believe in ourselves.


SCHOLES: All right. Hopefully, that's a good one. You've got the Texans and Ravens kicking off at 4:30 Eastern tomorrow, followed by Packers at Niners. Then on Sunday, it's Bucs-Lions at 3:00.

The weekend ending with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs and Josh Allen and the Bills. The third playoff meeting in the past four years but the first time it's in Buffalo. Mahomes -- he's 2-0 against Allen in the playoffs. This is going to be his first-ever road playoff game.

All right. The NBA, meanwhile, postponing a second-straight Warriors game following the sudden death of assistant coach Dejan Milojevic. Tonight's game against the Mavs is going to be moved to a later date. Milojevic died Wednesday after suffering a heart attack at a team dinner the night before. He was just 46 years old.

All right, on the court last night, Anthony Edwards continuing to show why he's one of the league's best young stars. He picked up his dribble but realized he's got a clear path to the hoop. It went off the backboard to himself for the slam. Edwards scoring 28 points as the T-wolves pull away from the Grizzlies in the fourth winning 118- 102. Minnesota, at 3-11, leads the Western Conference at the midway point of the season.

All right. And finally, Miami tight end Cam McCormick announcing that he's coming back for his ninth season of college football. That's right -- nine. McCormick began his career at Oregon back in 2016 but he missed parts of four seasons due to injury. He also red-shirted. And then he got an extra year due to COVID.


McCormick is now 25 years old and said the pursuit of excellence, Kasie, has no goal line. This man right here is living the dream. I would have loved to have stayed in college for nine years.

HUNT: I know. I was going to say I don't think I actually realized that when I was in college. Certainly, my parents would not have gone for me spending nine years in college.

SCHOLES: It helps when you're on a scholarship. It helps when you have a football scholarship, right?

HUNT: I know, right? That's pretty awesome.

All right, Andy. Thank you so much.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: Have a wonderful weekend.

SCHOLES: You, too.

HUNT: And thanks to all of you for joining us as well. I'm Kasie Hunt. You have a wonderful weekend. But don't go anywhere because right now, "CNN THIS MORNING" starts.