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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Goes On Offense, Mocks Trump's Infrastructure Record; GOP Senators Seethe As Trump Moves To Kill Border Deal; Haley Fundraising Off Trump's Attacks: "I'm Not Going Anywhere." Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 26, 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.

The White House seems to be thoroughly enjoying the escalating feud between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump. According to sources, they want the Trump campaign to spend their time and resources attacking the former South Carolina governor.

At a campaign stop in Wisconsin, President Biden piled on, touting his own economic achievements and mocking Trump for his inability to pass an infrastructure plan.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My predecessor, though -- he chose a different course -- trickle-down economics. He cut taxes for the very wealthy and big corporations, increasing the deficit significantly. He talked about infrastructure every week for four years. On my watch, instead of an infrastructure week, America is having an infrastructure decade.


HUNT: And Margaret Talev -- she is director of Syracuse University's Democracy, Journalism, and Citizenship Institute. Margaret, good morning. It's wonderful to have you.


HUNT: Biden trying to tout his economic record there. I mean, clearly, that joke at Trump's expense written in there. There's a lot on display here, right -- both the accomplishments that the Biden administration has done, but also some of the challenges that President Biden is going to have on the campaign trail.

We also know that people just don't feel that great about the economy. Only 28 percent in that recent Pew poll said that they feel excellent or good about the economy. What's your view of what we saw from the president yesterday and how they're trying to position him against Donald Trump?

TALEV: Well, Kasie, what does the economy mean? If you ask an economist they'll talk to you about everything from consumer confidence to the rates of inflation or the decline of inflation, to the S&P. If you ask a consumer -- a voter -- they're going to say how much does food cost at the grocery store? What are gas prices like? Do I feel secure in my job? These are really two different measures.

But if President Biden can go to a place and say I'm building a bridge, I'm building a road. It's creating local jobs. It will help you get to work better or faster. Will make your home more valuable. That's some concrete, or at least the idea of it is concrete even if you can't afford the concrete before Election Day. So that is one thing that's going on.

The other thing that's going on is that even as Americans are still really frustrated about the fact that prices got higher two years ago and have never totally come back down and are not going to, there are signs that moods are improving and that people are becoming more hopeful that consumer confidence is turning a corner.

And so, after owning Bidenomics and all this stuff that's been a weight that's dragging him down, he and the Democrats are going to lean a little further into this and see if they can't get people actually saying yeah -- you know what? We are feeling better about the economy.

One of the big tools Joe Biden has on his side right now, at least for TBD number of days if not longer, is that Nikki Haley is driving Donald Trump crazy and making him do crazy things. And so, Nikki Haley is doing Joe Biden's campaign job for him, probably better than him. And the angrier she makes Donald Trump, the more vendetta-type things he says, the more Biden can try to argue look, I'm focused on the economy, I'm a statesman, and this is the alternative.

HUNT: Right. I mean, she is basically giving them the Donald Trump they want to run against in making him so angry he can't seem to control himself.

Margaret, the economy, obviously, as you outline, is tough for Biden for a variety of reasons, not least voters don't trust Democrats and don't trust him when you ask them who they want to be in charge of the economy.

One issue that cuts in Democrats' favor, however, is abortion. Obviously, with Roe V. Wade being overturned by the Dobbs decision we have seen this just light up voters across the map, even in places where you might not otherwise expect it. Voters also tell us that they trust Democrats on this issue more than they trust Republicans.

There were some moments -- I mean, we're carefully tracking, especially in swing states, efforts around abortion. In Wisconsin, they just decided to recommend the legislature to put a 14-week abortion ban to the voters. [05:35:05]

TALEV: Yeah.

HUNT: They were debating it in the legislature yesterday and some of that conversation I think really highlights why this is a difficult issue for some Republicans to talk about -- Republicans, generally, to talk about.

I want to play a little clip of what we heard on the floor of the Wisconsin state legislature yesterday and then we'll talk about it -- watch.


REP. JOEL KITCHENS (R-WI): The question is whether abortion is health care. Yet, if you believe that a fetus is a human life then abortion is not health care. In my veterinary career, I did thousands of ultrasounds on animals -- you know, it -- determining pregnancy and that kind of thing. So I think I know mammalian fetal development better than probably anyone here.


HUNT: He's a veterinarian, so he knows human "fetal development better than anyone here." There were some women in the floor of the legislature.

Margaret, please, what do you -- what's going on with this?

TALEV: It's basically as good as talking to your gynecologist talking to the veterinarian who is a state representative. Remember that name, Joel Kitchens. You'll be seeing him not only in ads in Wisconsin but in the suburbs of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, the great state of Virginia. I could go on. I think I know what he was trying to do -- relate his personal experience. Most women don't like being compared to livestock or fuzzy animals.

And I think it will -- the challenge for Donald Trump in every election is that there are already a lot of Republican women who moved away from him over the course of the last eight years. And even if they don't personally support abortion or think they'd ever need or want to have one, they're not comfortable with taking away those rights or turning women into animals.

So I think it's a -- it's a problematic quote politically.

HUNT: Yeah. It's these kinds of things where it just -- it just puts on display I think a lot -- a lot of the dynamics of the broader debate. And I do also think we've learned from how overwhelming some of these votes have been that obviously, this is an issue that speaks to men as well because we wouldn't be seeing these margins if it was -- if it was only women voting to keep abortion protections in place.

Margaret Talev, thank you very much. Have a good weekend. Appreciate you being here. TALEV: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. On Capitol Hill, some senior Senate Republicans are seething over Donald Trump's effort to kill an emerging bipartisan border deal. The former president posting yesterday that a border deal would quote, " another gift to the radical left Democrats" and that Republicans, quote, "...are better off not making a deal."

Trump's intervention has revealed divisions in the Republican Party and prompted some pushback from some frustrated members of the GOP who say he's depriving them of a key legislative achievement.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't doubt that he wants a perfect deal -- so do I -- on it. But we've got to be able to figure out how to be able to do something right now to get as much done as we can possibly get done.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): He doesn't want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is really appalling.

REP. TODD YOUNG (R-IN): This would be a very significant achievement of this Republican minority in the U.S. Senate of forcing the issue. So I hope no one is trying to take this away for campaign purposes.

SEN. THOM TILLLIS (R-NC): And I think this is when members of the Senate have to show some courage and do something.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in congressional reporter for Punchbowl News, Mica Soellner. Mica, good morning. It's wonderful to have you.

We had -- that's a parade of senators that Manu and Lauren Fox are -- my colleagues on the Hill spoke to. They are kind of the last group standing against Donald Trump, frankly. I mean, Mitch McConnell, arguably, would prefer to be in that camp but he is trying to navigate what's going on in his conference.

What is your latest reporting about where this deal actually stands? It seems to me that Donald Trump has killed it before it was ever fully formed, but what's the latest that you're hearing?


I think that you're exactly right. I think this deal is on very thin ice and there's a lot of frustration on Capitol Hill among senators who have been working on this for four months now.

And I think we heard Chris Murphy also express major frustration. He's one of the Democratic negotiators saying this deal is 95 percent done and now Republicans are letting Donald Trump -- who is not yet officially the nominee, I have to add -- already creating problems for this on Capitol Hill. So I think that this is -- we're going to see a lot more from Trump,

especially so early on in the race for 2024, and he's going to continue to create headaches on the Hill, as he's done in his first term in the presidency as well.

HUNT: Mica, I know you've been doing some reporting on Mitch McConnell and where he is in all of this. I mean, what's your understanding of how he views Trump right now and the impact that Trump has in the Senate?


SOELLNER: Yeah. McConnell and Trump have a very icy relationship and I think it's been pretty much nonexistent since the January 6 Capitol attack. Obviously, they strongly differ on the outcome of that and McConnell has blamed Trump for that, and I think that has made it really, really difficult.

But I think Leader McConnell still has to understand that he has to, I guess, kowtow to Trump, in some ways, as he is pretty much the presumptive nominee here in the 2024 race. And if he does eventually win the race, then he's going to make it really, really difficult for legislation.

I think that a lot of senators are frustrated by the fact that he has little understanding, by the way -- the ins and outs of Capitol Hill as he did in his first term presidency. So I think that is going to be increasingly difficult for Republicans who are already very, very divided in the House. And now, the Senate is really getting a taste of these divisions that the lower chamber has faced this Congress.

HUNT: Right. Well -- I mean, speaking of the House, this is obviously dead on arrival there.

The other piece of this -- and we've focused on the border aspects, but aid to Ukraine is something that I think it's a little hard to know since it's been a minute since they've voted on it. But previously, it's something that could have easily gotten across the finish line if, in fact, it's actually on the floor of both of these chambers. But there's a lot of opposition to it from the right wing.

What does Trump's involvement here mean for the future of that particular piece of this?

SOELLNER: Well, I think Trump's involvement is definitely going to lead to a more isolationist approach when it comes to foreign aid and foreign policy. I mean, I think there was -- senators had a meeting this week with McConnell talking about aid and many people were trying to convince some of these conservative Republicans that have been really anti-Ukraine about the aid and the importance of trying to continue to help them. And I think zero minds were changed.

I talked to several senators. I think I talked to Sen. Josh Hawley yesterday who said that he thinks that McConnell never wanted (INAUDIBLE) on Ukraine. And there's many members like him that are never going to support

Ukraine right now, especially as they see a lot of domestic crises that need to be taken care of, like the border. But the irony here is also that they're the ones holding up the border deal as well.

HUNT: Indeed.

All right, Mica Soellner of Punchbowl News. Mica, thank you.

Up next here, Nikki Haley deploying a new strategy against Donald Trump. The goal, make him mad.

Plus, Detroit autoworkers revved up to watch the Lions this weekend and getting some good news from the boss.




NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bring it, Donald. Show me what you've got.


HUNT: Nikki Haley taunting Donald Trump, taking a page straight of his playbook, turning his attacks on the RNC's efforts to seemingly force her out of the race into a fundraising drive. She is now selling "Barred Permanently" t-shirts after Trump threatened to permanently bar Haley donors from the MAGA movement. Sources telling CNN her strategy is quite simple: make the former president mad, and it appears to be working.

Let's bring in Jason Osborne. He is a former Trump campaign adviser and the former senior communications strategist for Ben Carson's 2016 presidential campaign. Jason, good morning. It's good to see you.


HUNT: So let's start with this money situation and these donors because Haley's campaign says they've raised $2.6 million since the New Hampshire primary. They say $1.2 million of that is actually from small-dollar and digital donations in the wake of Trump's threats to bar her contributors from his movement. There are some of her more high-dollar donors who are a little bit nervous about this and are starting to peel away.

But what does it tell you? There does seem to be a force out there that is reacting to this. How dangerous is it for Trump?

OSBORNE: I don't think it's dangerous at all for Trump. I mean, I think the -- my only thing that I can understand her strategy is I need to stay in this race long enough for something to happen to Trump that I have no control over, which means some sort of -- you know, one of the cases comes to trial, finally, and then he's prosecuted and convicted, and I don't know if put in jail or what have you. But -- and then she's the last person standing in the race.

So the money actually is helping her basically pay her overhead. As we enter into Super Tuesday and you're having to travel around the country, that costs money, obviously.

The big-dollar donors, at this point, really aren't -- I mean, it's something that she would like but they don't really contribute to what she's trying to do, which is basically just stay in the race for a few more months and see what happens.

HUNT: Right. I mean, the power of them is more with the super PAC as well because obviously, they're officially limited like the rest of us.


HUNT: And I am -- I am glad you gave voice to this. I mean, I talk to a lot of Republicans who don't want to see Trump be the nominee who are basically like let's just keep somebody in the race and who knows --


HUNT: -- something unpredictable might happen.


HUNT: Let's talk about the RNC for a second though, because this was a real -- like, there was some real whiplash yesterday with David Bossie putting this resolution forward saying we're going to declare Trump the presumptive nominee.

Trump was -- we're reporting Trump was on board in the beginning but there was some backlash that had him turning around, which he doesn't often do, and saying no, no. Actually, it's fine. We're not going to do this.

What's your interpretation of what happened, and was it a mistake for the RNC to do this?

OSBORNE: Yeah. I mean, I think -- we were talking about this yesterday in the sense that there is a little bit of irony here in the fact that you're sitting here campaigning on election interference and forget 2020, but you're talking about the trials and people trying to get Trump out of the race by using the court system to do it.

And yet, he has folks that are out there trying to circumvent the process at the RNC and have him declared the presumptive nominee when in all practicality it means nothing if the RNC comes out and says that he is the presumptive nominee because even in the resolution that David put forward it said he still had to get the delegates necessary.

[05:50:00] So the primaries and the caucuses that are left to be contested are still going to go on. So really, I think it was just a show of we're going to have the RNC back them, which I think is a mistake at this point because then that costs more money for the RNC moving forward. And I'm glad that they actually stepped back and said wait a minute, this is not a good strategy.

But again, I think we're going to see some of this play out in the next few months where you have different factions in Trump world that are trying to one-up each other and show that they're more forceful and a bigger player than they really are.

HUNT: Yeah, that's an interesting way to think about it because Bossie is, of course, like a longtime Trump ally, aide, et cetera. And then, of course, you've got the campaign apparatus in Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita.

OSBORNE: Correct.

HUNT: I mean, to your point, there have only been five percent of the delegates awarded so far, which I think kind of underscores why this was potentially a mistake.

How much damage do you think Nikki Haley can do to Trump if she stays in the race? He obviously -- she got under his skin. And the Biden campaign is very happy to see that Donald Trump that showed up on that stage in New Hampshire as compared to the one that was more generous and magnanimous on that stage in Iowa.

OSBORNE: Um-hum.

HUNT: How much -- how much damage can she do?

OSBORNE: Well, I think -- I mean, the damage, right, has already been done in many respects, right? I mean, you look at the turnout in Iowa. Seventy-five thousand people didn't vote this time that voted in 2016. And in New Hampshire, you had a higher turnout, but I think that is driven by the unregistered Democrats and Independents that were out for Haley.

As we move forward, Nevada is going to be kind of a blowout I think for Trump. And then the Super Tuesday and South Carolina could be a blowout.

Fundamentally, at the end of the day, Trump is -- needs to get people out to the polls that didn't vote for him last time. And I think doing this is damaging -- the approach that he is taking is not doing him any favors in swaying folks towards his side. So ultimately -- I mean, the damage has been done and that's Trump's own making. And Nikki is just, again, trying to stick around and see what happens.

HUNT: If you're Haley, what's the endgame here? It doesn't seem to be the vice presidency. I would be surprised if there's even -- I mean, maybe there will be a Trump endorsement. But if she -- especially if she goes to the -- you know, stays on the ballot, does the South Carolina primary and loses, what's next for her? OSBORNE: Twenty-eight. I mean, logically, that's the only thing I can think of. She's not going to serve in a Trump administration, clearly, because they've been banned permanently. But, I mean, I think it's '28. And I think in '28, we may see upwards of 30 or 40 different people running for this race, so set yourself apart now.

Don't lose your cool, which is what I think is her goal in the next few months, and don't let Trump get under your skin, but get under his.

HUNT: Very interesting.

All right, Jason Osborne. Thanks very much for being with us this morning. I appreciate your perspective.

OSBORNE: Thanks for having me.

HUNT: All right. Up next, former President Trump with a new effort to try to get the Fulton County, Georgia case against him dismissed. That's ahead on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: All right, time now for sports.

Third-shift workers at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan -- I love this -- they won't have to miss the Lions' game on Sunday. General Motors plans to delay the start of the shift so that employees can watch the Lions tangle with the 49ers in the NFC title game. The automaker says it is a rare moment in Detroit's sports history and workers should get to savor it.

I can attest that, in fact, it is a rare moment. My family is all from Michigan and we have been tortured by this for many years.

All right, now to our Bleacher Report. We had a huge upset down under this morning. Novak Djokovic ousted in the semifinals at the Australian Open. Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, good morning.

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

You know, this was a real shocker, especially because of how good Djokovic is at the Aussie Open. He had won 33 straight matches there dating back to 2018 and Djokovic had never lost in a semifinals there.

But it was just Jannik Sinner's day. The 22-year-old outplaying Djokovic from the start. And Joker -- just tons of unforced errors in the first two sets that were both won by Sinner. Djokovic won the third in a tiebreaker but the 22-year-old Italian would close it out in the fourth. Now, Djokovic's quest for Grand Slam title number 25 now going to have to wait.

Sinner has now, remarkably, beaten Djokovic three out of the last four times he's played him and he was asked after how he's been able to do it.



NOVAK DJOKOVIC, 24-TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMPION: Look, I was, in a way, shocked with my level in a bad way. I mean, not much I was doing right in the first two sets. And yeah, I guess this is one of the worst Grand Slam matches I've ever played.


SCHOLES: All right. We had another upset in the NFL coaching world. The Atlanta Falcons naming Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris their next head coach. Bill Belichick had been the favorite to land the job. Morris -- he was the interim coach for the Falcons back in 2020.

The Panthers also hired Buc's offensive coordinator Dave Canales.

So the Commanders and Seahawks the only opening jobs that remain. It looks more and more likely Belichick not going to be on the sidelines coaching next season.

All right. In the NBA, we had a wild finish between the Kings and the Warriors. Former Warrior Harrison Barnes feeling it in this game. He had seven threes and scored a career-high 39 points. And it was Domantas Sabonis with a big dunk right here to put the Kings up by one with 22 seconds left.

Now, the Warriors had a chance to win it. They get the ball to Steph Curry in the closing seconds but De'Aaron Fox -- great defense. Curry turns it over.

The Kings win 134-133.

And it was a rough night for Steph as he was also not named a starter for this year's All-Star Game. He was beat out by Shai Gilgeous Alexander of the Thunder. LeBron James becoming the first player ever to be named to 20 All-Star teams.

The East will have two starters from the Bucs in Giannis and Damian Lillard.

Mavs star Luka Doncic -- he was named to his fifth-straight All-Star team. And he was on hand last night with our friends over at "INSIDE THE NBA" for the announcement And I got the chance to catch up with him after.


SCHOLES: All right, Luka. This year, the All-Star Game going back to the traditional East-West format. So that means you're going to be already on the team with LeBron, Jokic, Steph, potentially.

Do you think that going back to the East-West is maybe going to bring back some competitiveness to the game?

LUKA DONCIC, FORWARD, DALLAS MAVERICKS: Maybe, you know. I mean, that was the original set. I like it better, honestly -- you know, (INAUDIBLE). So hopefully, yeah.



SCHOLES: Yeah, excited for the game in Indy, Kasie, and going back to East-West. Like, you know, the game I remember growing up.

And Luka --

HUNT: Yeah.

SCHOLES: -- congrats to him. He's a -- he's a new dad. Had a baby girl there in November.

I asked him what's more difficult, Kasie -- changing diapers or a step-back three? He said changing diapers.

HUNT: Oh, come on. It's not that bad.

Andy, for the record, how tall are you?

SCHOLES: I am only five-11, generously.

HUNT: OK, well that's tall enough.


HUNT: I just want our viewers to know. You were interviewing someone who is that much taller.

SCHOLES: Luka is a giant, yeah.

HUNT: It's not.

All right, Andy, thank you. Have a wonderful weekend.

SCHOLES: All right -- you, too.

HUNT: And thanks to all of you for joining us. I am Kasie Hunt. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.