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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden: "We Shall Respond" After 3 U.S. Soldiers Die In Drone Attack; Senate Finalizes Bipartisan Border Deal, Trump Aims To Kill It; Chiefs And 49ers To Square Off In Super Bowl LVIII. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 29, 2024 - 05:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: This latest incident draws the U.S. closer to direct conflict with Iran.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live in Abu Dhabi for us with more. Paula, how is this adding to fears of a wider conflict in the region?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasie, inevitably, it is adding to those fears. The -- this is exactly what many were concerned about -- that given the fact there are near-daily attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria -- almost 160 since the Gaza war started -- there was a concern that there would be loss of life and then there would be more pressure on the U.S. President Joe Biden to do more.

Now, there have been U.S. retaliatory strikes against some of the Iran proxies -- some of those Iranian-funded groups in both Iraq and Syria. But, of course, the pressure is now on for the U.S. president to do more, and the question is how much more will he feel the need to do.

Now, the U.S. troops are in these areas, we understand, so that they can fight against ISIS. They were in this particular Tower 22 -- 350 U.S. personnel, according to Central Command -- so that they could assist with the U.S. ally, Jordan. And this is just on the border with Syria.

Now, we have heard from one of the Iranian proxy groups. This is the Islamic Resistance in Iraq -- sort of an umbrella group of many other groups within Iraq. And they have said that they carried out attacks along that border on Sunday. But from the U.S.'s point of view, they are still saying that they want to find out exactly who carried this out -- which of the many groups. And there are many of these groups, which are funded, trained, and equipped by Iran that have been carrying out these attacks against U.S. personnel in the region -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right, Paula Hancocks for us in Abu Dhabi. Paula, thank you.

For more on this, let's bring in Robert Sanders. He's a national security lecturer at the University of New Haven. He previously taught at the Naval War College and is a retired Navy captain. Sir, good morning to you. Thank you very much for being here.

President Biden is promising to retaliate but, of course, the U.S. first has to identify which militia group is actually responsible.

How do you think the U.S. is likely to respond to this?

ROBERT SANDERS, NATIONAL SECURITY LECTURER, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAVEN, RETIRED NAVY CAPTAIN (via Skype): Well, we're going to respond significantly. The United States is going to look for the exact group but if we can't identify the exact group there is -- as your reporter just noted, there is umbrella groups who have connections to all of these groups. And we're going to look for the group that has the largest and greatest connection to Iran and try to punish that group as best we can.

HUNT: What is your sense of how much the Iranians honestly care about us striking those kinds of groups? We're seeing escalating calls from Republican leaders in Congress to strike more directly. In fact, some are calling on us to strike inside Iran.

What is the balance there?

SANDERS: Well, the balance is if we strike inside Iran we have committed an international act of war against Iran in violation of several articles of international law and the United Nations Charter. So that's not a self-defense strike under article 51 of the Charter. If you want to continue to do self-defense strikes under Article 51 of the Charter we're going to seek out these Iranian surrogates. Now, these surrogates are exactly what Iran wants to use in order to have them sustain the punishment and not Iran itself.

It's a great strategy for Iran to (INAUDIBLE) with injuries and deaths, and hate and discontent within our own government while they sit back and not be hit and absorb the gratitude of these other groups that they send out into the slaughterhouse in order to attack American forces.

HUNT: Can we talk for a second about the Houthis in Yemen? Because the U.S. obviously has been striking in Yemen against those groups to try to protect American and international ships in the Red Sea. But it doesn't really seem to have actually worked in terms of deterring their actions, at least not yet.

What do you see as the next step for the U.S. in that area?

SANDERS: Ninety percent of the world's goods and services move over the oceans. And the Red Sea, off the coast of Yemen, is a critical chokepoint where things have to pass by in order for them to get out into the Mediterranean or to get down in the Pacific or up into the Atlantic. The United States is going to have to continue to protect shipping in that area.


Now, will they continue to ship it -- detect it only in a defensive manner? I don't think that's going to continue to stay that way. We're going to have to go into an offensive manner at some point and look at where not just the suppliers and the initial firing launchers are located, but to go after where the weapons are brought in from. Who is the manufacturer? Cut off the logistics and the supply line.

HUNT: All right, Robert Sanders for us. Robert, thank you very much.

All right. After months of talks, there may be some progress on a bipartisan border deal. Key negotiations telling CNN that a bill could be on the Senate floor as soon as this week.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): We do have a bipartisan deal. We're finishing the text right now. This bill could be ready to be on the floor of the United States Senate next week, but it won't be if Republicans decide that they want to keep this issue unsettled for political purposes.


HUNT: Though he has not seen the text of the deal, former President Donald Trump continues to push his congressional allies to kill it in an effort to deny President Biden a legislative accomplishment on key 2024 election issues.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Please blame it on me, please, because they were getting ready to pass a very bad bill. And I'll tell you what, a bad bill is -- I'd rather have no bill than a bad bill.


HUNT: President Biden is coming out in support of the deal using the strongest -- his strongest terms yet, promising to clamp down on border crossings if lawmakers pass this legislation.

Let's bring in Mychael Schnell. She is congressional reporter for The Hill. Mychael, good morning.

So, you heard Chris Murphy there basically projecting some optimism. I struggle to see how we get past the politics of this.

What's happened over the weekend that's different from when -- you know, last week Mitch McConnell was basically saying now we've got to take this whole thing apart. Do you see this actually making it to the Senate floor?

MYCHAEL SCHNELL, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE HILL: Yeah, Kasie. Look, I don't think too much has actually changed or moved over the weekend because just last weekend, and as we are entering into the week, we had top lawmakers say this week could be the week. We could see texts. Top lawmakers -- leadership wanted to start the floor process for that border security bill. Obviously, that did not end up coming to fruition. But look, these top negotiators once again expressing confidence. You showed Chris Murphy just there.

Senator James Lankford, on Sunday, also said that they're putting the finishing touches on this legislation, though he did note that humanitarian parole, which has been the key sticking point in recent weeks, is still a problem and they're still working through that.

But look, once this gets announced there's a real question of whether or not it will have the votes to clear the Senate. Of course, there's that 60-vote threshold. You're going to need a swell of Republicans to support this thing.

And as you mentioned, the politics have gotten extremely prickly in recent days, particularly with the former president and Speaker Mike Johnson getting involved -- both throwing cold water on it. The president said -- the former president saying that Republicans shouldn't accept a border deal unless it's perfect.

Speaker Johnson saying that if the ultimate agreement is what's been rumored it would be dead on arrival in the House. So that bears the question of even if it does clear the Senate, if it's able to pass that threshold, will it even be brought to the floor for a vote in the House? Right now, it looks pretty unlikely.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, let's dig into that a little bit because obviously, Mike Johnson is a new speaker but he kind of made -- his profile has been -- he's been in Washington, like, basically since he came with Trump to Washington back in 2017. That's the world he has known. He has clearly made efforts to align himself with that way of governing. He's talked a lot about being involved with the former president.

If President -- former President Donald Trump is out on the campaign trail saying don't do this, do you think there's a world in which Mike Johnson would put it on the floor anyway?

SCHNELL: I mean, right now, I don't think he's going to put it on the floor, but there are a few dynamics. You mentioned the former president, which is a significant dynamic, particularly after he locked down those easy victories in Iowa and New Hampshire and is on his way to clinching the GOP nomination. So that force is something that you have to pay attention to, particularly when he's urging Republicans to vote against it because he wants to have this political issue to run his campaign on.

But there are also a few other dynamics here. A) the fact that House Republicans, early last year, passed their own border security bill, H.R.2. It's this sprawling piece of legislation that passed only with Republican support that Democrats in the Senate said was dead on arrival. It hasn't been brought up yet.

So, Republicans have been saying that that's their negotiating position. That they want -- Republicans in the House, rather -- that they want H.R.2. They passed that bill and the Senate should pick it up. This other dynamic here that's worth noting is the slim majority in

the House. And it's been a conversation we've been having since Kevin McCarthy was speaker because the problem has only gotten more acute. Speaker Johnson has very little wiggle room. He has an unruly right flank that has been waving the possibility of a motion to vacate -- obviously, that mechanism that was used to oust Kevin McCarthy.


So, Speaker Johnson, once again, is walking this extremely fine line of having to work with Democrats when he can and have these compromises, but also be wary of conservatives and that right flank because it just takes one person to trigger that vote on removing him.

HUNT: Yeah, it's remarkable and his majority could not be slimmer, basically. And, of course, immigration is the issue that animates and has animated this kind of group throughout in recent -- in recent years.

Mychael, can we talk for a second about the impeachment effort around Alejandro Mayorkas -- the Homeland Security situation -- because Republicans are pressing forward with this? It's very rare. It's only happened once in American history that a cabinet official has actually been impeached.

What do you expect to unfold next on that?

SCHNELL: Yeah. Well look, Kasie, first off, this is a fascinating split-screen in the Senate. You have bipartisan senators working with the administration to strike a deal on border security. And at the same exact time, House Republicans are barreling towards impeachment of the secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas. So it's a fascinating split-screen right there.

But the next thing in the process is on Tuesday, there's going to be a markup of two articles of impeachment against Alejandro Mayorkas. The first one that accuses him of willful and systemic refusal to comply with the last; the second that accuses him of breach of trust. Republicans unveiled those two articles this weekend. The expectations that those articles will advance out of the Homeland Security Committee and then it will head to the House floor and that's when we'll see that full House vote on actually impeaching Mayorkas.

Speaker Johnson said that he will bring this to the floor as soon as possible, calling the impeachment of Mayorkas a necessary priority. Of course, as you mentioned, the border has emerged as a really salient issue.

And then if that is able to clear the House, it will then go over to the Senate where the possibility of Mayorkas being removed is highly unlikely in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Of course, you need two- thirds for removal. The Senate is controlled by Democrats. Mayorkas may be impeached in the House but it's very likely he's still going to have his job.

HUNT: For sure. All right, Mychael Schnell of The Hill. Mychael, always great to have you. Thank you very much.

SCHNELL: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: Nikki Haley ramping up her attacks on former President Trump on the campaign trail. The new name she called him over the weekend. That's up next.




NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And Donald Trump had a total meltdown. A total meltdown. He literally threw a temper tantrum on stage like I had never seen.

He really needs to come face-to-face. Man up, Donald. I know you can do it. I think we're getting under his skin -- just saying. I don't know.


HUNT: More taunting from Nikki Haley on the campaign trail. She was in South Carolina where she continues to jab at the frontrunner, Donald Trump's, mental fitness and quote, "totally unhinged behavior."

President Biden also trying to use some of that same tactic trying to zero in on Trump's insecurities. He's needling Trump with a new trolling strategy in hopes of pushing him off message.

Let's bring in Wall Street Journal White House reporter Catherine Lucey. Catherine, good morning. Thank you so much for being here.

President Biden called Trump a loser over the weekend. Haley has said he needed to man up and go to a debate. The strategy does seem similar. Is it working?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (via Webex by Cisco): Well, they're doing similar things although they obviously have different goals.

Haley is now finally in a two-person race in the primary. She is really trying to make the argument that she's a real alternative to Trump. And she's trying out a number of these messages, right, Kasie?

She's calling him unhinged, saying that -- pointed to his legal issues and saying that that's a distraction, which means he's not fighting for the American people. She's also making generational arguments about how -- I mean, is it time for a younger candidate compared to Trump or Biden?

The challenge for her, obviously, is it appealing to any of the voters who are, so far, supporting Trump. Does this give her any path to winning any primary states? She's far behind in the South Carolina polls looking ahead to that primary. And she did say yesterday on one of the Sunday shows that maybe she doesn't need to win there but she just needs to get closer. So we'll have to see what that means.

HUNT: Yeah. You know, Catherine -- let me stop you for one second because I have that sound bite. Let's -- I want to show everyone kind of how she --

LUCEY: Yeah.

HUNT: -- set expectations for herself -- watch.


HALEY: I think I need to do better than I did in New Hampshire. I need to show that I'm building momentum. I need to show that I'm stronger in South Carolina than New Hampshire. Does that have to be a win? I don't think that necessarily has to be a win but it certainly has to be better than what I did in New Hampshire and it certainly has to be close.

If we win, great. If not, we've got to show that we're continuing to narrow that margin along the way.


HUNT: I mean, that was actually pretty straightforward. I mean, you're right to say -- like, she's saying she doesn't think she needs to win in South Carolina. I think it's probably because they don't think that they can win in South Carolina.

But that said, I mean, there was a specific difference -- you know, there's a specific vote share she got in New Hampshire and she's saying that if she doesn't hit that vote share it sounds like there would be calls for her to drop out if she doesn't.

LUCEY: Yeah. I mean, she's saying she needs to do better, so she's giving herself some space. But at some point, you do actually have to start winning states. So I think --

HUNT: Yeah.

LUCEY: -- there will be a lot -- I mean, there will be -- there will be -- I think even if she does better, I think there's the potential that she could face pressure to get out of the way if she doesn't win in South Carolina.

And in terms of Biden, his folks, I mean, are actually like this is already a general election. They are framing this as a general election contest against Trump and they really want to sharpen the contrast between Biden and Trump. They think that they need to. Their theory of the case is that there's a lot of voters who have been tuned out and aren't thinking about Trump and need to really be reminded of what he has done and what he is saying. And so they are really trying to focus on those attacks.


HUNT: Yeah, I know. It's really interesting.

And I'm glad -- I'm glad you sort of shifted gears, too, because Donald Trump also was kind of working in general election mode over the weekend as well. I mean, they obviously want to move on from the primary.

But there's kind of two things unfolding simultaneously that kind of play into the argument that Trump is making. One is on, of course, what we saw -- the tragedy in Jordan over the weekend with three U.S. troops being killed.

The president -- the former president put out this statement saying, quote, "We would right now have peace throughout the world" if, in fact, he was president. "Instead, we are on the brink of World War 3. This brazen attack on the United States is yet another horrific and tragic consequence of Joe Biden's weakness and surrender."

I mean, you hear this from him on the trail all the time and his voters repeat it -- this World War 3 idea. Trump's supporters will repeat it.

The other piece of this is also the border. This is what Trump had to say about the situation at the border at a rally in Nevada over the weekend -- watch.


TRUMP: There's a 100 percent chance that there will be a major terrorist attack in the United States, or many attacks, maybe. And it's all because of what's happened over the last three years.


HUNT: So if you pull those together, I mean, he's clearly trying to paint President Biden as weak.

What is the concern level in the White House around these things pulled together?

LUCEY: I mean, yeah, you're seeing Trump really trying to make these arguments. Also, it's a function of him running, in some ways, as an outsider even though he has -- he obviously is someone with a past record. He's trying to function as a challenger and an insurgent.

The White House is really trying to focus on the record that Biden has. What he has done in these spaces. I mean, the president has come out very aggressively in favor of this immigration legislation, and even saying that he would shut down the border and fix it if they pass the bill. And so, they are trying to really keep control of the narrative there.

And I think broadly on foreign policy, making the argument that he has strengthened alliances. That he has brought stability in those spaces. And I think you'll continue to see them make that argument as well. HUNT: Yeah. It's one of those -- if you talk to David Axelrod, for example, about it and he'll say well, there are some advantages to being an incumbent president, obviously, but there are also some pitfalls, which is things like this can happen to you any day of the week. And then suddenly, you're dealing with a crisis instead of running the campaign that you had planned.

Catherine Lucey of The Wall Street Journal. Catherine, thank you very much.

LUCEY: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers set to face off in the Super Bowl. Now, the big question. I mean, we know the answer to this question. Will Taylor Swift be there? She better be. We're going to talk about it in the Bleacher Report up next.



HUNT: Super Bowl LVIII is set. The Kansas City Chiefs are going to take on the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas two Sundays from now.

Coy Wire joins us from what I have to imagine is a very depressed city of Detroit. I have many friends and family still in Michigan so, yes, I can't imagine this morning. Coy, good morning.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Kasie. A lifetime of waiting for fans in Detroit is going to have to last a little bit longer as those Lions remain the only team that's been around for every Super Bowl to never have made the big game.

I was inside Ford Field there for the Lions watch party here in Detroit and it was rocking all the way through the halftime there when their team was up 24-7. But then the 49ers authored one of the great comebacks in playoff history. San Francisco scoring 27 unanswered points in the second half led by Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey. He had two rushing touchdowns.

And quarterback Brock Purdy, the guy who was the very last player taken in last year's draft -- pick number 262 -- coming up clutch again with over 300 total yards and a touchdown.

Detroit had opportunities, twice failing to convert though on fourth downs in Niners territory.

But this night belonged to the Bay, rallying from 17 down to win 34-31 as they are back in the Super Bowl for the eighth time in franchise history.

As for the Lions, I spoke to the fans after the game about their disappointment and their dreams about what could have been -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Defeated. Very upset. We thought we were going to take it home this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little speechless, heartbroken. Some things I just don't understand why we didn't go for the field goal. And as I look at the score, we blew a 17-point lead.


WIRE: Meanwhile, the Chiefs playing in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years, beating the Ravens 17-10.

KC's defense was absolutely dominant, but the player of the game has to be Travis Kelce. Eleven catches, 10 of them in the first half, for 116 yards and a touchdown yesterday, passing Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for most career receptions in the playoffs.

The Chiefs trying to become the first team to repeat as champs in 20 years since Brady, Belichick and the Patriots did it.

Patrick Mahomes, incredibly, still just 28 years old, trying to become the youngest quarterback to win three Super Bowls since Tom Brady won his third at 27.


PATRICK MAHOMES, QUARTERBACK, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: You never know how many you're going to get to or if you're going to get to any. And so, it truly is special.

ANDY REID, HEAD COACH, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: When it came time to put the hammer down, they put the hammer down, which was -- which was important. The best part is we're not done.

TRAVIS KELCE, TIGHT END, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Believe it, baby. We're going to Las Vegas, Nevada to go get us another one. You've got to fight for your right to party.


WIRE: For those of you wondering, it's going to take some logistical hurdles but, yes, Taylor Swift will most likely be in attendance for the Super Bowl in Las Vegas on February 11th. She has a concert the night before, but it's in Tokyo. And because Japan is many hours ahead of Vegas and there's a nonstop flight that takes about 13 hours, in theory, Kasie, she should be in Vegas with almost a full day of rest, if there's ever such a thing for her, to get ready to see her man -0 the man, Travis Kelce, play in the Super Bowl against the Niners.


HUNT: He is the man, right? And look at that. I mean, we could just play these pictures all day long, right? And -- I mean, like, this is what America wants to see this morning.

Coy, thank you very much. And I am really -- WIRE: You got it.

HUNT: -- sorry to all those fans in Detroit. I do feel your pain.

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