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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

U.S. Weighing How To Respond To Attack On Military Outpost; Today: House GOP Takes Up Mayorkas Impeachment Articles; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) On Biden Campaign's Challenges In Battleground Michigan. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 30, 2024 - 05:30   ET



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

President Biden has promised a response to the drone attack that killed three U.S. service members and injured more than 30 others at a U.S. military outpost in Jordan. The administration has concluded the drone was launched by a military backed by Iran. The U.S. knows that Tehran supplies these proxy groups with money, weapons, training, and supplies.

But a host of questions remain unanswered and at the top of that list, what exactly was Iran's role in this attack and critically, what should the U.S. do about it.


JOHN KIRBY, SPOKESMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: We are not looking for a war with Iran and we're not looking to escalate here. This attack over the weekend was escalatory, make no mistake about it, and it requires a response. Make no mistake about that.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. David, good morning to you. Thank you very much for being with us this morning.

The White House obviously in a tight spot here. You have a new piece out in the Times outlining what some of their options are and the various risks associated with them. Can you walk us through how you think about what's on the table here?


The problem with the choices that the president has is that they range from the unsatisfactory at one end to the very risky at the other. So the unsatisfactory version is basically to do just more of what

he's been doing so far, which has been hitting the proxy groups that are using, as you said, Iranian arms or intelligence, or money, but aren't necessarily taking their instructions and their targeting from Tehran. They can do that. The problem is they've been doing that for weeks in Syria, in Iraq, and, of course, in Yemen, and so far it has not been a deterrent.

At the other end of the extreme, of course, is to strike the Iranians in Iran, which is what many of his Republican critics have been calling for him to do, saying it would be a sign of weakness if they didn't do it.

It's interesting to note that even President Trump, when he was in office, stopped short of doing that when he had many different opportunities along the way because that could open up the possibility of conflict with Iran itself.

And so you're likely to see something in between. Maybe strikes on Islamic Revolutionary Guard members and units outside of Iran.

HUNT: So, David, you bring up Trump and that's a very interesting sort of aspect to this because obviously, the president is up for reelection. Kirby was at the podium yesterday insisting he's not thinking about that as he makes these decisions -- but it does loom over everything. And the former president, Donald Trump, is out there saying well, if I was in office this wouldn't happen.

What -- how do you think about the difference between these two men, President Biden and former President Trump, as they run against each other? And what would be different between them as Americans try to choose who to put back in the White House?

SANGER: Well, let's start with the facts. President Trump said this wouldn't happen if I was the president. It did happen when he was president. There were American troops killed by Iranian-backed militias during the time of his presidency and he showed up at a number of services for them and so forth and had to make similar decisions along the way. And as I said, usually, at the last minute, erred on the side of caution.

In the -- in this case, John Kirby is right. President Biden shouldn't be making an election-related decision here. He's got to calibrate this in the way that he thinks will have the largest chance of both de-escalating and sending a message to the Iranians.

He's got lots of options, including signaling to Iran through the Europeans and through other interlocutors that he's going to do "X" and if they don't respond then this will be over, but they should get the message. I'm not sure any of this is going to work because each of these proxy groups operates with their own set of individual interests and they're not under the direct thumb of Tehran. And that's the problem with having proxy groups fighting wars, which is sometimes they do really stupid things.

HUNT: David, what is your sense of kind of a concrete impact that the U.S. could have on this in terms of trying to go after the way these weapons are supplied? I mean, it seems like, for example, what's going on in Yemen hasn't been as effective as I think some people would conceive of the U.S. military to be able to be. I mean, do you think that we actually kind of are capable of putting a stop to this kind of thing or not?

SANGER: You know, these are really hard things to do because the weapons themselves are small, whether they are drones or being assembled, or small missiles and rockets. They are fairly easy to hide. It's not as if you're just looking at major military bases as you would if you were examining satellite photographs of a large state. They are -- have all the advantages of Stealth and well-hidden facilities here.


And some of these proxy groups, particularly the Houthis in Yemen, know the last thing the United States wants to do is put ground troops in Yemen. You know, we've had our collection of Mideast wars. If anything, the president is considering taking out of Iraq the 2,500 troops that remain, which are there mostly to go hunt down ISIS.

So it's a really difficult thing to do. If it was easy it would have been done years ago. And just saying well, we'll hit Iran, the supplier, is a gratifying sound bite but it's also not that easy to go do. I think the U.S. has been trying to figure out for a long time how to slow the movement of the drones between Iran and Russia which, of course, is using them in Ukraine.

HUNT: Fascinating, all of it.

All right. David Sanger, thank you very much. Very grateful to have you.

SANGER: Great to be with you.

HUNT: All right.

Turning now to Capitol Hill where House Republicans are expected to take up articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas this morning. The articles, first released on Sunday, accuse Mayorkas of, quote, "Refusing to comply with the law" and "Breach of public trust" in his handling of the southern border.

In response, Democrats released a 29-page report yesterday defending him. They titled it, quote, "Republican Abuse of Power: The Sham Impeachment."

Let's bring in senior congressional reporter for Punchbowl News, Andrew Desiderio. Andrew, good morning. It's wonderful to have you here.

We're kind of seeing this split screen on Capitol Hill on the border. You've got House Republicans who are, of course, trying to impeach the Homeland Security secretary, on the one hand. But on the other hand, Senate Republicans are trying to work on a bipartisan border deal with Mayorkas. I mean, this really seems to underscore how they are not on the same page, no?

ANDREW DESIDERIO, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: Right. It's the split screen of all split screens, really. Because you have Senate Republicans in the room negotiating with Sec. Mayorkas and other Biden administration officials on a bipartisan border security package that includes some of the policy changes that House Republicans have been pushing for in the first place.

And they're also saying pretty openly, actually, that they don't think that pursuing an impeachment of Sec. Mayorkas is a worthy battle. Number one, because, of course, the Democrat-led Senate is going to quickly acquit him. And secondly is that changing the secretary doesn't necessarily change the policies that you're trying to fix at the border, right? There's just going to be someone new in there who is going to enforce the same policies that you as a Republican member don't like.

And so, what they're saying is the best way to actually change the policies is to work with them and to pass new legislation. And right now, Senate Republicans feel like they have Democrats in a very strong -- in a very strong place in terms of the leverage they have over them. Because Democrats really want this foreign aid package to go through for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, and Republicans have said you're not going to get that unless you agree to these border policy changes.

But, of course, what's happened over the last couple of weeks is not only have House Republicans started to pursue this impeachment effort against Sec. Mayorkas but you've seen former President Trump come out against this emerging Senate agreement -- and the thinking being that this is not good for him politically because it gives Biden a chance to point to something as a victory of sorts with regard to the border, which has been an issue that has plagued him, really, his whole presidency.

HUNT: Yeah, fascinating dynamics.

Andrew, can we zero in on Sen. James Lankford? I know you talk to him. He also was censured by the Oklahoma Republican Party in his home state not for actually -- I mean, this is -- again, we don't have the text of this agreement -- it hasn't hit the Senate floor -- just for negotiating on this.

What did Lankford tell you about this? How does he feel about what's going on back at home? I mean, this is a serious guy who came to Washington to actually try to make a difference and you've seen that in how he's conducted himself here, but he's really being punished.

DESIDERIO: Yeah. It's a reflection of where the Republican Party is these days at the local level.

You know, you talk to Sen. Lankford and he dismisses it. He says I'm not focused on what's happening sort of outside the walls of the Capitol.

But you've seen several Senate Republicans who have tried to work with Democrats on a range of issues, not just on the border, get censured by their state parties back home.

Senator John Cornyn, for example, who negotiated the gun safety bill with Sen. Chris Murphy a couple of years back. He got censured by the Texas Republican Party. He actually got booed on stage when he appeared at their annual convention a year back.

So these are things that happen at the state level that Senate Republicans try to sort of -- sort of block out of their memory and out of their view. But it really is a reflection of where the party is today, especially at the local level. And again, it's not just over the border, it's not just over guns.


Senator Thom Tillis in North Carolina, for example, has been censured by his state party several times and he actually mocks it every time it happens because he thinks it's just hilarious at this point.

But, Senate Republicans are going to continue to pursue this and we'll see what happens with the vote and, of course, what happens maybe if Speaker Johnson ever takes this up in the House.

HUNT: Yeah. It's hard -- it's hard to imagine what might happen to him with the narrow majority he has over there, but we shall see. One never knows.

Andrew Desiderio of Punchbowl News. Andrew, thanks very much for being here.

DESIDERIO: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. The Biden campaign is a bit wary about the president's prospects in battleground Michigan come November. Up next, we're going to talk to Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell who is going to break down three critical political challenges the president is facing.


HUNT: Welcome back.

This morning, the White House trying to address challenges they face in the critical swing state of Michigan. The president has three crucial issues there on the table. There's his handling of the war in Gaza, his declining support among Black voters, and his commitment to the auto industry's transition to electric vehicles.


Donald Trump exploiting -- trying to exploit a possible weakness, accusing Biden and UAW president Shawn Fain of selling the U.S. auto industry into the hands of China. That charge comes after the union endorsed President Biden.

Trump posted that Fain, quote, "...bought into Biden's vision of all- electric vehicles, which are not wanted in large numbers by the consumer, and will all be made in China."

Sources also telling CNN that Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib met with Biden's campaign manager in Michigan late last week. Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, has been very critical of the president's handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Let's bring in Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell to talk about all of this. Congresswoman, thank you so much for being here.

I want to start off with these meetings that the Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez had among -- with Arab-American community members. She obviously was also shunned by several of them.

I know that you participated in a couple of these with the campaign manager. Can you, to the extent you're able, bring us inside the room and talk a little bit about what prompted them to do this -- whether you feel like it was enough for them to actually do that -- and what happened on the ground?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI) (via Skype): So, I think these meetings were private (PH). They were productive.

They -- one of the (INAUDIBLE) Osama Siblani, who is the publisher of The Arab American News, has spoken to many people about his meeting. It was a respectful meeting but a very direct and frank conversation.

I think this has become a very -- look, people need to understand what's going on in Michigan with so many of these Arab-American families who I've known forever. They have family. They are Palestinians. They have lost family. I have one family that lost an aunt and uncle and all of their cousins. I get this story over and over again they know people that are dying.

The casework that I am doing of people not having food or water, or down to only saltwater -- they want the president to show them that they care. They want a ceasefire. They don't want anyone else to die again.

And for years, this country has talked about a two-state solution and Netanyahu has said no two-state solution. We've got to address this. It's just clear and simple. It's got to be addressed.

HUNT: Is anything short of a ceasefire going to do it? I mean, do you think Biden should call for a ceasefire right now?

DINGELL: I have on more than one occasion -- several times over the last couple of months said that we need a ceasefire. What happened by Hamas was a terrorist act. What happened were horrific murders. And I get the raping of women is something I am still -- people get very mad at me for talking about.

But I also -- I have years (audio gap). We've lost -- over 30,000 people have died, 12,000 children. That's not what any -- I think that the bulk of the American people are with me. They think Israel should exist but they don't want to see any more innocent people die on either side. A Jewish baby, an Arab-American baby -- any baby in the world is a

baby. We want children to have opportunity and hope, not look at just death.

HUNT: Yeah.

What did you hear -- you mentioned Osama Siblani. He's the founder and the publisher of The Arab American News. And he did talk to CNN about the meeting and kind of explained, like, what he told the Biden campaign manager about this.

What is your sense of what this community is going to do in November, and do you think it's enough to sway Michigan one way or another? I mean, do they feel like they can vote for Donald Trump if he's the Republican nominee? Are they staying home? And if they're doing one or the other of those two things, is that enough to cost Biden the support of Michigan in the general election?

DINGELL: No community is monolithic, so you have to remind people that Donald Trump wanted to ban Muslims. I was there when we went to the airport on a Muslim ban and how many people came.

I think -- and there are more issues than that. You know, a lot of young people -- we've got turn out young people.

We've got to get in the union halls. We've got to actually talk to the union hall members. Too many of them don't know exactly what Joe Biden has done.

But I'm also going to say to you Kasie Michigan is always a purple state. Everybody says it's a blue state because we won the ticket last time. I have been -- I'm not going to tell you how long I've been doing Michigan politics but it's a while, and we always are a purple state.

The weekend before the Al Gore-George Bush race, Al Gore ended up coming to Michigan and not Florida because the numbers were down. We won Michigan and you saw what happened in Florida.


We've got a lot of work to do. We know we do.

HUNT: Congresswoman, you mentioned union workers. Shawn Fain, the president of the UAW -- they -- led the UAW to an endorsement of Biden. Fain has been attacked by Donald Trump. Let me show you a little bit of what Fain had to say about Trump and then I want to ask you about him because he's a real character -- watch.


SHAWN FAIN, PRESIDENT, UNITED AUTO WORKERS: I don't care what Donald Trump says about me. I don't care what he thinks about me. I care about facts and the facts are very clear for the large majority of Americans. The working-class people have been left behind by Trump's billionaire class, by the billionaire buddies, and the economy only works for the wealthy.


HUNT: So that's Shawn Fain, the leader of the union.

But the reality is honestly, a lot of Americans don't buy that it's Trump that is counter to the working class.

Do you -- do you feel that on the ground in Michigan? And why is it when it's President Biden that's out there on the union picket line that people seem to think Trump is more on their side than he is?

DINGELL: So, I think the endorsement by the UAW last week was very, very important. And Shawn Fain is doing a very good job of drawing the contrast between the two candidates.

You know, when I was walking the picket line, I said do you think Donald Trump would ever walk a picket line? Do you think he wanted to see them get pay increases? Do you think he cared about their pension? Do you think he wanted to see them get health care?

And when Donald Trump says we're going to hand over the auto industry to China, you're handing the auto industry over to China if don't build products that are going to compete in a global marketplace.

I'll tell you something. Michigan put the world on wheels and we're going to keep our global leadership, and innovation, and technology. Donald Trump will hand it over to China. We are going to make sure the domestic auto industry stays at the forefront and leads the world in the next world of technology.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, I can see your passion on this issue front and center.

Do you think Biden can increase his vote share among union voters this time around?

DINGELL: You know what? I'm going to be very blunt. Nobody believed me in 2016 and so they didn't work it. Everybody knows we've got to get into those halls and tell people what he did. The pipefitters, the -- last night I had dinner with all the business managers from IBEW. And we've got to get in those halls and work that they're all fully employed -- they've got jobs. But it's coming from work that's been done.

Shawn Fain did an outstanding job at drawing the contrast between what Donald Trump did for the industry, which was zero, and what Joe Biden has. We've got to get out and tell the story and that's incumbent on all of us.

HUNT: All right, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. Congresswoman, I'm always grateful to have you. Thanks very much for being here.

DINGELL: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. Coming up next on "CNN THIS MORNING," President Biden weighing his options on how the U.S. is going to respond to that deadly attack on American troops in Jordan.



HUNT: Welcome back.

After two -- almost two years after the 2022 Winter Olympics, Team USA will now receive the team figure skating gold medal in the fallout from a doping scandal.

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

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

So imagine winning a gold medal but then having to wait two years in order to get it. But that's what happened to the U.S. figure skating team.

So, the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland finally ruled yesterday that 17-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva was guilty of an anti-doping violation, so she was handed a four-year ban after testing positive for a heart medication that could boost endurance. Valieva had said she ingested that drug accidentally.

Now, the ban is backdated to December of 2021, which is when the sample was collected. The results of the test came to light after the figure skating team event in Beijing where Valieva and the Russian team finished in first place ahead of Team USA.

So no medals were handed out amid the controversy but the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee confirmed to CNN that the American team will now finally be awarded the gold medal. No word yet on when or where that medal ceremony will be held.

All right. In the NBA, Doc Rivers making his head coaching debut with the Bucks against the defending champion Nuggets, but it didn't go quite as Milwaukee fans hoped. Nikola Jokic leading Denver to a 113- 107 win behind his league-leading 14th triple-double of the season. Jokic finishing the game with 25 points, 16 rebounds, and 12 assists.

All right. Elsewhere, the Rockets hosting the Lakers. You got another episode of LeBron versus Dillon Brooks. Fourth quarter, LeBron going for the rebound and Brooks' arm just kind of hits LeBron in the face there. The refs would take another look at it and give Brooks a flagrant foul. Now, the Rockets would go on to win this game 135-199.

And after the game, LeBron -- well, he did not want to discuss Brooks at all.


REPORTER: We were here earlier in the year and we asked you about Brooks, and you said you --



SCHOLES: Yeah, the old next question.

All right -- and finally, this time of year used to be very busy for Tom Brady. He played in 10 Super Bowls. But now that he's retired he's got time for other things like going to the zoo in Australia. And after chilling with the kangaroos and koalas, he and his buddies moved on to other exhibits.


TOM BRADY, FORMER NFL QUARTERBACK: We're coming up on the Mahomes exhibit (goats).


SCHOLES: Yeah. So that's actually dedicated to the GOATs. You could see Tom Brady having a nice laugh about that.

You know, he is considered the greatest of all time, of course, Kasie -- but now you've got Patrick Mahomes going to his fourth Super Bowl and trying to win his third. You know, most of us thought that no one is ever going to top Brady, but Mahomes is on pace.

HUNT: I mean, he's 28 years old.



HUNT: Like, what had you done when you were 28, Andy?

SCHOLES: I had not gone to four Super Bowls, I don't think. No -- yeah, I'm still not there at 40 but --

HUNT: Yeah. Let me tell you, I -- every time I reread that -- and now he's going to have Taylor Swift -- I realize I'm going to make all the NFL fans mad by saying I fricking love Taylor Swift on the field. If it brings more people in to enjoy sports I'm all for it.

SCHOLES: You cannot have a football or Super Bowl segment anymore now without mentioning Taylor Swift. So mission accomplished there, Kasie.

HUNT: Not possible.

All right, Andy. Thank you so much.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: I'll see you tomorrow.

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