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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

House GOP Moves To Impeach First Cabinet Official In 150 Years; Biden Reaches Decision On Response To Killing Of Three U.S. Soldiers; Ukraine Denies Zelenskyy Is Firing Top Military Chief Zaluzhny. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2024 - 05:00   ET




House lawmakers took a step closer to impeaching a cabinet official. The first time -- it would be the first time in almost 150 years.

Plus, President Biden says he's decided how the U.S. will respond to the killing of three U.S. troops in Jordan. When will it come and where?

And did you hear the one about the mega pop star and the sports hero apparently faking their romance, fixing the big game and maybe even trying to sway the presidential election? Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce and the MAGA meltdown.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Wednesday, January 31st.

Just a short time ago in the House, lawmakers took a step towards doing something that we have not seen since Ulysses S. Grant was president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The clerk will report the tally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On that vote, Mr. Chairman, 18 ayes and 15 noes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes have it and the motion is agreed to.


HUNT: That was the Homeland Security Committee voting along party lines to advance two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The GOP effort moves next to the floor for a full House vote. Impeaching Mayorkas would be an historic move. A cabinet official has only been impeached once before is and it was back in 1876. After four months of negotiations, meanwhile, the Senate's bipartisan emerging bipartisan immigration deal appears to have no way forward and is, quote, absolutely dead. That's at least what House Speaker Mike Johnson reportedly told Republicans yesterday during a closed door conference meeting.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I just heard Speaker Johnson saying it's absolutely dead, which is what I wanted to hear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a nonstarter, as the speaker said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said it's not going anywhere.


HUNT: Despite once pushing for border legislation, Johnson and his conference changed their tune insisting now the responsibility and power to fix the migrant crisis falls solely on President Biden.


REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): Joe Biden doesn't need Congress. Why are we always feeling that Congress needs to do something about the Southern board? We don't have to do a damn thing.


HUNT: Wow. Okay. Let's bring in Stef Kight. She's a political reporter for "Axios".

Stef, good morning. The way that the congressman put it there, they don't have to do a damn thing, he says is quite the abdication for House Republicans who insist this is the biggest crisis. They could do something about it if they wanted to, the politics of this are dictating they are not going to, it seems.

STEF KIGHT, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: It certainly seems that way. You know, just over the weekend we heard from Speaker Johnson and, of course, former President Trump, you know, kind of basically already setting up this idea the bill was dead before. The Senate had finished writing it.

And then we hear yesterday from additional Republicans who seem very happy to just go ahead and say, yeah, we don't want anything to do with this border bill. We want Biden to take it into his own hands, which is a change from what we have heard from Republicans who have used the fact that Democrats have been unwilling to come to the table on border negotiations in the past as political ammunition for them.

And now, they are saying, no, actually, we're not going to get behind any of these border measures, which would be very conservative and restrictive because they think Biden needs to be doing more. And, of course, all of this is in 2024 as we're heading into an election. HUNT: Yeah. No, to that point, my colleague Manu Raju questioned

Speaker Johnson about the Trump of it all yesterday. Watch this exchange.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you simply trying to kill this to help him on the campaign?

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: No. Manu, that's absurd. We only have a tiny, as you know, razor-thin, actually a one- vote majority right now in the House. Our majority is small. We only have it in one chamber, but we're trying to use every ounce of leverage that we have to make sure this issue is addressed.

I have talked to former President Trump about this issue at length. And he understands that. He understands that we have a responsibility to do here.



HUNT: So he acknowledges that he has spoken to President Trump, but he says that killing this is not about President Trump, when it is President Trump who has called for this and is pushing for it among the people that we saw at the top of the show talking about how they don't want to do a border deal.

KIGHT: Exactly. I mean, and we know, you know, this is what we know. We know that Trump is still by far the leader of the party and the fact that he has done so well in the early primaries is just solidifying his leadership of Republicans as we move to November. And we know that he talks frequently with Speaker Johnson. We know that he has allies in Congress, who have endorsed him and who stay in communication with him.

And we know that around the time that Trump has been speaking loudly about his opposition to this bill that's being formed in the Senate, we have also started to hear more frequently from Speaker Johnson and from these Republicans.

So you can kind of do the math there. It seems that there is at least some form of influence, of course. Maybe there are other reasons at play for Republicans in that House deciding that they are not going to go for a bill that is yet to be finished being written. But there's political dynamics at play here.

HUNT: For sure. Stef, briefly, this impeachment situation with Mayorkas, it went late at night, it was 1:00 in the morning before they voted this out. What did we hear from this committee? How contentious was the debate?

KIGHT: I mean, obviously, the debate went very long. We're looking at 15 hours, I think, that the committee was debating over these two articles of impeachment. Republicans have said that Mayorkas has not utilized federal law the way he's supposed to.

He should be detaining and deporting migrants more aggressively than he has been. They also claim that he lied to Congress. They really focused on one statement about him saying that he had operational control of the border. Democrats really focused their arguments on pointing out that they feel that Republicans have not provided any evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional standard for impeachment.

HUNT: For sure.

All right. Stef Kight of "Axios" -- Stef, thanks very much.

KIGHT: Thanks.

HUNT: All right. Up next, President Biden has a plan to retaliate Sunday's attack by Iran-backed militia groups that left three U.S. soldiers dead. It was the first time American troops have been killed by enemy fire in the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

The president believes a strong response is required, according to the White House. Raising concerns about a wider conflict in the region. The president spent much of Monday huddling with his national security team, weighing options for a response.

Speaking outside the White House, he reiterated that he's not seeking a wider war with Iran.


REPORTER: Have you made a decision how you'll respond to the attack?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. I don't think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That's not what I'm looking for.


HUNT: All right. Elliott Gotkine is live for us in London with more.

Elliott, good morning to you. What's the reaction been in the region so far as we wait for the U.S. response here?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Kasie, I guess the big concern in the region is precisely what President Biden says that he is not looking for, which is a wider war, an escalation to the tensions that are already sky high in the region. I suppose the overall objective here is that they plan to strike back more powerfully than they have done thus far in response to attacks.

The overall objective is to degrade, deter and avoid escalation. They want to degrade the capabilities of these Iran-backed militias to prevent them from being able to carry out such attacks in future. They want to show them that they really shouldn't carry out such attacks in future because of the response. And we could argue that the announcement by Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq,

which is the most powerful Iran-backed militia there, saying it's going to suspend attacks against U.S. targets. It says to avoid embarrassing the Iraqi government, but perhaps that could be seen as having been deterred by the U.S.'s planned response. I suppose the final thing avoiding escalation.

But we have already seen with U.S. attacks from the U.S. and its allies against Houthi rebels, which have been menacing in the strait and the Red Sea, that hasn't deterred and hasn't completely degraded their capabilities. The presence of a strike force in the Eastern Mediterranean hasn't prevented Iran-backed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon from carrying out the attacks against Israeli targets.

So it's unclear as to what kind of attack could have the desired effect without going into the escalatory phase. The one thing we do know is that it probably won't be on Iranian soil -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Elliott Gotkine for us, live in London. Elliott, thank you.

All right. Up next here, stunning new reporting on how much Donald Trump spent last year on legal bills and where that money came from.

Plus, Ukraine denying reports that President Zelenskyy is firing his top military chief.

This as the CEOs of five major social media platforms are on the Senate hot seat today to try to explain how they are preventing the exploitation of our children online.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Ukraine is at a crossroads this morning in their war with Russia. With U.S. aid stalled and much of the country in ruins, reports are circulating about President Zelenskyy firing or planning to fire his top military chief. Zelenskyy is reportedly frustrated by the lack of progress with Ukraine's much heralded counteroffensive.

Let's bring in CNN's Max Foster to dig into this a little bit.

Max, good morning to you.

What do we know about Zelenskyy's relationship with his military chief and why are we hearing about it now?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, generally a united front in public because they are at war. They need to show that united front, of course.

[05:15:00] Occasionally, there's lots of speculation that the two men are challenging each other to some extent, but Zaluzhnyi very rarely giving interviews, but he spoke to the "Economist" back in November and he said war was at a stalemate. And then Zelenskyy came out later on saying it doesn't feel it's at a stalemate. So, a difference in messaging there.

And obviously, it's not great the head of your military says it is at a stalemate when you want to show the world that you're making progress and you need more funds other countries to try to press ahead with that progress. It doesn't work politically to describe it as a stalemate, but perhaps the military was just being realistic there and perhaps a lot of people would agree with that.

HUNT: Yeah, Max. You know, it's interesting you frame it that way because that's exactly when I -- when you listen to how Republicans here in the United States, the ones that are opposed to spending more money to Ukraine, when you listen to them talk about it, they are constantly saying we need to see a plan to win. We need to see a plan to win. We can't just keep sending money if there's no plan to win.

So that does seem to fly right in the face of what Zaluzhnyi's comments are. It flies in the face of what Zelenskyy would need to accomplish.

FOSTER: Yeah, absolutely. It's an issue. And, of course, there are -- there is division in Kyiv like there is in any capital, but they have this huge amount of pressure on them to show this united front all the time. So, it's how you deal with that ultimately afterwards and within the confines of, you know, the politics and the power. They don't want it to be seen to be breaking down. That just won't be good for the war effort, of course, at domestic level, but also internationally.

HUNT: Right, morale.

So, Max, is your -- what is your sense of where this goes from the European perspective? I mean, if U.S. aid is not coming, and right now, we spent the top of the show talking about how the border deal that is supposed to carry this aid through the Congress is totally fallen apart, there's no clear path right now for Ukraine aid out of the U.S. Congress, how does it look across the rest of the world?

FOSTER: You know, people are very engaged with the U.S. election for that reason. Increasingly, the feeling is that whoever gets in, whether it's Biden or if it is Trump running for the Republicans, there's real pessimism about money coming from the U.S. because what does Biden have gain by pushing hard on that because clearly in the U.S., there's lots of domestic issues taking the headlines that matter to people. Then it's who picks up the bill and just a general sense that the European Union, U.K. can't get the same funds together.

So a huge amount of pessimism about Ukraine's ability to keep up this effort to push forward across the Russian lines. And, you know, it's gone to the extent now where other countries in Europe are setting up defenses because they maybe next. There's even talk of conscription in the U.K. to try to support forces on the front lines -- for those European frontlines against Russia.

So, they are really scenario planning for if the Russia pulls -- if the U.S. pulls out -- pulls its funding and what it means for Ukraine and wider Europe.

HUNT: Yeah, dramatic consequences potentially here. I do feel like certainly the debate here in the U.S. has lost -- lost the thread a little bit on Ukraine, which is I think part of why you're seeing all this. And we should, of course, underscore that the Ukrainians are denying to CNN that the military chief in Ukraine has been fired, but as we just outline, there's all kinds of reasons why these tensions are bubbling to the surface right now.

Max Foster -- Max, thank you. Always good to see you.

FOSTER: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Democratic Congresswoman Bush, the target of a corruption probe from the Justice Department. Her defense, up next.

And flood watches in effect for millions of Californians. We'll have your weather up next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

We have quick hits across America now.

Democratic Congresswoman Bush is defending her personal security spending, insisting she's not used any tax dollars but is paying her husband for his services. The DOJ is investigating her campaign for alleged corruption.

Sources say Donald Trump spent about $50 million in his donors' money on legal bills last year. An exact dollar figure is going to be made available later today when the filings are made with the federal election commission.

Senators are set to grill the CEOs of TikTok, Meta, Snap, Discord and X today at an online child safety hearing. Lawmakers say social media companies have failed to police themselves at the expense of our kids.

All right. Now to weather. An atmospheric weather targeting parts of the West with heavy rain, powerful winds, and high temperatures are breaking records across California, Oregon and Washington state.

Our weather Derek Van Dam tracking it all.

Derek, good morning.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, Seattle has had had three days of temperatures above 60 degrees. This is all part of the warm atmospheric river turning across the Pacific Ocean. But today is northwest California's day. That is the day that we're going to see the greatest impacts from it one of the first of two atmospheric rivers that will impact the state of California through early next week.

We're tapping into moisture from the tropics. You can follow it back to Hawaii. That's streaming in heavy rainfall and high elevation, mountain snows.


Here's the chance of flooding including the San Francisco Bay region extending towards the northwest. Radar lighting up like a Christmas tree, of course. Not Christmas time, though. Lots of rain on this weather map.

Cold front moves eastward. You can see the cooling trend behind it, transitioning some of the precipitation over to snow for the higher elevations across the Rockies. But when we're talking about precipitation amounts, we're anticipating anywhere from 3 to 7 inches where you see the shading of yellow across northwestern California.

And then once this plume of moisture reaches southern California, we're talking Ventura, Santa Barbara, into Los Angeles counties, one to three inches of rainfall anticipated there. You get into the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, some much-needed snowfall, 50 percent snowfall average to date right now across the state of California. So we need it. But there's a lot of wind associated with this system. It could gust over hurricane force.

And this is pumping a lot of warm air across the entire continent of North America, including the United States, 200 record warm temperatures anticipated over the coming day. Here's a quick look at your temperatures.

For you, Kasie, I love to get into the forecast with D.C. Temperatures around 55 today.

HUNT: Again, the whiplash continues.

Our weatherman Derek Van Dam -- Derek, thank you very much for that. We'll see you tomorrow.

Up next, President Biden reaching a decision on how to retaliate after three U.S. soldiers were killed in a drone attack in Jordan.

And new developments in the impeachment proceedings against a prominent Biden cabinet member. That's next.