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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

CNN Poll: Pessimism Over U.S. Economy Eases... A Little; Biden To Attend Ceremony For U.S. Troops Killed In Jordan; Zelenskyy Set To Fire Top Military Commander Zaluzhnyi. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 05:00   ET




A brand new CNN poll releasing right about now, reveals what voters now think of Joe Biden and America's economy.

Plus, the Trump Organization's former financial boss is in talks to potentially plead guilty again, this time to perjury.

And --


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I've told this to anybody who will hear it -- I am not going anywhere.



JIMENEZ: Nikki Haley is holding out, even with calls for her to quit the race. But for how long?


JIMENEZ: What's going on, everyone?

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Omar Jimenez, in for Kasie Hunt. It is Friday, February 2, 05:00 a.m. on the East Coast. I mean, got something brand new for you.

New CNN poll -- new CNN poll numbers just in, they show America's deep pessimism about the economy might be easing up even if only a little, 26 percent say the economy is starting to recover versus 48 percent who say it's still in a downturn, which doesn't sound great until you compare that to CNN's poll last summer, when only 20 percent said the economy is recovering.

And like practically everything else, now, views of the economy are sharply split along partisan lines. Most of that uptick in sentiment is seen on Democrats and independents. It's up only one point among Republicans. So, let's bring in Mariana Alfaro, politics breaking news reporter for "The Washington Post".

Great to see you. Thanks for being with us.

So, in that same vein, 58 percent of Republicans say they're worse off in the past here versus only 23 percent of Democrats. I assume we're all living in the same country here. So how do you see this marginal improvement in sentiment playing out in the presidential race, I mean, given this partisan divide here?

MARIANA ALFARO, POLITICS REAKING NEWS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. I think it depends on the messages people are seeing from their parties. I mean, you see Democrats that I guess Biden campaign is starting to slowly lower out their message about how he has been kind of getting the economy back on its feet since COVID and I think were seeing the news last week that the economy grew by 3.1 percent.

And I think Democrats a little were more aware of that when you see the flip side on the Republican side, you get all these candidates have been going on a campaign for the last few months saying that the economy is not great, that things are not going good anymore. But then, you know, that's not based on the reality and the facts that were seeing. So it really depends on what message are consuming but I do know that, you know, on the Democratic side, I think the Biden campaign is going to start rolling out a stronger.

You know, Democrats are encouraging the Biden campaign to start rolling out a message that really highlights that in order to get all those like male voters, moderate voters like maybe never Trump voters who might not be aware of that.

JIMENEZ: Well, I think you hit on the most difficult part of this is trying to get through sort of whatever you consume based on whatever you seem to like or agree with. I want to look at Biden's approval in key areas because these are some of the contentious issues that people are seeing. Some of that different messaging and most Democrats, most Democrats see him as a protector of democracy. Hardly any Republicans do.

And note, there's -- there's a really sharp divide over how he's handling the war in Ukraine versus Israel's war against Hamas, even more so among Democrats.

So how does he break through some of these issues again, as you mentioned, when it seems like what you make of it is in the eye of the beholder?

ALFARO: And I think specifically when it comes to those last two topics, we've touched on, it comes down to the voter age split, and I think that's an issue that Democrats are going to have to be dealing with, whether the year. I'm just getting those younger voters who might be very disappointed and how the president has handled international crisis.

And, you know all of these other issues that are riling think the more progressive side of the party. That's definitely something that I've heard Democrats are trying to get the president to sharpen his focus on, but also remind voters that you know, it's either -- in come November, it's going to be a choice between him and Donald Trump.

And you know, if you want to continue seeing, you know, what Biden has done in order to continue patching up the economy and, you know, getting the country back on its feet and also, you know, on the abortion rights front, or do you want to see Donald Trump who, you know, a lot of these young voters also have been leaving the repercussions from his presidency. So I think that a lot of Democrats have been speaking to, have said that the campaign is still young, but they really need to -- you know, get the campaign and sharpen their message.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, I mean, look, one of the things Trump had has been campaigning on is the border, the southern border in the U.S. and immigration policy.


Obviously, it's something the Biden administration and previous administrations have struggled with. But, of course, more relevantly now, the Biden administration in some of this polling and his lowest approval rating is on immigration at 30 percent, overall.

And but look at -- look at the huge gap that between parties on this. Sixty-five percent of Democrats approve of Biden's handling of the issue, while only 4 percent of Republicans do as a type of 4 percent. And more than twice as many Americans favor mass deportations now than they did during the Trump administration.

So just given this data here and what we've seen out on the campaign trail through messaging and otherwise, where does this problem leave the Biden campaign, again, as we get deeper into 2024?

ALFARO: Well, as we've already heard from the GOP side, and especially for former President Donald Trump, they're really going to make immigration a big issue this time around. And the thing is, you know, we've heard a lot about this potential bipartisan deal. It's been worked in Congress. You know, a lot of Senate Republicans have been really trying to work across the aisle and connect with Democrats over this.

So if that deal is delivered I think that Democrats already planning on how they can spin that we are trying to do something about the border. It depends on Republicans and they path it or not because were already seeing the house, saying that they're not going to pick it up. So that's going to become the next, I think messaging battle is, you know, if they get that done, they get to take it on the trail and say we did this. But also they don't get it done, they will stay Republicans blocked us, and at least we tried.

It's kind of like the thing I think Democrats are trying to figure out there. But again, we've heard Donald Trump already tell a lot of Republicans don't pass that because, you know, I think that that's one of the issues they get to galvanize their base the most. JIMENEZ: Yeah. You know, we have seen that very much play out, politics affecting real-time policy. And I think we're going to see more of it in 2024.

Mariana Alfaro of "The Washington Post", thank you so much.

ALFARO: Thank you.

JIMENEZ: All right. Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg is in talks with the Manhattan D.A.'s office to possibly plead guilty to perjury charges in the civil probe of the former president's business. Now, the potential charges relate to testimony Weisselberg gave it an interview with the New York attorney general's office and at Trump's civil fraud trial. In 2022, Weisselberg pleaded guilty to 15 criminal charges and served 100 days in jail.

Still ahead for us, President Biden heads to Delaware as the remains of three fallen U.S. troops returned to American soil.

And how Nikki Haley's chances fare today against Trump and against Biden. We're going to bring you the latest polling.



JIMENEZ: President Biden, the first lady and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, head to Delaware this morning to join the grieving families of three U.S. soldiers killed in Jordan and attended dignified transfer of their remains back to the Dover Air Force Base.

Now, the U.S. blames these American deaths on Iran-backed militia. On Thursday, the Pentagon chief confirmed that a multi-tiered response is coming, as he warned of escalating tensions in the region.


LLOYD J. AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This is a dangerous moment in the Middle East, and we will continue to work to avoid a wider conflict in a region. But we will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our interest, and our people.


JIMENEZ: CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us now from Abu Dhabi.

So, Paula, when Austin says multi-tiered response, what does he mean by that? And do we know when this might come?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Omar, it would suggest that they already know exactly what they want a hit and there are a number of targets potentially, this multi-tiered response and also potentially that it could happen over multiple days.

We heard from Secretary Austin saying that it was necessary to make sure that some of these groups had less capability than they had before. Now, the U.S. military has already be going after some of these groups that have carried out more than 160 drone missile rocket attacks against U.S. troops and coalition troops in Iraq and Syria since October. So it has been an ongoing process.

But, clearly, what happened last weekend has resonated and made the situation more dire and more urgent. We don't know about the timing. We have heard the Biden administration telegraphing that this will happen, but obviously, they're not going to give exact details. In fact, we have been expecting it for days now.

And it has encouraged at least one Iran-backed militia in Iraq, this being Kateab Hezbollah, to actually stop its attacks and say that it was not going to count carry out attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq and Syria going forward. So it does appear to have had some kind of deterrent impact already. But we are waiting to see exactly what the response will be.

Now, we've heard from a number of analysts or so us officials that it is unlikely to be an attack on Iranian soil itself. That would be a significant rise in escalatory tensions. We've heard from Washington consistently that they don't want this to be a wider war in the Middle East. And from what we have seen so far, it would appear that Tehran is of the same mind -- Omar.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, of course, there'll be a major escalation, but a response nonetheless has been anticipated for days now. We will see.

Paula Hancocks, thank you so much.

A military shakeup, meanwhile, is imminent in Ukraine. Sources telling CNN, President Zelenskyy met with his top military commander earlier this week and told him he was being fired.


More now from CNN's Brian Todd.



BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ukraine's charismatic president, apparently engaging in some palace intrigue, amid tensions with his top commander on the battlefield. Two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is pushing out his popular army chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, after Zaluzhnyi was called to a meeting the president's office on Monday.

Zelenskyy's spokesman denies that Zaluzhnyi is being fired, but sources tell CNN a presidential decree could come within days. It would be the biggest military shakeup by Zelenskyy since Russia's full scale invasion, almost two years ago. The reasons, analysts say it could be a political move.

PROF. HENRY HALE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: The possibility that Zaluzhnyi could be a presidential candidate sometime in the future and he's the only person in Ukraine right now that potentially rivals Zelenskyy in public trust ratings.

TODD: Why is the 50-year-old Zaluzhnyi so popular in Ukraine?

HALE: He was the military leader of when Ukraine rebuffed Russia's all-out invasion of Ukraine back in February of 2022. And he was able not only to save Kyiv and mobilize the national defense, but also to push back on a lot of Russian military advances.

TODD: Aside from the politics, experts also say Zelenskyy could be simply holding Zaluzhnyi accountable for the fact that Ukraine's counteroffensive launched last year has not gone as well as many had hoped.

PROF. KEITH DARDEN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: This is a way for Zelenskyy not to take the blame for the lack of progress in the war over the last year.

TODD: Zaluzhnyi even described the war as a stalemate in November essay in "The Economist" magazine, which was said to have displeased Zelenskyy and his circle.

In a new opinion piece for CNN, Zaluzhnyi wrote that Ukraine has to adapt to getting less military aid and rely more on technology in the war.

Who could replace Zaluzhnyi as army chief?

Two candidates are prominently mentioned. Ukraine's land forces commander, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, and Kyrylo Budanov, the young ambitious head of the defense intelligence directorate, who just spoke to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen about his plans to strike inside Russia.

GEN. KYRYLO BUDANOV, HEAD OF UKRAINE'S DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE DIRECTORATE (through translator): I believe that plan includes all major critical infrastructure facilities and military infrastructure facilities of the Russian Federation.

TODD: According to "The Washington Post", Budanov's plans to strike at Moscow last year made U.S. officials nervous. Ukrainian officials say the Russians have tried to assassinate Budanov at least ten times. Recently, Budanov's wife and bodyguards became ill from what Ukrainian officials said was a poisoning.

DARDEN: I think that the Russians see him as a capable military leader, as a threat and they've tried to take him out.


TODD (on camera): One of the biggest, most immediate concerns for Ukraine's next army chief, the analysts we spoke to say, he'll have to make some crucial decisions regarding the upcoming spring time phase of the war. He'll have to inspire confidence among the Ukrainian people and he'll have to not be seen as a political plant of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington

JIMENEZ: All right. Coming up, the mother of Michigan school shooter, Ethan Crumbley, is about to face cross-examination from prosecutors. What she's been saying about the de her son killed four of his classmates. That's next.



JIMENEZ: Quick hits across America now.

Prosecutors are set to begin cross-examining Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of Michigan school shooter, Ethan Crumbley today. The state is accusing both parents of ignoring their sons warning signs and making a gun accessible to him.

Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee has reached out to Matt Gaetz's ex-girlfriend in a years-long investigation that accuses the Florida Republican of having sex with a minor. Now, Gaetz says that now expanded probe is payback for his efforts to oust the former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.


JIMENEZ: I don't know if they have bad blood, but Universal Music Group has pulled songs by Taylor Swift, Drake, and other pretty huge artists from TikTok after a dispute over royalties, videos by platform users went silent Thursday, right on cue, went silent citing copyright violations. That's a sign of a great team, like we all -- we all work together this early.

All right, we are also talking about weather because that's very important, too. The West Coast is bracing for it a second storm this weekend after an atmospheric river brought record breaking rains and widespread flooding. You can see them there engulfing cars in some parts of California Thursday. Many drivers needed rescues as their communities were deluged.

It's also February 2nd, which means all eyes are on the famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. Will he see his shadow and forecast six more weeks of winter?

I look -- you know what? Let's -- I don't know, but I feel like I trust your forecasts more meteorologist Allison Chinchar, because he doesn't always have the best record.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: He doesn't. By the way, I would tell you, if you're a betting person, we're not usually, but statistically speaking, Phil, way more often does see his shadow then he doesn't. Hundred times since they first started doing this, he has seen his shadow. It's 20 times where he has not seen his shadow. So he tends to like winter a little bit more, at least it seems so.

But yes, accuracy-wise, he's only write about 40 percent of the time. So, not exactly great at his job, but the good news is, even though regardless of what he picks today, if you don't like it, there are all a whole bunch of other groundhogs that may have a different prediction that maybe you'll end up liking a little bit better than Phil's.


As for the rest of the country -- yes, we've got a few other things going on. We've got the potential for severe storms across areas of the South. And then yes, California bracing for the next atmospheric river that's expected to come in this weekend.

You've already still got several areas of showers, not just for California, but a lot of that moisture is spreading into Arizona, New Mexico, and other states as well. Now this next atmospheric river that's expected to push in this weekend, the big concerns are going to be additional flooding on top of what we've already ready had, mud and debris flows. And again, the main concern with the flooding is how saturated the ground already is because you have to understand how much rain has already fallen.

Look at several of these areas that have picked up five and even six inches of rain in just the last 24 to 48 hours. Los Angeles, specifically, picking up just under 2.5 inches of rain. That's almost the entire month of February's worth of rain in just a single day. So, again, that ground saturated, now we're going to be adding more moisture on top of it, that could end up leading to some flooding.

Higher up in elevation, we're talking significant snowfall. Some of these areas, it's going to be measured in feet for some of these folks and also some high surf advisories right there along the coast as well.

JIMENEZ: I'd like to see Punxsutawney Phil talk about some high surf advisories. That's deserved for you, Allison Chinchar.

CHINCHAR: There you go.

JIMENEZ: Thank you so much.


JIMENEZ: Meanwhile, a new CNN poll released this hour shows Americans are feeling a bit better about the economy. So what could that mean for President Biden and the 2024 race?

Plus, Elon Musk is making it a big push to ditch Delaware and incorporate Tesla in Texas. We're going to tell you why.