Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

CNN Poll: Americans Feeling Slightly Better About Economy; Biden Issues Executive Order Targeting Violent Israeli Settlers In West Bank; Nikki Haley: "We're Not Going Anywhere." Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 05:30   ET




OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. Thanks for getting up early with us. I'm Omar Jimenez filling in for Kasie Hunt.

If you've been with us since the top of the hour it actually is Groundhog Day, but I promise you're not stuck in a loop, I don't think. That's a discussion for another time.

We're going to focus now on President Biden who is focusing on the key battleground state of Michigan where he basked in the glow of his recent endorsement from the United Auto Workers Thursday, thanking a union crowd for their support and telling them that they are responsible for the country's economic success.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We now have, in large part because of you and organized labor, the strongest economy in the whole damn world. We do.


JIMENEZ: And the president's economic message is reinforced a bit this morning by a new CNN poll showing that Americans are starting to feel a bit better about the economy, though it should be noted 55 percent of Americans still say the president's policies have worsened the country's economic condition.

We'll talk about those nuances and more with Washington Post White House reporter Tyler Pager -- and Northwestern alum. I've got to note it every time. Go Cats!

So let's first, though, talk about Biden's visit to Michigan yesterday and your latest reporting. As I understand, you are traveling with the president. You talk about how his campaign took extra steps to make his visit a little bit more secretive than usual. Tell us a little bit more about why that was.

TYLER PAGER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah, good morning, Omar -- and, of course, Go Cats! I was traveling with the president yesterday on Air Force One to Michigan. As you said, the focus of the trip was his union support celebrating the recent endorsements on after from the United Auto Workers. You can see him there meeting with union workers at a union hall just outside of Detroit.

But, obviously, the big story in Michigan right now for the Democratic Party is the outrage from the very large and significant Arab-American and Muslim communities over the U.S.'s continued support for Israel and its military campaign in Gaza. The president studiously avoided any contact with leaders or members of that community yesterday when we were there.

We saw some protesters, but the motorcade that I was in with the president also took some side streets when we were arriving at the union town hall to sort of avoid the large protests gathering just a few blocks away. It's not unusual for protesters to demonstrate in front of a president's visit, but it was noteworthy how the White House and the Biden campaign tried to keep the exact locations of where the president was going to be more secretive than usual.

I think the hope here is that he was able to connect with voters, which we saw him do. Black voters at a Black-owned restaurant outside Metro Detroit and then --


PAGER: -- again at a union town hall. But the lack of engagement with the Arab-American community leaders can be problematic as he needs to win their support to win the very competitive battleground state of Michigan in November.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, and that's what I was going to bring up.

The mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, which is home to a major automotive hub but also home to one of the largest Arab-American communities in the U.S. -- the mayor spoke to CNN's Abby Phillip last night and he told her that Biden missed an opportunity to engage with the community yesterday -- some of what you are saying -- and that he thinks the president views them just as a voting bloc.

Take a listen to what he said.


MAYOR ABDULLAH HAMMOUD, (D) DEARBORN, MICHIGAN: I absolutely think it's a missed opportunity. Whenever dialogue can happen -- constructive dialogue -- that can help save lives because that's the conversation we want to have.

You know, I had a resident that came before our City Council meeting who had lost over 80 families in Gaza. And the question on everybody's mind is while we send our condolences for your loved ones, we know how you're going to vote come November. And I think that's extremely dehumanizing.


JIMENEZ: And we've heard some recent policy announcements from the Biden administration on that front. But does the administration seem willing to take some of the opinions into consideration when it comes to its foreign policy decisions?


PAGER: Yeah. White House Press Sec. Karrine Jean-Pierre told us yesterday on Air Force One that senior members of the Biden administration would be traveling to Michigan this month to meet with residents to discuss this very issue. She declined to say who or when would be going to Michigan.

Last week, the Biden campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, traveled to Michigan to meet with community leaders as well, though a number of officials protested and refused to meet with her, citing the Biden administration's continued refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

So the president has not made that outreach yet in Michigan. The White House says senior administration officials will. But how that plays with the community leaders, I think we'll see. There are certain officials and leaders who say they're not willing to meet with this administration until they see more policy changes.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, no. And we have seen this relationship, at least with the Arab-American community and Biden, sour in many respects, of course, since October 7 -- but, in particular, over the past two or so months.

I want to turn to a different issue that is not going anywhere for this election, and that's the economy -- specifically, part of our new CNN poll. Americans at least said they are starting to feel better about the economy but not about him.

And I'm curious. Based on what you've heard, does the campaign seem worried at all that the economic data that they've touted as good doesn't seem to translate over into support or enthusiasm for Biden -- at least not yet?

PAGER: Yeah. Well, I know that the president himself is frustrated by that dynamic, right? I reported late last year that the president hauled in his senior advisers and sort of let loose on them, saying why am I not getting more credit for the economy and complaining about his poll numbers.

So this has been a persistent frustration for the president -- that he sees the economy growing. Economic indicators continue to be positive and they say headed in the right direction. But his poll numbers do not appear to be moving in any significant way.

I think the White House and the Biden campaign will be optimistic that this CNN poll is showing things trending in the right direction. And they argue that they have many months and a lot of time for the president to travel around the country with his surrogates and to travel around the country meeting with voters and trying to connect those two things -- the positive economic growth and the president's policy -- trying to get more credit for what they say he's done to improve the economic situation in the country.

JIMENEZ: And it's interesting, like, on the enthusiasm -- on the enthusiasm front. We saw this in another part of the poll that we released yesterday. It did show that Trump was narrowly ahead of Biden. I know it's -- we're still very early on here, just over the margin of error.

But one interesting thing in this is that voters across the political spectrum say their decision is about Trump -- love him or hate him -- more than about Biden.

So how do you see that driving events through the campaign? I know you mentioned in some of your reporting that Biden had been frustrated with some senior advisers, but are getting the indication that moving forward, they're keeping that dynamic central in the strategy of how they're planning events.

PAGER: Absolutely. I think as we continue to get into this campaign we will see the president be even more explicit about former President Trump. The Biden campaign has said for months that once it becomes a clear two-person race between Biden and Trump and more Americans are tuning in to this rematch, they will start to see their poll numbers change more and that Biden will take over the lead in those polls as Americans grapple with the potential return of the former president.

So I think we'll see Biden taking an even more aggressive posture about Trump. We started to see that, briefly, from his allies and surrogates, but I think we'll continue to see it even more as the campaign really heats up and gets into a full general election rematch.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. A lot to watch for if that's the rematch that it ends up being.

Tyler Pager of The Washington Post, thank you so much.

PAGER: Thanks, Omar.

JIMENEZ: All right. President Biden also issued an unprecedented executive order yesterday that allows the U.S. to impose new sanctions on Israeli settlers involved in violent attacks against Palestinians. Now, the order specifically targets four individuals accused of directly perpetrating violence in the West Bank, according to the State Department.

So journalist Elliott Gotkine joins us from London. Elliott -- so who does this executive order sanction, and what prompted this move by President Biden?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Omar, as you say, it applies to four individuals -- four Israeli settlers who live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank who are accused of initiating and leading a riot; setting buildings, fields, and other things on fire; assaulting civilians; and damaging property.

And what it does effectively is it kind of shuts them off from the American financial system. It will prevent them from doing business with Americans, receiving funding from Americans, and also imposes a travel ban. But given that these four men are not Americans, it's unclear as to what the practical impact on them will be.


And the Biden administration has said that although further sanctions on other individuals -- other settlers are to come that it will not be targeting U.S. civilians -- those that hold dual Israeli and American nationality.

Now, of these four individuals, some of them have already been charged. Their cases already going through the Israeli judicial system. And that lends some weight to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that, in his words, "Israeli acts against all Israelis who break the law everywhere. Therefore, exceptional measures," he said yesterday in response, "are unnecessary.

But the Biden administration will just point to the United Nations Office for -- Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which has recorded something like 500 attacks by settlers against Palestinian civilians since the Hamas-led massacre of October 7. And it is saying, quite simply, that the Israeli government and the Israeli authorities are not doing enough to rein in Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians and that it fears that this could spiral out of control.

But as you've just been hearing from The Washington Post reporter there, of course, one other issue for the Biden administration is that in this critical election year and when President Biden himself is in Michigan, the idea is to perhaps try to recover some of the loss support from Arab-Americans who are very displeased with the Biden administration's support for Israel in its war against Hamas -- Omar.

JIMENEZ: Yeah In an election year we usually see an intersection of politics and policy. We will see -- likely see more of that over the course of this year.

Elliott Gotkine, thank you so much.

And on the campaign front, Nikki Haley faces an uphill battle going into the South Carolina primary. What she says victory will look like to her, next.



JIMENEZ: Nikki Haley once again vowing to stay in the 2024 race. The former South Carolina governor is telling reporters this about her strategy heading into the February 24 primary in her home state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us what victory looks like for you in South Carolina?

NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think making sure it's a competitive race. Making sure that it looks close. If we do that, that will head us on into Michigan and Super Tuesday, and that's what we're looking for.


JIMENEZ: Now, although she faces an uphill battle to the GOP nomination, new polling does show that Haley's lead over President Trump in a head-to-head match has doubled -- has doubled in the last two months.

So let's bring in Sophia Cai, national politics reporter for Axios. Good to see you.

Now, in some of your most recent reporting, you talked about how Haley's Hail Mary strategy, in some senses, depends on open primaries, like in Michigan or some of what we saw in New Hampshire. But South Carolina is a very different voting population than those states.

What does she need to happen in these states?

SOPHIA CAI, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, AXIOS: I mean, look, of course, they have to show a path forward and, in some cases, they have to look beyond South Carolina, which is a very conservative state. And crucially, it's a winner-take-all state. So a keep-it-close strategy also means that if she loses and it's close, she doesn't get any delegates.

So looking beyond that, we look at states like Michigan. We look at 11 of the Super Tuesday states that her campaign has outlined. And I think in those states they're counting on Democrats and Independents being ineligible to vote in the Republican primary. And so, they're saying that in two-thirds of the Super Tuesday states the primaries are either open and semi-open. And that's the path forward that they're outlining even if it's very narrow, even if it's very complex, and even if it's unlikely.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, and I was at a lot of her campaign events when she was in New Hampshire. And one of the things she kept bringing up was that the majority of Americans don't want a Trump-Biden rematch. She was trying to insert herself in there, but also saying that she polled better against President Biden than former President Trump. We're seeing glimpses of that here and there.

Something else that came out of -- out of this polling is that 42 percent of Americans, including 37 percent of Republican voters polled, say they don't know enough about Haley to have an opinion on her.

Do you see that as some sort of shortcoming with her campaign strategy or really more of an opportunity? CAI: I mean, look, she is different from Biden and Trump. She has not been the president before. She's been the U.N. ambassador. She has not been a household name. And so I think that's why you see her pretty relentless on the campaign trail.

She talks about some of the same talking points, right? You mentioned appealing to the 70 percent of Americans who don't want to see a Biden and Trump rematch and being pretty consistent with the way that she toes the line with Trump, although she's been more aggressive in attacking him, calling Biden and Trump grumpy old men. Saying that they've both been spending too much -- and others. But she's still introducing herself to the American people and her campaign will tell you as much.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. And on one of your latter points about going more directly against former President Trump -- I mean, late Wednesday night, the FEC put out their new campaign filings -- or released campaign filings, I should say, showing that Trump's PAC spent $50 million of contributors' money on legal expenses in 2023.

Haley was quick to point that out yesterday on the campaign trail and during an interview with CNN. Take a look.


HALEY: Do you really think he's going to win against Joe Biden when he's spending all of that money on legal fees? He's not.

It is unconscionable to me that a candidate would spend $50 million in legal fees. It explains why he's not doing many rallies. He doesn't have the money to do it. It explains why he had a temper tantrum the election night of New Hampshire. It's because he wants me out of the race and he wants to be the presumptive nominee so that all of that cash starts going to him.



JIMENEZ: So, how do those answers fit into her broader campaign narrative and strategy?

CAI: I mean, it fits in perfect. She's saying Trump brings too much chaos. He's distracted. He's got too much going on to be president. And I think in some cases it's working.

We know that Trump is very upset that Nikki Haley did not drop out after her loss in New Hampshire. And I think in his mind and for his team every day that Nikki Haley doesn't drop out, that's more resources he'll have to expend to campaign against her.

And we're hearing that he's been in Nevada. He'll be back in South Carolina to campaign. And those are all trips that he may not need to make. He can just focus on the general election and focus on fighting his legal battles if Nikki Haley were to drop out.

So I think he's definitely -- she's -- he's -- she's definitely getting under his skin.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. And it was a strategy that for so long folks like Chris Christie, when he was in the race, criticized Nikki Haley for not going as directly against the former president -- I think, to use his words, around the time that if you want to beat him you have to go after him.

And so, we've seen that shift in definitely a lot more pointed attacks. She's still framing those attacks in the sense of Biden and Trump but definitely, we've seen a lot more going directly at Trump.

I've got to leave it there. Sophia Cai of Axios, thank you so much as always.

CAI: Thanks.

JIMENEZ: We're also following a fiery plane crash in Florida leaving several people dead. What police are saying the plane and where it came from are -- or where it came down ahead on "CNN THIS MORNING."



JIMENEZ: All right.

Tesla might be ditching Delaware. What I mean by that is billionaire CEO Elon Musk took a poll on X asking if Tesla should move its registration to Texas where it's already headquartered. Now, it comes after a judge invalidated Musk's $51 billion salary package, saying he failed to prove the compensation plan was fair.

Nearly 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in Delaware thanks to the state's business-friendly legal framework and tax policies. But Musk says that more than one million people voted and 80 percent -- 87 percent voted for Texas. So now he says he will immediately seek shareholder approval to incorporate Tesla in the Lone Star State.

Now, here in New York, the New York Knicks are digging their way out of a late -- or dug their way out of a late 15-point hole to win their ninth-straight game.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Hey, good morning, Omar.

You know, Knicks fans really starting to get excited about this team and with good reason. Jalen Brunson just continues to be one of the best players in the entire NBA. He was named to his first all-star team last night and then went out and had another spectacular game. Brunson scoring 11 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter, including this go-ahead bucket right here with less than two minutes to go.

The Knicks would win 109-105 for their ninth straight victory.

And Brunson, who grew up watching his dad play for the Knicks, getting emotional as the MSG crowd chanted MVP at him.


JALEN BRUNSON, GUARD, NEW YORK KNICKS: That was fun. That was --


BRUNSON: That was fun. That was fun.


SCHOLES: All right. The Lakers, meanwhile, without both their all- stars -- LeBron and Anthony Davis, due to injuries -- for their big matchup with the Celtics. But Austin Reaves said I got this. Reaves making seven threes on his way to a season-high 32 points. The Celtics -- best record in the league and had only lost two home games coming into this one. But Reaves and the Lakers getting the shocking upset -- 114-105 the final there.

Yeah, and that was the moment last night that the Magic's Paolo Banchero, the number one pick in the 2022 draft, learned he would be headed to his very first all-star game. A fun moment with his teammates.

The Sixers' Tyrese Maxey a first-time all-star and he celebrated last night by scoring a career-high 51 to help Philly beat the Jazz 127- 124.

All right, to the NFL where the Chargers introducing their new head coach Jim Harbaugh yesterday. And after winning a national championship with Michigan, the 60-year-old says the lure of a Super Bowl title brought him back to the NFL.


JIM HARBAUGH, HEAD COACH, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: It was time. I got so many -- and I said this other day that I've only got so many hours -- sands left in the hourglass and I want another shot. I want another shot at to be simply known as world champions. A Lombardi trophy. That's my mission.


SCHOLES: All right. And the Washington Commanders, meanwhile, are hiring Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as the team's next head coach. A source within the organization tells CNN that with that hire, all NFL head coaching vacancies have now been filled. Bill Belichick and Mike Vrabel, shockingly, will both not have a head coaching job next season.

All right. And finally, the NFL's Pro Bowl games kicked off in Orlando last night. Eagles center Jason Kelce -- he wanted to show off his long snapping accuracy by just aiming at the smallest target in the snap shots competition. He went for the five the entire time. He managed to get one.


JASON KELCE, CENTER, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Well, you know, listen -- if you're not first you're last, right? So you've got to go big or go home. And I don't know, man -- the five was just speaking to me. Unfortunately, it didn't answer too much when I called -- yeah.



SCHOLES: Hey -- but, Omar, he only got one of those fives. But, hey, the NFC still won that competition, so mission accomplished there. Jason Kelce -- just a winner.

JIMENEZ: At least he got five. I would have gotten zero. So, I mean, look, I do agree if you're not first --

SCHOLES: But long-snapping is not easy.

JIMENEZ: If you're not first you're last.

Thanks, Andy Scholes. I really appreciate it.

SCHOLES: All right.

JIMENEZ: We're also waiting on Punxsutawney Phil. We could -- he could see his shadow -- maybe, maybe not. We will see.

That's all I've got, though. I'm Omar Jimenez. They are all definitely very cold. Have a great weekend. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.