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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

U.S. Senators Unveil a Sweeping Border Deal and Foreign Aid Package for Ukraine and Israel; U.S. Strikes Iranian-Backed Groups in Syria and Iraq As White House Warns It's Just Starting; California Faces Threat of Historic Flooding and Deadly Mudslides from a Rare Weather Event. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 05, 2024 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Right now on EARLY START, senators unveil a sweeping border deal and foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel. But it's far from clear that the measure can pass either chamber.

The U.S. carrying out strikes on Iranian-backed groups in Syria and Iraq as the White House warns it's just the beginning. And California facing the threat of historic flooding and deadly mudslides from a risky and very rare weather event. This is a live look at LAX.

Delays and cancellations already piling up. Check your flights, stay off the freeways. We'll have much more. Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Kasie Hunt, it's Monday, February 5th, it is 5:00 a.m. here in Washington.

And we now know the details of the long-awaited border deal and foreign aid package that senators have been negotiating for months. The $118 billion package would give the president powers to significantly restrict illegal migrant crossings and severely curb asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, and that would break with decades- long protocols.

The deal includes more than $20 billion for border security, roughly $60 billion for Ukraine and more than $14 billion for Israel. But the legislation is at real risk of failing in a high-stakes Senate vote this week as Republicans face down defying former President Trump if they're going to vote to advance the measure.

And even if it does pass in the Senate, the House Speaker Mike Johnson says it is already dead on arrival in his chamber. Now Majority leader Chuck Schumer is urging lawmakers to put aside political differences and pass the deal that just like he did with Minority leader Mitch McConnell.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We cannot let politics get in the way of passing this legislation. The senators have to drown out the noise of politics and politicians who tell them not to vote for this bill for political purposes. I am proud leader McConnell and I who disagree on many issues, have never worked so closely together on legislation as we did on this, because we both realize the gravity of the situation.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in Semafor reporter Shelby Talcott, to talk more about this. Shelby, good morning. Schumer says people have to drown out the noise. I feel like the noise has a name in this instance, and that is Donald Trump. What do you see as the future for this deal?

SHELBY TALCOTT, REPORTER, SEMAFOR: Good morning Kasie. I think that this deal is on extremely shaky grounds, not just in the house, but even in the Senate, because remember, you're going to have to have all of these Republican lawmakers in the Senate defy Donald Trump, who has said repeatedly that we don't need this deal, and that unless it is perfect, that people should vote no for it.

And so, already, passing it through the Senate is going to be a challenge. And then of course, as you just heard in the House, it is as Speaker Johnson said, dead on arrival. So I think that this face is an extremely uphill battle in the coming days and weeks.

HUNT: Shelby, the bottom-line policy reality here, and Republicans are circulating a document to this effect, is that the changes in this bill are very significant if you are on the right -- and on the right of our politics. It is -- it goes farther than certainly many Democrats had been previously willing to go. There are going to be activist groups on the left that are going to be upset about this.

I mean, you used the word perfect, and that's what Republicans are arguing or what Donald Trump is saying they need. What kind of a missed opportunity is this for conservatives if they pass up the opportunity to do this?

TALCOTT: Listen, the criticism that I have heard from people who want this bill passed is exactly that. Listen, things are never going to be perfect when you're working in a bipartisan manner. This bill would issue extremely strict immigration and asylum laws, which is what Republicans have been wanting for a long time now.

And so, it is a political win for Republicans. At the same time, the counter argument I have heard, that we've all heard is of course, it's an election year. And so, this would also give Joe Biden a political win, remember, because immigration is one thing that him and his administration have really been struggling.


We've seen low poll numbers across the board when it comes to this topic. And so, this is a missed opportunity though, I think not just for Republicans, but for Democrats as well.

HUNT: Yes, and Shelby, we do talk about how Republicans want to deny President Biden a win. I feel like in some ways, it goes beyond how we often hear that, right, like, oh, we don't want to let him get something across the finish line, that he can tell in a press release or in an event where he goes somewhere.

In this case, there are Republicans who kind of are openly saying, oh, we don't want him to actually be able to solve the problem. We want the problem to remain so that it's something we can use to run against him in an election year.

I have to say, it's more nakedly cynical than -- I mean, I've been covering this town for a while. That used to be something that people would kind of not wink and nod about behind the scenes, and now it's just out in the open.

TALCOTT: They're saying the quiet part out loud. Again, this has always been the case, but the difference is we're now actually hearing it from people directly. And you're exactly right. This is -- it's very cynical. At the same time, again, this is monumental, these changes.

It is not perfect for Republicans. It is not perfect for Democrats. There's going to be people on both sides of the aisle who are going to be frustrated with some of the changes made for different reasons. But at the end of the day, it is progress forward in the eyes of both parties. You know, it is again, a bipartisan deal.

HUNT: Yes, very briefly, Shelby, if this can't move forward on the Senate floor this week, what happens to aid for particularly Ukraine, but also Israel?

TALCOTT: Well, listen, they're going to try to, I think pass it separately. But again, that's another one of the reasons why this bill in particular has been so important because we have been holding off on this crucial aid.

And so then, we're going to have to deal with an entirely different scenario in which we are fighting over aid, which is again, another important thing as we head into 2024, and of course, important for these countries that are in the midst of a war.

HUNT: Of course, the thinking even among the Mitch McConnell camp, for example, is, OK, tie Ukraine aid to something that conservatives want, in border security, I mean, we can get the whole thing over the finish line and the opposite seems to have happened. Shelby Talcott, Shelby, thank you.

Coming up next here, millions of Californians are facing a month's worth of rain in a single day. Right now, heavy flooding that could turn deadly. Plus, Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq pounded by the U.S., it's just the beginning of the onslaught, we'll have that.

And Nikki Haley on "SNL" getting laughs and trying to score some political points. We'll show you that.



HUNT: Welcome back. Outrage in Israel over comments made by the country's far-right National Security Minister. Itamar Ben-Gvir telling the "Wall Street Journal" that President Biden is hindering Israel's war against Hamas, and insisting that Donald Trump would give the Israelis, quote, "more freedom", end quote, to fight.

The White House is pressuring Israel to use restraint in order to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza. Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to the region this week. And Max Foster joins us from London. Max, good morning. We have spent not -- a considerable amount of time talking about this theme, this idea that, you know, we've talked about it in the context of Benjamin Netanyahu seeming to have preferred Donald Trump to Joe Biden.

Now, Ben Gvir kind of saying this openly, obviously, the politics of this very complicated for the Prime Minister because he needs to keep this fragile coalition that he has together. How do these comments -- how are they resonating in Israel, and what's Netanyahu's reaction been?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it really does show how much he's juggling with, doesn't it? And then he goes into these talks with Blinken. For example, he's got a lot of politics to deal with, as you say. I mean, Ben Gvir, an extreme voice, certainly doesn't represent, you know, the broader view, but certainly, he is a very prominent voice.

Without mentioning Ben Gvir, Netanyahu did speak about this during a cabinet meeting, saying I'm not in need of any assistance in navigating our relations with the U.S. and the international community. He can probably see how damaging this could be because as a, you know, view that Israel is going too far, obviously, with this military campaign, and this is pressure on Netanyahu to go even harder on that.

And it's a challenge because there are those -- there's just widespread views about how all of this should be handled. But you know, the Israelis need America. And if this undermines the Biden administration, it undermines negotiations that the Israeli government are trying to have with them.

HUNT: Yes, I know, certainly, it does not. If you take into account the domestic pressures on President Biden, these comments, I struggle to see how they would serve the Israeli cause at this point. Max, there is to that point, like there's growing frustration, I think, behind the scenes.

Tony Blinken, the Secretary of State going over to the region this week. I mean, what do you think is the set of goals for him on this particular trip?

FOSTER: It's the same ones I think that we talked about before that is coming down to, you know, intransigent on both sides on particular issues. So I think Netanyahu is struggling with the idea of releasing thousands of terrorists as he sees them, as part of any sort of deal coming up.

They are the Palestinian prisoners that Hamas are calling for the release of. On the other side, Hamas wants, you know, a withdrawal as part of any sort of hostage deal to release Israeli hostages. So these are really difficult issues to deal with. Secretary Blinken trying to get some progress there, but he could very easily go back empty- handed, which again, creates more division between the U.S. and Israel because they're not managing to make progress on these key issues.


A really tough negotiations or diplomatic process for Antony Blinken, and of course, if he does succeed here, it will be seen as a huge triumph.

HUNT: Indeed, all right, Max Foster for us in London, Max, thank you. All right, up next, the U.S. military is pounding Houthi targets in Yemen, striking cruise missile sites one day after a joint U.S.-U.K. strikes against the Iranian-backed militant group. According to the U.S. Central Command, an anti-ship cruise missile was hit as it was about to launch against ships in the Red Sea. And according to the Biden administration, this is just the beginning.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We will take further action, I'm not going to, obviously, describe the character of that action because I don't want to telegraph our punches, but there will be further action. The president will do what he thinks needs to be done, and again, reinforce the point that he's going to defend our forces and also that he's not looking to get into a war.


HUNT: All right, Ben Wedeman is live for us in Amman, Jordan. Ben, good morning to you. Do we know what these strikes accomplished, and has there been reaction from the Houthis?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as far as the strikes on Yemen are concerned, certainly, according to the U.S. Central Command, they have been successful. Now, the Houthis have not acknowledged the extent of the damage of those strikes, but they have said that they will continue targeting what they are saying are ships and somehow affiliated or connected or going to Israel regardless of these strikes.

And by and large, they've been pretty successful. Four of the five biggest international commercial shipping lines are now diverting, they're now going around Africa as well as British petroleum. And it is important to keep in mind that the Houthis have lots of experience dealing with better-armed foes.

They were fighting from 2015 to 2022 against a Saudi-led coalition that was largely armed by the United States, but they emerged from that war stronger than ever. And I was reading in the "New York Times" today, they were quoting an analyst who said they taking on the Houthis is like fighting fog. Kasie?

HUNT: All right, Ben Wedeman for us in Jordan -- fighting fog, a very advocative analogy. Thanks very much for that report. All right, coming up next here, a potentially deadly storm is lashing California right now. Hundreds of thousands are without power, catastrophic flooding and mudslides could be next.

Also in politics, President Biden wins big in the South Carolina primary. Could it tell us something about the general election? We'll have that.



HUNT: All right, we've got quick hits across America now. South Carolina delivering big for Joe Biden again, handing the president his first official primary win of 2024. South Carolina re-energized Biden's lagging campaign four years ago and launched him to the White House.

Dearborn Michigan Mayor Abdullah Hammoud increasing police presences at all places of worship after a "Wall Street Journal" opinion piece referred to his city as America's Jihad capital. The Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says the time is coming for interest rate cuts later this year.

Powell is asking for patience because it's not likely to happen next month. He's under pressure from the markets there. All right, let's go to this developing story right now. Look at that. More than 11 million people are at high risk of life-threatening flooding as an intense atmospheric river lashes California.

The storm is potentially historic with parts of Los Angeles forecast to receive close to half a year's worth of rainfall by tomorrow. Officials are issuing a rare hurricane force wind, warning, a strong gust blew over this semi-truck and sent tumble weeds and large dust clouds rolling across the roads in front of drivers.

More than 900,000 customers are facing blackouts, and officials are sending out alerts for downed trees and power lines. Let's get straight to our meteorologist Allison Chinchar. Allison, good morning to you. This of course, unfolding as you and I speak. It's 2:23 or so in the morning out in California. What are folks out there going to be waking up to?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, METEOROLOGIST: Right, they are waking up to a particularly dangerous situation. Those are the words used by the National Weather Service, especially in southern California where we have what's called training storms, meaning the storms are going over the same spots over and over again.

But it's not the only place getting rain. It's also raining across areas of northern California too, places like Crescent City, Eureka, over near Reno, and then down through the Sierras. But right now, some of the heaviest rainfall is across portions of southern California, and that does include the city of Los Angeles where we do have a flash flood warning that includes the city stretching all the way over towards Malibu, and a separate one farther off to the north. In these particular areas, the most imminent concern is flooded roadways, you've got reports of submerged cars in some of these spots as well as the potential for landslides. We've already been dealing with swift water rescues the last several hours, and again, those possibly could continue into the morning hours as people get stranded on the roadways.

This one here, you can see Cal Fire rescuing this gentleman from his car from yesterday. Looking at some of these rainfall totals, we've already had numerous locations picking up half a foot of rain. And we still anticipate getting additional rain on top of it.

That's why there's still the big potential for flooding across much of the state, but really focused across the southern tier, especially the coastal areas, say Los Angeles down through Long Beach, there's a high risk there, that's a level 4 out of 4, the highest category you can possibly get.


You only get these on average about 4 percent of the days per year, but they account for over 80 percent of the flood damage and nearly 40 percent of the flood deaths. So, again, cannot emphasize enough how serious this situation is in California.

The other thing too we're looking at over 600,000 people currently without power. That has something to do with the rain, but really more so from the wind. When you take a look at some of these wind gusts that have occurred across areas of California, it's no wonder the power outage numbers are so high.

We are still anticipating having very strong winds through the day today, mainly these areas where you see the orange and the deep red color, we could still have gusts upwards of 60 to even 80 miles per hour. So additional power outages are likely going to be possible today across several of those areas before this system finally pushes east.

HUNT: All right, to all of those folks watching out in California, stay safe today and through the rest of the week. Allison Chinchar, thanks very much for that report.


HUNT: All right, next here, we've got a sweeping border deal rolled out by the Senate. But are there enough Republican senators willing to back it to get it through there before it even gets to the House? And why team Trump is worried about getting short-changed in Nevada, even though the former president is all but assured of a win.