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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: House To Vote On Impeaching Homeland Security Sec. Mayorkas; UK Prime Minister: King Charles' Cancer Was "Caught Early"; Early Voting Today In Special Election To Replace George Santos. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 06, 2024 - 05:30   ET



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

And today, the House will vote on a Republican resolution to impeach Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas for his handling of the southern border. It's an effort that the White House is calling, quote, "an unprecedented and unconstitutional act of political retribution."

This comes as Speaker Johnson also hopes to bring a standalone Israel aid bill to the House floor for a vote sometime this week. That is a direct rebuke to the major border deal and foreign aid package that the Senate released on Sunday, the contents of which Sec. Mayorkas himself helped negotiate. That bipartisan proposal looking increasingly likely to fail in the very chamber that produced it with 23 senators already coming out against it.

Let's bring in congressional reporter for The Hill, Mychael Schnell. Mychael, good morning. It's always good to have you.

Let's start with the impeachment vote on Sec. Mayorkas. What do we expect? Is this going to pass?


Look, it's going to be a photo finish today in the House with this vote on impeaching Alejandra Mayorkas because a) of course, we're talking about the very slim GOP majority and the expectations that all Democrats are going to line up against this effort.

Democratic whip Katherine Clark, last week, telling reporters she expects Democratic unity against impeachment Mayorkas. And now, that means that Republicans are going to have very little wiggle room here in their quest to impeach Mayorkas. And depending on absences they can only afford to lose a handful of votes -- perhaps even two or three.

One Republican has already come out against this effort. Congressman Ken Buck, retiring Republican from Colorado, saying he will not vote to impeach Mayorkas. He doesn't see any impeachable offenses there. And there are a number of other Republicans who have kept their cards

very close to their chest. I'm talking about Congressman Tom McClintock and Dave Joyce, both of whom say that they will announce how they're going to vote before today's vote, but they haven't yet said.

So right now, it is very up in the air because a lot of lawmakers just haven't said where they stand.

HUNT: Really going to be fascinating to watch how this plays on the floor today. I always love the drama of a floor vote when you actually don't know what's going to happen. They're not -- they're not --

SCHNELL: It's exciting.

HUNT: -- as rare as they used to be, to be perfectly honest --


HUNT: -- but they're still not super common.

Mychael, can we talk a little bit about how Democrats in the Senate are going to handle this? I mean, we know obviously, it would take two-thirds to actually follow through on this. That's not going to happen.

But Sen. Chris Murphy did tell CNN that Democrats, quote, "Don't want to compound the mockery of the process."

What does that mean, and what are the options for them?

SCHNELL: Yeah. I mean, it's also not even just Democrats who are sort of casting doubt on a Senate trial. It's Republicans, too.

We saw Congresswoman Lisa Murkowski -- I believe it was last week -- essentially say that this impeachment against Mayorkas is going to eat up time on the Senate floor. And that especially comes as lawmakers are trying to work through this supplemental, which we can get to at another portion, but that's going to take a lot of time on the floor.

So there are a number of options here. A) We could see that Senate trial play out in the upper chamber. We can also -- and I'll tell you what. You know, it seems that House Republicans are preparing for that. There was reporting yesterday on who the impeachment managers from the House would be if the Senate trial did end up happening -- a number of conservative Republicans.

Another thing that could happen is that this could be referred to a committee and essentially draw out the process of looking into these claims and essentially delaying when that Senate trial would have to take place. Senate Democratic leaders have not yet said what they would end up doing.

I think a lot of folks are waiting to see how today's vote plays out -- again, because it's so up in the air if Republicans even have the votes to impeach Mayorkas. But the expectation is in the Senate that we would either see that Senate trial play out or we'd see a procedural gambit like referring it to committee so that trial could be delayed.

HUNT: Right. Trying to bury it until -- there are elections coming up in which Democrats have a decent chance of taking back the House, although Republicans --

SCHNELL: That is a factor.

HUNT: -- could take the Senate. So there we are.

Let's -- speaking of the Senate, this border deal -- I mean, they put it out on Sunday. By Monday night it was clear Republicans in the Senate were not on board with this.

And, of course, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma -- he's a very serious guy. He had previously been regarded as one of the most conservative members of the House Republican Conference and sort of a very classic, old school way religious conservative. He has really come in for some significant fire. His own party in Oklahoma censured him.

And then we also heard from Donald Trump talking about him directly in an interview that Trump did yesterday. I want to show you a little bit of what Trump said and then I'll ask you about it -- watch.


DONALD TRUMP, (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just to correct the record, I did not endorse Sen. Lankford. He ran, and I didn't endorse him. This is a very bad bill for his career. I don't how a Republican senator can put -- can actually put a thing like this forth.


HUNT: So, Mychael -- I mean, for the -- for the record, I mean, this bill includes some of the most conservative abortion -- immigration restrictions that have been basically presented in any kind of form like this in quite a while.

What do you -- what does this say about Lankford's future here and how this compromised bill unfolds as well?

SCHNELL: Well, I'll tell you. I mean, Donald Trump is particularly frustrated about this border deal because as we've heard from Republicans directly, and then what the sense that we've got is that a number of them are opposed to this because they don't want to hand Joe Biden a win -- a political win on a very important issue to voters, border security and immigration --

HUNT: Yeah.

SCHNELL: -- an election year when the general election is just around the corner. So we're specifically seeing that frustration from Donald Trump.


But I'll tell you. On Capitol Hill, a number of Republicans have come out to actually defend Lankford even if they don't support the bill and the contents in it and those immigration provisions. They're saying James Lankford is not a bad guy and he's a -- he's a conservative as you laid out at the top.

Speaker Mike Johnson essentially saying that he told Lankford he doesn't like the contents of the bill but he still respects Lankford and he called him a friend.

Senator Mark Wayne Mullin said folks are coming out against Lankford saying he's a bad person. Mullin saying if Lankford is a bad person I'm even worse.

So I think that Lankford's future is pretty safe because again, he's -- this was a task he was given by the Senate leader -- by Mitch McConnell -- to go through these painstaking negotiations for four months and try to land a decision.

And Donald Trump is in one category and he obviously has his political considerations as a presidential candidate. But lawmakers up on Capitol Hill are saying look, James Lankford was given an almost impossible task. He was able to come to an agreement. We may not support it but we still respect the man behind it.

HUNT: Yeah. And, you know, I just do want to clarify, considering we played the bite, that Donald Trump is, like, flat-out lying about whether he endorsed James Lankford. Like, here is the Tulsa World headline from September -- "Trump endorses U.S. Sen. James Lankford." He did it --


HUNT: -- in a statement in 2022. So I just would like to say that we are in for that.

I mean, what does this say, Mychael? I guess what I keep turning over in my head, too -- I mean, there's -- Donald Trump is on track to become the Republican nominee, which means he's got a decent shot of getting reelected. This tells us a lot about what life is going to be like again in a -- in a second Donald Trump Washington, no?

SCHNELL: Yeah. I mean, absolutely -- the way that he is going about this agreement. Because again, remember, this is an agreement on border security and immigration reform, something that Republicans have called for for years. Republicans have really been sounding the alarm about the situation at the southern border in recent months.

And just in the winter in about around November, October after the White House unveiled the supplemental request, it was Republicans who said we need border security policy if you want to get any Ukraine aid over the finish line. We are now seeing that. Lawmakers are actually able to come to a consensus but a number of them are turning against it in large part because of the influence that Donald Trump has on the Republican Party. And I think that's key, right? Donald Trump still has a firm grip on

the Republican Party. We saw that in Iowa and New Hampshire -- him easily locking down those wins in those early primary and caucus states. But he also has outside influence still over lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

And he may have had his break with McConnell after January 6 -- that very public break between the two of them. They still badger each other from time to time in the media -- more Trump than McConnell. But at the end of the day, McConnell is still -- you know, he's going to follow the lead of his conference and what they want to do. And a lot of those members of the conference are casting down on this agreement because of the influence that Donald Trump has.

HUNT: Yeah. It's not -- it's not a McConnellism but his former top Republican colleague John Boehner, in the House, always used to say a leader without followers is just a guy out for a walk, so --

Mychael Schell of The Hill. Mychael, thanks very much.

SCHNELL: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: Up next, what Britain's prime minister is saying this morning -- that he's thankful that King Charles' cancer was caught early. A palace spokesman says that the cancer was discovered when the 75-year- old monarch underwent a procedure last month to correct an enlarged prostate. In the meantime, the king is planning to step back from his public duties.

CNN's Anna Stewart is live in London for us with this. Anna, good morning. What do we know about this cancer and the King's prognosis?

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So we don't have a huge amount of detail at this stage and we may never have much more detail than we have right now. In many ways, it's almost surprising to get the news that the king does have cancer -- that sort of diagnosis. We wouldn't have had that sort of information, for instance, for the late queen. We still don't actually know what the cause of death was for the late queen.

So we have some more information and the palace actually said in a statement that they were giving this information out in the hope that would sort of avoid speculation from the public. But, of course, now there is plenty of speculation with people questioning what type of cancer is it, how serious is it, what sort of stage is the cancer at, and what will the treatment plan be.

Now, interestingly, as you mentioned, the prime minister has spoken to BBC and mentioned that it has been quote "caught early," so that's new information that people can consider, I supposed. But, yes, not all of the information that perhaps the public would want to have.

HUNT: Anna, this obviously is not the only set of health challenges facing the royal family right now. What do we know about the latest on the Princess of Wales' condition? And also, can you talk a little bit about how the family -- more broadly, William and Prince Harry -- are responding in the wake of this diagnosis?

STEWART: For the royal family, this is yet another health concern, isn't it? I mean, it's been a really difficult few weeks.

The Princess of Wales -- we know she had abdominal surgery. Again, similar, actually, to the situation with King Charles. We don't exactly what that was for but we know that it's going to take some weeks to recuperate at home following her exit from hospital.


And Prince William actually took some time off of work to look after her and to support his family as well. He is due to return to public- facing duties from tomorrow. Now, he will likely have to take in a lot more engagements now because King Charles will not be doing public- facing engagements. He'll still sort of work from home and get through the constitutional duties he has and get through the paperwork. But a lot more pressure on other members of the royal family.

And when we look at some of the response we've had perhaps the most interesting is from Prince Harry who, of course, despite all the tensions within the family -- the estrangement -- has said that he will be traveling to the UK to see his father in the coming days.

So perhaps a reminder that while this is the royal family it is a family like any another, and news like this -- you know, a cancer diagnosis -- many people familiar with that -- definitely calls for a family coming together.

HUNT: All right. Anna Stewart for us in London. Anna, thanks very much.

All right. Coming up next here, the first votes today in a high-stakes special election in New York to fill the House seat vacated by George Santos. We'll talk about that.

And one player -- you'll have to guess who -- swarmed by the media at opening night of Super Bowl week.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Talk about awkward -- GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley is trying to make the case against electing an older president to a lot of older voters.

More from CNN's Kylie Atwood.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are people making decisions on our national security. These are people making decisions on the future of our economy. We need to know they're at the top of their game.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikki Haley not backing away from her argument that the American president shouldn't be in their 80s.

HALEY: Mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.

ATWOOD (voice-over): It has been a critical piece of the 52-year- old's pitch to voters from day one -- one that she both sharpened --

HALEY: Why are we allowing ourselves to have two 80-year-olds who can't serve eight years, who both are diminished, whether it's in their character or in their mental capacity?

ATWOOD (voice-over): -- and played with in recent weeks --


HALEY: Yeah, that's what voters will say if they see you and Joe on the ballot.


ATWOOD: -- often to an audience filled with retirees like this bar in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

MAUREEN BULGER, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I just don't think our country should be with someone who is going on its way out when we still have so much young blood.

ATWOOD (voice-over): For 69-year-old Maureen Bulger, the idea of moving to a new generation is energizing. South Carolina was the fastest-growing state in 2023 largely because of an influx of almost 40,000 retirees. And Haley is betting that they get her argument.

HALEY: I think older people see it, too. They know that we need a new generational leader.

ATWOOD (voice-over): Sixty-one-year-old Anna Memmo is one of them.

ANNA MEMMO, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: Whether it's the Biden ticket or the Trump ticket, I do feel that it's very important to look at age and consider age and cognitive skills.

ATWOOD (voice-over): But not everyone considering the state's former governor found it to be the best.

RAY MAKALOUS, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I do think that we still have people that are 78 and 80 that can be senators and representatives.

ATWOOD (voice-over): For Edward Spears, currently an undecided GOP voter, it's just a part of the game.

EDWARD SPEARS, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: She wants to be elected. If I was a younger candidate I would do the same thing. That's just a political strategy.

ATWOOD (on camera): You're 82.

SPEARS: Right.

ATWOOD (on camera): Do you find her arguments about age and not wanting an 80-year-old in the White House offensive at all?

SPEARS: No. It's just politics.

ATWOOD (voice-over): And for older Trump supporters, even those interested in Haley, like Carol and Greg Carty who moved full-time to Hilton Head nine years ago --

CAROL CARTY, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I think she's a neat person. We read her book.

ATWOOD (voice-over): -- the tactic of going after Trump's age hasn't been a decisive factor because they are squarely set on voting for the former president.

CARTY: Typecasting the seniors, and that's not right because we're individuals.

ATWOOD (on camera): But if she weren't doing these age things it's not like you would go for her if she left that argument in the past.

CARTY: Well, if Trump were not running, yes, I would. I'm also -- I'm stubborn.

ATWOOD (on camera): Nikki Haley's campaign said that January was their biggest fundraising month to date, bringing in $16.5 million. And her campaign manager told reporters that they will continue fighting so long as they have the resources to do so and they have the resources now to go the distance. Now, what going the distance actually means will largely be determined by how well Nikki Haley does here in her home state of South Carolina.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, Spartanburg.


HUNT: All right. Our thanks to Kylie for that report.

All right. Early voting begins today for next week's special election in New York's 3rd Congressional District. What district might this be? The winner will replace disgraced former congressman George Santos in Congress.

Former Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat, and local legislator Mazi Pilip, a Republican, will face off in the February 13 special election, which analysts view as a tossup right now. The race has major implications because the Republican Party has such a fragile majority in the House. We also could get some important clues about the overall political climate.

Let's bring in Jacob Rubashkin. He is the deputy editor of Inside Elections. Jacob, good morning to you.

I was just reading your piece from the district. Basically, my takeaway from reading this is that this is a pretty weird special election. I mean, it's less weird because George Santos isn't involved, let's be clear. But this isn't the kind of, like, all hands on deck, high-energy situation as we often see with these specials.


What's your sense of how this race is going to play out based on your time on the ground there?

JACOB RUBASHKIN, DEPUTY EDITOR, INSIDE ELECTIONS: Well, good morning, Kasie, and thanks for having me on.

You're exactly right. We got accustomed to, during the Trump era, special elections that captivated the national attention for the weeks and months leading up to them. Think about Jon Ossoff's race in Georgia's 6th Congressional District back in 2017, or Conor Lamb in 2018. This was not that. This is a much more subdued race.

I will say it has picked up since early voting began. Both Suozzi and Pilip are more engaged now, I would argue. Suozzi had a big rally with minority leader Hakeem Jeffries over the weekend.

But the reality is this is a race that is being fought out on TV and the expensive New York media market, and that will be decided by a very small number of voters who show up for a special election two days after Super Bowl Sunday and a day before Valentine's Day in New York.

HUNT: Yeah -- no. It's a really -- it's actually very salient for a low turnout situation that you've got those two big things on either -- on either side of this. I mean, good luck getting anyone to answer the door on Sunday night when everyone's watching the Super Bowl.

Jacob, can you talk a little bit about these two candidates because the Republican, in particular, has a -- an interesting profile?

RUBASHKIN: It's a real study in contrast. The nominees for this election were handpicked by the county party organization, so there wasn't a traditional primary like we see in a regular general election.

On the Democratic side, we've got former congressman Tom Suozzi. He is a political institution in this district on Long Island. Has had a career spanning 30 years. His father was an officeholder. He is the former congressman for this district. He served six years -- was elected in 2016 -- before leaving Congress last year in 2022-23 to run for governor against Kathy Hochul. So he is very much a seasoned politician -- an old-school, handshaking, glad-handing Democratic politician from Long Island.

Mazi Pilip could not be a more different figure. She is a relatively new politician. She was only elected to office in 2021. She's got a made-for-TV story. Born in rural Ethiopia and was evacuated along with tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel where she served in the Israeli Defense Forces before ultimately immigrating to Long Island in the mid-2000s. Long after Suozzi began his political career when she actually got even to America.

So it's a real difference between the two candidates -- very different directions that the parties went to in making their selections.

HUNT: Yeah. Jacob, very briefly, Democrats are doing a little bit of handwringing about this. They're sort of thinking because of exactly what you outlined -- former congressman. He should be able to win this race. Do you think that handwringing is warranted?

RUBASHKIN: Absolutely. You have to go into any election with so many uncertainties thinking that you're down and running like you're down. And even though Democrats do have some advantages in this race -- they've got a financial advantage. Certainly, on TV, they've outspent their Republican counterparts about two to one.

Suozzi, of course, universally known in the district. Whereas, Mazi Pilip really had to start from very little name recognition and build up her name I.D.

But the reality is special elections are odd circumstances and they rely on bringing your voters out. And Mazi Pilip, especially in the wake of the Hamas attack on October 7, has really leaned into her biography as a former IDF soldier, the district's significant Jewish population, and her support especially in some enclaves -- Orthodox Jews or Persian Jews in the district -- to create some uncertainty for Democrats as they look at a compelling and different kind of candidate on the opposite side of the aisle.

So, certainly, a lot of handwringing going --

HUNT: Yeah.

RUBASHKIN: -- on that's warranted.

HUNT: All right, very interesting. Very interesting profile and I appreciate the sort of -- the picture of that Long Island district. It's a really interesting place politically.

Jacob Rubashkin, thanks very much for being up with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

RUBASHKIN: Thank you.

HUNT: All right, it is officially Super Bowl week and the festivities kicked off Monday in Las Vegas with media day. Thousands of media people got their chance to ask players their burning questions, ranging from the serious to the silly, before the Kansas City Chiefs battle the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday's big game.

CNN's Coy Wire was there for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR (on camera): All right. Welcome to opening night, a first-ever Super Bowl in Las Vegas, Super Bowl LVIII, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. The Chiefs have the opportunity to become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots did it 20 years ago. The 49ers -- they're looking to have their sixth Super Bowl title, which would tie them for the most of any franchise in NFL history.

We caught up with the players to ask them their thoughts around the excitement about the first big game in Vegas.


TRAVIS KELCE, TIGHT END, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: There's nobody that has a better show than Las Vegas, right? It's like the mecca of the world for entertainment. And to be a part of the first one ever is pretty -- it's pretty historical. So I'm definitely -- I'm enjoying this ride, man -- that's for damn sure.

BROCK PURDY, QUARTERBACK, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: You know, to play the first Super Bowl in Las Vegas and make some history and be a part of it, for me, as like a little kid, you want to play in the biggest and sweetest environment, I think this is -- this is up there. So we played her last year for New Year's and now we get to play for the Super Bowl, so it's pretty sweet.

GEORGE KITTLE, TIGHT END, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: I'm playing football in February. I have nothing to complain about. I'm in Las Vegas at the Super Bowl playing football with my teammates for an extra week. There's only two teams doing it. I have nothing to complain about.

PATRICK MAHOMES, QUARTERBACK, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: We're in Vegas. We're in the kind of the spot in the world where you'd want to be playing this football game. But you just go out there and brace your nerves and just go out there and be who you are.


HUNT: All right, pretty sweet, he says. It sounds that way.

OK, up next here on "CNN THIS MORNING" Ukrainian forces using sea drones to sink the ships of Russia's Black Sea fleet. Why Ukraine says that's a game-changer. And migrant smugglers trying to get away on jet skis. A CNN crew went along for the ride. Stick with us for "CNN THIS MORNING." I'll see you tomorrow.