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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Trump 14th Amendment Case; GOP Facing Internal Backlash After Two Major Legislative Fails; Haley Ad Calls Trump "Chicken"; Blinken: Hamas Response Opens "Space" For Negotiations. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 08, 2024 - 05:00   ET




Americans are lined up outside the Supreme Court to witness the biggest presidential election case since Bush v. Gore, almost a quarter century ago.

Plus --


REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): Round two here, because otherwise, we get nothing on the border.


HUNT: Two big Republican priorities go down in flames in the same week. When can Congress get its act together?

And fowl play. The new Nikki Haley campaign ad that calls Donald Trump chicken.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Thursday, February 8th. It is 05:00 a.m. on a historic day in Washington.

This morning, the Supreme Court will consider a question that's never before been asked of it, did a presidential candidate, Donald Trump in this case, engage in insurrection? And if so, does that allow him to be disqualified from the ballot?

The justice's answer has the potential to upend the 2024 race. Trump is now for all intents and purposes, the presumptive Republican nominee and that's exactly how his party is acting.

Following his lead, congressional Republicans have basically descended into chaos, and the Senate leaders are going to try to salvage something from the collapse of a laboriously negotiated border deal. That measure would have traded the most conservative immigration policies in decades for crucial aid to Israel and Ukraine.

But Republicans were unable to muster enough votes to advance the bill after Donald Trump started lobbying against it.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: Donald Trump wants chaos. Donald Trump does not want success at the border. He wants chaos and if he became president, I doubt he'd ever solve it.


HUNT: The failure is raising questions about Mitch McConnell's previously iron grip on his conference, with pro-Trump senator is starting to agitate against him. And across the Capitol, the rookie House speaker is also confronting doubts after a pair of stunning defeats on Tuesday.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It was a mess what happened here, but we're cleaning it up. I don't think that this is a reflection on the leader. It's a reflection on the body itself, and the place where we've come in this country.


HUNT: And in case that wasn't enough political news for your day, we also have the Nevada caucuses today. They are locked for Donald Trump to win. Nikki Haley participate only -- participated only in Tuesdays Nevada primary.

This stung a little. She lost it to, quote, none of these candidates. That was an entry on the ballot.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We always knew Nevada was a scam. Trump had at rigged from the very beginning.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in Gabby Birenbaum. She's Washington correspondent for "The Nevada Independent".

Gabby, good morning to you.

I want to start just by making sure we dig into what a historic day we're going to see today unfold. And I know, you know, there are -- there are these cases across the country in different states. This is about the Colorado ballot officially, but its really going to answer a broader question for states about whether or not Donald Trump is going to be on the ballot.

And, you know, I realize you're not a lawyer, but it's really the politics of this that, you know, I want to dig into here because its going to be, you know, half the country is going to be upset likely with the Supreme Courts decision. It's the biggest moment for them since Bush versus Gore.

As you talk to Republicans, Democrats on Capitol Hill, what do you hear from them about how this may impact what we see for the rest of the election year?

GABBY BIRENBAUM, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEVADA INDEPENDENT: Yeah. I mean, I think certainly when you talk to Republicans, they feel like this is bogus. They feel like he's their prospective candidate and he needs to be on the ballot, and then I think several Democrats as well might be nervous or uncomfortable by the prospect of a legal challenge keeping him from the ballot rather than voters.

But its an interesting open question and I think like you said, it's the Supreme Court's biggest incursion into election since Bush v. Gore. And so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

HUNT: Yeah, I mean, I think -- I think you're very smart. I mean, that's what I hear from Democrats who honestly, I mean, obviously don't want Trump to be elected. They worry that basically, if you eliminate him from the ballot, you are pouring gasoline on what is already a tinder box of political division in the country.


Of course, there are progressives and others who believe he should be barred and that he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the White House again, and they want to do it this way, but its definitely -- there's definitely some point which poll here.

So, Gabby, let's also talk about what we saw play out in the Senate last night. I want to show you a little bit of what James Lankford had to say in the wake of this because he, of course, spearheaded this negotiation on the part of Mitch McConnell.

He's poured so much of his own political capital -- again, this very conservative senator from Oklahoma and it just absolutely blew up in his face. Watch what Lankford.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): I had a popular commentator for weeks ago that I talked to you, they told me flat out, if you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidential year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you.


HUNT: I mean, that is just remarkable, but it really lays out the state of affairs here.

BIRENBAUM: Yeah, I mean, it was quite the stunning about face I thought from Senate Republicans and I think Senate Democrats are looking at them and thinking, how can you be a serious negotiating partner for us? I mean, they refuse to initially passed President Biden's supplemental request with which just had aid for Ukraine, Israel humanitarian assistance. They said we need border provisions.

Like you said, laborious negotiations. Senator Lankford spent months negotiating what turned out to be, I think in the history of recent immigration deals are fairly conservative product. There was nothing in there for undocumented immigrants, nothing in there for DACA recipients. It was mainly focused on the border and on border enforcement.

And it still wasn't enough for Senate Republicans. And I think Senator Lankford is, is right to call out the election near dynamics. This is a deal that Donald Trump has railed against has urged his supporters of whom he has many in Congress to not support, and I think it just shows that for Senate Democrats anyway, Senate Republicans might be going the way of the House.

HUNT: Yeah, and I just want to underscore again something that Lankford said in that bite that we played. This wasn't just -- he didn't just say -- they didn't want me to give President Biden a legislative win to run on. He said that he was warned by someone he described as a popular commentator that, quote, if you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis, again, solves the border crisis, during this presidential year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you. I mean, that is just -- I feel like the phrase quiet part out loud is way over used now because it happens so much, but that's a pretty extreme version of it.

Lets talk Gabby about the House because Mike Johnson, the House speaker, is also on the rocks here, with people suddenly saying, hey, maybe it was a bad idea to get rid of Kevin McCarthy. We're underscoring that this shows it was a bad idea to get rid of Kevin McCarthy. I want to show you an assortment of lawmakers talking to my Hill colleagues over the course of the last 24 hours. Take a look.


REP. RALPH NORMAN (R-SC): He needs to count votes before it comes to the floor. As bad as Pelosi was, she knew her votes before it took place.

REP. MIKE GALLAGHER (R-WI): It's unclear to me why we barreled ahead with a vote knowing that the votes weren't there. We did not need to embarrass ourselves.

REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): There's been a real lack of leadership on this. And what I'm mostly disappointed in is that were not having that conversation of, okay, what's round two? We need around to hear, because otherwise, we get nothing on the border.


HUNT: The problem, of course, is that they don't seem to have a better option than Mike Johnson. Just getting him in there was not easy.

BIRENBAUM: No, I mean, I think its really showing the perils of bringing in a rookie speaker and the perils of having taken down somebody in Kevin McCarthy, who for better or worse, had been there for quite awhile. I think this was a pretty stunning embarrassment for Speaker Johnson, for Tom Emmer, as the whip, for their team.

The three Republicans who ended up voting against the impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas, I don't think they were -- they were quiet about their intentions. You know, I think all three of them, people had eyes on them that they might be the votes for no. And it seems that Republicans were relying on Democratic attendance and false information about Democratic attendance to move this through.

And so, I think even if they vote on the Mayorkas impeachment again next week, when Leader Scalise is back from dealing with his health problems, if there even -- if they're able to move it, I think the conversation has been diverted from talking about the southern border, which is what they want.

And instead, I think it's about Speaker Johnson and about House Republicans. Not knowing how to count votes as, as Ralph Norman said there, like the way that for so many years, former Speaker Pelosi was able to all right.

HUNT: All right. Gabby Birenbaum of "The Nevada Independent" -- Gabby, thank you very much for that.

BIRENBAUM: Thank you.

HUNT: A defining moment in Donald Trump's bid to return to the White House. The Supreme Court preparing to decide whether states can remove him from their ballots.

Plus, a counteroffer from Hamas for a hostage release and ceasefire in Gaza. And the investigation is complete. Did President Biden mishandled classified documents?



HUNT: Welcome back.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says a Gaza cease-fire and a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas may still be possible despite the two sides still remaining far apart on the terms of the deal. His comments come after Hamas leaders on Wednesday issued a three-phase counter proposal that included a full Israeli troop withdrawal in exchange for hostages.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed it, calling it delusional.

But Blinken, who's on the final day of his Mideast visit, is optimistic at least that negotiations would continue.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We also see space in what came back to pursue negotiations, to see, if we can get to an agreement. And that's what we intend to do.


HUNT: All right. Journalist Elliott Gotkine joins us live now from London.

Elliot, always good to have you on the program. Thanks for being here.

Netanyahu, of course, is saying Israel won't settle for anything except for complete victory in Gaza.


What do you make of this back-and-forth? I mean, Blinken did seem to suggest, okay, we're talking and that means we can get somewhere.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Kasie, I suppose as long as they're still talking, there is still hope that a deal can be done and its also unclear as to whether what were hearing from Hamas and from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if those are maximalist positions from which they won't budge, or if they are just part of the negotiating -- negotiating tactics.

So Hamas demanding, for example, the release of vast numbers of Palestinian prisoners, including some 500 who have been convicted of either killing Israelis or being part of attacks that were -- that had deadly results. And at the same time, a full withdrawal from Israel, from the Gaza Strip, and Prime Minister Netanyahu saying and that Israel will not do a deal at any cost. It won't release thousands of prisoners.

So they probably both have their red lines. Whether those red lines are being articulated just yet is I suppose something that we will find out in due course. But interestingly, Netanyahu didn't flat-out reject the possibility of any deal, just not the deal that Hamas seems to put on the table people.

And Hamas delegation is today in Egypt to continue the conversation, the Egyptians being alone with the Qataris, the key mediators in all of this. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken is still optimistic that a deal can be done, but there's a lot of pressure from a number of different sides and it's quite hard to see how Netanyahu is going to balance all of these different pressures, because you've got the families with hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip. They've been there now for four months, who believed that time is running out.

And then let's not forget, there will be those who perhaps lost loved ones at the hands of some of those Palestinian prisoners that Hamas wants released. And they won't be particularly keen to see them released.

So, there's quite a delicate balancing act that needs to be done. But one word we did get from a former hostage or seventy-two-year-old, Dina Mahsa, saying, I'm terribly afraid that if you continue with this line of dismantling Hamas, no hostages will be left to release -- Kasie. HUNT: Yeah, really, really difficult reality there.

Elliot, on a slightly different topic, U.S. Central Command has said that one of their drones brown strikes killed, a key commander that is in one of the -- one of the major Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq. What more can you tell us about that?

GOTKINE: So interesting isn't it, Kasie, that's in the wake of that deadly attack on that to U.S. outpost in Jordan that killed three U.S. soldiers, Kataib Hezbollah, the biggest Iran -- Iranian backed militia in Iraq, said that it was no longer going to carry out attacks against the U.S. because they didn't want to embarrass the Iraqi authorities.

Clearly, it was also designed to avoid blowback back from the United States and clearly that hasn't worked because we saw this drone strike on an SUV that was moving in a neighborhood, a Shia neighborhood of Baghdad, and that it was hitting a precision strike. A CNN team on the ground heard two explosions in quick succession. This commander from Kataib Hezbollah was killed and another person according to the Iraqis, was also in the car as well, but no additional collateral damage or any other casualties that were aware of -- aware of.

Now, Iraq has derived at -- decried this as a violation of its sovereignty. And it comes at a very delicate moment because the U.S. is about to restart talks with the Iraqis about their presence in Iraq. And this could prompt the Iraqis to say they no longer want Americans to be there on their soil -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Elliot Gotkine for us, live in London -- Elliot, thank you very much.

All right. Still ahead here, an urgent search for five U.S. Marines after a missing military chopper is found in California.

And a wave of Taylor Swift side wagers ahead of Super Bowl LVIII. She's obviously taken the NFL by storm. That's a sure bet.



HUNT: Welcome back.

We got quick hits across America now.

Rescue crews are searching for five U.S. marines after finding their crashed military helicopter in southern California's pine valley. The chopper had been reported overdue late Tuesday while flying from a base near Las Vegas to San Diego. Very mysterious.

At least six members of a Philadelphia area of family are still missing this morning, police were called to their home on Wednesday and two officers were injured by gunfire before the House was set on fire.

A special counsel has completed his investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents by President Biden. The White House is now reviewing the Justice Department report for potential executive privilege issues.

All right. Let's go now to weather. High winds may have dropped a rare tornado onto the Central California coast as officials assess the full damage, the catastrophic storm from earlier this week. That system now moving east, bringing rain across the Midwest and Plains today.

Our weatherman Van Dam is back and tracking all of it.

Derek, good morning. It's wonderful to see you.


HUNT: We also have this story that Punxsutawney Phil might actually have gotten it right and its spreading might actually be early. So, yay, tell us about it.

VAN DAM: Yeah, you know, this record warmth has just done a number on our snowpack. I was just talking to my producer a moment ago. About a month ago, we had about 40, 42 percent sense of snow cover across the U.S. The record warmth that we've had is actually dropped that down to 22.5 percent.

So a major deficit in the snow cover, people who loves snow, were not going to get it anytime soon, but there is some signal and some hints that we could have a early next week snowstorm. In the meantime, we're kind of winding things down along the West Coast from this big atmospheric river event that brought the flooding to California, light showers in and around L.A. as well, San Diego this morning.

Of course, we don't want to add to the additional -- any additional rainfall.


But nonetheless, that threat slowly starting to diminish. It's really now transitioning to the Rockies, which she has brought a significant amount of snowfall. Some areas measuring two feet or more of snow across Arizona and into portions of Nevada. So that original system moving on -- there's another upper level low that's helping bring the snow to the western us that would be the high elevation regions.

But this is a rain and snow accumulation through Saturday and look what its picking up on across the Gulf Coast States, more rain from Louisiana, all the way to Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia as well.

But we talked about those record highs over the coming days. We have over 200 potential record warm temperatures and that has done serious damage on our snowpack. Believe it.

Take it from me. I am a skier going to snowboarder and I don't like to see this 22.5 percent of the U.S. now covered with snow and guess what, the above-average temperatures, just like you said, Punxsutawney Phil, was spot on. It looks like its going to stay here.

Look at this, Kasie. We're talking 15 degrees above average.

HUNT: Wow.

Well, it'd be now -- I'll try to enjoy it, although you and I can -- we should start talking more about the climate implications of all these things, but --


VAN DAM: -- are up already. So --

HUNT: Yeah, I'll be glad to get the kids out of the house this weekend.

Our weatherman, Derek Van Dam -- Derek, thank you.

VAN DAM: All right.

Coming up next here, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a landmark 14th Amendment case about Donald Trump's eligibility for the ballot.

And chaos in Congress at some recurring theme these days. Republican lawmakers serve up a double dose of dysfunction.