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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Democrat Tom Suozzi Flips New York House Seat, Shrinking GOP's Majority; House Votes To Impeach Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas; Biden: Trump's NATO Comments Are "Dangerous" And "Un-American." Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 14, 2024 - 05:30   ET



JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you and thanks so much for getting up early with us. I am Jessica Dean in today for Kasie Hunt.

A bitter defeat for House Republicans. Their razor-thin majority reduced even further after Democrat Tom Suozzi captured the high- stakes special election for New York's 3rd District. Suozzi easily defeating Republican nominee Mazi Pilip by about eight points in a suburban part of Long Island, taking back the seat vacated by expelled former GOP congressman George Santos.

Suozzi's success also hands President Biden's allies a much-needed boost as the general election comes into focus.

Speaking at his victory party, Suozzi says he is also calling on Congress to stop listening so much to the former president, Donald Trump, and do their jobs.


TOM SUOZZI, (D) NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN-ELECT: Let's send a message to our friends running the Congress these days. Stop running around for Trump and start running the country. It's time to find common ground and start delivering for the people of the United States of America.


DEAN: Reacting to Suozzi's win, the Biden campaign says Donald Trump lost again tonight. Worth mentioning though, Donald Trump did not endorse Mazi Pilip.

Let's bring in Jacob Rubashkin, the deputy editor of Inside Elections. Jacob, great to see you, and good morning to you.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz was in the district yesterday talking to voters. And I just want to start by playing a little bit of what they told him about why they were voting, and then we can talk about it.


BETTY, NY-3 VOTER: Well, I guess the border.


BETTY: Yeah -- um-hum. And maybe not spending -- keeping some of that money in our country, too.

MARC CAVELLO, NY-3 VOTER: I advocate for abortion, so I think that was important to come out and vote about that today.

MIKE, NY-3 VOTER: The border issue is important. I mean, we've got millions of people who have already come in illegally. I see it all the time, OK -- people that shouldn't be here that are here. And I'm not against immigrants -- I come from a family of immigrants -- but not the way it's going on now.


DEAN: So there are some of the voters yesterday. Are those the issues you were expecting to see in the front of voter's minds? And what do you think these results tell us, if anything, about how those issues played out?

JACOB RUBASHKIN, DEPUTY EDITOR, INSIDE ELECTIONS: Well, thank you so much for having me on this morning, Jessica.

Yeah, these are the issues that we anticipated this election would turn on -- the border, immigration, abortion. Republicans really felt that immigration was their best issue in this election because of the ongoing migrant crisis in New York City. Every single ad that Republicans aired on TV in this election hit Tom Suozzi on immigration issues. That is how important it was for the party's messaging this cycle.

Similarly, Democrats took a hold of Mazi Pilip's pro-life stances. This is a very pro-choice district. And as we've seen across the country abortion is a massive motivating issue for Democrats.

So, yes -- very clear that this election was going to turn on immigration, on abortion -- on these big-ticket items that both parties' nominees were grappling with and talking about extensively in the last couple of weeks.

DEAN: Yeah, and that we're probably going to hear a lot more about as we get toward November.

There's also been a lot of talk about how this election was a key test of both parties' general election messaging to that end. So here's what Suozzi said last night in his victory speech.


SUOZZI: The people of Long Island and Queens are sick and tired of the political bickering. They've had it. They want us to come together and solve problems. Let's send a message to our friends running the Congress these days. Stop running around for Trump and start running the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) DEAN: Do you think this is a preview of messaging we're going to see from Democrats going forward in these kind of more swing districts come November?

RUBASHKIN: It's a possibility. But I think the important thing to remember is that special elections are special. They are their own unique circumstances.

And Tom Suozzi is a pretty unique candidate for the Democrats. He's a former congressman, former mayor, county executive. He's been around for over 30 years on the political scene in this district and he's got a track record of breaking with his party on issues like immigration and on crime that he was able to leverage in the course of this election. So he does occupy a bit of a unique place.

But I definitely think we are going to see and have already begun to see Democrats try and go on offense on immigration. This is the issue that Republicans think will be their best issue this cycle. And we saw Suozzi go on offense on immigration.

And especially, following the collapse of the border bill in the Senate, we've seen Democrats turn that question on its head and say to Republicans well, what are you doing to try and stop the crisis? We have a bill. You voted it down.

DEAN: Right, right.


And I want to also talk about the fact that the likely Republican presidential nominee, former President Donald Trump, and the president, Joe Biden, were not really present for any part of this special election. They really didn't play much of a role.

Trump did not endorse Pilip, which we mentioned a little bit. And yesterday, in a post, he said -- he called her a "...foolish woman running in a race, where she didn't endorse me and tried to 'straddle the fence'..."

And we saw Suozzi giving kind of a very lukewarm response about Biden the other day. We'll let him talk here.


SUOZZI: I mean, the bottom line is he's old. I mean, he's 81 years old. If he ends up being the Democratic candidate I'm likely to support him, yes.


SUOZZI: But we're going to see what happens.


DEAN: So what does this tell you -- what we're hearing from both of these candidates? RUBASHKIN: Yeah. The only time that either Biden or Trump appeared in this race was in the other party's attack ads. This is a swing district. It's going to be very competitive at the presidential level in the fall, and so neither candidate was willing to take the chance of tying themselves too closely to the unpopular standard-bearer at the top of the ticket.

You know, Suozzi kept his distance. Pilip said nice things about Trump but didn't really embrace him until the final days of the race. And he, of course, as would be expected, took her loss and immediately turned it back on her and said the only reason she didn't win was because she didn't embrace me.

I think that candidates in swing districts across the country are going to face this issue -- both Democrats and Republicans. They are going to want to run their own races. And depending on the individual partisanship of the seat, even if it's just a few points more Democratic it makes it easier for the Democrat to talk about Trump and Biden, and vice versa for those Republican seats.

But it's definitely going to put a lot of congressional candidates in a bind over the next eight months or so.

DEAN: Yeah, and just kind of underscores how unpopular both of the parties' standard-bearers are in these swing districts in a lot of cases.

All right, Jacob Rubashkin. Thank you so much for getting up early with us. We appreciate it.

RUBASHKIN: Thanks for having me.

DEAN: Um-hum.

After a stunning failed attempt to impeach Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas last week, House Republicans tried again yesterday -- and this time, they did succeed in a historic 214-213 vote. All but three Republicans voted to oust Mayorkas over his handling of the southern border.

Speaker Johnson, this time, was saved by House Majority Leader Steve Scalise who had returned to Congress from cancer treatment to help push Republicans over the finish line. Scalise is now urging the Democratic-controlled Senate to take the impeachment seriously.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): The Senate really ought to take seriously the message that was sent that we're serious about securing the border and the secretary has failed to do his job.


DEAN: Senate sources are telling CNN the chamber is unlikely to bring Mayorkas to trial. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer calling the House's effort yesterday a, quote, "sham" and "a new low." Let's bring in congressional reporter for The Hill, Mychael Schnell. It's great to see you. Good morning. Thanks so much for being with us.

Briefly, first, just take us through what we saw on the House floor yesterday. Catch everyone up. There were two absences on the Democratic side and that vote just so close. What do we know about who missed the vote and why?


Yeah, this vote squeaked by last night in a 214-213 vote. Republicans with that one vote edge -- just enough to impeach Mayorkas, as you mentioned. Successful on their second try after the effort failed on the House floor last week.

This was a 214-213 vote, as I mentioned, with four members not voting -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- essentially evening things out so this thing could sail through. Two of the Democrats who weren't able to vote last night -- one of them had tested positive for COVID- 19. The second one wasn't actually able to make it to Washington because of a delayed flight. Unclear why Republicans weren't able to attend. But essentially, those absences evened the playing field and this thing was able to get over the finish line again in the second try that Republicans had made.

DEAN: Yeah. And so what happens next? We know that Chuck Schumer doesn't sound like he's going to take this to trial at all. But what are you hearing from the Senate side about how they plan to handle this?

SCHNELL: Yeah. So this is obviously now in the Senate's hands. Impeachment in the House is just the first step. The question of removal is in the hands of the Senate.

Schumer said that nothing will happen with the Senate trial until lawmakers return from their state -- their state work period, which is essentially recessed. That coming the week of February 26. So don't expect any action until then.

But there's still this question of if we will see a trial. There could be the opportunity of just dismissing the articles of impeachment, which would require a simple majority vote. There's a question though of putting some vulnerable Democrats in a tough spot and having them take a tough vote. Because, of course, as was just laid out before, immigration has skyrocketed to be the top issue among voters.


The other option is we could see this Senate trial play out on the Senate floor, which Schumer said is a possibility, saying that impeachment managers would be sworn in. Speaker -- Senate pro tem Patty Murray would preside over that trial. And then, of course, it would -- it would require a two-thirds majority to see a conviction of Mayorkas. That's extremely unlikely in the Democratic-controlled Senate. So all eyes now are going to be on Schumer and Democratic leadership

to see how they handle these impeachment articles.

DEAN: Right. So that's going from the House to the Senate.

Let's talk about this $95 billion foreign aid package that's going from the Senate to the House. The Senate passing that yesterday setting up what is this showdown in the House. There is some talk that Democrats may try to maneuver around that using different procedures that are, frankly, kind of difficult to do. It's hard to thread that needle.

Help everyone understand how that would work and what that might look like.

SCHNELL: Yeah, Jessica, difficult is an understatement when you talk about these procedural maneuvers to try to force a vote on this $95 billion foreign aid package.

The reason why we're talking about these procedural gambits is because Speaker Johnson very strongly suggested that he does not plan to bring this foreign aid package to the House floor, putting out a statement just before the vote on Monday essentially saying that because it excludes border security policy it's a nonstarter in the House.

So now we're hearing some increased chatter about what's called a discharge petition, which again is that procedural maneuver that can circumvent leadership and force a vote on legislation. I won't bore you with the nitty-gritty details but essentially, what you need here is a majority of the chamber to support this effort to force a vote on the House floor.

Now, Democrats from the debt limit showdown last year already have what's called a ripe discharge petition. It means that it has gone through all of the procedural hurdles and the time restraints and it's ready to go. That has 213 signatures. Of course, you need 218 to be able to force a vote on the floor. So that's five Republicans right there that are needed to sign on though it will likely decrease to four with Tom Suozzi coming to Washington and likely signing his name on the petition.

A wrinkle in this process though is that a number of progressive lawmakers are expected to actually remove their name from that petition despite previously signing it in protest of including Israel aid in the supplemental without any conditions. Some progressives raising concerns -- humanitarian concerns about individuals in the Gaza Strip.

So it's right now an open question of how many Republicans would be needed to sign on. And Jessica, you know this. Any number of Republicans who sign on, even if a small number, would be an extreme uphill battle because signing a discharge petition when you're in the majority is kind of like the nuclear option. It is a major, major, major rebuke of leadership.

DEAN: No doubt about it. We will keep our eye on that. Mychael Schnell of The Hill, thank you so much. Great to see you.

SCHNELL: Thanks, Jessica.

DEAN: Just ahead, how former President Trump may not be helping himself. What he's been saying that could turn off a key voting bloc.



DEAN: Today, more fallout from Donald Trump's controversial comments encouraging Russia to invade European allies that don't meet their NATO obligations.

President Biden calling out Trump for his remarks.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No other president in our history has ever bowed down to a Russian dictator. And let me say this as clearly as I can. I never will. For God sake, it's dumb, it's shameful, it's dangerous. It's un-American.


DEAN: And Trump's only remaining Republican challenger, Nikki Haley, whose deployed husband Trump mocked last week, also weighed in, arguing Trump's comments show he cannot be trusted to send U.S. troops into harm's way.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you are saying you're going to side with Putin, then I know it's going to cause a war, not stop a war. Why would any military family feel like you could go and keep our men and women protected? Because you can't.


DEAN: So all of that back-and-forth between Haley and Trump happening in South Carolina -- of course, her home state and the venue for the next Republican primary on February 24. It's also a state that is home to eight major military installations and a large military community.

So let's bring in Margaret Talev, the director of Syracuse University's Democracy, Journalism, and Citizen Institute. Margaret, good morning. Thanks for getting up early. Good to see you.

Let's talk about the --


DEAN: It's good to see you. Let's talk about the military angle of all of this. We just mentioned South Carolina home to eight major military bases and ranks within the top 10 states for density of service members, military retirees.

Haley also had this to say yesterday in her interview with NBC. We'll watch that.


HALEY: The reality is he's never been anywhere near a military uniform. He's never had to sleep on the ground. He's never known how to sacrifice. And the most harm he's ever possibly had is getting hit by a golf ball when he's sitting in a golf cart. That's the truth.


DEAN: So, Margaret, clearly, she's trying to make this an issue that's going to have an impact on South Carolina's primary, but we've seen the polling. Trump's running some 30 points ahead of her in her home state.

Does this make an impact? Can she get some traction there with this?

TALEV: It may have some impact and I can imagine all of those clips being recirculated in general election ads in the closing weeks of a campaign nationally. But a 30-some point -- percentage point lead is almost impossible for any candidate, even the former governor of that state, to close with literally just days left when voters are overwhelmingly saying they've already made up their minds about the candidates.

Having said that, you can certainly understand why she's trying to make this point. This isn't just about the number of active duty personnel or even military retirees in the state. There are hundreds of DOD-contracted firms in South Carolina. I read estimates that it's something like one out of nine jobs in the state is actually tied to the military community. So this is an obvious tool for Nikki Haley to try to use to sound the alarm bells.


But again, in survey after survey of South Carolina Republicans, we're seeing just this enormous lead that the former president, Donald Trump, has managed to hold. And you've got, of course -- he has got the support of the two Republican U.S. senators from the state, Tim Scott --

DEAN: Right.

TALEV: -- and Lindsey Graham.

So you can see why she's making the argument for sure. And these are the arguments that President Biden and his team want all Americans, especially swing voters, to hear. But 32 1/2 points is a massive spread to try to cover.

DEAN: Yeah, it's really hard to make up that ground.

Let's talk a little bit about the special election in New York -- Tom Suozzi's win there. I know -- you and I actually talked yesterday on a different show about what you can read into this. And it's hard -- you know, you have -- special elections are special and they don't always mean anything. But what -- to what extent do you think Democrats should read into this at all?

TALEV: Well, here's why not to read too much into it. There was bad weather. There was the ghost of George Santos --

DEAN: Yeah.

TALEV: -- and Suozzi was a known quantity.

But here are -- here are the -- here's what could certainly help Democrats in the fall. These are the tips that you can take away.

Early voting can be crucial. It was really, really important because Democrats had an edge, and when the bad weather came it didn't matter as much for them. Two, the abortion and reproductive rights argument really helps Democratic -- Democrats turn out their own base, including women. And three, the border crisis is real and resonant with voters across the aisle. And if you are going to be a successful Democratic candidate you have to acknowledge people's anxiety and concerns about securing the border.

Suozzi's pitch was to make it sort of arguing that you can be firm and be humane at the same time without being hardline.

The biggest problem for Joe Biden in translating a success out of Suozzi's strategy is that Suozzi's strategy was, in part, to set himself apart from Joe Biden --

DEAN: Um-hum.

TALEV: -- and to say Biden needs (audio gap).

If you're Joe Biden, you can't set yourself apart from Joe Biden as a tactic for getting voters to turn out.

So it's a playbook to help Democrats but Biden, himself, would need to modify it -- would need to modify the Suozzi strategy to maximize his own results --

DEAN: Sure.

TALEV: -- in November.

DEAN: Yes. And worth noting, too, Joe Biden was not asked to go campaign there or do anything. It was very interesting to note that as well.

All right, Margaret Talev for us. Thanks so much. We appreciate it.

TALEV: Thanks. DEAN: Israeli forces releasing new video of someone allegedly hiding inside a Hamas tunnel right after the October 7 attack. Who the Israelis claim that is -- that's ahead.



DEAN: As many as one million people are expected to descend on the streets of Kansas City to celebrate the Chiefs' second-straight Super Bowl title.

Carolyn Manno is here and has this morning's Bleacher Report. Good morning, Carolyn.


And what's most impressive, Jessica, is that this Chiefs squad was different than any other under Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. They've talked about adversity all year long but the result was still the same. They are the champs, no doubt about it. And it's going to be a great day.

Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and the Chiefs becoming just the second team this century to go back-to-back, joining Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's New England Patriots from nearly 20 years ago. However, no NFL team has ever won three straight and that is the challenge. Despite that, K.C. does have the second-best odds to do so according to MGM. The only other team ahead of them -- the team they just beat -- the Niners.

But Mahomes telling our Abby Phillip on Monday he's ready to make history and maybe one day challenge Tom Brady's mark of seven Super Bowl titles.


PATRICK MAHOMES, QUARTERBACK, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Yeah, I still have a long ways to go to get to seven but, I mean, just enjoying it every single day. I mean, the adversity that we battled with this season and continue to grind and get to the Super Bowl championship again back- to-back. And we'll see what we can do next year.

But I think that's a goal for any athlete is to try to win as many championships as possible. And Tom's -- that was the greatest, man. I mean, he's won seven of them. And I'm just going to continue to right day in and day out to get as many as I can.


MANNO: Elsewhere, big congratulations to our friend and colleague at TNT, Shaquille O'Neal. While most remember his days winning titles with Kobe and the Lakers, Shaq was the first overall pick by the Magic in 1992. And last night, he became the first player in team history to have his jersey retired and just the third to have his number hanging from the rafters by three different teams. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, BASKETBALL HALL OF FAMER: There's no other place I would have wanted to start my career. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to wear the blue and white. Orlando will forever hold a special place in my heart. I'll always be proud to be part of this Magic franchise. Thank you all and I appreciate you very much. And thank you, guys. Without you guys, there would be no me.


MANNO: All right, let's do some college hoops now. A wild scene in Upstate New York. Fans storming the court in Syracuse as the Orange upset seventh-ranked North Carolina 82-75 -- their first win over a top 10 team in five years.

The NCAA Tournament still a month away but the entire season has been madness. Top 10 men's teams have lost 34 games on the road to unranked opponents, according to ESPN. That is tied for the second-most in any season ever.


And take a look at this. UConn star Paige Bueckers here goofing off around before practice, draining a no-look, half-court shot, then absolutely losing her mind. The 15th-ranked Huskies hosting Georgetown on Friday. She is incredible.

And speaking of incredible, Iowa superstar Caitlan Clark needs only eight points to become the NCAA Women's Division One all-time scoring leader tomorrow night against Michigan, 8:00 Eastern. She's averaging over 30 points per game this season, so there's a good chance, Jessica, that fans will see history made here. It's going to be really exciting.

Very expensive to get in -- 300 bucks on StubHub. Well over $1,000 if you want good seats, but worth it.

DEAN: An amazing season. Thanks so much, Carolyn.

And thank you for joining us. I'm Jessica Dean. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.