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Government Shutdown Looms, Dems Fight Over Biden Agenda; Laundrie, Parents Camped Days Before Reporting Petito Missing; Pentagon's Top Brass Contradict Biden's Claims on War Withdrawal. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 29, 2021 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. On this NEW DAY, the clock is ticking on Capitol Hill. Federal funding set to run out. And where does it land? On the backs of millions of hard- working Americans.


The manhunt continues for Brian Laundrie. What we are now learning about a camping trip he went on with his parents before he disappeared.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And the nation's top generals publicly contradicting President Biden on Afghanistan, saying that they urged him not to withdraw all troops. The recommendations he received and the concerns that they conveyed.

And another Trump staffer spilling the tea on the president, including claims of harassment, his, quote, "terrifying temper" and how a Broadway song helped calm him down.

BERMAN: All right. Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, September 29, the week from hell on Capitol Hill.

Congress has less than two days to head off a partial government shutdown. And after that, the potential collapse of the U.S. economy, as Republicans have voted against paying U.S. debts.

While that's going on, there have been feverish negotiations among Democrats over President Biden's sweeping economic agenda. Moderate Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, she made three trips to the White House yesterday. Three. For what? Progressive Democrats say they don't know. And that's a major problem.

These progressives say they will not vote for a bipartisan infrastructure bill -- roads, bridges, et cetera -- unless they also get a vote on other domestic agenda items -- child care, pre-K. Moderates, including Sinema, are standing in the way of that. But progressives say they have no idea what her counteroffer is, and they're angry.

So a week from hell. The first order of business is to fund the federal government. If that

doesn't get done, this is what could shut down: national parks, museums, the Department of Defense, the Housing Department, the Treasury, the Department of Homeland Security, Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Small Business Administration.

KEILAR: And if the nation defaults, that will mean pain for millions of hard-working Americans already burdened with the economic crisis of the pandemic.

Salaries for federal workers would be impacted. So would payment to Medicaid recipients, Social Security checks, paychecks for military personnel, if there's a shutdown, as well as monthly child tax credit deposits.

Let's talk about all this now with CNN White House correspondent John Harwood.

OK, so where do things stand here? But this is really -- I mean, taxpayers will be the ones holding the bag if you see a shutdown or if you see a default.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a mess. And this may not be the last week from hell, Brianna. Because even if the government shutdown is avoided. And I think we should level set at the beginning.

There's not going to be a government shutdown. They're going to work that out. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that's undesirable. They're going to separate that out and keep the government funded.

I also think it is unlikely that there's going to be a debt default. We're not going to know that for a while. There's a huge game of chicken going on between Mitch McConnell, and Chuck Schumer and the Democrats.

The difference between this and 2011, when we actually had a downgrade of U.S. debt, when we got right to the brink, is that Mitch McConnell is a rational actor who does not want a debt default, nor do Democrats. In 2011, some of the House Republicans, they actually didn't care.

KEILAR: Right.

HARWOOD: They thought you could get away with it. They thought you could order the payment of bills so that it wasn't a problem.

But what we've got right now is Nancy Pelosi trying to hold her caucus together. She's very good at that. But she can't do it unless she gets signals from moderates. And so Joe Biden is trying to bring Sinema and Manchin on board, get them to define their positions so they can make a deal.

And of course, Republicans are offering roadblock resistance. And one of the questions is going to be, if they vote tomorrow on that infrastructure bill, what will Republicans do? Do Republicans help it over the finish line to pass it, or do they try to take it down and join some of those progressives who might try to take it down, as well?

KEILAR: The vote tomorrow is on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

HARWOOD: If it happens.

KEILAR: If it happens. Because it's in jeopardy at this point. It's a little over a trillion dollars.

Separately, you have the kind of bigger Democrat-only social safety net bill, which is where it's very difficult to see where Kyrsten Sinema or Joe Manchin are on that.

Nancy Pelosi had initially said these things kind of go as a package, right? She seems to have moved away from that, saying that that bipartisan bill could go forward. And yet, this vote, it seems very much in jeopardy.

HARWOOD: Right. And that's because they still are a package. They're not formally linked. And she's not sequencing the vote, so that the infrastructure vote, at least, again, if it takes place, does not necessarily come after the reconciliation vote.

But what they've got to do as Democrats is figure out what they're for collectively. And this is why Sinema is a problem. Ultimately, the logic of this coming together, is that there is a common identity among these bare Democratic majorities, that they see a common purpose with one another, that their electoral fortunes are bound together with how they do and how Joe Biden does.


And so that -- that team mentality gets them to come together for both the reconciliation and infrastructure. That's still the dominant expectation.

However, Kyrsten Sinema is very hard to define politically. Joe Manchin is -- is not so hard to define. He is a Democrat. He represents a very conservative state that Donald Trump won by 40 percentage points. So he's naturally going to be reluctant to come along.

Kyrsten Sinema represents a state that Joe Biden carried. Is she part of the team? They assume she is. She was in the Green Party before she was a Democrat. But the longer it goes without her defining what her bottom line is, the more people are going to wonder, does she really want all of us to succeed together or not?

KEILAR: Yes. They're getting frustrated.


KEILAR: The patience is running thin, for sure.

It may be a week from hell, but John Harwood, it is lovely to see you this morning.

HARWOOD: Thank you.


BERMAN: All right. So the week from hell could turn into the economic calamity from hell if the U.S. defaults on its debts, which Republicans, for now, have voted to let happen.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is warning against this. This is what she said to the Senate Banking Committee.


JANET YELLEN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: This would be a manufactured crisis we had imposed on this country, which has been going through a very difficult period, is on the road to recovery; and it would be a self-inflicted wound of enormous proportions.


BERMAN: A gushing self-inflicted wound.

Joining me now, the CEO of GenYouth, former Wall Street executive Alexis Glick.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warning against this. The markets tanked yesterday. They've had a terrible month, in part -- and there's a lot of other things -- but in part because they're looking about what's going on in Washington being like, you guys are juggling flaming swords here. This is not a good idea.

ALEXIS GLICK, FORMER WALL STREET EXECUTIVE: You know, the market hates uncertainty. And right now what the market sees is we are putting ourselves against the precipice of what Treasury Secretary Yellen rightly suggests is not just catastrophe, but a self-imposed recession.

The juggernaut we're facing right now is we have the Delta variant, combined with monetary policy, which is starting to slow, which means the Federal Reserve bank, which has been buying a lot of bonds in the marketplace, which has really been propping up the economy, is worried now increasingly about inflation.

Add to it the fiscal situation. What are we going to do with government spending and the debt ceiling?

And, John, the other factor is we're going into third-quarter earnings. We have start to see companies preannounce talking about supply chain disruptions and labor shortages.

We've had three consecutive months of consumer confidence declining. And we're starting to see major economists ratchet down their expectations for the economy.

This is a combination, when you pull all these pieces together, of what could be a real dangerous cliff.

BERMAN: You know, John Harwood just reported that he thinks sooner than later they'll work out the debt issues, you know, so the U.S. will not default on it. But what Wall Street seems to be saying is, Yes, maybe. But the mere fact that you're, as I put it to you before we came on TV, blanking around, the mere fact that Congress is blanking around with this, or flirting with this, that's bad enough.

GLICK: It is bad enough. Because here's the thing that folks need to realize.

If you're sitting at home today, and you're wondering why do I care about this debt ceiling, Treasury Secretary Yellen put it very nicely. What we're essentially doing, when you increase or suspend the debt ceiling, essentially what you're saying is we're keeping a credit card balance. Essentially, what we want to do is have a larger credit card balance. But it doesn't mean that that authorizes government spending.

So if we take this dangerously close to the precipice here, here's the kinds of things that will be impacted: 50 million Americans who rely on Social Security checks; our troops will not get paid. There's child tax credits that are how families survive every day.

Add to that, John, the entitlements from the past bills. They ran off in September, right? You had things like access to housing run off in September. So all of these things are coming at once.

The reason that the Democrats tried to connect the two bills is because they knew they could get the infrastructure bill done. The problem is, is that the $3.5 trillion spending bill, which does things like support child care and tax credits and health care, are super important to the economy right now. And that's why they tried to connect the two.

KEILAR: Talk to me about that. Talk to me about what the economic need is now, in your mind, for some of the provisions that are part of this larger domestic agenda plan.

GLICK: They're enormous. Let me give you one example. Two million women have not returned back to the workforce. Why? Because in COVID, they had to go home and take care of their children.


So the types of things in the bill that address child care, whether it's free pre-K, things of those nature, dental care, affordable housing, are critically important to millions of women in America who are the only bread winner in the home.

Let's talk about climate. We all know we have a huge climate problem. It's a big part of this 3.5$3.5 trillion spending bill. And add to that right now, John, oil prices are north of $80 a barrel.

Do you know what it means for your gas prices? Do you know what that means for your winter heating bills? So you have this very dangerous intersection right now between

entitlements that are coming off, the risks to the debt ceiling not being raised, or at least suspended, so that we can maintain government spending, with the reality of what we need in that $3.5 trillion bill.

BERMAN: So what you have is some progressive Democrats saying, OK, then, Senator Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, that list that Alexis Glick just told us about, what don't you want from it? Tell us what's not on your version of that list? And they're not telling.

GLICK: That's essentially the problem, right? If you think about it, the reason the Republicans don't want to go along on the 3.5 trillion, is they do not want to raise the debt ceiling heading into the mid- term elections. We get that. Right?

But the reality is what Treasury Secretary Yellen said yesterday, is this is both of our fiduciary responsibility. Last I checked, I think we spent about 8 trillion through a year and a half of -- of fiscal -- fiscal monetary stimulus to get the economy out of this.

But the reality is, is they want to see that 3.5 trillion curtailed. And so what you heard Speaker Pelosi suggest is that maybe it's not 3.5 trillion. Maybe there's some negotiation. And that is, I think, what we're going to see in the coming days.

But the reality is, at a minimum, we need a stopgap measure to get ourselves, at a minimum through December. Because as Treasury Secretary Yellen said, October 18 is when we are in catastrophe mode. Catastrophe.

BERMAN: Look, I'll take September. Let's start with September. The --

GLICK: And also, I just want to point out one thing that I think folks don't talk about, which is the reality of not being able to pay our bills. Just think about that.

The two largest holders of our debt are Japan and China. The consequences, not just to the U.S. economy, but to the global economy, the contagion, would truly be catastrophic.

BERMAN: It seems like a bad idea.


BERMAN: Alexis Glick, great to have you on. Nice to see you.

GLICK: Good to see you.

BERMAN: Coming up, what we're now learning about Brian Laundrie and a camping trip he went on with his parents, just days before Gabby Petito's family reported her missing.

KEILAR: Plus, top generals contradicting President Biden on support over complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. What they suggested he should have done instead. BERMAN: And what could be one of the most unfortunate songs from one

of the most unfortunate Broadway musicals ever. Why the former president of the United States needed that song to calm him down. Among the most alarming revelations in a new book.



KEILAR: Earlier this month, after Brian Laundrie had returned to his home and family in Florida without Gabby Petito, his fiancee who lived with him and his parents, he went camping. CNN has learned that he and his family stayed at a Florida campground roughly an hour from their home in North Port in early September.

CNN's Athena Jones joins us live now on this story. And you know, they went camping, Athena, at a time when, we have since learned, Gabby Petito was dead. And they went camping without reporting Gabby Petito missing.


I mean, this is really interesting. There's been a lot of questions about what was going on with Brian Laundrie in the Laundrie Household between when he returned to Florida on September 1 in Gabby Petito's van but without Petito, and September 11, when her family reported her missing. So we've been trying to put together the pieces of what was going on during those days.

And we now know one more clue. And that is that the Laundrie family together, Brian Laundrie with his parents, went to this camping ground in Pinellas County. It's about 75 miles north of their home in North Port, on the coast.

We know from records, the campground check-in records that the county provided there, saying that Roberta Laundrie, Brian's mother, was checked in at this waterfront site at the Fort De Soto Park from September 8 -- excuse me, September 6 to September 8.

We also know that the Laundrie family lawyer has confirmed that Brian was there with his parents during that period of time and that they left together.

So we don't know what kind of significance this has to the larger story and whether it can find where Brian Laundrie is now. But it does begin to fill in the blanks of what was going on during all of those days, a pretty good stretch of time before -- while the Laundrie family was not reporting Gabby Petito missing.

We also heard yesterday, last night from -- yesterday afternoon from Gabby's parents, both her mother and father, and her stepmother and stepfather, all four of them. They talked a lot about co-parenting. They shared matching tattoos that say "Let it be" that were inspired by Gabby that match one that Gabby had.

But they wouldn't answer any questions about anything related to the investigation. Here's one thing their lawyer did say.


RICK STAFFORD, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING GABBY PETITO'S FAMILY: The Laundries did not help us find Gabby. They're sure as not going to help us find Brian. For Brian, we're asking you to turn yourself in to the FBI or the nearest law enforcement agency.


JONES: And so no questions about the investigation. But they are thanking the media, thanking law enforcement, thanking the world for their outpouring of support. And they mentioned this foundation that they are creating in Gabby's name that is going to be geared toward helping missing people in some way -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. So many questions about the Laundrie family that also waited to report Brian Laundrie, their son, until three days after he had actually left the home. So many questions.


Athena Jones, thank you so much.

General Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who served under President Trump and now Biden, admitting that, yes, he talked with journalists writing books about the Trump presidency. We're going to speak with one of the authors, next.




BERMAN: Plus, Britney Spears in the spotlight today. The make-or-break decision a judge will consider during a conservatorship hearing.


BERMAN: Top Pentagon officials confirmed they advised President Biden not to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. This contradicts the president's claim that the military supported his call for a complete withdrawal. Actually, his specific claim was that no one advised him to keep troops in Iraq.


Kristin Fisher here with the latest -- Kristen.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this was the first time that top military leaders have testified under oath since the full withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And we heard the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff saying that he thought that eventually, Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban, but that no intelligence report that he read indicated that the country would fall as fast as it did.


FISHER (voice-over): The defense secretary and the military's top generals in the hot seat, testifying before Congress on the chaotic ending of the war in Afghanistan.

LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We certainly did not plan against the collapse of a government in 11 days.

FISHER: Lawmakers pressing U.S. military leadership on just that, facing questions on how the Afghan army and government fell to the Taliban so quickly.

AUSTIN: The fact that the Afghan army that we and our partners trained simply melted away, in many cases without firing a shot, took us all by surprise. And it would be dishonest to claim otherwise.

FISHER: President Joe Biden ordered the full withdrawal. But the top generals telling the Senate Armed Services Committee they personally supported keeping 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

GEN. FRANK MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. I also have a view that the withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces and, eventually, the Afghan government.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: My assessment was back in the fall of '20, and it remained consistent throughout, that we should keep a steady state of 2,500, and it could bounce up to 3,500 maybe.

FISHER: Seemingly contradicting what Biden told ABC News last month.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: So no -- no one told -- Your military advisers did not tell you, No, we should just keep 2,500 troops. It's been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No one said that to me that I can recall.

FISHER: The White House downplaying the testimony, saying the president was offered a range of viewpoints. Press secretary Jen Psaki saying Biden did consider their options.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He welcomed advice. Ultimately, it's up to the commander in chief to make a decision. He made a decision it was time to end a 20-year war.

FISHER: And on the chaotic evacuations at the Kabul Airport, one lawmaker asking General Mark Milley whether he thought the airlifting of over 124,000 people was successful.

MILLEY: It was a logistical success but a strategic failure. And I think those are two different terms. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, I --

FISHER: The joint chiefs of staff chairman also addressed reporting in the new book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. According to the book, Milley had conversations with his Chinese counterpart during the final days of the Trump administration, saying he would warn China before any military strike.

Milley defending those calls, saying several senior Trump officials, including Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper and Mark Meadows, were aware.

MILLEY: I am certain that president Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese. And it is my directed responsibility, and it was my directed responsibility by the secretary, to convey that intent to the Chinese.


FISHER: And the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff went on to confirm that he was a source for not one but three books about the final days of the Trump administration. Really, a stunning admission to -- to hear from a chairman of the joint chiefs of staff during a hearing like that.

And if yesterday's hearing was not enough for you, John, all three of those military leaders will be back on Capitol Hill, testifying today before the House Armed Services Committee.

BERMAN: You know, it's unusual to hear someone acknowledge they were a source for multiple books. It was also interesting that he said he hadn't read any of them.


BERMAN: Kristin Fisher --

FISHER: You have to when you're under oath. You've got to --

BERMAN: I know. That was --

FISHER: You've got to say it.

BERMAN: A general was answering the questions. He was under oath. He was going to tell the truth.

Kristin Fisher, great report. Thank you.

KEILAR: One of the authors who Milley spoke to but whose book he apparently did not read, Michael Bender, who is a reporter covering the White House for "The Wall Street Journal." He is the author of one of those books, a very good one, in fact: "Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost."

Michael, I know that you were watching this hearing yesterday with quite a bit of interest. What did you think about this contradiction between the top brass and the Biden -- and what we've heard from President Biden? MICHAEL BENDER, AUTHOR, "FRANKLY, WE DID WIN THIS ELECTION": Yes. I

thought it was interesting and certainly is consistent with what -- where General Milley and the -- and the rest of the military leaders were at the end of the Trump administration.

You know, I think that -- I think that it's going to be interesting to see how Biden eventually addresses this question, which is a very legitimate question.

But -- but the thing to remember about President Biden is that he effectively had made this decision to withdraw years ago, when he was part of the Obama administration. He's long thought that this has -- has lasted too long.