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Travel Ban Battle; Democrats Protest DeVos; Yemen Raid Stunner. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 7, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:30] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning: the fate of the president's travel ban is set to go before a panel of judges. This battle of the ban likely headed for the Supreme Court.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Democrats protesting on the Senate's floor against the president's pick for education secretary. Could this derail Betsy DeVos before a scheduled vote today?

ROMANS: And new details about the U.S. military raid in Yemen that caused a Navy SEAL his life. The real target of that mission revealed.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Tuesday, February 7th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

The near term fate of President Trump's controversial travel ban hangs in the balance this morning with three federal judges set to hear arguments by telephone. Justice Department lawyers are urging the Ninth Circuit panel to restore the president's order, calling it a lawful exercise of his authority while claiming the judge who suspended it overreached his authority. Attorneys general from Minnesota and Washington state are arguing the order should remain suspended because of the global chaos it will cause and has caused.

The Trump administration says it is confident about the eventual outcome.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Clearly, the law is on the president's side. The Constitution is on the president's side. He has the broad discretion to do what it's in the nation's best interest to protect our people. We feel very confident that we'll prevail in this matter.


ROMANS: Whatever the Ninth Circuit decides, the losing party has 14 days to file a petition for a re-hearing. The broad consensus is the case will ultimately be appealed to the Supreme Court. And with only eight judges on the court, a 4-4 tie would mean whatever the Ninth Circuit rules would end up final. The legal team challenging the travel is getting support in writing from two former secretaries of state, John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, and 16 state attorneys general.

President Trump weighing in overnight tweeting this, "The threat from radical Islamic terrorism is very real. Just look at what is happening in Europe and the Middle East. Courts must act fast."

BERMAN: So, is the media ignoring or downplaying terror attacks around the world? The president made these highly specious arguments during a visit with the military in Florida.

CNN's Jim Acosta has the latest from the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, President Trump is once again lashing out at the news media, this time in front of a military audience, at the U.S. Central Command in Florida. The president accused the press of intentionally downplaying terrorist attacks. The president did not specify which attacks he was referring to in his remarks, but here's what he had to say.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe, it's happening. It's gotten to a point where it is not reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that.

ACOSTA: Ask for an explanation of the president's comments, the White House produced a list of 78 terrorist attacks that have occurred since 2014. The White House claims most of these attacks did not receive enough coverage. But on the list are some of the worst acts of terrorism in the last two years, including attacks in Paris, Nice, France, San Bernardino, California, and the Orlando nightclub shooting. The White House did not explain what the president meant when he said the press has its reasons for why it doesn't report on terror attacks -- John and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Senate Democrats launched an all night blitz against Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. The confirmation vote for DeVos is scheduled for noon Eastern Time and at least one Democratic senator believes a third Republican senator may cross party lines and vote against DeVos, effectively killing her nomination.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is joining us live from Capitol Hill this morning.

This is really a remarkable Senate circumstances for Betsy DeVos here. I mean, you have teachers unions, teachers, parents around the country jamming the phone lines for their senators against her nomination.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Christine. Betsy DeVos really has surprisingly emerged as one of the most controversial nominees that Donald Trump has chosen and that's what led to Democrats overnight really burning the midnight oil. They are now on hour 18 of their 24-hour Senate floor protest, really taking shifts back-to-back to speak out and blast Betsy DeVos.

Now, a little bit of a reality check here. As of now, Democrats do not have the numbers put most simply to block her nomination when they vote on the final confirmation later today.

[04:05:02] But they are close. And that really is the goal of this talk-a-thon, so to speak, as Democrats hope to convince one more Republican senator to break ranks and come out in opposition of Betsy DeVos. They already have the support of Republican Senators Murkowski and Collins who said that they will vote no against Betsy DeVos.

That all boils down to just one Republican vote. Those chances really needing to impassioned speeches overnight on the floor.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: I feel a personal responsibility to ensure that if I cast my vote as a senator, that whoever takes that office will be tireless in the defense of all the rights and privileges and liberties of our students.

SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ (D), HAWAII: So, you have people left, right and center. I mean, you can ask the Senate Republicans whether they're getting phone calls too. They are getting phone calls too. This is not a Democratic strategy. What's happening is, we have the wrong person who may be confirmed as a secretary of education.


SERFATY: Now, despite all this, Republican officials up here on Capitol Hill say that they are very confident that Betsy DeVos will be confirmed later today. They will vote about 12:00 noon Eastern Time.

But notably, that is with the help of Vice President Mike Pence who will make the trek up here to Capitol Hill to cast the tie breaking vote. It will be 50/50 with his vote. It is expected to pass 51-50. This is historical in nature, John and Christine. This is a first time a sitting vice president has to cast the deciding vote for a committee nominee.

ROMANS: Showing you what a squeezer it is for Betsy DeVos at the Education Department.

All right. Thank you so much for that, Sunlen Serfaty.

BERMAN: All right. In just a few hours, President Trump will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Elliot Abrams, the potential pick for deputy secretary of state. That is a crucial position. Abrams served in foreign policy positions for Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush and is said to be a leading contender for the number two job at the State Department. It's notable that Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is already

opposing this possible nomination. He could be a key vote against him. Abrams was convicted on two misdemeanor accounts with withholding information from Congress during the Iran Contra scandal. He was later pardoned.

ROMANS: All right. More trouble for President Trump's pick to head up the Labor Department. Nominee Andrew Puzder admitting he employed an undocumented worker for years without paying taxes. Puzder claims when he learned his housekeeper was not legally permitted to work in the U.S., he ended her employment, paid the back taxes and offered her assistance obtaining legal status. The chairman considering his nomination says he does not consider the admission disqualifying because it was offered voluntarily.

BERMAN: And, of course, there are questions about how bad Puzder wants the job to begin with. I mean, he hasn't submitted a lot of his paperwork still at this point.

ROMANS: And he has been pounded by labor groups who say that, you know, his company has had labor violations. He is not for raising the minimum wage. That he's just not qualified to run the Labor Department, the bureau that is meant to protect workers.

BERMAN: Watch this space. It will be interesting to see what happens.


BERMAN: All right. It turns out the presidential adviser, Kellyanne Conway has mentioned the fictitious Bowling Green massacre before. Conway claimed she misspoke on her word when she mentioned the made up event to MSNBC last week.

But "Cosmopolitan" magazine said she also brought up the bogus story in late January during a telephone interview. She did not respond to new requests for comments.

ROMANS: It's interesting when they were doing that interview, they decided, you know, they didn't know what she was talking about. They said she was like, she went down a rabbit hole. They just did not include that in their original article. But now, they are writing it up.

BERMAN: Look, it is possible she misspoke twice. I mean, I don't think that is beyond the realm of possibility. The reason it gets focus is because of the focus us on alternative facts that she brought up before.

ROMANS: All right. Eight minutes past hour.

CNN has learned the leader of al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula was an intended target of the recent raid in Yemen that cost a Navy SEAL his life. A senior military says if Qassim al-Rimi was not there, U.S. officials believe they would find enough intelligence to track him down. Rimi was not spotted and has since released an audio message mentioning the raid and taunting President Trump. Officials at U.S. Central Command are disputing al-Rimi was a target of that raid. They maintained the prime objective was intelligence gathering.

Time for an early start on your money this Tuesday morning. Asian markets are closed. They closed down. European markets are mixed right now. U.S. futures are flat here.

Stocks lower yesterday. Corporate earnings driving some of the biggest moves.

The fight against president's travel ban just added another voice, Elon Musk. The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX joined dozens of other tech companies yesterday in the legal fight declaring that Trump's executive order on immigration, quote, "violates the immigration laws and Constitution". That brings the total number of companies who have co-signed the friend of the court brief to 127, including mattress startup Casper and the messaging startup Slack.

[04:10:06] Tesla's Musk was one of the dozen tech execs who have met with Trump in December.

It's so interesting. You know, usually companies don't wade into this. But after the same-sex marriage debate in the Supreme Court, that's when companies really started to get more vocal. I call it conscience capitalism. And they say they want to be the leading edge of what they think is right for their employees and their customers and this is one of the --

BERMAN: I will give you Microsoft and how Microsoft employees were upset that their bosses were not more aggressive in this and ultimately force Microsoft's hands.

ROMANS: In some cases, the tech firms are, you know, at their lunch hour and going on the front lawn and protesting in their own lawn of their company to try to let executives know.

BERMAN: And other key players in this legal battle.

All right. Travelers overseas rushing to get to the United States while the legal battle over the travel ban rages on. We are live, next.


[04:15:01] BERMAN: New this morning, as the president's travel ban heads to court, people in so-called "countries of concern" are trying to get the United States -- trying to get to the United States hoping to beat a possible reinstatement of the travel ban.

CNN's Arwa Damon is live in Istanbul, in Turkey.

Not one of the countries banned, but certainly a departure point for many. Arwa, what are you seeing?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a departure point not just for those who go to the United States for things like business or to further their education or just to visit family members, but also for a lot of those who are hoping to rebuild their life in America, from countries like Iraq and Syria that have been ripped apart by war. These are individuals who have gone through a very lengthy process of being vetted for around two years.

Now, according to a spokesman for UNHCR, she said that around 800 people part of the resettlement process were affected by this when it was first announced back at the end of January. And now, they are all in the process of trying to rebook their flights, remake all of their arrangements and just imagine how difficult that is to go through the whole emotional process of trying to get resettled and then be told no, yes, no, yes and not knowing what is happening next.

You also have some people where if they have the option to perhaps be able to postpone their travel to the United States, they are going for business or family members who are considering not going at this stage, at least not until the situation becomes clearer because they don't want to potentially subject themselves to the humiliation of detained once they land in America.

There is, yes, this ongoing sense of confusion as to what is going to happen. People to a certain degree do understand that America needs to protect itself. What they don't understand the logic behind using this kind of methodology to try to ensure America's own national security because a lot of these people, John, feel as if anyone knows what it is to be a victim of terrorism, it is people from these seven countries, and that they, themselves, do not pose a threat to the United States and closing doors in their faces at this stage could potentially be counterproductive.

BERMAN: So many just need to make a decision about whether to go or not to go.

Arwa Damon, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. The speaker of the British House of Common not holding back when it comes to the American president. John Bercow says he is strongly opposed to letting Donald Trump address the parliament during his state visit to the U.K. later this year. He says Mr. Trump is unfit to speak in Westminster Hall, citing parliament's opposition to racism and sexism. He's one of three parliamentary officials who must approve any speaker.

Nearly 2 million people in Britain have signed a petition calling for Trump's visit to be cancelled or downgraded.

BERMAN: The other half, hosted the president of China there. I mean, it's -- there are critics who say it's inconsistent who they're willing to have inside and who they're not willing to.

ROMANS: All right. There's been a surge of violence in Ukraine since President Trump took office. Does he think Russia's president is testing him?

We are live in Ukraine with more, ahead.


[04:22:31] BERMAN: New questions this morning about where President Trump stands regarding the fighting in Ukraine and how much pressure if any he is willing to put on Russia for backing separatists there. He seems to cast doubt on the Russian role in the recent fighting.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Within 24 hours of you on the phone with the Russian leader, the pro-Russian forces step up the violence in Ukraine. Did you take that as an insult?

TRUMP: No, I didn't because we don't really know exactly what that is. Are they pro-forces? We don't know. Are they uncontrollable? Are they uncontrolled? That happens also. We're going to find out. I would be surprised. But we'll see.


ROMANS: I want to get more from CNN's Phil Black who is live in eastern Ukraine, where so much of this fighting has been taking place.

And, Phil, when you hear President Trump question whether the separatists there have any contact with Russia, that's a lot of the language that Russia often uses.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is not welcomed here, John. Not at all.

I will give you a sense of what people here have been experiencing over the last week or so. I'm standing on a residential street in the town of Avdiivka. This is very much the focus of a lot f the fighting last week.

Behind me is the home of the 65-year-old woman. A artillery shell fell just here blasting much of the house and blasting in all of the glass windows doing significant damage. Fortunately, the 65-year-old woman who lives here had fled the home only 10 minutes earlier. She's firmly of the view that if she had been inside, it's pretty likely I think that she would not be alive today.

This is one example. She was lucky, so many other here were not. Dozens of people have been killed, many of them civilians.

Now, during the escalation, both sides, Ukraine and Russia, have essentially accused the other of starting it and being responsible for it. And both accuse the other of guided by the same motivation, trying to trigger new reaction from the new American president.

I have to say that based upon the reaction from President Trump so far, it is a reaction that does not go down well here in Ukraine with the government and many of the people here. Donald Trump to suggest as he did speaking to FOX's Bill O'Reilly that Russia may not control or has significant influence over the pro-Russian separatists, that is such a radical departure from the previous administration, but not the international community, that it really does encourage an extraordinary sense of unease and uncertainty here, particularly on the Ukrainian side of the conflict.

[04:25:06] And it only increases the incredible concern that exists here about just where this conflict could now go, John.

BERMAN: Yes, it's really interesting. Language does matter to the world and certainly to the people involved in the fighting there and the people suffering in their fighting.

Phil Black for us in eastern Ukraine -- thank you so much.

ROMANS: All right. Here at home, President Trump facing pressure from Republicans for slow walking the repeal of Obamacare. The president is now saying a full health care replacement may not be ready until next year. And that comment is creating divisions in the GOP over how fast to move on health care.

Here's what Senator Ted Cruz told CNN.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: The president has said he's committed to repealing Obama care. Republicans in both houses have said we're committed to repealing Obamacare. I look forward our delivering on that promise.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: You want to do it this year? Do you expect it to be done this year?

CRUZ: Absolutely.


ROMANS: All right. So, Cruz will face off with Senator Bernie Sanders at the CNN debate tonight on the future of health care in America. Tune in at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for that.

All right. The future of the president's travel ban set to be argued in federal court later today. We'll break down the next steps in this process.