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EARLY START

Senate Smackdown: McConnell Silences Warren on Senate Floor; Countdown to 9th Circuit Travel Ban Ruling; Southern Louisiana Hit with Fierce Tornadoes. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 8, 2017 - 04:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[04:30:25] SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I appeal the ruling of --

SEN. STEVE DAINES (R), MONTANA: The objection has been heard. The senator will take her seat.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Dramatic moments overnight on the Senate floor. A Democratic lawmaker silenced. The fallout, ahead.

A federal appellate court will rule on the president's travel ban as soon as today. Did a lower court overstep its bounds? Or did this president overstep his authority?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. It is 30 minutes past the hour this Wednesday morning.

A huge drama overnight on Capitol Hill. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She was reading the words of Coretta Scott King. Senator McConnell invoked the rarely used rule to cut off Warren during debate on the nomination of Jeff Sessions for attorney general.

The Massachusetts senator was trying to read a letter written in 1986 by Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow. It was a letter criticizing Sessions who was a federal court nominee at the time.

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WARREN: This is what it said, "They are mothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, sons and brothers.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President --

WARREN: They are --

MCCONNELL: Mr. President -- DAINES: The majority leader?

MCCONNELL: The senator's impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama, as warned by the chair. Senator Warren, quote, "said Senator Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens." I call the senator to order under the provision of Rule 19.

WARREN: Mr. President?

DAINES: Senator from Massachusetts.

WARREN: Mr. President, I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks.

DAINES: Is there objection?

MCCONNELL: I object.

WARREN: I appeal the ruling --

DAINES: Objection is heard. The senator will take her seat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Now, according to Majority Leader McConnell's staff, Senator Elizabeth Warren is now banned from speaking on the Senate floor for the remainder of the debate on Sessions nomination.

She's not staying quiet. She took to the Internet to read Mrs. King's letter after she was cut off in the Senate chamber. And then she told CNN's Don Lemon a new level of hostility in politics will not silence her.

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WARREN: There's been some hard words in the United States Senate through the years, but all of a sudden, when I'm reading something, a truthful statement from Coretta Scott King, answer, no, can't say that. Well, I'm going to tell you this, they can shut me up but they can't change the truth.

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ROMANS: The debate over the Sessions nomination is expected to wrap up at 7:00 tonight, when the final confirmation vote is planned.

We could hear within three hours from three federal judges on the 9th Circuit about their ruling on President Trump's refugee and travel ban. The judges threw tough questions at both sides during a 60- minute phone hearing, asking about the president's sweeping use of executive power, the connection between the seven nations ban by the White House and terrorism, and where to draw the line for determining intentional discrimination. Now, government lawyers tried to make an argument that the president

has blanket authority in the cases of national security and should not be impeded by the courts. The judges didn't seem so sure.

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AUGUST FLENTJE, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SPECIAL COUNSEL: The district court's decision overrides, the president's national security level over the level of risk. And we've been talking about the level of risk that is acceptable. As soon as we're having that discussion, it should be acknowledged that the president is the official that is charged with making those judgments.

JUDGE MICHELLE FRIEDLAND, NINTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS: So, are you arguing then that the president's decision in that regard is unreviewable?

FLENTJE: The -- yes, there are obviously constitutional limitations, but we're discussing the risk assessment.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROMANS: Now, attorneys for the states argue the president's travel ban harms U.S. citizens and discriminates against Muslims, a suggestion that triggered the confrontation between a judge and an attorney from Washington state.

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JUDGE RICHARD CLIFTON, NINTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS: But I have trouble understanding why we're supposed to infer religious animus when, in fact, the vast majority of Muslims would not be affected as residents of those nations. And where the concern for terrorism with those connected with radical Islamic sects is kind of hard to deny.

[04:35:05] NOAH PURCELL, WASHINGTON STATE SOLICITOR GENERAL: Your honor, the case law from this court and the Supreme Court is very clear that to prove religious discrimination, we do not need to prove that this order harms only Muslims or that it harms every Muslim. We just need to prove that it was motivated in part by a desire to harm Muslim.

And we have alleged that --

CLIFTON: How can you infer that desire in fact the vast majority of Muslims are unaffected?

PURCELL: Well, your honor, in part, you can refer it from intent evidence. I mean, there are statements that we quoted in our complaint that are shocking evidence of intent to discriminate against Muslims.

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ROMANS: The 9th Circuit will only decide whether a Washington state judge overstepped his authority by suspending the president's travel ban. The case is widely expected to end up in the Supreme Court.

Let's go live to Atlanta now and bring in a legal mind to discuss this with us. Michael Moore, a former district attorney from Georgia's middle district.

Thanks for being here this morning, so bright and early.

What did you hear in that conference call? What does it tell us about where this case heads from here?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: Well, good morning, Christine.

I think what you heard is that that the judges clearly had read the briefs, they were prepared as they move forward. I think this was a hot bench. We call it that when we largely get questions about appellate judges, and clearly, these judges have some questions that they wanted to have answered.

I did notice that the court spent a great deal of time talking about standing and that is whether or not the state of Washington had a right on behalf of its citizens to bring this action. The government lawyers seemed to indicate that they did not think that the United States position was they did not understanding. The solicitor general for Washington said, certainly, we do. You know, we're bringing this suit as the protector of the people. We're also bringing it under a proprietary claim that is that it affects our commerce, our universities, our tax base and other things like that.

So, they spent a lot of time on that. I think you'd had to remember, too, that the court is not deciding the case on the merits. This is simply a decision about whether or not the stay will remain in place and then, you know, ultimately a case that had a very expedited briefing schedule in the circuit court, or the district court rather, now has been delayed a little bit longer.

So, there's a lot to tell you. I agree with you. I think at the end of the day, the case is likely to end up in the Supreme Court.

ROMANS: And if it ends up in the Supreme Court, you have a divided bench here. You have four and four, eight justices. It's a reminder of just how critical it is to have a full bench and to appoint a justice and still those empty spots.

MOORE: Well, that's true. And, remember, when you have a divided court, if there's no majority in the Supreme Court, the decision of the appellate court which stand. Now, one thing that might happen, the one side may petition for a rehearing en banc that is to get before the full court in the 9th Circuit.

But there's an interesting twist. I notice the court spent a little time in this. There are two federal statutes at play. One statute says there cannot be discrimination against people trying to come into the country because of the country they're from. Another statute then says, but the president here for national security reasons can sometimes impose limitations and restrictions. So, those two statutes seem to be at odds with each other. That was

addressed by the 9th Circuit judges and, in fact, I think at the end of the day, that was something that may be the Supreme Court would consider down the road.

ROMANS: It's so interesting to hear the judges taking positions and sort of working the angles outside the way that legal minds do. I wanted to get your kind of opinion on some of the commentary from the executive branch about the judicial branch, about this. It's been kind of remarkable, that tone.

MOORE: Well, it has been. I think it ought to be troubling not just to lawyers or judges or people who work in the judicial system, but it ought to be troubling to everybody in the country. I mean, the country -- the framers of the Constitution knew that we needed to have a three-part system to our government. The judiciary is a coequal branch with the executive.

And when you have the president of the United States basically taking judges and subjecting to an executive tweet storm because he's unhappy with a decision that was made, I think it's both beneath the office of president. And I think it's certainly something that's a slam against our three branches of government and how that system works. I hope that, at the end of the day, that type of tone, or that type of language and those types of attacks on the court don't become the norm. That's certainly a hope.

And I appreciate in fact, like your show, bringing it out because I think we can't normalize that kind of conduct and that kind of language. It's just beneath the office. And that individual attack on the judge.

The president has done this before. He did it during a campaign. He attacked a judge he didn't like. I think he made comments about where the judge was from. Then you've got him talking about how he's got a "so-called judge".

I can't even imagine if President Obama had said some of the things that President Trump has said.

ROMANS: Well, I can tell you that every president I've ever covered has been angry with or disappointed by the judicial system at one or another, you know, when they're stymied in what they want to do.

[04:40:05] That's the way the system --

MOORE: Right.

ROMANS: You know, that's the way the system works.

But I think what we can assume here is these judges are pretty insulated from any kind of insults or attacks from the president, right?

MOORE: Right.

ROMANS: I mean, they're appointed. They've got the job.

MOORE: That's right. They're appointed for life. And you can see probably the reasoning, they don't have to be swayed by the politics, they don't have to be swayed by the polls. They don't have to be angered or moved one way or another because they're attacked.

I want to say this, you know, it's perfectly within the president's prerogative to be unhappy with the court. It's perfectly within the executive's authority and responsibility of he or she to have a disagreement and say, well, I respectfully disagree. We do that every time there's a trial. You come up maybe at the end the case. You haven't won a case, you're not happy with what the jury did.

But you don't go in there and attack the members of the jury. They're your fact finders. They're the deciders.

You simply say, I think appropriately, you know, we're disappointed in the verdict. We're going to look at our options, whether or not we should appeal. We'll fight again. Live to fight another day -- something like that.

But you don't come out and make personal individual attacks on judges who are really public servants. These people give up a lot of professional career to come out and serve on the bench and again, I think there's a great value in recognizing the integrity of the judiciary. And hopefully, we'll see some mutual respect back and forth in the days ahead.

ROMANS: And maybe we'll see some movement from the 9th Circuit later today.

MOORE: Hope so.

ROMANS: We're all looking forward to that.

All right. Thank you so much, Michael Moore. Really nice to have your expertise this morning.

MOORE: Great being with you. Thanks for the invitation.

ROMANS: All right. Forty-one minutes past the hour this Wednesday morning.

The U.S. economy is humming along. But what about your personal economy? Some Americans are struggling and feeling left behind while others are enjoying rising prices in the stock markets records.

One thing everyone has to deal with in one form or another: taxes -- oh, and I had the thrill of sitting down with the CEO of H&R Block to talk taxes and what he sees with the millions of concerns that this company is getting ready to file.

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WILLIAM COBB, PRESIDENT & CEO, H&R BLOCK: I think optimism is -- I think the country has been on a nice run here, I think unemployment is down. I think that some of the policies that we're hearing about I think would be beneficial for businesses. I think would be beneficial to consumers.

So, I do see a lot of optimism. We see a lot of people. We do over 20 million tax returns a year. We see it from all income levels.

And I think people are a little confused. They're confused about things like health care and the like. But generally, I think people are feeling pretty good.

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ROMANS: He also says simplifying the tax code would help individuals and small businesses. One statistic he gave me on how confusing the current laws can be. He said there's five different definitions of a child in the U.S. tax code. He says reform is necessary. And he thinks that they're on the path to that, at least in the very early going here in the new administration.

All right. Early trouble for the White House press secretary has President Trump questioning his hire? We'll tell you how the administration is trying to ease concerns.

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ROMANS: All right. Betsy DeVos was sworn in last night as the nation's new education secretary after Vice President Mike Pence cast a historic tiebreaking vote in her favor. The vice president calling it "the easiest vote I ever cast."

But two Republicans senators voted against her nomination. Teachers unions and public school advocates flooded Senate phone banks in opposition to DeVos saying she was not qualified to represent the millions of American schoolchildren in public schools.

Two families are venting anger at the Trump administration, saying they're offended by the White House placing the murder of their children on the White House list of under-reported terror attacks. Parents of British backpackers Mia Ayliffe-Chang and Tom Jackson say terrorism was ruled out soon after a disturbed individual stalked the 21-year-old woman and fatally stabbed here in an Australian hostel last summer, also killing the Good Samaritan who tried to protect her.

Both families expressed their anger on social media. Sandra Jackson, Tom's mother, tweeting directly to the president of the United States, quote, "Wake up this morning to see you used my son's murder to further your campaign of hate. How dare you. You are a disgrace."

The U.S. military looking for a few good rooms in Trump Tower. A Pentagon says they're working through proper channels to rent a limited amount of space. It will be separate from the Secret Service detail that works out of the Trump family's New York residence. The move raises more conflict of interest questions because it could directly funnel government money into one of Trump's business interests. The White House is stepping up its search for a new communications

director. Officials say they're trying to lighten the load on Press Secretary Sean Spicer who's been handling both jobs. Sources say President Trump is disappointed with how Spicer has performed so far. The president apparently was not amused by the scathing spoof on "SNL" this past weekend which featured comedian and actress Melissa McCarthy playing Spicer at a White House briefing.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it will not give up its fight, despite the Army giving final approval for completion of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. The oil project has triggered months of sometimes violent protests from Native Americans, environmentalists over that pipeline route and what they say is a threat to the tribe's water supply. President Trump signed an executive order reversing the Obama administration, directing the Army to finish that project quickly.

In Yemen, officials are requesting the U.S. suspend ground missions against suspected terrorists in the country. Yemeni officials now want to give full approval and help coordinate operations. Officials say they're outraged by the number of civilians killed in the al Qaeda raid and the life of a U.S. Navy SEAL.

Two former presidential candidates and sitting senators in a heated yet valuable debate over the future of health care in this country.

[04:50:05] Texas Republican Ted Cruz insists his party must quickly honor its promise to repeal every word of Obamacare. But Senator Bernie Sanders accused the GOP of panicking. They battled over health care rationing and just how involved the government should be in the process.

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SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: This is what happened when government takes over health care. Every example on earth. The result is rationing and waiting periods. And you, the citizens, being told, no, you can't have the health care you want and deserve.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: And in America, we do rationing in a different way, Ted. The way we do rationing is, if you're very rich, you can get the best health care in the world, I believe, right here in the United States. Every single year, tens of thousands of our fellow Americans die because they don't go to the doctor when they should.

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ROMANS: Republicans are struggling to come up with a replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act. President Trump is now acknowledging there may not be one. May not be a replacement until next year.

All right. Facebook is leading a movement to give tech employees more paid family leave. We'll tell you the new program that is doubling the amount of time off for the one important event. Details -- next.

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[04:55:28] ROMANS: A big cleanup under way this morning in southern Louisiana after seven confirmed tornadoes touched down Tuesday, including one in New Orleans. Both the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans issuing emergency declarations. These are scenes here of just utter destruction, devastation, scores of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. Dozens of injuries have been reported but no deaths. New Orleans' 9th Ward, one of the areas hardest hit, one resident comparing this to Hurricane Katrina.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're dealing with amazing destruction. And it's not just -- I mean, it's like Katrina again. The whole block is gone, you know? And it's just a matter of rebuilding.

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ROMANS: The president tweeting overnight, "Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in southeastern Louisiana affected by today's severe tornados."

So, how will the weather affect the cleanup efforts?

Let's get straight to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

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PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, John and Christine, you know, when you take a look at yesterday, some nine reports of tornadoes across Mississippi, across Louisiana as well. This is one of the quieter times of the year, right? So, certainly, a high number of them for this time of year, 30s is what you expect for the entire month, we see nine on Tuesday.

But these temperatures, spring-like in nature. Jackson almost 80 degrees. Houston approaching almost 90 degrees. About an 90-degree barrier from what's happening across the northern tier of the country and northeast seeing spring-like temperatures. For some, up into the middle 50s and middle 60s if you're down around Washington.

There goes the storm system responsible for the severe weather. We have about 60 million people in line for wintery weather over the next hours. Here's the next line that will dive up to the north, and as it does, by this time tomorrow morning, it starts getting interesting. Snowfall begin and we think it could really continue through much of the afternoon hours around parts of the Northeast.

Total accumulations for some could be very impressive. For New York City, we think about six to 10 inches possible in spots, work your way out Massachusetts, onto areas around Connecticut, you could see as much as a foots of snowfall by the time tomorrow night is over. So, certainly, a lot of winter weather ahead of us in the next 24 hours.

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ROMANS: All right. Thanks for that, Pedram.

Let's check on CNN Money Stream this morning.

Dow futures are higher, stock markets in Europe rising. Shares in Asia closed mostly higher. The biggest gains coming in China as global investors jump back into emerging markets.

It's a big reverse from what we saw after the election. Looking at oil, it's down almost 1 percent. Disney CEO Bob Iger was planning to retire sometime next year, but now he says, he's looking to stick around. His contract ends next year.

And on an earnings call Tuesday, Iger declined to name a successor, but he would be willing to extend his stay, that's what he said. "If it's in the best interest of the company to expand my tenure, I'm open to that."

Facebook is a leader among tech companies for its generous paid family leave policy. Now, Facebook is raising the bar yet again. Employees at the social network will now receive up to ten days of bereavement leave after the death of an extended family member. And as many as 20 days to grieve a loss of an immediate family member. Employees will also get up to six weeks to paid time off to care for a sick relative, six weeks paid time off to help pay for a six relative and three days for say family member suffering from a short-term illness.

Chief operation officer Sheryl Sandberg writes in a Facebook post, "We need public policies that make it easier for people to care for their children and ageing parents and for families to mourn and heal after loss. Making it easier for more Americans to be the workers and family members they want to be. That will make our economy and country stronger."

You might recall, Sandberg's husband died suddenly back in 2015. So, this is incredibly personal for her.

All right. EARLY START continues right now.

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SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I appeal the ruling of --

SEN. STEVE DAINES (R), MONTANA: The objection has been heard. The senator will take her seat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: High drama on Capitol Hill. A leading liberal senator tries to read a letter in her attempts to oppose the attorney general nominee. Oh, but then the GOP reads her the rules. The fallout, ahead.

The future now in the hands of a federal appeals court. Will the judges decide the president has such authority for such a use of power?

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START this morning. I'm Christine Romans. It's Wednesday. It is February 8th, 5:00 a.m. on the nose in the East. Good morning, everyone.

We begin with the Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren silenced. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell taking action as Senator Warren was trying to read the words of Coretta Scott King to criticize Senator Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general.