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Uncertainty Over Transgender Student Rules; Tempers Flare at Republican Town Halls; A Big Day for the Right at CPAC; Democratic Party Leadership Debate; Iraqi Forces Storm Mosul Airport. Aired 4:30- 5a ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 04:30   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Advocates for transgender students are pushing back after the White House rolled back some protections. Why does the White House say this move was necessary?




[04:30:04] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans facing growing anger at town halls nationwide. What do they have to say when questioned about health care and the president?

BRIGGS: And leadership in focus for both parties. Democrats hoping to lead the party into the future battle on CNN, as Republicans head to the most influential conference of the year.

Welcome back and thanks for getting an EARLY START on your day. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

BRIGGS: Good to see you, my friend.

ROMANS: He's the new guy. I'm so excited.

BRIGGS: The new dude.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

Lots to talk about this morning as schools and after the Trump administration withdraws federal guidance on transgender bathroom use in public schools. The White House has dropped an Obama directive that ordered schools nationwide to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The administration kicking the question back to the states, but it is offering no new guidance, even as it declares that students do remain protected.

BRIGGS: The ACLU not buying that, slamming the decision in a statement. Quote, "Revoking the guidance shows that the president's promise to protect LGBT rights was just empty rhetoric. School districts can and must continue to protect transgender students and all students from discriminations. School districts that recognize that should continue doing the right thing. For the rest, we'll see them in court."

Even within the administration, not everyone was on board. The move faced strong opposition from one key figure.

Senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny has the latest.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, good morning. The White House issued new guidance on Wednesday about the transgender bathroom issue that was controversial in the last year. Now, essentially, they issued a directive to states to disregard what President Obama did last year by calling for extra federal protections for students using transgender restrooms.

Now, the Trump administration did not put out a new executive order. They simply put out a statement from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, advising people to ignore the guidance from President Obama from last year. Now, important to note, this is not taking away any protections. It simply is taking away the federal guidance of what to do, saying this should be in the hands of the states -- Christine and David.


BRIGGS: And this likely ends in the Supreme Court. They will probably have the last word.

The biggest national gathering of conservatives shifts into high gear this morning outside Washington. The Conservative Political Action Conference known as CPAC welcoming top Republicans to the podium today. GOP figures once viewed as fringe are ready to address the gathering as members of the White House staff.

Tal Kopan is leading our digital coverage of CPAC. She joins us from Washington with the latest.

Tal, this is an administration packed lineup. Go through it for us.

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, absolutely. You know, that's one of the really interesting things about CPAC this year. You know, for eight years, you had Obama administration as the foil and target and it was always a Democratic White House. And now, we're going to have a CPAC where the White House itself is coming out in full force.

And they have, you know, several marquee slots throughout the day. We're going to will hear from Kellyanne Conway, of course, the president's counselor. You know, Ted Cruz, who is not part of the White House, but powerful figure in the Republican Party and looking to work with them.

You know, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, very important right after this Title IX decision, the guidance withdrawal we are just talking about. I think the marquee panel is probably the Reince Priebus/Steve Bannon panel where we're going to see them together, trying to send a message that everything is simpatico between them. And, then, of course, Vice President Mike Pence who's certain to be a CPAC darling, has been beloved by the conservatives over the years and was a great addition to the Donald Trump ticket in that regard.

You know, we are expecting to see, you know, the usual sort of firebrand rhetoric, but it will be really interesting to watch how that firebrand rhetoric actually comes from the sort of mainstream governing leaders.

ROMANS: At 12:50, we'll hear, as you point out, from Betsy DeVos, the new education secretary. She faced a tough confirmation battle. But she is in that job now. And she was weighing in, we are told, weighing into the White House about her concerns about rolling back, you know, this guidance on transgender.

This is her statement. She put out a statement here. "We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school district or state can abdicate."

What do we know about maybe friction on this transgender issue so early on as her tenure as education secretary?

KOPAN: Well, yes, and it's really fascinating early example of how the Trump administration is gong to sort of handle the two wings of its party because, you know, going back to the Republican convention, there's been sort of a tough divide in the Republican Party between those who want to sort of move on from some of the social issues that the party has been extremely conservative on -- LGBT and transgender rights being a major example of that -- and then those very hard lined of that. We have that within the Trump administration.

You know, by all accounts, Betsy DeVos, is more moderate on this, but the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions was strongly in favor of the policy we see. And, you know, throughout the campaign, we saw Donald Trump doing what he has done in this case, which is take a controversial issue where in the past, he made statements that are not Republican orthodox and take a states rights position as a way of getting himself out of it.

And that's the line we're hearing from the White House, is that they see this as an issue of states rights. Not civil rights.

BRIGGS: Yes, it's not just DeVos, though. Indications are throughout that Donald Trump leans a bit liberal when it comes to social issues. Here's what he told NBC during the campaign regarding this exact issue.


DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: So, if Caitlin Jenner were to walk into Trump Tower and want to use the bathroom, you would be fine with her using any bathroom she chooses?

TRUMP: That is correct.


BRIGGS: So, a noted departure from what the president campaigner said then. So, what does that tell us about going forward how these decisions will be decided, Tal?

KOPAN: Well, you know, I think that folks like the ACLU and the LGBT community and transgender community and their supporters are really concerned that they don't know what to expect. When you have statements like that on the record, some of them took a little bit of heart that the administration might be a little more forward-leaning than some of the Republican Party on this. And then you have the guidance withdrawn.

And again, you know, the line from the White House is that they're not trying to take a position on civil rights, but rather they say sort of correcting a muddy bit of guidance. So, that's going to be their position on this. They are going to claim this is nothing to do with whether or not to protect transgender students.

But, certainly, the impact is going to be felt by these communities. They feel like a protection was taken away from them. So, it's going to be something the White House has to delicately walk if they want to delicately walk if they want to appease both sides.

ROMANS: Meantime, the other sort of storyline here is recess rage. You've got these Republicans going home to their district and they are getting confronted by town halls and in some cases, if they don't have a town hall, they're being confronted by crowds of people at their, you know, their congressional offices who are asking them a lot of different things, but mostly about Obamacare and health care and unhappiness about the Trump administration.

Now, one thing that we've heard is that this is somehow manufactured or there's a lot of progressive groups that are pushing this. I want you to listen to how Sean Spicer has been making that charge.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think there is a hybrid there. I think some people are clearly upset. But there is a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there. But there are -- obviously, there are people that are upset. It is a loud group, small group of people disrupting something in many cases for media attention. No offense. It's just -- I think that necessarily just because they are loud doesn't necessarily mean that there are many.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Is he right on that? We have producers across the country. Tal, Kyung Lah has been to several of these. We have cameras in several places. We have cameras, and we've been watching this.

There are signs that have been pre-made, obviously. So, someone is organizing something. But there are a lot of people who are wearing, you know, badges that show their zip code to prove that no, I really am, I live here and this matters to me.

KOPAN: Yes. And the term paid protester is just always been a little odd, right? The idea there are people who do this sort of professionally, I think what the image they're trying to paint and what they're trying to get at is that there are these Democratic groups who are making it easier for folks to find these town halls and encouraging them, you know? So, they have set up web sites to find all of the town halls. They manufactured some signs. They have given some talking points that you can use.

But, you know, one man's paid protester is another man's basic organizing.

ROMANS: Right.

KOPAN: That is how you get people out. And, so, you know, it's easy to brush off outrage if you can sort of undermine the motivations that the people protesting. But, you know, I think when you watch the tape and you see the passion in people's eyes and you hear the personal stories, I mean, it's hard to get away from what they are actually displaying, even if they have a pre-printed sign.

BRIGGS: Passion and protest is good, but let's have some dialogue and actual discussion. Let your congressman speak for a moment -- just a suggestion.

But on the flip side, you're seeing a battle for the Democratic leadership last night on the CNN debate.

[04:40:01] Anybody stand out? Looks like a two-horse race at this point.

KOPAN: Yes. You know, I assume you are referring to Tom Perez and Keith Ellison. And, you know, what's interesting about that sort of duo is, of course, they come to represent Obama world versus, let's say, Sanders world. And, you know, both have progressive bona fides and certainly a long track record with the Democratic Party. And that's part of why you don't see a ton of daylight between the candidates. It's sort of coming down to a referendum on what sort of wing of the party do you want to lead going forward.

You know, Keith Ellison sort of represents that Sanders insurgency whereas Tom Perez has backing of more Obama era officials. And then you've got sort of the third wave, the third option of sort of something new. Pete Buttigieg is probably the best example of that.

And so, you know, it doesn't seem anyone has the vote locked up at this point, and it will be really interesting to see what kind of arm- twisting and how the vote counting kind of goes going forward.

ROMANS: I saw a really interesting interview with Howard Dean where he was saying that, you know, they need a new face, younger person, you know. That he said he is too old and lot of people in that stage are too old and they need somebody young to appeal to millennials who --

BRIGGS: Yes, there's one man who can do that.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much, from millennial Tal Kopan.

KOPAN: Thank you.

ROMANS: Nice to see you this morning.

All right. President Trump is preparing his first budget proposal, and the big focus will be on spending cuts.


TRUMP: Our moral duty to taxpayer requires us to make our government leaner and more accountable. We must do a lot more with less and we must stop the improper payments and the abuses, negotiate better prices and look for every last dollar of saving.


ROMANS: Do a lot more with less. That could mean eliminating programs like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. That would save a tiny amount of money compared to Trump's long list of expensive promises like tax cuts, infrastructure, the border wall, military spending. Plus, there's no plan to deal with the nation's ballooning debt, which the president calls out of control.

Regardless, Trump will bring three pieces of legislation next week when he meets with Congress, the replacement for the Affordable Care Act, tax reform plan and that budget proposal. A lot on the agenda here.

BRIGGS: A lot of spending coming down the pipeline, will be difficult to offset all of that.

Well, Iraqi security forces storm the Mosul airport trying to root out ISIS. Breaking details on the ground in Iraq, next.


[04:46:45] BRIGGS: Breaking news at this hour.

The Iraqi military reporting its forces have stormed Mosul airport in a nearby military camp both in the ISIS held western part of the city.

Joining us with the latest: senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman live in Iraq this morning.

Good morning, Ben.


Yes, this happened -- this begun at about the crack of dawn. Iraqi forces, specifically the Iraqi federal police launched these dual attacks on the airport and Haslani (ph) military base, both in the southern part of the city.

Now, this onslaught was preceded by more than 24 hours of intense artillery and air bombardment on those areas. We also understand that the counterterrorism forces of the Iraqi military are also pushing from the southwest into a variety of neighborhoods.

So, this appears to be the first time since this offensive began that Iraqi forces are entering the city proper. Now, another bit of interesting news we just heard is that ISIS is now going house to house in western Mosul, searching for cell phones, which are forbidden under their rule. They are worry is that Mosul residents are providing the Iraqi military with intelligence allowing them to strike targets. For instance, there had been a series of airstrikes by coalition forces on buildings that house foreign fighters. So, it appears the pressure is intense on ISIS this morning as the Iraqi forces move forward.

Of course, this is really the beginning of what could be a long operation taking into consideration that the offensive to take the eastern part of the city took about three months. This offensive, for the west, is only four days old -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Ben, thank you.

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

The Dow Jones Industrial Average just accomplished something that hasn't happened since 1987. It was a very good year, wasn't it? What is it? We're going to get a check on CNN Money Stream, next.


[04:53:17] ROMANS: All right. Welcome back. Fifty-three minutes past the hour.

I have to take the time to introduce you to Dave Briggs, the new guy.

BRIGGS: Fifty-three minutes in.

ROMANS: Fifty-three minutes in. Well, now, we decided we're going to keep you. We did a great job this morning.

BRIGGS: I'm allowed to stay?

ROMANS: Yes. I want to kind of learn a little bit about Dave Briggs.

BRIGGS: No, you don't.

ROMANS: Yes, I do.

So, I was asking him, what are some things -- you know, how do we get to know Dave Briggs?

OK. So, number one here --


ROMANS: You rapped "Ice, Ice Baby" with Vanilla Ice. Is this real? Is there actually like video evidence of this?


BRIGGS: If you look to my left and your right, that is Alisyn Camerota.

ROMANS: I know, I love her. I love her. She speaks very highly of you.

BRIGGS: She was responsible for that moment.

ROMANS: And he took his shoes off. I love it, I love it.

OK. Your first season covering the Red Sox, they won the World Series.

BRIGGS: Well, I broke the curse. It wasn't David Ortiz. It wasn't Manny Ramirez or anyone else. 2004, my first year in Boston covering the Sox, World Series. I don't know what this --

ROMANS: I love it. I'm so glad you are a sports guy. You have a big hole in my journalistic experience.

BRIGGS: Well, John Berman, a big Boston sports fan. So, it won't be a noted departure here.

ROMANS: You have worked for CNN before. You were a runner for CNN during a big story of our youth.

BRIGGS: Yes, 1999, as a college kid. I was a runner. Columbine shooting, unfortunately, one of the worse things in our nation's history happened. And CNN couldn't get there fast enough. No one could. So, the journalism students were the first ones there nationally for them and then we stayed for the next several weeks and worked as runners.

[04:55:00] ROMANS: Did that color the way you cover stories since you were --

BRIGGS: It made me a sports guy. I drove home in tears most nights.

ROMANS: Oh, wow.

BRIGGS: I couldn't separate. Those kids were a few years younger than me. Ten minutes from where I grew up. I couldn't quite separate news from the heartache that I saw everybody and it scarred me for a while, as it did this country.

ROMANS: You are from Colorado? Yes?

BRIGGS: I am, born and raised.

ROMANS: And your great grandfather, what, he -- we owe him a great debt.

BRIGGS: My great grandfather invented the snow plow. Yes. In the 1920s in New York, strapped basically a giant shovel to his Buick, Ed Meyer. And then Ed Meyer snow plows out of that was born. You've probably seen Meyers snow plows in every state --

ROMANS: Interesting.

BRIGGS: -- in the country. The big yellow ones with Meyer on there, that's my family.

ROMANS: Bloody Mary, that's your drink of choice?

BRIGGS: Bloody Mary, not just my drink of choice. I don't just drink them, I make them.

ROMANS: You do?

BRIGGS: A little lemon, a little lime, little Worcestershire horse radish. I'll make --

ROMANS: I'm available in exactly an hour and five minutes.

BRIGGS: These hours require them.

ROMANS: Is it true that you own more than 1,600 issues of "Sports Illustrated"?

BRIGGS: Oh my wife loves that. She can't stand it. It's our entire attic full of 1,600 plus issues, dating back to December of 1984. I saw this Doug Flutie issue, says Magic Flutie when he threw the Hail Mary for Boston College --


BRIGGS: I just had to start saving them. I have every single one. It's a problem. It's an addiction.

ROMANS: What else? Speaking of your wife. You met your wife in fifth grade.

BRIGGS: I did. I have known her for 20 years plus. I met her as a fifth grader. It took me 13 years to wear her down and finally get a kiss. I really move fast. My game on display. It takes me 13 years to wear a woman down but thank God I did.

ROMANS: Thirteen years and 1,600 issues of "Sports Illustrated."

BRIGGS: And she stays with me despite the "Sports Illustrated" and Bloody Marys.

ROMANS: Well, that's nice to get to know you a little bit early, early in the morning.

BRIGGS: Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. You learn more than you like.

ROMANS: All right. Bloody Mary, I like that.

Fifty-six minutes past the hour. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning.

The Dow is on an incredible nine-day win streak. But what makes it more impressive, all of these gains are record highs, nine all-time highs in a row. The last time that happened was in January of 1987 when the market hit 12 straight and Dave only had about 200 issues of "Sports Illustrated." Then, of course, it crashed later that year.

Analysts do not expect that same fate. But we could see 10 in a row today. Futures are higher right now. Stocks in Europe and Asia are mixed.

Stock market is a measure of corporate profit. Not the broader economy. So, really important perspective there.

But there are fresh signs this morning that the broader economy is humming along, too. Home sales jumped 3.3 percent in January, now at the highest level in a decade.


ROMANS: The average price, the home price up 7.5 percent over the past year, just less than $229,000. The U.S. Federal Reserve says it's ready to hike rates fairly soon. Investors are translating that to Fed speak to mean an increase in May, not necessarily March.

Regardless, the Fed says one thing standing in the way is uncertainty over President Trump's economic policies. But if those go as planned and lead to bigger growth, the Fed could act more quickly.

Apple is upgrading its home in Silicon Valley and the views are spectacular. Check this out. It's called Apple Park. And many are calling it a space ship. The company says it will open to employees in April.

It sits on a 175-acre campus. It's 2.8 million square foot main building. It's made from curved glass. It will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy. Much of the campus is being framed as a tribute to Apple founder Steve Jobs who came up with the concept. He died in 2011.

Another tech company could be building a huge tech hub. Tesla says it will finalize locations for up to three more gigafactories. It currently has one in Nevada and a solar plant in New York. Tesla has a long wait list for some of its model and it's been focusing on ramping up on production.

Here you go.

BRIGGS: The Trump bump, is that the market gains?

ROMANS: Trump bump, someone told me it's the Fed. The Fed had its foot on the gas for years now. It's basically acting in emergency mode when the economy is long out of emergency status. So, the Fed is going to have to raise rates.

BRIGGS: He's got to keep talking that economy up.

Well, EARLY START continues right now.


BRIGGS: Big blowback today after the White House rolls back protections for transgender students nationwide. But the administration says it's just returning power to the states.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm an angry constituent! You work for us!


ROMANS: Anger boiling over against Republicans at town halls nationwide. Do Republicans have answers for the questions they face?

BRIGGS: And leadership on stage for both political parties. Democrats hoping to lead the party battle on CNN, as the Republicans descend in the most influential conservative conference in the nation.

Good morning and thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Nice to see you. Nice to see you especially.

BRIGGS: Nice to see you.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, February 23rd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.