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At This Hour

Biden Announces New Ukraine Security Assistance; Biden Said No Evidence Mariupol Has Completely Fallen; Putin Claims Success in Mariupol, Orders Blockade of Steel Plant; Justice Department Appeals Ruling on Mask Mandate; Majority of New COVID-19 Cases Linked to Omicron Subvariants. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 21, 2022 - 11:00   ET

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


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

More help is on the way: President Biden just gave an update on the assessment of the war in Ukraine and outlined a new weapons package that he's authorized to send over. This comes a week after a similar announcement, the latest round of weapons and ammo that the U.S. is providing to Ukraine.

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JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I'm announcing another $800 million to further augment Ukraine's ability to fight in the east, in the Donbas region.

This package includes heavy artillery weapons, dozens of Howitzers and 144,000 rounds of ammunition to go with those Howitzers. It also includes more tactical drones.

We don't know how long this war will last. But as we approach the two- month mark, here's what we do know: Putin has failed to achieve his grand ambitions on the battlefield.

After weeks after shelling Kyiv, Kyiv still stands. President Zelenskyy and his democratically elected government still remain in power. And Ukrainian armed forces, joined by many brave Ukrainian civilians, have thwarted Russia's conquest of their country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Before speaking to reporters, President Biden met with Ukraine's prime minister at the White House; no doubt, getting an update from the prime minister on the status of the now two-month long war.

In the meantime, Vladimir Putin is claiming victory in the besieged port city of Mariupol. Putin claims he has ordered his forces not to storm the steel plant complex where the last group of Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol are holed up.

Instead, Putin is calling for a full blockade, saying no one will be allowed to escape without surrendering.

Ukrainian's President Zelenskyy said thousands of civilians remain trapped there as well. We're going to head to Ukraine shortly. But let's start with CNN's Jeremy Diamond, live at the White House for us this hour.

What are the details of this package that the president just announced?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, President Biden unveiling a very significant $800 million of additional military assistance to Ukraine for what President Biden says is a critical window, as this war enters a new phase, a new phase, in which we will see additional tank battles, flatter territory that the president said also requires new types of weaponry.

And that is why you're seeing, as you see on the screen here, 72 155- millimeter Howitzers, those are artillery weapons, to provide to the Ukrainians; vehicles to tow those Howitzers as well and 121 drones, these Phoenix ghost tactical unmanned aerial systems.

And additional equipment included in the $800 million package that brings the total U.S. military assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion to $3.4 billion, of which $1.6 billion has come in just the last two weeks.

President Biden making clear he believes the U.S. can continue to sustain this type of assistance to Ukraine, as well as the rest of the world. But one key thing: the world must remain united in its assistance to Ukraine. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: Well, we have the capacity to do this for a long time.

The question is, Are we going to continue to maintain the support of the international community and keep the pressure on Putin to prevent him from overrunning the country?

Number one. And, number two, make sure we continue to maintain the economic sanctions, which, over time -- and we're beginning to see it -- are devastating their economy and their ability to move forward.

So the most important thing right now is maintain the unity. So far, so good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: As the president said, so far the unity has been maintained, not by accident but because of those frequent conversations, including a couple of days ago, when President Biden convened 11 other heads of state and leaders of major global organizations.

President Biden also making clear, though, that he will need more money from Congress in order to keep up the military support to Ukraine. As Congress comes back into session next week, Kate, the president saying he will make a supplemental budget request to Congress in order to ensure that this aid continues to flow into Ukrainian hands. Kate.

BOLDUAN: OK, Jeremy, thank you very much.

President Biden said just now that there is also no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen. That is significant because Vladimir Putin, this morning, is trying to declare victory there and apparently ordered his troops to not storm the steel plant complex as a result. CNN's Matt Rivers joins us live in Lviv, Ukraine, with more.

It's so hard to get detail and communication, frankly, out of Mariupol. I know you've been working hard at that.

What are you hearing?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, I mean, I don't think there's any question there's some pockets of Mariupol.

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RIVERS: Mainly centering on that Azovstal steel complex, that's still in Ukrainian hands. So when Vladimir Putin says the entire city of Mariupol has fallen, I think that's categorically untrue.

We've spoken to people inside that plant for a number of days now. And that's just a fact. However, Vladimir Putin is correct when he says that Russia controls Mariupol. Effectively speaking, Russian forces basically control that city.

They control the exit and entry into the city and the area completely surrounding that steel plant. So there are -- there is still fighting going on. But it really depends on your definition, as it were, of control.

I think Russians do control Mariupol outside of that pocket of resistance. What we are seeing, though, as a result of that Russian control is a continued lack of evacuations.

What we know needs to happen is there are tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol that need to be evacuated, the vast majority of which are in Russian controlled areas.

And yet, this slight glimmer of hope we had yesterday and today, with the agreement on a humanitarian corridor, has not materialized into the kinds of evacuations that the Ukrainians say are desperately needed.

So yesterday, just four buses, four buses managed to leave the city of Mariupol, carrying just a few dozen people. And today, there were issues with the buses getting to where they needed to go. Only some 200 people or so were lined up, according to Mariupol's mayor, ready to get on buses if they were to materialize.

That has, unfortunately, been the situation there and we don't see a way in which that's changing, given that the Ukrainians say the Russians continue to violate cease-fires that would make humanitarian corridors more viable.

BOLDUAN: Very important point. Matt, thank you very much for that.

Joining me right now for more is Igor Zhovkva, he's chief diplomatic adviser to Ukraine's President Zelenskyy.

Thank you for being here. Let's first start with this announcement we just heard from President Biden, another $800 million of weapons are coming your way: howitzers, more drones, more ammo.

Is that what you need?

IGOR ZHOVKVA, ZELENSKYY'S CHIEF DIPLOMATIC ADVISER: Is that what we badly need, we need artillery systems. We need drones. We need armored vehicles. We need tanks. So much of what we need now is being given in this package, which is another package now for the last several weeks.

We are thankful to President Biden to give exactly what we need, not just everything but exactly what Ukraine army needs.

BOLDUAN: The president said it's coming to you at record speed.

From your perspective, is this coming to you fast enough?

ZHOVKVA: Yes, it's true. I can confirm it's coming with a good speed. And it's immediately should be used at the hot spots which you mentioned in your reports, in Donbas and Mariupol, for instance.

We could have unblocked Mariupol if we had more and more such heavy weaponry, ammunition, artillery system, cameras (ph), which we also badly need. So the more we get, the faster we get, the more chances for us to win.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about Mariupol. Vladimir Putin said today he's cancelling plans to storm the steel plant complex, instead, blocking it and sealing it off because he said they have successfully captured the city.

Has the city fallen to Russia?

ZHOVKVA: No. This is not right. The only truth is that they control in some parts of Mariupol, maybe. More than half of Mariupol are controlled by armed forces of Russia and, yes, the city is blocked by the Russian armed forces.

But parts of the city, including the steel plant and the parts around the steel plant are controlled by Ukrainian armed forces. We badly need the evacuation that's humanitarian of the (INAUDIBLE) people, which are not only in this Azovstal steel plant but the city itself.

But absolutely no desire for Russian side to have these location corridors to stop the fire to make a cease-fire to evacuate civilians.

BOLDUAN: There are more than 100,000 people, I think is the latest estimate we've heard from your teams still in the city. We just heard from our correspondent Matt Rivers. The evacuation routes, humanitarian corridors, any attempt, they have not been successful.

Russia continues to bombard. Four buses got out yesterday, just four.

At this point, what is it going to take to get these civilians out?

ZHOVKVA: My president suggested yesterday to the Russian side to start evacuation from the Azovstal steel plant to evacuate the civilians who are there, more than 1,000, and those wounded soldiers, who are more than 500 and to exchange those soldiers for the wounded Russian soldiers, which are in possession of Ukrainian side.

Unfortunately, no reaction. Our negotiators were ready to come to Mariupol city to negotiate with Russians on that, the exchange. No reaction, no ability to provide the humanitarian corridors, even for civilians.

BOLDUAN: The U.S. State Department said yesterday, Igor, that NATO allies could be involved in getting people out of Mariupol --

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BOLDUAN: -- if Russians allow for safe passage. That was striking to many of us who have been listening closely to how this has been developing.

What kind of involvement will NATO have?

What do you know about that?

ZHOVKVA: We spoke, my president spoke with several NATO leaders like with President Erdogan, for instance, or with prime minister of Greece. You know, there are lots of Greeks in Mariupol, to have the evacuation of the civilians, if Russia doesn't want them to evacuate to control parts of Ukraine.

Let's let them be evacuated to the third countries. The same refers to soldiers. But unfortunately President Macron, by the way, was also -- had the initiative. But unfortunately, no absolute desire for President Putin, because all of them, as I understand, were talking to Putin also in this regard.

No desire for Russian Federation to deblock (ph) and to have the civilians en route to evacuate. So, yes, we welcome the initiatives of any third countries, be it NATO countries or E.U. countries, to help us with the evacuation from Mariupol.

BOLDUAN: So that, unfortunately, stays in its dire status right now in Mariupol. The broader battle, Igor, in the east.

How is the fight in the Donbas region going?

Has Russia gained any more ground?

ZHOVKVA: No. They started this offensive with this battle over Donbas, like we call it, several days ago. But now they mainly use artillery systems and have heavy shellings throughout the day and night.

But they haven't been an issue to proceed on the ground. We have rather strong armed forces, Ukrainian armed forces in that territory. Just to remind you, we are fighting the war in Donbas for all the -- each year because Russia started the aggression in 2014 with capturing Crimea and part of Donbas.

So we have quite trained, quite skillful armed forces there, able to withstand the Russian possible offensive. Currently this is not the case. They have not started it in full but, again, the main thing we need there is weapons, weapons, weapons.

BOLDUAN: If you count this so far what we're seeing in the east as success, because they have not moved in or taken any major territory, what do you attribute to the success so far of Ukrainian forces there holding it off?

ZHOVKVA: Because we are fighting for our own land. We are not fighting for any others' land. What we see with the armed forces of Russia is sometimes a lack of motivation, sometimes lack of understanding from their generals how to wage a modern warfare.

They used to have in the warfare I know, something of the Second World War (INAUDIBLE), so probably this will not change. So the generals will not change, the situation (ph) will not appear, not Russian Federation soldiers, while we are defending our own land I know definitely.

BOLDUAN: Igor Zhovkva, chief diplomatic adviser to President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, thank you very much.

ZHOVKVA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the Justice Department is now fighting a judge's ruling that struck down that mask requirement on planes and other public transit.

So what happens now?

That's next.

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BOLDUAN: Now to the pandemic and more confusion: the Justice Department is appealing a federal judge's ruling that struck down the mask requirement for people on planes, trains, buses and other public transportation.

The DOJ had been waiting to hear from the CDC if the mandate was still needed and CDC now says, yes, that it's still necessary to protect public health. CNN's Evan Perez live at the Justice Department for us.

Evan, what now?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SR. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the only thing we know right now is that the masks are not coming back anytime soon. What we know is that the Justice Department is asking for this appeal of this ruling by a judge in Florida.

But what they didn't ask for is a stay of her ruling, that would at least ask for the judge to put it aside and to bring back masks immediately to transportation in the United States.

And that's a key thing because what the Justice Department, what the CDC is trying to do here is that they want to preserve the ability of the CDC to respond to future pandemics. They believe that this is within the CDC's authority.

This judge, however, has already ruled not only on the merits of what the CDC was doing but also procedurally, how they did it. So the Justice Department has a very tall order ahead of them.

They know they'll likely lose in this very conservative leaning appeals court that oversees Florida and possibly this goes to the Supreme Court, because we know the Supreme Court and other courts have already set aside other CDC authorities. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Evan, thank you.

Joining me now for more on this, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

What do you think the chances are for the administration winning an appeal?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: It's a tough road because the courts are so politicized now. And I think we will have to get used to that. We're used to thinking of the courts as very different from the legislative branch, where you have Democrats and Republicans.

I mean, because of how Donald Trump made appointments to the lower federal courts as well as the Supreme Court and, frankly, the way Biden has as well. You have some very conservative members of the court, like this judge, who struck down the mandate and you have some liberal members of the court. So a lot of legal issues now you are going to be able to predict the

result, based on which judge you get. The area of the country that this appeal would go to, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, is mostly conservative.

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TOOBIN: So I think the Biden administration is going to have a tough time with this appeal, if it even goes forward because -- and, again, this is where the complexity comes in -- is the mask mandate only existed until May 3rd.

The judge said it had to stop right away. But it was going to go away on May 3rd anyway. There's a reasonable chance I think that any appeals court would say, look, May 3rd has passed; this whole case is moot. So we're not even going to rule on the merits.

So I think that's one possible outcome of this, which would leave the issue of the CDC's authority unresolved.

BOLDUAN: So I was going to ask you what that then means because that's part of the calculation of all of this. It's not just the public health needs right now but the authority of the CDC going forward.

Right?

TOOBIN: Exactly. And it's also a very important thing to point out that the judge who struck down this mask requirement, there are other federal judges who have already ruled on this question, who have upheld the mask requirement.

So her position was really sort of an outlier. But it was the last decision. And she issued this nationwide ruling ending the mask mandate. But this is not the majority position of most judges who have discussed this, who have ruled on this issue.

So the Justice Department, understandably, wants to preserve the authority of the CDC but whether, A, they win this case when it's appealed or whether the case is resolved at all, because of this mootness issue, I don't know.

BOLDUAN: Interesting.

TOOBIN: I'm sorry, is that clear?

Clear-ish.

BOLDUAN: Clear as mud. Thank you.

TOOBIN: OK, well, I -- that's the situation. I wish -- I'm trying.

BOLDUAN: Welcome to law. Thank you, Jeff, I really appreciate it.

Joining us right now for more on this is Michael Osterholm, he's the director for Center for Infectious Disease, Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, a former member of President Biden's COVID advisory board.

It's good to see you again.

(CROSSTALK)

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, CENTER FOR DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Good to see you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: -- aside, what do you think of this mess now and confusion around masks and public transportation?

Do you think it was the right time to make the mandates go away, make masks optional?

OSTERHOLM: Well, you know, without sounding as a contrarian or somehow trying to undercut public health, you have to know that I am a very pro-respiratory protection masking person.

But that requires an N95 respirator. We know how highly infectious this virus is. And to use face cloth coverings or even surgical masks leaves you still largely unprotected and that's a big challenge.

Well, if you look at the mask mandate, it was all about the vast majority of people wearing face cloth coverings or surgical masks or, if you're on a plane and eating or drinking, you don't have to wear it at all.

I think the mask mandate has been really overstated in terms of how much it can protect people. If everyone was required to wear an N95, you couldn't take it off for things like eating and drinking when the virus will not take a vacation, then I think it's a very important tool.

Unless you do that, I think we are basically expending a lot of public health capital for something that will have very little return.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you also. Moving to some developments now with vaccines and young children, because there is some news out this morning I wanted to ask you about this.

Reports that Moderna is submitting for authorization by the end of the month for shots in kids 6 months to 5 years. Pfizer also saying that it could have shots for that same age group ready and available in June. Look, it's been a long road getting here for this final group.

Do you think this will be the end of that road?

OSTERHOLM: Well, I don't think any road will end anytime soon with regard to vaccines. We're constantly realizing what the variants may do; how they minimize, in some cases, the effectiveness of the vaccines.

What data we do have with Moderna vaccine with the two shots, it reduced the number of people that got infected, protecting about 38 percent to 44 percent of those people. We must remember over 400 children in this age group of up through 5,

of the 18 million kids in this country, have died because of COVID-19. And we have surely seen a much greater impact with Omicron in this group than before.

So anything we can do to bring to these kids that will reduce serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths will be important. And what we're really talking about is just preventing infection. I think the real benefit of these vaccines in younger kids will be greatly reduced in the likelihood of that serious disease, hospitalizations or deaths.

BOLDUAN: I know smart minds like you continue to track the COVID variants as they turn up. How do you describe -- I've been wondering about kind of the trend of how this virus is developing.

Is there any predictability to it?

Because of course, everyone wants to know, is the next variant going to be more dangerous?

OSTERHOLM: You know, this is where we need a great deal of humility.

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OSTERHOLM: And we have to say, we don't know. You know, every morning, I get up, try to scrape the five inches of caked mud off my crystal ball and say what will happen. And week after week as new variants emerge, we see those kinds of assumptions we made six weeks ago are now challenged.

We don't know. This virus continues to mutate at a very, very high level. It continues to surprise us. So we can only hope that we won't see new virus strains that will defeat the immunity we have for vaccines or clinical disease. We can hope it's not more infectious.

But we don't know and we have to be honest about that. Even if you look at the BA.2 activity in Europe, some countries saw a major increase in cases associated with BA.2 increasing. Other countries did not.

And so what's going to happen here in the U.S., based on that experience, I don't know. It's clear that we're seeing increases in cases in some areas.

But will that happen all around the country?

We just have to acknowledge, we don't know.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much, it's good to see you, Michael.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you, Kate, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Appreciate it.

Coming up for us, as President Biden announces more support to Ukraine, Vladimir Putin claims a big victory. But President Zelenskyy's adviser just told us that is not true. We're going to discuss the very latest in these military moves next.