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Ukrainian Forces Reach Border Near Kharkiv; FDA Chief: Bay Formula Shortage Will Be "Back To Normal" In Weeks; Gas Hits New Record High Of $4.48 A Gallon. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 16, 2022 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Now let's turn to the war on Ukraine. A Ukrainian military unit fighting north of Kharkiv says that his -- it has actually reached the Russian border.

Ukrainian officials saying that Russian forces are retreating from the North following Ukraine's counter-offensive, but it's very clear the fight still rages on.

Russia intensifying attacks in the east. A missile strike also damaged more civilian targets in the southern city of Odessa.

Joining me right now is CNN military analyst, retired Major General Dana Pittard. It's good to see you, General.

So Ukraine is making gains around Kharkiv from all reports, I mean, this one unit, we have video of saying that it reached the Russian border, releasing a video, it says -- shows a small group of soldiers carrying this blue and yellow stake to the borderline.

What do you think these moves mean for where the battle is headed now?

DANA PITTARD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, good morning, Kate. It really shows that the Ukrainians, they've been fighting tough in these -- this intense conflict but they're showing some success.

Obviously, they showed success around the Kyiv region, repelling the Russian attack there. And now in Kharkiv, the counterattacks have been very successful.

They're pushing the Russians to their border. Now the Russians are going to -- are going to try to amass forces and push them back but it's going to be very difficult for the Russians to do that because they don't have the force structure to be able to fight and Kharkiv and still push down the Donbass region.

They also don't have the force structure really to take Odessa.

That's why we're seeing missile attacks, instead of really troop movements towards Odessa. And so it's going relatively well for the Ukrainians from the perspective of based on the defensive weapons they have.

Now they need more offensive weapons. They do need the MiGs, the fighter jets, the -- from NATO, and others.

BOLDUAN: Yes. The UK Defense Ministry just put out its latest assessment and the way that they put it as it show -- their assessment shows that Russia has now likely suffered losses of one-third of the ground combat force it committed in February.

And though it's impossible to get a complete picture of the Ukrainian force loss that they've experienced to this point, right now, what do you think these losses sustained by what was supposed to be the bigger stronger power in Russia? What do you think it means?

PITTARD: Well, it means a lot of things. First of all, Ukraine has become this meat grinder for Russian forces.

To lose nearly a third of the force that they first committed is amazing. It's not going well for the Russians at all.

They've had so many issues, whether it's logistical issues, they've had command and control issues, and they've had issues with morale overall.


PITTARD: So it doesn't speak well of the Russian military and it also doesn't speak well of what's going to happen next with the Russian military.

Now they're going to be ordered by Putin and in the -- in the chain of command to keep pushing, but I think they're going to have difficulty doing that.

So we're going to see more or less a stalemate in eastern Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: And at the very same time, there -- things are progressing in terms of NATO membership, Finland and Sweden now formally announcing that they intend to move forward with the two joining NATO.

What's your view on this? What does their addition to NATO mean, especially when you -- we know that the understanding is it could take up a year for the membership to fully go through, and what that means in the interim?

PITTARD: Well, that's actually huge. Been to both Finland and Sweden to work with their militaries in the past and one thing that I've remembered for decades is the insistence of Finland -- Finnish forces and Swedish forces, that they are neutral.

They're not part of NATO. They cooperate with NATO, but they were not a part of NATO. They're very proud of that.

So, what the Russian invasion of Ukraine has done has changed that dynamic. It is absolutely the opposite of what President Putin really wanted. So having Finland and Sweden asking to be a part of NATO, and they'll

probably be approved once they get through Turkey's objections that will mean that an 800 -- 800 plus mile border that Finland has with Russia will now be NATO.

That is absolutely the opposite of what Putin wanted. So that's huge.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it's exactly the opposite. It's good to see you, General. Thank you very much.

Also, new this morning, McDonald's says that it is getting out of Russia for good citing Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine.

The Fast Food chain is announcing plans to sell its Russian restaurants to a local buyer.

And McDonald's opened its first restaurant there more than 30 years ago, and more than 800 locations in Russia have been closed since the start of the war.

Still ahead for us, parents are still desperately scrambling to find baby formula among -- amidst this shortage of baby formula across the country.

Where can they turn for help and what is the timeline for getting back to normal? President Biden's Health Secretary joins me next.



BOLDUAN: An update now for you to an incredible story. Do you remember the passenger turned pilot who landed a plane on his very own after his pilot suffered a medical emergency mid-flight?

Well, he is speaking out for the first time. Darren Harrison says that he knew he was in a life or death situation after the pilot became unresponsive while they were flying back from the Bahamas.

Listen to this with NBC's Savannah Guthrie.


DARREN HARRISON, PASSENGER WHO LANDED PLANE: I knew if I didn't react, that we would die because I knew if I went up and yanked, that the airplane would stall.

And I also knew at the rate we were going, we were probably going way too fast and it would rip the wings off the airplane.

When I was flying and saw the state of Florida, at that second, I knew I'm going to land there.

I don't know what the outcome is going to be, I don't know how it's going to happen but I'm going to have to land this airplane because there's no other option. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Incredible. Despite having no flying experience, he did just that. He landed that plane safely, really in perfect fashion with the help of an air traffic controller we've talked about who guided him in on how to do it.

He says that he felt the hand of God. Harrison said. He says he was thinking about getting home to his wife, who's seven months pregnant with their baby girl. An amazing story.

Let's turn now to the other big story we have been following which is the baby food shortage hitting the country. It now drags into another week.

Store shelves remaining empty or with very limited supply right now. Parents are scrambling to find ways to feed their infants still.

The FDA commissioner spoke out today telling CNN that things will be back to normal in weeks.


ROBERT CALIFF, FDA COMMISSIONER: We're working with the manufacturers to increase their production.

We're working on the supply chain to get the right product to the right place at the right time.

We're working closely with Abbott to get that plant that was shut down, up and operating as soon as possible.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now for more on this is the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra. Secretary, thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: I want to jump in because the FDA commissioner says that an announcement is coming today on one fix to the shortage, which is how suppliers overseas can get their formula into the United States.

What's the change? How's it going to help this shortage?

BECERRA: Kate, first, thanks for having me. Yes, I am overseas right now in Berlin, and forgive my voice. All the travel is affecting my voice.

But what we are looking to do is make available that supply from abroad so that we can ensure people will be safe and make it more readily available.

There are certain requirements that some manufacturers don't meet, that don't have so much to do with the nutrition or safety that prohibit us from being able to allow them to import it.

So, we're going to try to do what we can to increase supply, to work with those importers so that that supply along with so long as it's safe, we'll be able to make it into the U.S.


BOLDUAN: The FDA commissioner is also laying out something of a timeline for when the formulas of supply will be back to normal saying that -- he says a few weeks it'll be back to normal. So can families count on this crisis being over in three weeks?

BECERRA: Well, we have to count on Abbott, putting its production lines back in, in place.

If they don't move quickly to address the safety concerns that even they acknowledged because they shut down the plant and they recalled some of their products, then it becomes difficult because they are a big manufacturer, 40 percent of the product out there comes from Abbott, so they have to get back online.

We're working with them to make sure that they address all the concerns that we raised to them about safety, but it should be done in a matter of weeks we're working with Abbott.

We hope that they're able to then deliver by coming back online.

BOLDUAN: A matter of weeks, honestly, it could be eight weeks, which is very different than three weeks.

Are you working with a three-week timeline of getting it back to normal? I know you need I need to -- I mean you need Abbott to act -- to act.

But what is the timeline you're working in your expectation of when the supply will be back to normal?

BECERRA: We're working with Abbott. Abbott is one that can tell you the timeline. We don't run their plants.

Only they can address the safety concerns that were identified through our inspections. They should -- they've been working on this for a while, we've been advising them of what they need to do, Abbott can move to get their plant online.

We will do everything we can, we put all the leverage we can to help them move as quickly as possible, but they control their plant. They own and operate it. They're the ones that have to do the fix.

BOLDUAN: Under the purview of your agency, of your department is regulation. First reports of possible issues at the plant, they came back in the fall, in September and October.

The FDA interviewed a whistleblower at that plant in late December. Then in February, the FDA investigated the plant and Abbott issued that voluntary recall, and then the plant shut down that same month, September to February.

Do you think the FDA move too slowly?

BECERRA: We have to build the evidence, Kate. We just can't go in and stop the production of a product that's controlled by the private sector.

We have to have evidence and proof that we can sustain in court because clearly, any manufacturer is going to go to court and say, government, you can't just stop us from producing.

So, we had to take those reports, we had to substantiate those reports, then we went in and actually took a look at the plants and FDA then took action once it goes able -- was able to then say for itself, that there is an issue here.

And fortunately, Abbott didn't wait and take us to court, they volunteered to pull products from the shelves, and also to shut down the plant. It took a while, but again, we don't control the plant.

We do what we must to inspect and follow up through the oversight process to make sure we're getting credible reports. We're on top of it.

BOLDUAN: Did the government fail to recognize how serious the scope of the disruption was going to be when a plant of this size and import is shut down?

BECERRA: Yes. And I had -- I had a little trouble hearing your question, but I'm pretty sure it's just -- do we understand how important this is, is that what I raised?


BOLDUAN: No, I'll restate it, Secretary. I'll restate it because I do think this is important. And I am sorry for the connection if there's an issue.

My question is did the government fail to recognize how big of a deal the disruption was going to be?

How great this crisis could turn into when a plant of this size and import to the formula supply was shut down? Did you fail to recognize the problem you had on your hands?

BECERRA: At all times, FDA recognizes what it might -- what might happen when it moves in to tell a plant manufacturer that they may have to take pretty dramatic action, no doubt.

But at the same time, Kate, we have reports that there are some children who have been infected by the cronobacter disease.

We know that a couple of children either report that they died of a particular illness, we don't know yet have definitive proof of what the source of that might have been, but we have -- we face the circumstances. Is the product on the shelves safe? And FDA moves with deliberate speed to make sure that if we're going

to do something as drastic as urging a manufacturer to pull a product off of the shelves, that there's good evidence for it.

That's why it takes a little time. We absolutely understand. I understand that you're --


BOLDUAN: You were satisfied with the government's response throughout this.

BECERRA: I'm sorry, say it again.

BOLDUAN: You're satisfied with the government's response throughout this.

BECERRA: From everything I know, the FDA has kept me apprised that this -- from last year we have been moving as quickly as we can.


BECERRA: Again, we don't have the right to close a plant or force a recall. We have to get the evidence in order to take action under our laws.

We did everything we could, FDA, and Commissioner Califf has made that clear that his team has been working on this from day one to get something done, working with Abbott directly and now working with those who can import some of that product.

We'll do what we can but we don't produce the formula, we don't control the actual production plants. We can only try to do our job of protecting infants who were going to consume that formula to make sure it's safe.

BOLDUAN: Secretary Becerra, thanks for coming on. We'll be right back.

BECERRA: Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Gas prices continue to soar to new highs. AAA is now reporting the national average for a gallon of regular gas has hit a new record, $4.48 a gallon.

CNN's Pete Muntean is live for us at this hour with more on this. Pete, every day it seems there's a new high, where's this headed?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, it's -- you know how it's bad one $4.35 is the cheapest gas you could find here in Alexandria, Virginia.


MUNTEAN: Just look at how fast the prices are going up, a 15-cent spike in the average price for a gallon of regular gas over the last week according to AAA, 40 cents in the last month.

Think about where we were a year ago. It was $3.04 for a gallon of regular. What's so interesting about this is as these prices are going up GasBuddy says demand for gas is going up as well, up about 3 percent in the last week.

And oil analysts say given the fact that oil producers are still struggling to ramp up production and the high demand, we could see prices go even higher. July and August, we could get clobbered.

Only three states, Georgia, Kansas, and Oklahoma have gas below $4 a gallon and when they finally do switch over, all 50 states will have gas above $4 a gallon. We haven't seen that since 2008, Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Pete Thank you very much. And thank you all so much for being here AT THIS HOUR. I'm Kate Bolduan. INSIDE POLITICS with John King starts after this break.