Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Biden Speaks alongside NATO Hopefuls Sweden and Finland; U.S. Government Efforts to Alleviate Formula Shortage. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 19, 2022 - 11:00   ET



SAULI NIINISTO, PRESIDENT OF FINLAND: We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it.

We are open to discussing all the concerns Turkey may have concerning our membership in an open and constructive manner.

These discussions have already taken place and they will continue in the next days.

Twenty-fourth February, I said that the masks have fallen and we see only the cold faces of war.

Russia's war in Ukraine has changed Europe and our security environment. Finland takes the step of NATO membership in order to strengthen not only its own security but also in order to strengthen wider transatlantic security.

This is not away from anybody. Like you, Mr. President, said, NATO is protective, defensive -- not a threat to anybody.

At the same time, we must not forget that at this very moment, the brave people of Ukraine are fighting not only for their own freedom and democracy but for our common security.

Finland, together with the EU and the United States, stands firmly behind Ukraine.

So Mr. President, once again, I want to thank you for making history with us. Thank you.


MAGDALENA ANDERSSON, SWEDISH PRIME MINISTER: Mr. President, thank you for welcoming President Niinisto and me to the White House.

The bonds between Sweden and the United States, they are strong and longstanding. And as you know, Swedes first set foot in your home state of Delaware in 1638.


ANDERSSON: And we were one of the first countries to recognize the United States as an independent nation in 1783.

And since then, our countries have developed a deep and longstanding friendship through family ties, trade and mutual interests. And I personally is very much one part of this.

But most of all, our shared values and beliefs in democracy and freedom -- values and beliefs that are now being put to the test.

And today, the situation in Ukraine reminds us of the darkest days of European history. And I must say that, during dark times, it is great to be among close friends.

And over these past months, we have shown transatlantic unity and strength at its best. Together, we have responded forcefully to Russia's aggression and provided unprecedented support to Ukraine. We have not flinched.

And, Mr. President, I want to thank you for the massive U.S. support to Ukraine and for your sustained engagements in European society.

President Niinisto and I have come here at a historic moment for our countries.

And for Sweden, after 200 years of military non-alignment, Sweden has chosen a new path. Yesterday, Sweden and Finland submitted our formal requests to join NATO.

And Russia's full-scale aggression against a sovereign and democratic neighbor -- that was a watershed moment for Sweden. And my government has come to the -- to the conclusion that the security of the Swedish people will be best protected within the NATO alliance. And this is backed by very broad support in the Swedish parliament.

And with Sweden and Finland as members, NATO will also be stronger. We are security providers with sophisticated defense capabilities. And we are champions of freedom, democracy and human rights.


ANDERSSON: We have a long tradition of extensive military cooperation with NATO, including all missions. And we are right now ramping up our defense spending and we will reach 2 percent of GDP as soon as practically possible.

And, Mr. President, your support for our country's NATO aspirations for our security are of fundamental importance. And we look forward to a swift ratification process by NATO members. And we are right now having a dialogue with all NATO member countries, including Turkey, on different levels to sort out any issues at hand.

In the United States, the Senate is crucial in this regard. And last Sunday, I hosted a delegation headed by Senate Republican leader McConnell in Sweden. And later today, President Niinisto and I will meet Senate Majority Leader Schumer and other leading members of Congress. And we greatly appreciate the broad and strong support expressed by both parties in Congress. But, Mr. President, our countries also work closer together when tackling global challenges. And Sweden, like other Nordic countries, has shown that emissions reductions can go hand-in-hand with economic growth.

And in Sweden right now, the green transition creates thousands of jobs through investments in battery factories, green mining and fossil-free steel production. And I actually brought the President a unique example of this: a candle holder made of the world's first fossil-free steel.


BIDEN: It's important.

ANDERSSON: And what we see in Sweden right now is that previously neglected areas are no longer struggling with unemployment or depopulation but how to build housing, infrastructure and schools quick enough to meet up with the expansion. And here, I see fantastic opportunities to cooperate between the Nordic countries and United States.

And I'm also proud that Sweden contributes to the U.S. economy and the prosperity of the American people.

Swedish companies are active in every single state, creating more than 350,000 jobs in the United States. And we are the 15th-largest investor.

Mr. President, I want to thank you for your leadership in our joint efforts to promote democracy throughout the world. Because democracy requires constant work and safeguarding, we have to win every new generation.

And let me conclude where I started: Peace and stability in our part of the world is a common security interest for us, for you and for the rest of Europe. And we stand here today more united than ever and we are committed to strengthening our bonds even further. And Sweden is prepared to shoulder its responsibility as an ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Thank you.


BIDEN: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) worried right now during this vulnerable transition --


QUESTION: Mr. President --

QUESTION: Do you plan on speaking to President Erdogan?



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden clearly not going to be taking questions after these remarks. You have been watching President Biden offering, in his words, "the full, total and complete backing of the United States" to the leaders of Sweden and Finland in their bid to join NATO.

The two Nordic countries have long been neutral players on the world stage and this is a major shift. Biden called this a momentous day.

Now three months into Russia's war in Ukraine, Sweden and Finland are abandoning that neutral status in order to join the defensive alliance. Let's start back at the White House. CNN's John Harwood is there. He's been watching this.

All the leaders noting this as a historic moment.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is. It's one of the unexpected consequences of Vladimir Putin's unprovoked aggression into Ukraine. It has united the Western alliance. It has brought NATO together.

Vladimir Putin was hoping to split NATO apart and it's even pulled these nations that have stood outside NATO membership for years, Finland and Sweden, to try to join.


HARWOOD: Now you heard the president's remarks emphasizing, this does not threaten any other country, that NATO is a defensive alliance that's committed to the mutual defense of each of its members, that accession of Finland and Sweden depends on the assent of all 30 NATO members.

Each one has leverage. Turkey has been using that leverage to try to get some concessions from Finland and Sweden. And the Finnish president addressed that. He said that we take terrorism seriously. The Turks complain that the relationship between Finland and the Kurdish community, which it calls a terrorist, is a threat to them.

They complain about the arms embargo that was imposed upon Turkey by Finland and Sweden as a result of their conflict in Syria with Kurds. So the Finnish president addressed it, said that we are going to try to get over those humps.

The Swedish prime minister indicated that we're working not just with Turkey but all NATO members to resolve any concerns they have.

From the tone of the remarks, they didn't take questions, as you said, from the tone of the remarks it sounds as if they are highly confident they're going to get past that objection from Turkey and see this assent of both nations into NATO.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, John. Thank you so much for that. Let's talk about this opposition from Turkey. Turkey's president

vowing once again to oppose the membership of Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance. His vote, as has been noted, is key, because the defensive alliance gives each of the 30 member countries the power to veto any new membership bid.

Nina dos Santos is live in Stockholm, Sweden and has more on this.

Talk about Turkey's opposition, what President Erdogan has said.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: Yes. This is a really complicated issue that centers largely on Sweden more than Finland, actually, because Sweden has for many years had a policy of welcoming people from the Kurdish community.

This is a minority in the Middle East, distributed between Iran, Iraq, Syria and also parts of Turkey. And President Erdogan has had a long- standing rift with this community. They're persecuted in some parts of these countries, including in Turkey, according to human rights experts.

And he says that Sweden has been giving asylum to members of this community, that he wants to see extradited back to Sweden, because, he says, they have close ties to organizations like the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, also the YPG, Syrian Kurds over there, as well as organizations that Turkey deems to be terrorist organizations.

He's not likely to get much traction on this particular issue. But it is something that he wants brought to the floor.

Also, there's another issue with Sweden and that is that Sweden pushed for and implemented an arms embargo on Turkish weaponry in 2019, when Turkey entered parts of northeastern Syria with operations aimed at some of these Kurdish groups there.

So those are two issues that he's also trying to bring to the floor. But diplomats also say, diplomatic experts say that this is part of having some say around the negotiating table and also trying to get the United States more involved as well. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Nina, thank you so much for that. I appreciate it.

Joining me with more is the former prime minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb. He is now the director of the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute. Thank you so much for being here, Prime Minister.

First, just your reaction, what you heard, what your takeaway was, from what we heard from the leaders just now?

ALEXANDER STUBB, FORMER FINNISH PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think it was a portrayal of strong support and an alliance which has existed there, in all but name.

And I must say as an avid advocate of Finnish NATO membership for the past 30 years, it was heartwarming to see the president of Finland, the prime minister of Sweden, standing next to the President of the United States, talking about our NATO membership.

Go four months back, I never believed this would happen.

BOLDUAN: And I think that's important to not be missed because it's truly months ago, just a few months ago, you would not have thought this was in the offing, especially so quickly.

It's truly, it is, it is historic on how quickly this has come about.

STUBB: Yes. I mean, if you unravel the process, you could say that the decision of Finnish NATO membership was taken on the 24th of February, when Putin attacked Ukraine. That's when public opinion changed.

It used to be 50 against 20 in favor; now the latest opinion poll that we have is roughly 80 percent in favor of NATO membership; with a vote in parliament, 188 to 8.

I mean, it sounds a bit like North Korea but it probably shows you a little bit more about Finnish security policy consensus. This was a long time coming. And I'm glad it's happening. I think it will increase security in the Baltic Sea region in Europe and for the alliance.


BOLDUAN: Let's talk about the opposition coming from Turkey. The leaders today, they seemed, as John Harwood noted, they seemed confident that these memberships will be granted and this will go through. You also think that this will get ironed out, the concerns raised by Turkey.

Why are you confident of this?

STUBB: Well, I've worked with our Turkish friends over the years. I remember being a young civil servant at the European Council in Helsinki in December 1999, when we actually opened the door for the Turkish E.U. negotiations.

I also remember establishing friends of peace mediation with foreign minister, at the time, Ahmed Davutoglu in the U.N. And I've always had trust in the relationship that we've had.

Now these things happen, they're domestic issues here. You know, one of the things that wasn't mentioned in your piece there was that there's also an armament issue with F-35s coming from the U.S. -- or actually, as the case might be, not coming from the U.S.

I'm sure these are the types of negotiations and discussions that both the Americans, the alliance, the Finns and the Swedes and the Turks are having. Remember, we Finns are actually quite cool, calm and collected and we believe in dialogue and sorting things out.

BOLDUAN: Are you saying to an American, by way of comparison, we are less cool, calm and collected, Prime Minister?

STUBB: No --


BOLDUAN: I say that, I'm joking, absolutely joking.


BOLDUAN: But on this opposition, can you take us behind the scenes?

Is it more -- is there -- is it -- is there more going on behind the scenes of why Erdogan is speaking up like this, speaking up like this now and what he really does want, if you're so confident that this is going to go away in the end?

STUBB: Well, I think there are a few avenues you have to look at there. One is the PKK and the Kurdish issue. One is actually the arms embargo from both Finland and Sweden to Turkey. The third one is the issue of not getting the F-35s.

So you know, if you're looking for a balanced compromise, you would probably find some wording and some action and activity on that. You know, I'm trying to read between the diplomatic lines and I'm sensing confidence on both sides.

Then there's, of course, also domestic issues in Turkey. Remember, they have elections in about a year's time. And the Turkish economy, because of the global situation, is not doing that well at the moment.

Of course we've seen this before as well; if you recall, President Erdogan was blocking the nomination of Secretary General Rasmussen from Denmark early in the day because of the caricature publications in Yilas Posten (ph). So it's a tough situation but I believe in diplomacy.

BOLDUAN: One big question is also the reaction of Russia to this. Vladimir Putin is very clear: NATO expansion is the last thing that he wants. He sees that as a threat.

This week, Vladimir Putin says he has no problem with Finland and Sweden joining NATO. But that is also different from what we've heard from Russian officials even also this week.

Just on Monday, the deputy foreign minister of Russia said this move toward NATO was a great mistake and would have far-reaching consequences.

What do you think of this shift from Russia?

STUBB: Well, two answers on this. The first one is to understand that, for Russia, Finnish and Swedish NATO membership is a different kettle of fish. It's already sort of accounted for. And that's why you've heard both actually Putin and Lavrov say it's not a security threat to Russia.

But the second point is that we have to be prepared for this type of oscillation of information and disinformation coming from Russia, as we saw with the spokeswoman, saying it will be a surprise coming from the defense ministry.

So I think we have to stay steadfast and understand there might be some tough language, we might see some cyber attacks. But other than that this is a done deal in the eyes of the Kremlin. And Putin knows this. This is Putin's NATO enlargement. Numbers 31 and 32 in the alliance will be there because of his attack. Otherwise, they wouldn't have gone in.

BOLDUAN: The exact opposite of what Vladimir Putin wants to see happening, it is happening as a result of his war in Ukraine. Prime minister, thank you very much for coming in.

Coming up for us, the Biden administration announcing new moves now to try to fix the baby formula shortage hitting families nationwide, new measures that they say will help boost supply. How soon, though, is that going to hit store shelves?

That's next.





BOLDUAN: The White House taking new steps now to try and fix the baby formula shortage that is so far not getting better. President Biden announcing that he's invoking the Defense Production Act to increase supply. The administration is also establishing Operation Fly Formula, which will move formula in faster from overseas.

Overnight the House passed a pair of bills, one of which provides $28 million in emergency funding for the FDA in the face of this crisis. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen has the latest and is tracking all of this.

How are these measures expected to help?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, let's look at some of the details and how soon it will help parents who are really suffering.

So you mentioned the Defense Production Act; so that's the president saying, look, ingredients that could be -- could go to a whole bunch of things, including formula, we're going to prioritize formula.

Also, the FDA making it easier to import formula to the U.S., something that really hasn't been done before. Also, Operation Fly Formula, the Department of Defense helping to fly formula in from overseas. And also the FDA and Abbott.


COHEN: They've agreed on steps that need to be taken to reopen that shuttered Michigan plant. Now Kate, you will notice in the wording here, these are things like trying to ease or making plans. Most of this is not going to happen right this minute.

It's going to take a while for these things to kick in. Parents are still going to be suffering for weeks to come, possibly even longer. Kate.

BOLDUAN: And you talk about the suffering, Elizabeth. The nightmare scenario that was feared is playing out for some families. There are children ending up in the hospital because they cannot find the formula that their child can tolerate.

What are you hearing from some of these families?

COHEN: So what we're hearing from families and doctors is that these are children that have specific feeding issues. These are not sort of your typical child.

For example, I want to introduce you to 3-month-old Clover Wheatley. She is right now in a pediatric intensive care unit in South Carolina. She's allergic to dairy, to soy. There just isn't much she can drink. She had one formula that was working out fabulously for her. But her parents couldn't find it. She ended up getting quite sick.

The diagnosis is something pediatricians call failure to thrive. She now has a feeding tube in her stomach so that she can be fed directly that way. So it's really an issue.

I would like to introduce you also to 3-year-old Alexis Tyler. She is in Massachusetts. She has autism and she has a lot of feeding issues and will really only take one formula. Her parents can't find it. She is also getting a feeding tube at a hospital right now.

So these are parents who have really faced difficult issues. They are ending up in the hospital. We don't think this is happening -- that it's hugely widespread. But we are hearing more and more stories of children, who have particular feeding issues, not being able to get what they need and then they end up in the hospital. Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's why the timeline here is part of -- is critical to this crisis.

COHEN: Right.

BOLDUAN: How quickly they can get back on the shelves.

COHEN: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Really does matter. It's good to see you. Thank you for that update.

Let's turn now to inflation fears. They are driving down stocks at this hour. A big selloff is continuing with markets on the decline. The S&P is now kind of nearing bear market territory. Shares of Target and Walmart plunged this week following their disappointing quarterly earnings.

Add all this together, let's bring in Matt Egan, who is tracking and following what this is meaning.

What's driving these weak earnings?

Let's start there and what this means.

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: Kate, it's the same force that is angering voters and unnerving investors: high inflation. Both Target and Walmart sounding the alarm about how these price spikes are impacting their bottom lines. Both of these companies suffered their worst one-day percentage decline since 1987.


EGAN: Think about that for a minute, worse than at any point during the COVID meltdown, worse than during the 2008 financial crisis.


EGAN: They both said basically high inflation is chipping away at their bottom lines. Target, one example, said that fuel and freight costs are going to add an extra $1 billion to their expenses.

Not only that but high inflation has forced consumers to sort of shift what they're spending on. They're not spending as much on nonessentials. That left Target with way too much inventory of outdoor furniture and kitchen appliances and TVs. Target has also said they're having a hard time passing along these costs to consumers.

All of this has alarmed investors. One market strategist told me that Target and Walmart has given investors, quote, "a freak out moment," which I think is a technical term --


EGAN: -- about what all this means to profitability.

BOLDUAN: Maybe very big canaries in the coal mine of where we're headed for all sorts of industries.

Gas prices, talk about this. It's impacting these retailers, impacting their bottom line. They continue to climb higher.

Where are they today?

EGAN: Every day feels like there's another record high. $4.59 a gallon nationally, up another 2 cents overnight. Now gas prices are 30 percent more expensive than they were the day before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Six states already at least $5 a gallon. Washington State and Nevada; California, well above $6 a gallon; Illinois, Arizona, New York, approaching $5 a gallon. JPMorgan put out a report warning that $6 a gallon is possible by the end of August, which would obviously be a huge thing.

BOLDUAN: All over the country. EGAN: Exactly. Just to tell you what this means for families. Last

year, households spent an average of $2,800 a year on gasoline, according to research. At today's prices, the annual rate would be $5,000 of spending.

This is a big deal for household budgets and we know that gas prices holds a special place in consumer psychology because every day we drive by and see those prices. And we really feel it when we fill up, especially lately.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Good perspective. Thank you. Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, we're going to show you live pictures of -- there's Air Force One. President Biden will soon be leaving for his first trip to Asia since taking office. The list of challenges as he heads over is long, the issues he's facing are great.

What is he hoping to accomplish?