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Biden to Focus on Abortion Rights as Midterms Near; Abrams and Kemp Battle over Abortion and Crime in Georgia Debate; Russian Rocket Attacks Damage Water, Power Facilities in Kyiv. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 18, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR President Biden is making a big promise today and is putting abortion rights directly on the ballot for the midterms.

Plus charges against a major company and a guilty plea for financing ISIS.

And actor Kevin Spacey is back on the stand today, defending himself against sexual assault allegations. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. President Biden is making a move today to try and put abortion rights back in the spotlight and back on the ballot.

With the midterm elections three weeks from today, the president is speaking soon at a DNC event in Washington, where he is expected to make a promise that his first move in the new year will be to codify Roe v. Wade.

That is if Democrats don't lose power. This is one of the many topics that candidates debated last night in key races across country. But let's get to the White House. Jeremy Diamond is standing by.

What is the president laying out in this speech?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Biden is trying to put an issue that he and his advisers believe is advantageous to Democrats front and center, with three weeks to go before the midterm elections.

The president is expecting to make a major pledge. This is to promise that the first bill he will send to Congress, in the new Congress, if Democrats retain the House and expand their majority in the Senate, that it will be a bill to enshrine the abortion rights from Roe v. Wade into law. And the president aiming to sign that bill into law if all of the

conditions are met by the 50th anniversary of that landmark Supreme Court case, a 50-year anniversary that comes on January 22nd of next year.

All of this, of course, contingent upon Democrats expanding the majority in the Senate.

We know right now Democrats have that slimmest of slim majorities with 50 senators, two of those senators are unwilling to do what the president wanted to do, which is to carve out an exception to the filibuster to pass this without getting the required 60 votes.

Now the president and his advisers believe this is an issue that is going to galvanize Democratic voters. But we've seen in recent weeks some of the momentum experienced over the summer. It appears to be because of the economy, because of inflation concerns and gas prices increasing in recent weeks.

We see in recent polling, for example, 90 percent of voters say that the economy is one of those issues that is very or extremely important. Abortion comes in there at just 72 percent. And that is the case in several other polls as well.

But you will hear the president talk about abortion rights and lay out that contrast. Remember, Democrats want this to be a contrast election with Republicans. He'll also talk about some of the more extreme policies that some Republicans are pushing in states and enacted in a number of states across the country. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much.

So in Georgia, a bitter rematch four years in the making. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams faced off in what is likely their only debate ahead of the midterms. And important to note, early voting is already underway in that state. CNN's Eva McKend is live in Atlanta where she's been posted for us for a while now.

Eva, you know the ins and outs of what is going on in all of the races there.

So what did voters hear last night in this debate?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you are familiar with these two out on the campaign trail, their message last night at a debate similar to what they tell voters on the campaign trail.

Governor Kemp arguing that he has been strong on the economy, saying look at his record and that he is best positioned to continue to steer Georgians through inflation. Meanwhile, Abrams, a champion of Medicaid expansion and free technical college, she argues that his policies on abortion, on guns are too extreme.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STACEY ABRAMS (D-GA), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Because of the criminal carry law that Brian Kemp signed into law, there is no longer a background check for those who have concealed carry permits. That makes all of us --

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): There is a federal background check on every individual that buys a firearm in the U.S. --


ABRAMS: That is not true.


ABRAMS: That is not true.

KEMP: I understand the point you're making. But the point is, when you buy a firearm, you get a background check.


KEMP: None of the laws --


ABRAMS: Mr. Kemp, if you purchase a weapon in Georgia through a gun sale or a private sale, your --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to have to move on.

KEMP: I've interrupted you tonight.



MCKEND: Now other key moments included when Kemp was asked if he would ban contraception. He said that was not his desire. Of course that question pertinent because that comes within the context of Kemp overseeing one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Abrams was asked if she would accept the results of the election. Abrams did not concede to Kemp in 2018. She acknowledged he was the governor but did not formally concede. She said that I will always acknowledge the outcome of elections but I will never deny access to every voter. Kate.

BOLDUAN: It is good to see you. Thank you.

So there were two other important debates last night as well. Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance went at it once again and again it got personal pretty quickly.

And in the Utah Senate race, independent Evan McMullin accused Republican Mike Lee of betraying America over the 2020 election and the Capitol insurrection. CNN's Omar Jimenez is tracking this for us.

Nobody was pulling punches last night.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not at all. And in Ohio it was contentious for the second time in as many debates between Congress man Tim Ryan and J.D. Vance. Honestly, it felt personal at points. Vance was criticizing Ryan for sucking up to Nancy Pelosi.

Ryan was criticizing Vance for sucking up to president Trump.

But one of the most heated exchanges came when discussing the replacement theory, that white people are being replaced slowly and intentionally by migrants and minorities.


REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH): This is who he's running around with. Talking about replacement theory. There is no big grand conspiracy. This is a country that has been enriched by immigrants from all corners of the world. There is no -- and the problem --

J.D. VANCE (R-OH): It is shameful for to accuse me of that.


RYAN: My turn, pal.

VANCE: What happens is that any own children, my biracial children get attacked by scumbags online and in person because you are so desperate for political power that you'll accuse me, the father of three beautiful biracial babies, of engaging in racism. We're sick of it.


JIMENEZ: You could feel the stakes of that race on the stage. But this wasn't the only debate last night. Over in Utah, independent Evan McMullin was up against GOP incumbent Mike Lee. And while they do have a lot in common, some of the sharpest attacks came over January 6. Take a listen.


EVAN MCMULLIN (I-UT): Despite Senator Lee, it is a betrayal of the American republic, you were there to stand up for our -- for our Constitution. But when the barbarians were at the gate, you were happy to let them in.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): There is absolutely nothing to the idea that I would have ever supported, ever did support a fake electors plot. Yes, there were people who behaved very badly on that day. I was not one of them. I was one of the people trying to dismantle this situation.


JIMENEZ: And the context there is CNN reporting back in April revealed that Mike Lee did reach out to chief of staff Mark Meadows in the days after the election, showing initial support to challenge the election results.

And some notable things about that election, this Senate race I should say. It the only race where Democrats didn't field a candidate. They clearly feel Evan McMullin could be their guy. Also Mitt Romney hasn't endorsed either candidate, saying they're friends but it comes despite Mike Lee pleading for him to do so.

So we'll see if that contributes to any difference now three weeks to Election Day.

BOLDUAN: That is right. It is good to see you. Thank you.

Joining me now for more is CNN senior political analyst Nia-Malika Henderson and Shannon McCaffrey, a political reporter at "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution."

Nia, let's start with the Utah Senate race. We don't have a lot of polling out of Utah to give a good sense of where that race truly stands.

But the fact an independent candidate is making a real run for it in Utah, what statement is that making about the Republican Party right now do you think?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is a fractured party. And Trump still remains a powerful figure but there are people in that state who have some skepticism about him, skepticism about Mike Lee, who has in some ways carried water for Donald Trump.

Donald Trump carried Utah in 2020 by something like 20 points. This race seems to be quite close. The polls, as you said, there have been a lot of polls but maybe it is within the margin of error, two, three, four points or so. So it is certainly a race to watch.

You've got a candidate in Evan McMullin who is an independent, who ran in 2016. He got about 25 percent of the vote in Utah when he ran in 2016.


HENDERSON: So they've got some familiarity with him there. So we'll see where this plays out.

I think one of the stories about this entire campaign cycle is that incumbents have tended to be fairly strong. Ultimately many it seems like incumbents have been able to pull ahead in Utah and in other states as well.

BOLDUAN: And what Jeremy was talking about at the top of the show, President Biden is making an effort today to put abortion squarely on the ballot, back in the spotlight for voters with this speech and this promise that he's making today.

What do you think it does? HENDERSON: Listen, I think it reminds Democratic voters and independent voters of the stakes. One of the reasons that you have Democrats including Biden wanting to talk about abortion, they feel like it paints Republicans as extremists.

And so if you could remind Democrats, if you could remind independents, if you could remind sort of suburban swing voters, college educated, white voters of that, maybe that will make them go to the ballot.

Not so much think about other issues like crime and immigration, like the economy. But they will want to vote for Democrats with this promise if they could codify Roe v. Wade. That would be difficult. They would have to control the House and the Senate by much wider margins after the midterm elections are done.

But Democrats know this is an issue that works for them, that there are certain number of voters who have been keyed in and energized by overturning Roe v. Wade. So that is why they want to put this front and center today.

BOLDUAN: And this really transitions into the Georgia races really, Shannon, perfectly. On two fronts. One, abortion rights was a topic last night between Kemp and Abrams. But also kind of no time like the present to -- for any candidate to be making their final argument.

Because I was just seeing the early voting, the day first voting numbers are in from Georgia. And they're setting a record already. Over 131,000 Georgia voters cast their ballot. And that is an 85 percent increase from the 2018 midterms and nearing the day one voting turnout in the 2020 presidential election, Shannon.

SHANNON MCCAFFREY, "THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION": Yes, the turnout was spectacular yesterday. And as you mentioned, it was just the first day of early voting. It suggests that perhaps voters are a bit more energized than what some of the polls have reflected so far.

And Biden putting this abortion agenda -- abortion back on the agenda -- is going to be welcomed by both Stacey Abrams and Raphael Warnock. They bought feel like they're on the side of Georgia voters. Support for abortion rights in Georgia is fairly high.

So as much as that issue could remain front and center, they are happy about. Brian Kemp did close the door on further restrictions on abortion. Some folks want to limit what you could do with embryos that are made through IVF and also restrict plan B medications.

And he made it clear that is not where he was going. He doesn't sound interested in taking up further abortion restrictions.

BOLDUAN: Some voters do seem open to a split ticket in Georgia, which is an interesting thing to consider, that people need to think about. People looking like they're willing to go with Brian Kemp but not voting for Walker.

What are you seeing out there? MCCAFFREY: Yes, finding some of those voters. Some voters, they're really impressed with Kemp's handling of the economy and they like that he pushed back against Trump during the election. But they can't stomach Herschel Walker. They're still looking at it as some of his personal issues are really hard to take.

He did himself a favor on Friday's debate. He came off much better than many folks thought he would but there are still some suburban Republicans, some independents that are having a tough time getting behind him.

BOLDUAN: Shannon, it is great to have you on.

Nia, it is great to see you as always.

So 30 percent, that is how much of Ukraine's power stations have been wiped out and that is just in the last week. One of President Zelenskyy's top advisers joins me next.





BOLDUAN: Ukraine's president said roughly one-third of the power stations have been destroyed by Russian strikes and that is in just the last week. And again today another round of Russian rocket attacks hit Kyiv's water and power facilities. CNN's Nic Robertson is live in Kyiv with the latest for us.

Nic, what are you seeing today?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Kyiv power stations here targeted, missiles hitting it early on in the day. The power hit sent sort of electrical shock waves across the city if you will. It took our signal down for a while.

On the left bank of the city, just across the river behind me there, part of that area without electricity, without water; either low pressure or no water coming through at all.

Shot to the west of Kyiv, about a hundred miles away, they were targeted there and many of the residents without water and electricity to the south and east. Dnipro without power and water; Kharkiv to the east of here, that also struck. Not clear what the target was there.


ROBERTSON: But what we're hearing from the mayor of Kyiv now is a request for the citizens here to use less electricity, to try to conserve it; switch off lights, don't put -- don't use heating if you don't have to. Because they are trying to speed up the repair of the damage and not

have to institute rolling blackouts. But what is becoming very clear, Russia is instituting a campaign of attrition to wear down and break Ukraine's electrical producing capability and capacity.

And that seems to be an effort to try to break the resolve of the Ukrainian people, which is absolutely not happening. So Russia losing on the battlefield, now switching it to the cities, trying to take out all of the electricity facilities.

BOLDUAN: Nic, thank you so much for that reporting.

There is also new reporting that Russia's recent onslaught of rocket and drone attacks is taking a toll on its own weapons supply. American's top spy chief said Russia is using its most precise munitions at a, quote, "unsustainable rate." Katie Bo Lillis has more details on this.

Katie, what you have learned?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we heard from the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines is that the United States believes that Russia is firing its precision munitions at an unsustainable rate.

And part of the reason why Haines and other officials believe that Russia has been forced to turn to countries like Iran and North Korea to provide it with weapons, in particularly, Russia has leaned heavily on the Iranian made drones that they have used to strike Ukrainian energy infrastructure specifically in recent weeks and days.

The U.S. intelligence community now sees Russia using these drones as kind of a replacement precision munition. What one Western military analyst described to me as kind of a poor man's precision munition.

And Director Haines went on to say the United States now believes that U.S. sanctions and export controls have contributed to Russia's supply woes inside of Ukraine. Not only is Russia burning through its precision stocks on its own, it is also struggling to replenish those weapons because it can't get the components that it needs.

And I want to share what Avril Haines said herself yesterday.

"Export controls have forced Russia to rely on contraband ships where it can and frankly jerry-rigged microelectronic components, when no alternatives exist, steps that are probably leading to weapons and systems that are less capable."

I also spoke to another source, who emphasizes Russia still have plenty of old Soviet missiles to fire on Ukraine. So important not to interpret this as Russia is running out of bullets. But still an important signal that Russia's military arsenal has some weaknesses.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Joining me now, is Igor Zhovka, the deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine and President Zelenskyy's change diplomatic adviser.

Thank you so much for being here. We were just talking about that 30 percent of the Ukraine power stations have been destroyed in the past week.

What does that mean for the people of Ukraine?

IGOR ZHOVKA, DEPUTY HEAD, OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: That means that we're having a very hard winter and difficult winter. And winter which will cause probably suffering because Russia deliberately hits the energy infrastructure, critical infrastructure.

So Russia is fighting not against the armed forces or military infrastructure. Russia is fighting against civilians. Russia is hitting electricity, thermal power plants, other sources of energy, in order to make this winter even worse for Ukraine.

And Russia is killing people because when they tried to hit the electricity, they sometimes miss and instead they are hitting the other objects like building. That's what happened in Kyiv yesterday, with a attack. Five people died because of a drone attack.

Today they hit the power plant and, ahead of winter time, they will be going further and further.

BOLDUAN: Further and further.

Do you see this, it is a pattern that is emerging.

Do you see this pattern or tactic of aerial bombardment and striking civilian targets, do you see this now as a new phase of this war?

ZHOVKA: Yes, I see this as a new phase of war, because Russia is having absolutely no success on the battlefield. You see our counter advances in almost all of the front lines we're having with Russia.


ZHOVKVA: We're advancing in the east of Ukraine, we're advancing in the south of Ukraine and they are not managing successes, the losses in the battlefield. That is why to have this victory demonstrated to their people and demonstrating their propaganda.

They are hitting the civilian infrastructure. They're killing civilians and saying, yes, see, we are making success. Ukrainians are weak and panicking.

But we're not panicking. This effect, they want to have panic in Kyiv and other cities, this was not achieved. We're so concentrated and each of us knows what to do. These objects are almost immediately being repaired. The electricity supply has been restored almost every time. So we're struggling in our victory.

BOLDUAN: CNN is reporting that one of the drones used to attack Kyiv yesterday had the phrase "for Belgorod" written on it. You could see it on the pieces that remain behind. It appears to be a reference to explosions in recent weeks in Russia's Belgorod region.

Ukraine has not commented on those incidents.

But if this is retaliation for those incidents, what do you say?

ZHOVKVA: You know, I hate to commit to this narrative that they always seek counter responses. I mean, can you tell me this is the first time that ballistic missiles are hitting Ukrainian objects and cities and civilians throughout the open wars from 24th of February?

Yes, they started to fight with drones but drones is just another weaponry which they obtained. But I mean, every day and night of this war, we're having severe attacks on the territory of Ukraine. So it is nothing to do with any responses. This is about their tactics, fighting with civilians rather than with military.

BOLDUAN: One thing we know for sure is civilians have been caught up in the fighting since the beginning of the Russian invasion. That is for sure. President Zelenskyy has made clear this kind of air assault is why he's calling for and the way he described it in his words is significantly more modern air defense systems and a greater missile provision for such systems.

Can you defend against this new tactic, in this new phase as you say, without these more advanced systems?

ZHOVKVA: No. Not 100 percent. A week ago when they started this massive ballistic missile attacks against Kyiv and other cities of Ukraine, only less than half was intercepted. Imagine if we had the most sophisticated Western origin air defense and anti-missile systems we're demanding from our partners.

If we have them, we have done more, much more. Not definitely 100 percent. It is probably impossible for done 100 percent. But much more and less Ukrainians, if any will be killed or wounded.

So that's why, yes my president is asking from each and every leader, we're thanking the international community for reacting so quickly. Just last week, we had the reaction from G7 leaders and from the U.N. General Assembly and we had a very important Ramstein meeting, the sixth one from, if I'm not mistaken, NATO, where they discussed concrete, sophisticated pieces of air defense system which will be immediately supplied to Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: Igor Zhovkva, thank you so much for coming on.

ZHOVKVA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: The Justice Department is announcing right now -- you're look at a live picture of this -- they're announcing a plea deal right now with a French company on a federal conspiracy charge to support ISIS and other terror groups. Details next.