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At This Hour

Biden to Announce Ideas to Lower Gas Prices, Releasing Another 15 Million Barrels from Strategic Petroleum Reserve; Rubio and Demings Clash in Fiery Debate; Putin Announces Martial Law in Four Regions of Ukraine. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 19, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, with the midterm election on the line and on his mind, President Biden lays out another plan.

A welcome home for an Iranian rock climber.

But are her troubles just beginning?

And benefits of sleep. A new study laying out the real danger to your health when you do not get enough. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here.

President Biden is taking more steps to try to lower gas prices today. And it's no coincidence he's making these moves with the midterm elections less than three weeks away.

This afternoon the president is expected to announce he's authorizing the release of another 15 million barrels of oil from the nation's emergency stockpile. Gas prices have dropped significantly from the peak this summer. But they are still higher than this time a year ago.

And they know it and are taking note. Let's start at the White House. Jeremy Diamond is there.

What are you learning that the president is going to say today?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, President Biden is expect to announce 15 million barrels of oil to be released from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

That would round out the 180 million barrels of oil the president had pledged to release last spring to try to stabilize oil markets and bring the price of gas down because of the effects of the war in Ukraine. Now of course, the U.S. is also dealing with the effects and will be

dealing in the future with the effects of this 2 million barrels per day of production cut from OPEC+. That was announced just a couple weeks ago.

To put this 15 billion barrels of oil in perspective, the U.S. on an average day consumes about 20 billion barrels of oil. So to be clear, this is not going to have a dramatic effect on gas prices or on oil prices.

But it is intended to try to send a signal to oil markets and also to, of course, American voters, who will head to the polls in three weeks, if they haven't already voted by mail. Crucially, the administration is also announcing a plan today to purchase more oil to replenish the reserve, which is low at 400 million barrels.

Beyond that, of course, the U.S. is saying it is possible it could do additional releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve should market conditions call for it in the future.

BOLDUAN: The IRS is announcing a change in response to high inflation.

What can you tell us about that?

DIAMOND: The IRS is adjusting the tax brackets, adjusting the standard deduction that taxpayers are allowed to take because of inflation. You see it there, this is the standard deduction adjustment for 2023 for couples, of $,1800 more they can deduct, $900 more for individuals and heads of household going up from $19,400 to $20,800.

It's also affecting the threshold income level. Each one of those going up by about 7 percent. And this is going to help folks in particular whose salary increases have not kept up with inflation, which is the majority of Americans. Their salary increases have not kept up with inflation, so they will be getting some kind of a boost.

Most people will, next year with their tax deductions and tax increases.

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you so much.

Joining us for more, is CNN commentator Catherine Rampell. She writes for "The Washington Post."

Good to see you.

How much of an impact do you see this having?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's not that big of a deal, in the sense this is part of a broader release that the president actually authorized back in March. It's not a new thing. It's like he had authorized a release of 180 million barrels of oil; this is the last tranche of it.

As Jeremy pointed out, it's not even sufficient -- this 15 million barrels is not even sufficient to account for a full day's oil consumption in the United States. I think it's a signal he's doing something. But realistically it's a drop in the barrel, if you will.

BOLDUAN: Another thing that Jeremy touched on that you think should get more attention.


BOLDUAN: There's another aspect that you think might have more of an impact, maybe not necessarily immediately on gas prices for consumers.

RAMPELL: Right. So the Strategic Petroleum Reserve release has gotten the most attention but the more significant thing the administration has done is essentially announced a price floor to replenish the reserve.

What that means for oil producers is they might be worried right now, if a recession is imminent, that oil prices would crash. This is what's happened in the past. It's part of the reason they might be holding back production.

Oil prices are high today but if we see them go way down again, as we saw in early 2020, maybe they're going to lose their shirts. So this is a form of insurance so they limit the risk of losing a lot of money by setting a price floor for -- it's a bit counter intuitive.

But basically the idea is it should encourage energy producers to drill more. That's what Republicans have been asking the administration to do.

BOLDUAN: A Biden administration official said they will release more barrels if necessary, on top of this latest tranche, these 15 million barrels.

Is there risk with this at some point?

RAMPELL: Yes, there is. I mean, the point of this Strategic Petroleum Reserve is to safeguard national strategic interests, right?

If there's a war, if suddenly the military needs more petroleum products, for example, it's not really designed to get gas prices down for the benefit of consumers. That's how it gets used but already, as Jeremy pointed out, we've drawn down this reserve quite a bit.

I think it's about at half its maximum authorized capacity today. So if we continue drawing it down, maybe it will be OK. But if there is an actual national security emergency and that oil is needed and it's less available, that carries some risk.

BOLDUAN: Yes, there is risk the more you draw down. Good to see you, Catherine.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: A record number of voters have already cast their ballots in Georgia in the midterm election. Early voting off to a good start. Georgia home to more than one of the key races in this midterm cycle. CNN's Ryan Young is in Atlanta for us.

What are you hearing about the big numbers so far?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a big focus on this election. People are energized, educated about who they want to vote for. They've been telling us they're tired of the commercials as well and all of the negativity.

One of the top things they've been talking about, abortion rights and the economy, this line is starting to peak. We're getting closer and closer to the lunch hour. This is some of the longest lines we have seen throughout this day at this location.

On the first day, over 1,000 people were at this small library location. In all the polling places we went to, we've seen brisk lines all the way to 7 o'clock. You can see on the screen there, over 130,000 people voted on the first day.

And the second day it almost matched the same total again, with more than 130,000 people turning out. Absentee ballots, some of the numbers have come in, some 22,000 so far.

We've talked to the folks at Georgia State. They say the vote has been going fast and smoothly. We've also been talking to organizers, telling people to get out early to make sure your vote counts. A lot of people are energized about this election.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much.

That is in Georgia. In Florida, Republican senator Marco Rubio and Democratic congresswoman Val Demings facing off in their first and only debate, the two clashing on many issues.

But it also got particularly fiery on the issues of abortion and guns. CNN's Steve Contorno is live, watching all of this for us.

What are the big takeaways?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These were two seasoned candidates and it really showed. The debate was fiery and spirited. It was also substantive. There were clear divisions between these two candidates on a whole bunch of issues.

Senator Rubio was asked about his past support for raising the gun age to 21. It's something he backed after the Parkland high school massacre.


CONTORNO: Last night he said he no longer backs that position. He was asked for further explain. He said this.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): The truth of the matter is, at the end of the day, Americans have a Second Amendment right to protect themselves. And these killers, if they're as intent on killing as they are, they're found multiple ways to get hold of weapons and cause mass destruction.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL), MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEES: This has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. This is about taking dangerous guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

And the overwhelming majority of people in our nation want us to do just that.

How long will you watch people being gunned down in first grade, fourth grade, high school, college, church, synagogue, grocery store, movie theater a mall and a night club and do nothing?


CONTORNO: Kate, as you mentioned, they also went back and forth on abortion. Rubio saying he's 100 percent pro-life without exceptions, though he said he would support a national ban if it included exceptions.

Congresswoman Demings saying she would back -- she thinks a woman should be able to choose up to viability. So they went back and forth on a whole host of issues.

If you're hoping for a sequel, don't expect one. This was the first and only debate on the schedule between the two. So voters have this in their minds when early voting begins on Monday.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you. Thank you, Steve.

Joining me now is Abby Phillip.

Good to see you. Steve was running through where the fiery touchpoints were in this debate.

What did you notice in this debate and what it says about where this race stands right now?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think this was interesting to watch Marco Rubio's evolution, understanding he would probably have some kind of Democratic opponent. Rubio has been tacking to the Right.

You saw that in the clip Steve played on guns, backing away from his own position. This is someone who ran for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, has been seen as a rising star, as someone who has sort of a cross party appeal at a certain point.

But the way Rubio has been running, the way he ran on that stage last night was pretty much in line with the right wing of the Republican Party.

Val Demings, her job last night was to show she could go toe to toe with an incumbent senator. I think to a large degree, she did that. She seemed prepared. She had her zingers and one-liners and created some moments for herself. It's just not clear, none of us know how that will play with his voters. But that was her task as well.

BOLDUAN: Steve mentioned another issue where they really went at each other, was over the issue of abortion. Let me play a bit of that.


RUBIO: I'm 100 percent pro-life not because I -- not because I want to deny anyone their rights but I believe that innocent human life is worthy of the protection of our laws.

DEMINGS: As a police detective who investigated cases of rape and incent, no, senator, I don't think it's OK for a 10-year-old girl to be raped and have to carry the seed of her rapist.

RUBIO: We're never going to get a vote on the law that has no exceptions, because that's where the majority of the American people are and I respect and understand that.


BOLDUAN: They both pretty much stuck with their party lines on abortion access but when I looked at this in the broader context, it seems to mirror the broader national tug and pull of this cycle.

PHILLIP: I think very much so. It's notable that Senator Rubio didn't say I support exceptions. He said, I don't think that's where the votes are.

That, I think, is a very notable position. To me, Rubio is running based on the premise that, in the state of Florida, Republicans have a general advantage; that if he gets out Republican voters, if he runs about in line with, you know, Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump even in the 2020 election, he's going to do just fine.

You don't see what Rubio said. Any attempt to reach across to voters who might be in the middle, Val Demings is definitely also doing what Democrats are doing across the country, talking about abortion as an issue of bodily autonomy, of choice.

But I think her saying to the moment of viability is something to underscore as well. You don't hear a lot of Democrats volunteering the answer to that question about what the limits are to where they see the lines on abortion.


PHILLIP: She actually did that last night. I thought that was notable as well.

BOLDUAN: Also, real quick in Florida, there's been video released, a body cam video, of an arrest, arresting people for allegedly voting illegally in 2020. This has just been released. It's part of an effort by Ron DeSantis to crack down on voter fraud.

But it's clear, the people being arrested, even the police themselves seem confused by exactly what's going on. This gets back to 2018. For context, in 2018 they voted to restore the voting rights to felons. But it didn't apply to all felons.

It seems something of a mess.

PHILLIP: Absolutely. I really urge viewers to go and read up about this. This is one of those things that could get caught up in political rhetoric. But it seems clear on reporting out there, that most of these individuals were told, perhaps wrongly, that they were eligible to vote.

Many of them were not going out of the way to do it. They were urged to register. When they submitted their registration, some of them received registration cards back in the mail, saying they could vote.

The problem here, I think, is that, for a lot of people, they're going to say, these are felons, no sympathy for these folks. But at the same time it's clear, 20 votes is completely insignificant in the scheme of voter fraud. This is a clear political move here on the part of governor DeSantis.

BOLDUAN: I think that context is extremely critical as we look at new developments and what could quickly become a talking point. Abby, thank you so much.

Vladimir Putin now imposing martial law in the regions of Ukraine he illegally annexed. We have more, next.





BOLDUAN: Russian president Vladimir Putin just declared martial law across four regions of Ukraine that he illegally annexed last month. What that means remains a question.

But Putin's top commander overseeing Russian forces isn't leaving much question about the state of the war. With a rare admission, CNN's Nic Robertson is live in Kyiv following all of this.

What does this martial law decree mean?

What are you picking up?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, we just got a readout on that from the Russian-installed civilian governor of the Kherson region, where this general yesterday admitted his troops were being beaten back and has called for the civilians in Kherson to leave.

And he has been organizing that, leaving Kherson. To explain that a bit, this is the only Russian-controlled city that is west of that important strategic river that runs north-south in Ukraine, Kherson. This city has been vital for Russia to project and push further into

Ukraine. The civilians are being pulled out. But the understanding that the governor of Kherson, the civilian, Russian-installed governor is saying, is, I know, under martial law, the military takes control.

He said we've been setting up and transferring the powers and instructions and authorities from the civilian authority to the military authority. But we're going to do this, we're going to run this area jointly.

Significantly, he said, we have now transferred most of the joint civilian-military command to the east bank. This is the first, firmer indication that the Russian military may be pulling out of Kherson and going to the Russian side of the river. Still Ukraine but a pullout, significant and a strategic loss.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. Thank you for that, Nic.

Joining us to talk about this is CNN's Susan Glasser, a staff writer at "The New Yorker," and retired General Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

I want to ask more about what we're just learning from Nic and what it could mean.

Susan, what do you think Putin is trying to do here?



GLASSER: As far as Kherson goes --

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Susan.

GLASSER: -- if the Russians were actually to lose Kherson, it would be one of the most significant victories of the war for Ukraine and a sign that the counter-offensive launched at the end of the summer is continuing to reap successions in particular with new weaponry coming in, flowing in from the West at a particular rate.

I think that's also one of the reasons you see Putin starting to take aggressive counter-measures, which includes attacking Ukrainian cities with a terror drone campaign. This new announcement on martial law, it specifically applies to the four territories illegally annexed by Russia.

But there's a provision there that suggests further crackdowns could be coming inside Russia itself.

Given Putin's two-decade playbook of using military setbacks in order to further introduce repression at home, I think this is something to watch very carefully. He may be preparing for more extensive crackdowns inside Russia itself.

[11:25:00] BOLDUAN: General, what do you think this martial law actually will do?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all, a declaration of martial law probably gives him of more cover, let's say, legitimacy of oppressive measures for the people who are causing problems for him. But also, it's the way Putin operates.

The more demonstrations there are, the more he uses these demonstrations and efforts to strengthen his own authoritarian grip. It's true that the Russians are losing in Kherson. But how much, how soon and what's the cost to Ukrainians?

But I think the evacuation of civilians, that's a very bad sign. That's just more ethnic cleansing by the Russians, one more way to get rid of the Ukrainian people who had the courage to stay there and try to hang on their homes.

More representation, more potential war crimes.

BOLDUAN: Susan, what do you -- what the general is getting at is something we're hearing from this Russian commander, saying the situation in Kherson was far from simple and very difficult. Those are the quotes in this rare interview, his first public interview, suggesting a retreat from the area might be necessary.

What do you think of this?

Just the fact you have this commander thinking and talking about this.

GLASSER: Remember, this new commander has only been in the role a few days. But he's one of the leaders of the sort of war crimes and the atrocities in Syria that Russia carried out, along with its partner, the Assad regime.

There you saw massive attacks on civilian targets, including incredible bombing of cities, almost carpet bombing of cities. To General Clark's point, ethnic cleansing, I think that's a fair word, when you are forcing mass movement of civilians, including forced deportation of many civilians now, from areas of Ukraine that have been occupied by Russian troops into Russia itself.

This recalls some of the worst atrocities yesterday of the Stalin era and the Soviet Union. And it's not simply for military purposes but also they seem to be accomplishing the political goal of removing potential Ukrainian opponents from their own land.

BOLDUAN: Interesting.

Great to have you both. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Scenes of celebration in Iran as a female rock climber, who competed without a hijab, returns home. But concerns for safety are far from over.