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Zelenskyy Warns Of Russian Plot To Destroy Hydroelectric Dam; Supreme Court Rejects Challenge To Student Loan Forgiveness; Wash Post: Docs Seized At Mar-A-Lago Had Secrets On China, Iran. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired October 21, 2022 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Ukraine's president is now warning they have uncovered a Russian plot to destroy a critical hydroelectric plant near Kherson. The plot includes also then blaming the attack on Ukraine. Russia denies the allegations. We've learned that also that the U.S. Defense Secretary just spoke on the phone with his Russian counterpart.

Let's get over to CNN's Nic Robertson. He's in Kyiv for us at this hour. Nic, talk to me first about what you're learning more about this plot that President Zelenskyy is warning of.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. This plot can potentially be very dangerous. There could be downstream and upstream problems and just only a few days ago, it was Russian officials who were saying it was Ukraine that we're going to potentially blow up this dam. Now what the Ukrainian officials are saying is that the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, a dam on the important and big Dnipro River, just upstream from Kherson is going to be blown by the Russians.

They say that they've seen them placing explosives around some of the sluice gates. And they also say that they've spotted two Russian army trucks with like big tents on the back of them that the Ukrainians believe a pack full of explosives actually parked on the top of the dam waiting to be blown up.

So if you blow it -- if the Russians blow it, then that is going to -- that is just going to spew a massive amount of water downstream, destroying some villages, pushing people out of their homes, potentially killing them, and also making it harder for the Ukrainians to advance to push Russian forces further out of Ukraine in the coming weeks and months in the direction they're going right now.

But upstream, that's a potentially whole other problem that could be potentially much more dangerous. Because upstream of that dam, you have the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. It uses the water and the dam in the river for its cooling system. And what were Ukrainian authorities are concerned if Russia blows the dam, the water washes downstream, washes out all those towns and villages, and there isn't enough water left to run the cooling in that nuclear power plant. And that's very clearly a huge danger.

BOLDUAN: Yes, clearly disaster in the making if this would happen. It's great to see you, Nic. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

So a big win for the Biden administration from the U.S. Supreme Court. What it means for the president's Student Debt Relief Program? The President's Secretary of Education is our guest next.





BOLDUAN (voiceover): Let's head back to Washington right now President Biden speaking at the White House about the administration's economic agenda, including efforts to reduce the deficit. Let's listen in.

BIDEN: And to make sure the economy was stronger than it was before the pandemic. Since I came to the office, that's what we've done. Historic vaccination efforts that saved lives, helped our economy recover from the lost jobs during the pandemic. 10 million jobs created, a record for any administration at this point in the presidency. 3.5 percent unemployment, 50-year low -- 50-year low 700,000 -- nearly 700,000 manufacturing jobs created with companies investing billions of dollars to build industries of the future here in America, proving that made in America is no longer just a slogan.

We're building our roads, our bridges, our ports, our airports. We're delivering clean water, high-speed internet to every American. And the price of gas at the pump is coming down. It's down $1.20 this summer and this week -- last week, it's fallen another 10 cents. And today we have further proof that we're rebuilding the economy in a responsible way.

Today, my administration announced that this year, the deficits fell by $1.4 trillion, the largest one-year drop in American history. $1.4 trillion decline in the deficit. Let me repeat that. The largest-ever decline in the federal deficit. Let me be clear, this record deficit reduction includes the cost of my student loan plan and everything else we prayed for. The deficit is down $1.4 trillion this year, even after accounting for 30 years of debt relief paid in advance.

You know this follows last year's drop of $350 billion in the deficit. And because we're making sure the largest corporations pay their American -- their fair share, cracking down on billionaire tax cheats and giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices in the future beginning just getting underway, which lowers one of the biggest costs that government and families have to pay will reduce because of that the deficit and another $250 billion over the next 10 years. You know, we're going from historically strong economic recovery to a steady and stable growth while reducing the deficit. Building an economy where everyone does well, where the poor have a ladder up, the middle class does well, and the wealthy do very well. They're not hurt by it.

And this is the economic vision I've had for America, and the reason I ran -- one of the reasons. Republicans in Congress have a very different vision. Now listen to me closely. Congressional Republicans love to call Democrats, big spenders and they always claim to be for less federal spending. Let's look at the facts. The federal deficit went up every single year in the Trump administration -- every single year he was president. It went up before the pandemic. It went up during the pandemic. It went up every single year on his watch, the Republican watch.

In fact, in three years before COVID hit, the deficit ballooned by another $400 billion. That affects. And one big reason for that as Republicans voted for a $2 trillion tax cut, a Trump tax cut, which overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy and the biggest corporations. That racked up the deficit significantly. On my watch, things have been different. The deficits come down in both years that I've been in office. And I just signed legislation that can reduce -- we're going to reduce it even more in the decades to come.

Now, Republicans in Congress are doubling down on their commitment to explode the deficit again. Just this week, it's hard to make this stuff up. Just this week, Republican leader says if they get their way, they're going to extend the tax -- the Trump tax cuts which are due to expire in a couple of years. Extend them. They said they'll repeal the corporate minimum tax of just 15 percent that I just sign off -- 15 percent. They'd allow the largest the most prosperous corporations in America to go back to paying zero in federal income tax, it was 55 of them did in 2020.

They said that repeal the lower prescription drug costs, and it will take effect next year, which that's -- and they don't -- these major reductions in the drug costs don't really kick in until next year. If Republicans will repeal it, it's going to raise the cost on -- to millions of seniors and the cost of the federal government will -- to the federal government billions of dollars.


Put it all together. The Republican plan would add about $3 trillion to the deficit, $3 trillion. That's their plan. That's what they did under my predecessor and that's what they intend to do again. Adding another $3 trillion to the deficit is reckless, it's irresponsible, and it would make inflation worse.

For Americans, the deficit could not be clearer. We don't have to take there -- my word for it with, therefore. They've laid out a plan out -- and they laid out very clearly. Congressional Republicans say, and you all know this, their number one priority is to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act. And here's what that means. If they get their way, the power we just gave Medicare to begin to negotiate lower prescription drugs goes away, gone.

If they get their way, the $2,000 cap on prescription drug costs, which takes effect next year, the maximum any senior would have to pay no matter what their drug costs are, would be $2,000 goes away, gone. The $35 a month cap on insulin, which takes effect next year, folks on Medicare, gone. The savings on health care premiums of $800 a year for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act, gone.

And of -- and of course, they're still determined to refill -- repeal the Affordable Care Act, which means an end to the protections for tens of millions of people who cannot afford health insurance because they have a pre-existing condition. Let's remember that. We're talking about millions of people who will lose their health insurance because they do not have a way to get it because they have a pre-existing condition. That's gone as well.

And they're doing everything they can to get gas price -- we're doing everything we can to keep gas prices down, and Republicans are against it all. And it's all part of the trickle-down mentality that says it doesn't matter what's happening on Main Street as long as Wall Street's feeling good. One more thing. If you're worried about the economy, you need to know this.

Republican leadership in Congress has made it clear. They will crash the economy next year by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States for the first time in our history putting the United States in default unless we yield to their demand to cut Social Security and Medicare. You heard that one, right? You all heard them say that. That's what they're saying.

Let me be really clear. I will not yield. I will not cut Social Security. I will not cut Medicare no matter how hard they work at it. Folks, we know what the Republicans in Congress will do if they regain power. They're telling us. They'll be straight up about it. They're going to repeal lower prescription drug prices I just signed into law and raise drug prices. They're going to cut Social Security and Medicare.

They'll pass massive tax cuts for the wealthy, make them permanent. But they're not now the individual tax cuts. They'll threaten the very foundations of the American economy if we don't meet their demands. And they talk about inflation. Everything they propose -- are proposing will make inflation worse. Everything they're proposing would make inflation worse.

Let me close with this. Over the last few years, we face some of the most difficult challenges in our history, both at home and abroad. We're making real progress. We just have to keep going. I know we can. For everything we've been through, I've never been more optimistic about America's future. We just have to remember who we are. We're the United States of America. There's nothing beyond our capacity. And we're better positioned than any other country in the world to get through this difficult period. Inflation's worse all around the world. So keep the faith. Keep the faith. And God bless you and may God protect our troops.

I want to say one more thing, actually, you know, I know, and I don't blame you. You want to ask me about the midterms? Here's what I think. It's been back and forth with them ahead, us ahead, them ahead, back and forth. And the polls have been all over the place. I think that we're going to see one more shift back to our side in the closing days.

And let me tell you why I think that. We're starting to see some of the good news on the economy. Gas prices are down sharply in 46 of the 50 states because of what I've been doing. We're moving in the right direction. There's more to come. State unemployment today -- state unemployment was at all-time lows in 11 states and 17 states have unemployment rates under 3 percent. The new deficit numbers, there's a -- is a record -- a record decrease. It's never happened before. The election is not a referendum. It's a choice -- it's a choice.


And the Republicans criticize my economic record but look at what I've inherited and what I've done and look at what they're offering. They want to double down on the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy, and make them permanent because they're going to expire in 2025. They want to send jobs overseas where big corporations can, in fact, pay lower wages to increase their profits. And these are tax cuts that give most benefits to billionaires and wealthy corporations.

And let's get specific. They want to abolish the 15 percent -- 15 percent. What a terrible thing to ask a corporation to pay. 15 percent tax that I insisted that those 55 corporations have made $40 billion and didn't pay a red cent. They now -- oh, my God, they got to pay 15 percent.

If Republicans get their way, the deficit is going to soar, the tax burden is going to fall in the middle class, and Republicans are working really hard. This is -- this was kind of -- I have to admit, every once in a while they surprised me. They have three -- not one, not two, three plans to cut Social Security benefits. Three plans.

And they're not going to stop there. They're going to do big Pharmas bidding to repeal my plan to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. We pay the highest in the world. And doing so, it's going to raise drug prices and they're going to raise big pharma's profits, they're doing fine, Big Pharma, they're not hurting at all. And they're going to raise your health insurance premiums. It's mega, mega, trickle down -- mega, mega trickle down the kind of policies that have failed the country before and I'll fail it again. And will mean more wealth for the very wealthy, and higher inflation for the middle class. That's the choice we're facing. That's why I think that we're going to do just fine. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the debt ceiling, do you support the permanent repeal of the debt ceiling, Sir?

BIDEN: The permanent repeal of the debt ceiling? What do you mean?


BIDEN: You mean, just say we're going to have a debt limit?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No doubt. BIDEN: No. That'd be irresponsible.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the -- do you have the means and the will to continue supporting Ukraine?

BIDEN: Let's get one at a time, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir. So if you heard the Republicans, you have the means and the will to get to this, supporting Ukraine?

BIDEN: Yes. Because if we support Ukraine, we're supporting all of Europe, we're supporting NATO. Do you think that Mr. Putin decides he's just going to deal with Ukraine and that's the end of it? This -- no. I don't understand the threat that they're saying they may have to stop funding the Ukrainians in their -- in their war against this brutal dictator. Yes. Last one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the midterm, sir. Last night, you said you need 53 not 51 votes to pass your agenda --

BIDEN: I'm just getting greedy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you mean by that? Were you referring to Manchin and Sinema?

BIDEN: No, I just think the more we have, the more certain. 51 just give me one more. I'd like to have three more. It makes it a lot easier. Thank you very much.



BIDEN: Thanks.


BOLDUAN: All right, President Biden right there, touting deficit reduction, taking some questions as well, but also touting deficit reduction. One program, however, working against that deficit reduction, wiping out a big chunk of the savings is spending on the student debt relief plan from the Biden administration.

That plan saw an important win this week before the Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, rejecting a challenge to the President's student loan forgiveness plan, a challenge brought by a Wisconsin taxpayer group seeking to end the program. As it stands now, borrowers can apply to have up to $20,000 in student loans canceled, and that could start happening as soon as Sunday.

Joining me right now is the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Secretary, thank you for being here. The loan forgiveness plan has survived this challenge, we see what -- from the court. But there are other lawsuits percolating in the federal courts seeking to stop this effort. Should people carrying this debt that are going to take part in this program, should they be 100 percent confident this isn't going to get blown up by a court case?

MIGUEL CARDONA, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: Look, we feel a lot of these lawsuits are baseless. We're going to continue fighting for the American people. And hey, I want to frame it differently than the way you said it. I look at this as providing dollars in the pockets of over 40 million Americans. Middle-class Americans making less than $75,000, we know 90 percent of these dollars are going to folks making under that amount. So it's helping the American people at a time of need as it gets through this pandemic.

BOLDUAN: Yes, both of those framings can be accurate, and helpful to some but it also when you're talking about deficit reduction, we know that when you're spending it, it is working against that as deficit reduction efforts, just a reality of it all.


But when you say you're going to fight against what you call baseless lawsuits, do you -- I mean the way it stands with these lawsuits percolating through, can people be 100 percent confident this isn't going to blow up?

CARDONA: Well, look, we -- we're feel -- we feel very confident (AUDIO GAP) to help countless folks who are buried in debt, who are looking for a little bit of breathing room here with their student debt. I am confident that we're going to move forward, I am telling folks who think they're eligible, apply. It takes five minutes to apply, and we'll be processing and we'll be working hard to make sure that we can (AUDIO GAP)

BOLDUAN: I think we're having a problem with the connection. Mr. Secretary, I'm going to hold on to hope is it springs eternal that it is going to - and I'm told by the control room that it is still frozen, and we might have lost the connection. We're going to hold on one second because we hope that we can continue the conversation with the secretary. You have to love technology.

And I think he's back. See? Hope springs eternal, Secretary, thank you for sticking with me. So we were just talking about this deficit reduction -- this debt relief program.


BOLDUAN: Student debt relief program. You and I've talked about this before, and I think it is important to hit on again. This is treating a part of the problem. But this is treating a part of a symptom and not the core of this problem, which is the cost of higher education. There's nothing here that is encouraging or requiring even colleges to help restrain costs and limit the amount of debt that students are coming out of school with. Why?

CARDONA: Right. The relief piece of this is not the root cause of the issue. The president was behind me (INAUDIBLE) increasing accountability in higher educated. We've improved college (INAUDIBLE) students --

BOLDUAN: Unfortunately, Secretary, technology is not working in our favor at this moment. I'm sorry that we're going to have to cut this short because we're not able to -- not able to hear you. We will try to reconnect. We'll have the Secretary on again sometime very soon. Secretary Cardona, thank you so much for your time.

We do need to turn this though because this is just in. We're learning new details right now about the classified documents seized by the FBI from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. The Washington Post is now just reporting that the documents contain highly sensitive intelligence on China, as well as Iran's missile program. Sources tell the Washington Post that if the information was shared with others that it could expose intelligence-gathering methods that the U.S. wants to keep hidden from the world, this, according to sources to Washington Post. The Post also reports that some of the seized documents detailed top- secret U.S. operations that are so closely guarded that many senior national security officials, they don't even know about them.

Earlier this week, the -- CNN reported that Donald Trump's legal team is now currently weighing whether to allow federal agents to return to Mar-a-Lago and potentially conduct a supervised search, in addition to what happened obviously in August with that FBI search. Much more to come on that, of course.

Liz Truss's sudden resignation as Prime Minister setting the stage now for potentially the most improbable of improbable comebacks, so will Boris Johnson try again? The latest on Britain's leadership contest next.



BOLDUAN: Let's turn now to the leadership contest in the UK and the chaos that's going on with all of that. Conservative party leaders in Britain are facing a tight deadline to elect their next prime minister. Moments ago, the first candidate actually announced her bid to replace Liz Truss, but all eyes are still on former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Yes, that Boris Johnson who is gaining some support from people within Truss's government.

CNN's Bianca Nobilo is live in London with the latest development. The hits and twist just keep coming, Bianca. What do we know about who the next prime minister could be?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: developments are coming thick and fast, Kate because as you say this entire process has now been condensed to just a week. It could even happen before then. Now we have one candidate that has officially declared and that's Penny Mordaunt.

She currently holds quite a prestigious position in the cabinet. She's the leader of the House of Commons. She's the first-ever female defense secretary in the United Kingdom. And she's impressed lately when she's had to stand in for the prime minister, in name only, Liz Truss in parliament. People have been impressed with her authority, her sense of humor, and her charisma.

And she announced on Twitter just an hour or so ago that she was encouraged by colleagues to stand and she wants to do it to unite the party, and because she believed it was in the national interest and she hopes to win the next general election for the conservatives. She's most popular with the center of the party. So it's interesting now that she's officially declared, it will make it harder for those other candidates and one particular bombastic blonde elephant in the room to get to the threshold they need to get to the next stage of the leadership contest because she will be stealing quite a few of their votes.

BOLDUAN: I could not top that one, Bianca. What are you hearing about Boris Johnson and the most -- as I would say the improbable of improbable comebacks?

NOBILO: This is the question. It was just being whispered in the halls of Parliament a few days ago, but now it's the open question. Will he stage a big comeback? We know that the figures that Boris Johnson looks up to in history because he loves to steep himself in the heroes of the past from Winston Churchill to Cincinnatus, a famous Roman figure. They're known for triumphant returns having a second shot at power. And I'm sure he loved the idea of coming back and in his eyes saving the party from their despair.

The question is can he do it? Well, let's take a look at the papers today. This one the son says Bojo, I'll be back. The next, the Daily Express he couldn't -- could he -- will Boris bounce back to number 10? Now his supporters will say that he's the only one with an actual mandate to lead because he won the last general election here in Britain in 2019 and that the country wouldn't stomach another leader that they hadn't elected. But his detractors would say let's not forget what happened quite recently. 148 of Boris Johnson's own MPs voted that they had no confidence in him. He's still under a parliamentary investigation and was criticized heavily for damaging the reputation of the party, so very controversial indeed


BOLDUAN: And it seems the confidence and the level of confidence might be very relative these days when it comes to leadership in the UK. It is good to see you, Bianca. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

And thank you all so much for being with us today, I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS" starts right now.