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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Address Future Plans; Biden White House Prepares for Onslaught of GOP-Led Investigations; New Strikes across Ukraine; Interview with Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Armed Services Committee, on Missile Hitting Poland. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 17, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is ready and set to reveal her future plans after Republicans win control of the House of Representatives.

Plus new CNN reporting on what happened behind the scenes as the Biden administration was scrambling to get the facts on the deadly blast in Poland. And President Biden now disputes the Ukrainian leader's take on what happened.

And two of the nation's top law schools dropping out from an influential college ranking list.

This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan.

The focus is squarely on Capitol Hill right now. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is about to make a major announcement on the House floor about her political future. Her speech will come just hours, of course, after Republicans won control of the chamber with a slim majority now.

And it is just weeks after her husband was viciously attacked at her San Francisco home. Her tenure has been historic, the first and only woman so far to be Speaker of the House and she has served in that role twice and has led House Democrats for 20 years.

Let's get started. Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill.

A lot of moving parts and she's definitely keeping people guessing up to the last minute, Manu.

What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. She did not appear at a closed door meeting this morning, where Democrats waned to hear her plans. She had two versions of the speech that she had brought from home last night. And no one knows what she will say.

But we're learning that she will speak next hour, 12:10 pm Eastern, on the House floor. She will open up, come to the floor and deliver remarks to her colleagues. That is according to her office.

At that point we'll learn what her future plans are and, if she were to step aside, it would be hugely significant. She's been the central presence in her Democratic Party, in her caucus, more than any other person, keeping it together both in the minority and the majority.

And if she were to step aside it would prompt a leadership scramble to replace her.

In talking to Democrats, some say it is time for a new chapter. Others are calling for her to stay.


RAJU: What are you -- I mean, at one point, you tried to oust her.

What do you think about that?

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): Well, I think she's a historic Speaker. I think she's a historic Speaker who has accomplished an incredible amount. But I also think there are a lot of Democrats ready for a new chapter.


REP. JOYCE BEATTY (D-OH): I don't always speak for everybody but I'm very comfortable saying that I believe that every member of the Congressional Black Caucus would vote for Hakeem Jeffries.


RAJU: So Jeffries is the New York Democrat and if she were to step aside, he's seen as the likely front-runner to succeed her. Steny Hoyer has not said what he would do, so there could be a fight ahead of the November 30th leadership elections. And then a scramble down the line.

So a personnel shift, a scramble, a shake-up but, no doubt about it, her historic legacy atop the Democratic caucus, people will be reflecting upon that if this is indeed her swan song and she announces it next hour.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. We'll be sticking close to you.

Manu will stick with us. But meantime sources tell CNN that President Biden has told Pelosi that he hopes she stays on. Biden has also congratulated Republicans on their wins and is signaling a willingness to work together.

House Republicans, however, at the moment, are signaling their focus lies elsewhere. Top Republicans pointing to a flurry of investigations that they want to launch and possible impeachment proceedings of Biden administration officials in the near future.

Priscilla Alvarez is tracking this live in Washington at this hour.

There is new reporting that the Biden team has been preparing for this for quite a moment.

What are you learning?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right. The White House has held meetings with Department of Homeland Security officials, especially as it became clear this year that Republicans were going to target Secretary Mayorkas and the handling of the U.S.-Mexico border.

But they've also met with lawyers of the Justice, Defense and State Departments and the reason for that is because they want to be on the same page as they prepare for an onslaught of congressional requests and investigations.


ALVAREZ: Now just to note, some of these investigations, which are expected to be far-reaching and aggressive, the southern border is what the Republicans intend to look into.

Hunter Biden, withdrawal of Afghanistan and DOJ investigations into Trump administration, then, too, the White House has hired people to help with their efforts and that includes special council Rich Saber, White House counsel spokesperson Ian Sams and senior adviser Anita Dunn.

So clearly a ratcheting up within the administration in preparation of what they expect to see from Republicans in the next term. We also know that within agencies there has been similar prep, a small group of officials at State Department preparing for questions about Afghanistan as is the Department of Homeland Security. Kate.

BOLDUAN: It is good to see you.

Joining me for more is Abby Phillip and Manu Raju back with us as well.

Abby, let's start with Speaker Pelosi.

No matter what her announcement is, that we're going to hear in short order, what does her decision mean for the House and for Democrats?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it would definitely be a historic moment. But if she were to leave her post, it would be a changing of the guard and something that has been kind of in the background of congressional Democrats and their internal dealings for quite some time now.

They've faced a real dilemma. Speaker Pelosi is widely viewed as perhaps one of the most effective speakers in history and certainly for the Democrats in recent history. And I think there are a lot of Democrats who are concerned about what it would mean for Democrats to lose that level of experience.

But on the other hand, there is a real clamoring for new blood, for younger blood in the leadership ranks of the Congress. And they know at some point that this day will come when she has to leave, whether it will be today or another day. It is unclear.

But think that that debate is very much alive right now. And I think there are many members, frankly, on both sides of it.

BOLDUAN: And Manu, she's known as one of her party's most prolific fundraisers. And she's had a huge effect on Democratic politics.

And what do you think her biggest impact on the House and Congress and Democratic Party is?

RAJU: There is no other speaker or leader in any of the other caucuses who could keep their caucus in line the way she does. That is been a significant part, a reason why that she has been successful in shepherding through major pieces of legislation.

You could dispute if you're a Republican or a Democrat whether that was good legislation. But she's been able to maintain unity through her course of two decades. It's a remarkable feat, given the significant divisions that could exist, that have existed for some time, between moderates and liberals in the caucus.

Narrow majorities, as in the past Congress, in getting the Inflation Reduction Act through Congress and dealing with all the different back and forth through the course of the past two years.

But also getting the Affordable Care Act through Congress and the House. That was an incredibly difficult task back in 2010, in the first two years of the Obama administration. Ultimately Democrats lost the House that year. They were in the minority for several years until they got back into the majority back in 2017.

So she's been through the majority and the minority, keeping her caucus together and that is going to be the real challenge for the new Democratic leadership team if she were to step aside.

Can they do what she did?

Can they stay disciplined and stay united?

That is going to be a challenge for any caucus and any leader but Pelosi managed to be able to keep their party together through the thick and the thin.

BOLDUAN: Abby, let me play now, looking at the new Republican majority, let me play what Kevin McCarthy said yesterday about this new incoming Republican majority.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We're the only Republican entity that can stop this disastrous Biden agenda. It is official. One party Democrat rule in Washington is finished. We have fired Nancy Pelosi.


BOLDUAN: One thing that is very clear in that statement in his interviews is that he's still running to become speaker. That is very clear in that statement. Abby, but also what do you see as -- as what the new Republican majority rule in the House is going to look like/ There is a lot of people talking as one would expect. But what do you think, Abby?

PHILLIP: I think it is really notable that Kevin McCarthy framed this as a majority in the House that would be really laser focused on stopping Biden and being a roadblock against Democrats. And I think that is largely what the Republican base might want. It is what some of the louder members on his Right want.


PHILLIP: But one of the challenges will be for McCarthy, especially if he is to become speaker, is what do Republicans do that is a forward-looking agenda?

I mean, at the end of the day, they would -- they control now one house in Congress. And they're going to be going to the American people and asking them to give them more power.

And I think that, for some of the moderates in the Republican conference, for the members in the Senate especially, who are going up for election in 2024, the real question is going to be what is the actual affirmative agenda?

And Kevin McCarthy remarks there, tailor made for cable TV.

But it still leaves an open question, what is the forward-looking agenda and can he get it done with a very loud and perhaps more powerful Right flank that is going to be putting a lot of pressure on him?

BOLDUAN: That is a great point. And Manu, senator Mitt Romney has a very -- is a very different kind of Republican from, say the Jim Jordans of the party. He kind of saw this coming if you will.

He wrote an op-ed last week and in part he wrote this.

"Two roads diverge before this potential GOP majority. The one less traveled by would be to pass bills that would make things better for the people, the more tempting and historically more frequented road would be to pursuit pointless investigations, messaging bills, threats and government shutdowns.

"The road we choose could make all the difference."

Romney sees a problem coming here. I know you have fresh reporting and have spoken to him about this as well.

RAJU: Yes. And I asked him about this yesterday, about he thinks it is a good idea to pursue an investigation of Hunter Biden. He said that is not. He said I don't see a reason we should go down that road.

We should focus on inflation and crime, immigration, not issues like this that may please the base in the camp of trying to pass legislation. That is the push and pull of Republican House majority.

There will a push to do significant investigations. Two Republican committee chairmen laid out how they plan to pursue the Hunter Biden investigation. They have subpoena power and they could pursue that.

But the legislative front will be the real challenge. Remember, Kate, there are roughly 30 or so Republicans who come from Democratic leaning or swing districts. And there're also about 40 or so Republicans who are more conservative and come from the Right flank for McCarthy.

And he has the narrowest of majorities. So they will disagree on bills that are messaging bills and have no chance of passing the Senate. They will have a difficult time passing the House because of the divisions that exist internally.

And that is going to be the real challenge for a speaker McCarthy keeping his party united and getting his agenda through.

BOLDUAN: Quite a moment we're watching play out. First and foremost, let's see what Nancy Pelosi has to say just after the top of hour.

It is good to see you guys. Thank you both.

Eight years after a passenger plane was shot down over Ukraine, a Dutch court has convicted several men for the murder of nearly 300 people. Those breaking details are coming in. That is next.





BOLDUAN: We're now learning a Dutch court has convicted three men with murder in the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine. This happened in 2014.

These men all with ties to Russian security services. Nearly 300 people were killed when a missile brought down the Boeing 777 jet. Nada Bashir is tracking this for us.

Nada, this was such a horrible tragedy.

What more did the court find here?

NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, a horrible tragedy and a long awaited moment for the loved ones and relatives of the 298 people who were killed on board Flight MH17 more than eight years since the incident. The Dutch court today sentencing three individuals to life in prison,

including two former Russian officers and a Ukrainian separatist leader. And the consequences of their actions were so severe and their attitudes so detestable that a mere time prescribed sentence would not suffice.

Russia has maintained that it was not responsible for the attack but reiterating today that it found that a Russian surface-to-air missile, a Buk missile, was deliberately launched, given the complex processes needed to launch this particular missile.

But did say that the operators may have been under the intelligence that they were launching this toward a military aircraft. But of course, while Russia maintains it wasn't responsible, these three individuals were tried in absentia.

The verdict given in absentia. And they aren't expected to serve the sentence, given they are believed to be in Russia. But it is the first time that an independent judgment has been given on the 2014 attack. So a significant moment for the families and relatives and loved ones of those on board.

BOLDUAN: That is very true. It is good to see you, Nada. Thank you.

Now to the current war in Ukraine. Russia is launching another barrage of missile attacks today. At least four people were killed and several others were hurt as Russian forces continue to target civilian infrastructure.

At the very same time, President Biden is now disputing President Zelenskyy's take on the deadly explosion in Poland this week. Nic Robertson is live in Kyiv at this hour with the latest.

So the bombardment from Russia continues.

What are you learning about the latest wave of missile attacks?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: We've seen a number of different vital infrastructure facilities hit in Dnipro and Zaporizhzhya.


ROBERTSON: That's where those four people were killed, 14 injured in Dnipro. In Odessa in the south, vital infrastructure again targeted there. Kharkiv as well in the northeast.

Here in Kyiv, the missile interceptions were effective. Four cruise missiles were taken out and five drones. But what we're hearing from the energy sector here is that about 40 percent of the country is without electricity at the moment.

And significantly today we have heard from the gas sector here who say that it is their infrastructure that is now being targeted as well. So Russia has significantly degraded the electrical power-generating and distribution system as well as killing civilians along the way and is now targeting the heating system.

The temperatures have dropped here. You see snow behind me and it is freezing. The power engineers here say that, because it is so cold, people are turning on their heaters more and that is going to create more instability in the system.

Russia intentionally trying to bring down Ukraine's resolve to fight the war. In President Zelenskyy's statement, he has significantly moved his position, his latest is to say very, very clearly, falling in line with what President Biden understands, what NATO leaders are saying.

I said I don't know for sure what happened and the world doesn't know for sure. I am sure, he said, it was a Russian missile. And I'm sure that we fired our air defense system.

He's saying there was a Russian missile that Ukraine fired at and he is falling in line with what everyone else is saying.

BOLDUAN: Nic, thank you.

And CNN is learning new details the about the behind the scenes scramble to get to the facts of what happened in that deadly strike in Poland that killed two people.

The aim of the investigation now is, of course, to figure out what happened and also to prevent further escalation between Russia and NATO allies. Natasha Bertrand is live with all of the details.

What are you hearing?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, President Biden in Bali was woken up in the middle of the night when information came that a strike had hit Poland and that it had killed two people.

Now this led to a series of very urgent conversations between Biden and his Polish counterpart, president Duda, and as well as the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and his Polish counterpart.

A number of calls back and forth to try to establish what had happened and where the missile had come from and make sure that this was not actually a deliberate attack by Russia on Polish territory. Of course, Poland is a NATO ally.

So that is the heart of the discussions. And it became early on that this was not a deliberate attack and it was likely accidental and likely a missile that Ukraine had fired that then landed accidentally in Poland.

And so as this was all becoming clear, based on intelligence the U.S. was receiving and based on the conversations with the Poles, the Ukrainians believed it was a Russian missile.

That was not very helpful. Jake Sullivan did call his Ukrainian counterparts and say to them, look, let's wait off and hold, see what the investigation actually uncovers. So now it is just a wait and see game. And what the Ukrainian investigators uncover, they are at the site in the Poland, looking at this for themselves, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We'll see. Thank you.

Joining me now for more is Adam Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Thank you for being here. I saw you say yesterday that in the end it doesn't ultimately matter whose missile it was because it is all caused by Russia. You have Duda already lowering the temperature, trying to, by calling it a tragic accident.

Why then do you think Zelenskyy is now so insistent that it is not them?

It doesn't make sense to me when no one is trying to blame them.

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, I think the only thing to keep in mind is that President Zelenskyy has a lot on his plate. Dealing with the invasion and the missiles coming in and trying to keep the military on his side. I mean, he should not be saying that, I'll grant you that.

But think it is pretty understandable why he might not get the absolute specifics of this right. I think the big point is President Biden and his team really stepped up and handled this situation with exactly the professionalism that it needed.

And it reminds us again how important it is to have a president with the level of experience that Joe Biden has, to be able to handle the situation, to calm it down, to prevent any escalation and to work with the Ukrainians and the Poles.

And also the point, Russia invaded. Russia is launching missiles all over the place. The reason it landed in Poland is because of Russia.


SMITH: And we do need to be clear on that point.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Chairman, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been laying out his position, his take and position of the state of the war. He said last week, when there is an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize it. And I want to play what he said yesterday. Please listen.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS: The Russian military is really hurting bad. So you want to negotiate at a time when you're at your strength and you're opponent is at weakness. And it is possible, maybe, that there'll be a political solution.


BOLDUAN: That really does not appear to be in lockstep with President Biden's position, that Ukraine gets to decide when they and if they want to negotiate. What do you make of these different positions?

SMITH: Well, I've spoken with Chairman Milley yesterday about what is going on in Ukraine. I don't think it is that big of a difference. I think we have been clear. Biden, President Biden has been clear that we're supporting Ukraine. We're getting them all of the weapons they need to take back as much territory as they possibly can.

But there has been a lot of back channel conversations going on. Jake Sullivan was there in Kyiv a week ago having these conversations, about two steps here. Well, three, actually.

One, we want the Ukrainians to be as successful as possible in the battlefield and we've helped them in being very successful.

And two, we don't want to go to war with Russia or NATO to go to war with Russia. We're very careful about that again. President Biden's leadership has enabled him to accomplish both of those things.

Number three, we want peace. We want the war to stop. We have got to make it clear that we are interested in getting to that end point. And that, I think, is in keeping with what Chairman Milley said.

He doesn't say we should force the Ukrainians to give up territory. He said we have to look how we get to the end of this. And I think that is a very consistent message, hitting on the three points, all crucial to being successful and to help Ukraine to the best of our ability.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Also today is a big day for Congress and your party. We're waiting to hear what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces in a few short minutes on the floor.

What do you hope she announces?

SMITH: Look, we'll be fine either way is the bottom line. Nancy has been just one of the best political leaders I've ever had the privilege of working with. As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, we've gotten a lot done in the last, well, three now going on four years. Couldn't have done any of it without Nancy's leadership.

Her delivery on the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, in bill after bill, she's a master legislator and a master politician who has done an outstanding job.

If she decides to stay, that is great. But if she goes, there is a ton of talent in this caucus. There are a lot of people who could step up. She's trained us all well. I think we'll be fine either way.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Chairman, it is always good to have you. Thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

SMITH: Thank you, Kate, appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Mike Pence tells CNN why the January 6 committee will not be getting his testimony. That and the other news from the CNN town hall. That is next.