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At This Hour

Norfolk Southern on Capitol Hill to Answer for Toxic Spill; McConnell Hospitalized after Fall; Ukraine Activates Air Raid Alarms after Massive Attack. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 09, 2023 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, the CEO is in the hot seat. The man in charge of Norfolk Southern is facing Congress right now about the toxic train disaster in Ohio.

Plus "an attack I don't remember seeing before," that is the take from the Ukrainian air force today as Russian missiles hit almost every region of the country.

And Mitch McConnell is in the hospital, an update on the Senate Republican leader's condition after taking a fall. That is what we are watching AT THIS HOUR.


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

Start on Capitol Hill, the CEO of Norfolk Southern is testifying and Alan Shaw is facing tough questions over the rail company's safety practices in the wake of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. And now he has explaining to do before Congress.

Shaw has apologized more than once for the derailment and he has said that the company is making changes and they will do right by the people of East Palestine. Let's get to the testimony from Washington.

Sunlen, what have you heard so far?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sense of frustration from many residents of East Palestine. But we did hear from the CEO of Norfolk Southern, the company and the person who has specifically had so much criticism in the aftermath of this train derailment. And we have heard from Mr. Shaw.

He said that he is deeply sorry of what happened and he promised to see this through, to get it right for the residents there. And he said point-blank, it was clear that the safety mechanisms that we had in place were not enough. This is more of what he had to say.


ALAN SHAW, CEO, NORFOLK SOUTHERN CORP.: I am determined to make this right. Norfolk Southern will clean the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency. You have my personal commitment. Norfolk Southern will get the job done and help East Palestine thrive.


SERFATY: Now in the lead-up to the hearing, the company has released a slew of new safety requirements that they are regulating and self- regulating in the aftermath of the derailment, money investment into the community for the cleanup and more resources on the ground.

So they have made plenty of promises. But for many in the community and on Capitol Hill, it is not enough. We have heard from the two senators from Ohio today, a Republican and a Democrat.

And they have a bipartisan piece of legislation they are putting forward to put more strength in the railroad industry. And this is something they talked about at length, saying that people of East Palestine deserve this.

They called on the CEO to publicly endorse the legislation today. And that is something that he did not do in his opening statement, Kate. But as the hearing is continuing on, perhaps he will be asked if he endorses that legislation.

BOLDUAN: OK. Sunlen is going to continue to monitor this for us.

And now, Jason Carroll is live in East Palestine.

What are the people there about the support of the rail company?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, there is a great deal of concern here on the ground from residents, concerned about the air quality, the water quality and the soil quality.

And it is not just about the environmental impact and safety but it is about the economic impact. We have been speaking to people here, who are worried about the property values and the businesses.

The business that you see behind me, Kate, these blue containers are used to hold hazardous materials. This factory is located right next to the derailment site. This factory owner says that his workers are so uncomfortable being here, they don't feel they can safely work here.

So this factory has for a short time all but shut down. That is what he is dealing with.

I also spoke to a woman who runs a hair shop here. She has lost 50 percent of her business and she had a specific message to Alan Shaw. Listen to what she had to say.


JESSIE WINCE, HAIR SHOP OWNER: How does this make it right?

I don't want to get emotional but this is my income. This is how I raise my family. Just help us. I don't want any help, I don't want Norfolk Southern to win and take this from me. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: So the question for a lot of folks here, Kate, is how do you make homeowners whole?

How do you make businesses whole after something like this has happened?

Alan Shaw in the opening statements said that he is going to be here in this community and Norfolk Southern said they will be here as long as it takes.


CARROLL: And a lot of people just are not sure that is going to happen here. They are concerned about their futures. And as we are listening to more of what Alan Shaw is says in his testimony, folks will be listening to what specifics are going to be laid out in terms of the long term economic plans here in East Palestine.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Jason.

Joining us with more is Sarah Feinberg, who is the former acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Thank you for coming in and I know that you were listening to the hearing as it was getting underway as well. What we heard from Alan Shaw, similar to what we heard before. He laid out the explanation in an opinion piece ahead of the hearing.

What do you think of what he is saying, his explanation?

Do you think that this rail company, Norfolk Southern, can course correct?

Sarah Feinberg, former acting administrator, Federal Railroad Administration: Well, he is saying the right things now. And four or five weeks after a tragic derailment, it has gotten an enormous amount of media attention and congressional attention.

He is certainly in the hot seat now so not surprised we are hearing all the right things. It is about what they do in the future.

What are they doing three months from now and six months from now?

Not just Norfolk Southern but the entire railway industry.

What is Congress doing?

BOLDUAN: It is never as easy to say as blame lands in one place.

And I was going to say, who dropped the ball?

The company?

The administration? Congress?

FEINBERG: The reality is that certainly the railroad is accountable and they should be held accountable. But the industry as a whole has fought every, even common sense safety regulation tooth and nail for as long as anyone can remember.

So this is not going back a few years but decades. So you have an incredibly powerful industry that is going to fight a safety regulator tooth and nail, it is going to be really difficult to get the regulations done that need to be done.

And they need a Congress that is very friendly to them and particularly Republicans. They can be on both sides. So once the safely regulator actually works, they go to Congress and they water it down.

BOLDUAN: And so, now, Phil, come on in.

We have a audio issue that we will try to fix as we continue speaking.

The company has announced changes and they have announced changes and they have laid out what they are going to do going forward. And now as Jason and Sunlen were talking about, there a bipartisan bill they are pushing in Congress.

So there is a lot of things that they are talking about, improved or more heat detectors on the rails, a stiffer fine for violations and so on and so forth.

From your view and what you have seen in terms of the regulation that has been put on the table and not implemented, is there one thing that must be done to improve safety?

FEINBERG: If there is one thing that needs to happen to improve safety, it is to give the safety regulator more authority, to fix the regulatory process, which is completely broken and has been for years.

It is not a Biden thing or even a Trump thing or an Obama thing. It is going all of the way back to Nixon and Johnson. So that is the issue that, if you are going to fix the entire thing, give the safety regulator more authority.

I heard some of the senators say that safety is the top priority. And Alan Shaw says that safety is the top priority. Actually, the only person who is going to really prioritize safety is the safety regulator.

BOLDUAN: Are those empty words from the company and the Congress?


BOLDUAN: -- is profit.

FEINBERG: Yes, not all of them. There are those on the side of safety as long as I can remember. But some of the members of the Senate this morning were pushing back on regulators and pushing back on the administration.

Those are the same senators who have fought regulations for years. When I was the federal railroad administrator, we tried to do a break in regional. But Congress watered it down. We got it done but Congress watered it done. So it is important to hold these members of Congress accountable, too.

BOLDUAN: A lot of this is going to be taking time and take political will and we all know where it ends up quite often. Things take time when you are looking at anything coming out of Washington.

In general, in speaking to the CEOs, in terms of regulation, do you think that the country's rail system is operating well?

Or is it operating on a knife's edge all the time as it is going through communities across the country?

What is stopping it from East Palestine happening in Goshen, Indiana?

FEINBERG: Nothing. Or Charleston, West Virginia, where I grew up. Nothing.

The reality is the rail industry is generally safe. You want to move things, particularly hazardous materials by rail, instead of by truck. That said, it can be a lot better. And it's still not as safe as it could be.


FEINBERG: And it would be safer if Congress would stop watering down regulations, if the industry fight every single common sense safety regulation tooth and nail, with everything they've got. We could make it much safer.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Sarah.

And soon, President Biden is going to be releasing his budget for fiscal year 2024. The White House says his plan will cut the deficit by nearly $3 trillion over 10 years, including raising taxes on wealthier Americans and corporations.

There is a whole lot in there and though the proposal is dead on arrival with Republicans in Congress, it is an important statement of priorities from this White House and any White House. Joe Manchin says he's looking for middle ground.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): So everybody is talking about spending cuts. But can we go back to normal?

Where were we before COVID and how much debt did we accumulate during COVID-19? And is it possible to go back to normal before you go to cutting everything and scaring people to death.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Phil Mattingly is at the White House.

Phil, what statement is the White House making here?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They are ready for a fight. No question about it, Kate. If you are going piece by piece, there is a lot more in here and it is a significant document and a consequential one.

But more than that, it is laying out what the president's policy values. Piece by piece, whether how they plan to cut the deficit by more than a decade by raising the taxes on the wealthy and the corporations, the programs they want to invest in, many that the president has wanted, shut down by Republicans.

In the near term, the fights are on the debt ceiling and in the long term, laying out the 2024 re-election campaign that the president is likely to launch. And now I asked the budget director how this is shaping up with the Republicans.


SHALANDA YOUNG, DIRECTOR, U.S. OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: What we want to make clear is you can do investment in the American people -- child care, paid leave, food assistance, health care, all while bringing down the deficit. But you do have to ask the wealthy in this country to pay their fair share.

So there is a vision here, there is a contrast. You can be fiscally responsible and invest in the American people or you can pull the rug out from people by going after programs that people absolutely need.


MATTINGLY: It's the contrast that's so critical here. Obviously this is somewhat bait for the White House, they want the Republicans to have a budget. They believe that budget is going to be filled with areas that they can attack politically.

All of this is going to set the stage for the debt ceiling fight, where White House officials, including Director Young when she spoke to me yesterday, saying they are not negotiating on this issue. We can have this discussion after the debt ceiling is resolved.

Republicans say that's a nonstarter. Something's got to give and White House officials want to use this document to ramp up political pressure to win.

BOLDUAN: Phil, thank you.

At least 11 are dead as Russia releases missiles across Ukraine in the first major assault against civilian infrastructure in weeks. We will have more on that next.





BOLDUAN: AT THIS HOUR, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is still in the hospital. He is recovering after his office said that he tripped and fell at a D.C. hotel last night. Manu Raju is with us about an update.

What happened here?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are few details here about exactly what happened to Mitch McConnell. We know that he was speaking at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, not far from the White House.

And about 9:17 pm when fire and the emergency personnel were dispatched to the hotel and where, at the time, McConnell apparently tripped and fell. He was rushed to the hospital. He was admitted overnight and that is pretty much all of the information that we have about what happened to him.

Some of the Republicans and Democrats have reached out to McConnell throughout the day. Some have texted him. No one has heard back from him yet. But they are hoping that he is going to be able to make a full recovery here.

And that is includes Senator John Barrasso, who is a medical doctor and a member of the Republican leadership. He was at the same event last night when McConnell fell.


SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): He is so sharp witted and strong and every time when I traveled with him, he is going to be just fine.

RAJU: You think that he is going to fully recover from This?

BARRASSO: I would expect so.

RAJU: Take him out of it, an 81-year old falling, what comes to mind?


BARRASSO: Well, Chuck Grassley broke his hip and he is doing remarkably well. And the president's age and other senators, he is going to do fine.


RAJU: So Senator McConnell is 81 years old. He made did make a recovery from an injured shoulder years ago. And Chuck Grassley, the senator referring to him, falling and breaking his hip, he is making significant progress here. And the hope is that McConnell will as well. We are waiting for information here. BOLDUAN: Manu, we know that you will get us an update when you can.

Thank you very much.

And now, to Ukraine. The White House is condemning Russia's massive missile attack today. The strikes hit cities from Kyiv to Lviv. It killed nearly 12 and injured over 20. The strikes also knocked out power to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant for several hours.

Ivan Watson is live on the front lines right now.

It seems that the missiles were coming from everywhere.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They were. They were fired, according to the Ukrainian armed forces, from land, sea and air. These were different types of missiles as well, as well as the Iranian-made Shahed so-called suicide drones.

An enormous salvo overnight, at least 81 missiles and eight drones, on the Ukrainian critical infrastructure. We saw that several places in Kyiv were hit. And if you are looking at the map of the targets, you can see they came onto Kharkiv to the southern port of Odessa, from Zhytomyr to where the electricity was cut out to 150,000 people, to Lviv, where five people, two women and three women were killed.

We saw drone footage that looked like farmhouses demolished by this. Ukrainian armed forces say their air defenses were able shoot down 34 missiles and four of the drones. But some of the weapons did get through.

A spokesperson said they do not have the defenses for things like Russia's Kinzhal hypersonic missile, which were fired. The Russian defense ministry is claiming responsibility for this incident, in which they say was a response to the attack on March 2nd, calling it a terror attack in central Russia. Back to you.

BOLDUAN: And now joining us is national security analyst Steve Hall, former CIA chief of Russian operations.

You have multiple cities, targeting civilian critical infrastructure.

Where does this tell you where Putin is on the conflict?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That is an interesting question, Kate. On the strength side, it shows that Russia still has the capability largely with standoff missile attacks to pretty much hit any location it wants to in Ukraine, whether it is near to the front or much further away.

They are going to continue to do this, hoping to sap the Ukrainians' morale and will to fight. Hitting the infrastructure like this in the cities is mostly a morale type thing but some impact on the military side as well.

But it is a weakness, too, Kate, because they don't have any other weapons that they can use successfully in Ukraine at this point. The ground war has turned into a slugfest, with neither side making a lot of gains at this point.

So Russia has to rely on these standoff weapons that are also extremely expensive and they don't probably have a whole lot of them left.

BOLDUAN: You know, the Director of National Intelligence is back on Capitol Hill, speaking to members of Congress yesterday. And she said that Putin is preparing for a long war, years.

What is the implication of that and why would Putin want that?

HALL: Well, again, I am not sure that Putin and the Kremlin have a whole lot of options. So they can't go home and say, well, it did not work out so well. That would be inimical to who Putin is.

It would also really threaten his regime and him personally. So if that is not an option, we already know the other thing that is not an option, which is a quick victory, because it did not happen. And there no sign, at least according to the intelligence community, that it is going to happen again.


HALL: So we are stuck in a slugfest. I think Putin is going to turn it into a frozen conflict so you have forces on the ground but no real resolution.

BOLDUAN: Yes, you are right, there is precedent in watching this play out before.

On the question of supplying more advanced weapons to Ukraine, President Biden has said and still says no to sending fighter jets. The former NATO secretary-general Rasmussen was on the show yesterday. And let me play what he said.


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, FORMER SECRETARY GENERAL, NATO: Well, I -- actually, I don't understand why we have all of those, I'll call them self-imposed restrictions on weapon deliveries.

The fact is that the Russians have just moved their missile launchers beyond the reach of the Ukrainians. So it doesn't make sense that we have restrictions on our weapon deliveries. One argument I often hear is the risk of provoking Putin, to give incentives to escalate the war.


RASMUSSEN: But the fact is that Putin is the one who escalates. And one or two steps behind, we deliver heavier and heavier weapons. But the fact is you cannot win a war by an incremental, step by step approach. You have to surprise. You have to overwhelm your adversary.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: I thought that it was an interesting way he laid it out, kind of speaking and pushing back on the reasoning that he has heard on why, of this incremental approach. He is -- what he is saying is that more weapons don't force Putin to escalate. Putin is escalating on his own.

Is that how you see it?

HALL: I don't have a whole lot of disagreement with the argument. I think the language of power is what Putin speaks. So when we are talking about diplomacy or soft power, that is less impactful to Putin.

I think we need to continue support to Ukraine. I was struck, Kate, by the DNI's comments yesterday and the prevalence and the prominence of statements in the commentary, which essentially indicated that the administration is still very concerned about escalating this war into, you know, not just a Ukrainian war but a broader war with the West.

So it is a tough situation for the administration to be in. But they can't just support Ukraine and be glib about the possibility that Russia could make this thing bigger. So that is a concern as well.

BOLDUAN: It is a little bit of both, all of these things. Thank you, Steve.

HALL: Sure.

BOLDUAN: The bodies of two Americans killed in Mexico, they are coming back to the United States today. The new details that we learned about the investigation into the kidnapping and also, what happens now?