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Biden To Sign Executive Order Aimed At Boosting Background Checks; China: Sub Deal Between U.S. Is A "Dangerous Road"; New Polls Indicate Early Concerns For Potential GOP Voters. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 14, 2023 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Today, President Biden is expected to sign a new executive order that he hopes increases the number of background checks for gun purchases. As we know, executive actions like this have their limits.

And given the makeup of Congress right now for the reaction on gun measures seems unlikely. Biden is set to lay all of this out though when he travels to Monterey Park, California, and visits with some of the survivors of January's mass shooting there.

Priscilla Alvarez is at the White House. She's tracking this for us. It's good to see you, Priscilla. What are you hearing about this?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, the White House is clearly trying to keep the focus on gun violence and gun reform. As you said, President Biden is expected to sign an executive order to increase background checks today. And that will include directing Attorney General Garland to make sure that existing laws are being followed.

Now, according to a senior administration official, the outcome of this would be that there would be fewer guns sold without background checks. Now, Biden will also be directing members of his cabinet to take additional actions like increasing public awareness around guns.

Now, as you mentioned, the site of his remarks is significant. President Biden will be speaking in Monterey. That is where in January 11, people were killed during a gathering for lunar year celebration. So, the site where he's going to be announcing this is obviously significant. And, of course, allies say that these calls to action are important and that this may move the needle a little bit and at least raises awareness on the issue. But with a divided Congress, any significant movement, any reform is unlikely, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. That's right. Priscilla, thank you.

So, the Department of Justice is suing the drugstore chain Rite Aid, accusing it of contributing to the opioid crisis saying this in a new filing that it knowingly filled unlawful prescriptions for controlled substances. What they're talking about is opioids. Paula Reid has been going through this filing. She's here with us now. Paula, what more is the Justice Department accusing Rite Aid of doing here?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, here, the Justice Department is accusing Rite Aid of ignoring questionable prescriptions amid the opioid epidemic in this country. Specifically, this lawsuit alleges that between May of 2014 and June of 2019, this pharmacy filled unlawful prescriptions for many controlled substances including opioids. They point specifically to unusually large quantities of opioids in certain prescriptions, opioids like oxycodone, and fentanyl.

They also point to something that is referred to as a trinity. That's a dangerous combination of opioids and other drugs that the Justice Department says are highly abused. Now, they also allege when some Rite Aid employees raise concerns about, for example, maybe this looks like a cash-only pill mill, those concerns were dismissed.

Now, Associate Attorney General Vinita Gupta released a statement today saying we allege that Rite Aid filled hundreds of thousands of prescriptions that did not meet legal requirements. Rite Aid's pharmacist repeatedly filled prescriptions for controlled substances with obvious red flags. And Rite Aid intentionally deleted internal notes about suspicious prescribers.

Now, Rite Aid has no comment but CVS and Walgreens obviously, two of the other large retail pharmacies in this country, last year paid $10 billion to settle an opioid lawsuit though they did not admit wrongdoing. Of course, hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of the opioid crisis in this country, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Let's see where this -- where this actually goes from here. Paula, thank you.

So, China is blasting a new security partnership between the U.S., UK, and Australia. Why they say it's leading down a dangerous road? That's next.

And also, from near collisions on the runway to dangerous turbulence and passengers throwing punches. It has been to say the very least a wild time for America's aviation industry. This Thursday, please join me as we take a look at what's going on here and how air travel can get back on track. I'll be hosting a special hour, Flight Risk: Turbulent Times for Air Travel this Thursday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.



BOLDUAN: A dangerous road. That is from China responding forcefully this morning to President Biden's announcement of the deal with the United Kingdom to help Australia get its own nuclear-powered submarines. Oren Liebermann is tracking this one for us from the Pentagon. Oren, China's likening this move to a Cold War arms race. OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: China lashed out at this agreement even before the announcement came from President Joe Biden and the leaders of the UK and Australia in the video you just saw there. China's Foreign Ministry said as you pointed out that they accused the U.S. of going further down a wrong and dangerous road of sparking an arms race and risking international nuclear non- proliferation efforts. It's worth pointing out that though these are nuclear-powered subs, they are not nuclear-armed subs. They are conventionally armed.


So, China very much attacking this agreement and trying to portray the U.S. as the one that was destabilizing the region. Of course, from the U.S. perspective, it's the opposite. Part of this agreement with the UK and Australia is to bring stability to a region where China is becoming more aggressive, not only visa vie, Taiwan, but more generally with its air force and its navy around the South China Sea and the area.

China trying to portray itself as the stabilizing force here. And we've seen that not only in the region, but broader speaking -- more broadly speaking globally with, for example, it's putting forward a peace plan for the war in Russia and Ukraine.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Chinese President Xi Jinping could visit Moscow and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week. And on the heels of that, the Wall Street Journal is saying there may be an attempt to set up the first call between President Xi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after China trying to perhaps place itself as a potential international mediator here.

But we have spoken with Chinese, U.S., and Ukrainian officials and there's been no comment on that so unclear if it will happen. But, Kate, it's clear where China is heading here in terms of trying to portray itself as the stabilizing factor not only in the region but more speak -- more broadly speaking, globally.

BOLDUAN: Yes, for sure, definitely trying to position itself that way. Oren, thank you for that.

Joining me now for some important perspective on all of this is the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Ireland, Michael Martin. Thank you so much for being here and being in the studio. Appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: Let's start with what Oren was talking about because I want to get your -- speaking about Ukraine. The possibility -- obviously, no one's confirming it, the possibility of President Zelenskyy speaking with -- meeting virtually with Xi Jinping, this would be the first time they speak since the invasion -- the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Do you see that as a good thing? MARTIN: Well, I think it depends. I think China should use its influence to get Russia to stop this war. I mean, this is a war of aggression. It's a violation of the United Nations Charter. It's clearly undermining Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

And Ireland very much sees this along with all of those of us who believe in a rules-based international order that this is fundamentally a violation of that order and an attack on the Ukrainian people. And Russia should stop the war immediately. I'd be careful of language around mediation at this stage because Ukraine did not invite this war.


MARTIN: Didn't want this war. Russia invaded and attacked, and I think it's should cease. But, again, President Zelenskyy, and I would have met him last year in Kyiv -- I mean, a strong leader. And I think, he -- you know he will be able to obviously interpret the best way to deal with this particular initiative. But again, nobody is in any way against leaders like Jinping and others meeting or discussing the situation with President Zelenskyy.

BOLDUAN: The -- there are multiple reports that the ICC, the International Criminal Court is bringing -- preparing to bring at least a couple of war crimes charges against people tied to Russia's invasion. This would be the first international charges that would be brought in connection -- in connection since the start of war, to Russia's invasion.

And backing these investigations and holding the -- and holding Russia accountable is something that I've seen over and over again is part of Ireland's commitment to supporting Ukraine throughout this time. How do you -- it still bears the question even when the ICC makes these important moves, how do you assure -- ensure that people are held accountable for these war crimes?

MARTIN: Well, again, I think, yes, we have been supportive, we have provided additional funding over and beyond what we contribute to the International Criminal Court and other international agencies because we do believe accountability is extremely important, but we should draw lessons from the past.


MARTIN: And that seems almost impossible or how do we do it? Those questions were asked in the past as well. And International Criminal Court did yield results and most you know did in the past, and conflict and so on. We saw that happen in the fullness of time.

And that idea of accountability is very important in any situation like this where you have essentially war crimes being committed against their people that those who are perpetrating this, who are making the decisions, the back of their heads, there could be a time when they will be held accountable.

And I think that in itself is one other important factor in a range of approaches that one takes to an unprecedented war like this. Well, first since World War Two that we've witnessed such a war and with very significant displacement of people as well across -- (INAUDIBLE)

BOLDUAN: In Ireland, it had taken many, yes.

MARTIN: It's in about 1.5 percent of our population, the equivalent of that in about 77,000. And the Irish people have done that willingly because we want to help the family. They've come into our schools, they're contributing to our society, but they want to go home to a peaceful Ukraine.


MARTIN: And they want to rejoin their families. And that's the message I get continually when I meet with Ukrainians who are in Ireland.


But they're very warmly welcomed in Ireland. And that's important. And I think we've got to let people know that weaponizing migration, weaponizing food doesn't work and will not work, either in Europe or in the context of all of us who believe in a rules-based international order. And that is why I think it is important that initiatives are taken to reaffirm that order, that sort of United Nations Charter is the fundamental principle upon which we all operate from.

BOLDUAN: We were just talking a little bit in the break about somewhat of an announcement from President Biden, announcing yesterday that he is planning to visit both Northern Ireland and the Republic next month to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. What will it mean to have him there? What do you hope this trip signifies?

MARTIN: Well, I think Irish people will look forward to welcoming President Biden home in the sense that he --

BOLDUAN: And he likes to talk about it more than anyone.

MARTIN: He goes at me -- he has great affection for his roots in Ireland in County Laois and the Mayo, defends against the Bluets. And anytime you meet President Biden, he speaks about the values that he got from his grandparents in particular, and his parents and those kinds of Irish values around decency, the dignity of the human being, and so forth. So, he's been a great ambassador for Irish values.

But in addition to that, I think the context of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and the extraordinary contribution that successive American presidents and the political system and the people of America have played in terms of bringing peace and facilitating peace on the island of Ireland, I think that is a context as well because we are celebrating and remembering 25 years of peace on the island of Ireland next April.


MARTIN: So, I think the visit of President Biden is important in that respect. And also, perhaps looking to the next decade -- BOLDUAN: Yes.

MARTIN: -- that would continue to American interest with the European Union, the United Kingdom Government, the Irish government, and the parties in Northern Ireland, that we can really create a platform for photo investment in Northern Ireland over the next decade.

And the president's appointment of Joe Kennedy, for example, as economic envoy gives real meat to that idea that working with the European Union and the UK government, we can create opportunities -- economic opportunities for people in Northern Ireland that will really feel like enable the young generations in Northern Ireland today to realize the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement.

BOLDUAN: And there's some big steps being made in that regard as we speak. A lot going on, on the island and on the -- on the island right now. It is great to have you here in studio. Thank you for coming in.

MARTIN: You're very welcome. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: And early happy St. Patrick's Day.

MARTIN: Many happy returns.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So, a first look at what Republican voters are thinking about the 2024 presidential primary, a first read on how these voters are feeling about the possible field of candidates. David Chalian. He joins us next with the new numbers. That's next.



BOLDUAN: The 2024 presidential primary season is really getting underway. And with that, a new look at how voters are feeling in these early stages. And a new CNN poll specifically taking the temperature of Republican voters right now. Take a look at this in terms of the horse race.

At the top of their list for the eventual Republican nominee, 40 percent of potential Republican voters say that former President Donald Trump is their first choice. 36 percent, as you're looking right now are backing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Though as you well know, he has not even announced he is running quite yet.

Let's dive into these numbers because there's much more behind this. CNN political director, David Chalian joins me now. So, David, I love how you described it this morning, which is, this is a helpful look at how Republicans are thinking and feeling kind of at the starting line here. Where are the dividing lines emerging so far?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, we've done this deep dive into just Republican and Republican-leaning voters, and among those who tell us that they're interested in participating and expect to participate in the nomination race. There are lots of dividing lines inside the party. We see dividing lines by age, by income levels, but one of the most significant ones is by education level, Kate.

So, you just showed the overall horse race number, but take a look at it by education level. Among college graduates, you see that Ron DeSantis has a pretty significant advantage over Donald Trump, OK? Ron DeSantis's 41 percent to Trump's 23 percent among college graduates. On the right-hand side there.

The non-college. Trump is at 43 percent, DeSantis is at -- sorry, Trump is actually at 48 percent, DeSantis is at 34 percent. I think the numbers are transposed there a little bit in the graphic. But the non-college world is a big advantage for Donald Trump, Kate.

BOLDUAN: How open -- and it seems -- it seems wild to ask it so early on but I do think is a fascinating -- kind of a fascinating look, David. How open to change are already locked in a Republican voter as it's early on?

CHALIAN: It is so early. You are right to note. But 60 percent of Republicans tell us that they are already pretty locked in, pretty committed to their first choice, that they're definitely going to support them. 40 percent, not an insignificant group, that's a big swath of a potential Republican primary electorate says they might change their mind. So, obviously, at this very early point, Kate, it is a fluid kind of scenario even with these two dominant players, and Trump and DeSantis at the top of the heap.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And most Republicans --most Republicans care about picking a nominee who agrees with them on issues right now more than they do picking one who can beat Joe Biden. What does this tell you at this point? And what are the main issues then?


CHALIAN: Well, I think this is one of the most interesting findings in the poll because if you recall four years ago in the Democratic race, I think we only had one poll, Kate, that suggested Democrats were more interested in somebody who shared their position on the issues than they were in just defeating Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: It's a great point now.

CHALIAN: That electability issue was sort of the driving force. Here, it's the reverse. Take a look. It's about a 60-40 split. 59 percent of Republicans say they're looking for somebody who shares their position on the issues. 41 percent say the primary factor they're looking for is somebody who can beat Biden.

And look at the issue set that's driving the Republican voters thinking right now. Far and away, the economy is most important, according to 32 percent. 16 percent, the second issue is immigration. And then 13 percent say candidate qualities, Kate. BOLDUAN: Yes. And then down below that, foreign policy, which has some real implications and also very informative about where things are and what they're talking about. It's great to see you, David. Thank you so much. Much more to come.

CHALIAN: You too. Sure.

BOLDUAN: Thank you all so much for watching us AT THIS HOUR. I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS WITH JOHN KING" starts after this break.