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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Pentagon: U.S. Believes Russians Are "Regrouping" Outside Kyiv; Local Ukrainians Unite To Fight Russian Cyberattack; Biden Heads To Wisconsin For Infrastructure Push After Speech; Russia's Invasion Poses Risk Of Ripple Effect To Global Economy; White House Unveils Plan For Less Disruptive Phase Of Pandemic. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 02, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with breaking news in our world lead. The Pentagon said just moments ago that the Russian push towards Kyiv and the Russian military's massive 40-mile long military convoy are currently stalled, due to a combination of logistics issues and unexpected resistance from the Ukrainian people. But the Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby also said the U.S. does belief that Russian forces are currently regrouping.

Across Ukraine, grim new scenes of destruction by the Russian military. More than 2,000 Ukrainians have been killed in Russia's attack since it began last week, according to Ukraine's state emergency service, 2,000, a number, a horrific number that does not include the deaths of Ukraine soldiers. CNN cannot confirm these numbers from the Ukraine government.

In Ukraine's capital of Kyiv tonight -- what has become a hauntingly familiar sound, air raid sirens across the city. On the outskirts of Kyiv -- military planes, fighter jets flying terrifyingly low, followed by this.

Russia today also claiming to have taken control of Kherson. That's the southern port city in Ukraine of about 300,000 Ukrainians on the Black Sea. Although the government insists the battle of Kherson still rages on. The Russians have not yet captured the city.

The city council says at least 36 Ukrainians in that town have been killed in the fighting, including a 14-year-old boy.

Let's get straight to CNN's Clarissa Ward who's live for us in Kyiv, Ukraine, and CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live for us in Odessa.

Clarissa, you've heard air raid sirens in at least one location in Kyiv in the last few hours. Is the belief that the Russians are still preparing to ultimately try to capture the capital?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think there's a lot of confusion here now as to what the Russian strategy is for night after night, people have been holding their breath, going to bed, many of them underground for their own protection and waiting to see what they would be waking up to. There are talks that have been supposed to start earlier today. The Ukrainian delegation on the way to meet the Russian delegation, but no sense yet of how any fruit really could be borne out of those talks.

I will say that here it was quieter during the day but then a few hours ago, there was a very loud explosion, much closer than what we're used to hearing and we understand now, that hit a main heating pipeline perilously close to the main train station where thousands of people have been evacuating every single day.

Now, we don't know if they successfully destroyed the heating pipeline and what sort of an effect that will have here in the city in terms of people's ability to get heat. Obviously, it's very, very cold here. There has been speculation for some time that the Russians might try to target heating, electricity, communications, et cetera. But so far, that hasn't happened. As you heard from John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesperson, that convoy appears to be stalled.

It is, however, still perilously close to this capital city of some 2.9 million people. And everyone here essentially wondering when the next hit comes. Will it be in the form of a massive air assault? Will it be in the form of Russian troops completely encircling the city, potentially laying siege to it, cutting off food, supplies, humanitarian aid, medicine, things of that nature.

Already, Jake, it is getting much tougher to move things in and out and hospitals, other key infrastructure, complaining that it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to go about their duties, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Nick, you were there in Kherson a few days ago. What do you know about the battle for control of that city?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah. We've seen the Russian troops inside that city leading away locals at gunpoint, breaking clumsily into stores, filling shopping carts. We've just seen a Facebook post by the mayor of the city and it does suggest that he's made some sort of deal with what he referred to as armed men. He suggestions armed forces, by that I think he means Ukraine armed forces, have in fact left the city.


He outlines what sounds a bit like martial law, a curfew. People only allowed to move around the city during the day. Pedestrians can walk one by one and a maximum of two and they should stop at the first demand, I presume, that is of Russian soldiers there. It's clear the Russians have a substantial presence inside the city. You heard the Pentagon briefing just in suggesting the city is still, quote, contested.

From the residents we've spoken to, the guns fell silent a number of hours ago. That may not be universally across the city itself but it is of strategic importance. It sits right next to a vital bridge that we reported coming up from Crimea and it does appear from reading the statement from the mayor that some sort of arrangement has been played by him with what he refers to as the armed men inside that city.

He says essentially in a statement, if the conditions are met, the Ukrainian flag can still fly in Kherson. We've heard previous statements from local officials in the past, particularly about the state of the bridges. And that's been overtaken by events particularly when the Ukrainian armed forces have pushed back.

I should say, though, from the video we've seen over the last 24 to 48 hours, it does look a lot like the Russian military have significant control around Kherson. And the Facebook post suggests they may have come to accommodation, albeit the one that sounds a lot like it sounds like martial law by Russian troops with its mayor, Jake.

Just the beginning of what we're seeing here in the south. The U.S. has been cleared that while there's been a stall in Russian military progress in the north of the country, they've seen a better momentum in the south. Kherson, it does seem, is changing in its dynamic.

Mykolaiv, the next town, the next major city to its west, that is the scene of fierce fighting, although it appears to be holding Ukrainian control at the moment. Odessa, we heard sustained sirens just after dusk for some time. Real fears that these images circulating of Russian warships on the coast, not verified but do seem to tally with Ukrainian official statements, that Russian warships are off the coast, that they might be having the amphibious invasion that might be part of the broader Russian plan.

You can't really control Ukraine and its economy without Odessa. And this city is very much on edge, Jake.

TAPPER: Clarissa Ward in Kyiv, Ukraine, Nick Paton Walsh in Odessa, Ukraine, thanks to both of you. Please stay safe.

We're getting new images of the aftermath on Russia's attack on Kyiv's main TV tower. Those strikes killing at least five people, according to local officials.

CNN's Alex Marquardt got a firsthand look at the damage.


ALEXANDER MARQUARDT,CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Russia has launched a new phase of this war on Ukraine's communication and information. This was the moment a Russian missile struck Kyiv's TV tower. Today, we walk through the rubble of the buildings below it.

Shown around by Rostislav who joined the military divisions last week, 38-year-old is normally a hot air balloon pilot whose wife and daughter fled the country for safety. The Russian rockets landed all around Rostislav.

ROSTISLAV, CIVIL DEFENSE FIGHTER (through translator): First two, followed by two more, I saw personally where they were coming from. I was standing next to the wall over there.

MARQUARDT: As Russia ramps up its bombardment of both military and civilian targets in Ukraine, it warned that Ukraine security services, communications facilities will be hit to suppress information attacks against Russia. Russia can't help but see that it is losing the narrative. The information war, with the world rallying to Ukraine's side and rejecting Russia, diplomacy, sports, business and on and on.

In the lead up to this Russian invasion, there was a lot of speculation and fear that Russia would try to shut down communications, shut down power and impose a blackout over Ukraine. They have not been able to do that a week over this war by hitting the TV tower and announcing that they would be attacking other communications targets, that may be changing.

While Russia claims to not be targeting civilians, Tuesday's strike killed at least five, the government says, the deadliest in the city of Kyiv, so far. Near the TV tower was a gym, fire still smoldering. Smoke, pouring out of the broken windows, gym equipment covered in dust and debris. At the garage next door, staff stoic cleaned up glass, broken ceilings and through out insulation, all of this steps from Babyn Yar, a memorial to thousands of Jews lost in the holocaust, an area seen so much suffering for the Jewish people hit by a Russian leader who claims to be de-Nazifying Ukraine.


YAAKOV BLEICH, CHIEF RABBI OF KYIV AND UKRAINE: This fellow who claims to be fighting the neo-fascists in Ukraine, bombs that complex that was a memorial to Jews killed by fascists.

MARQUARDT: But the TV tower is still up, now also as a symbol, reinforcing Ukraine's resistance against this increasingly harsh Russian invasion, standing tall.


MARQUARDT: And Jake, we did speak with the owner of that garage, that auto parts store, she told our colleague, Ivana Kottasova, that she decided to stay open when many other stores closed because she sells essentials necessities like auto parts and oil. She also told us that her 18-year-old son has gone to fight against the Russians, joining those territorial defense forces and said, Jake, that right now, Ukrainian women need to know how to make two things, borscht, the soup, and Molotov cocktails -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt near Kyiv, Ukraine, thanks to you. Please stay safe.

Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state. He is the chairman of House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us.

Pentagon says despite the fact this massive 40 mile long Russian convoy is stalled they believe the Russian military is currently regrouping. Is that in line with your understanding and are you expecting a full military assault on the capitol of Kyiv?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, the first part, absolutely, no question they're regrouping, and, you know, there's no indication that Putin has backed off of his plan. So it is logical to assume they'll continue forward.

The initial hope for a quick victory, encirclement of Kyiv and other key cities in Ukraine any getting them to surrender didn't happen. They are regrouping, the key will be once they regroup what do they do? What you describe, do they surround the city.

And if you look at what Russia has done in other places like Chechnya and Syria, you know, indiscriminate bombing, attacking civilian targets, they get more brutal to accomplish their objectives. Will that happen into Ukraine? We don't know, but that's what we have to anticipate happening absolutely.

TAPPER: President Biden confirmed today he is considering banning Russian oil imports, although the White House seems to be now trying to back that back a bit. Would you support that although it would damage the U.S. economy?

SMITH: Yes, I would, that is the one key piece of the Russian economy we are going to go after and if we're doing maximum sanctions, that's the step to take. Now, here in America, we have to be ready for the fact that will drive up oil and gas prices and if we are really standing with Ukraine, we have to be prepared to absorb that. But given what's happening in Ukraine, you know, any step we can take that doesn't, you know, bring about actual warfare with Russia, I think we have to take.

TAPPER: Ukrainian President Zelensky asked the west and the U.S. to help enforce a no fly zone over Ukrainian. Just to be clear for our viewers, that would mean American men and women, navy pilots, air force pilots flying over Ukrainian potentially getting into confrontations, direct military confrontations with the Russian military as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, any circumstances in which you would support this?

SMITH: No, is the short answer, as you asked about banning Russian oil, anything short of open warfare because the goal was stated clearly by the Pentagon, President Biden and others to support Ukraine however we can that doesn't lead to all-out war with Russia because the catastrophe would multiply at some point.

A no-fly zone, that's war. Unless the person imposing the no-fly zone on agrees to it, you have to enforce it by force. Putin and Russia are not going to agree to a no-fly zone over Ukraine so we would have to shoot them down to enforce it. That is open warfare and that is a step I don't think we should take and I know the president doesn't think we should take either.

TAPPER: Ukraine's foreign minister said he told secretary of state Antony Blinken today that Ukraine needs more weapon deliveries as soon as possible. Do you think the U.S. should be taking a larger role in resupplying the Ukrainians giving them a better chance against the Russians?

SMITH: I think we are taking a large role right now and the more we can do the better, it's stingers and javelins and anti-tankers and basic ammunition and guns as well, and yes, we should be supplying Ukraine and working with NATO allies to do that. We've seen NATO allies, non-NATO allies willing to do this, and the U.S. needs to be a leader in this effort.

And I think that's what we do and what we're going to continue to do.

TAPPER: What you didn't mention just now are sending in tanks, sending in armored vehicle, sending in fighter jets.


I've heard a few explanations as to why the U.S. is not doing that, from Ukrainian lack of expertise on how to use this high end machinery, to fears of escalation beyond control, to the idea that Ukrainians can't win this in a conventional war. They can only win it defensively.

What is your understanding of why we are not sending the Ukrainian tanks and jets or do you think we should be sending tanks and fighter jets?

SMITH: No, at this point, I really don't. Part of it is you have to be able to operate the equipment. People also talked about patriot batteries and other air defenses. Those are very complicated weapon systems that are difficult to operate. We certainly don't want to send them in just to have them taken over by the Russians. And also obvious point, tank is a lot tougher to get across the border than a stinger or javelin missile. I think the logistics are very challenging.

So, you know, we're sending the weapons we think will make the most difference and yes, we also need to prepare for a broader insurgency if the Russians are able to start taking over cities.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Adam Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

SMITH: Thanks, Jake. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: From Apple to AMEX, a lot at the companies refusing to do business with Russia now and could it impact our economy here in the U.S.

Also, they cannot leave Ukraine, so instead, they're fighting for their country with just a computer and a Wi-Fi signal. Our next guest is using the Internet to try to go after Russia.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Back with our breaking news, at least 36 Ukrainians killed in the southern city of Kherson. That's according to local officials after an ongoing battle for control of the area with the invading Russian military, many Ukrainians who cannot flee the violence or leave the country are choosing to stay and fight, some use guns and others like my next guest are waging cyber war against the Russian invaders.

Dmytro Bilkun is in Ukraine, sheltering in a compound in the woods and he joins us now.

Dmytro, thanks for joining us.

You work for a software company that's been trying to combat Russian propaganda and disinformation. Tell us about those efforts.


So the company I work for is called Macpol (ph) one of the many companies in Ukraine fighting Russian propaganda, also trying to motivate people in Ukraine to keep up with the struggle, and also trying to inform the Western people about the options of how people can help Ukraine currently. So those are the main three frontlines we're currently working on right now.

TAPPER: You've been connecting -- you've been connecting with regular people through messaging apps to disrupt Russian websites. You believe the Ukrainian government has the infrastructure to defend itself from cyber war with Russia?

BILKUN: No -- as a company, we don't disrupt any website.


BILKUN: That's the thing.

Yeah, we only -- the only thing that we're doing here, is we're trying to reach some people in Russia with the truth. So it's kind of anti- propaganda. Because the problem is a lot of people in Russia, they don't know what's happening here. I even know people whose parents live in Russia or Crimea and they don't believe the things that people describe to them.

They're saying no, this cannot be happening, it's you whose fault -- I mean it's absolutely crazy.

TAPPER: And how do you combat that? How do you get the facts and the truth to these Russians and individuals in Crimea who have been fed these lies from Russian state media?

BILKUN: Yeah, it's only one of the directions we're working on. And basically, what we're doing is we're creating blog posts with sources to truthful information and those -- so we write blog posts and we just tell people things that are not going well here in Ukraine and exactly this and this is happening right now and you can read more on these websites.

And we know that it's working, because actually today, this web page on our website got blocked by a censorship monitoring agency in Russia. We've had 200,000 visits in the last 24 hours on that page before it got blocked in Russia. So, it's available in everywhere in the world except Russia.

TAPPER: If it came down to it, would you take up arms against Russia to defend Ukraine?

BILKUN: Well, I think currently, what we are doing is just as important. But if it comes down to taking a gun? Yeah, yeah, definitely because we don't have, we don't have any space to step back. We're just -- we don't have any options but fight. So --

TAPPER: You're sheltering in place with your family right now. Your dad is a former translator for former President Victor Poroshenko. He's with you too, how are you all doing.

BILKUN: Victor Yushchenko.

TAPPER: Yushchenko, sorry.

BILKUN: Yeah, we're doing -- we're doing fine compared to other people. We still run to the shelter three or four times per day when we see notifications about air strike alarms.


Thankfully, nothing bad has happened in our area yet, but still it's very stressful. It's also quite stressful yet but still it's very stressful. Yet but still it's very stressful.

It's also quite stressful knowing that probably, you might be more helpful to someone right now in other areas where there is more horrors going on but I keep telling myself that the things I'm working on are just as important because they are. Propaganda is a very, very powerful tool right now, and probably propaganda is one of the tools that led to this -- these horrors that are happening right now, because Russia -- in Russia, they were telling people for eight years there are Nazis here, everywhere, everybody's a Nazi.

And this, that's basically just a way for them to brainwash people. And now, a lot of people in Russia, they just, they don't want, they don't want to know, they don't want to believe something is going on here. And so, it's a very critical problem.

And we know that these efforts that we as a company and other companies and people all around are doing, we know that it works because today, Russia first accepted they have casualties in this what they call military operation --


BILKUN: -- because, yeah -- go on.

TAPPER: Well, they know, because you guys were able to get the real information out there is what you're saying.

BILKUN: Well, yeah, it's not like -- it's not like that we are giving out the information to people and they start to believe us, it's just people start asking questions and we see that in Russian Google trends. We see that there are inquiries in Google that represent the interest to these keywords like casualties in Russian or hostages or all that stuff.

So we definitely see the people, some people -- of course, there are a lot of people, a lot of relatives of military personnel and they are, of course they are nervous and our main objective is to give them this message, that, yeah.

TAPPER: Dmytro Bilkun, stay safe. Thank you so much. Stay in touch with our team. We'd love to have you back.

BILKUN: Thank you. Thank you.

TAPPER: Russia is becoming increasingly isolated as more companies are refusing to do business in that country. Which ones are out? That's next.



TAPPER: In the politics lead today, fresh off his State of the Union Address, President Biden now hitting the road. Moments ago, he spoke in Wisconsin, pushing his bipartisan infrastructure law. It's all part of a travel blitz by the president and cabinet today trying to sell various parts of his domestic agenda.

But as CNN's Arlette Saenz reports, it's Russia's war in Ukraine and larger geopolitical implications that continue to be top of the president's mind.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden in Wisconsin today to jump start his domestic agenda, but the war in Ukraine remains in focus.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Vladimir Putin's latest attack on Ukraine is premeditated and unprovoked. He's rejected repeated efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn't respond. He thought he could divide us at home, but he was wrong. We're ready.

SAENZ: The president acknowledging that Russia is targeting civilians but stopping short of calling Vladimir Putin's tactic a war crime.

BIDEN: We are following very closely, it's early to say that. SAENZ: The U.S. ambassador to United Nations warning Russia U.S.

could unleash a brutal campaign, citing video showing Russian forces moving lethal weaponry like cluster missiles.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: To the Russian soldiers sent to the frontlines of an unjust, unnecessary war, I say your leaders are lying to you. Do not commit war crimes. Do everything you can to put down your weapons and leave Ukraine.

SAENZ: The Justice Department now launching a special unit targeting Russian officials and oligarchs.

BIDEN: We're joining with European allies to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets. We're coming for your ill-begotten gains.

SAENZ: Beginning tonight, the U.S. banning Russian aircraft from American air space, with the FAA warning highlights that Russian planes could be intercepted if they cross into American skies.

The U.S. today also implementing new sanctions against 22 Russian defense entities and on Belarus, with the White House saying the country is enabling Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

So far, the U.S. and its allies have not targeted Russian oil and gas directly, but the president not ruling it out.

REPORTER: Are you considering banning Russian oil imports?

BIDEN: Nothing is off the table.

SAENZ: This, as the White House, seeks to blunt rising gas prices, coordinating with allies on the release of 60 million barrels of oils from reserves as Americans are already feeling the pain of inflation.

BIDEN: I know news of what's happening can seem alarming to all Americans, but I want you to know we're going to be okay. We're going to be okay.


SAENZ (on camera): Now, the White House insists it is not prepared to levee sanctions on Russia's energy sector at this moment, the president and his advisers keenly aware of the impacts that could have for Americans here at the gas pump at home -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Arlette Saenz at a university with they still have a mask mandate until spring break. Thank you so much.

I want to bring in "Washington Post" columnist Catherine Rampell and CNN business editor at large, Richard Quest.

Richard, let me start with you. Today, American Express added to the number of big financial brands cutting ties with Russia. That's on top of the big names in tech and energy. When you couple with the sanctions on Russia, how much of an economic threat is this to our own economy here in the United States?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: Oh, I think it's going to take a hit. I think the economies of the West will certainly feel the effects through just the difficulties and the supply chain issues, so it's certainly going to make a difference. But it's nothing, Jake, compared to the terrible damage it will inflict, is inflicting on the Russian economy.

Bear in mind, Jake, these companies, when they say they're withdrawing from Russia, first of all, they're doing it for legal reasons. Possibly, they may not be able to trade because of breaking sanctions. So a lot of these companies have pulled out, maybe not necessarily for the moral purpose of punishing Russia, but also to make sure they don't fall foul at the very strict sanctions regime now in place.

TAPPER: Catherine, many of these companies say they are suspending operations for now. Given what Russia is doing, can the companies trying to punish Putin eventually reverse course? Or stay pace, or might these moves be more permanent?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS COMMENTATOR: It really depends how Putin reacts to all of this and just to be clear, some of these companies are pulling out just because it's become so much more difficult to continue operating in Russia. You can't get money in and out easily of the economy for example, or you can't be sure you'll be able to get American made or otherwise European made parts for whatever you might be producing in Russia. It's very difficult to continue operations, whatever the, you know, moral imperative may be to continue or to leave.

But it really depends on how Putin reacts to all of this. You know, there is a universe in which Putin backs down, he decides the economic pain is not worth it, things aren't going well enough in Ukraine, to justify continuing, but this is not a rational guy, right? There is another universe in which he decides to escalate, because he panics and he's disturbed by the plummeting of the ruble and all of this economic pain that his country is enduring.

And so that will determine how easily it is for the rest of the world to continue engaging economically with Russia.

TAPPER: Richard, I think it's pronounced Maersk, one of the major cargo companies in the world, and they're not stopping operations with Russia. They're already signaling this is going to impact the U.S. supply chain, as you just noted. How severe might that be? How hard do you think this could impact U.S. consumers?

QUEST: It's making a bad situation worse. We know the supply chain issues, were going to continue until the end of the year, possibly into next.

Now, Maersk saying it's going to cut Russian roots -- look, Jake, this is all about manufacturing, about strained supply chains, about economies that are under stress to start with. It's going to make a bad situation worse. But I come back to this point -- however bad we are going to feel it in the west, the Russians are going to feel their economy literally strangled and clobbered like we've never seen before as with a result of sanctions action.

TAPPER: Maersk, a word I have read a million times or never pronounced until today, or attempted to pronounce it.

Richard Quest, Catherine Rampell, thank you both. Really appreciate it.

What is turning the page on the pandemic look like? The White House laying out a big shift in COVID strategies.

Stick around.



TAPPER: In our health lead, life in COVID world. Today, the White House announced a new COVID preparedness plan to move the pandemic from crisis to something of a new normal. The four pillar plan relies on existing tools such as vaccines and testing while also preparing for the possibility of new variants emerging.

But, as CNN's Alexandra Field reports for us now, federal officials say it is not yet time to do away with all COVID restrictions.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: COVID-19 no longer need control our lives.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new plan from the Biden administration turning the page from the COVID crisis to prepare for the future challenges of COVID.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: The president was very clear, he said we need to be prepared for any possible variant and invest in the next level, next generation of treatments and vaccines, funding from Congress will be critical for these efforts.

FIELD: The White House COVID-19 response team today announcing they'll stand up hundreds of new sites around the country where people can get new tests and free COVID treatments, along with rolling out with a new website this month for people to find new maces and vaccines, latest numbers about COVID in their local communities and giving Americans the opportunity to order more of those free at-home COVID test kits soon.


XAVIER BECERRA, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: And that if we continue to do those things that work well, we'll have fewer people in the hospital because of COVID and we'll be able to go back to a more normal lifestyle.

FIELD: The government says it's creating a new stockpile of tests, antiviral pills and masks, while closely monitoring emerging variants.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If new variants emerge, we now have faster processes to assess the impact of the virus on our vaccines and this plan ensures that we are ready to deploy personnel and resources to quickly update the vaccines.

FIELD: With an average of 1,800 Americans a day still dying from COVID, the CDC director says it isn't yet time to do away with isolation recommendations.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We always prefer to have people who might be infectious, with an infectious disease, home and not transmitting to others. Certainly, we may consider to revisit that at some future time, but right now, with about 68,000 cases around the country, daily, we're not looking at revisiting that right now.

FIELD: And there's no decision yet on whether to extend a federal mask mandate applying to travelers which is set to expire later this month.


FIELD (on camera): Jake, as the U.S. looks forward, so too does the world health organization which is working no you to develop a globally recognized vaccine passport which would ease some of the obstacles still associated with international travel -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Alexandra Field, thanks so much.

Coming up next, the state of Texas going after the parents of transgendered children and now a court is weighing in. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today, the race for Texas governor has been set. Incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott will now face off against former congressman and Democratic candidate for Senate and then for president, Beto O'Rourke. Governor Abbott is facing a new legal challenge today. A number of civil rights organizations are suing the state of Texas objecting to his brand new directive asking for investigations by the state government of parents of transgender teens who use certain medical treatments, investigations for potential child abuse.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us now live from Dallas.

Ed, walk us through this lawsuit and how it all began.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this started last week when Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion saying that certain procedures and treatments of transgender youth could be investigated as child abuse. And then right after that, the Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott issued a directive to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to begin those child abuse investigations. Now we have learned that those investigations are underway. The ACLU and another civil rights group called Lambda Legal have filed a lawsuit against Paxton and Abbott on behalf of a doctor and the mother and father of a 16-year-old transgender girl here in Texas.

Ironically enough, that mother is an employee of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, essentially, the very organization that Abbott has directed to carry out these child abuse investigations is investigating one of its own. This has sent shock waves and chills through the LGBTQ community here in Texas. They describe it as harmful and dangerous for transgender youth in the state.

And this all comes as the civil rights activists say they know of at least three different investigations underway so far. And these rulings were issued in the last week of the early voting period before yesterday's primary here in Texas. If there's any question, Jake, whether or not a lot of this is politically motivated, Greg Abbott's campaign manager was on a conference call with reporters this morning and said that this very issue is a 75 to 80 percent winner, a winning issue. Texans have common sense and this is why Democrats across the country are out of touch -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ed, what are you hearing from the parents of transgender children?

LAVANDERA: Well, this is something that, especially families, are very nervous about. These treatments is -- and gender affirming recalling treatments can render a wide gamut of -- from therapy and other treatments and procedures. But there is a great deal of concern, especially when it comes to issues of suicide and that sort of thing. That's what many of these activists are so deeply concerned about.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera in Dallas, Texas, thanks to you.

Coming up, acts of resistance small and large as the Ukrainian people try to bet back the Russian advances.

Stay with us.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin this hour in Ukraine, where the Pentagon says the battle for the southern town of Kherson is still being contested fight, this after Russia its troops have taken full control of the city. Kherson's city council says at least 36 Ukrainians have been killed, including 14 year old boy. New video shows Russian soldiers are seen moving throughout the city,

even looting a nearby bank. Still, Ukrainians continue to resist in ways large and small.

Here, a man waves the Ukrainian flag in front of Russian tanks occupying the main square.

To the northeast of Kherson, hundreds of Ukrainians have blocked an access point to a power plant as Russian advanced in the area.