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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Bombing Children's Hospital In Mariupol; Pentagon: U.S. Does Not Support Transfer Of Fighter Jets To Ukraine; Biden Admin Rejects Poland's Proposal To Use A U.S. Base In Germany To Deliver Its Fighter Jets To Ukraine; Six Democratic Govs Calls On Congress To Suspend Federal Gas Tax; COVID Cases, Deaths Continue To Drop Across The U.S.; CNN Takes A Closer Look At Russia's Nuclear Arsenal. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 09, 2022 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Ukraine says Russia bombed a children's hospital.

THE LEAD starts right now.

It was once a place for the most vulnerable babies, children and mothers. Now a catastrophic scene as desperate Ukrainian families search for loved ones in the wreckage of a horrific airstrike.

Then, Vladimir Putin lied repeatedly when it came to invading Ukraine. So, can the world trust anything he says about nuclear weapons? Coming up, a closer look inside Putin's arsenal.

Plus, with fuel prices in the U.S. soaring above $4 a gallon, is any relief in sight? This hour, one governor says he knows what would help -- getting Washington to take a break from taxing gas.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with breaking and horrific news in our world lead. Apocalyptic images coming out of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian is now accusing Russian forces of bombing a children's and maternity hospital. You can see victims stumbling out of the wreckage and immediate aftermath of this attack.

Local police say at least 17 people at least injured. No update yet on how many have been killed.

Earlier today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said there were children trapped under the rubble.

Be very clear, this is a military strike on a building full of innocent moms, expectant mothers, children, babies, infants. Mariupol, for that matter, was supposed to be part of a series of humanitarian corridors today, areas where ceasefire had been agreed to both by the governments of Russia and Ukraine, to allow civilians a chance to escape. Just imagine how strong and devastating a bomb would have to be to leave this giant crater outside the hospital.

Let's get straight to CNN's Clarissa Ward who is the capital of Kyiv.

Clarissa, a university and city building near the hospital were also attacked today. What do we know about these apparent Russian military strikes?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So the Ukrainians, Jake, are saying that this was the result of a massive Russian air strike and I don't know if you have the image in some of the videos that we're seeing from the scene of the crater just extraordinarily huge crater that was made by the impact of this bomb. It hit sort of a hospital complex with a number of different buildings, teaching facility, as well as a maternity hospital.

And you can see those harrowing images of heavily pregnant women emerging on stretchers, some of them stumbling out on their feet, others carrying babies -- the sounds of children screaming and crying after basically, every single window was blown in. There's rubble and wreckage everywhere. What we don't have a good sense of yet, though, Jake, is how many people were killed. It appears that the direct impact was just outside of the hospital.

But there was a huge amount of damage and destruction to the building itself, Mariupol authorities had said that at least 17 people were injured but that was an early estimate and still not clear if, as you mentioned, there are possibly bodies in the rubble all around this area. We have already heard from President Zelenskyy who has come out and called this an atrocity and used this as an opportunity to renew his call to the international community and particularly, to NATO, to instate some kind of a no-fly zone in Ukraine, that would make things like this impossible.

He said, I quote, how much longer will the world be continued to be an accomplice to this terror? As you mentioned, Mariupol was supposed to be one of five cities today where there was a humanitarian corridor, where people were finally going to be allowed to receive humanitarian aid, but also to move out safely. They have been pinned now, under heavy fighting now, Jake, for more than a week, with reportedly no heat, no power, no gas, very little cell phone service, and just constant bombardment.

The mayor's office saying they believe more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in Mariupol, although I do want to emphasize, Jake, we absolutely cannot confirm those numbers. The U.N. is currently saying that more than 500 civilians have been killed across the entire country, but frankly, when you look at those images, and you see those mothers, those expecting mothers in absolute carnage, it is just a reminder that one civilian is too many to die in this conflict, Jake.


TAPPER: Clarissa, there were a host of humanitarian corridors that had been agreed to. Obviously, the one in Mariupol did not hold if things are the way that Zelenskyy says they are, the Russians attacked this maternity hospital. Did the other humanitarian corridors that were agreed to, did they hold?

WARD: So the ceasefire was supposed to start at 9:00 a.m. this morning and end at 9:00 p.m. today, I will say we heard quite a lot of activity in the skies, quite a lot of loud booms. It is always difficult to know what is incoming and what's outgoing. We also heard Russian jets flying quite low over the city this afternoon.

We know that thousands of people, roughly 3,000 people were able to be evacuated from some of the hardest hit Kyiv suburbs of Irpin and also of Bucha, although according to the mayor of Bucha, some 50 buses holding civilians who were trying to get out of the sort of bombarded area of Borodyanka were stopped by Russian forces. They were not allowed to proceed.

So, clearly, there have been some small windows where civilians have been able to get out, and there has been less shelling in some of these areas, but still, not approaching what you might call an actual ceasefire where people are freely allowed to move out and help can get in to those who need it most, Jake.

The question now, I would add, becomes tomorrow, foreign minister, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meeting with Ukrainian counter part in Turkey, will there be another cease fire announced for tomorrow so that these hundreds of thousands of people across the country who are trapped can finally try to be ferried out to safety, Jake.

TAPPER: Clarissa Ward in Kyiv, Ukraine -- thank you. Please stay safe.

Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He's on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He visited the Poland-Ukraine border over the weekend with a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

President Zelenskyy is now repeating his call for U.S. to help institute a no-fly zone over Ukraine. We need to point out, of course, a no-fly zone would put U.S. or NATO pilots in the position of direct military confrontations with Russians which would certainly escalate matters.

Does seeing what you see today A with the children's hospital in Mariupol change your stance on the U.S. helping to implement a no-fly zone in any way.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Well, I think, first of all, Jake, those images are horrific. These are war crimes. These are attacks on children and women and families and residential neighborhoods and children's hospitals. These are war crimes being committed by Vladimir Putin, there is no question about it. I was at the border and saw the refugees fleeing for their lives mostly women and children.

The challenge is we have to do everything we can to support the Ukrainian people in their fight without directly engaging in a way that will escalate this and encourage Vladimir Putin to use tactical nuclear weapons in a Third World War. So I think we are provided over a billion dollars in lethal assistance today, we'll vote to send almost $14 billion in both security and humanitarian assistance.

We're working very closely with NATO allies, our European partners. Everyone is providing the Ukrainians with all they can to support their fight. And I think we have to be very careful in ensuring that we're doing this in a way that doesn't escalate the conflict, make it worse for Ukraine and potentially create the Third World War. So I think that's what the balance is.

We also have to look at what the most urgent needs are. Most of the challenge now, up to now, has not been air strikes. That may in fact be a greater challenge later on in this fight, but I think there are also military leaders are prioritizing what they need right now and will continue to monitor that and obviously, provide whatever assistance we can as well as our NATO partners to put an end to this carnage.

This is a brutal, unlawful, illegal invasion of a sovereign country, and Vladimir Putin needs to pay a price for it.

TAPPER: So still no change of mind on the no-fly zone issue. There's this other issue related in an effort to help Ukraine defend its skies from these atrocities. Poland offered to transfer their Russian-made MiG 29 fighter jets, the Ukrainians are familiar with those, I suppose with American aircraft to transfer the MiGs to U.S. possession so U.S. could transfer them to Ukraine so they could have their own imposed no fly zone.

We just heard from Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on this issue. Take a listen.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: But we stress that we do not support the transfer of additional fighter aircraft to the Ukrainian air force at this time and therefore have no desire to see them in our custody either. Transfer of MiG-29s to Ukraine may be mistaken as escalatory and could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of military confrontation with NATO.


Therefore, we also assess the transfer of MiG-29s to Ukraine to be high risk.


TAPPER: So just to break it down, the U.S. position, while we're watching allegedly, the Russians bombing this maternity and children's hospital is no, Zelenskyy, we're not going to participate in a no-fly zone and we're not even going to support the transfer to Ukraine by the U.S. for -- so that you can have your own no-fly zone. What's your reaction? CICILLINE: Look, I think we all are watching these scenes unfold, as

I said, I was just there. We have provided $350 million in the last weeks, to approve $14 billion today.

I think judgments have to be made about the best way to provide that security assistance that doesn't provide greater danger for the Ukraine people and I'm sure the adjustments considered by our military leadership, but they're trying to balance how do we avoid a more dangerous reaction by Vladimir Putin that will cost more lives in Ukraine, escalate this into a greater conflict. So that's the balance and those are military leader that is have lots of intelligence that inform that judgment and, you know, continuing to support the Ukrainians in every way that we can.

I know those discussions are on going about their air defense, I think there's bipartisan support to do everything that we can to support the Ukrainians in a way that doesn't make it worse for them or make it so that the situation on the ground is even more devastating.

So I know it's hard to watch, I watched it as you did in horror. But again, principally, airstrikes have not been the principle challenge. That may change and again, I know we're going to do everything we can as the United States to provide assistance but in a way that doesn't make it worse for Ukrainians and more dangerous for NATO and for our country.

TAPPER: Watching these images, what makes anybody sure that Putin's going to not attack NATO countries? I mean that's the calculation being made here. We've drawn our lines, we will protect NATO countries, Ukraine is not a NATO country. Therefore, we're not going to engage. We don't want World War III, because Putin has nukes, who knows what he'll do.

CICILLINE: Right, right.

TAPPER: I get all that, but -- I mean, he's killing civilians, what makes anybody think he's -- what makes anybody think, well, he's not going to do that to Poland, he's not going to do that for Finland?

CICILLINE: Look, we have treaty obligations under NATO, under Article Five. So if he does in fact do that, we have an obligation to act immediately. And I think, you know, it's very clear that we are making a tremendous effort to support the Ukrainians.

As I said, we're going to vote on $14 billion in just a few hours of both security and humanitarian assistance. All of our NATO allies are also pitching in and providing lethal assistance to the Ukrainians, and many of our NATO allies -- European allies. So this is going to be a continuing responsibility and I expect that our military leaders are going to listen very carefully to the Ukrainian military leadership on what they see as their priorities.

But again, they're going to have to make judgments on what is urgently needed, what can be done in a what I that doesn't make it worse, and these scenes are horrible, they're horrible and we have to do everything we can to put an end to it, but in a way that doesn't actually make it worse in the end for Ukraine, with Ukrainian people and those are judgments based on intelligence and military strategies that the Pentagon announced today, and we're going to keep pressing to be sure we're doing everything humanly possible.

That's why I went to the region to find out what else we could do as the United States to support the heroic Ukrainian people.

TAPPER: You recently went to the Poland/Ukraine border and said you saw an unspeakable amount of pain and suffering and frankly, those are the ones who got out, those are the lucky ones.

Can you talk to our viewers about how dire the situation is there?

CICILLINE: Yeah, it's almost impossible to describe. You know, thousands and thousands of people crossing the border, mostly women and children, actually in nine days, 1 1/2 million refugees fleeing Ukraine for their lives, with basically the clothes on their back, some with one suit case or a bag, having just said goodbye to the men in their lives at least husband or father because they remain to fight.

And it's freezing cold. They have no winter coats, hungry, terrified, and fleeing because they face death if they didn't. It's horrific, these amount to war crimes. What Vladimir Putin is doing is despicable and the whole world I think has to continue to rally around the Ukrainian people and support their heroic fight.

These are people -- I was in Ukraine three weeks ago and they told us if Vladimir Putin comes into Ukraine that we're going to give in, he's got another thing coming. We're going to fight for our country. We've tasted freedom. We are never going to go back to the Soviet Union and prepared to die for our country.

And although Americans not on the ground fighting with them, we're supporting their fight in every way we can. I know that's a bipartisan position. We're going to continue to do that because they're fighting for freedom and democracy, and they're fighting for their own lives.


TAPPER: Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate it, sir.


TAPPER: As Russia advances in southern Ukraine, CNN goes into a town under direct attack, a town where a food warehouse was destroyed, where hospitals are packed, where small children are crying out for help.

Plus, Vice President Kamala Harris on her way to Poland after a confusing and embarrassing public disagreement between the U.S. and a close NATO ally.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead and a look at the devastating human toll caused by Vladimir Putin's unprovoked war on the Ukrainian people.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh visited a hospital in the strategic port city of Mykolaiv where after days of shelling, days of bombing, Ukrainian victims are coming to terms with the fact that despite their injuries, they are actually the lucky ones.



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: This is probably when Russian forces tried to cut off Mykolaiv, pushing to its north to encircle it, Ukrainian shells here not holding them back. The governor told locals to bring tires to the streets which they did, fast.

And in the dark, Russia's punishment of just about everyone here did not let up. An airstrike flattened this warehouse. And if you needed proof the Kremlin seeks to reduce all life here, 1,500 tons of onions, beer, and pumpkins were an apparent target for a military jet.

So, Wejenia (ph) and Rumila (ph) in the back bedroom when a missile hit. Jenia (ph) built this home himself 43 years ago and knows he lacks the strength to do so again. Rumila (ph) says she doesn't even have her slippers now.

The hospitals are steeped in pain. Their corridors running underground.

Svetlana (ph) lost three friends Tuesday when Russian shells hit the car they've been traveling in, to change shift in a disabled children's home. When she ducked she saved her life. She names her three dead friends.

Nicolai (ph) was badly burned by a missile in his yard. Moscow targets hospitals and so they perversely need their own bomb shelters where sick children wait for the sirens to end.

Stase (ph) is 12 and alone but doesn't know the reason his father is not here just now is because he is burying his Stase's mother and sister.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was in the neighbor's basement when the bomb hit the roof on my side. We ran to my granny's house. Another hit there. My arm is broken. My dad and neighbor brought me here. I was in a coma for two days.

WALSH: Sonia has shrapnel in her head causing her to spasm. Her mother explains they were outside taping up the glass windows when the blast hit, all the time, trying to get Sonya to keep still.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cut the tape turned around to hear a noise and I saw the missile flew behind us and I said, "Sonia, let's go". We ran, Sonia in front of me and then I heard the blast. Little Sonia, quiet, quiet. Sonia, little Sonia, don't worry, everything will be okay.

SONIA: I am cold.

WALSH: Outside, it is cold and loud.


WALSH: Now, the fight for Mykolaiv appears to be continuing, Jake. The regional head just saying he wouldn't go into details but they are seeing attacks from the north and northeast. That seems to be the Russian move we saw, the day before, sort of yesterday, moving around to the north to try to isolate the city.

They have to get past it or encircle it in order to put pressure on here, the strategic goal of the third largest city, the port of Odesa. But as you see there, the continued shelling, frankly savage and indiscriminate bombardment by Russian forces of civilian areas is leaving a heavy toll, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh in Odesa, Ukraine, thank you so much. Stay safe, my friend.

An additional 18 cents a gallon. That's how much the federal gas tax is. Next, we're going to talk to a Democratic governor who's asking Congress to cut the gas for now. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Moments ago, the plane carrying Vice President Harris arrived in Warsaw, Poland, any minute, we expect to see her walk down those stairs. Her trip comes as the U.S. is shutting down a surprise offer Poland proposed using an air base in Germany to move its Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets which Ukrainians know how to fly and deliver them to Ukraine to uphold a no-fly zone which the Ukrainian government says its people desperately need.

But as CNN's MJ Lee reports for us now, the Polish proposal caught the Biden administration off guard at the same time the vice president is arriving to assure the security of NATO allies against Putin's aggression.


MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Kamala Harris en route to Warsaw, Poland, as the U.S. continues its diplomatic push abroad to contain Russia's escalating attacks across Ukraine.

Her trip complicated by a surprise announcement from the Polish government, a proposal to deploy soviet-era fighter jets to a U.S. Air Force base in Germany so those in turn could be handed over to Ukraine by the American military.

The U.S. dismissing that idea as untenable. JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Fighter jets manned by

Americans departing a NATO base to fly into air space contested with Russia raises serious concerns for the United States and NATO.

LEE: Officials determined to avoid what the Kremlin might perceive as a direct U.S.-Russia confrontation.

PSAKI: How do you get planes into Ukraine in a way that is not escalating?

LEE: And concerns about the challenge of transporting the jets to Ukraine.

PSAKI: I guess it is a temporary breakdown in communication but we have a strong and abiding relationship with Poland.

LEE: The public disagreement coming as Ukrainian leaders are pleading with allies to supply them with fighter jets.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): We urge you, please, make decisions faster. Do not shift responsible. Send planes to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need planes. We need the jets.

LEE: In Washington, the White House zeroing in on an urgent domestic concern: rising gas prices.

PSAKI: We've already taken a number of steps and we will continue.

LEE: On Wednesday, average gas prices hitting $4.25 per gallon. That sticker shock at the pump exacerbated by a new ban of Russian oil imports to the U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill also moving forward with bipartisan legislation to block Russian energy imports. Russians seizing on record breaking gas prices as political ammunition.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): President Biden keeps breaking records. But unfortunately, those records are breaking America's budget. These aren't Putin prices. They're President Biden's prices.


LEE (on camera): An economic data point the White House is bracing for is the consumer price index report that is coming out tomorrow. The White House saying that they do expect to see a high headline inflation. One of the major reasons is energy prices and the president himself and his aides have made clear that Russia import ban, the oil import ban announced yesterday, that is only expected to make things worse. But as we saw in that piece, Republicans are eager to tie all of this to the president himself when we expect this to be an ongoing political dynamic as we get closer to the midterm elections, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. MJ Lee at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Colorado Governor Jared Polis. He's one of six Democratic governors from battleground states, one might observe, including the leaders of Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, all of whom are calling on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax.

Governor Polis, good to see you again.

So it is about 18 cents took to every gallon of gas for the gas tax, the federal gas tax. The national average for a gallon of gas today is $4.25. So taking off the tax would bring the price down to $4.07 a gallon. Would it take more than that to really relieve the financial stress that your constituents are feeling?

GOV. JARED POLIS (D), COLORADO: Look, I know Coloradoans and Americans are willing to do what we can to penalize Putin's aggression. Russia has really left the family of nations that engage in normal diplomacy and trade and we simply can't allow this kind of behavior. And, part of that response, Jake, is to reduce markets for one of the major sources of cash for Russia's war machine which is oil and gas. And at the same time, we want to make sure that American consumers don't bear the brunt of that.

We can take action right now. Reduce the gas tax 18.6 cents per gallon. That will provide some relief at the pump and make sure we can continue to pressure Putin and his invasion of Ukraine.

TAPPER: In recent weeks, some Democratic senators have also floated suspending the gas tax. Is the momentum there? Do you think this could happen in the near future?

POLIS: Yeah. And I want people to know a couple things. One is this would be a one-year suspension. We certainly hope it's not needed longer. It also would not reduce funding for roads and bridges. That would be back-filled with other resources.

So it is important to look at that in the context of this. I think the American people want to see, yes, we want to penalize Russian aggression. At the same time, we want to minimize the pain at the pump for middle class families.

TAPPER: I mean, oil and gas companies made record profits last year. They don't have to do it and I don't think they will. But if they wanted to knock a buck or two off the price of a gallon, they could.

POLIS: Well, look, it's a global commodity. We certainly have over 2,000 gas permits in Colorado that have already been granted that haven't been used yet.


Production can go up. Keep in mind that takes time, Jake, for that to come into equilibrium.

The other thing we need to make sure we do is rapidly move to renewable energy. Not only are solar and wind energy lower cost, better for the environment. But we're now seeing with several exclamation points the national security imperative of moving to renewable energy.

TAPPER: What about boosting U.S. oil production to offset costs? The White House says there are about 9,000 approved drilling permits not being used right now. Might those be worth the environmental risk? Shouldn't those who have those permits go forward with them?

POLIS: You know, there's over 2,000 in Colorado that have been approved and haven't been used. It is a matter of when and how the industry chooses to invest and raise capital. Certainly, if oil prices are sustained at over $100 a barrel for a long period of time, it will lead to increased production.

Part of the issue in America is we have generally speaking, a higher cost of production than Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Russia. A lot of it come into play when you're $60, $70 a gallon a barrel, and it will help reduce gas fees overtime. But the immediate step, the only immediate step, frankly, because all of that takes months or years, is to temporarily eliminate the federal gas tax of 18.5 cents per gallon.

TAPPER: Even as you near the $4 mark, Colorado, we should note, has some of the lowest gas prices in the United States. California has the highest. They average more than $5.50 a gallon. California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a possible tax rebate to help offset costs for Californians.

Might you consider that for Colorado?

POLIS: So, yeah, thankfully, we're still around $3.80, $3.90. We're glad to be under the national level. We are trying to avoid right now a two cent fee per gallon -- a fee on gas. We're reducing vehicle registration fees by $11.50. And we've always been open to doing more.

So, at the very least, let's see if we coupled with that 18 cent federal one, if we can reduce it by 2 cents in Colorado. That's 20 cents a gallon and reduce vehicle registration fees. This is a -- you know, this is a cost that everybody has. It's commute to work, it's going -- taking your kids to school and back. It is something that we want to make sure that we can reduce costs and save people money.

TAPPER: Colorado Governor Jared Polis, thank you so much. Good to see you again, sir.

POLIS: Thank you.

TAPPER: No more mask mandates in all 50 U.S. states. Plus, a COVID prediction from the CDC that you're going to want to hear. That's next.



TAPPER: In our health lead, some good news to report on the COVID pandemic. Daily COVID cases in the U.S. have dropped 95 percent from the peak in mid-January and COVID deaths are the lowest they've been in two months. Let's discuss with the CNN medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner.

Dr. Reiner, thanks for being here.

So, Hawaii just announced it's dropping its mask mandate, becoming the last state in the United States to do so. The CDC says 90 percent of people in the U.S. can take their masks off now.

Who should still be wearing a mask and where?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think a lot of people should be wearing masks in crowds. I'll still wear a mask in a crowd and I'm not in a particularly high-risk --

TAPPER: Outdoors, too?

REINER: Outdoors, less so. If you're going to be in a crowded outdoor space, sure. I would leave a mask on.

I don't think a mask is a big burden. And when I wear a mask, I'm not just protecting myself. I'm protecting the person next to me who might really be vulnerable.

And while you're right, the cases have dropped 95 percent over the last two months, that is from an unbelievably high number of daily cases. So, we drop from about a million reported cases, maybe several fold higher than that including the home self-tests, down to a little less than 50,000 cases per day. Fifty thousand cases per day is still not an insignificant amount.

When we dropped masks last spring right before delta came, the U.S. was down to 7,000 cases per day. So, we drop masks right now at a time when we're not particularly low. We're much lower than we were but there's still a significant amount of virus.

And I think everyone has to gauge their own risk and the people around them and the people they live with.

TAPPER: CDC officials also say it's increasingly likely COVID will likely never go away. It will simmer in the summer, rise in the winter.

Is there anything anyone should do beyond, if you feel vulnerable, wear a mask indoors, especially in a crowd, and obviously getting vaccinated and getting boosted.

REINER: Well, the last thing you said is the key. Getting vaccinated and getting boosted.

And while our vaccines have been less effective with omicron in terms of preventing infection, they've still been incredibly effective against a serious illness, hospitalization and death. And that's really what we're looking for.

When we get a in a shot, we end up getting the sniffles for a few days. And you're home out of work for a couple days. That's not a big deal if you're not hospitalized and I think we'll get to that point with omicron where it is a seasonal virus. We probably have a seasonal booster the same way we have a seasonal vaccine for influenza, and we learn to live our lives in that way.

But far -- there are not nearly enough people in this country who have been vaccinated, and if you look at the percent of this population that has been fully vaccinated, by that, I mean three doses, it's less than 30 percent.

TAPPER: So, Florida's Department of Health released new guidelines Tuesday that said healthy children in Florida, age 5 to 17, do not need to get vaccinated. That's obviously not what the CDC says.


What do you make of that?

REINER: Florida has a disgraceful surgeon general. I think what is incredibly -- what has become abundantly clear is that children do get this virus. Most children thankfully will do fine with it.

But the CDC says we've lost about 1,400 kids to coronavirus, and thousands and thousands of children have been hospitalized. That can almost entirely be prevented by vaccination.

And even though there's some data that suggests children between 5 and 11 have had a bit less of a benefit in terms of preventing infection with this vaccine, the vaccine remains very, very effective preventing those children from serious illness. Every child in this country should be vaccinated for coronavirus. The surgeon general has been anti-mask --

TAPPER: The surgeon general of Florida.

REINER: Surgeon General of Florida, absolutely. The surgeon general of Florida has been anti-mask. He's been anti-vax. He's been associated with the discredited America's frontline physicians.


REINER: It's an embarrassment.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

As he defies the world and invades Ukraine, Vladimir Putin sits on the world's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, even bigger than the U.S.'s. We're going to take a look at Putin's arsenal, next.



TAPPER: Vladimir Putin repeatedly lied about his intentions to invade Ukraine. So, should the rest of the world ever believe Putin? Especially when he's put his nuclear deterrence forces on high alert and warned the world about, quote, consequences never experienced before.

CNN's Nina Dos Santos takes a closer look now at Putin's nuclear arsenal and the legitimate fear people have that he might actually use it.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Russia's tanks rolled into Ukraine, Vladimir Putin made a threat not heard since the height of the Cold War.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Russia's response will be immediate and will lead to you such consequences never experienced in your history.

DOS SANTOS: Then, days later, he raised the alert level of the world's largest nuclear arsenal.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Everyone knows that a Third World War can only be nuclear.

DOS SANTOS: Only nine countries have nuclear weapons. The theory is they are preventative mechanism, hopefully never to be needed in battle.

According to the Arms Control Association, Russia has the largest number of warheads, at just over 6,000. While the U.S. isn't far behind, no other country, not even Israel or North Korea, has anywhere near this time of capability.

Now, most of Russia's warheads are not on missile bases. Just over 1,400 of them are deployable at the moment. These find themselves on weapons like intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launch missiles and also on bombers.

But would Russia's president really use them? The defense secretary told the BBC, he thinks Putin is bluffing.

BEN WALLACE, BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY: He reminded everyone he's got nuclear weapons which, as you say, starts to set off people being worried. But secondly, he distracted from what's going wrong in Ukraine.

DOS SANTOS: This expert says the mere threat is designed to change the dynamics of the war.

MALCOLM CHALMERS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL, ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE: He's in a corner. Somebody in a corner in situation does become more dangerous. He's more prepared the take risks. Still, it is most unlikely. I don't want to allow people unnecessarily, but the probability of this happening is low but it's not zero.

DOS SANTOS: The last time nuclear weapons were unleashed by the U.S. in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, more than 100,000 died. Could a U.N. disarmament conference, Japan expressed grave concern about Russia. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As the only country to have suffered atomic

bombings during the war, Japan is fully aware of the catastrophic human consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. We stress once again that such tragedy must never be repeated again.

DOS SANTOS: While Russia says the nuclear intentions are purely defensive, that brings to mind its previous assurance that's it had no intentions to invade Ukraine.

LAVROV (through translator): It is in the minds of Western politicians that nuclear war is going on. Not in the minds of Russians.

DOS SANTOS: Only President Putin knows how far he would really go.

In the meantime, it's a gamble that the West can't afford to take.

Nina Dos Santos, CNN, in London.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Nina Dos Santos for that report.

A city under fire. People crying as adults frantically look for a lost orphan as they try to evacuate one of the Ukrainian cities being targeted by Putin's barbaric war.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, the Boy Scouts making headlines for all the wrong reasons. We have details of the first criminal charges filed in a year's long investigation of possible abuse involving thousands of survivors of child sexual abuse.

Plus, more troops and more fire power. We're breaking down the Pentagon's new plans for U.S. forces in Europe with a former NATO supreme allied commander.

And leading this hour, breaking news out of Ukraine, horrifying new video of Russia's latest attack. The government of Ukraine says the Russians have hit a hospital full of innocent children and pregnant women -- the latest but by no means the only brutal act in Russia's unprovoked invasion.

Today, thousands of civilians trying to take advantage of promised evacuation routes. As CNN's Matthew Chance reports, they're desperate to save their lives and those of their families.