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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ukraine's Southern City Of Mykolaiv Braces For Russian Onlsaught; U.S. Opposes No-Fly Zone Over Ukraine, Despite Zelenskyy Pleas; Oil Dips Below $100 Barrel, But Gas Prices Will Soon Soar Again; Trucking Industry Struggling As Oil Prices Continue To Soar; Russia May Default On Its Foreign Debt For First Time In Decades; Biden To Join NATO Summit On Ukraine Next Week In Brussels; Biden To Detail U.S. Aid To Ukraine Tomorrow After Zelenskyy's Virtual Address To Congress; Suspect In Homeless Killings Arrested At D.C. Gas Station; Study: Climate Change To Make Allergy Season More Intense, Longer. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 15, 2022 - 17:00   ET




NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): This is the road down which rushes war of annihilation may lurch and it's emptiness speaks only of what is to come from Russia unhealed Kherson up here to the vital port of Mykolaiv. They know what it is to be in Russia's way. Out of 18 homes 10 are left in our village, she says. No electricity, gas, water or heat. The only ones left those who can't leave, another adds.

There young, edgy guns raised unsure who we are. Press written on our vests and our press cards slowly calms them down, and I apologize. But this is not an army in full control of its destiny.

The trenches aware the rockets land every night. Some from Odessa, Moscow's eventual target here, others from just down the road.

He's saying his house is just there.

It's important to see what tools Ukraine has been left with by a world that seems so concerned. They fight for their homes, but tell me they captured Russians who seemed unaware why they were even here. They said they can't understand what's going on. He said they can't go back because back there they're being shot for retreating. So they advanced or surrender.

Dust in Mykolaiv has sounded this way for weeks. But unbroken morale takes different forms. And this is a police chief driving a birthday gift to the governor with a captured Russian machine gun soldered on to it. It does not distract from the seriousness of the Twilight world in which his colleagues work.

Any drunk or man changing his car battery after curfew could be a Russian saboteur they fear. There really is no way to check by looking at phones and in trunks. The city has dark bar their lights and the flash of the distant enemy's bombs.

An urgent hospital call for blunt (ph) has gone out. They rushed to help. The savagery of Russia's targeting measurable in how dark this four-floor hospital keeps itself at night. Invisible, not from a power cut, but to avoid Russian bombs.

Mykolaiv has been fearing encirclement for days. There is heartbreak for those who leave. Amid the shared agony still a tussle to get on two buses to Moldova. The men stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, this my wife, Zenya (ph), and my daughter Marwara (ph). She get to Poland. After, I come back. Of course I have to come back.

WALSH: And what will you do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALEL: This is my country. This is my country. What I want to do is to go there, no Poland. This is my home.


WALSH: Now Jake, clearly Mykolaiv, fearing the worst is not really clear at this stage what forces Russia has to move up the road from Kherson but there is an impact here in a desert where local military officials have said in the last hours that shells have started landing on the coast.

There are fears that the pressure on Mykolaiv essentially designed to raise tensions here in Odessa and possibly soften the ground ahead of an assault on this the third largest city in Ukraine. But I have to say for the people in Mykolaiv none of that would detract a tool from the incessant bombardment and the damage it is doing to the daily fabric of their lives. Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Nick Paton Walsh reporting from Odessa, Ukraine, thank you. Please stay safe. Military experts say Russia's invasion of Ukraine appears to be stalling in at least summer guard. CNN's Phil Black explores why the Russian military playbook is not working as planned and Ukraine.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russian munitions are still having a devastating impact on civilians in key cities. In Mariupol. In the capital, Kyiv, but Russian forces are still making little progress advancing across Ukrainian territory.


The core U.S. assessment hasn't changed for much of the war.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The Kremlin's forces remain stalled in many areas.

BLACK: And experts agree almost three weeks in Russia is in trouble.

MATHIEU BOULEGUE, RESEARCH FELLOW RUSSIA AND EURASIA PORGRAM AT CHATHAM HOUSE: No wars go according to plan. The problem is that Russia's plan was extremely bad.

BLACKL The key question why.

BOULEGUE: I would argue it is a mix of everything. It is a failed or botched concept of operation with plenty of wrong assumptions about the very nature of the battlefield. Russia believing in a way that Ukrainians words capitulate or Ukraine would crumble.

BLACK: But experts believe Russia's failure to secure a quick definitive win has revealed another major flaw in its planning.

BRIG. GEN. KEVIN RYAN (RET.), DIRECTOR OF DEFENSE AND INTELLIGENCE PROJECTS, HARVARD: Russia is out of available combat forces to put into this fight.

BLACK: Analysts say Russia's limited forces are now divided between taking territory and laying siege to major cities, reducing their ability to do both tasks effectively. And that means Russia must be reassessing what victory looks like.

BOULEGUE: At this stage, we are still talking about limited gains and goals. There's simply not enough troops potentially coming from Russia or elsewhere to do a sort of massive full scale ground invasion of Ukraine, keep that territory, hold it and then fight a very costly counter insurrection war.

BLACK: U.S. officials say they're seeing some early efforts to boost troop numbers with foreign fighters.

GEN. FRANK MCKENZIE, COMMANDER OF U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We believe that out of Syria, they're perhaps small, small, very small groups of people that may be trying to make their way to Ukraine.

BLACK: How the next phase of the war plays out, will be significantly determined by Russia's intentions in Kyiv. Trying to take the capital would likely involve months of bombardment and urban warfare.

ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS (RET.), U.S. NAVY: That's going to be a tough order of business. Those Ukrainians know every single alley, every backroom, every road every intersection, the Russians are going to find themselves in a hard fight.

BLACK: Slow Russian Progress can help Ukrainian forces by allowing them more time to prepare and be resupplied with advanced weapons from allies. But experts say it could also inspire greater brutality from Russia, a willingness to escalate and destroy in order to compensate for its stalled invasion. Phil Black, CNN, London.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Phil Black for that reporting. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleading with a Canadian Parliament today for help to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine. He says 97 Ukrainian children have now been killed in Russian attacks on his country's. Zelenskyy plans to deliver a virtual address to the U.S. Congress tomorrow.

My next guest is Iuliia Mendel. She is Zelenskyy's former spokesperson and she's from Kherson, Ukraine, and joins us live from Lviv. Iuliia, thanks so much for joining us. What's the most important message out of many no doubt that you think President Zelenskyy needs to share with U.S. lawmakers tomorrow.

IULIIA MENDEL, FORMER SPOKESPERSON FOR UKRAINE PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Thank you for having me. So I think there are three important positions and first of all, is, of course, to show the gratitude of Ukrainians to towards American people. We really appreciate that there was this huge assistance in terms of $13.6 billion to Ukrainian army and humanitarian aid that is very much needed today in terms of war.

The second, you know that the President Zelenskyy wants to have a no- fly zone. And he of course, has a lot of facts to show that this is very much needed today to Ukraine. But if it's not possible to establish right now, then possibly he will ask to reduce the bureaucracy as much as possible to get the aircraft to Ukraine so that Ukraine can close the sky by ourselves.

But also we see that there is a change of narrative. And this is very important point today. In one of the addresses President Zelenskyy said that for years, we have heard about this supposedly open door in NATO. But we have also heard that we cannot get in.

This is the truth, and we need to recognize it. We need new format of interaction, new determination. He was very strong about showing that he was looking for new formats among Western leaders and Ukraine so that Ukraine can get the guarantee of security for the future and for the present to save our country right now.

So I think this speech will be very important, and we need to follow closely the messages from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

TAPPER: So President Zelenskyy received a lengthy standing ovation today from members of the Canadian Parliament. In fact, he's been held up as a war hero by much of the Western world compared to Churchill, lavishly praise. And yet, we should note, no country is willing to send ground troops to help. There is not a no-fly zone over the country. The U.S. has gone back on the suggestion that maybe they could help transfer the Polish MiGs those jets to Ukraine.


What goes through your mind when you see the praise the standing ovations, but nobody getting's Zelenskyy what he's asking for?

MENDEL: Well, you're showing the disappointment and frustration of Ukrainian government but mostly about Ukrainian -- of Ukrainian people who see that they are being killed from about this guy but do not see a really that relief. But there is another thing that is very important to understand that the government and the whole world, civilized world has united to go against Russia.

Probably the most important thing that the world doesn't have a really updated instruments and mechanisms to go against a country that spreads terrorism and instability around the world. Russia of course blackmails the word with nuclear weaponry. This is an important fact that we cannot avoid right now. I'm sure that all diplomatic forces around the world are looking for their solution to understand how to stop Russia so that Russia doesn't open the nuclear war because it's not only about Ukraine.

Poland also increased the army three times Baltic states are understand that Putin has such a disrespect to world order that neither membership in NATO or nor membership in the EU will stop Russia going after Ukraine to the Baltic states or for instance, to Moldova that is not a member of NATO.

TAPPER: Right.

MENDEL: So the concerns are pretty huge here. But I must confess that the civilized world is fueling -- is hugely and fully united to help Ukraine and to stand against Russia and this is very much appreciated.

TAPPER: Iuliia Mendel, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today. Russia has bombed hospitals, Russia has bombed apartment buildings, Russia has killed innocent civilians. Ukraine says these are war crimes. And a lot of people in Syria are unfortunately, all too familiar with Russian war crimes, the horrifying lessons they have for the Ukrainian people. That's next.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead, the Deputy Mayor of Mariupol, Ukraine telling CNN he's lost count of how many war crimes Russia has already committed just on the citizens in his city. He confirmed to CNN that Russian forces have captured a large local hospital and they're holding doctors and patients hostage against their will.

This as he says up to 400,000 Ukrainians remain trapped in Mariupol, most of them without access to water, power, food, targeting civilian and holding people captive. These are likely both war crimes according to the International Criminal Court.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh reports that this is all hauntingly familiar to the Syrian people, who know firsthand just how far Vladimir Putin is willing to go and we want to warn you some of the images you're about to see are quite graphic.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russia's vicious war in Ukraine has shocked the world. But no one should be surprised. For years, Russia's ruthlessness played out so openly for all to see in Syria, where countless civilians paid the price for Putin propping up his ally Bashar Al-Asad. Syria is where Russia boasted about testing more than 300 types of weapons. It's also where it tested the world's limits. And there seemed to be none.

It's war has no rules. No one is spared. And no place is safe.

Russia's bombed hospitals markets in schools. The UN called the more crimes but no one has faced justice. Russia denies its committed these crimes, but it's cool attacks no, no bounds. Even those Russian to rescue the injured have been targeted by its infamous doubletap strikes.

ISMAIL ABDALLAH, WHITE HELMETS: I lost two of my team, my colleagues in one second, they will -- we will try to respond to save others.

KARADSHEH: Ismail al-Abdullah, the White Helmet survived one of Russia's most brutal campaigns in Syria, as it helped the Assad regime besieged starve and bombard eastern Aleppo into submission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are forced to leave.

KARADSHEH: His beloved Aleppo was reduced to rubble.

ABDALLAH: Aleppo was like doomsday. I saw buildings collapse on their -- on the heads of their family -- on the heads of the families, member of the families, children by using the bunker buster bomb. This kind of weapon is used for the basement, military basement. That weapon was used on civilians to target the shelters for the civilians.

KARADSHEH: In the little bits left of rebel health Syria. the White Helmets are an alert. There's a fragile ceasefire here. They also want to help Ukraine. They know Russia's playbook all too well.

ABDALLHA: They would bomb everything. And then their media will say that we targeted place for soldiers, we targeted Ukrainian armies.

KARADSHEH: So many here feel the pain Ukrainians are going through, pain inflicted by the same aggressor shattered too many Syrian lives.

ABDEL KAFI HAMDO, DISPLACED SYRIAN: This is my go to Lamar (ph),

KARADSHEH: English teacher Abdel Kafi Hamdo with his baby girl by his side appeal to the World Time and time again to save Aleppo in 2016. But the world look the other way.

HAMDO: I mean, I don't know why the world is not learning. I mean, not stopping Russia in Syria is affecting -- affected Ukraine. Not stopping Putin in Ukraine will do the same in many other countries.


KARADSHEH: It's been more than five years since Hando was forced out of his home. Life is not the same, he says, but life does go on. Right now he says he just can't stop thinking of Ukraine.

HAMDO: None can understand Ukrainian, none of the world but Syrian. None can understand them more than Syrians. We will understand. We understand them more. And this is why I cannot nowadays, I cannot teach well, I cannot do anything, because I'm just following what's going on Ukraine. In fact, what's affecting me a lot that all the world is repeating the same mistake.

KARADSHEH: The mistake of letting Putin get away with it all, the impunity in Syria that may have emboldened him to invade Ukraine. Many here feel their fate is now tied to Ukraine. If Putin is not stopped, they fear Russia will unleash hell here again, to help Assad reclaim what's left of this devastated land. Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Istanbul.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Jomana Karadsheh for her incredible reporting there. Coming up, when the price of filling up your car goes up $2 a gallon, the increase is almost double for the truck drivers who make sure you get all of your online orders. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our money lead, finally, the price of oil was falling a little while this dip might be encouraging to commuters you should not expect to see it reflected right away at your local gas station. Today's national gas average according to AAA is $4.32 a gallon, it's only a penny less than yesterday. And CNN's Ryan Young reports for us now as gas prices agonizingly trail behind oil prices. Long Haul truckers cannot afford to pump the brakes and wait.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For every dollar the average American sees rising at the pump, truck drivers are seeing double. That's because they rely on diesel fuel. And we all rely on truck drivers.

TODD SPENCER, PRESIDENT, OWNER-OPERATOR INDEPENDENT DRIVERS ASSOCIATES: 70 percent of all the goods that moved in America move exclusively by truck over 90 percent of what most communities need are only delivered by trucks.

YOUNG: Which explains why when it comes to large trucks, drivers are at the wheel over five times more than the average car driver and using up to more than 11,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year per driver. And that adds up diesel is historically more expensive than regular gasoline on $1 per gallon basis. And now it's hit record highs surging more than $2 a gallon since this time last year.

SPENCER: Trucks are what keeps our economy going.

YOUNG: Todd Spencer's president and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which started in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo.

SPENCER: Fuel is the single largest variable expense that any trucker is going to incur if you're operating the truck yourself. If you own your own truck, that's your largest single cost.

YOUNG: Who are the independent truck driver? They have to absorb the higher fuel costs themselves. EARL WILLIAMSON, PROFESSIONAL DRIVER: It's made it tight, it's made it very tight on us right now. I don't know how we're going to make it.

YOUNG: It's not bad.

WILLIAMSON: It's not bad.

BARRY LAGO, PROFESSIONAL DRIVER: We have a lot of drivers and, and I talk to a lot of them on a day to day basis. They're thinking about parking their truck, because they can't afford to run it anymore.

YOUNG: Delia Moon Meier's family has owned Iowa 80 the world's largest truck stop for 58 years. And she's concerned for her customers

DELIA MOON MEIER, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, IOWA 80 GROUP: Since fuel for their trucks and fuel for their cars, it makes a big difference to them on what they're able to eat, where they're able to stay their, you know, their whole livelihood is based on the price of fuel.

YOUNG: She watched in awe, as truck drivers kept everything moving when the pandemic shut the country down.

MEIER: I think that is one thing that the pandemic and the supply chain issues have really brought to light is how important trucking is.

YOUNG: Fuel shocks aren't anything new for Americans. And for some of these drivers that pay off of their job is worth a pinch for now.

LAGO: It's like a Friday every time you get in the truck, man. I mean, it's you're self-employed, or I am anyway, I get to make my own decisions. I get to see the country. I get paid to do so. And so it's almost like a paid vacation no matter what I'm doing.


YOUNG: Jake, there's a lot of optimism out here about maybe where fuel prices are going. But look at all the trucks that are lined up out here that are getting ready to do the work that they have to do on a day to day basis. But they talk about the government the fact that they're talking about the fuel tax and maybe pushed off from the federal government. That doesn't help them because it's diesel fuel that they put in their trucks.

They said they need help from the government right now. You think about all the structure, Jake. They're taking those critical goods all across the country. And you think about it. During the pandemic they never shut down. They never stopped rolling. They say they need more help. They need more attention on the issues they're facing on a day to day basis. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Young, thank you so much. Let's get right to our experts to discuss this. Rana Foroohar, another key inflation measure. The U.S. producer price index shows it costs in the U.S. are ballooning up 10 percent over the last 12 months, 10 percent. How much are oil prices driving this? RANA FOROOHAR, GLOBAL BUSINESS COLUMNIST AND ASSOCIATE EDITOR, FINANCIAL TIMES: Well, it's definitely a big part of what's going on because oil goes for everything. It goes for individuals in their cars for heating homes, but it's also part of every single part of the supply chain energy is crucial. Food costs are also part of that and some of this is of course coming from the war in Ukraine.


Ukraine and Russia together make about a quarter of the world's weed exports. Russia's largest energy producer but even before that, Jake, costs were rising as we know because of the COVID-19 disruptions to supply chain. And it's going to take months more, if not years for this to all work out the system.

TAPPER: And Richard Quest, the Federal Reserve is shifting its focus to fighting inflation. Officials are widely expected to raise interest rates tomorrow for the first time in years. What might this mean for people planning on taking out a loan to buy a car, to buy a house?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: It's going to get more expensive. Arguably, the Fed is already behind the curve on this. They should have perhaps been raising rates sooner or later. They will raise rates tomorrow. If they fail to do so for whatever reason, it will be an epic failure of communication to the market. They've led everybody to believe rates are going up.

Now the issue that Rana and myself and others will be looking at, we'll be looking at the statement to see how many interest rate rises will we get. To give you an example, Jake, in 2017, the last time we had a cycle of increases, we have three rates. In 2018, we had four rates.

Now the expectation had been, we could have five, six or seven this year. We're going to look to see, yes, rates are going up. But will it be four, three, five, or seven?

TAPPER: And Rana, let's switch to the global economy because Europe clearly needs to stop its dependence on Russian oil in order to effectively stop Putin's war. But scaling up green energy is going to take time as well drilling for more oil in the U.S. and sending it over to Europe. What's the best short term solution to to wean your up off of Putin's oil?

FOROOHAR: Well, you know, there's not one silver bullet, Jake, unfortunately. Europe made a really bad bet Germans in particular, depending on Russians for oil. Right now, they're trying to pull from wherever they can. There have been some allies in Asia that have released strategic reserves, the U.S. is shipping as much as possible. But of course, the U.S. sort of ramped down its shale industry, shale oil industry, in part because of the shift to cleaner technologies.

Now, there's definitely talk about getting as much wind and solar and even nuclear online as possible. But I think that the U.S. and Europe have got to work together both on a short term plan to plug this gap in the next couple of years, but also on a longer term plan to make sure that if there is more fossil fuel use, that it doesn't derail the transition to cleaner energy, which is where the jobs of the future are going to lie. So I just -- it's something that's a very live discussion at high policy levels right now.

TAPPER: And Richard, all these sanctions are clearly having an effect on Russia's economy. And there are now suggestions Russia could default on its foreign debt obligations for the first time in decades. What would the result of that be for Russia, for the rest of the world?

QUEST: Well, for the rest of us, it'll just be a case of well, we knew it was going to happen. Now let's start sweeping up behind. There'll be dislocation now. You'll see various technical rates move because of it, but it is expected so it can be managed. Now for Russia, well, it's disastrous.

1998 is the last time that they defaulted on domestic debt and rescheduled (ph) international debt took years, years to sort out the mess. Now, if you bear in mind, that was under the best conditions where we were working with them and helping them in providing IMF loans and this, that and the other. Jake, this time, I mean, if they default and with all the aircraft leases and with all the sanctions in place, and with the worsening economy, though remain, the IMF thinks the U.S. -- the Russian economy could fall 15 percent. We're looking at absolute calamity for the Russian economy in the medium term.

TAPPER: Rana Foroohar, Richard Quest, thanks to both you. Really appreciate it.

Coming up, Ukraine's President set the press U.S. lawmakers tomorrow as President Biden prepares to visit Europe next week. We're going to go live from the White House on the latest push to help Ukraine and confront Putin. That's next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In the world lead, a series of new U.S. sanctions on the Kremlin and its allies and Russia is retaliating. Today, the administration sanctioned Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. The administration also targeted a number of Russians, including a judge and 11 Russian military leaders.

In response, Russia targeted President Biden himself with sanctions today along with his son, Hunter Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, even Hillary Clinton making Russia's sanctions list.

I want to bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly. Phil, the White House confirmed today that President Biden is going to travel to NATO headquarters in Brussels next week. That will be a significant show for NATO of unity as Russia continues its brutal invasion.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it's probably the highest state visit by a U.S. president to Europe in decades. And one that, as you noted, is designed to underscore what has been the focal point of the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine over the course of the last several weeks and that is a unified Western response. All 30 NATO member country leaders are expected to attend a hastily arranged what's called extraordinary Summit.

President Biden will also attend a pre-scheduled meeting of the European Council. And there is some talk amongst administration officials that he may extend his visit and visit a Eastern European country perhaps to meet with refugees as well, though that is not locked in yet. The big question right now, given the unity whether it's on sanctions, whether it's on diplomatic intent, is there anything they can agree to to announce that would go forward or further? That is the question.

We've obviously seen the pressure from Capitol Hill, pressure from some members of NATO as well to do more for Ukraine. At this point in time, the unity is the most important element when you talk to administration officials about the response, whether or not they can agree on something is something that's still being debated between European and U.S. officials now, Jake.


TAPPER: And Phil after the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Congress tomorrow virtually, President Biden's going to speak and we're likely going to hear him address some of the requests. Zelenskyy is expected to make, ones that there is little appetite for in the United States, including enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: Yes, Jake, whether implicit or explicit. When the President speaks tomorrow, it will be in response to when President Zelenskyy addresses members of Congress tomorrow morning. Look, you only have to think back a couple of weeks. Last time President Zelenskyy spoke to lawmakers in a zoom on a Saturday morning making the request for fighter planes, making the request for a no-fly zone.

It really drawing a very emotional response from those lawmakers that ramped up the pressure on the administration. And the White House will attempt to address that. There has been no movement forward on those fighter planes, but they will outline assistance.

Just today, the Secretary of State announcing an additional $186 million in humanitarian aid. President will talk about $13.6 billion more headed towards Ukraine on humanitarian and lethal assistance. That will be the focus of the President tomorrow, Jake.

TAPPER: Phil Mattingly, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's dive into this with our panel. Let's welcome Bakari Sellers and S.E. Cupp. So here's what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had to say today about the objective of President Biden's trip. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His goal is to meet in person, face to face with his European counterparts and talk about necess where we are at this point in the conflict in the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. We've been incredibly aligned to date. That doesn't happen by accident. The President's a big believer in face to face diplomacy. So it's an opportunity to do exactly that.


TAPPER: S.E., President Biden said, he's been having these same conversations virtually for weeks now. What do you make of him now heading to Brussels to speak with other NATO leaders? Is it really about the face to face conversations, or is it more about the the symbol, the image going to Brussels standing with NATO?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's the latter. Look, it is important to meet face to face with people. You and I know through the pandemic, it's, you know, hard to do what we do, virtually. But I think there is some symbolism -- there's only so far that he wants to go in terms of helping NATO and Ukraine.

And so this is something he can do to say, I'm not just interested, I stand with you. I want to show you that even though I'm not going to give President Zelensky everything he's been asking for it. I know that's disappointing. I am here for NATO, I am here for Ukraine.

TAPPER: Bakari, the White House today would not confirm if President Biden might also go to other NATO countries, perhaps the one that people were talking about the most is Poland, because obviously, Russian strikes on Ukraine came within 12 or 13 miles of the Polish border. And all those refugees, I think more than half of them that have fled Ukraine have gone to Poland. How significant would it be if he went to Poland? Should he go to Poland?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Huge. And should he go? Yes. I mean, I think that the show of strength and unity that this administration has portrayed has unified the globe around presidency plans, Zelenskyy, the Ukrainians and actually helped push back against Russia and Vladimir Putin.

Secretary Blinken, you have Kamala Harris, you have the president of the United States now going to show that strength. Jake Sullivan, just in his one on one meeting with China. You have this administration taking those steps with a unified NATO also showing strength. And that's, I think, that is going the extra mile.

Now, I will say this, I think that there are many members of the United States Congress. There are a lot of us here at home. I think it's both Democrats and Republicans who say that we should give them every resource we possibly can. And the red line is, you know, the no- fly zone. But airplanes, resources, military weapons, whatever we can do to arm the Ukrainians, we should do.

And I think that the President is going to hear that loud and clear whether or not he does it, I'm not sure. But he definitely should at least try to do everything in his power. TAPPER: Tomorrow, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is going to address Congress via video. Today, he received a standing ovation after speaking virtually with Canada's parliament. We do expect Zelenskyy will reiterate his call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine. The White House pushed back again on this idea saying defending this would push U.S. servicemembers into conflict with Russia and who knows how much that would escalate.

I mean, S.E., to put it starkly, what the U.S. is basically saying is the risk of nuclear confrontation. If the U.S. were to get involved in enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, is so stark that we are willing to watch. This is what -- this is my interpretation of what the administration and NATO are saying.

CUPP: Yes.


TAPPER: We are willing to watch tens of thousands of Ukrainians die because we do not want to risk millions of people around the globe dying. I mean, am I putting too starkly do you think?

CUPP: No one, it's worse. Tens of thousands would be awful but that would be on the low end. If you look at what Putin and Bashar al-Assad have done in Syria, I want to thank you for highlighting that in a previous segment. Today marks a grim anniversary. It's the 11th year that that war has been raging.

And, you know, upwards of 500,000 have died, 50,000 of them children there and Assad and Putin are still waging war against a Syrian citizen. So it's much -- the potential for the catastrophe to balloon and get much, much worse is, of course, there. And I think that Zelenskyy knows how to use not only social media and traditional media, but the political bodies around the world like U.S. Congress.

He knows that if he speaks to these atrocities, both the humanitarian atrocities, but also the economic factors, the refugee crises, all the things that it will be impossible to look away, as so many did in Syria. Believe me, Syria looms large for people in the region and people who've been watching.

And I think Zelenskyy knows that if the world moves on from Ukraine the way it did in Syria, then Ukraine is lost. It's gone. But I will remind people, there seems to be a little paralysis when it comes to Putin and these nuclear threats. We've killed hundreds of Russians in Syria, hundreds and bragged about it.


CUPP: And it did not mean --

TAPPER: They were -- I should note, they were Russian mercenaries, though, not Russian soldiers. And I guess to Putin, there is a difference of -- Bakari, I just want to give you one last chance to weigh in because something when Hillary Clinton was put on this Russian sanctions list, even though she's completely out of government, out of power, hasn't been in power in years and years. She retweeted the article about it and wrote, "I want to thank the Russian Academy for this Lifetime Achievement Award."

SELLERS: Yes, I mean, that was a witty answer that belonged on Twitter. We could actually use her in government right now. Oh, what a difference that would be. But let me also just say really quickly, Jake, I think you were too stark in your description thereof.

I think supplying them with MiGs, supplying them with other defense mechanisms, arming the Ukrainians is something that we should do to the tilt. And I think we can do that without actually enforcing a no- fly zone. And it's more nuanced than the starkness that you and S.E. have believe it to be.

TAPPER: I was just saying that that's an interpretation of somebody else's position, not my position. Bakari, I appreciate you as always. S.E., great to see you. Thanks to both of you.

A multicity man comes to an end at a gas station in Washington, D.C. And now we're learning more about the alleged gunman behind the shootings of five men who are experiencing homelessness. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, you're watching the end of a manhunt for the suspect in brazen cruel attacks on people experiencing homelessness in Washington, D.C. and New York City. The suspect was arrested at a D.C. gas station early this morning. Over the span of nine days beginning on March 3rd. police say that the shooter injured at least three men and killed two, most of them while they were sleeping. And now some relief for those terrified by the attacks.


CHIEF ROBERT CONTEE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE: Today, I am here to announce we've got our man.


TAPPER: CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us now live. And Shimon, how did police track him down and what's he being charged with?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Ultimately, Jake, it was tips, tips that the police received after they released photos of this individual, photos and video that then led them to identify him as 30-year-old Gerald Brevard. That's how they found them. They said based off of these key tips from people who call them in, they were able to conduct surveillance, they were able to know which locations they thought he might be at.

And so that's how they found him this morning at 2:30 outside this gas station in southeast D.C. Now he's facing several charges in Washington, D.C. including first degree murder, assault with intent to kill and assault with a deadly weapon. He's also potentially facing charges here in New York City for those two other shootings. One of them where he shot, brutally just shot a sleeping man here out on the streets of Manhattan.

The D.A.'s office here has yet to charge him with in connection with those two shootings. But they say that is going to happen at some point. The NYPD is still working through some of that evidence and they hope to be able to charge him soon here, Jake.

TAPPER: Shimon, there was a $70,000 reward for tips related to leading to the shooter. Is somebody going to get that money?

PROKUPECZ: Oh, yes, the police chief there in Washington, D.C. said that they are going to give that money to the people who called in those tips. They say those tips were key, the fact that they were able to come up with this money to pay this $70,000. Someone is going to get that money, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much.

Coming up, grab your tissues. Why pollen counts are about to spike 250 percent. And allergy season is expected to start one month earlier. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Finally from us in our health lead today, scientists often complain that the public doesn't truly appreciate the urgency of the need to combat climate change because the impacts are long term. They happen over a long period of time, but a new study shows that the effects are actually right under your nose or to be more specific, right in your nose.

Researchers say climate change will cause future allergy seasons to be far more intense. Spiking pollen counts by as much as 250 percent, causing the season for sneezing to start more than a month earlier. Meaning even more of misery for people who have allergies or asthma or other health problems. Scientists say warmer temperatures due to the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are the main factor. So get your tissues, ready now.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can also tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you every miss an episode of THE LEAD, you can listen to THE LEAD wherever you get your podcasts. The whole two hours sitting right there for you to enjoy. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."