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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Pentagon: "The Threat To Kyiv Is Not Over"; Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) Is Interviewed About Ukraine War; U.S. Skeptical Of Russian Claims Of Scaling Back War On Ukraine; Insurrection Investigation; American Reboot; Omicron Subvariant Surge In China; Toxic Pit Problem; FDA & CDC Okay Second COVID Booster For 50 And Over. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 29, 2022 - 17:00   ET



FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And he said that there's actually been a decided uptick in shelling coming from the Russian side. Now he says he's not sure whether or not that might be the Russians introducing some sort of scorched earth policy and just shelling this area a lot more than they had before or whether or not they might be covering some sort of retreat.

Again, unclear but what we saw today was a lot of shelling. Here's what we saw.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Even after Russia announced it plans to withdraw most forces from around Kyiv, the fighting continues. Residents we spoke to told us they don't believe Moscow's words are for real.

On the one hand, they retreat and on the other they will transfer their efforts to other positions, Alexander (ph) says. So it's difficult to talk about it withdrawal.

I do not believe in it. It's probably just a rotation says Yuri (ph). It's a regrouping of their troops.

Despite its forces being stalled near Kyiv for weeks, Russia claims it will withdraw because it has achieved its military objectives and now wants to make a positive gesture to Ukraine Moscow's negotiating team said after talks in Istanbul.

A decision was made to radically, at times, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions, said Russia's deputy Defense Minister. But the Russians also made clear this is not a ceasefire and the sounds of heavy battles still reverberate around the capital.

But the territorial defense forces at this checkpoint say make no mistake. If the Russians really do withdraw, it's because they lost.

YURIY MATSARSKI, UKRAINIAN TERRITORIAL DEFENSE FORCES: From the first days of war it was obvious with the Russians will be defeated on the battlefield, in the diplomatic field, in political field. It was out of aggressions.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): While many here hope the battle for Kyiv could end soon, the total both in blood and infrastructure is massive. And parliamentarian Roman Hryshchuk tells me he's not sure Ukrainians will ever be able to trust Russia again.

(on camera): How long do you think it could take to make relations better again before there can be trust between Russia and Ukraine again?


PLEITGEN (on camera): Or trust towards the Russians, I would say.

HRYSHCHUK: I think it will be years and years, may be hundreds of years. And you know, every people in Ukraine lost all the house of relatives, of friends in this for. And our children, they have a night in shelters, they listen to these bombs, and it's for ages.


PLEITGEN: So there you have it, Jake. Absolutely unclear whether the Russians really are withdrawing as the Pentagon was saying. They see some small movements. But it's really not clear whether that's a massive force, it's going away.

But as you can see also, they leave behind a lot of anger here on the part of the population here in Kyiv and really unclear how long it could take before the relations could ever be mended. Of course, it's very far away from that even being started. And then we also have to keep in mind that Kyiv is one area but you still have that town, Chernihiv, as well that the Russians were talking about that's still completely encircled and levelled almost on a scale of Mariupol of what we're hearing, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Fred Pleitgen reporting live for us from Kyiv, Ukraine, thank you so much. Joining us live to discuss, Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee. He met today in Washington, D.C. with members of the Ukrainian parliament.

Congressman, let's start with those meetings. What did the members of the Ukrainian parliament share with you about the situation on the ground? And what did they tell you that they still need?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, it was interesting to the point you were just making, they thought this was not just repositioning by the Russian army, it was also face saving. They were proud of the fact that they had stopped the Russian efforts at Kyiv and that Putin was looking for an excuse to pull his troops away.

It was a very powerful meeting. I mean, these were five members of the Rada, they were all women, all mothers, but their messages were particularly powerful. One described an alert on her phone that had gone off because her two-year-old son was in an area with an air raid taking place. They talked about their trip here where they had walked across the border and then driven to Warsaw so that they can fly here.

And I think their takeaway was really compelling. They said to us weaponry is humanitarian aid. When the enemy is targeting civilians and children, their needs our weaponry, first and foremost.

TAPPER: Is the U.S. doing enough? Was NATO doing enough to get these Ukrainians the weaponry they need?

QUIGLEY: You know, I think the Biden administration has done a masterful job uniting NATO in the west and moving as far as we have. But frankly, this is a war on the water. It's a war on land, in the air, and you can't fight it on a limited basis. So we need to give them all of the resources they need. I think the javelins and stingers are particularly effective but they need surface-to-air. They need the planes to battle the Russians on an equal footing.


TAPPER: The Biden Administration today is not obviously buying the line from the Kremlin that they could withdraw from the capital region of Ukraine. How concerned are you that there will remain a serious threat to Kyiv, that this is just more Russian lies just like the lies we heard before they attack Ukraine when they said they were not going to attack Ukraine?

QUIGLEY: I think my colleagues from the Rada were hit it right on. This is a temporary repositioning. We know that some of the Russian army is up in Belarus, restocking and getting ready for further attack. So, I don't think there's anything you can believe that comes out of the Kremlin on this fact. And I think we should believe most our allies and those who are having to fight the Russians on a day-to- day basis.

TAPPER: The Russians might be repositioning near the capital, but of course, they're still pounding, brutally destroying cities such as Melitopol and Mariupol and Kharkiv. And what does that tell you about Russian intentions here?

QUIGLEY: You know, it makes me think of Ukraine is fighting the fight. Ukraine's cause is to fight and the reasons we formed NATO in the first place. So, when I see those cities getting levelled and innocents being butchered, I just wish people would stop saying, well, they're not prefacing everything, well, they're not a member of NATO, right? They are why we formed NATO, and we should give them all the A they need to fully combat the forces they face.

TAPPER: As Fred Plotkin just reported, Ukrainian say it's going to take generations for any sort of trust to be restored. That's assuming that there is some sort of peaceful resolution to this. So, what might the Russians need to do in order for the West to ever trust them ever again?

QUIGLEY: I think a couple things, we have to begin with regime change, one that they complete on their own. I also think they're going to have to help Ukraine build their country back to where it was. And give Ukraine the understanding that if they want to join the E.U. and NATO, then that's their choice that they are a sovereign democratic country. They can't force a Demilitarization, therefore weakening the prey that they face, but still will, again, probably take generations.

TAPPER: We're seeing the broad strokes of a possible roadmap to a truce at least or a ceasefire. It would include tabling the future of Crimea for now. Ukraine would back down for -- from its ambitions to join NATO. Ukraine would look at pledging some sort of military neutrality, although with security guarantees. Do you think that's a deal that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy should be willing to take?

QUIGLEY: You know again, our guest today said that Ukraine is negotiating with a gun to their head. And I'm hoping that they're not forced because they aren't getting everything they need to make a deal they shouldn't do. So, this has to be a decision made by a sovereign democratic country with the protection from the west and a realization that I think they firmly believe that they can't trust Russia right now. And that they're probably very skeptical that these truce talks have any merit that the Russians intend to do nothing else but stall.

TAPPER: Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.

It was supposed to be a safe place, but not even the word children written in Russian outside the theatre, twice, not even that stop Russia from bombing Ukrainian theatre with hundreds of civilians inside. We're going to talk to a family that survived. Stay with us.



TAPPER: It's endearing with our world lead, one of the most flagrant of the many outrageous incidents and Vladimir Putin's brutal invasion of Ukraine has been this month's attack on a Mariupol theatre that was serving as a shelter for hundreds of civilians. The Russian word for children was written so clearly outside the building twice. It could be seen from satellite images, yet Putin's forces bombed that theatre. Anyway, at least 300 Ukrainians died in the attack.

Only recently have we started getting videos from inside the building after the attack. And now seen as Ivan Watson has found someone who was in the theatre with her family and shared with him this harrowing story.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was the Mariupol drama theatre before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, a cultural and architectural symbol of the city. And when the Russian military laid its deadly siege of Mariupol, the theatre became a safe haven.

MARIA KUTNYAKOVA, FAMILY SURVIVED MARIUPOL THEATER BOMBING: Six people like with a cat, we go on the street and Russian dung started to shoot in us and we run in with craziness and then we go to the theatre. And you know what, in the theatre was a lot of people, they was like, be OK, we have a food, they give us a tea. And they said, like, you should find a place where you could -- like a bed.

WATSON (voice-over): This woman and her family recently escaped from Mariupol.

KUTNYAKOVA: My name is Maria Kutnyakova, I'm from Mariupol. I'm Maria from Mariupol.

WATSON (voice-over): On the morning of March 16, Maria, her mother, sister and cat joined hundreds of other civilians sheltering in the theatre. Footage from March 10 shows families huddled there in the dark, feeling protected perhaps by the signs, deti, children in Russian that volunteers posted outside the building.


Shortly after arriving, Maria, went to check whether an uncle who lived nearby was still alive.

KUTNYAKOVA: Now, I hear in there noise of the plane, like bombs plain. We know how it's, you know, how this noise because it is bombed every day.

WATSON (voice-over): She returned to the theatre to find it destroyed.

KUTNYAKOVA: So, I understand that my family in this theater. And everyone screaming the names, you know, like mama, papa Lucia Sasha (ph). And I started calling like, mom, Gala (ph).

WATSON (voice-over): Footage of the immediate aftermath shows dazed civilians covered in dust, while the roof over the main auditorium had completely collapsed.

KUTNYAKOVA: when the theatre was bombed, my sister was standing with a window and the window was like blow up, and she's fallen down. And my mom was in another part of the theatre and wall fallen to her.

WATSON (voice-over): Maria's mother and sister were wounded but survived.

(on camera): Your sister, is she doing all right?


WATSON (voice-over): Really.

KUTNYAKOVA: She's like concussive.

WATSON (voice-over): She's got a concussion?

KUTNYAKOVA: She's -- yes, yes, yes.

WATSON (voice-over): Shortly after the initial strike on the theatre, Maria says what was left of the building came under a fresh artillery attack.

KUTNYAKOVA: Everyone starts screaming that theatre is on fire. So, we should run. And we run in, but Russians bomb it. So, we run in from the theatre and bombs was like this, this, this.

WATSON (voice-over): It eventually took nine days for Maria and her family to get through Russian checkpoints and reach relative safety in Ukrainian controlled territory.

(on camera): You seem very positive and upbeat right now.

KUTNYAKOVA: I understand that I'm very lucky. I'm very -- I understand like 1000s and hundreds people still in Mariupol and they bombed. They have no food, no water. They have no medicine, nothing.

And I understand that I'm very lucky. Like I have my arms, I have my legs. What I need anymore, nothing.

WATSON (on camera): And your family.

KUTNYAKOVA: Yes, and my family. My cat is in safe.

WATSON (on camera): This is little Mischka (ph). She's a two-year-old cat. And she survived the bombing of the Mariupol theatre with her family. And they're now headed to Western Ukraine in this bus.

(voice-over): But no one knows how many people may have died under the rubble. Russia has denied that its forces bombed the theatre and Russian state T.V. recently showed what was left of it after Russian troops moved into this part of the city.

Judging by the damage, the Russian reporter claims it was bombed from the inside. He alleges there is information that Ukrainian nationalists organized a terrorist attack here. A claim that people inside the theatre strongly reject.

(on camera): Are you angry right now?

KUTNYAKOVA: No, I want that Russian just go away. This is Ukrainian territory. I don't understand why they come in and tell me that it's not my land. They're not fighting with the army, they're fighting with every citizen, you know? They bombed hospitals, they bomb kitten gardens, they bombed the houses of peaceful people. They not fighting with the armies.

WATSON (voice-over): Maria and her family rushed to a waiting van. The driver will take them for free to Western Ukraine where Maria hopes her sister can safely recover from her injuries.


WATSON: Now, Jake, everybody who flees Mariupol, they suffer an additional indignity. They have to go through these Russian checkpoints. So, people like Maria, they have their phone searched by Russian troops, the same Russian troops that destroyed her home and her city.

And during that process, she says one of the Russians wanted to pet her cat and she had to keep it quiet. But her thought was, don't you dare touch my cat with your bloody Russian hands. This again, to the Russian soldier who's part of the force that invaded and occupied her country.

Maria said she felt safe here in Zaporizhzhia, but her family was not going to stay here. It's been spared the ground war, but it's just 20 miles away from Russian tanks. And that's part of why they left as soon as they could. They do not want to take another risk with the Russian military. Jake.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson with that powerful report live for us from Ukraine. Thank you so much.

Let's discuss all of this and more with CNN Senior Global Affairs Analyst Bianna Golodryga.

Bianna, before we get to the -- what's going on in terms of the war, let's just take a moment to reflect on the human face of this. Thankfully, Maria and her family survived but you see her sister with that blank stare. Hopefully she'll recover. But there are people, I mean, obviously 1000s are being killed, but beyond that the wounded and the emotionally traumatized. And these are scars that will never go.


BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: And these are figures that we're just starting to learn about, right? I mean, after this war, you can imagine the devastation and the toll, the human toll that this has taken upon Ukrainian citizens. But what you also notice is the result, right, in the fight in Maria saying that I will stay here and fight these Russians, right? This is our country, why are they here?

There are millions of people just like her. And I think that calculation was Putin's biggest mistake, right? That miscalculation, actually, that the Ukrainians would welcome him with open arms.

And in fact, when you heard President Zelenskyy give that interview to four independent Russian journalists over the weekend, he said he believes 99.9 percent that whatever was told to Vladimir Putin convinced him that this operation would take three or four days that they would capture Kyiv, right, that they came with dress uniforms, preparing a parade and welcoming Ukrainians back to their homeland of Russia, and that Ukrainians wanted to overturn the Zelenskyy administration, clearly, that wasn't the case.


GOLODRYGA: And so now what happens? What does he do? He stuck his backs against the wall.

TAPPER: So, earlier this morning, there was this Russian Kremlin claim that they were, you know, removing troops from outside the Kyiv area. And since then, our reporting and then also what we're starting to hear from the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, is very skeptical of this. And not only skeptical of what the Russians are claiming, but also cautioning the Ukrainian people that this repositioning that they're saying, OK, maybe they're taking a few soldiers from outside Kyiv, but get ready.

Take a listen to what White House Communication Director Kate Bedingfield just said about all of this.


KATE BEDINGFIELD, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think we should be clear eyed about the reality of what's happening on the ground. And no one should be fooled by Russia's announcements. We believe any movement of forces for around Kyiv is a redeployment and not a withdrawal. And the world should be prepared for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine, everyone should expect that we're going to continue to see attacks across Ukraine.


TAPPER: To be very clear, she was reading some of these words, I mean, in a major offensive is one of the terms that she was reading there. That's a warning to people, not only in Kyiv, but all over the country like this is getting -- going to get worse maybe.

GOLODRYGA: Well, it's also one of the situations where we should take Putin at his word. And that was the word that he said over the last summer when he said that Ukraine, right, is not a legitimate state that it has long been a part of Russia and that it's being run by Nazis in the Zelenskyy administration. So, how he saves fakes and comes around now to tell forget what he says to the Russian people because he's in charge there right now and he has firm position, how does he say face globally, to say that this was all just about the Donbass region, right, or solidifying Crimea and having Ukraine accept the Crimea is Russian at the expense of 10s of 1000s of soldiers were right to be skeptical. And I think Ukraine is right to worry that as long as Vladimir Putin stays in power, he's going to want to seize that country one way or another.

TAPPER: And what do you make -- we heard yesterday, Ukrainian intelligence official told CNN, that or maybe just announced in general, that he thought that Putin at this point was going to try to cleave Ukraine into two, basically, in the border areas in the in the south, in the east you'd have occupied Ukraine.


TAPPER: And then the rest would be, you know, free Ukraine, although in peril. Do you think that that might be what he's going to end up doing here?

GOLODRYGA: It may be what his next approach is, right? But when you see Ukrainians like Maria, when you see Volodymyr Zelenskyy not relenting, not leaving Kyiv, I don't know how the Russian military can accomplish that. You're seeing 10s of 1000s of Russian soldiers dead. You're seeing seven generals now, I believe that according to the Ukrainians, that have been killed, mercenaries are now being brought in. So whatever Putin thinks the next phase may be or what he will be able to settle on is one thing, what is actually practical and what can take place is another. He clearly wants to see the sanctions lifted. I think he's trying to take a breath now recalculate, obviously, given the losses, I wouldn't assume this is going to end anytime soon.

TAPPER: Bianna Golodryga, thank you so much. Good to see as always.

The GOP lashing out at one of its own members, not the first time. We're going to talk to a former Republican congressman about the future of the Republican Party, that's next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, there is a seven hour and 37 minute gap in White House call logs for Donald Trump during the height of the violent insurrection on January 6, according to "The Washington Post" and CBS News. The gap which was first reported by CNN in February is raising more questions and answers considering a slew of reporting showing calls did occur between then President Trump and lawmakers during the insurrection.

Now, sources telling "The Post" and CBS at this January 6 committees investigating if Trump used back channels or the phones of aides of his or a burner phone. Former Texas Republican congressman and former undercover CIA officer, Will Hurd, joins us now. He has a brand new book out today, it's called "American Reboot, An Idealists Guide to Getting Big Things Done." Like I said it just came out today.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Good to have you here and congratulations on the book.

There is -- I want to start with Donald Trump who you, you know, you were critical of when you were in office and also in the book, not necessarily of his policy so much, his approach to things. There's a shady phone log situation going on. Federal judge said yesterday that Donald Trump likely committed a crime. Supreme Court Justice conservative activist wife, Ginni Thomas, facing questions about her role in January 6.


Your book is about pragmatic idealism in a lot of ways, how things can get accomplished. How are you staying idealistic about the Republican Party right now, a party that you love?

WILL HURD (R-TX), FORMER US REPRESENTATIVE: I say idealistic because as I crisscross this country, I see real Americans that care about their country. 72% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and they want something better. We don't have to stay on this track, we can provide something better. That's one of the reasons why I wrote the book, is to talk about where we should be going. And some of this nonsense we've been seeing over the last couple years, doesn't have to be the case. It wasn't the case a number of years ago, and I think I actually do believe our best days are still ahead of us. TAPPER: So, two thirds of your House Republican colleagues voted to undermine the election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona based on lies about what was going on in the states. I don't doubt that you would not have voted that way. Am I correct?

HURD: Yes, correct. So, I guess, the question is, how do you stay idealistic knowing that Kevin McCarthy, the leadership of the House, Republican Party, are election liars. I mean, forget the stuff that you agree with, which is 95% of it. They're against election fairness.

HURD: Well, a third of the House changes almost every year anyways, right? And so, you're always getting new people. So when the new folks that are running, Republicans are going to take the House back in 2022. That's almost a fait accompli and likely to take back the Senate. We got to make sure we have good candidates that are coming in, that are actually being, you know, that are going to be doing things based on the values of the GOP, not stuff that's politically expedient.

That's what happens in Washington. A lot of these decisions that lawmakers make are done because of political expediency, because they're talking to the fringe of the party, the people that vote in primaries. Last cycle, 92% of House congressional seats were decided in a primary. And so, instead of talking to the middle, you talk to the lunatic fringe. And that's part of the problem of why you see things up here but it doesn't have to be that way.

And if we change the way folks come up here to Washington, DC, you're going to start seeing the behavior change up here.

TAPPER: And how do you change the way folks come up to Washington, DC? How do you change that because redistricting has made it so that part, as you say -- as you know not just Republicans, Democrats, like the battles in the primary because of gerrymandering and the rest. And, you know, it seems like --

HURD: It's simple. The way you change is the way that I got elected. I was a black Republican elected in a 71% Latino district. Nobody thought I had a chance. I had as tough of a primary as most people do, but I also had a general election, because this was a district that was truly a jump ball. Anybody could win from either party. But I got different kinds of people to come vote in the in the election.

I dig into this, into the numbers in the book. When you look at in the last non-presidential election, 54,000 people was the average number of voters in a primary. That's not a lot of people. And the number of folks that actually vote in general elections but not in primaries is a lot. Those are the folks that are care about putting food on the table, a roof over their head, and making sure the people that they love are healthy and happy, bringing those people in.

Why do we have low turnout in a lot of elections, is because we're not providing something to the majority of the people that they want to go out and support. If we change that, it's hard, don't get me wrong, that what I'm talking about is difficult, it's hard, but it's worthwhile. Because if we want to keep this century, the American century, we have to fix this problem and send people up here that are going to get big things done.

TAPPER: So you write rather critically about the former chairman of the committee you are on, the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. You write during his first impeachment, Schiff used his position to further undermine trust in our democracy. The President's misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly one, you said during the impeachment proceedings.

I don't know if Schiff was making those claims to create conflict in contrast, but by perpetuating this myth that the Russians actively cooperated with President Trump, he inflicted enormous damage on public trust in the election process. This became an excuse for President Trump to take a page at a Democratic playbook to undermine the election results after he lost to Joe Biden, another appalling effort to destabilize our democracy.

So you really think that that Adam Schiff inspired Donald Trump's false election claims, and you could -- that you could really even compare the two. I mean, I understand you disagree with things that Schiff said and did. But, I mean, what Donald Trump did was, I mean, there was an --

HURD: Of course. I've been clear about that Donald Trump has done.


HURD: You know that, we've talked about that a lot. But here is my problem with someone like Chairman Schiff. He understood. He's a smart individual. He has a lot of experience in many of these issues. And he was always talking about there's more than circumstantial evidence --

TAPPER: In Russia gate, in the collusion, yes.


HURD: And he continue to say that and it made people think, oh, he's chairman of the House Intel Committee, he must actually have access to something that none of us did. And when it all came out, he didn't have that kind of access. And that helped erode trust in our institutions, and that that continued drumbeat by my Chairman Schiff cause some of this problem.

Now, the insurrection on January 6 is unacceptable. I've made that -- I've been very clear, but we have to look at everybody that's playing a part in eroding that trust, and all of our institutions, not just at the federal level and state level, it's in the media, it's an academia. And we need people that are going to actually do what I say in the book, is your audio and your video must match. What you say must also match with what you do, and unfortunately both political parties lack doing that.

TAPPER: All right. An open invitation to Chairman Schiff right now to come back and respond to this, just out of an issue of fairness. Former Congressman Will Hurd, the book is "American Reboot: An Idealist Guide to Getting Big Things Done." It's out today from Simon and Schuster. Thank you so much. Congratulations. Good to see you again.

A city of more than 20 million people at a standstill, no one allowed to leave their apartments, not even for life saving medical treatments. We're going to take a look at the extreme lockdown. That's next.


TAPPER: In our Health Lead, it's official. The Omicron subvariant, dubbed BA.2 is now the most dominant strain of coronavirus in the United States according to the CDC. We have not seen a national surge in cases yet here in the United States. And the key indicator, hospitalizations that continues to slow down thankfully. It's now around last summer's numbers. But not all countries are seeing this downward trend.

In China, expo centers have been converted into massive quarantine centers. CNN's David Culver is in Shanghai for us. There, the heart hit city of more than 25 million has ground to a complete halt.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Emotions in Shanghai are at a breaking point. Chinese social media showing people shoulder to shoulder, pushing to get vegetables, panic shoppers stocking up ahead of an unprecedented city wide lockdown. The plan is to shut Shanghai down in two phases, first, the eastern half from the Huangpu River, then the west. In all, some 25 million people can find to their homes.

Already, desperate stories emerging. This woman pleading for permission to leave her compound saying that her husband needs his cancer treatment. This latest Omicron-fueled surge in cases is China's worst outbreak since Wuhan two years ago. And yet, for some living in the country's international financial hub, Shanghai, this is unlike anything experienced here before.

Videos circulated on social media show hundreds of COVID patients filling up crowded hospitals. So as to keep in line with President Xi Jinping zero COVID policy, Shanghai has turned stadiums and exhibition centers into centralized makeshift hospitals. This video is from the Shanghai Expo Center, said to hold more than 6,000 patients.

On Twitter, expat Emma Leaning chronically in her experience testing positive with mild symptoms, taken to the expo center, given just a bucket and rag to wash up every day.

Just about every day outside, you hear a blaring loud speaker with a new announcement. On this cold rainy day, another mandatory COVID test. My neighbors and I hurried out to the nearest government testing site.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They only let us out the gate just going to test, and then we get back in.

CULVER (voice-over): Once done, your neighborhood gate is locked back up. Stores and restaurants that have had just one confirmed case pass through are treated like a crime scene, roped off and disinfected. Since confirming this first Omicron case in mid-December, Mainland China's average new daily case count has surged from double digits to more than 5,000. There are more than 65,000 active cases and counting. The virus has spread to 29 provinces and regions.

The lockdowns and mass testing bring life to a near halt in many places, and could have global economic impacts. China's Jilin Province and industrial hub, along with the steel making center, Tangshan, locked down. China's Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, is only just reopening after putting 17 million residents that are locked down for a week.

Back in Shanghai, this latest lockdown is forcing Tesla's gigafactory to hit the brakes on production, and it's already caused Shanghai Disneyland to shut its gates. This bustling metropolis powering down. To the outside world the scenes are apocalyptic. China once again trying to prove it can contain the invisible villain. David Culver, CNN, Shanghai.


TAPPER: Thanks to David Culver for that report. From the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, highest court in the United States, how one veterans fight to breed is taking them all the way to the Supreme Court Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Politics Lead, a major change in the presidential nomination process for the Democratic Party. Iowa and New Hampshire could well soon lose their status as the first states to have their say in the primary and caucus calendar. Numerous members of the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee have expressed their support for a proposal that would completely restructure the party's current nominating process, in favor of a new format that would prioritize states with more diverse battlegrounds in the early nominating contests, meeting the largely white states of Iowa and New Hampshire would move down later in the calendar.

A final decision could come when the committee meets again next month. Political reporters forced to travel to those states in the dead of winter every four years, we'll certainly be watching closely.

Turning to our Buried Lead stories, these are stories we feel are not getting enough attention. Some hope for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. Today, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of US Army veteran Le Roy Torres. Torres says he was forced to resign from his post as a Texas State Trooper after experiencing the lung damage he developed from exposure to burn pits while serving our country overseas.

Torres is, of course, not the only one suffering from the effects of burn pits, which would be illegal to build in the United States but not so throughout Iraq and Afghanistan where burn pits were used 24/7 to incinerate all sorts of waste. Food, old uniforms, medical waste, military equipment, jet fuel chemicals, human feces, whatever.


This exposure left many veterans with long lasting side effects, the worst of which is cancer. Let's talk about all this with the man at the center of this Supreme Court case, Army Reserve Captain Le Roy Torres. He's also the co-founder of the Burn Pits 360 Veterans Organization. He's joined by his lawyer, Brian Lawler.

Le Roy, you served in Iraq in 2007 where you were exposed to burn pits. Explain to our audience what the lasting effects have been for you, and what happened with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Army Reserve Captain Le Roy Torres: Yes, Jake, good afternoon. Thank you for having me today.

Yes, I was exposed in '07-'08 during my deployment to Balad, Iraq. And now for the last 13 years, I've been suffering from a lung injury. I was diagnosed with a constrictive bronchiolitis with fibrosis, as well as 2018 with a toxic encephalopathy which is a brain injury. And this is what has been a high cost to pay from the price of war. Of course, I was forced to leave the Department of Public Safety because of this war-related illnesses associated with toxic exposure.

TAPPER: So, the case was argued today. What might a win in the Supreme Court mean? What would that look like for you?

TORRES: A win in Supreme Court would mean that it would be a hurdle for my case, for us to take it back to Texas, and to argue the merits of the case for my job loss.

TAPPER: What about more broadly in terms of other victims and survivors of these toxic burn pets?

TORRES: This would definitely help possibly thousands of veterans of citizens soldiers who have served dual role in the military, who have been exposed to these toxic burn pits that this will enable them to be compensated, to be able to remain employed.

TAPPER: So the House and Senate have each passed their own legislation aimed at helping former service members, veterans exposed to burn pits in order to better get access to medical services. The bill still need to be reconciled. The difference is need to be worked out before the legislation is ultimately sent to President Biden to sign into law. Do you think that process will be resolved soon?

TORRES: We remain hopeful that it will, happen that they passed the House. We moved on to the Senate and we're remained hopeful after the lengthy time that we've spent on advocating alongside of thousand of veterans that were affected, that we remain hopeful that this will continue to move forward onto the President's desk for signature.

TAPPER: And one of the big sticking points has been what's called presumption. Meaning, somebody is exposed to burn pits, a few years later they develop an unusual cancer or some other adverse health reaction. The Veterans Affairs Department, I believe, has been in the past demanding proof that it was caused the sickness, the illness, the disease was caused by the burn pit. Presumption would be -- that the presumption is made that it was caused by that.

In that light, President Biden has noted that his son, Beau, was exposed to burn pits and he has hypothesized that Beau may have developed the brain cancer that took his life, ultimately, because he was exposed to a burn pit while serving in Iraq. Though, Biden has been clear, most recently during the State of the Union Address, to note that there's no direct evidence of this.

I just wonder if somebody who has been arguing the case what you make of this. There is no clear evidence that that's why Beau died. But do you give Beau Biden and Joe Biden the same presumption that many veterans asked for at the VA?

TORRES: You know, I believe that this is -- I do, because it's been something that -- there's been much research has been done on the issue of toxic exposure itself. So I strongly believe that this is an issue that affected him as well as thousand of others that were exposed to these infamous burn pits for sure.

TAPPER: All right. Le Roy Torres and Brian Lawler, thank you so much. Best of luck when it comes to the final Supreme Court decision. We, of course, will continue to stay on the story and report on that same Supreme Court ruling. Thank you so much. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: In our Health Lead, a larger group of Americans can now get a fourth COVID shot if they want one. The Food and Drug Administration today OKed the second COVID booster shot for those who are 50 and older. If you're in that age group, you'll be eligible starting four months after your first booster. The Centers for Disease Control Prevention has already signed off on the FDA recommendation.

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