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The Lead with Jake Tapper

One-On-One with Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko; Putin Congratulate Military For "Liberating" Mariupol, Orders Blockade Around Steel Plant; Pennsylvania Democrats To Meet For Debate In U.S. Senate Race; Biden Administration To Erase Student Debt Of More Than 40,000 Borrowers; Wildfire Near Flagstaff Prompts More Than 750 Evacuations. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 21, 2022 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's a seat that could determine control of the U.S. Senate. But now the Senate race in Pennsylvania could define what it means to be a Democrat.

And leading this hour, the besieged city of Mariupol appears to be on the brink of falling to the Russians. A city that has captured would provide an essential link for Putin's forces connecting Crimea seized in 2014 to the Donbass region. Putin claims, Mariupol has been "liberated," quote, unquote.

But hundreds of innocent civilians remain trapped inside the steel plant with no evacuation route available. Putin has ordered his troops not to let anything in or out of that plant. This as a new horror is uncovered just outside Mariupol. Satellite images show what Ukrainian officials say is a mass grave that has been expanding over the last month. An advisor to Mary opals mayor says Russians are taking truckloads of corpses and dumping them into the ditches.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us now live from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv with more on this.

Ed, what are Ukrainian officials saying about these images and the possibility of mass graves here?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're saying that this is once again proof that we are watching the commitment of war crimes right before our eyes. And these new satellite images show about 12 miles outside of Mariupol what appears to be mass graves. Ukrainian officials and the adviser to the mayor there in Mariupol says they believe that Russian trucks are driving civilian victims to this mass grave and simply dumping them on an embankment.

All of this comes as Vladimir Putin is claiming that he has, quote, "liberated the city of Mariupol," that is the cynical language that Putin has been using to justify this invasion in Ukraine. But inside that steel plant, we know that there are still military forces and civilians inside. They are looking to -- for a way to be able to get those civilians to safety, into -- getting them safe passage to safer parts of Ukraine. But you know, Jake, as we watch and hear this news of mass graves there in Mariupol in the formerly occupied areas where Russian forces were here around Kyiv, you know, the work of investigating war crimes continues every day. Graves are being exhumed every day. And all of this has been witnessed by civilians. And we tell this story through the eyes of a teenager who watched all of this unfold right outside of his home.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Hidden behind a row of homes in the town of Borodianka, Ukrainian police exhume the bodies of nine civilians killed by Russian soldiers. They're documenting evidence of war crimes. This mother stands over her son's body left in a makeshift grave.

On the other side of the graves, we notice Ivan Onufrienko staring quietly at the grave of another victim.

(on camera): One of your friends is buried here?

Ivan says his friend was killed by Russian shrapnel as she tried to escape the city. The cross-bearing Katya's (ph) name was made by his grandfather who dug this shallow grave because they couldn't store the bodies at the hospital.

IVAN ONUFRIENKO, 16-YEAR-OLD BORODIANKAN RESIDENT (through translator): I can't take this well when I see this. I cry, but I'm not showing this. I feel weak, weak because I cannot do anything.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ivan is 16 years old. In two months of war, he's witnessed the innocence of childhood die before his eyes.

Watching Ivan makes you wonder how a teenage mind copes with the horror in front of him. His family says, to understand, we must see what they experienced.

Ivan's family never left this backyard shed for more than 30 days while Russian troops occupied the city. Ivan's grandfather and father showed us how they survived on nothing but homemade bread.

(on camera): So basically, they would take the grain, the raw grain and grind it down into flour or a version of flour and then they would make their own bread in this oven. And that's what they lived on for more than a month.

(vice-over): Five adults and four children hid in this underground bunker. This is where Ivan heard weeks of artillery blast and cries for help. The sounds of war that will haunt survivors forever.

ONUFRIENKO (through translator): I slept here. My sister and my mom slept here and another family slept here too. We tried to curl up and sleep here together. Sometimes when things got really scary, our dads would come down and stay with us.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ivan's grandfather, Sergy (ph), says Russian soldiers told him the family would be killed if they tried to escape. Police say more than 50 people were killed here. Many of them shot as they tried to run away. The death toll is expected to climb.


(on camera): How frightening was this experience for you?

SERGY, BORODYANKAN RESIDENT (through translator): I can't express it.


SERGY: It was war. It is scary. We never felt anything like that. They were hitting everything, smashing it.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Sergy is stoic as we talk about surviving the Russian siege. But there's one question pierces his heart.

(on camera): Do you worry about your grandchildren witnessing this war?

SERGY (through translator): I don't have words for that, do you understand? The little ones can forget, but the older ones will remember always.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Grandfather and father know their children will never be the same.

(on camera): Why do you feel it was important to be here at this moment?

ONUFRIENKO (through translator): So people can see for themselves, the whole world should see how the Russian world comes and kill civilians for nothing.

LAVANDERA (on camera): When you get older, what do you think you'll remember about this moment in this day?

ONUFRIENKO (through translator): I'll remember everything. I'll remember every day. And I will tell my children and my grandchildren. I will remember this all my life.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): He's a teenager who refuses to look away from the raw reality of this war.


LAVANDERA: And, Jake, you know, the one question that the family struggles to kind of explain and deal with is how they were some of the ones that were spared in that city. They talked about the civilians who were trying to escape, getting on buses driving down the road and Russian forces firing artillery at them, you know, those are the people that they can't get out of their minds as they sit there, you know, giving gratitude for being able to survive this horror, Jake.

TAPPER: Very, very powerful piece. Ed Lavandera in Kyiv, thank you so much.

Joining me now from Kyiv is Yulia Tymoshenko. She's the former prime minister of Ukraine and she has remained in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.

Madam Prime Minister, we have seen the horrific images coming out from towns all over Ukraine, civilians murdered in cold blood, families and communities shattered. You've been traveling around the country bearing witness to the devastation firsthand. What is it like for you as a leader and as a human being to see these awful scenes playing out in your own country?

YULIA TYMOSHENKO, FORMER UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Me and my team have been in each hot spot in our country. I saw Kyiv Region, I saw killed people, killed children in the street, ruined houses. Today, we know that over 22,000 civilians have been killed in Mariupol. This is a terrifying view. It's very scary to see killed people lying in the street.

And it is scary to see the stories of the people who have lived through this experience in Bucha, Borodianka, Irpin, the invaders. People are saying that in front of their parents, small girls were raped. And in front of the children their parents were killed. This is terror and grief that the Kremlin has brought to Ukraine. It's impossible to describe in words and it is very painful.

And it's very important that the peoples all over the world understand the depths of this tragedy when peaceful Ukrainian people are going through genocide.

TAPPER: Putin announced today that he does not feel there's a need for Russian forces to storm this last Ukrainian holdout inside Mariupol. He declared the rest of the city in his words, quote, "liberated." What is the latest that you are hearing from inside Mariupol? And what would it mean for the broader war if Russia successfully seizes control of the entire city?

TYMOSHENKO (through translator): In reality, the fake is produced by the Kremlin filling the whole world. Our defenders are defending Mariupol from the invaders who are 10 times more in numbers than our defenders of Mariupol. Now they are in a hostile plant. It is like a fortress.


And the civilians, women and children are also there, and they have been bombed, they are killed. This is why it is so important that now the Western countries, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Europe start defending -- participate in defending Mariupol and demand together with us to open humanitarian corridors to save these people.

Lots of people are still not being buried. They're just lying in the streets. As the wounded, the injured people need to leave the city through the humanitarian corridor, but they're not letting us.

Our country, our people, our military, people are going to defend every inch of our country. We are not going to leave. And we need the help of the Western countries because from their weapons, the existence -- the very existence of our country depends and our people.

TAPPER: I've heard Ukrainian officials say that Germany could put an end to this war within the next month or two if they just took serious steps to stop buying Russian fuel. What is your message to the people of Germany?

TYMOSHENKO (through translator): My message is today to all countries who are buying from Russia, oil, gas and coal, today the payment for energy sources is 1 billion Euros per day, this is what the aggressor country is receiving from European countries. One billion Euros per day is going to -- continuation of killings and terror and rapes and robbing of our people.

If all countries don't realize now that it is necessary to stop giving money to Russia for terrorism. The war sooner or later will affect every European country. It is necessary to implement absolute embargo on the energy resources. And the countries need to find a solution to replace Russian gas and oil. It's impossible that the country that is planning to fight the whole world, it can't be allowed to have trillions of dollars for weapons.

So, the complete embargo for as soon as possible. This is the second factor of the victory.

And the first factor is the enough weapons for Ukraine. Like Churchill said, give us the instrument, weapons and we will do our part. Same Ukrainians are saying give us the weapons and we will do with this evil once and forever on the territory of Ukraine. And we will not this -- will not allow this evil to spread all over the world.

TAPPER: Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, thank you so much for joining us.

TYMOSHENKO (through translator): Thank you very much.

TAPPER: Up next, the Russians may have left but that does not mean the danger is gone. We'll have the latest on the threats facing Ukrainians who are just trying to return to their homes.

Plus, it's Ron DeSantis versus Mickey Mouse as Florida Republicans escalate their fight with Disney.



TAPPER: Staying in our world lead, beware of landmines, that is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's message to citizens who are able to return home.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): The biggest threats are mines and tripwire. Mines planted by the occupiers and shells that did not explode.


TAPPER: CNN's Phil Black is traveling with an IED team around Kyiv hunting down active landmines that haunt the newly liberated region.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Weaving through the trees, this brave stretcher crib is carrying a delicate cargo, not the wounded, but something with the potential to seriously wound or worse. They're collecting the active munitions Russian forces left behind.

(on camera): This forest is scarred by battle, there's blackened Earth and splintered trees pretty much everywhere. The Ukrainians say their rockets rained down on Russian positions here. This is what's left of a Russian weapons system.

They say the battle may have lasted hours, but the cleanup will take much longer.

(voice-over): Here, among the natural debris, lies the dangerous end of a Russian order gun (ph) rocket.

The soldier says it's filled with cluster munitions. Those weapons are banned by more than 100 countries. This one is standing proud. It shows why they must work quickly. When the soldiers last saw this damage rocket it was lying horizontally. Somewhat foolish lucky and unqualified has lifted the warhead so it now points to the sky.


The professionals carefully stretched it away and add it to their growing collection.

That was a single 500-pound bomb and that's how you make it safe according to this disposal team. They've got two more to go. The air delivered bombs recovered from a downed Russian aircraft and they're going to destroy both at the same time.

The big ones are easy to find and you get the feeling fun to destroy. Most of the effort, hunting down mines and other abandoned ordinance is painfully thorough, careful work, scanning and prodding the earth with intense focus for hours at a time. But there's urgency too because discarded and deliberately planted weapons are harming people weeks after the Russians left this territory.

This truck hit a mine north of Kyiv incinerating the driver. This emergency vehicle also ran over something explosive, injuring eight on board.

There are many painful legacies to Russia's brief presence in this part of the country. Ukrainians are working to ensure this one doesn't endure.


BLACK: Jake, the commanding officer of a disposal unit told us that he works to a simple formula. For every year of the war, he says there will be a further three years of cleaning up the dangerous stuff that's left behind. But no matter how careful and methodical that work, it does not eliminate the risk, because on average is about 1 percent of explosives that they don't find so there will always be some of it out there waiting for years, potentially decades to be disturbed at some point in the future. Jake.

TAPPER: Phil Black, thank you so much for joining us. Please stay safe.

Coming up, Republicans are going all in on their fight with the Walt Disney Company. But are taxpayers going to end up footing the bill? More on that next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today, Florida's Republican led legislature has now passed a bill stripping the Disney Corporation of a 55-year-old special tax district that allowed the company to operate as an independent government around its Orlando area theme parks. This move comes after Disney executives spoke out against the state's new legislation banning any discussion in K through third grade classrooms of sexuality or gender identity, which critics of the law say is an anti LGBT law dressed up in the cloak of parent's rights. Republicans obviously disagree.

CNN's Leyla Santiago join us now live from Miami.

And Leyla, Governor DeSantis has expressed his support for this bill, it's expected he'll sign it into law. It will impact more than just Disney. Of course, when he does that Florida taxpayers could theoretically be on the hook for a billion dollars because of this move, some people are saying. Tell us about that.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're keying in on a, well, a key question here. That is still very much in dispute, Jake. Still a lot of clarity needing to be established over what will happen to the debt of this special district.

And while we don't have the answers to that there's a lot of concerns coming from the Democrats of Orange and Osceola County, the area that surrounds this special district, and they are estimating that this could be a tax burden that could be taken onto families an average of 22 to $2,800 of tax burden per families in those -- per family, rather, in those counties. So that's a big concern, just the debt surrounding this.

But another big concern, Jake, is the legality of this. Can this actually be done because there is a Florida statute that says that there must be a vote within the special district if this happens. So, you know, we're still waiting for a lot of that to be worked out. DeSantis now does have these two bills in -- on his desk and is expected to sign within the next 15 days.

And we're also still waiting to hear from Disney. They've been pretty quiet over the last few days. Surely they are talking to their attorneys about this. And we'll have to wait and see if this all ends up in court.

TAPPER: Yes. There's also the politics of whether or not politicians should be punishing a company for their positions on issues.

There's also drama on another front in the legislature today.


TAPPER: We can see here Democrats erupting in protest that are about to -- this is about new maps to decide congressional districts. There are critics who say that Governor DeSantis is targeting black congressional districts, majority black congressional districts to break up their voting power. Tell us the state of this issue.

SANTIAGO: Right. Well, Democrats did stage that protest, and Republicans move forward with the vote while they were protesting. So there was no final debate on this.

But you know, this is all stemming from the redistricting, the Congressional boundaries that have now been laid out and approved by the Congress for the next decade, really. So, that redistricting takes away, eliminates two districts that are right now represented by black Democrats. And they're not happy about this. In fact, today, the Black Caucus when they spoke after that protest, they said that this is all a distraction, that DeSantis is a big bully and that he is trying to out Trump, Trump on this.


For their part Republicans, the Speaker of the House brows says that this itself was a disruption and a violation of house rules.

TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago reporting for us from Florida, thank you so much. Coming up, control of the U.S. Senate could all come down to Pennsylvania. We're going to check in with one of the Democrats trying to keep his party's majority hopes alive. That's next.


TAPPER: In our politics lead, we're just hours away from the start of a consequential primary debate in Pennsylvania. The top three democratic contenders for the U.S. Senate will share a stage for the very first time after front runner Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman got heat for skipping the first round. CNN's chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju caught up with Fetterman who's trying to put his reputation as a progressive Democrat something on ice.


[17:35:04] MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrats are facing the most daunting midterm environment in a dozen years with Republicans favored to take the House and the 50-50 Senate up for grabs.

But here in the heart of Trump country in a rural Pennsylvania county that Joe Biden lost by more than 55 points, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman is trying to buck the tide coming out everybody warning voters that the Senate Majority could come down to them.

LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Who thinks it's going to be a cakewalk for Democrats in this cycle? Not one hand, not one hand. I agree with you. It's going to be a tough cycle for Democrats, and we cannot afford to write off any part of Pennsylvania.

RAJU: Fetterman now the front runner in a three-way race ahead of the May 17 Democratic primary for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey, a race also defined by its intense debate over what it means to be a Democrat.

On one side, Fetterman calling for the legalization of pot, backing an assault weapons ban and Medicare for All and pushing an increase in the minimum wage and also harshly critical of moderates like Joe Manchin for stopping a bulk of President Joe Biden's agenda.

FETTERMAN: Our party has room for diversity of thought. But if you are looking for a Joe Manchin, Democrat, I am not your candidate.

(on camera): But don't voters want some level of bipartisanship to some pragmatism to their politics and not for one party to going too far.

FETTERMAN: I agree. I also want a full head of hair but realistically that's not going to happen right now.

RAJU (voice-over): Fetterman says he's within the Democratic mainstream.

FETTERMAN: I don't mean to nitpick, but I wouldn't categorize myself as progressive. I consider myself a Democrat that's running on the same platform of ideas that every other Democrat in this race is running on. If a moderate Democrat is somebody that would break with the rest of the caucus and screw up, Build Back Better or the Democratic agenda, then I'm not a moderate.

RAJU: Connor Lam, a centrist representing a swing Pittsburgh area district in the House has been known to buck his party, including by opposing Nancy Pelosi as speaker. But even as Lamb has aligned with federal and non-progressive views such as gutting the filibuster, he has struggled to keep pace in fundraising and the polls and he is now sharpening his attacks against the front runner.

REP. CONOR LAMB (D) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I know a lot of people in our party like him, but it's an awful big risk with an election as high stakes as this. RAJU: There's also this reality, Biden's approval rating is underwater. But none of the Democrats here are running away from him yet.

FETTERMAN: We're going to embrace Joe Biden.

LAMB: I've campaigned with him a lot. So there's, yes, no -- there's no downside to that in my mind.

RAJU: But one dilemma confronting Democrats voter anger over gas prices, inflation and frustration over Washington gridlock.

REP. MALCOLM KENYATTA (D) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I think people are looking around for real and just saying, what's -- what's the hell are we doing? What the hell are we doing?

RAJU: And as for the moderates bucking the Democratic agenda.

KENYATTA: I would call it full of crap.


RAJU: And Jake, Democrat's Fetter - Fetterman's democratic opponents are already attacking him over a 2013 incident when his mayor of the town of Braddock, Fetterman chase down a suspected shooter pulled out a gun on that suspected shooter who happened to be a black man out for a jog.

Now, Fetterman said he acted in what he believed was the best interest of his community and the majority. Black town has re-elected him twice since then. But when I asked him if he regretted his role in that incident, he said, it's not something that I would want to go back to. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much. Our panel joins us now. Nia, let's start with this fascinating Senate race in my home Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. You heard Lieutenant Governor Fetterman in my news piece blasting Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, is that going to be effective with voters in Pennsylvania beyond the Democrats?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, that's the big question. He's got to get through the primary. He looks like he's ahead 30 or so points in this primary. It's next month.

His bet is that he can do better in those rural counties in Pennsylvania than any other Democrat, right, than a normal Democrat. Can he win? Absolutely not. But if he can keep the margins closer, and can he do whether better or better with constituents like young voters, right?

If you look at his platform, if you look at just how he looks, he succeeds, he's bald, he's, you know, prefers to wear gym shorts and hoodies. They think he can do well with young voters who typically don't show out in the same level in midterms, and Democrats overall think that this might be their best chance for flipping a state in Pennsylvania.

Obviously, an open seat. There's going to be a competitive of Republican primary, which you can talk about, but they feel good about Fetterman's chances.

TAPPER: So let me ask you because you're a former senior Biden campaign adviser. Lamb and Fetterman are both embracing Biden despite the fact that he's polling really poorly in Pennsylvania.


Are you surprised that Biden is polling as poorly as he is considering, A, he's -- he won it in 2020, and B, he's from Scranton, as they'll be the first to remind you?

ALENCIA JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Yes. And rebuilding infrastructure is really unpopular in Pennsylvania. You know, it is surprising to see how horrible he is polling right now. But these two candidates are running on pieces of the record that that resonate with Pennsylvania voters.

But the thing about the frontrunner is that not just as you said, he is doing really well with young voters. He's also doing well with older voters. I was listening to some -

TAPPER: Fetterman design (ph).

JOHNSON: Yes, I was listening to something today about the fundraising numbers, they couldn't really get all the numbers because they're getting handwritten checks. Who writes checks, older voters? And so, it's really interesting that Fetterman has this ability to talk about the policies that are popular with Biden, but he's also pretty progressive. He endorsed Senator Sanders in 2016. And yet he's getting some of these older rural voters as well as some of the young voters.

And so it's interesting to watch. And it's also clear why the Democratic Senate committee is kind of staying out of this to see what's going to happen in 2016.

TAPPER: Are you surprised that Conor Lamb who is this moderate kind of made for, you know, you could see him being created in a lab somewhere by like the Democrats that he's not doing better statewide?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I think that one would assume that Conor Lamb would potentially do better in a state like Pennsylvania, but at the same time, I think what people sometimes overlook about the progressive movement is a lot of what they're advocating for, in terms of health care, childcare, even legalizing recreational use of marijuana, which is something that Fetterman's campaigned on is actually popular with the public and with voters.

I think a big question is going to be what impact does President Biden have on a state that, as Nia pointed out is key where Democrats are concerned in terms of flipping a Republican seat into Democratic control, because as you pointed out, the president's approval ratings are underwater across the board, including in the state of Pennsylvania -

TAPPER: Even -- they're -- even worse in Pennsylvania than they are nationally.

SIDDIQUI: And you've heard him as he's kind of toured the country talking about infrastructure, trying to refocus on domestic issues. He hasn't really gotten a bounce in the polls out of his handling of Ukraine. And you've heard him kind of speak to the impact of rising gas prices, inflation and try and talk about the steps his administration is taking to address those issues.

So I think really, what will the Biden effect beyond midterms, especially with implications of the Senate where it's not just about legislative agenda, it's about the judiciary, a potential Supreme Court vacancy. There really significant implications for losing the Senate.

TAPPER: And then there is the Republican primary in Pennsylvania for the Senate race. Also we have the top candidates are Dave McCormick. He's a hedge fund executive actually from Connecticut. Although he now has property in Pennsylvania, he's originally from Pennsylvania, and of course, Dr. Oz, who's originally from New Jersey, although now he's in Pennsylvania, as well.

Trump has endorsed Oz, which really upset a lot of members of the MAGA nation. Can you picture Oz winning? Do you think he has a decent chance if he gets the nomination?

ALICE STEWART, FORMER TED CRUZ COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It's going to be a challenge because right now what we've seen McCormick has been in there for quite some time really working to set up a ground game. He has a lot of the Trump people on his team, and they are a very astute and political politics game in Pennsylvania. And they have really laid the groundwork. He's been ahead in the polls.

And then once Donald Trump decided to get in endorsed Oz, he did get a slight Trump bump. But the question is, how long will that last? And if isn't sustainable? We have a few more weeks until the primary.

Look, Dr. Oz is going to realize a couple of things. Oz is going to realize there's no place like home, and he's going to have questions continuing over his residency, as you said, where he lives is going to continue to be a question.

There's also the fact of him being on television so much, which was a big reason why Donald Trump supported him and got in, he acknowledged, I like him on television, when the more you're on television, the more statements you have that can be used against you. And all that is going to be opposition research.

But the bottom line is people in Pennsylvania are looking at least the Republicans for this primary. They're not concerned as much as who does Donald Trump's support, but who supports his values that the pro- American agenda which is obviously pro-business, pro-energy, pro-life, pro-guns, and that's the question who can drive home that message as part of their campaign from now until the primary. TAPPER: Do you think that McCormick or Oz has an edge in that?

HENDERSON: You know, I would think eyes -- he's probably going to have a tough time I think selling himself statewide. People don't take kindly to sort of, I think carpetbaggers, as you said, he has said some pretty wacky things in his years on televisions --

TAPPER: Beyond that, he said some pretty progressive things also.

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes, so this -

TAPPER: Which prefer them more than the wacky.

HENDERSON: Yes. And I think he's -- particularly I think when people think about Oz going up against Fetterman, I think Fetterman might have a better chance and voters might in that way want to go with McCormick instead was sort of a more I think Conventional GOP.


SIDDIQUI: There are a lot of parallels between former President Trump and Dr. Oz. And we've seen how that can play out. Republicans tried to use Trump's support in the past of Democrats and more liberal positions on gun control and abortion rights against them. It didn't work because ultimately there is an appeal. I think that we saw when it came to Trump and the fact that he was this reality TV star. And you're kind of seeing that same effect with Dr. Oz.

I think the big question is, as we've seen time and again, did those rules only apply to Donald Trump? Or do they apply to other Republicans were fashioning themselves in his image.

TAPPER: As a Democrat, who would you rather the Republican be? Oz or McCormick?

JOHNSON: Oh, absolutely Oz, especially with a lot -- what a lot of Republican voters are saying. They don't think he's pro-life enough. They don't think that Donald Trump should be influencing their election. So it's really interesting to listen to voters, Republican voters talk about Oz, absolutely.

STEWART: I think we'll see if Trumpism works for Trump or if it also works for Oz and how many times -

HENDERSON: And J.D. Vance and also --

TAPPER: All right, great panel. Thanks so much. Coming up, the federal government is rolling out new efforts to try to rein in student loan debt what might that mean for your wallet, that's ahead.



TAPPER: Our money lead now, relief may be on the way for some people feeling the crush of student loan debt. The Department of Education says 3.6 million borrowers will be offered credits to pay down their debts. Another 40,000 people will get their student loan debt forgiven entirely.

Williams College in Massachusetts says that it's eliminating loans altogether and will offer all grants aid. So what might this mean for those shouldering student debt?

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro joins us now. And Evan, this is an attempt to correct widespread breakdowns in the federal student loan payment programs.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, that's a great way of putting it. One of the weirdest, most Kafka esque financial relationships and American can enter into is when it's supposed to make it easier to pay for college. Younger Americans have been begging leaders to make this simpler. And that's why the some of these changes you're seeing today come in.

Let's start with Williams College. This is a very small, selective college, and I'm talking about a lot of students here. But the President of school says it was just too complicated to handle all the aid, like a lot of schools they had a mixture of work study programs, and cash assistance and loans had to be kept up with every semester. The President said, let's get rid of that. Let's go straight to just grants and let students spend more time in class and less time worrying about how they're paying for those classes.

So that speaks to kind of what Americans are really asking their leaders for right now. On the campaign trail, President Biden promised to make it simpler, and to relieve some of this burden of student debt on people.

I spoke to an activist today who said that this move the department education did, which is supposed to make these lower some of these payments make it easier for people to pay these debts. They welcome it. But the problem with this new change is like everything else, while most borrowers should be eligible for new payments, pay relief under this program. The rules are very complicated. Jake.

TAPPER: So who's eligible for this new Department of Education relief? And how soon could they receive that relief?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Well, as I say, the rules are complicated. Most borrowers should be eligible for this under certain payment plans. There are certain payment plans that if you take a couple of decades to pay your student loans, you will be relieved of those loans. And this program puts people closer to that 25, 20-year number than they were before.

So, to check your eligibility, it really requires a lot of knowing about how this payment plan works, what you're doing, you know, where your bills are going to. And so while the plan is to make it easier to pay for college, it's still very complicated, and that's why a lot of activists are asking for just a straight cancellation of these loans. Jake. TAPPER: Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Coming up next. Millions of Americans are breathing polluted air and the problem is getting worse. So what's behind that? Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Earth Matters series, the state of the air is getting more polluted. That's according to a new report released today by the American Lung Association that found 2.1 million more people are breathing unhealthy air compared to last year.

This news comes as fires are burning out Western conditions are expected to worsen significantly tomorrow. Let's bring in CNN's Jennifer Gray. Jennifer, what can you tell us about the study and the expected conditions for the tunnel fire burning currently in Arizona?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Jake, the connection there is the fires are actually making the air quality much worse, especially in the west where we're seeing the highest number of very unhealthy air quality days on record.

Now it's interesting because we had 23-year decline through 2017. And now we're seeing a sharp rise over the last five years of poor air quality. More than 130 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy air quality. So the air pollution is a fourth leading cause of premature death. 8 million people globally die from poor air quality and the effects that that has on your body.

Now the fires are definitely contributing to that we currently have 12 active large fires burning across five states. And it doesn't help that much of the West is in a drought. 90 percent of the Western US in drought with 38 percent classified as extreme or worse.

And look at portions of Arizona where we have extreme drought here where you mentioned the eternal fire 20,000 acres burned, 0 percent contained and we are going to have hurricane force gusts over the next 24 hours or so for these regions. The fire danger is going to be the strongest that we've seen over the last decade as well. And this is mainly for tomorrow.

Now today through tomorrow mornings we have very strong winds, warm temperatures, and that very dry brush but you can see this area shaded in pink. That's what we're talking about the possibility of hurricane force gusts and extreme fire weather. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jennifer Gray in Atlanta. Thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, on the TikTok at Jake Tapper. Or you can tweet the show at The Lead CNN. And if you ever miss an episode to the show, you can listen to The Lead wherever you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.