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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Asks Congress For Additional $33 Billion In Ukraine Aid; Biden Proposes Using Russian Oligarch Assets To Help Ukraine; NATO Chief Warns Russia's War On Ukraine Could Last Years; Pelosi, Schumer Target Oil Companies To Lower Gas Prices; Dem Lawmaker: Government "Not Even Close" To Prepared To Deal With Border Crisis; Romney Suggests Dems Are Bribing Voters With Student Loan Forgiveness; Belarus Opposition Leader Calls For More Sanctions Against President Lukashenko; FDA Proposes Ban On Menthol Cigarette And Flavored Cigars. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 28, 2022 - 17:00   ET



SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, search and rescue operations are underway, say officials, but the initial tally is that six people were injured.

President Zelenskyy says that this is a Russian attempt to humiliate, in his words, the United Nations because of course, he had just wrapped up a meeting with the U.N. Secretary General when these strikes took place. One of his advisors tweeted that on Tuesday, Antonio Guterres was in Moscow meeting with Putin and today explosions above his head. Postcard from Moscow?

Now the timing here is quite interesting, Jake, because you'll recall that earlier this week, Russia launched a series of strikes aimed at Ukraine's rail infrastructure in several places across the country. Those strikes came just hours after the U.S. delegation of Secretaries of State and Defense had left the country safely by rail, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Local authorities in Mariupol are warning that the city is vulnerable to epidemics right now giving the appalling unsanitary conditions throughout the city. Tell us more about that.

MCLEAN: Yes, so the mayor calls the conditions in the city right now medieval. And you can imagine perhaps up to 100,000 people still there, you have no power, no water. You've had people there now for more than two months.

Add to that, the lack of food, the rising temperatures and also 1000s potentially of uncollected bodies. And the city council says this is a recipe for disease outbreak, diseases like cholera, E. coli, dysentery, things like that. Even take war out of the equation, and the mayor says that people will die, plain and simple.

Now the U.N. Secretary General, as I mentioned earlier, was in Kyiv today and he is making it his mission to broker some kind of a deal to get people out from under that sprawling steel plant in Mariupol. He left Moscow with at least an agreement in principle for Vladimir Putin to work with the U.N., work with the Red Cross in Ukraine to try to come to some kind of agreement. And today, Guterres said that there are now intensive discussions taking place behind the scenes for this to happen.

The conditions here, though, I have to say, are not exactly ideal. The police chief of Mariupol said that last night at the steel plant, there were some 50 different airstrikes, one of the heaviest nights of airstrikes. And now, there's rubble in places, there are people trapped underneath of that rubble as well. New video from Ukrainian troops shows what the conditions are like they say underneath of that plant, what they're describing as a field hospital.

Now CNN can't verify the video or the volume of strikes. But again, even without those airstrikes, the conditions there are grim and getting worse. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Scott McLean, reporting live for us from Lviv, Ukraine. Thank you.

The Ukrainian military says Russian forces are quote, "exerting intense fire" on multiple battle fronts as CNN's Nick Payton Walsh reports. The dividing lines are rapidly shifting between Ukrainian resistance and Russian control.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): If Moscow had any surprises left in this war, it is along here. The other side of the river has been rushes for weeks, but here the western side is caught in the fast changing landscape of this week's push.

WALSH (on camera): That's the prize over there, the Dnieper River up past which on the left side bank here, the Russians are trying to push, wanting control of both sides of that vital part of Ukraine.

(voice-over): Here in Novovoronstsovka, we are told there are a handful of Russian tanks just over a kilometer away on its outskirts pushing, probing, but ultimately kept at bay by Ukrainian forces that still hold the town. Resilience here embodied in Ludmila under the threat of rocket fire, planting onions.

I'm here until victory, she said.

(on camera): Her children have gone. It's just her and her mother. (INAUDIBLE) OK, an 80 year old mother and her staying here.

Her mother says she's not going anywhere and she's not going to leave her alone.

All our windows have blown out, she says.

(voice-over): Ukrainian forces who don't want their positions filmed are dotted around the town. As to other signs of innocent lives lost here, rockets peeking out from under the water. And this boat in which 14 civilians tried to flee Russian occupation on April the seventh, four of them died when Moscow's troops opened fire when it was 70 meters out.

Yet still, the desperate keep fleeing. This morning, these women left behind their men to defend their homes near Novovorontsovka.

We ran, ran early in the morning said Luda (ph). They didn't let us out. We're shields for them. They don't let us out by foot or by bicycle. We go in the fields, we ran.


Our soldiers were two kilometers away, Nadeszha adds, and we ran to them. What they need they take, she said, they take cars. They draw Zeds on everything.

As their new unwanted guests demanded milk and food at gunpoint, they had a glimpse of their warped mindset. They say they've come to liberate us, Luda said, these aggressors, that's what they told us. They say America is fighting here but using the hands of Ukrainians to do it. That's what they say. Another claim to be fueled by the violence of the long war with separatists in the east.

In general, the Donetsk militants say, you've been bombing us for eight years, now we bomb you. Across the fields, loathing and artillery swallow whole once happy worlds.


WALSH: Now, things aren't certainly moving fast in this area of the Russian southern offense. So the Ukrainian military admitting that there has been some Russian progress around the town or the area of Mykolaiv. That's north of Kherson, the first city to Russia to occupy where officials there backed by Russia's troops. They talk about the ruble being introduced in a matter of days, Russia's currency, and also freshly installed pro-Russian military leaders there in that town, talking about how it cannot go back to its quote, "Nazi past," that's essentially the kind of rubbish notion put around by Russia that they're fighting Nazis here in Ukraine.

So definite moves by Russia to stamp its control on Kherson and try and push around through the southern countryside here. Whether this town I'm standing in, Jake, Kryvyi Rih, the hometown of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is their ultimate target. We don't know they may end up heading further east, it's unclear, but there's a lot of moving in the open countryside we're seeing here. With that Dnieper River such a vital part splitting it in two, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh reporting live for us, thank you so much.

President Biden today calling on Congress to approve a $33 billion supplemental funding bill to support Ukraine. The President saying, he wants it quote, "as quickly as possible."

Let's discus, Kaitlan Collins, let me start with you. Does President Biden have a sense of whether or not this will pass? Whether or not it will have bipartisan support? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, I think generally here at the White House, they are confident that something will pass but when something passes remains to be seen, because that's where things get complicated after President Biden made this announcement saying that they want this $33 billion in funding for Ukraine, they believe that's what would last Ukraine through the end of the fiscal year, so about the next five months or so. But of course, it is now in the hands of Congress. It's out of the hands of the White House.

And so it remains to be seen how they handle this, because so far Congress has had this issue with COVID-19 funding, with immigration, these deep disagreements that have happened on Capitol Hill. And so, that's where it comes into place how they tried to pass this request from President Biden. Generally, of course, lawmakers have been very supportive of sending weapons to Ukraine, of sending humanitarian and economic assistance to Ukraine, and that's what's included in this $33 billion package. But the question is, do they pass that package by itself? Do they try to pass it in tandem with the COVID-19 funding that the White House has also requested?

Today, the White House said that they don't have to go together. Of course, that is something that some people inside the White House would like to see to go together, but that might make it more complicated. So, that's the big question.

And of course, Jake, when this passes is critical, because the White House says President Biden only has $250 million dollars left in his drawdown authority. That's basically meaning $250 million worth of weapons that he can send to Ukraine.

TAPPER: Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, Democratic and Republican sources tell CNN that the goal is to pass this package before Memorial Day, about a month away. How quickly can the aid move to Ukraine if and when it passes?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The goal of this weapons package the Biden administration has said is to make sure weapons keep flowing in an uninterrupted fashion. We've already seen the administration dramatically increase the speed at which this is possible, a process that used to take weeks from figuring out what's on the list to reviewing to getting approval to sign off to actually sending is now down to, in some cases, at least 72 hours. And the U.S. is flying eight to 10 flights a day of military equipment and other equipment towards Ukraine to get into that flight as quickly as possible. So that's the goal, to keep it going at that speed. And there's billions of dollars here, first in drawdown authority, which pulls from DOD stocks, but also in the Ukraine security assistance initiative, which is buying it from arms manufacturers and having it go right to Ukraine.

TAPPER: Yes. And Kaitlan, today, the Biden administration also outlined a proposal to make it easier for the U.S. government to liquidate assets seized from Russian oligarchs and use that money to support Ukraine. What more do we know about that proposal? COLLINS: This would be a pretty big expansion of the legal powers that the United States has. And what Biden wants is for Congress to give them the authority to, when they have these Russian yachts, these luxury homes, whatever it is that these Russians have and they seize them, that then they could liquidate it. Basically sell them off and then use what they make from that as resources to go to Ukraine.


And this is something that they've been hinting at behind the scenes and publicly. Jake Sullivan, the National Security adviser, said they wanted to make sure these assets didn't just go back to the Russians. That's something that Merrick Garland had said as well, the, of course, the Attorney General.

The question of whether or not it ultimately makes it in this package, if it does pass remains to be seen. It wasn't a nonbinding resolution that the House passed, because I think it's -- what they're saying is that this is important, that they make sure that the Russians, these Russian oligarchs, who President Biden has talked about, benefit from Putin's brutality, don't receive any more of these benefits in the way that they have.

If it does get passed, Jake, of course, it would create a very interesting precedent going forward.

TAPPER: And Oren today, the NATO Secretary General said NATO is prepared to support Ukraine for years in this war, if necessary, years. Is the Pentagon able to sustain this current flow of weapons and aid potentially for years?

LIEBERMANN: As they've sent in all of these weapons, from javelins to howitzers to other different types of equipment, they have certainly kept an eye, the Pentagon, that is certainly kept an eye on U.S. stocks and inventories. Making sure that in sending all of his equipment over, they insist it does not affect U.S. military readiness.

But they have been aware, since this didn't end in the days or weeks that the Kremlin may have wanted, this could stretch on for months or even longer. So that's something the U.S. is keeping a very close eye on, not only in what goes to Ukraine but in its own stalks, its own reserves of weaponry in Europe and throughout.

TAPPER: Kaitlan and Oren, thanks to both you. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, the pressure on Poland, particularly on schools in Poland as that country struggles to make room for Ukrainian refugees and their kids.

Plus, the political fight for controlling Congress and how that has Democrats and Republicans today going to new lengths. Stay with us.


[17:16:12] TAPPER: In our world lead, more than 5.3 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia's full-fledged invasion began in late February according to the United Nations. The majority of those refugees have headed to neighboring Poland. And while Warsaw has proudly accepted hundreds of 1000s of Ukrainians fleeing the war, CNN's Erica Hill reports some schools are running out of tables and chairs to accommodate this unprecedented influx of refugee children.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New School, new language, new country.

ANDERSZJ JAN WYROZEMBSKI, PRINCIPAL, IST LICEUM WARSAW (through translator): We follow the names. When we opened these classes, we did not know what would be in a week, what would be in a month.

HILL (voice-over): There are now 50 Ukrainian refugees enrolled at this Warsaw high school bringing the student population up to 700.

It's Elena's (ph) first day, Lesia is a few weeks in and happy to be back in class.

LESIA, 14-YEAR-OLD REFUGEE FROM RIVNE, UKRAINE: It's given me some space or give me the feeling of safety that I'm safe here, I'm in my normal life.

HILL (voice-over): In Warsaw alone, the Mayor's Office estimates the city has taken in more than 100,000 children with 17,000 already enrolled in public school. The question now is, how many more will come?

RENATA KAZNOWSKA, DEPUTY MAYOR, WARSAW, POLAND: It's a big problem for us because we don't know how many students go to Warsaw and go to our schools.

HILL (voice-over): Warsaw was already short 2,000 teachers before Russia invaded Ukraine. The city needs more staff and money.

WYROZEMBSKI (through translator): This is a huge challenge for us. A good heart willingness to help and volunteering are not enough.

HILL (voice-over): And yet, they're finding ways to make it work.

Polish students are paired with their new Ukrainian classmates.

EMILIA, POLISH HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: We use a lot of Google Translate.

HILL (voice-over): Local families have donated supplies. The school provides breakfast and lunch.

In Lviv, Maryana taught German. Officially she's now a tutor, yet it's clear this mom of three who also fled the war is so much more.

MARYANA DRUCHEK, REFUGEE FROM LVIV, UKRAINE (through translator): We don't just speak Ukrainian, we speak the language of emotions and the language of what we've gone through.

HILL (voice-over): Comfort amidst the uncertainty.

(on camera): Is it good to meet other Ukrainian kids?

DENYS, 16-YEAR-OLD REFUGEE FROM KHARKIV, UKRAINE: Yes, because you you're not alone at school, and you can speak in your language. So, it's good.

HILL (voice-over): While there are more smiles every day, the principal says he can't forget what lies beneath.

WYROZEMBSKI (through translator): We have some who escaped in the middle of the night in their pajamas from their basement where they were.

HILL (voice-over): While school is a welcome distraction, t's also a reminder of how much their lives have changed.

DRUCHEK (through translator): In our hearts, we want to start the new school year in September at home. And we really hope for that.


HILL: And Jake, just to give you a sense of what their days are like, the principal shared a story with me. He said the kids aren't supposed to look at their phones during class, but one day a boy picked his up and he learned that his school back in Ukraine had been hit. At that moment, the rest of the class picked up their phones, they started looking for information on their classmate's school and also checking on their own families and their own schools, and Jake, that became the lesson for the day.


TAPPER: All right, Erica Hill, reporting live from Warsaw, Poland, thank you so much.

Coming up next, the business of war, how U.S. defense contractors stand to make big bucks as the U.S. supplies Ukraine with weapons. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our world lead, today the Biden administration asked Congress for 33 billion additional dollars in aid for Ukraine. And while that includes funding for security, economic and humanitarian aid, it will also, of course, mean lucrative, new deals for U.S. defense contractors. And look, one can support military aid to Ukraine and also wonder who's going to be getting rich off of this. CNN's Alex Marquardt takes a closer look.


(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): As Russian troops poured across Ukraine's border, kicking off the Russian invasion in late February, something else was happening at the same time in New York. The stock prices of the biggest U.S. weapons manufacturers spiked, many eventually climbing to their highest point in years.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, PHILIP KNIGHT CHAIR IN DEFENSE AND STRATEGY, BROOKING INSTITUTION: War is good business for parts of the economy, historically. It doesn't mean the defense contractors cynically wants it. I know a lot of people in these companies and they're as heartbroken by the war in Ukraine as the next person. But yes, war is good business for certain parts of the economy.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The latest American weapons shipments to Ukraine include systems like scores of 155-millimeter howitzers that haven't been sent before. Switchblade and those drones, hundreds of armored personnel carriers joining the now well-known and brutally effective javelins and stingers on Ukraine's battlefields.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes we will speak softly and carry a large javelin because, we're sending a lot of those in as well.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Javelins are made in part by Raytheon, the CEO said last month, they do expect to benefit from the need to replenish U.S. stocks.

GREGORY HAYNES, RAYTHEON CEO: We don't apologize for making these systems, making these weapons. The fact is they are incredibly effective in deterring and dealing with the threat that the Ukrainians are seeing today. Eventually we'll have to replenish it and we will see a benefit to the business over the next coming years.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Raytheon, along with seven other weapons companies, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman met earlier this month with top Pentagon brass and a classified meeting about not just supplying Ukraine, but replenishing U.S. and allied inventories.

O'HANLON: I'm not going to deny that these kinds of conflicts can help certain companies. It's the reality of the situation. But we should also be glad, to the extent we want to help Ukraine, we should be glad we have this industrial base that's capable of producing this stuff on short notice with such high quality.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The Biden administration alone has contributed almost three and a half billion dollars of military aid to Ukraine in the two months of Russia's war. Compared to the Pentagon's 2023 requested budget for weapons, that's just 1.2 percent.

Critics say the Pentagon and contractors could use the Ukraine conflict to justify bigger budgets and more weapons sales.

WILLIAM HARTUNG, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, QUINCY INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT: My concern is when those weapons are replenished, will it be at a reasonable cost? Will the contractors gouge the taxpayer? And also, will there be ancillary changes in our military spending that don't really relate to Ukraine but are used because of the fear related to the Russian invasion to spend on things that they really don't have to do with a defensive Europe.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): There are also concerns about where the billions of dollars of weapons are going once they crossed the border into Ukraine. Officials say the U.S. has no way to track the weapons, nor of course, where they end up in the long run.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Once it gets into Ukrainian hands, it's up to the Ukrainian Armed Forces to decide where it goes, what unit gets it, when -- where it's stored, if it's stored at all temporarily, that is up to the Ukrainians to decide not the United States.


MARQUARDT: In the $33 billion of funding that President Joe Biden just requested today for Ukraine, over a third of it, $11.4 billion was allocated to replenishing the U.S. weapons inventory and for Ukraine to buy more weapons. That's where this new business for these weapons companies will come from, Jake. And the concern now is whether these companies will take advantage of this crisis of this moment to raise their prices.

TAPPER: Interesting. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much for that report. I appreciate it.

A campaign pledge that helped get President Biden elected. Coming up next, Mr. Biden's response today when asked if he plans to cancel 1000s of dollars of student loan debt. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, with the midterms quickly approaching as inflation and gas prices surged, Democrats are going to need some serious fuel to avoid catastrophic election losses, experts say. Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer laid out their plan to win over voters by lowering gas prices and they have picked a common enemy. Take a listen.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: What is causing the increase in gas prices? Number one is market manipulation and big oil not giving a break. That is what we're focusing on.


TAPPER: CNN's Lauren Fox joins us live from the Hill. Lauren, how are Democrats able to stay on message on this?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that was the message from leadership, Jake. But the message from some rank and file earlier this week was Senator Joe Manchin held a bipartisan meeting with Republicans to come up with an all of the above energy strategy. And that really reveals here that after four months when Manchin torpedoed Build Back Better, you still have Democrats grappling with what the message is.

Inflation is a problem. Immigration is a problem. And yet Democrats are all over the map in terms of how to fix those issues. I asked Senator Manchin if he thought that Democrats had a cohesive strategy. He said I've always had a cohesive message. It's not in sync with the other 49. And that is something that you are hearing from members who say there's not much time left to get something together.

You have a lot of members who are on the frontline saying it's up to me at this point to go back to my district, go back to my state, run against Washington and speak out for whatever I think my voters need. That is the strategy a lot of Democrats are deploying because they say there isn't a cohesive message right now from their leadership, or from Democrats at large. Jake?

TAPPER: And Lauren, Senate Republicans and Democrats are sparring over Ukraine funding. They're pointing fingers at each other for jamming up this process. Is Biden's $33 billion proposal going to pass?


FOX: It's going to take some time, Jake. You heard Republicans today say that they want to look through this proposal. They have concerns about the divide between military funding as well as humanitarian funding, saying they think Ukraine is going to need more money for weapons than might be in this supplemental.

You also have to write this legislation. That takes a lot of time. So don't expect this to come up next week, especially because the House is already gone for a week long recess. Senate Democrats and Republicans are going to continue having discussions next week. But this could take several more weeks, Jake, to put together despite the fact that the President said he wanted this done quickly.

TAPPER: All right, Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill. Thanks so much.

Let's bring in our panel. Nayyera, welcome back. Good to have you. So let me ask you. You just heard Democrats, their message is going after Big Oil, Pelosi and Schumer, going after Big Oil for alleged market manipulation. Should that be their focus do you think for the midterms?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SENIOR DIRECTOR: What we've heard from President Biden so far was Putin's price hike, right, trying to say that inflation and rising gas prices which were happening before the war in Ukraine, were to blame on us war on Russia, and that's not really holding up, especially as this war continues, and the American people want relief. We know that oil and gas companies are making record profits, and they are choosing to pass off that money to their investors to pay off their own debt. It is not reflected in the sticker price at the pump. So to be able to direct American ire at gas prices away from the President onto oil and gas companies is not only sound economic policy, it could also be a politically winning message.

TAPPER: Maybe. Jonah, another huge issue landing on Democrats lap right now is immigration, especially the -- all the illegal immigration. President Biden stirred up opposition on both sides of the aisle when he tried to get rid of this Trump era rule that allowed a quicker deportation of individuals because of the pandemic known as Title 42.

I want you to take a listen to Arizona Democratic Congressman Greg Stanton, grilling the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas earlier today.


REP. GREG STANTON (D-AZ): Putting more pressure on a system that can handle it carries a significant risk of creating a full scale humanitarian crisis on American soil, for which the White House and your department will be solely responsible. No person who cares about migrants should want them. It's clear to me that the federal government is not prepared. Not even close.


TAPPER: Just to remind people, that's a Democrat.


TAPPER: So that's what a swing state Democrat is saying. How cogent an issue do you think this is? And is it a bigger -- is it as big an issue if you're not in a border state?

GOLDBERG: I think it's becoming -- look, well, we just had Maggie Hassan, who was running for Senate re-elect in New Hampshire --

TAPPER: Right.

GOLDBERG: -- do an ad from the border, right? So this has national resonance for all sorts of things. I think, part of the problem that Biden and the Democrats have generally is it -- I feel that I should have brought my Fonzie lunchbox, right? Because it's like 1970s all over again, where every bad problem seems like a metaphor for other bad problems.

Inflation seems out of control. It is prices are out of control. Immigration seems out of control. International affairs seem out of control. And you can't just sort of isolate any one without -- and contain it as an issue without taking into effect that just generally it feels like people aren't in charge, and the Democrats don't know what they're doing.

I'm not saying the Republicans do know what they're doing, but they have the luxury of being able to say, you guys own all three branches of government right now. It's on you to fix it. And the Title 42 thing is -- it's a real catch 22 for him, because on the one hand, the Democrats definitely need the base to be roused and show up.

On the other hand, if they want to win moderates and centrists, they have to do things on immigration, that the base does not want them to do, very much like the student loan problem. And I don't think there's a way to sort of cut the Gordian Knot or fix the Kobayashi Maru or whatever, you know, reference you want to use here.

TAPPER: Let's talk about student loan debt because, Nayyera, here's President Biden's comments today on student loan debt. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am considering dealing with some debt reduction. I am not considering $50,000 debt reduction. But I'm in the process of taking a hard look at whether or not there are going to -- there will be additional debt forgiveness. And I'll have an answer on that in the next couple of weeks.


TAPPER: What do you think?

HAQ: This election cycle, Democrats are going to have to figure out who they want to be. Are they going to continue to try to win back non-college educated white men? If they're not, then yes, there's a very easy appeal to make to millennial voters, to black women who carry the majority of student loan debt. It's 43 percent of college educated people have student loan debt. 90 percent of black people, right?

That is a significant coalition that Biden can tap into, if it's a play of playing to the base and having those voters turn out. Student loan debt for this generation is a pocketbook issue.

TAPPER: Yes. Jonah, I want to get your reaction to this from Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, "Democrats considering forgiving trillions in student loans. Other bribes suggestions? Forgive auto loans? Forgive credit card debt? Forgive mortgages? And put a wealth tax on the super-rich to pay for it all. What could possibly go wrong?" Is that the right response for Republicans trying to counter counteract this.


GOLDBERG: Look, I think Mitt Romney makes a very good point about auto loans. Most people don't have student debt, because most people don't go to college. And most of the people who do have student debt have manageable amounts of it. A lot of the student debt hasn't -- has to do with grad schools and other sort of -- I don't want to say irresponsible but, you know, things that I don't feel that the average taxpayer should be on the hook for.

If you want to actually have a broad based populace loan forgiveness program, and I'm not supporting this, forgive people's auto loans for people who make less than $50,000 a year in by non-luxury cars, because that would actually go to where, you know, that would have a much more democratic and egalitarian appeal. The problem is that the Democratic Party is increasingly becoming the party of higher education of educated elites.

And when you have people like AOC, and Ilhan Omar being the faces of student loan forgiveness, it is a -- and I don't mean this in any sort of ethnic way, I just mean, in terms of you have elite, young elite, radical progressives, who are claiming to be taking this very sort of egalitarian position. When, in fact, student loan forgiveness, by its very nature, benefits people who already have a better shot at life, because we've told them, go to college, and you'll do better and college graduates make more money than (INAUDIBLE).

HAQ: Well, and that's the key part, right? The cultural disconnect that we're getting out here is that a generation was told that if they went to college, they would get good paying jobs. Instead, they have been saddled with predatory loans, where you can graduate from college and 20 years later, you have not even tackled the principal and all of your payments, right?

Millennials are the first generation that is working longer hours, making less money and unable to advance economically, compared to a previous generation. So it is -- it's not just a matter of, you know, are you -- did you know what you signed up for? And are you paying your debt, right, that you owe? The American government does take into account, predatory housing loans, and has regulations in place to address that. These are predatory student loans with promises of a better future saddled on to 18 year olds who are given no fiscal education of what any of this actually means.

TAPPER: And speaking of education, I do want to get your thought, Jonah, about Governor Kemp signed several education bills today. One of the new laws limits discussions on race, it seems to be right out of the playbook of what we've seen from Governor DeSantis in Florida. Did Democrats need to counteract these bills, these pushes from Republican governors you think?

GOLDBERG: I don't know how, right? David Shor the political consultant, one of his arguments is that they're just some issues that don't help Democrats very well. And so maybe they just shouldn't talk about those issues. It seems to me that this is one of them.

I haven't studied the actual bills. A lot of people misreport how a lot of these bills, what they actually do or don't do. But at the end of the day, what Kemp is trying to do is just win a primary and this is signaling at that level. And my hunch is if they're as bad as some people say, there'll be court challenges and they'll -- they won't become -- they won't last long. But, you know, the press releases read fine to me. Press releases for a lot of laws read fine to me until you actually look the details.

HAQ: Well Kemp is doing what DeSantis is doing in Florida right there. They're trying to make again, that big swing at the culture argument to play to a conservative base is different and to some degree than what Trump did, because it's not about personal vendettas, right, it's about changing the direction of course of society. But, you know, swinging at Disney, like if you're going to come for big mouse, you really should actually know what you're doing and be able to win it.

So that's a challenge that, unfortunately, when they come -- trying to come for, these big conglomerates that every family watches it knows and understands Disney, they're up against something very different and more powerful than the Democratic Party.

TAPPER: Nayyera, Jonah, thank you so much. Good to see you both.

My next guest just came out of a meeting at the White House. Her message to her country, a close ally of Russia. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, as nearly all of Europe joins together to condemn Putin's unprovoked war against Ukraine, Belarus has only strengthened ties with Moscow and become a key launching pad for Russia's air and ground operations against Ukraine. Belarus is led by President Alexander Lukashenko, he's a man described by critics as Putin's puppet. He brutally cracked down on mass protests after he claimed victory in a widely disputed election in 2020 and election that had been marred by fraud.

Joining us now is the person who challenged Lukashenko in that election, Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Thank you so much for joining us today. You've met with senior congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, and you've just come from meetings at the State Department and with White House officials. What did you guys all talk about?

SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA, BELARUS OPPOSITION LEADER: So first of all, I really get to see how the USA see the situation in Belarus, how important our country in this war against dictatorship. We updated information about Belarus about participation Belarus in this war that Lukashenko direct our country in the Soviet Ukraine, but Belarusian people are against the war.


Belarusian people are fighting with Ukrainians against Russian invasion. Belarusian people are very active inside the country. They're disrupting railways to stop Russian equipment going into Ukraine. But we need support, we need assistance in our fight. And on the one hand, we have to create multiple points of pressure on the regime, to sanction regime because they share the full responsibility for this war.

On the other hand, we need assistance to anti-war movement, to our resistance, to civil society of Belarus to keep strong, to keep healthy. And, of course, political isolation of Lukashenko is extremely necessary. And I'm pleased to hear that sometimes here in the USA, Lukashenko is still called as president. He wasn't elected by our people. He (INAUDIBLE) of the power and he is illegitimate person in our country. TAPPER: So you've called for the U.S. and the European Union to place even harsher sanctions on Lukashenko for his support of Putin's war in Ukraine. What did you discuss with Biden administration officials and congressional leaders to get today? What more would you like to see happen?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: So, as I said, Lukashenko has to share the full responsibility for this war in Ukraine. And yes, we are hoping for stronger sanctions on Lukashenko's regime, the same strength as on Russia, but different on structure.


TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Also, we -- yes? Sorry?

TAPPER: Go ahead, I'm sorry.

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: So again, we need more support to civil society, more support to our resilience, because our active people inside Belarus are fighting against regime, now they're fighting also against Kremlin, because now our country is a de facto under military occupation of Russian troops. And we asked our allies to demand immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from our territory.

TAPPER: So much of Europe depends on Russian energy. Do you think this war can ever end as long as European allies such as Germany are still pumping billions of dollars into the Russian economy?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: This is a challenge for democratic countries as well. But I see unity, I see decisiveness of democratic world to resist dictatorship. And I'm sure that the democratic countries will put all the efforts, you know, to somehow survive without Russian gas, without Russian oil. I think that the world is prepared to, you know, to leave somehow without, you know, Russian supplies.

TAPPER: So Belarus, as you know, it is providing -- the government of Belarus is providing important aid to Putin in his war against Ukraine. And Belarus has been a key strategic staging ground for Russian troops. How would you characterize support among the people of Belarus for this participation, for this assistance in Russia's war against Ukraine?

TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Lukashenko dragged our country into this war. But there are some people are against this war. Our people, our soldiers don't want to participate, don't want to join Russian army because we, you know, Ukrainians are our friends and our brothers and sisters and Belarusian soldiers don't have morale to fight against them. They don't understand why they have to die for ambitions of Lukashenko and Putin.

And Belarusian people wanted to show our support to the Ukrainian people with these active actions inside Belarus. You know that for a year and a half, we have been fighting against dictatorship, and we have thousands of political prisoners. But despite of this, Belarusian people went to the streets, hundreds of thousands of people went to the street to show the attitude to this war. Thousands have been detained and tortured in jails.

But we say that it's our obligation to support Ukraine because the fate of Ukraine and faith of Belarus are deeply interconnected. Without the Ukraine, there will be no for Belarus and vice versa.

TAPPER: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time today. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: In our health lead, a blow to the tobacco industry that health officials say could save thousands of lives in the United States. Today, the FDA proposed a new rule to ban menthol from cigarettes and flavored cigars in the U.S., highly addictive. Studies show people who smoke menthol cigarettes have a harder time quitting compared to quitting regular cigarettes. This means people smoked them longer, which puts them of course at greater risk for tobacco related diseases.

Tobacco companies have aggressively marketed menthol products to young people and to African Americans. Menthols are the cigarette of choice for 85 percent of black smokers compared with 30 percent of white smokers. The ban is not yet in effect. If finalized, the FDA cannot and will not enforce the ban on individual consumers.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. You can download our podcasts wherever you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I'd like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM." See you tomorrow.