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Officials: Speaker Pelosi To Visit Taiwan Despite Chinese Threats; At Least 35 Dead As Eastern Kentucky Braces For More Rain; This Week: Senate Dems To Force Vote On Burn Pits Bill; Michigan To Hold Key Republican Primary Elections Tomorrow; Ukrainian Soldier Yearns To Get Back To Battle After Injury. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Well, somebody won Friday's mega-millions lottery worth $1.3 billion. We don't know who yet. America's newest billionaire still has not come forward.

We do know that the winning ticket was bought at this gas station in Des Plaines, Illinois. Jackpot ranks at the third highest lottery prize in American history. $780 million is the cash lump sum.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: It's a visit that could spark military action.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The Chinese army is standing by and ready to respond. That is the warning from China as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prepares to make a controversial visit to Taiwan any day now.

And then, deadly fire and rain across the country. In California, the state's largest wildfire of the year explodes.

In Kentucky, the threat of flooding is far from over as the death toll rises and the search for survivors grows more desperate by the hour.

Also for you today, growing questions about the six-game suspension issued to NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson in the wake of sexual misconduct accusations from dozens of women. Why it won't cost him most of his $230 million contract?


BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper on this Monday.

And we start with our world lead. And dramatic warnings from China today after sources confirmed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will visit Taiwan during her trip to Asia. It was not listed on her public itinerary when she landed in Singapore this morning, but if she makes the trip, she would be the first House speaker in 25 years to visit Taiwan.

And this morning, Chinese officials warn against the, quote, egregious political impact of a trip to the self-governing island. And hours later, the Chinese military released this video claiming it will, quote, bury incoming enemies while showcasing weapons and fighting tactics. We should note the Chinese military did not mention Taiwan in that video, but U.S. officials say the Pentagon is working around the clock monitoring any Chinese movements in region and securing a plan to keep Pelosi and the congressional delegation she's leading safe.

CNN's Will Ripley is live in the Taiwanese capital Taipei.

Will, tell us about these warnings from China today. How serious are they?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Pam, I actually am a bit reassured that what we're seeing is kind of the same old boilerplate language we've heard them say, you play with fire and you're going to get burned. We've heard them say that before.

There have been other U.S. lawmakers or, you know, incidents that made China think that the United States was pushing Taiwan towards formal independence and they released propaganda videos of amphibious assaults targeting Taiwan independence.

So, this is the same old playbook. I think the videos are largely aimed at a domestic audience or Chinese living abroad than the -- than a serious message from the government itself because the serious message were if China were in a military buildup leading to a conflict and that is not happening. This is a rhetorical escalation at this point and I think Xi Jinping and President Biden shared a view that they want to keep it that way.

BROWN: Does Taiwan actually want this visit to happen by Speaker Pelosi?

RIPLEY: It's a complicated question. You know, it is an awkward position that Taiwan is being put in because, yes, of course, they love the fact that someone who is second in line to the presidency wants to go to Taiwan, wants to be on the ground and learn about the situation there because then they could take that information and that delegation back to Washington and help shape U.S. policy at a critical time, especially if Taiwan does come under an attack by China. They want U.S. lawmakers who have been on the ground and see the situation.

But, you know, the timing of this is not ideal. Remember, Nancy Pelosi was supposed to come earlier this year. And then she got COVID. The trip being rescheduled just a couple of months before Xi Jinping's party in Congress where he wants nothing embarrassing, nothing out of control, everything structured so he's guaranteed to get this unprecedented third presidency and maybe be president for life.

So, Xi Jinping is so sensitive and Taiwan government officials know that they have to model their approach for dealing all of China, 1.5 billion people to Xi Jinping's personality. So I think what we've done is basically they stayed quiet and didn't put out any messages in support or against hoping that Beijing will blame the United States for Pelosi's visit and not try to take it out on Taiwan.

BROWN: So, how common is it for high-ranking U.S. officials to visit Taiwan?

RIPLEY: I mean, it is been 25 years since a House Speaker has visited, with Newt Gingrich back in '97 and back then China was unhappy and the United States said sorry. And if you look at where China was then versus now, they had a much smaller military and smaller GDP, they had much less global clout and they also didn't have the most powerful leaders since Mao. And Xi Jinping, you know, about to basically secure this position for himself for the rest of his life if he wants.


And Xi Jinping now commands a massive army, a huge nuclear arsenal and he's stated over and over again his intent is to reabsorb Taiwan back into the mainland even though the communists ruled as invasion who did win the civil war, but the losing side went to Taiwan and the communists have never ruled that island. They've never controlled that island and yet they are determined to take that island back, Pam.

BROWN: All right. Will Ripley in Taiwan for us, thank you, Will.

And this afternoon, the White House said it will not be intimidated by China's rhetoric nor will it, quote, take the bait.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live at the White House.

So, Jeremy, is the Biden administration supportive of this decision, this trip by Speaker Pelosi?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, the White House said that it is not their role to either approve or disapprove of this trip. They are emphasizing that Pelosi's decision to go is hers and hers alone. But they did warn that China could take escalatory step in response to this visit which the White House for the record is not confirming.

What we know the White House and the Biden administration have been doing is providing Pelosi and her team with the information and intelligence that they need to make the decision about whether or not to go. And the U.S. military, of course, is also ensuring her safety as she flies on a military aircraft which is common procedure for these congressional delegations.

What we did hear today from the White House national security spokesperson John Kirby is a warning essentially, arguing that nothing about this visit by the speaker of the House is unprecedented and nothing should really be triggering a response from China. Listen.


JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or conflict. Or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait.

We will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated.


DIAMOND: And China has been engaged in that saber rattling in recent days, ratcheting up threats. John Kirby called that rhetoric inflammatory and escalatory.

But, really, what we've seen from the White House is an attempt to make very clear that this is not unprecedented and that this should not provoke that kind of reaction from China. Inside the White House, though, there is no question that there have been concerns about this potential visit by the speaker of the House, given the political situation inside of China, given the regional tensions in the region.

And interestingly what we heard from Kirby today is similar to what we heard before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, not suggesting that an invasion is afoot but just the notion of trying to preview what China's next move could potentially be.

Kirby warning today that we could see military exercises from China, we could and attempts by China to go into the Taiwan air defense zone or military activity in the Taiwan Strait. The White House wants to make clear that all of that is potentially in the cards but arguing at the same time that if they do act in reaction to Pelosi's visit, they will simply be using Pelosi's visit as a pretext -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you.

And joining me to now to discuss is Robert Daly. He is a former U.S. diplomat in Beijing and now serves as the director of the Wilson Center's Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.

So, Robert, you said this trip was a bad idea in the first place. Are you concerned that China will use this as a pretext for more military action?

ROBERT DALY, DIRECTOR, WILSON CENTER KISSINGER INSTITUTE ON CHINA AND THE U.S.: I don't think it will take military action in the form of pulling the trigger. I think they will take advantage of this to do something slightly escalatory that they haven't done before like crossing the median line, going into the Taiwan air space and that will set up a new baseline which leads us slightly closer to confrontation. I don't think we'll get confrontation this time around. But I don't think we'll be better off in our relations with Beijing a week from now than we are today.

BROWN: Let's talk more about the sensitivity of the timing of this. It is the first time a speaker of the house has visited. But this time there are some additional layers to this trip, right?

DALY: The biggest additional layer is that sometime this fall, the Chinese community party is going to hold a very large meeting at which Xi Jinping will be anointed for a third term as a leader and possibly will have some new status which makes his leader for life.

And so, he is more than usually concerned to have stability, to project wisdom and strength in the lead up to that. So yes, that is a special condition. At the same time, there is never a good time from China's point of view for this to happen. They will claim there is some reason that it is a particularly bad moment.

BROWN: And, of course, as the speaker of House, she is in the presidential line of succession but there is a difference between a member of Congress and a member of the administration to visit Taiwan. And I'm wondering, does China recognize that distinction or even care.

DALY: It is America watchers understand this, but they think it is a distinction without a difference. Just as when we look at Chinese statements we tend so to say accurately that they all come from the communist party one way or the other. China takes the view of the United States, everything that we do is attributable to American policy, so they're deeply concerned.


BROWN: Just hours after news of Pelosi's trip broke, China's military released this highly produced video where it said it is going to, quote, bury incoming enemies, while showing off its weapons and fighting tactics. Should the U.S. take this as some kind of warning?

DALY: I think your reporter in Taiwan had it right. This is mostly for domestic consumption. They want to look strong before the Chinese people. They do not want a conflict with the United States right now. Still this kind of rhetoric obligates them to do something that they haven't done before. And so, again, even if it is a minor act that they take, which doesn't threaten us directly, it will change the status quo slightly in a very dangerous part of the world.

BROWN: So, then when does a win look like for Speaker Pelosi and the U.S. in your view?

DALY: Well, for Speaker Pelosi, I think going there and coming out which is what is going to happen will be a win. She'll claim she's a defender of human rights and democracy and stood by the people of Taiwan. The question is does that benefit United States interests? Does it help to lower the flame under U.S.-China relations which are at a boiling point already? And does it make the people secure? Does it make it her glad that she took this trip?

I'm worried this is being driven not by a real plan for U.S.-China relations but simply by the desire of, in this case, Speaker Pelosi but also other politicians to go to Taiwan.

BROWN: What is your looking ahead and the impact between China and the United States?

DALY: There is an increasingly likelihood that the United States and China could end up in conflict. The goal of our relationship should be to avoid war with China. The most likely flat point for war is Taiwan. There are others. Therefore, our goal needs to be to try to reassure China that while we stand with the people of Taiwan and will not allow them to be coerced, we also don't seek Taiwanese independence. I think that's the piece that's been is missing. We've been deterring China but we haven't been reassuring it.

BROWN: All right. Robert Daly, thank you for offering your insight and expertise on this.

Well, deadly flames exploding into California's largest wildfire this year. The fire so big it is now creating its own weather.

And then a showdown in Arizona between Donald Trump and Mike Pence. Why these endorsements could have ripple effects well beyond the midterms?

We'll be right back.



BROWN: Ferocious fires out west top our "Earth Matters" series. The McKinney Fire in northern California is growing at an alarming rate. It has already burned more than 55,000 acres since it ignited on Friday, becoming the state's largest fire to far this year. Two people were found dead inside a burned vehicle in a driveway in the fire's path.

The fire is zero percent contained. It is creating its own weather in the form of pyrocumulus clouds.

Meanwhile, in my home state of Kentucky, the death toll from last week's catastrophic flooding is now up to 35. And officials fear that number will rise. Hundreds are still unaccounted for. Resources such as food and water are desperately needed.

And to make matters worse, a flood watch is in effect tonight until tomorrow morning for eastern Kentucky. Thunderstorms could dump one to two inches of rain an hour in some places.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher has the harrowing stories of those who survived and those who were lost.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: Certainly, the deadliest and the most devastating of my lifetime.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kentucky's governor confirming today at least 35 people are dead in the flood stricken commonwealth, including four siblings from Knott County, the youngest just 2 years old. This as the desperate search for hundreds of missing people continues with the looming threat of more rain.

BESHEAR: There are hundreds of unaccounted for people at minimum, and we just -- we just don't have a firm grasp on that.

GALLAGHER: Flooders knocked out power and wash add way roads and bridges and overwhelmed eastern Kentucky communities, making some rescue efforts nearly impossible.


GALLAGHER: Randy Polly shot this video showing someone jumping into action to save an elderly woman and her family.

POLLY: He was in there for two minutes and what seems like for an eternity and he come back out and said I finally found them.

GALLAGHER: Another rescue, a 17-year-old saved herself and her dog by swimming to a neighbor's roof when flash flooding started last Thursday. Her dad writing on Facebook, we lost everything today. Everything except what matters most.

Emergency shelters are opening across eastern Kentucky, including Gospel Light Baptist Church in Hazard.

Nicole Neace is staying here with her family.

NICOLE NEACE, FLOOD VICTIM: I woke up at 4:50 and I heard a wild noise and I got my flashlight and I looked out the window and it was happen way up our living room window.

GALLAGHER: She tells us they got out with only the clothing on their backs.

NEACE: There is nothing left. Everything is destroyed.

GALLAGHER: Neace's sister Karen Daugherty said this isn't the first tragedy for her family.

KAREN DAUGHERTY, FLOOD VICTIM: Two years ago, we lost everything to a fire. And we were just now getting back on our feet. It is just devastating that we have to go through it again so soon.


GALLAGHER (on camera): And to give you an idea of the force of this flooding here, that is a fire truck. It's one that they used. It's old but operational or it was. That is a canoe that a man hitched a ride more than a mile after seeing it pass him on a gas station during the flood.

And throughout all of eastern Kentucky, you see this. This is pieces of people's lives, their homes just scattered throughout the banks of rivers on roads in the communities.

It is going to get worse unfortunately. There is bad news on the way and not good news. Because in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow are more rains, the potential for more storms and even more flooding. Before they've had a chance to dig outlet alone take a breath, Pamela. They need help and they need donations, they say. BROWN: They need it now. They could not catch a break.

Dianne Gallagher, thank you.

So what is the delay? A vote in the Senate on the bill providing health care to veterans sickened by toxic military burn sites is pushed back.



BROWN: In our health lead, you're watching veterans and supporters protest on Capitol Hill. Some stayed all weekend, rallying against the 25 Republican senators who held up passage of the PACT Act, which would provide life-saving care to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during their service.

Listen to advocate and comedian Jon Stewart making an appeal to senators today.


JON STEWART, ADVOCATE FOR VETERANS AFFECTED BY BURN PITS: Keep the lights on. Keep the doors open. And don't leave here tonight until you do the right thing by these folks, simple as that.


Don't make this harder than it is.


BROWN: Republican Senator Pat Toomey says he and other Republicans oppose a way the bill is categorized saying it would, quote, allow our Democratic colleagues to go an unrelated $400 billion pending spree.

Joining us now to discuss, Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, and chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Hi, Senator.

So, I spoke with two wives of veterans on my show. Their husbands have illnesses they say are related to the toxins from burn pits from their deployment. They say every day this bill is delayed, a life could be further at risk.

Here's what one of them said.


ROSIE TORRES, WIFE OF BURN PIT VICTIM: I hate to think of how many more people would put, you know, a gun to their head and take their lives because they're losing their jobs. They're losing their homes. There's no compensation. There's no benefits. So, I know that we'd have much more of a huge loss in that side of veterans suicide. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Obviously, it was a Republican vote, which is why it wasn't passed. But, originally, Senator Schumer said the vote could be today. Now, it's pushed back.

Why isn't this getting voted on today?

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): I can't answer that, Pamela. I mean, it should have been done last week. And every day that goes by, there is another veteran that potentially could lose their life or more than one. And so, we're in a situation that's quite frankly pretty silly.

And honestly, over the weekend, as I made phone calls, I think it was badly represented, what -- how this bill was changed because it wasn't changed at all. It is exactly the same bill we voted on, on June 16th, with the exception of one sentence that was taken out of the bill that allowed the V.A. to buy out provider contracts.

And the reason it was taken out is because that was deemed a revenue raiser. So it was de minimis. The language is de minimis. It's the same bill we voted on June 16.

We need to pass this bill and move on.

And I would you say one other thing, Pamela, the folks that are out here sticking up for their brothers and sisters who have fought that are on the Capitol steps, I can't thank them enough because quite frankly that is what this is about. It is about the fighting men and women who have returned from theater and from service to this country who have been changed.

We promised them we would make them hole. We promised them we would back them up. We promised to give them health care and benefits if they had injury and that is what this bill does.

And it is time to get it passed. And hopefully, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer will talk today and come up with an agreement to get this vote -- this bill voted on and passed.

BROWN: If it is the exact same bill from what the 25 Republicans voted for in June, why do you think they voted against it this time around?

TESTER: Because my understanding was and folks told me this, that in caucus, they were presented with a $400 billion slush fund which is baloney and I'm being generous when I say baloney.

And that this bill wasn't the bill we voted on on June 16th. It is the bill. It's absolutely the bill. And, by the way, we wouldn't have this bill back again if we didn't have this one sentence that we had to take out.

So, you know, this is a crazy place, Pamela, and it does crazy things, but I don't know I've seen anything more crazy than this. This is -- this is just crazy. And we need to get it done because our veterans need the health care and the benefits that we promised them, this bill backs that up.

And as I said on the floor last week, we have an all volunteer military. Our young people looking at this going why would I sign on the dotted line if these folks aren't going to live up to their end of the bargain. This bill allows us to live up to our end of the bargain.

BROWN: Do you buy, though, what you say, what the Republicans have said, that about the $400 billion slush fund. I mean, do you really buy that is why they voted against it?

TESTER: I think they believed it was in there because the senator from Pennsylvania said it was in there. It's not in there.

And can money be moved around during the appropriations process? Absolutely can. The senators do that. And the president has to justify every dollar that is spent in any veterans' bill. I know that because I'm chair of the veterans committee.

If we don't think those funds are justified, we don't put them in. Or if we think they need more money to do their job, we put more money than they asked were in. It happens during every appropriations process, and it will happen on this one.

But the truth is that there is no $400 billion slush fund. The V.A. can't just move money around at their own whim. That's all directed by Congress. And with oversight of congress, it works and the process does work.

We might say we spent too much or too little money but Congress is the one that makes that determination. Not the V.A.

BROWN: All right, very quickly, what do you tell your constituents about this? I mean everyone thought this vote would go through?

TESTER: What I tell my constituents is I'm going to continue to work as hard as I can do to do right by the men and women who served this country in the military, and this is doing right by the men and women would served in this military.

And I will continue to work as long as I have to work to get this bill across the finish line. Why? Because it's important. It's what this country stands for and it is who we are as a nation. If we don't live up to our promises, how could we expect anybody to live up to think deal that we make?

BROWN: Democratic Senator Jon Tester, thank you for joining us.

TESTER: Thank you.

BROWN: And if you or a loved one is struggling, call or text the suicide life line at 988. That number also links to the veterans crisis line.

And still ahead, why the Trump backed candidate in the Michigan Republican primary is now being accused of joining the so-called establishment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Just into our politics lead, moments ago, a federal judge handed down the toughest punishment yesterday for a January 6 defendant. Guy Reffitt was sentenced to more than 7 years in prison for his role in the Capitol riot including bringing a gun to the U.S. capitol, and interfering with police. He was a member of the extremist group the Three Percenters and the first to be convict the by a jury.

Reffitt was turned into the FBI by his son who will be on CNN's "NEW DAY" tomorrow morning.

Also in our politics lead, voters in five states going to the polls for primary elections. Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, Arizona and Washington. And a big focus on Michigan. You're looking at the four main candidates for governor. The winner of this primary will get to face current Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who is seeking a second term. Former President Trump backed Tudor Dixon Friday night.

CNN's Sara Murray is in Grand Rapids tracking how Trump's election lies are driving this race.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the waning hours of Michigan's Republican primary fight --

GARRETT SOLDANO (R), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Who here can't wait for me to defeat Governor Whitmer?

KEVIN RINKE (R), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: We can't let shiny pennies --

TUDOR DIXON (R), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: We'll fight until the last moment on Tuesday.

MURRAY: Donald Trump is trying to tip the scales for Tudor Dixon.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: A fantastic, brilliant candidate, Tudor Dixon.

MURRAY: Throwing his support in a bitter fight to take on Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer this fall.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D), MICHIGAN: The last four years have been tough and we're tougher.

MURRAY: Dixon viewed at the establishment pick after winning the backing of Betsy DeVos, Trump's former education secretary who resigned after January 6. She went from embracing election falsehoods and claiming Trump won Michigan in 2020 in a May debate to dodging recent questions about who she believes won Michigan in 2020. A state Joe Biden carried by more than 154,000 votes.

DIXON: I've talked about this at length about the 2020 election. It was unlike any election we've ever seen because of the pandemic. But in Michigan, there were some things that happened in Michigan that didn't happen in other states which are very concerning.

MURRAY: As her prolonged primary that saw a handful of candidates disqualified from the ballot and another arrested for his alleged participation in the Capitol riot, Republican political strategist John Yob said Trump's 11th hour endorsement is rankling some of his biggest backers.

JOHN YOB, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL STRATEGIST: His supporters are confused about what to do if the future now they're leader has sided with the establishment.

MURRAY: Now, Dixon's opponents are slamming her for dancing around 2020.

RINKE: She got an endorsement and she was asked if the election was stolen, she changed her mind.

MURRAY: Kevin Rinke accepts Biden is president but says there irregularities in 2020.

Garrett Soldano is doubling down on election falsehoods and all things Trump.

SOLDANO: The election in my humble opinion was stolen. I'm not even endorsed by Trump and I still have his back and even though, sir, you didn't endorse me, you're still my president.

MURRAY: And Ryan Kelley who pleaded not guilty to charges for his alleged participation in the January 6 riot is using his arrest as a campaign rallying cry.

RYAN KELLEY (R), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I got arrested, I got kicked off Airbnb.

MURRAY: As for Dixon, she's shrugging off the deluge of criticism and looking ahead to November.

DIXON: My Democratic opponents who have a whole list of reasons that hate me because of the election, right? So, I guess it's just a campaign tactic.


MURRAY (on camera): Now we talked to a number of voters who said they were disappointed by the former president's endorsement. He is going to be working to shore up support for Tudor Dixon tonight, holding a tele-rally for her -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Sara Murray, thank you so much.

Let's discuss with our panel.

David, I will kick it off to you first, talking about Trump's election lies. Here we go, taking front and center in the primary, clearly, as Sarah laid out there. What do you make of what we're seeing? DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, you know, Republican

primaries, Democratic primaries are governed and largely run and controlled by the extreme wings of the party. So it is just like in Pennsylvania, we have had new comer our candidates running for governor and senate, but the former president campaign in and threw his weight behind two individuals and they ended up winning with a plurality.

And then come this fall, those candidates are in a much tougher race against strong Democrats because the president is a big asset in the Republican primary but not so much in a general election in a purple state like Michigan or Pennsylvania. So it is not surprising to see, you know, what you're going to see here in Michigan and some of the other states. But it makes it tougher to get elected in the fall.

BROWN: What do you think?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, well, I think that is something that the Democrats are counting on. It is the only thing that gives them hope frankly in the midterm elections is that they're going to -- the Republicans will end up choosing people who are so far out of the mainstream, who are on the record saying things that sound crazy frankly. And then they won't be electable.

So I think in this case, it is more of Trump jumping on the bandwagon, right? This was somebody who was -- Tudor Dixon was somebody who was backed by Betsy DeVos and all of the DeVos money and influence.


And it seems like he's trying to up his win-loss record and jumping on this at the last minute because she's not the Trumpiest candidate of the bunch.

BROWN: No. But she is a leading candidate for governor there.

What do you make of this strategy, Eva?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, don't know if it is a strategy. I don't know if the former president employed strategy, sometimes it's just kind of vibe. He does what he wants.

But some of the things that I think, you know, historically, Trump has been animated by is someone who's dynamic. She appears to be so.

Former -- I think she was in television. She is telegenetic and that's not commentary on the fact that she's a woman. For both women and men are telegenic.

And it also helps if he gets a win in Michigan. If she goes ahead and ascends to the governorship, it is really helpful for the former president to have a political ally in a swing state. So those could be some of the reasons that he is coming in with this final hour endorsement.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And she's also criticized Michigan's top election official. Even though there is ambiguity about what she thinks an the 2020 election, she still has employed Trumpism in some of her rhetoric as well there.

But it is interesting. You see on the flip side of this, Democrats also kind of trying to execute a strategy to respond to the prominence of some of the extremism and candidates in the Republican party that are running. We've seen it, a strategy of Democrats responding with donations as well.

BROWN: We see it in Peter Meijer's district there in Michigan. What do you make of the treat? Are you concerned it's going to backfire?

POWERS: I think this is a really hard issue. I understand -- I mean, of course there is always a fear it could backfire but is this okay? When you have a member of congress who stands up against his party and does the right thing and then you basically undermine him in his election.

BROWN: And just for our viewers. It is a Republican who voted for the --

POWERS: Right. So you want to encourage Republicans to do the right thing, to do what's best for the country and not what is best for the party.

But if you're a Democratic Party strategist, you're looking at this and saying what is most important is we have a Democratic run congress. And so, even though we don't want to necessarily do this to this one person who did the right thing. We can't afford to have that speaker's gavel in the hand of a Republican so we have to do this.

It is just -- it is a very unseemly kind of thing to have to do. But when you consider the stakes, which is would there be a January 6 committee?

Wait a minute. Would there even be a January 6 committee. You have to think about this. When I say the states, it not just Democrats versus Republicans, but it is actually would we have known what had happened when they have to certify an election, right? These are life or death issues for the country. They are not just about Democrat versus Republican.

URBAN: This is only works when it is a purple district, too. So this district was Justin Amash's district before. It is not a Democrat or Republican. With United States plus one or two, but it is a close, kind of a jump ball.

So that is why their trying to paint Meijer as being so out there. So he'll lose in the primary and you'll get a more conservative Republican that is a weaker candidate for the fall. So it doesn't work. That strategy is not going to work in many places in a handful of districts across the country.

MCKEND: I think it diminishes them and diminishes Democrats, though, and it makes their arguments about how our democracy is the most important issue. It makes that argument weaker. I just don't see this, if you're thinking about legacy, if you're thinking about long-term strategy, I think they're doing it because they think it's going to help.

POWERS: But there is a risk --


POWERS: But having a democracy is kind of central to that. So if you do believe that -- look, I'm not saying this isn't a hard issue. I'm just saying if do you believe that the Republicans are as a party anti-democratic -- they are. So if you believe they're an anti- Democratic party, we just watch them all of the time talking about how the election was stolen. You have the leading contender for the White House saying the election was stolen. I mean, this undermining democracy. You had people who were perfectly fine not certifying election results.

URBAN: Because I think you're painting it with a broad brush.

POWERS: You think it is a broad brush that they didn't certify the election?


URBAN: Who didn't certify? There were certain Republicans and -- for four years, I sat at this table while Democratic Party, you and others pushed a --

POWERS: I'm not the Democratic Party so you don't know what you're talking about.

URBAN: But you pushed the fact that the Republicans, the election was tweaked by the Russians, and --

POWERS: No, I didn't.

URBAN: People did this.

POWERS: I know, but if you're going to point at me, make sure what you're saying is what I actually said.

URBAN: You can't just paint with a brush and say all Republicans. I'm a Republicans.

POWERS: I didn't say all Republicans. I said the Republican Party is anti-democratic.

BROWN: This is a good segue into what Max Boot told me last night. He is a conservative columnist for "The Washington Post".


He has big concerns about the future of America, the future of democracy.

And, David, on the other end of this, I want to get your take on what he said. He said if Donald Trump is re-elected in 2024, that is the end of democracy, as we know it in America.

Let's take a listen.


MAX BOOT, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Donald Trump remains most popular Republican in the country and remains front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination and if he comes back into office, I just don't know that our democracy could survive that.


BROWN: I don't know democracy could survive that.

URBAN: Yeah. Well, how is he getting elected? Democratically. People in America, what does everybody around this table missing about Donald Trump?

We're missing something. Because it 76, 77 million people are going to vote for Donald Trump for president, that is how democracy works, Max. That's how it works.

POWERS: That is not what Max is saying. Max is saying -- but this is democracy to get him in there and then you don't have democracy again. Where were you on January 6? What are you even talking about?


BROWN: We're going to continue this conversation, I'll tell you, because this is a good one. Unfortunately, we have to go. But a really important conversation to be had and we'll continue it. Thank you both, all of you. I should say.

Sorry. Eva, you great, too. But this was where the action was here in the last few minutes.

All right. Up next, a Ukrainian soldier so badly injured he almost lost his leg. Why he wanted to return to the front lines as soon as possible.



BROWN: We're back with our world lead, the first shipment of Ukrainian grain left the port in the black see today in what the United Nations calls, quote, an enormous collective achievement.

But on land, it is a different story. The port city of Mykolaiv came under intense shelling over the weekend. The mayor says it was the strongest since the war began and saddled civilian buildings, including a hospital trauma center were bombed.

CNN's Jason Carroll is in Ukraine where he met a soldier sidelined because of a severe battle wound. We want to warn viewers you may find some of these images disturbing. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yuriy Hudymenko is just out the hospital after doctors spent more than a month tending to his injuries.

This is the shrapnel from your leg.

An unwelcomed souvenir of war, another piece embedded in his chest. His leg shattered so badly, these rods now hold it together.

This video showing the moments after he was injured and rescued in June by fellow soldiers who were fighting alongside him on Ukraine's eastern front and an area where Ukrainians have managed in places to hold back the Russian advance. Hudymenko was laying a mine when he was hit by Russian mortar fire. Doctors initially thought his leg needed to be amputated but they saved it and his life.

YURIK HUDYMENKO, UKRAINIAN SOLDIER: I feel the pain. But I feel also angry and my angry is more bigger than the pain.

CARROLL: Patriotism, sense of duty and anger and there are a range of reasons for what continues to motivate Ukrainians to join the military. But anger is one reason this new soldier who will soon be deployed to the eastern front, gave up his job as a personal trainer to join the fight. The soldiers asked that we not show their faces to protect their security.

Do you have any worries about going there?

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER: Of course. But my faith is much more than any worries.

CARROLL: He says said he did not tell his family he joined the military.

Do you think that is going to work?

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER: They will be worrying less for sometime.

CARROLL: Family not an issue for this young soldier who said his father is already fighting for Ukraine and he said his decision to join was not about emotion.

But Yuri Hudymenko says it is hard for him not to give into his emotions. He said as soon as he's well enough, he would like to go back to the front line despite his wife's objections.

She says no woman in the world wants her man to go fight, but respects his desire, one Hudymenko says is also personal.

HUDYMENKO: Now, I have a personal situation, because I need to avenge for this. Want to gut all of the enemies of my country and kill them. Kill them all.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CARROLL: And like so many soldiers who have been badly injured in this war, it could take months or even longer for Yuriy to get back on his feet again. But he said, Pamela, if he to do it all over again, he would d it all over again. You heard one of the emotions that's driving him, anger.

Something else, he told me he wanted to get revenge for those that did this to him -- Pamela.

BROWN: Can't blame him for feeling that way.

Jason Carroll in Ukraine, thank you.

And coming up on this Monday, he is facing accusations of sexual misconduct from dozens of women, and now there are growing questions about NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson's six-game suspension.



BROWN: In our sports lead, NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson has been suspended six games without pay for violating the league's personal conduct policy amid accusations of sexual misconduct. More than two dozen women have accused Watson of sexual misconduct during massages. The judge appointed by the NFL and players association who made the ruling today says Watson's pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL.

Watson who recently signed with the Cleveland Browns for a guaranteed $230 million will not be fined and is allowed to use the team's massage therapists. Brown's owners released a statement saying in part, quote: We respect Judge Robinson's decision and at the same time understand there have been many individuals triggered throughout this process. The NFL says it is reviewing the suspension.

I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."