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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Pentagon Says They Gained Intelligence From Observing The Spy Balloon; House GOP Considering Resolution On Spy Balloon; Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) Is Interviewed About The Spy Balloon And Biden's Actions; Death Toll On Massive Earthquake In Turkey And Syria Now At 3,400; President Biden Getting Ready For His Second State Of The Union Address; WH: Biden To Insist Raising Debt Limit "Not A Bargaining Chip"; New Video Shows Ukraine Striking Russian Position In Vuhledar; Animal Abduction, Break-Ins Under Investigation At Dallas Zoo. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 06, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Natasha, General Glen VanHerck is the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. He said today that the delay in shooting the balloon was useful in collecting intelligence on the balloon. What kind of information are they hoping to collect?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: You know, Jake, officials have been very vague on this. What they have said over the last few days is that they were able to collect intelligence about the way that the balloon was transmitting information, for example, and other ways about how it maneuvered.

But ultimately, what we're told is that the administration does not believe that it was ultimately able to gather that much intelligence at all because the specifications of the balloon were not all that sophisticated, right. No more sophisticated say than the satellites that the Chinese have hovering in orbit as we speak.

But the issue, of course, with the satellites is that they do not stay in one place for as long as a balloon can. A balloon can loiter for a much longer period of time as it did over Montana, for example. So, the U.S. officials that we spoke to did say that there were steps taken to cover up certain areas to make sure that no unencrypted communications were happening in the vicinity of the balloon and generally just minimize the ability of the balloon to collect intel.

But you know, one really interesting detail that we learned today, Jake, is that the U.S. military actually does not have the capability on a day-to-day basis to collect intelligence on things inside the United States. And so, they were given special authorization to collect intelligence on this balloon while it was in -- over the United States, Jake.

TAPPER: Manu, House Republicans are discussing right now whether or not they should pass a resolution to condemn the Biden administration's handling of the balloon entering and traveling across U.S. airspace for days. Biden says the Pentagon warned him shooting it down over land posed a real risk to Americans. What's the main criticism you're hearing from Republican lawmakers?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Republicans are saying that the president should have acted sooner and that they should have taken steps to shoot down this balloon when it would not potentially endanger American lives. As Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader said yesterday, said it defies belief to suggest there was nowhere between the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and the coast of Carolina where the balloon could have been shot down to avoid endangering American lives.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader says that those kinds of criticisms are premature and they are political. Now, there is a hope among the Democratic leaders and the Republican leaders that there will be more information coming as soon as tomorrow. There's an expectation that the so-called Gang of Eight, the leaders of Congress and the leaders of the Intelligence Committee will get highly classified information about exactly what happened here.

Then there will be another briefing for the larger set of members. The Senate Intelligence Committee members as well as the full Senate, as well as the full House potentially could get briefed as soon as next week. Other members from the key committees want to get briefed as well. Now, Jake, there is still uncertainty whether the House Republicans will take some symbolic gesture to condemn the president's actions.

Remember, the House majority on the Republican side, very narrow. They can't lose more than four Republican votes to approve anything the moment they don't have an agreement yet on what any resolution could look like. So, I am told at this moment they're still debating about whether to proceed on any sort of vote to sort of push back against the Biden administration here.

But Kevin McCarthy right now meeting with his top leaders in his office as they chart out the four strategy and decide how to proceed on this issue.

TAPPER: Manu, just to clarify, is there a specific -- a specific part of the country where they think or say specifically this is where it should have been shot down? I mean, what are they talking about?

RAJU: Well, they simply don't know, Jake, at the moment. There is still so much uncertainty about exactly where this could have safely been shot down. But they seem to believe that there was an opportunity to shoot down this balloon at some point through its journey across the United States where it would not have endangered American lives.

But, Jake, again, there is just simply a vacuum of information on Capitol Hill and not getting answers from the White House which is why Republicans are asking for more information and criticizing the president, but still asking for some more answers.

TAPPER: Manu Raju and Natasha Bertrand, thanks to both of you. Joining us now to discuss, Republican Congressman Dan Bishop of North Carolina, who is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. Congressman, good to see you. So, last Tuesday, President Biden was briefed about this Chinese spy balloon hovering over Montana. The president held off shooting it down given concerns expressed by the Pentagon that it could hurt or kill someone on the ground. The Pentagon waited until it was over the Atlantic Ocean, Saturday, to take it down. Do you disagree with that decision?

REP. DAN BISHOP (R-NC): Not necessarily, Jake. But I think questions ought to be asked about it. Your report just aired suggested Leader McConnell had a reasonable question, nowhere between the Aleutian Islands when it was first detected until it ended up in the coast -- Atlantic Ocean off the coast of my state.

Was there an opportunity to take it down over a desolate area? Could it not have been taken down by, you know, puncturing it with multiple cannon rounds so that it would drift slowly to Earth? I mean, was there no other way it could have been done?


And when you see the kind of make weight arguments that emerge, it seems to have a political objective or (inaudible) a covering of, you know what, like they were continuing to let it to float so they could gather intel about it. But then at the end of your own report, it said that it didn't seem like they could gather much more intel by letting it float through the United States. There's just a lot of questions that are suggested and I'm not sure there's any harm in raising them.

TAPPER: Oh, no, absolutely not. Ask away. I think the questions are good to ask. I just don't know an answer as to where it would have been appropriate to shoot it down. I mean, 8,000 people live on the Aleutian Islands. U.S. officials say that the balloon was up to 200 feet tall, weighed a couple thousand pounds. We know that the debris field in the Atlantic was over the, or outside of the Carolina coast was seven miles long. I mean, if it was shot down theoretically, somebody could have been killed by the debris.

BISHOP: Well, fair points, Jake, all of those. And ultimately that's what the president is responsible for, is making those calls. But the reason questions are raised about it, it is disheartening to the American people, I think, to see the apparent impotence of this balloon crossing the -- drifting across the continental United States, acknowledge to be a Chinese spy balloon.

And then military just seems to say that -- or President Biden says he done -- can't do anything about it until it gets out over the Atlantic Ocean. If that's so, then perhaps we'll learn more about that, but it, unfortunately, we keep seem to keep on having these examples of impotence of the military to protect the national security interest of the United States and that should never be acceptable to anyone.

TAPPER: What other instances are you talking about of the impotence of the U.S. military?

BISHOP: Well, I'm thinking specifically of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the way that occurred, which I think, as everyone said, that has been a debacle we don't want to see repeated. We want to see -- we spent -- have tremendous investment in the United States military and we want to see it used to good -- to the proper effect to protect the national security of the United States.

TAPPER: What are you hoping that we learn about the kind of information that this spy balloon was able to collect?

BISHOP: Well, we certainly want to know what they're doing. And so, we should -- and hopefully they can recover from the debris filed something to indicate what kind of instruments were on board and get some indication. They're flying across missile silos in Montana across -- about Ft. Bragg in North Carolina. What was the purpose of it?

I do see now that the military seems to admit or the administration admits that there was, in fact, it was not a balloon that was off course, a weather balloon off course. That it was expected to traverse the United States in the way that it did and was allowed to by the Biden administration.

TAPPER: So, we have learned that the White House has been aware of Chines spy balloons on at least three occasions during the Trump years and two times including this one after Biden took office and now the Biden administration is offering briefings to key officials from the Trump administration about the incidents. Does it concern you that we're only now learning that this has happened four other previous times including three times in the previous administration?

BISHOP: Yes, that concerns me a great deal, although the story has evolved over the course of the day is to exactly what happened. So, I think AP put out a story citing unnamed senior officials as saying this has happened three times perhaps in the Trump administration. My guess (inaudible) he didn't know anything about it. Mike Pompeo said he didn't know anything about it. President Trump said he didn't know anything about it.

And now I understand there's even a story that maybe nobody was advised about it, it could only have been determined after the fact. There are a lot of questions to answer there. But I think we just don't know what the story was. I certainly can't imagine President Trump's leadership allowing that to occur and not reacting to it. And I'd be surprised if it wasn't observed by people on the ground. These things are massive. It certainly was picked up by people on the ground in this case.

TAPPER: Yeah. I don't -- I don't know the details of it. I mean, it's certainly possible that they went back and saw the data that they saw from this one and then realized it happened before during the Trump years. It could be that they got some new intel from a spy or whatever. We have no idea. Going forward, are there steps the U.S. should take to make sure that our U.S. military is better prepared and if this Chinese spy balloon once again comes into U.S. airspace.

BISHOP: Well, I would think that would come forward from the recommendations and advice of those who are in position to know. The folks running the military and the administration. So, I hope not only the Gang of Eight, but in due course, I'm sitting on the committee on Homeland Security. I hope we'll be briefed on what was happening so that all of us can have an opportunity to know in behalf of the three- quarters of a million Americans that each of us represents what has happened and not depend on unnamed sources for those accounts like we've seen today. Better to get more people on the record as far as I'm concerned.


TAPPER: I always agree. Republican Congressman Dan Bishop from the beautiful state of North Carolina, thanks so much, sir. Appreciate it.

BISHOP: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Devastation and desperation, rescuers working through the night to find survivors after a massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria that has killed at last count at least 3,400 people. We're live on the ground there, next.

And what jurors in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial will now be allowed to hear about the defendant's multi-million-dollar financial troubles. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our "World Lead" today, at least 3,400 people are dead and many more thousands injured after a massive earthquake hit Turkey and Syria earlier this morning. Right now, search and rescue teams from around the world are headed to the region to help. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground in Turkey with a closer look now with the widespread death and devastation.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN (voice-over): Not everyone woke up today. Dozens of children pulled from under the rubble in this rebel-held Syrian town. Their lifeless bodies lining the corridors of the overwhelmed hospital.


OSAMA ABOL EZZ, SYRIAN AMERICAN MEDICAL SOCIETY: Most of the casualties are children and women. And there is a lot, a lot under the rubble. And we guess we receive more and more every hour.

WALSH (voice-over): The destruction knew no borders. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake and over 100 powerful aftershocks flattened buildings in Turkey and Syria.

In Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter in Turkey, people woke up to site of their world's demolished wondering if their neighbors are still alive under the rubble.

UNKNOWN (through translation): As soon as the shaking slowed down, we threw ourselves outside. By the dawn, we started looking for our relatives. We have losses and there are several people we still can't reach. At the moment, two voices are coming from the rubble. WALSH (voice-over): After shocks caught rescuers and journalists by

surprise, some almost as powerful as the first earthquake. Reducing the crumbling buildings into dust, sending survivors running for their lives again.

CATHERINE SMALLWOOD, SENIOR EMERGENCY OFFICER, WHO EUROPE: Now is the time to really be able to prevent those -- some of those further deaths. Some people, unfortunately, won't be saved.

WALSH (voice-over): And near-freezing temperatures, the snowstorms are hampering what would already be tough rescue efforts.

Where the destruction is worst, the bodies will be pulled out slowly, each one laden with hope for a miracle that slips away with each icy hour.


WALSH (on camera): Busy highway we've been driving down, Jake, and seeing that Turkey's effort just beginning to get underway. Excavators, fire engines, sirens we're seeing as essentially, they begin to come to terms of quite how bad the devastation is, barely 24 hours after this earthquake struck.

Death toll here in Turkey, nearly 2,400, another 1,000 across the border in Syria. And while Turkey can mass (ph) the logistics and we'll find as it gets into towns that's not yet been able to access as these numbers rise. The situation across the border in what would be (inaudible) Syria for so many years as significantly worse, living in much more fragile infrastructure there.

Already with the cold of winter making life very difficult indeed and any aid that can get to people inside Syria will come with the same political problems that have (inaudible) so much of that area since the civil war here. So, people waking up to see entire neighborhoods and cities flattened by this earthquake, the worse certainly for 100 years here in Turkey. And I think just the scale of the devastation and human loss here beginning to come apparent, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much. Joining us now on the phone is Eyad Kourdi. He's a CNN producer who was in Turkey near the epicenter when the earthquake happened. Eyad, I understand your family was asleep when the shaking started. Is everyone in your world okay, first of all, before you tell us about the experiences? Is everyone you know all right?

EYAD KOURDI, CNN PRODUCER (via telephone): Good evening, Jake. Thank you so much. Yeah, everyone is all right. I still have a couple of friends that I could not reach in (inaudible). So, they are fine. I don't know what happened with them. But most importantly now, we are (inaudible) new problems again, mostly food shortage. And also, low temperatures. It's around -2 degrees here (inaudible). Very -- the mosques, the schools, some (inaudible) to the stadium. A lot of roads got closed (inaudible) people believe that its structure can hold heavy earthquakes, are very overcrowded (inaudible). The only problem is all the markets -- all the markets are closed. I

have not seen a single open market in the last 10 hours in (inaudible). And it's becoming a problem. The municipality was trying, like tried a little bit to give some food to the people (inaudible) centrally. But the problem was -- the problem was that the food was really little and they came once only and where I'm staying now, I mean, I'm in a mosque where there are -- which is two floors, about 100 people in each floor. Most of them are children and women and elders. A lot of people do not have enough food for more than, like, one portion, which is really concerning.

I mean, people are still waiting for help and they understand, the people understand like (inaudible) is the policy, but also there are millions of people that are facing like serious challenges because of food and temperature. And they are -- some of the people were a little bit frustrated by the lack of action by the authorities over the last few hours.


TAPPER: Eyad, tell us about the experience when you felt the earthquake.

KOURDI (via telephone): So, basically, it started at 4:19 a.m. my time (inaudible). I was awake at the time. In (inaudible) every month or every couple of months, there's a small shake (ph), normally like three degrees (ph) at the (inaudible), four or five seconds. So, it's definitely like that for the first few seconds.

I know it was (inaudible) because my parents (inaudible), but I don't want to scare them. But then like after the first -- after the first second, the shake was so intense to the point like it was unbelievable. It was like -- I don't know how to describe it, but there are some certain like video games where you can put -- it was like you are in a V.R. world and there is somebody who's trying to shake you really hard and then you fall on the ground.

It was really, really, really strong. I mean, I've (inaudible) -- like I've seen before -- I've been in a place where an earthquake of 5.5 magnitude happened in the past in Turkey and this -- that 5.5 was like a baby step for that, for the 7.8 that we -- it was really strong. I was trying to calm down my family. (Inaudible) shouting actually to give them (inaudible) because they were staying there and they were just (inaudible) -- they were traumatized at the time.

I was just shouting, trying to ask them to go to a safer position to be able to, at least try to not get hurt by objects around them. And I was trying to like, just calm them down, tell them it's kind of over, it's going to be over, it's going to be over, but it lasted so a long time. I don't know -- like I did not see the official time exactly, but to me it felt like full minute.

The last 10 seconds, like, I felt it was (inaudible). It's like -- I'm not going to make it out of that. So, it was over. We grabbed a couple of small stuff, passports for like in the first night. We ran out of the building in our pajamas and slippers. And then we waited there. There was snow, about 5 centimeters long. It was rainy. And we have professionals there in their pajamas, and then I had to came back -- to come back, bring some clothing (ph), and then they became more (inaudible).

And then we had first bath time, which was about 16 hours ago -- sorry, 17 hours ago. It has been, like a lot of aftershocks, aftershocks after aftershocks after aftershocks. I was counting, but it's like I just lost the count, seriously. It's at least over, I count over 80 in (inaudible) or more.

TAPPER: Eyad Kourdi, we're so glad that you and your family are safe. Please stay safe. For ways that you could help after this devastating earthquake, please head to You'll find the latest multiple reputable organizations doing work on the ground in Turkey and Syria.

Coming up, term limits for you, but not for me. Senator Ted Cruz wants to limit the number of terms members of Congress can serve. Why he says his own proposal does not apply to him without it passed into law. Stay with you -- with us.



TAPPER: President Joe Biden is preparing to deliver his second state of union address tomorrow night. Biden tweeted this image earlier today, showing the first page of his remarks, captioning the photo, "Getting ready." CNN's Phil Mattingly is live at the White House for us. Phil, what is Biden's team saying about what the president's message will be tomorrow?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jake, that photo from hours of intensive preparation at Camp David with his top advisors as they work through the final drafts of the second state of the union address for the president. And it's one that (inaudible) is going to track very closely with what you've heard the president over the course of the last couple weeks. Clear progress, but more work to be done. Opportunities to get more work done. But the need for Republicans to work with him in order to secure some of those accomplishments. Or as the president framed it, when he wrote returned from Camp David, like this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs. What's going on, what I'm looking forward to working on from this point on, what we've done, and just have a conversation with the American people.


MATTINGLY: The conversation will be heavy with what they have done particularly the legislative accomplishments of the last two years and what those accomplishments will lead to, particularly on the economic side in the year ahead. To some degree, this is an inflection point speech for a president that feels like the U.S. has turned a corner on the economy and certainly on the public health front in the wake of the pandemic.

And also, as just a couple weeks away from a likely re-election announcement, it's worth noting, Kevin McCarthy is now Speaker of the House. He'll be sitting behind the president for the first time. The president will put forth, like he did last year, a unity agenda to work in a bipartisan manner with Republicans, but he will make clear, advisers say, that where Republicans diverge from the president's key priorities, key commitments, he will certainly be willing to fight over those issues, Jake

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly at the White House, thanks so much. Let's discuss and Kathy, let me start with you. This is a key moment for President Biden. This is the first time he'll be presiding over the state of the union with a Republican-controlled House with Kevin McCarthy behind him.


He has some bipartisan achievements to his name in terms of infrastructure and the Burn Pits Act and on and on. But he also wants to contrast what he wants to do with what the House Republicans do, and he's accusing them of planning all sorts of cuts that the House Republicans say are not in the works Medicare, Social Security, et cetera.

How does he balance this unity agenda? I heard -- I you saw your chuckling about that, Quin, and also, you know, drawing a contrast.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes and it's a moment right where you -- the divisions in Washington really are on visible display, right? The President is there, you know, flanked by Speaker McCarthy. You'll see the folks in the room who are opposed to his agenda.

He's going to try and continue to walk the line that he's been walking in speeches as he's been out around the country recently, which is to try and highlight the things that they've done in a bipartisan way. The things they think that are popular. Investments and infrastructure, you know, investments in spending that people will see in their communities.

And try and call him Republicans to work and with things like that, but also make clear that he's going to continue pushing his agenda either way. And this really foreshadows his 2024 message if he chooses to run again, right. That he has delivered on promises for the public, and he's going to continue to do that, you know, with or without Republicans.

TAPPER: All right, Quin, why were you chuckling when Phil said unity agenda?

QUIN HILLYER, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: Because Biden keeps saying unity and then never delivering it, never even reaching out in any way towards any Republican priorities or really giving up anything that he wants. Every president does the same thing. They get up at the State of the Union and give their very strong partisan talking points and then say, I want unity and bipartisanship.

And the other guys are really bad guys, and the way they need to be bipartisan is to come and do everything that I want. And that's basically what Biden has been doing for two years. He's not the first president to do it, but that's what he's done. And he has pushed an entirely partisan agenda.

And I think the American people might actually like it if rather than just say, I define bipartisanship with, as you guys agreeing with me, instead if he reached out and actually offered some things that might sound bipartisan.

TAPPER: So whatever you think about what he's passed, what he signed into law, he certainly has passed some partisan stuff. There's also been some bipartisan stuff. It has been an accomplishment filled two years. Now, you might not like the accomplishments, Quin might not like the accomplishments, but there's been a lot.

And yet this is fascinating. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 62 percent of Americans think Biden has accomplished not very much or little to nothing or little or nothing during his presidency. So whether you don't like it, or -- I mean, he's not even getting credit for the stuff Quin's saying he didn't like.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I don't know if they're not paying attention. I don't know if the media is not covering the substantive stuff enough.

TAPPER: You're like, we've been covering.

POWERS: I don't -- well, I mean, Jake, obviously.

TAPPER: Jake accept it of course.

POWERS: I mean, yes. But -- or I do also think -- I don't think Biden is the best communicator in the history of the world. And so I don't know that he's done necessarily a wonderful job of letting people know that. I think that those kinds of numbers also, though, do tend to just reflect how people are feeling about things.

And so I think that they maybe are feeling that they're not that happy with the way things are going, and he doesn't have a very high approval rating. And so all of that stuff is always going to get baked into this, you know, whether they're following along or not.

But I do want to address the bipartisan thing. I actually think he -- I mean, he has passed a couple of bipartisan bills.

TAPPER: The Chip Act.

POWERS: And -- yes. And also he has -- you know, and he has negotiated much more so than I think a lot of, frankly, Democrats even wanted him to. But you can have unity if you don't have people who want to have unity with you. Which is why I've always found it to be kind of a strange message, because there is never going to be a coming together between the Democrats and the Republicans. They live on different planets.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I think one of the big test (ph) of this bipartisanship is going to be of this debate over the debt ceiling and whether or not they can get something done. The deadline doesn't come up until June. There have obviously been meetings with McCarthy that Biden had at the White House. Both of them came out and said those meetings went well.

There's some talk about maybe some discharge position -- petition, which would be good news for Biden, and we'll see what happens with that. You have both sides very much dug in. McCarthy having to negotiate with sort of the far right who don't really necessarily want to get anything done. But I think that is going to be a real test of this talk of bipartisanship, whether or not Biden can actually get this done.

And this is really important to Americans, to the economy. If it doesn't get done in time, it could have real negative impact on the economy.

TAPPER: So let me just take a TV time out, which is to explain to the American people --

HENDERSON: Yes, what it deter (ph).

TAPPER: -- which is, if 218 members of Congress go and sign a discharge petition, that forces it onto the floor for a vote. So it's not up to the speaker, it's not up to the Rules Committee that forces it. So you would need basically every Democrat and a handful of Republicans to do that.


And Catherine, Congressman Don Bacon, who is a Republican that represents a purple area of Omaha, Nebraska, he told the Washington Post we're willing to do a discharge petition. He's speaking on behalf of moderates, I suppose, if there's a good faith effort by Biden to compromise rising to come up with a good solution. So I guess that's plan B.

LUCEY: I mean, there are certainly moderates or, you know, Republicans like Bacon who have talked about how they don't want to see the U.S. default and they are interested in seeing if there's a way forward on this. But we're a long way from June and there's going to be so much grand standing on both sides before then until they can reach some kind of solution, I think, on this one.

TAPPER: What do you think?

HILLYER: Well, first of all, I'm sick of the grand standing on both sides. Both sides do it. It is really upsetting to people like me who came up in an era when the parties at least talked to each other. And, you know, I can remember Bob Dole and Daniel Patrick Moynihan getting together and basically saving Social Security with Ronald Reagan's support.

I can remember being on Capitol Hill when clearly the Democrats and Republicans didn't like each other during the Clinton era. But Bob Livingston and Bill Clinton actually negotiated a way forward on appropriations. That doesn't happen anymore. It would be nice if an American president would get up and say, let's actually come to the table in a way that both sides can give a little and both sides can get a little.

TAPPER: During the Obama years, the person doing that was Joe Biden.

HENDERSON: Was Joe Biden.

TAPPER: But he's not in a -- he doesn't do that anymore.

POWERS: Yes, but I think this is -- I mean, first of all, I agree we need to get back to where this is not even something that we talk about. It's -- there used to be bipartisan agreement over it. You just raised the debt limit, right? Because this is money that's already spent. There aren't actually supposed to be negotiations over it because the money has already been spent.

And so, how that becomes Joe Biden's fault is unclear to me because the people who are raising the debt limit are Congress, right? So, really what should happen is rather than have these negotiations, they should just raise the debt limit. The money has already been spent.

TAPPER: The argument would be, Nia-Malika, that they have leverage, House Republicans, and they, you know, look, it's just a fact that this country spends --


TAPPER: -- much more than it takes in. It is also just a fact that in terms of just paying the interest on the debt, that's hundreds of billions of dollars at the U.S. or hundreds of millions of dollars that the U.S. is paying on debt instead of paying on education or whatever you want to spend it on. So I guess I'm just representing the House Republican point of view here. This is an opportunity to force some cuts.

HENDERSON: Yes, I think that's right. Listen, they obviously voted to raise the debt ceiling before, and they usually raise this argument of tying it to cuts when there's a Democratic president. There's a democratic president. They're in control of the House.

It seems like Biden came out of that meeting saying we need to have a clean debt ceiling, but maybe there should be a separate talk about some of these cuts going forward. So we'll see what happens. But they certainly have tons of leverage. What they don't have at this point is a clear sense of what they want to cut, right. It's not Medicare. It's not Social Security. It's like eliminating waste, fraud and abuse which every mayor runs off --

LUCEY: They don't want to cut the popular stuff. HENDERSON: Yes, they don't want to cut the popular stuff. So, you know, they've got to actually come to the table and be brave about what they actually want to cut.

POWERS: Yes. They also could, when they were in complete control of the government, could have done cuts too. But guess what --

TAPPER: You know what? I asked the member of Congress about this, a Republican member of Congress, who was it? It's Chris Stewart, I think, from Utah. He said he was very honest. He's, like Donald Trump, had no interest in it.


TAPPER: He did not care about the debt.


HILLYER: Trump blew through every previous spending record that had ever been set except during World War II, and he was a huge spender. Of course, those records were set by Obama, who broke every other previous record.


HILLYER: Somebody needs to step in and say, OK, maybe let's get a bipartisan commission on Social Security, Medicare, and the debt and try to do something that's similar to what they did with the base closing commission and somehow reach an agreement.

TAPPER: So, Kirsten, Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, just introduced a bill to limit senators to serving two terms, but he is also currently running for his third term. Here's his defense of it. Take a listen.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I think that Congress would work much better if every senator were limited to two terms, if every House member were limited to three terms. I've introduced a constitutional amendment to put that into the Constitution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you're still running.

CRUZ: And if and when it passes -- if and when it passes, I will happily, happily comply. I've never said I'm going to unilaterally comply.


POWERS: I mean, Ted Cruz never lets you down, does he? You know, it's -- that's crazy. But he's doing this because this has become kind of a MAGA thing. Marjorie Taylor Greene really likes it. It's not going to happen. And so he's basically carrying water for them to curry favor with them, but he is not going anywhere.

TAPPER: There have been members of Congress, I should point out, who have actually --


TAPPER: -- walked the walk and like step down after three terms.

Quin, thanks so much.

HILLYER: Thank you, Jake. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: OK, good -- everyone, good to be here. Thank you so much. And I appreciate the eagles cover -- colors.


TAPPER: To my left, we want to show this a little demonstration of support for the birds over there.

Coming up, the head of Russia's mercenary army takes to the sky, taking verbal shots at Ukraine's President. We're going to the front lines of this fight. Stay with us.


TAPPER: You're looking at new video just into CNN. Massive explosions in Vuhledar, where Ukrainian forces claimed they stopped a Russian assault as Ukraine braces for a major increase in Russian troops in the coming months.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen sat down with the head of Ukraine's National Security Council at this pivotal time in Putin's brutal war.



FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin taking to the skies, flying a combat aircraft, challenging Ukraine's President to a dogfight.

I landed, we bombed Bakhmut, he says. Tomorrow I'm boarding a MiG-29. If you desire, we'll meet in the sky.

Ukraine acknowledges the Russians have made some gains around Bakhmut, but insists they're suffering catastrophic losses, the head of Ukraine's National Security Council tells. The lack of shells, that is a significant disadvantage, he says, but in our favor, we are killing them at a ratio of seven times to one. Unfortunately, our men and women are dying there as well.

Ukraine's entire eastern front has been heating up. The Russians deploying tens of thousands of troops mobilized late last year for what is expected to be a massive spring offensive.

Even so, Ukraine's Security Council chief says his country is ready. We're concerned, he says, but I would stress that we are preparing together with our partners. Good preparations are being made now, so if the Russian offensive begins, it will be unsuccessful.

But to turn the tide of this war, the Ukrainians say they need more long-range weapons to hit Russian supply lines and combat aircraft to win control of the skies. They're confident of getting both eventually.

It's only a matter of time until we get F-16, he says. They will definitely come. Unfortunately, in the meantime, we're losing our people while fighting for our independence.

The Russians say they foiled a drone attack deep inside Russian territory, only about 140 miles from Moscow. The Ukrainians have promised not to use western weapons to hit Russian territory, but Danilov says Ukraine will use its own territory.

Regarding Russian territory, nobody prohibits us to destroy targets with weapons produced in Ukraine, he says. Do we have such weapons? Yes, we do.

For the Ukrainians, it's a race against time to secure and develop weapons that will hold off what they call Russia's revenge.


PLEITGEN: And Jake, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tonight said that he met with his national security team, and they talked specifically about the situation in Bakhmut, about Russia's efforts to try and encircle the Ukrainians there and what the Ukrainians can do to stop that.

Now, they said that the Ukrainians need much more artillery also down there, and certainly also a lot more artillery, munitions to hold the Russians up. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. CNN's Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv, Ukraine. Thank you so much.

Coming up, why would someone damage cages and steal exotic animals? Possible new answers in that mystery at the Dallas Zoo.



TAPPER: Finally, some possible answers in the string of mysterious incidents at the Dallas Zoo. Police say a man arrested last week might be responsible for stealing two tamarin monkeys and tampering with other habitats. CNN's Ed Lavandera talks to zookeepers who suspect there might be a larger motivation at play.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The high-flying Gibbons apes are oblivious to the fact that their little corner of the Dallas Zoo is a crime scene that's garnered worldwide attention. For the humans at the zoo, it's been a nearly month-long nightmare.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Harrison Edell is the Dallas Zoo's Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Welfare. He's showing us where the mysterious break-ins, escapes, possible murder, and animal abductions occurred.

It started here in this enclosure, which is home to four langur monkeys. Edell says they found a four-foot-high cut in the wire mesh.

EDELL: We also noticed that some of the climbing structure inside the habitat was broken and it had literally collapsed, which made us think an animal larger than a langur had been in here.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): None of the monkeys escaped.

EDELL: A lot of us in animal care at the zoo have gone to some really dark places in our minds in the last month.

LAVANDERA (on camera): You can almost picture whoever was in there chasing these guys down. It must have been rather frantic for the animals.

EDELL: I can only imagine how scary that is for a langur to have a person in their space who is trying to aggressively grab them.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Around the same time and just two exhibits away, the clouded leopard habitat was cut open. A female leopard named Nova walked right out, setting off what the zoo calls a code blue.

LAVANDERA (on camera): The SWAT team rolled out here that morning.


LAVANDERA (on camera): That's got to be terrifying.

EDELL: Yes. I mean, SWAT team heard the word "leopard" and thought leopard-leopard.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): High-tech drones were used to search for the 25-pound cat to no avail. That afternoon, two zoo employees standing about 30 yards away from Nova's habitat found her.

EDELL: One of them said to the other one, "Why is that squirrel so pissed off?" And there's a squirrel in the tree barking. And down here in one of these cabinets, the leopard was curled up in a cabinet looking at them.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Down here?

EDELL: There's the curator who said why is the squirrel so upset.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Lisa Van Slett, the zoo's mammal curator, called for help.


LAVANDERA (on camera): She's safe and sound now.

VAN SLETT: She's safe and sound now. At first, we thought maybe an isolated incident. Somebody tried something and failed.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): It was just the beginning. A Lappet-faced vulture named Pin was found dead. Dallas police said the rare bird had been wounded. And the last week, two rare Emperor tamarin monkeys were taken from the zoo.

EDELL: And they made a huge cut in this wall of mesh right here in order to get into the habitat.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The one-pound monkeys were found the next day in this abandoned house about 15 miles away. Zoo officials say the monkeys were unharmed.

That last incident led police to arrest 24-year-old Davion Irvin. He's been charged with six counts of animal cruelty and two counts of burglary to a building. But investigators say he is not currently charged in connection to the death of the vulture.

JOE EXOTIC, STAR OF "TIGER KING": My name is Joe Exotic and this is Sarge.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Wildlife experts say the fascination with exotic animals is fueled by shows like "TIGER KING" and social media influencers creating an underground world of exotic animals as pets.

DAN ASHE, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ASSOCIATION OF ZOOS AND AQUARIUMS: It's a massive problem that globally, the illegal pet trade is again driving many animals toward extinction. And we think of it oftentimes as a kind of other-world problem. This is an opportunity to let people, you know, that animals need to be left alone in their homes.

EDELL: I'm going to sound so old when I say this but it doesn't help that social media influencers are showing kids that it's cool to have this thing in my house.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Do you think that might be one of the motivations here -- just that kind of influence?

EDELL: I do. I do.


LAVANDERA: The suspect is being held on $25,000 bond. Zookeepers here say these incidents have been a profoundly disturbing gut punch. But what still looms over the zoo is why all of this happened. There's just no known motive yet. Jake?

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera at the Dallas Zoo, thanks so much.

Tune into our special coverage of President Biden's State of the Union address. That's tomorrow night at 08:00 p.m. Eastern. Our coverage continues with Wolf Blitzer in a place I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching. I'll see you tomorrow.