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The Lead with Jake Tapper

FBI Analyzes First Pieces Of Shot-Down Chinese Balloon; 21,000+ Dead And 75,000+ Injured Three Days After Quake; Biden Draws Contrast With GOP On Social Security, Medicare; Zelenskyy Appeals For EU Membership, Tanks, Missiles, Fighter Jets; Bipartisan Legislation Aims To Formally End Gulf And Iraq Wars; Lawmakers Scrutinize Southwest Airlines Over 2022 Travel Meltdown. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 09, 2023 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: We did for you. We did it for you.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: For our viewers and for you Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rihanna, you play a little Beyonce, you'll get Victor wiggling a little bit.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, yeah.

GOLODRYGA: Always wiggling.

BLACKWELL: You might see something.

All right, thank you, Coy.

GOLODRYGA: It's too early for that.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: More than 20,000 -- 20,000 lives lost since Monday's horrific earthquake.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Screams of joy amid the horror a mother and daughter found alive. Coming up, the miracle rescues. CNN is on the ground as crews climb through earthquake rubble in Syria and Turkey.

And President Biden takes his State of the Union road show to rival rich Florida and challenges a Republican senator on his clear proposal to sunset all programs, including Social Security and Medicare.

But, first, new images from the FBI as investigators begin to analyze that downed Chinese spy balloon recovered from the Atlantic Ocean. And lawmakers begin to learn just how sophisticated the surveillance equipment onboard was.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start with our world lead and a flurry of new information about the Chinese spy balloon shot down by the United States. Today, the FBI announced that it started analyzing the first pieces of the balloon at its lab in Quantico, Virginia.

And senior officials say those parts could be used as evidence in a future possible criminal case against groups linked to the Chinese military. The Biden administration has determined the balloon was capable of monitoring U.S. communications, but sources say U.S. officials believe the Chinese government did not have the opportunity to gather much intelligence because the Chinese government stopped transmissions to the Chinese mainland once the U.S. found out about the balloon.

House and Senate lawmakers were briefed on the spy balloon today including the president's decision to let it fly across the country before shooting it down. A top Senate Democrat who led one of today's hearings is going to join us in just a few minutes.

But we're going to start today with CNN's Alex Marquardt who has new information about when the Biden administration found out the balloon was headed to the U.S..


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The Biden administration and Pentagon facing a bipartisan barrage of questions today on Capitol Hill over the Chinese surveillance balloon.

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): You guys have to help me understand why this baby wasn't taken out long before because I am telling you that -- that this ain't the last time. We saw brief incursions.

MARQUARDT: Accused of a lack of alarm and criticism to not shoot down the balloon sooner when it was near Alaska.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): The fact of the matter is Alaska is the first line of defense for America.

MARQUARDT: In four different often tense hearings, administration officials stood by their argument that it was safer to let the balloon cross the country while also gathering intelligence on Chinese capabilities. Many Democrats satisfied, many Republicans still rejecting the White House and Pentagon's position.

SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R-AK): Next time, you know, we're not going to wait for it to trend -- go all across my state, all across the lower 48 and then shoot it down.

MARQUARDT: Officials now tell CNN there was a warning. The Defense Intelligence Agency the die before the balloon entered U.S. airspace near Alaska when it did on January 28th, fighter jets were sent up to ID the balloon but it decided to let it fly on, on a northern trajectory and collect intelligence on it. Suddenly, officials said it took a strange turn south towards the

lower 48 states crossing into Idaho on January 31st and eastward to cross the country. After it was decided to not shoot the balloon down over land, U2 spy planes were sent up to monitor it, the administration determining that the balloon was no longer sending information back to China, sources say as the U.S. tried to block it from gathering more intelligence on sensitive U.S. military sites.

This balloon just a small part of a broader years long Chinese balloon program whose fleet the State Department says flew over more than 40 countries.

ANTHONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States was not the only target of this broader program which has violated the sovereignty of countries across the five continents.

MARQUARDT: The balloon program run by China's military, officials say, in part out of Hainan province, the southern most tip of China.

China outraged of the shoot down, demanding the return of the remnants of the balloon, the U.S. refusing. Instead sending the recovered pieces from the ocean to an FBI lab where analysis has begun. So far that includes the canopy, wiring, and some electronics.



MARQUARDT (on camera): And Jake, we learned today that the balloon was carrying sophisticated electronics, capable of surveillance of signals like communications and radar. So far, what the FBI has collected has just been what was on the surface of the water just off of South Carolina. An FBI official says they haven't yet seen the payload where most of that surveillance equipment would be.

This is the first time the FBI has investigated a spy balloon like this, and officials say they're analyzing the components of the balloon for possible criminal charges.

TAPPER: All right. Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

Here to discuss, Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana. He's the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which shows today's public hearing on the Chinese balloon, and also a Montanan who -- did you see it yourself or did you just hear about it?

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): I did not see it myself but there were plenty of people who did see it in Montana.

TAPPER: And you're upset about it.

TESTER: Well, look, I mean, we happened to have ICBMs in Montana. People in Montana appreciate freedom and privacy. They don't like anybody spying on them much less the Chinese communist government. And so, yeah, it's a big deal. I mean, what China did was a major screw up and incursion on our

airspace, and no, I am very upset about it. I've heard for years China is a threat and they are both economically and militarily. I think we need to take this seriously. I think the administration did, I'm not saying it didn't, but this is -- this is a bad action.

TAPPER: Yeah, some of your colleagues, Republicans, have said it should have been shot down earlier. The Biden White House says that the Pentagon said if we shoot it down over land, that runs the risk of hurting people, Montanans or 30,000 people who live in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

What did you think? Should they have shot it down earlier?

TESTER: Well, I was in a column that says shoot the doggone thing down and do it do it as soon as possible. I think -- I think the military made a decision that that wasn't the best option, the best option was to do what they did. They had good reason for what they did. They explained it to us in classified session and in open session hearing that I held.

And I accept I accept that decision as a decision that was the right decision for them to make at the time. I will tell you what concerns me, though. I chair the defense appropriations with Senator Collins. We need to get together and make sure the budget meet the needs to make sure this never happens again.

TAPPER: So, the next time they sent one over because apparently this is the -- I guess there were three during the Trump administration and two during Biden. to the next time it happens there needs to be a plan to take it down as soon as possible.

TESTER: I believe so, yes. So, I do think there needs to be a plan to deal with it in such a way where it's either disabled so it can't collect anything, or you take it out of the sky.

TAPPER: I want to run a little of the sound you said earlier today about the threat this posed to the U.S.


TESTER: To know absolutely that this was of no military threat to us -- well, I want to hear about that in classified session, too, because quite frankly, I'm not sure that you can say that unequivocally.


TAPPER: So now you've had the classified session. I know you can't tell us classified information, but do you feel there was no military threat?

TESTER: I am much more comfortable with the explanation of what they collected, as to being let me put it this way it doesn't put our national security at risk.

TAPPER: One of the Pentagon officials you're hearing say it could be days or weeks before all the debris is recovered from the ocean. When will the public get answers about what this balloon was specifically doing and what was collected?

TESTER: Well, I don't know that -- I don't know the public will ever get the answers. That will be up to the intelligence community, but I will say this: there's a lot of smart guys that work in our military and intel. They're going to collect it. They'll put it back together, they'll reverse engineer it and they'll know exactly what they're doing.

But it's probably going to take some time. I mean, the weather is not conductive. They had -- they said they had a good night last night picking up material from the downed balloon. The weather is evidently going to deteriorate, so it will put it off a little bit, but, look, there's one thing I know about the military, they are going to go out, they'll get every stick of that balloon and cargo they can and they'll put it back together and they'll make a determination that will be right for this country. It will take some time, though.

I think the bigger issue here, Jake, is that this is an incursion on our airspace, and it's always been a situation where we've said no. I mean, we've scrambled fighters, we've done all sorts of stuff and this is a balloon. It's not a fighter aircraft, it's not a bomber, but nonetheless, it's still an incursion of our airspace and it's illegal.

TAPPER: Do you think President Xi of China was testing President Biden, seeing how he would react, seeing if he was strong or weak, or all that?

TESTER: I think that -- I don't think this happened by mistake. I think they knew exactly what they're doing. Whether Xi knew it or somebody else knew it, this didn't happen by accident. And I think China always tests us and maybe tests us to see what the political fallout was going to be, whether folks played politics with national defense, which is something we've never done, but we did see some of that with this situation or how the military was going to react.

Like I said this wasn't the first time, you know that, that a balloon has crossed into our airspace in different administrations, and we need to have a plan for that because obviously, it's not going to stop. And I think our airspace is sacred to us, and we ought to protect it.

TAPPER: So, listen to President Biden ask what this whole saga has done to U.S.-China relations.


INTERVIEWER: Have relations now between the U.S. and China taken a big hit?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. The idea of shooting down a balloon that's gathering information over America and that makes relations worse?

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Do you agree that U.S. and China relations have not taken a big hit because of this?

TESTER: I don't think China relations were particularly good before. The only proof I find, Jake, is that they're equivalent to Secretary Austin did not talk -- has not talked to --

TAPPER: They wouldn't take the call.

TESTER: Exactly, and I think that is particularly good sign because I think people need to communicate and let people know -- the United States didn't do anything wrong here. It was China that sent the balloon over that came into our territory. And China has not had a good explanation for this period. And --

TAPPER: Although they're demanding the balloon remnants back. They want it back.

TESTER: Well, I got a better idea for them, just don't send them over in the first place and they can keep them.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, always good to see you, sir. Thanks so much.

TESTER: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next, CNN is live in the disaster zone. What desperation looks like in Turkey and Syria as food and water starts to run out nearly 90 hours since Monday's earthquake.



APPER: In our world lead, we go now to Turkey and Syria. The latest death toll from Monday's earthquake has now surpassed 21,000. The disaster on top of the disaster as the quake's utter destruction reveals new challenges, stretching emergency crews way beyond capacity. Roads are too damaged to deliver aid.

And this port in the southern city is in Iskenderun is in flames after hundreds of shipping containers mangled by the quake caught on fire. Though the blaze has been contained for now, we're told, plenty of hardships lie ahead.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is back near the epicenter in Adana.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And this line in the road to Iskenderun, a devastated city that's crying for help answered by a nation in shock, united in pain.

These men told us they drove more than eight hours carrying diapers, water, and bread, whatever they can do to help strangers who need all they can get. Destruction in every corner of the city, no building spared Mother

Nature's wrath. So even in this part of the city where buildings are still standing, you can see there's still cracks all over these buildings. They've sustained damage, so we're going to have to walk through here really fast. We just don't know how stable these structures are right now.

In seconds, lives shattered, livelihoods destroyed as the city and the people left broken.

SERVER ONEN, ISKENDERUN RESIDENT: I'm confused. I don't know how to feel, senseless.

KARADSHEH: Server has been out here searching for his friend, one left under the wreckage under this apartment building. No professional rescuers here, just volunteers drawing floor plans for their search in the dirt.

ONEN: The first day I was really hopeful. But this is the fourth day. I'm getting out of hope.

KARADSHEH: Even happy endings here are overshadowed by the collective grief. Burak flew back from his home in London to find his sister and other relative. It's a miracle they made it out. They were buried under the rubble for 15 hours he tells us.

BURAK DIK, FAMILY RESCUED: I'm speechless. I dream a very bad dream that I'm hearing so many of our friends dying here, so many of our relatives are dying. My feelings are all collapsed. I'm only breathing at the moment.

KARADSHEH: Around the corner, we find another overseeing the search mission here. For days, he's desperately been trying to get his parents out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our government helps, but it's not enough obviously, so we are trying to get our people by our own. And we need you, we need everyone who can come and help us.

KARADSHEH: Sohil (ph) tells us he saw his mother's leg under the rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not able to reach her. She is there. I see her, but I cannot touch her. I understand my mother is dead. I am trying to get my mother.

KARADSHEH: With every passing hour, for many here, the agonizing ends as the gut wrenching reality sinks in.


KARADSHEH (on camera): And, Jake, just a short time ago, the Turkish government announcing the latest death toll making this now officially the second deadliest earthquake in the history of Turkey since the 1939 earthquake that killed more than 30,000 people. But right now, the fear is this death toll is continuing to rise,

fears it'll continue to rise and significantly in the coming hours and days. You've got thousands of buildings like this one across the earthquake zone. This was a 14-story residential building, about 100 people are believed to have been living in this building, flattened by the earthquake. And we have seen over the past 24 hours since we've been here the rescue workers have been working around the clock trying to locate survivors, but so far, Jake, they haven't found anyone alive. They've been pulling body after body. I mean right now, we're watching them prepare to pull another body -- Jake.

TAPPER: CNN's Jomana Karadsheh in Adana, Turkey, thank you for that report.


And many of you want to help, I know. You can use CNN's "Impact Your World" for recommendations of how you can do so. Go to for more on that.

Coming up next to Florida, the belly of the beast for American politics right now, President Biden's message specifically to seniors in a state where roughly 20 percent of the population is at or past retirement age.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our politics lead, President Biden visited Florida today where he once again went after Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott for proposing to sunset all federal legislation every five years, which would include Social Security and Medicare.



BIDEN: The very idea a senator from Florida wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years I find to be outrageous, so outrageous you might not even believe it. I won't do it again, but I will. Twelve-point American rescue plan, one of the points, all federal legislation sunsets every five years.


TAPPER: CNN's Priscilla Alvarez joins us now from Tampa, Florida.

Priscilla, the Biden administration literally placed a copy of Rick Scott's Rescue America plan on every seat in the room at his event, which I'm pretty sure they would not have done had Senator Scott and other Republicans not lied about it and denied he ever made the proposal.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it was clear that the White House was aggressively leaning into this from the outset as the audience walked in and saw the plan on their seats. As you mentioned now, President Biden made this his second stop after the "State of the Union," and he wanted to drive home the message that he wants to protect Social Security and Medicare.

Remember, this was an issue that drew the fiercest reaction during the State of the Union this week. And he seized on the opportunity to come to the home state of Senator Rick Scott and to draw a sharp contrast between him and Scott, the architect of that plan that you mentioned, that would sunset federal legislation including Social Security and Medicare in five years.

But this is also, of course, the home state of two potential GOP challengers in 2024. So Biden used his remarks to call on the spirited debate with Republicans during the State of the Union to call Scott's plan, quote, outrageous and also to say quite simply he would veto it if it got to his desk. Now, this is plan Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said does not have any traction. Scott on CNN this morning pushed back saying he doesn't want to cut Social Security and Medicare.

But it's clear, Jake, this is an opportunity the White House sees to seize on a key issue and potentially make up some ground with seniors -- senior voters in the state of Florida. And, of course, all of this as we await for the re-election announcement -- a potential re- election announcement of President Joe Biden, again doing that in a state and coming to a state where he would face GOP challengers -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Priscilla Alvarez in Florida for us, traveling with the president, thanks so much.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins and David Chalian are here to discuss.

So, Kaitlan, as Priscilla just mentioned this morning, you interviewed Senator Scott about his proposal about the fact he did in rescue America call for all federal legislation to sunset after five years and then it could be brought back up if Congress chooses to do so. Then he started saying that Democrats tried to cut Medicare spending. He pointed out what he was talking about was not a cut. It was allowing Medicare to negotiate for cheaper drugs, and then he tried to use something I said -- I was very surprised by this -- back in 2017 as his defense to that.

Take a listen to this little excerpt.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, CNN THIS MORNING: What passing the Inflation Reduction Act, reducing drug spending is not cutting benefits to Medicare?

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): Okay, Kaitlan, let me just read you something Jake Tapper said. This is back when Republicans were proposing reducing the cost of Medicaid. He said -- Jake Tapper said, I know the Trump administration is excited that Medicaid will go back to the states where they have more control and can experiment and be more efficient, but without question, $880 billion is a cut.


TAPPER: So he didn't include the quote where I talked about that the cut was analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office. Here's what I actually said back in 2017.


TAPPER: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the health care bill that just passed the house would cut $880 billion over ten years from Medicaid. Now, I know that the Trump administration is excited that Medicaid will go back to the states where they have more control and can experiment and be more efficient, but without question, $880 billion fewer dollars is cut.


TAPPER: So the context here as I was quoting the CBO on its analysis for a proposal from Medicaid, and I was asking the health and human services secretary, Tom Price, how that cut as defined by CBO didn't violate Trump's campaign promise to never make such a cut.

COLLINS: Yeah, and really the issue here that it's a separate matter, Jake. It's what was most confusing to me as we were talking about this, and this is something I spoke with Senator Scott about just two days ago. I expected him to say this because it's in a new ad where he's calling on President Biden to resign.

But what is happening here in the Inflation Reduction Act is that they reduced drug prices. Basically the government can actually negotiate these drug prices. So, basically, they're saving money, and reducing spending is not the same as cutting drug prices.


It actually makes the provision more beneficial to those Medicare recipients.

But that was beyond the point of what the interview was which was to talk about his plan that he proposed and that he told me this morning he does not believe is a mistake to roll out this plan that would sunset all of these federal legislation, including Medicare, including Social Security every five years unless it was authorized by Congress.

So, that was really what wais at the heart of the matter. That is also a fact he's bringing up essentially trying to argue he's not the only one putting Medicare on the chopping block for potentially not being re-authorized. He's saying President Biden was doing the same. That was his claim.

TAPPER: Right, the cut is pharmaceutical company profits, right, because now --


TAPPER: -- now Medicare gets to negotiate.

David, cutting Medicaid appropriations by more than $800 billion over ten years and sending money to the states and allowing them to experiment with less money is not the same thing as what the Inflation Reduction Act did to lower drug prices, and I have to say it seems bizarre to suggest otherwise.

I know he was trying to say that I'm going to call it a cut when Republicans do it and not when Democrats do it. But it's just not even remotely the same thing.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah, I don't think it's bizarre. I think it's intellectually dishonest of what it actually is, and as you're noting, if indeed CBO scores this legislation that you were talking about back then, that is an actual cut and sends fewer dollars to the states to then experiment with, it's just apples and oranges from actually having the power to negotiate with Medicare from drug companies to bring the price down for people on Medicare for their prescription drugs, having nothing to do with the overall funding level of Medicare.

TAPPER: Yeah, it's strange to me but I guess he doesn't want to talk about part 6, Kaitlan, of Senator Scott's Rescue America Plan. And anybody can go online and find it. It's still on rescue America, just Google it.

The part six is government reform and debt. This is Senator Scott's plan. It includes the line, quote: All federal legislation sunsets in five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again, unquote. Social Security, Medicare are federal legislation.

So, President Biden saying Scott proposed sunsetting those programs, it's accurate. I'm not saying it's a bad idea or good idea. A lot of people I admire think Social Security and Medicare, there does need to be discussions of cost savings. I'm just saying it's an idea and one Scott proposed.

Why is he denying that he proposed it?

COLLINS: Well, it's deeply unpopular. This came out and people in his own party were heavily critical of it, including Mitch McConnell who, of course, he challenged for a top Senate slot in the Republican Party.

And so, it's been this point of an issue between Republicans. They've been arguing about it. They thought it was unpopular, unwise to do that in an election year. They're worried it hurt them as we saw how Republicans performed in the mid-term elections.

One interesting point he made he was talking about something President Biden did when he was Senator Biden back in the 1970s when he also suggested this idea of having federal legislation sunset. He brought this up. But it's notable because he said Biden is twisting his words, and of course that was 50 years ago President Biden rolled out this plan, and he was drawing a similarity between the two of them. So I just think it's notable given he's denying what is on his own website. I asked why he didn't make an exemption for Medicare and Social

Security if he wasn't talking about them, but, Jake, he didn't say why.

CHALIAN: And can I just add there? Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, on Air Force One today, Jake, fully acknowledged that President Biden then, 32-year-old Senator Biden in 1975 had that position. It had nothing to do with current sitting President Biden's policies, proposals or thinking on these issues as he made clear at the State of the Union address.

TAPPER: Yeah. Again, I'm not saying sunset it, don't sunset it. I don't have position on it. I'm just saying he did propose it.

Kaitlan Collins, David Chalian, thank you so much.

Coming up, something you don't see every day, a Republican and Democrat in complete agreement. Two senators hear what they have to say? They're on the same side of an important global issue. They're going to both join me in studio next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with more of our world lead. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is in Brussels today, holding a string of meetings with European leaders. His list of requests includes but not limited to membership in the European Union, fighter jets, more modern tanks and long-range missile. This as Ukraine braces for another Russian offensive.

CNN's Sam Kiley is in Eastern Ukraine for us. Is interest there a chance that Zelenskyy walks away from this trip empty-handed?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's certainly indicating, Jake, he thinks he won't. He says his talks with the leadership in Europe have been concrete and specific.

Now, if that is true and that means he's not bouncing people, then they are talking concretely and specifically about long-range missiles and jets that possibly could be supplied. Now, the French and British have not ruled out, they've not ruled them in either, but that is a step in the right direction. And if that is the case from the Ukrainian perspective, that could not come too soon because according to local commanders and local authority leaders here in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, what remains outside of Russian hands, Jake, the Russian spring offensive in their view has already begun.

There's been extremely heavy fighting continued in Bakhmut where the Russians have suffered heavy losses and in Kreminna, too, there's been very heavy assault and they held back on both sides. And in that context, local commanders here saying what they desperately need in the immediate term is more artillery and more ammunition. They say they're confident they can hold the line but pushing Russia further out of the country will depend on those more modern weapons, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sam Kiley in Eastern Ukraine, thanks so much.


Joining us now for bipartisan conversation, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana. They've introduced legislation today that gets at a critical issue, the War Powers Act, who gets to decide, when, where, how long American forces are sent into harms way.

And this show is almost ten years old. I think you've been coming on the show to talk about the War Powers Act for the last decade.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): My entire ten years in the Senate, and it was very lonely at the start, and then along the way have picked up more and more support. But I'll say Todd Young of Indiana has been a fantastic comrade on this the last few years.

TAPPER: So, I want to get to that in one second, but I do want to ask about Ukraine, which is, Ukraine now asking for fighter jets and there was a time when Biden said no tanks, now there are tanks going there.

Do you think that Zelenskyy should get fighter jets from the U.S.?

KAINE: You know, Todd and I have a different opinion. I've never served in the military. I don't micromanage which is the right platform at the time. What I do exercise oversight is what's the degree of communication we had with Ukrainian defense forces so they're making the acts and assessing them and real-time decisions. And as long as that communication is strong, I feel like we'll get to the right answer.

TAPPER: What do you think because some of your colleagues including Senator Roger wicker is saying that the Biden administration needs to do much more so that the Ukrainians can push back this Russian offensive.

SEN. TODD YOUNG (R-IN): You know, my default position is to listen to their military commanders working with our military commanders, and in the end I think consistently we've made the right decisions about sending the material. I wish those decisions would be made more quickly.

When we think about a potential future conflict with Taiwan, there won't be -- there won't be much time to afford delays in these sorts of decisions. So waiting a few additional weeks for tanks most recently could jeopardize the Taiwanese effort in a future conflict. We need to remedy that. And hopefully if we do, we can bring this conflict in Ukraine to a close all the quicker.

TAPPER: So, let's talk about the War Powers Act, the gulf or Iraq war operations they're still on the books and still being used in many cases. You and Senator Young introduced legislation to repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force, why? KAINE: Well, first, these are congressional powers under Article One,

and too many congresses of both parties have advocated this responsibility to presidents of both parties usually because they don't have the backbone to like put their name on the line when it comes to wars. So, both Todd and I believe Article One matters. Congress should be deeply involved in this. It's our job.

Second, Iraq's not an enemy anymore. These were war authorizations against an Iraq ultimately leading to a toppling of Saddam Hussein and the Baathist Party. Iraq is now a security partner of the United States in the fight against ISIS, in the fight against Iranian bellicose activity in the region, why have a war authorization against a nation that is your partner?

And finally, I think it sends a good message, a great thing about America we have had a capacity to take nations we've been at war with and then end up as allies, Germany, the U.K., Japan, and it's good to send that message that a nation that's been in war with the United States, we're open to making the relationship better, and other nations have been, too. I think that's an important message.

TAPPER: Why is it important to you? I mean, I think that theoretically a lot of Republicans believe in a strong executive branch and don't -- I don't know if that's you, that that describes you, but the legislative branch should defer. What's your take?

YOUNG: Well, you're right, a lot of Republicans do. And I think Tim did a really good job outlining the legal arguments, moral arguments and near-term national security considerations.

Let me focus on the latter. Every Republican agrees we should counter Iran, and there's no more important country in that effort than Iraq, so we need to partner with a newly formed government of Iraq. Prime Minister al Sudani is prepared to work with Americans, but more importantly, Middle East partners throughout the region to make sure the terrorist state of Iran doesn't form a land bridge through Iraq, into Syria, down through Lebanon, endangering Israel and beyond.

And so, the best way to do that right now is to affirm our support, our friendship with the people of Iraq.

TAPPER: But he also points out and it's true, one of the reasons this hasn't happened is because it's a lot easier to just defer to the president of the United States, and if things go great, you wave the flag. And if things go bad you can criticize it and not have to as a lawmaker take a position.

YOUNG: We've been doing that for decades now, and frankly giving up our legal prerogatives but also failing to live up to our responsibility, something Tim spoke to as members of Congress. We need to make hard decisions, hard decisions about when you enter conflicts, how those conflicts are carried on, which we do through oversight responsibilities. And ultimately, after we authorize military force, we need to do authorize force when the conflict has ended. That's what Tim and I are focused on here.

TAPPER: Is it going to happen? Is it going to succeed this time?


KAINE: I feel very, very good. We filed today with 22 sponsors in the Senate, 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans which means we have the votes to get it through the Senate. I predict when we get to a floor vote, it'll be like two thirds we'll get to.

While the Senate is usually slow and the House is fast, this may be one the Senate will act first. The House patrons on this are really interesting -- Barbara Lee, Chip Roy, Tom Cole, Abigail Spanberger, very broad ideological group. And I'll just go back to something Todd said, we've got to have backbone.

Todd had backbone when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. My son had backbone when he went into the Marine Corps. If our troops had Congress can't be chicken in making decisions about war, peace, and diplomacy. We've got to put our name on the line.

YOUNG: Just to illustrate how absurd this I entered the United States Navy right after high school that was in 1990. A few months later, the 1991 First Gulf War authorization. Congress has not repealed it since then. It's time we get back --

TAPPER: You still 18, 19 years old.

YOUNG: Thank you so much. You have a future in politic.

TAPPER: Please don't, don't.

Thanks to both of you, really appreciate it. Stay in touch and we'll keep covering this.

YOUNG: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Also in our world lead, a success story for U.S. diplomacy. A jet carrying some 200 newly freed political prisoners from Nicaragua arrived at Dulles Airport, outside D.C. Among those onboard, journalists, business leaders, a prominent student activists, and according to "Reuters", several former presidential hopefuls who had been jailed and called traitors by the police state regime of dictator Daniel Ortega.

The Biden administration says it released prisoners who were taken away on a bus who will go through a humanitarian parole process.

Coming up, Southwest Airlines executives say we, quote, messed up. But can the airlines prevent a repeat of the holiday travel meltdown? How they addressed that question today, that's next.



TAPPER: In our money lead, Southwest Airlines is back in the hot seat over its epic travel meltdown over the holidays. On top of hearing from angry customers who had flights canceled or luggage misplaced, today, top Southwest officials also answered to lawmakers who want to make sure this debacle never happens again.

CNN's Gabe Cohen has more now on today's hearing and a promise from Southwest.



GABE COPHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Southwest's chief operating officer in the hot seat facing lawmakers over their December meltdown.

WATTERSON: I am deeply sorry.

I humbly apologize.

I apologize once again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a failure epically from top to bottom.

WATTERSON: The pilots union says it sounded the alarm about Southwest's flawed systems for years but were ignored.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Poor performance was condoned. Excuses were made. Processes atrophied. Core values were forgotten.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): Why didn't you do anything about it?

WATTERSON: Thank you, Senator. We were addressing part of those issues. Obviously, it was unsuccessful with regard to some of the crew scheduling, we hadn't invested in those areas.

MARKEY: Well, again, because you did not listen to those warnings catastrophic conditions were created for passengers by the hundreds of thousands all across our country.

COHEN: The airline vowing to do better with a software update to their scheduling system going live tomorrow. They'll upgrade their winter resiliency and are working on a top to bottom fix.

WATTERSON: Undoubtedly, it will be in the millions and millions of dollars but it won't be until probably in March, we'll have finished the assessment of how much and where.

COHEN: The airline canceled more than 16,000 flights, stranding more than 2 million passengers over ten days in December. Most could not reach customer service for help.

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): So you won't guarantee that in a canceled flight, especially in an instance like that, that anybody will be able to reach a live person at southwest? That's what you're telling me? WATTERSON: Senator, on a day like today or analogous today, yes, we

will be able. In an exact repeat of that situation I apologize. We can't staff -- there's no way we could staff that high.

COHEN: Southwest says they've reimbursed 273,000 customers with less than 11,000 to go.

WATTERSON: But those are the ones that have been submitted most recently and we were within the DOT timelines of 30 days for processing all of those.

COHEN: The chair of the committee, Senator Maria Cantwell, critical of Southwest CEO's Bob Jordan's absence from the hearing.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D-CA): Your CEO didn't want to show up.

COHEN: The airline tells CNN he had a scheduling conflict.


COHEN (on camera): Now, some lawmakers also called out the FAA for their system failure that caused that national ground stop last month. But the agency itself was not on the panel today. Next week, they'll have their turn in front of this committee with the FAA's acting administrator set to testify on Wednesday.

And, Jake, there are sure be to be many tough questions not just about that ground stop but also about those troubling near collisions that have happened recently on runways at JFK and Austin.

TAPPER: A scheduling conflict? When he's called before the Senate? Okay.

COHEN: That's what they're saying.

TAPPER: That's what they're saying.

Gabe Cohen, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, to the scene that is truly beyond words. CNN on the ground amid earthquake rubble where the last chances to find life are quickly closing.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD.

I'm Jake Tapper. This hour the first hearing in the books now for the brand new house committee on the alleged weaponization of the federal government against conservatives. Republicans laying out how they plan to make their case. Plus, I'll speak with Ohio's Republican Governor Mike DeWine among

other matters. We'll ask him about that reporter arrested, handcuffed face down during the governor's news conference. Experts are calling the actions of law enforcement outrageous.

And leading this hour, new incredible rescues almost 90 hours now since Monday's devastating earthquake shook Turkey and Syria. We show you some of the scenes coming out of Syria. A mother and her 6-year- old daughter found alive in a chanced house.

In another scene, you can see heavy concrete slabs on top of rescuers as they pull a young man out of the rubble. In another, crews cradle a child known only now as baby Helen, found alive 68 hours after Monday's earthquake.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh starts us off now from Antakya, Turkey, right near the Syrian border, where these heart-gripping rescues also come as we learn of a staggering loss of life. More than 21,000 people now killed.