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The Lead with Jake Tapper

President Joe Biden Makes Surprise Visit To Kyiv; Rep. Mike Quigley (D) Is Interviewed On Sending Military Aid To Ukraine; Turkey Hit With A 6.3 Aftershock; North Korea Fires More Missiles, Gets Threat From Kim Jong-um's Sister; Some Say DeSantis Has Overstepped In His Fight Against "Wokeness"; GOP Rep. Greene Calls For "National Divorce" Of Red And Blue States. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 20, 2023 - 17:00   ET




ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The U.S. and Ukrainian presidents seemingly undeterred in lockstep in a historic show of unity, together briefly visiting St. Michael's church, before emerging to lay a pair of wreaths and Ukrainian and American flags in front of a wall of portraits of soldiers who died in a fight with Russia. Biden keen to remind Russian President Vladimir Putin of his failures in the past year.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the west was divided. As you know, Mr. President, I said to you in the beginning, he's counting on us not sticking together. He thought he could outlast us. I don't think he's thinking that right now.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): While Zelenskyy called the moment the most important in the history of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translation): This is the visit in this most difficult period for Ukraine when Ukraine is fighting for our own liberty. Today our negotiations were very fruitful. They were very important and crucial.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Negotiations about continued military aid. Today, President Biden announcing an almost half billion-dollar aid package for Ukraine, including ammunition, Howitzers and air defenses, but big-ticket items that Ukraine wants like longer range missiles and fighter jets still up for discussion.

ZELENSKYY (through translation): This conversation brings us closer to victory.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): This surprise, unprecedented visit on the eve of a bloody anniversary. Extreme secrecy shrouding Biden's journey. No word but there were signs, deserted streets and a heavy police presence suggesting a prominent arrival.

President Biden quietly left Washington for Poland just after 4:00 a.m. under the cover of darkness. And after a long train ride across western Ukraine, arrived to warm smiles and laughter from Ukraine's first couple. His feelings left in a handwritten message about solidarity and friendship which was echoed on the streets of Kyiv.

ANATOLIY, KYIV RESIDENT (through translation): It is support for us and the message for the Russians that this issue must be resolved and Ukraine must win. We hope that his visit will speed up the events.


MARQUARDT (on camera): And John, the White House says that they warned the Kremlin that Biden would be on the ground today for what they called deconfliction purposes so that the Russians wouldn't do anything while he was here. Now, that was hotly debated in Moscow today with some hardliners criticizing President Vladimir Putin for allowing Biden to come here to meet with Zelenskyy.

We did hear from former Russian president, Dimitri Medvedev, who has become something of a belligerent hardliner. He did acknowledge that they knew Biden was on the ground today. He then went on to accuse NATO of earning money and stealing weapons to sell to terrorists around the world.

Now, we have not heard directly from President Putin since Biden's visit. We are expected to hear much more from Putin tomorrow. He is due to give a big speech not long before President Biden does the same thing in Warsaw. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: All right, Alex Marquardt in Kyiv for us. Alex, thank you for that report.

With me now is CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Phil Mattingly. They are in Warsaw in nearby Poland and CNN's Nic Robertson is with us from London. Kaitlan, a top national security council official told you this morning, this trip was a, quote, "calculated risk." So, talk to us about the logistics and security that it took for President Biden's team to get him in there safely to an active war zone.

KAITLAN COLLIN, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, there was a lot. You have not seen a U.S. President go into an active war zone where there are no U.S. forces at any time in recent memory. There were a lot of deliberations that went behind this we were told, but in the end, they basically decided the message that they would be sending by having Biden go into Ukraine was worth the risk that he was taking by going into Ukraine.

And so, they had this plane that left in the middle of the night in Washington. The blinds were pulled down as he was traveling and flying over. The reporters were only two of them, one photographer, one print reporter on the plane. They had their phones confiscated and taken from them during, basically, the entirety of this trip, obviously to keep it under wraps.

President Biden himself only taking a small contingent of aides with him. Typically, as you know, John, he travels with a big footprint, but they tried to keep it incredibly small as they flew to Poland. And then in Poland is where he boarded the train for that 10-hour ride into Ukraine, of course, into Kyiv. You cannot fly into Kyiv. You haven't seen any of the world leaders do that.

And so, they took this 10-hour journey in the middle of the night with reporters in different cabins than President Biden as they made a few stops to pick up more security. But that is all what led up to that trip that you have seen. These remarkable images of President Biden and President Zelenskyy meeting.

But it is something that the White House said he had wanted to do for some time, but only now did they decide that it was a manageable risk where he could make this visit.

BERMAN: Hey, Nic, clearly there are different audiences that the White House was directing this trip to be seen by them.


In U.S.-European partners almost definitely one of them. So, how is this trip being seen by them?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: This is being seen very positively, a real commitment by the president of the United States. Obviously, the vice president was at the Munich Security Conference with a very tough message against Russia and being a pillar of support, leading the way, leading the other allies to continue the military, continue the economic, continue the humanitarian support for Ukraine.

So, this is a big deal. We've heard comments from German officials supporting it. This comes at a moment where there is a need for unity. There is strong unity in the alliance at the moment, but there are little areas and little ways that it is fraying and it took the United States after all to commit tanks before Germany and many other nations would, and some are still to step up with tanks as well.

So, this is important. When the president of the United States does something demonstrably courageous, demonstrably big, that's a message and it's heard and understood here.

BERMAN: So, Phil, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that President Biden and Zelenskyy, the talks were hyper focused on the next few months of fighting, calling it, quote, "a critical juncture." So, was there any indication that air support was discussed as part of this given Ukraine's persistent call for U.S. fighter jets?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, I think it's implicit and how this was framed by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, that that's exactly what was discussed. And U.S. officials did not go into this meeting, the president did not go into this meeting unaware of what President Zelenskyy has asked for about what Ukrainians have requested repeatedly over the course of the last several months.

And I am told that long range missile systems and fighter jets were brought up and discussed, both sides laying out their particular perspectives. No red lines were drawn, I am told, but those perspectives were consistent with where they have been up to this point, which has been the president repeatedly saying no when asked about fighter jets.

Long range missile systems being rebuffed out of concern about what it would mean for as escalatory issues with Russia. One thing I would not though, there has been a great clear evolution over the course of the last 361 days of what the Ukrainians have asked for. The U.S. and its allies have said no, not an option, and then at some points have slowly over the course of time shifted towards yes and then delivery or training.

So, that is an evolution that has transpired. That is an evolution that is certainly expected to continue. Whether or not it will continue on fighters and these long-range missile systems, that's still up in the air, John.

BERMAN: Yeah. One of those weapon systems that it was a no until it was a yes were tanks, Nic. And you were with Ukrainian troops in Poland as they were getting trained in these German-made Leopard 2 tanks last week. So, the tank issue, that was settled. They are on the way in. What are European leaders and European capitals, what are they saying about the idea of air support, fighter jets?

ROBERTSON: I think the consensus is this is something that's on the table. The British have already committed to training Ukrainians on fighter jets. There's a consensus that you need to control the airspace, you need to have a strong air defense system in place in Ukraine otherwise you're going to lose some of these fighters' jets in the skies. There's no point in that.

Also, the consensus seems to be around there is so much else to give Ukraine that's important. You need to coalesce, organize and get that in in a constructive way, and that is the tanks. That is the spare parts for tanks, the mechanics for the tanks, the ammunition for the tanks. And it's proving not to be easy to organize.

So, the fighter jets seem to be waiting for another day. Having spoken at the Munich Security Conference to some of the military -- former generals on the scene there, they seem pretty clear that these longer- range missile systems are going to come, and they're absolutely needed for the next phase of the war which is more, if the Ukrainians can pull it off, more a shock and awe style that sends a clear message to the Kremlin.

BERMAN: Nic, Phil, Kaitlan Collins, we will see you in the morning. Thank you all very much.

Joining me now is Congressman Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois. He's also the co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus. Congressman, you went to Ukraine this summer and met with President Zelenskyy. Did the White House reach out to you or others members of Congress that had been there to help plan this trip, or were you as surprised as everyone?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): I was as surprised as anyone, and that's the way it should be. The fewer people who know, the safer the visit.

BERMAN: So, you said, quote, "You're not against sending these U.S. F-16 fighters to Kyiv." We were just talking about that. You say, quote, "You can't half-ass a war." So, does this need to happen quickly? Because one of the complaints you hear from Zelenskyy is, you know, you say no to everything, but eventually you come around, so why not just say yes when we ask?

QUIGLEY: Well, I didn't mean to imply putting those together, the not sending those jets was half-assing it. It was, you need to give them everything that will help them win the war. And as President Zelenskyy said, help us win quickly. It's hard to keep the coalitions together. And again, your previous guest was right, what were once vices are now habits.


Everything that we are sending was once viewed as escalatory. At the very least, I ask that we get these things ready. The Abrams tanks were a no, no, no and now it's probably what -- it's unclear, but they probably won't get our tanks until the end of this year. They'll get the German tanks possibly in March.

So, if we're talking about sending them longer-range missile systems, and that's what I was talking about, the full range and the possibility of jets. You know, I'm no expert in this, but my suggestion is we have to give them what will help them win quickly and at least get ready to send these things because of the long lag time of training and reconditioning.

BERMAN: So, President Biden's trip today did prompt some criticism from Republicans who have questioned, some, U.S. aid to Ukraine. I want you to listen to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who may very well end up running for president. He reiterated the call for no blank checks to Ukraine.


RON DESANTIS, GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: And I don't think it's in our interest to be getting into proxy war with China getting involved over things like the border lanes or over Crimea.


BERMAN: So, what do you think of that?

QUIGLEY: It's a Florida governor with zero foreign policy experience making a campaign gesture. And look, I hear about the 11 Republicans on the far, far right extreme having a resolution to cut off all funding. I think it's more valuable and instructive to listen to Republicans who are in positions of authority, Chairman Turner, Chairman McCaul, Senator Mitch McConnell, talking about ongoing support for this war effort. I think they have far more sway. My only concern with the extremes now is that they seem to have disproportionate influence over the current speaker of the house. BERMAN: So, officials told CNN this weekend that the U.S. recently

started seeing, quote, "disturbing trends," and there are signs that China wants to creep up to the line -- that's a quote -- of providing lethal military aid to Russia without getting caught. So, how serious would that be in your mind, and how should the U.S. respond?

BERMAN: It's extraordinarily serious and I don't think there's any creeping up to the line in modern warfare. There's a way to find out anything like this. It's disturbing and it's also somewhat contradictory. What is China doing? Is it trying to normalize relations with the U.S. with the two presidents' meetings and of course Secretary Blinken meeting with his counterpart, and then we shoot a balloon right down Main Street that obviously isn't going to be hidden from anyone.

And then, you know, this word of the possibility of sending lethal weaponry to the Ukraine conflict, this of course would be met with extraordinary reaction by the U.S. I'd like to think that the fact that it's become public will further discourage them from any such action.

BERMAN: So, lastly, tomorrow there are dueling speeches. Russian President Vladimir Putin will give a big address to his people that happens just before President Biden gives a speech planned in Poland. What will you be listening for from Vladimir Putin?

QUIGLEY: I think what you're going to hear from Putin is he's going to be addressing the Russian public, but I think what he's really doing is speaking to his far-right ultra-nationalists. I think he's far more concerned about the fact that the war is going poorly and their view of that than he is with the Russian public which he treats as cannon fodder, putting men in there, ill-trained, ill-equipped as just seemingly uncaring about Russian lives. So, I think what you're going to hear tomorrow is President Putin speaking to the far right, people who could pose a risk to him.

BERMAN: Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley, great to see you. Thanks for coming on.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

BERMAN: Coming up, we're live on the ground in Turkey where the death toll is rising from a powerful aftershock.

And keeping it all in the family in North Korea. Kim Jong-un's sister issues a warning to the United States and South Korea. That's next.



BERMAN: Back now with our "World Lead." At least three people are dead, hundreds more injured after a strong aftershock rattles southern Turkey this afternoon. It comes just two weeks after the huge earthquake killed more than 41,000 people in the region. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is in Antakya, Turkey. Jomana, what do we know about the damage from this aftershock?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as you mentioned there, this aftershock, a 6.3, striking here in Antakya province where we are. At least three people confirmed killed according to Turkish officials, more than 200 are being treated in hospitals. And what you also have is several of these search and rescue operations that are ongoing in different areas.

In this one location, John, where we are, they believe that there are three people who are trapped inside. One person was rescued earlier on. This operation has been ongoing with different Turkish emergency services, agencies taking part in this search and rescue operation that has been going on now for about five hours, trying to locate those three individuals who are inside.

They don't know right now if they are still alive. And you know, John, when this earthquake, this aftershock struck tonight, we have seen so many people terrified because as you can imagine, it's been two weeks since that massive 7.8 earthquake and people still are traumatized by that.

People are still trying to comprehend what has happened to them, what has happened to their loved ones, people who are still searching for the bodies of their loved ones, who are still trying to mourn their loved ones, and now they have to deal with this.


People are feeling they have been traumatized once again by this. And John, over the past couple weeks we've been to areas in the earthquake zone that have been barely touched by that massive earthquake, but where you still find people who are scarred by what they have been through.


KARADSHEH (voice-over): They've all come to witness a site so extraordinary, some would even say terrifying. The monstrous 7.8 magnitude earthquake split the land and the village of Tepehan in two. An olive grove now divided by this new canyon roughly 130 feet deep and more than 900 feet long.

(On camera): This area lies on the eastern Anatolian fault line that shook Turkey and you can see how powerful it was. Geologists we've spoken to say that this is not unusual. They describe this as rock mass failure, but they say that this is not something they have seen in their lifetime.

(Voice-over): These men from a nearby village tell us everyone is scared. They all now sleep outside. No one was hurt in this village in the mountains only a short drive from the devastated city of Antakya. Here like many other villages in the area, the damage is also limited, but its impact has been overwhelming.

IHSAN HQCIOMEROGLU, TEPEHAN RESIDENT (through translation): I thought it was the apocalypse. The sky ruptured, the ground cracked, you have nowhere to run, Ihsan tells us. I have grandchildren, I hug them and I think if we're going to die, we should be together.

Ihsan and his family more than 40 he says have been living out here under this makeshift tarp shelter. They need a tent he tells us, but no tents or aid have made it to this village. There are too many hard- hit areas in need of urgent aid in one massive earthquake zone. And getting that aid out is a herculean effort.

Incirlik Airbase has become an around the clock hub for these aid deliveries. These Turkish, American and Polish troops work together to get basic and lifesaving supplies out. Choppers here are constantly on the go.

(On camera): This chopper has just been dispatched to the outskirts of the city of Antakya. They're carrying baby clothes, warm children's clothes, blankets, tents and much more of this desperately needed aid.

(Voice-over): It's a quick landing here. People have to rush to grab what they've been waiting for for days.

IHSAN CEKMAN, HATAY PROVINCE RESIDENT (through translation): Our house collapsed and we had no tents, this man said. I lost eight nephews. We asked for a tent, food and under wear. God bless you. You've made us so happy.

Help can't come soon enough for those who lost everything, left with nothing in an instant.


(On camera): And John, tonight, we met so many families who have been made homeless by that massive earthquake. Tonight, they're still out on the streets, sleeping on the streets, makeshift shelters, in tents, in their cars. And you can just imagine the kind of horror that they are going through right now.

BERMAN: Just so much need. Jomana Karadsheh in Antakya in Turkey. Jomana, stay safe. Thank you so much.

Also, in our "World Lead," North Korea launched two ballistic missiles earlier this morning. This is the second test in three days. And now dictator Kim Jong-Un's sister is warning of more to come unless the U.S. and South Korea stop holding joint military drills. CNN's Will Ripley joins me now live. So, Will, is this the kind of threat the U.S. would take seriously?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely, especially because the first launch that we saw on Saturday was an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15 that flew thousands of miles up into space and then barreled back down into the waters near Japan. This is the kind of missile that theoretically could hit any city in the mainland U.S., which is why the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is calling these actions destabilizing even though these tests they say did not pose a direct threat to U.S. troops and other personnel in the region.

Now, the big concern as far as North Korea goes is that they are mass producing these ICBMs, these intercontinental ballistic missiles. And in fact, they displayed them at a military parade just last week. A lot of the attention was focused on Kim Jong-un who was standing there with his 9-year-old daughter who a lot of people believe might be being groomed right now as a possible successor.

It seems pretty early in that process, but it is raising speculation about why is Kim so urgently putting his daughter front and center and also ordering so many missiles to be produced and perhaps testing them, even testing them at not a highly lofted trajectory that goes far up. But a normal trajectory where the missile can actually fly over a much larger section of the earth, perhaps crossing over places like japan and maybe even other countries, John.

BERMAN: So, Will, in response to today's test, Japan's prime minister is pushing for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting.


What kind of response might a meeting like that result in?

RIPLEY: Well, in terms of the response from North Korea, nothing can anger them more than either United Nations actions or military drills, joint military drills. And the United States actually conducted some joint exercises with South Korea and Japan in response to this latest launch and they have boots on the ground, military drills for the Korean Peninsula next month.

As for inside the U.N. Security Council, of course, a lot of the members are putting out statements including the United States condemning this launch. But the problem is, John, the permanent members, Russia and China both have veto power which has made the council essentially unable to do anything to punish North Korea for all these missile launches including 37 last year.

BERMAN: All right, Will Ripley for u. Thank you, Will, as always.

Coming up, why some conservatives are worried that Florida's Republican governor and potential 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis may have gone too far in his culture war fight.




GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Florida is the state where woke goes to die.


BERMAN: So, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has become a national figure and leading potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination by diving into some of the most controversial culture war issues, including, you just heard it there, his fight against so called wokeness. But there's growing concern from some Republican supporters of DeSantis that he's overstepped in some ways in this fight. CNN's Steve Contorno is live in St. Petersburg, Florida.

And Steve, what are you hearing exactly from Republicans about this?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: John, there are basically two camps of Republicans we talk to, and there's, you know, sort of the free market conservatives who are looking to turn the page from Trump, and they're finding that they are troubled with DeSantis, having some of the same tendencies as Trump and using, sort of, his government power to push his ideology on public institutions, on higher education, and even on businesses. And that has given them some reason to pause about DeSantis being an alternative to Trump.

But we've also heard from people in DeSantis's corner, some people who would be supporters of him who are saying that they are concerned that these actions are flying too close to the sun. And his war on woke is not going to -- might not play out well in a general election in 2024.

And some of this concern has come from people who have been pretty big backers of him, including from Ken Griffin. He is a hedge fund owner who has given more than $10 million to DeSantis over the years. Last year, he was very critical of DeSantis for penalizing Disney, saying at one point, quote, "I don't appreciate Governor DeSantis going after Disney's tax statU.S. It can be portrayed or feel like retaliation. And I believe that the people who serve our nation need to rise above these moments in time in their conduct and behavior."

Now, Ken Griffin went on to say later in the year that he thinks Governor DeSantis has a, quote, "tremendous record." So, he hasn't necessarily lost a lot of support yet. But we are seeing some Republican governors draw some strong and stark differences with the governor over his handling of business and punishing people. Here's what a couple of them, Governor Sununu and former Governor Larry Hogan had to say about DeSantis.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): For others out there that think that the government should be penalizing your business because they disagree with you politically, that isn't very conservative.

LARRY HOGAN (R), FORMER MARYLAND GOVERNOR: And to me it sounds like big government and authoritarian. You have to agree with me and I'm going to tell you what you can and can't do.


CONTORNO: Yes. Now, John, some of these criticisms sound a lot like what people were saying about Trump in 2016. The difference is DeSantis was supposed to be a candidate that a lot of people were hoping would give him an opportunity to move on from the Trump era policies, and instead they're finding that he is kind of adopting many of his tactics.

BERMAN: All right, Steve Contorno, thank you very much.

Want to bring in former Democratic Congressman Mondaire Jones of New York, along with former Trump White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah Griffin.

Alyssa, you know, it's kind of an intellectual heady argument here saying that Ron DeSantis is using the government. It's sort of a big government way he is attacking different things here. Some Republican lean leaders and insiders are criticizing that. Are you hearing any discomfort among actual Republican voters?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, FORMER TRUMO WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: So here's the thing, Ron DeSantis is masterful at commanding national media attention and culture war stunts and leaning into the anti-wokeness, gets him talked about, it raises his name I.D., and it aroused up the base. There are people like me more in the Sununu Larry Hogan camp, long time lifelong conservatives, who see it as government overreach, mass as conservatives, whether it's going after Disney, whether it's dictating from the state what local schools should teach, rather than that being at the school board level or decided by parents.

I do think, however, this is the Trump MAGA party, and I think that the party is more in line with where Ron DeSantis is than the more traditional conservative party that I grew up in.

But I think we're going to hash that out. I think it's possible Sununu gets in the race. I would love to see him make that intellectual case. Larry Hogan someone who can do it very well as well. And I'm curious to see where Nikki Haley comes down on this line because it really is big government conservatism versus traditional small government.

BERMAN: Congressman, you've been asked to weigh in, I'm sure, countless times on Republican primary potentials here. Now, what do you think of the big government argument? Do you think that would stick on DeSantis?

MONDAIRE JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it does. I think more realistically, people are just appalled in a general election by some of the things that he's doing. I mean, you know, he's leaning into the culture war.


BERMAN: It's a general election. I'm saying, though, in a primary.

JONES: Yes. In a primary, look, it may well serve him. But I think that trying to out Trump, Donald Trump, so long as he remains in the race and it's a crowded field, is not going to endure to his benefit. He's going to have folks like -- he, in fact, already has people like Nikki Haley in this race. Other people like Tim Scott are expected to get in. And so, I don't think he's going to peel away the 30 percent to 40 percent in a Republican primary of people who are always going to be with Donald Trump by leaning in to these culture war issues that, again, have been resolved. I mean, we're talking about gay rights and, like, whether you'll teach black history, all of these things are very controversial.

BERMAN: Let's hear from Donald Trump. Hang on, because I want you to weigh out of that, too, Alyssa. Trump was writing this weekend at a social media platform about DeSantis, clearly going after DeSantis, saying DeSantis wants to "cut Social Security and Medicare, loves losers like Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan and Karl Rove," those are his words, "and getting clobbered in the polls by me. DeSantis is a rino who's trying to hide his past."

GRIFFIN: Not sure if this line of attack works. However, Trump is doing something smart in this moment. I'll give him this, which is he's using his Truth social platform, which is really the base of the base that's even reading this and paying attention to try to draw doubt and draw out that, you know, Ron DeSantis is really a rhino, he's not who you think he is. I'd expect him to go after him on COVID a response. He's talked about no closing of beaches, support for Ukraine, different things that are these wedge issues that really rallied the base of the base.

But one quick thing I want to say is Ron DeSantis actually has a great general election thing he can run on. I mean, Florida is getting more people moving from other parts of the country than any state, a thriving economy, a strong tax situation, but instead he's doing things that I would think independence will be running away from where he'd get the nomination.

BERMAN: Congressman, you can now jump in on the general election argument that I cut you off on rudely before.

JONES: The thing I care very much about.

BERMAN: Because there was a Republican that Steve and the others at CNN who did this story quoted to them, gave him a quote saying that they're concerned that DeSantis in his war against wokeness in this war against this African American studies course in Florida, they worry he's "being perceived as racially insensitive is not a good place for him to be in the long term."

JONES: Yes. Look, I think he wouldn't be the first person to, sort of, use some divisions that tend to follow along racial lines in our country to gen up the base. The problem is that he's so explicit that it doesn't leave any room to the imagination about what precisely he's trying to do.

And I just -- having represented a lot of moderate to conservative white suburban voters in the Hudson Valley, in New York, for example, I know that this is not something that is acceptable to them. I mean, we can talk about economic issues and there are real policy differences between Democrats and Republicans, there are some legitimate policy issues, disagreements on social issues, but things as fundamental as whether you'll teach the history of this country, you know, whether you can say the word gay or teach, you know, the elementary school students and others about the mere existence of the LGBTQ community, it's something that I think most people really are concerned that he's trying to prevent them from doing.

BERMAN: You know, who we should hear from in this discussion? Ron DeSantis. We have some sound of him where he's responding to these Republicans, the Larry Hogans, the Chris Sununus and others of the world who have been talking about him. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DESANTIS: When you're out there leading, when you're out there setting the agenda, not just for Florida, but really for the nation, which we've done over the last few years. People see that and the people that don't necessarily like that are going to respond accordingly. But I can just tell you, if people are not firing at me, then I must not be doing my job.


DESANTIS: And so, I view it really as positive feedback.


BERMAN: This is just the beginning. How do you think he will stand up against, you know, criticism that will get white hot?

GRIFFIN: I would just note Larry Hogan left with one of the highest rankings across the board of governors in a blue state as a Republican governor. Chris Sununu, a purple state, the second highest approval rating of any governor in the country. So, I think they're doing just fine as far as their leadership.

He's going to have to address Donald Trump. Listen, he doesn't benefit anything by, you know, punching down because at this point, those politicians are pulling lower than he is. For now, he's going to need to take Trump on directly. And I think just trying to out extreme him and cater the most to the right and not even traditional conservatism isn't benefiting him.

BERMAN: Can I bring up something that crossed social media today that I think needs discussion on this President's Day? Because Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote on Twitter today, quote, "We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government." She also added, "Everyone I talked to says this."

Congressman, this is a member of Congress talking about secession, talking about splitting the country in half.

JONES: She's talking about a second civil war is what she's -- I mean, there's not going to be a voluntary secession. The last time this was attempted, we got the Civil War, right? And thank God for a president like Abraham Lincoln at the time.


This is really strange and it's still not getting, I think, the kind of attention that it ought. She serves on the Homeland Security Committee, thanks to Kevin McCarthy, there will be no repercussions for her. And to be sure, there are plenty of her colleagues in the House Republican caucus who agree with her sentiments, but don't go as far as like saying it on Twitter.

How often is she going to be asked to apologize for saying crazy things like this before she is finally expelled from Congress? It won't happen under Kevin McCarthy's leadership, unfortunately, because people like Marjorie Taylor Greene are actually quite influential not just in that caucus, but in today's Republican Party.

GRIFFIN: Well, and it's important that you say, it is scary. Like, it's easy to laugh off a lot of her more extreme comments, but there's only one way you get to a mass secession, a national divorce, and that is through violence.

And I would just note some of these far right members who are the first to wrap themselves in the American flag and say they believe in the Constitution seem utterly unfamiliar with the U.S. Constitution. We -- you know, we are 50 states united. This is absurd. The fact that an elected member of Congress is even saying it and the speaker is not going to say anything about it.

BERMAN: Happy President's Day to both of you. Alyssa Farah Griffin and Congressman Mondaire Jones, great to see both of you. Thank you.

JONES: Likewise.

GRIFFIN: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: A Catholic bishop shot and killed inside his Los Angeles home. Police just made an arrest. We have new details next.



BERMAN: In our national lead, another disturbing incident at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, a fifth grade student texted classmates over the weekend a threat to, quote, pop some bullets and tell someone to shoot up the class. This is according to school officials who add a classmate in that group -- in that group text reported the threat to his parents. This comes just weeks after a first grade teacher at this same school was shot by a six-year-old boy. Richneck Elementary says the fifth grader who made the threat will not be allowed to return to school while the investigation is underway.

In our national lead, a man has been arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of a beloved Los Angeles Catholic bishop. Police found 69-year-old Bishop David O'Connell shot to death inside his home on Saturday, leaving the community served for decades in shock. Here's CNN's Camila Bernal.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Los Angeles Catholic Community mourning the loss of Bishop David O'Connell. The bishop, who spent 45 years working in Los Angeles, was shot and killed in his home Saturday afternoon.

BETTY COVARRUBA, PARISHONER: He's just a beautiful human being. It's just hard to believe anybody would even consider hurting him in any way.

BERNAL (voice-over): Deputies responded to an emergency call around 1:00 p.m. and found O'Connell had been shot. A man has now been arrested in connection to the case, but authorities have not released any details about the suspect in the crime that has shocked the community.

RAMONA TORRES, PARISHONER: It's just heartbreaking to see what happened to him. I'm broken hearted. I've been crying for the last two days knowing that he's no longer here to share all of his inspiration and his prayers and everything with us.

BERNAL (voice-over): The Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, describing O'Connell as a man of deep prayer. O'Connell, who was from Ireland, is also being remembered for his love for the poor and the immigrant community and his humor.

DAVID O'CONNELL, VICTIM: OK, they told me that I haven't changed a bit since 1984. I said, I didn't know I look so bad 1984.

BERNAL (voice-over): The Archbishop now asking for prayers for O'Connell, his family, and for law enforcement as they continue the investigation.

TORRES: Now I know that he's in the presence of God praying for all of us for peace. We need peace.


BERNAL: And the Catholic community here in Los Angeles continuing to honor and remember the bishop. They held a prayer service yesterday, and church leaders are asking people to continue praying.

In terms of the investigation we are expecting to learn more within the next 15 minutes. The L.A. County Sheriff's Department holding a press conference. Of course, the biggest questions here are who did this and exactly why? The motive, of course, being one of those big questions for authorities, John.

BERMAN: That press conference coming soon. Camilla, please, keep us posted. Thank you very much.

BERNAL: Thank you.

BERMAN: Helping hands needed. One program is turning to virtual reality to try to fill a nationwide mechanic shortage.



BERMAN: In our money lead, as part of the labor shortage in the United States, there aren't enough hands to do all the repair work that's needed. Trade groups say the nationwide shortage of mechanics will cost you time and money. But there is at least one program with an unconventional solution to this real world problem. As CNN's Pete Muntean reports, this program is reaching out to people in prison and using new technology to train them to be mechanics.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the newest fix for a vocation and short supply, virtual reality.


MUNTEAN (voice-over): Here at Maryland Nonprofit Vehicles for Change, the first tool trainee mechanics use is a pair of oculus VR goggles. The simulated shop floor has it all, from the lift to the quintessential impact wrench.

CRAWFORD: Is going to expedite the process of getting folks entry level ready to come into the garages.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): The latest industry forecast says retirements from dealerships and repair shops will rise nationwide. There are 76,000 new openings for trained auto technicians each year, but 37,000 of those jobs go unfilled.

CRAWFORD: We did a search the other day and indeed just in the state of Maryland for auto technicians locally, and it was over 2,600 technicians.

MUNTEAN (on camera): That's a lot.

CRAWFORD: It's a lot.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): After a little bit of instruction, I was ready to give it a try.

(on camera) Is my hair OK?

(voice-over): Lesson one, changing the oil.

(on camera): The cool thing about this is you can move around the shop, but also interact with the world around you. I'm taking the controller and grabbing the lift handle here and moving it up and up goes the car.

MARTIN SCHWARTZ, PRESIDENT, VEHICLE FOR CHANGE: The VR is really, as you saw, are almost as real as you can get without having your hands on a car.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Martin Schwartz came up with this idea to supplement his charity. It's given out 7,500 donated cars to low income families, but it's also his mechanics getting a second chance. The shop here is an internship for prisoners reentering society.

SCHWARTZ: It's a field that is more lenient and is willing to hire people with a criminal background, and you can make quite a living.


MUNTEAN (voice-over): Terence Grandy says his life was the streets of Baltimore's drug trade. Now he's putting cars back on the street.

TERENCE GRANDY, MECHANIC, VEHICLE FOR CHANGE: For someone that's incarcerated, that comes home to a stable financial situation, that enables them not to go back to do the same thing that led them in prison.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): The goal here is to spread this technology across the country, even teaching prisoners still behind bars. Marcus Butler started his virtual reality training as part of a work release program. He is days away from the end of his prison sentence and the start of a new career.

MARCUS BUTLER, MECHANIC, VEHICLE FOR CHANGE: I have a trade, a skill that is with me. I learned it, I know it. And no matter where I go, it's always cars, there's cars everywhere. So, I always have a job.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Pete Muntean, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: A remarkable program. And our thanks to Pete Muntean for that reporting.

Moments ago, President Biden arrived back in Warsaw in Poland where he will deliver a speech tomorrow as Ukraine nears, one year after the Russian invasion.

Thanks so much for watching this President's Day. Ahead of "THE SITUATION ROOM," Wolf Blitzer will speak with senior White House official John Kirby.