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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Rebukes Putin As Invasion Nears One-Year Mark; People In Poland Hold Up Signs Encouraging Biden To Send F-16s; Former January 6 Committee Members Slam McCarthy's Decision To Give Footage To Fox; Former January 6 Committee Members Slam McCarthy's Decision To Give Footage To Fox; Commentator: Nikki Haley Uses "Brown Skin To Launder" White Supremacy; Trump Embraces Nikki Haley's Call For "Mental Competency Test"; Idaho House Bill Bans Providing Transgender Treatment To Minors. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 21, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This morning in Moscow justified his yearlong invasion of Ukraine by blaming Ukraine, the United States, and other Western allies for the war. Hours later in Poland, President Joe Biden delivered a rallying, crying to the world, declaring Kyiv standing strong, vowing the United States will keep supporting Ukraine. Biden accused Putin of committing atrocities and said he would not succeed. CNN Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is in Poland with President Biden.

Phil, one of the main themes is one that you've heard Biden talk about before, this idea of democracy versus autocracy. How did Biden make his case?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jake, if yesterday in Kyiv, that surprise visit was a dramatic, deeply symbolic moment about the war itself, today was an effort to really paint a broader picture, underscore the bigger stakes. A larger effort that the President detailed about why this wasn't just about Ukraine or just about the war, but instead about the fate of Western democracies, an ideological struggle that harkened back to communism and even further back, particularly pointed here in Warsaw. As the President detailed, this was about freedom.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no sweeter word than freedom. There is nobler goal than freedom. There's no higher aspiration than freedom. Americans know that and you know it. And all that we do now must be done so our children and grandchildren will know it as well.


MATTINGLY: And, Jake, when you talk to White House advisors, they acknowledge that they understand this war that is ongoing shows no sign of ending anytime soon. The Western coalition that has been painstakingly held together with the level of durability that I think surprises even some U.S. officials, is not a guaranteed piece of this process. That's why this speech today was considered so important. That's why the stakes being detailed as they were reviewed is so critical.

TAPPER: And Phil, the setting of the speech was striking. It was almost an Olympic Disney vibe, accompanied by pop music, kids waving flags. Now, estimates from both sides are incomplete, but we know tens of thousands of people have been killed in Putin's unprovoked war. What was the reason for making this more celebratory than instead of somber?

MATTINGLY: You know, Jake, it was jarring when you walked in, there was lights, there was Beyonce playing or Bruce Springsteen playing. It felt like a campaign rally to some degree. And the reason why it was such a disconnect to some degree when he walked in was because 11 months prior he had been in the same place, giving a very sober, very stark speech about the need for Europe to come together, the need for Western democracies to actually work together to try and confront a one month old war.

This was a moment to provide an affirmation to the effort that had gone into place. The fact that President Biden was standing in Kyiv next to President Zelenskyy yesterday, the fact that the coalition had stayed together, the fact that they had rebuffed Russia and President Putin up to this point. This was a rally. A rally to give credit to what had been done, but also a rally to maintain that effort going forward, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly in the Polish capital with President Biden. Thanks so much.

In a radical contrast, hours before Biden's speech, Putin addressed his country, the tyrant blaming the west for his forceful and brutal actions in Ukraine. Once again, Putin issued nuclear warnings to the world. CNN's Matthew Chance reports now on Putin's escalatory speech, as some critics, even inside Russia, questioned the future with the one year mark of Russia's invasion on the horizon.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With a fan fed, the Russian president takes to the stage for a longer waiting State of the Nation address. But nearly a year since his invasion of Ukraine, no sign of remorse or regret, only bitterness towards the west.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (trough translator): The responsibility for fueling the Ukrainian conflict, for its escalation, for the number of victims, lies completely with Western elites and, of course, with the current Kyiv regime, for whom the Ukrainian people are essentially strangers.

CHANCE (voice-over): Blaming others, he's had the Kremlin tries to explain why its special military operation --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's move down this way.

CHANCE (voice-over): -- went to last just days or weeks. It was almost in its second year, with no end in sight.

(on camera): Should we run that way?

(voice-over): Across Russia, there were even public screenings of the speech to ensure the Kremlin message is heard, that military setbacks, failures and bloodshed are all part of a conspiracy to bring Russia to its need (ph).

PUTIN (through translator): The Western elites do not conceal their goals. As they say, it's a direct quote to bring Russia a strategic defeat. What does that mean for us? It means to end us once and for all. We understand it exactly, and we'll react to it accordingly, because this is about the very existence of our country.


CHANCE (voice-over): It doesn't feel that way in Ukraine, where troops are dying on bleak battlefields, defending grim frontlines against a Russian foe. Ukrainian officials pouring scorn on Putin's remarks as irrelevant and confused.

There's growing criticism in Russia, too, as new images emerge of more coffins reportedly from the front lines. One prominent Russian military blogger complained that Putin held back from officially declaring war. Not a word about failures and defeats, he writes, there's no point listening any further.

But there was one major new announcement, one escalation. To applause, Putin suspending participation in Moscow's last remaining nuclear arms treaty with the United States and a warning that Russia may restart nuclear tests.

PUTIN (through translator): Of course, we will not do it first, but if the U.S. conducts its tests, we will do it as well. Nobody should have dangerous illusions that global strategic parity can be broken.

CHANCE (voice-over): No illusion either when it comes to Russia's standoff with the west that Kremlin is even thinking about backing down.


CHANCE: Jake, after hearing Putin's uncompromising speech, a source close to the Ukrainian president tells me tonight that he thinks only more Ukrainian victories on the battlefield will lead to peace talks. The sooner Ukraine gets the weapons it needs, this source told me, the sooner this war will be over. Jake, back to you.

TAPPER: Matthew Chance in London for us, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Now, to horrifying images from Ukraine's southern port city of Kherson today, where earlier today, a Russian strike killed five and injured more than a dozen people. A warning to viewers this next video is graphic. Ukrainian officials say the shelling killed civilians in the middle of the street, others damaged a market, a kindergarten, and a hospital. CNN's Sam Kiley is in northeastern in the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

And, Sam, how are Ukrainians there feeling as the one year mark of this brutal war approaches?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're feeling a lot more robust than they did in those first few weeks of the war, because a lot of the ground that the Russians took so quickly has been recovered. Recovered from around here in Kharkiv back in September, and, of course, in Kherson, where that atrocity was committed today with five dead and more than a dozen injured in November. Now, since then, the fighting has been a much more trench warfare as winter is set in, both sides really fixed, in position, very small movements on either side as the Ukrainians continue to beg for those strategic weapons they say are so important for driving the Russians out of the country.

And I think what's important now with the Biden visit, both in Poland and recently in Kyiv, and recent statements coming from the European Union, there is now more and more of a signs of unanimity among those that support -- those countries that support Ukraine. That victory for Ukraine is the absence is driving Russians out of the country entirely, rather than allowing them to freeze their front lines, perhaps close to the frontline areas that they captured when they first invaded, Jake, back in 2014. Jake.

TAPPER: Sam Kiley in Kharkiv, Ukraine, thank you so much.

Let's discuss all of this and more with the spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Ned Price.

Ned, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

President Biden said, every day this war continues, it's Putin's choice. But we keep seeing these horrifying attacks on civilians like the one we just talked about in Kherson. Sanctions have not changed Putin's mind or stopped his war machine. Further arms and aid packages, billions of dollars worth of Ukraine haven't changed his mind. What can Western allies do to, once and for all, stop Putin from waging this war?

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Well, Jake, quite simply, we can continue doing what we've been doing for over the course of a year now to the point one of your correspondents made. We do see the nexus between what happens on the battlefield and what will ultimately happen at the negotiating table. We know, just like President Zelenskyy knows, that this war will have to end with diplomacy. It will have to end with negotiations.

And right now, we're focused on strengthening our Ukrainian partners so that when, and I say when that negotiating table emerges, our Ukrainian partners have as strong a hand as possible. That's one side of the ledger. To your question, we're working on the other side of the ledger, too. Just as we are supporting our Ukrainian partners, we're holding to account everyone in and around the Kremlin, everyone in and around Vladimir Putin who is in any way supporting this war. We've sanctioned hundreds of individuals. We'll have more and announcements on that front later today. We've degraded Moscow's ability to project force beyond its borders. And everything we've done will have a compounding effect in the weeks and months to come.


TAPPER: I know that the President is -- it's a balancing act. You don't want to get too far ahead of the American people, you don't want to get too far ahead of NATO allies, but you also don't want to let Putin get an advantage and on and on. But there's a lot of criticism from people who want and supporting President Biden's efforts here to help Ukraine that we're always just a little too behind. We're helping Ukraine maintain a stalemate. We're not helping Ukraine win.

And throughout Warsaw, signs and banners appeared encouraging Biden to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Agreed. He said everything, including those fighter jets, should be on the table. Why not let the Ukrainians have the F-16 fighter jets?

PRICE: Well, Jake, when you're in this line of work, you hear a lot of criticism. We've heard criticism of the kind that you just described. We've heard criticism from the other direction that we're doing too much. But I think if you want to take a look at the effectiveness of the campaign that we've marshaled with dozens of countries around the world since even before Russia started this brutal war of aggression, you need to only look at what the Ukrainians have accomplished on the battlefield.

There are two key ingredients. Number one, and most important is their grit, their determination, their resilience. But secondly, the United States and our partners around the world, we have enabled some of this tremendous battlefield success by providing them with precisely what they need for the battle they're in at the moment and for where the battle is headed. So, in the earliest hours of this war, our Ukrainian partners were equipped with what they needed to ultimately win the battle of Kyiv. In more recent months, we provided them with the longer range systems, with the air defense systems, with the mobile tanks and armored vehicles.

Precisely what they will need as this battle rages in the east, as it rages in the Donbass, where it's continuing to grind out. So that will continue. We're having this conversation with Ukrainians first and foremost to determine what they may need. And then, we're having this conversation with our allies and partners around the world and here at home to see what it is that we have and what we can provide our Ukrainian partners to continue this remarkable success and progress that they've had on the battlefield.

TAPPER: Obviously, this war is very unlikely to end with Putin gone and a democratic reformed rush emerging. So, bearing that in mind, there does need to be an off ramp for Putin, some way that he can end this war and maintain some sort of diplomatic cover. What's the off ramp? How to do that?

PRICE: So the off ramp is very clear, Jake, President Putin started this war a year ago. He could end this war today. He could end this war tomorrow.

Now, you're under no illusions, I'm under no illusions that's going to happen today or tomorrow. So, in the interim, we're going to continue to do what we've done.

But frankly, look, our strategy has proven effective. There have been naysayers all along that we aren't doing enough or we're doing too much or that we heard a year ago that Ukraine would be no match for the Russian invading forces. Well, at every step of the way, this coalition, this coalition that's been brought together by diplomacy out of this building by leadership from the president, it has stuck together. Not only has it stuck together, but it's actually strengthened. And I think it's strengthened in large part because of American leadership and it's strengthened because of the messages we're hearing on the world stage.

Just today, Jake, you heard two vintage presentations. You heard vintage Vladimir Putin and you heard vintage Joe Biden. From Moscow, you heard something that was dark, it was sinister, it was full of lies and misinformation and disinformation precisely because the Russian president has nothing affirmative to offer his people in the face of these battlefield setbacks in Moscow's strategic failure.

From Joe Biden, you heard vintage Joe Biden. It was affirmative. It was really crystallizing the stakes at what's at play here. This is about Ukraine in the first instance, but what is happening in Ukraine is about the rules based order. And ountries around the world are watching very closely to what Russia is trying to do, but more so, they're watching the way in which the rest of the world, galvanized by American leadership, is standing up for Ukraine, standing up against Russia, and doing so with such tremendous effectiveness.

TAPPER: All right, State Department Spokesman Ned Price, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.

Coming up, emotional testimony today as Alex Murdaugh's only surviving son testifies about the moment his father told him that his mother and his brother had been murdered.



TAPPER: In our national lead, the only surviving son of disgraced former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh testified as a defense witness in his father's double murder trial today. Alex Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to shooting his -- shooting and killing his wife and his youngest son in 2021.

Buster Murdaugh, the surviving son, told jurors his father was destroyed the night his mother and brother were killed. Here's CNN's Randi Kaye with more on today's testimony.



RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Buster Murdaugh, sharing in court how he first found out his mother and brother had been killed.

B. MURDAUGH: He asked me if I was sitting down and I was like, yes. And then he sounded odd. And then he told me that my mom and brother had been shot.

KAYE (voice-over): Throughout his testimony, the defense peppered him with questions about his father and his family. Buster testified about how often his father showered, given the state has suggested that Alex Murdaugh showered and changed that day because he'd killed his wife and son. Videos from that day show him wearing different clothes before and after the murders.

JIM GRIFFIN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: How frequently would your dad take a shower or bath?

B. MURDAUGH: He could take them a lot. And he, you know, working out there. If he goes outside and sweats a lot, comes back in and takes a shower.

GRIFFIN: was that normal routine for him?


B. MURDAUGH: It was.

KAYE (voice-over): The defense also played an interview Alex gave to investigators after the murders. At least one investigator testified he thought heard Alex saying, I did him so bad, which would sound as if he confessed to killing Paul. The defense has argued Alex said, they did him so bad.

ALEX MURDAUGH, SUSPECT: They did him (ph) so bad. They did him so bad.

KAYE (voice-over): Buster weighed in court.

GRIFFIN: What did your dad say?

B. MURDAUGH: Said they did them so -- they did him so bad.

KAYE (voice-over): And given that Paul Murdaugh was shot with both a buckshot and a bird shot from a shotgun, the defense seemed to lean on Buster to convince the jury that his father would never have loaded a shotgun like that.

GRIFFIN: Have you ever seen any guns on your property loaded in that fashion?

B. MURDAUGH: No, sir. GRIFFIN: Buckshot with some bird shot right behind it?

B. MURDAUGH: No, sir.



KAYE (voice-over): After Buster finished, this forensic engineer testified for the defense. He told the jury based on his crime scene analysis and trajectory of the bullets, it is unlikely a tall person killed Paul Murdaugh.

MIKE SUTTON, FORENSIC ENGINEER: It puts the shooter or whoever fired the weapon, if they were that tall, it puts them in an unrealistic shooting position. You would have to bending over and have your shooting hand down at or below your knee cap. And what's important about that to me is is that it just makes it very unlikely that a tall person made that shot.


KAYE: And Jake, that same expert also testified that someone much shorter than Alex Murdaugh, he believes, killed Maggie Murdaugh as well. And keep in mind, Alex Murdaugh is six three or six four. And this expert said that even if he was on his knees or someone as tall as he was on his knees and shoulder the rifle, the math still would not add up. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Randy Kaye outside the courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, thanks so much.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is not the only one calling for mental competency tests. We'll tell you who else wants to make that mandatory. That's next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, in a highly unusual move that Democrats are assailing as potentially dangerous, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has given Fox News producers access to all of the U.S. Capitol security footage from the January 6 insurrection. That's according to multiple sources, including Fox. Fox of course, the news organization that knowingly pushed lies about the 2020 election repeatedly promoted on its airways, as revealed in a rather damning court filing last week that quoted Fox executives and hosts at length bemoaning the lies they needed to share to get viewers. CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill for us.

Lauren, this footage, this January 6 footage had been strictly controlled by the January 6 Committee and federal prosecutors. So, what did they say about this move by Speaker McCarthy?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats are really concerned about it, Jake, in part because they argue it does pose a potential security risk. Because you are talking about security footage that can show different angles of the U.S. Capitol as well as escape routes of some of the politicians who are racing to get out of this building on January 6. Their concern, they say, is about whether or not a future attacker could use that footage to learn more about the premise here on Capitol Hill.

But you have Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, sending a letter to his colleagues saying he's going to get to the bottom of how this footage was transferred to Fox News. Saying, quote, "The apparent transfer of video footage represents an egregious security breach that endangers the hard working women and men of the United States Capitol Police who valiantly defended democracy with their lives at risk on that fateful day."

And it's not just Democrats concerned, Jake, you also have Republicans like former Congressman Adam Kinzinger telling CNN earlier that he can't believe that Kevin McCarthy made this decision.


ADAM KINZINGER (R), FORMER JAN. 6 COMMITTEE MEMBER: I would have thought that he had more respect for the institution as to, you know, go through and understand where there are security concerns, turn it over to the committees of jurisdiction first to review. I think that's all this was trying to win over Tucker Carlson so he could have him on our side. The danger in this is significant.


FOX: And some of this security footage was released as part of the January 6 committee's hearings, but it was always done, according to the chairman and other aides that worked on that committee, with consultation of the U.S. Capitol Police to ensure that some of that video footage didn't endanger the Capitol and the people who work here in the future. Jake.

TAPPER: It's certainly unusual. Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill, thanks. We still have not been able to get a response from Speaker McCarthy's office as to why he's making this decision and why it's not being released to all of the news media as opposed to one specific channel.

Let's talk about this with my panel. And Alayna, Democrats are really blasting this decision. Jamie Raskin, the Congressman who was on the January 6 Committee, tweeted in part, "McCarthy giving 40,000 hours of January 6 tape to Fox is an astounding ethical collapse. What security precautions were taken to keep this from becoming a roadmap for 2024 insurrection? Well, what are you hearing about the security concerns about this?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, that's Democrats main concerns, and I think some Republicans as well. We spoke with Zoe Lofgren, a former member of the January 6 Committee, and she told us that they were very careful with working with U.S. Capitol Police and what footage they could use during their hearings. One thing that they did not want to be shown was lawmakers being evacuated from the Capitol building. And she told us that she worried that showing something like that or other footage that could potentially be improperly handled could create a blueprint for, quote, unquote, "bad actors" to potentially try and attack the Capitol again.

And I will say, just from my reporting, I spoke with several sources in Republican leadership and they told me McCarthy did not go to them before releasing this footage to Fox News or making the decision to turn over this footage to Tucker Carlson. And he did not consult Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader as well before deciding to turn over a lot of this footage.

TAPPER: What's the justification for doing this, do you think?

RAMESH PONNURU, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, I think what McCarthy will eventually tell you when he gives you answer is that it's transparency, right? The argument is going to be that the other -- the Democrats will want --

TAPPER: To give to one supportive channel? Sorry.

PONNURU: Well, but of course, you know, procedures have to be followed also, so you don't just release anything.

TAPPER: Right.

PONNURU: I mean, I think that'll be the argument. I think it's clever of the Democratic leader, Jeffries, to say basically, we want more transparency. We want some transparency about this decision, how it was made, what things were considered. So he's not falling for that trap.


HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Maybe the argument, but it only makes sense through the prism of politics because if it were transparency, I think we all can agree that it would have been given out to all the news organizations at the same time, which is pretty much standard protocol when you want to release something to the public. In this case, it only makes sense through politics because of also the timing of it. Kevin McCarthy wants to push aside the January 6 committee. He already has. And Fox News wants to push aside the e-mails that just came out about four or five days ago --

TAPPER: Right.

PRZYBYLA: -- which are pretty damning showing that Fox News hosts at the very top knew that Trump had lost the election, they went out and misled their audience anyway. Then what happens January 6. That is not a good look for Fox News. That is not flattering, to say the least.

PONNURU: It's not (INAUDIBLE), is it?

PRZYBYLA: I am not here to judge --

PONNURU: Yes. PRZYBYLA: -- whether it works, but I'm here to observe that empirically, this is happening four days after those e-mails came out. We know that there's a tried and true tactic in politics of making a fuss and releasing information to try and change the topic from negative information.

TAPPER: What's do you -- what do you -- it's your take.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The big winners here are not Fox News or Speaker McCarthy, it's all enemies, foreign and domestic. There are terrorists out there. Those of us old enough to remember 9/11 know that. Those of us old enough to remember January 6 know that.

And as a part of the media now, I'm for transparency, somewhat, and sometimes, frankly, but not when security is an issue, and security is an issue here. That's our Capitol building. And the Al-Qaeda terrorists are going to study this. The ISIS terrorists are going to study this. The Nazi terrorists are going to study this.

Also that Kevin McCarthy can suck up to a cable news host, who, by the way, will never like him. Tucker will never like Kevin McCarthy, believe me, but who cares? He's really endangering the security of a whole lot of people, maybe even including himself, God forbid.

PONNURU: If the footage that Carlson uses ends up not compromising anybody's security, though, I do think that the Fox play then will be to say, look at all this hysteria. They're always attacking us with these extreme scenarios that don't come to that.

BEGALA: But, Ramesh, how will they secure it?


BEGALA: Right? It's hard enough for the government to secure this. Let's say, and I really want to believe this and I do believe this, that Tucker and Fox are responsible with what they publicly released. How are they going to secure it? Are they going to be as secure as the U.S. Capitol Police, Department of Homeland Security, FBI? I doubt it. I think they're much more vulnerable to penetration by enemies.

PRZYBYLA: I think you can see court challenges too. Restraining order to try and stop this.


TAPPER: Beyond that, also, I just think there's the idea that transparency means releasing it to the public, releasing it to all news media organizations.

So, anyway, I want to ask about something else. "New York Times" opinion writer Wajahat Ali made some very critical comments yesterday, I think, about -- or maybe it was Sunday, about Governor Nikki Haley, who's now running for president. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WAJAHAT ALI, OPINION WRITER, "NEW YORK TIMES": She uses her brown skin as a weapon against poor black folks and poor brown folks, and she uses her brown skin to launder white supremacist talking points. And the reason why I feel sad is because no matter what she does, maybe, it'll never be enough. They'll never love her.


TAPPER: They'll never love her. Immediately, obviously, Haley has jumped on this as, look, liberals are attacking me again. What do you make of this?

PONNURU: Yes, I think that it's a gift to Haley's nascent campaign for her to be able to jump on these dumb, you know, remarks by a pundit that just play into her hands and say, look, they're going after me based on my race. They can't handle my ideas. They can't handle the fact that I'm a skilled politician.

BEGALA: I'm with Ramesh. Yes. I think the fact that she got to be the governor of South Carolina with brown skin is a very impressive accomplishment, and I don't think it's something people ought to be attacking or ridiculing her about. Let's just take her based on her ideas. And I might not like them as a Democrat, Republicans might, but I think it's a terrible thing to say about her.


TAPPER: One of the things that's odd also is you see -- I don't want to make too big a deal out of it, but you see, some people on the left noting that Nikki is not her original first name. I think it's her middle name.


TAPPER: And like basically suggesting that she -- I mean, it's not true. And these are the same people who objected to whenever Republicans would say Barack Hussein Obama. I mean, there is a very ugly sign of the left that comes out when Nikki Haley runs for office.

TREENE: No, I think that's true, and I also think that this is something that I know her campaign has thought a lot about. As you're launching a presidential campaign, they've expected some of these attacks. But I will say, overall, she's leaned in to some of what has some of the messaging that has been surrounding her in the past week since announcing that she was running for president. And really, it's an extra media cycle, news cycle, over and over again where she can seize on, look at what the left is doing, look at what liberals are trying to make me out to be and use it to her advantage. And I actually think they've tried to, you know, play it smart with some of these attacks and turn them into something that they can use to further boost her among the right and with her base.

TAPPER: In kind contributions for the Haley campaign.

One last thing, Heidi, Donald Trump is joining Nikki Haley in saying there should be mental competency tests, not just for candidates, politicians who over 75, but everyone. And I just wanted to remind people that he talked about a mental competency test back in 2020.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You go, person, woman, man, camera T.V., they say, that's amazing. How did you do that? They do it because I have a good memory, because I'm cognitively there.


PRZYBYLA: So Paul backed me up here. But I think that Democrats would be all in if Trump wanted to agree to a mental competency test if he becomes the nominee. But look, I don't think that -- I think what Nikki Haley is doing here is she's showing that she's not afraid to make age an issue. I don't know that that's going to be a big issue, but she's showing that she's not afraid to take them on because it's pretty clear that she's referring to both Trump and Biden here.

TAPPER: It's been a pretty good week for her, I have to say, in terms of the attacks on her and also in terms of like, she's been in the press a lot. Maybe next time for her policies, perhaps.

Coming up, a look at the proposal in Idaho that would make it a felony for doctors to provide transgender kids with certain medical treatments. We're going to talk to one family who's testifying against the bill.



TAPPER: In our health lead, the Idaho House has passed a bill that would make it a felony, a felony for physicians to provide sex reassignment surgeries or puberty blockers or hormone treatment to transgender teens under the age of 18. The bill now heads to the Idaho state Senate amid desperate warnings from opponents who say this will lead to an increase in suicide rates among transgender teens.

I'm joined now by Eve Devitt, a transgender teen in Idaho who is directly impacted by this bill, and her father, Michael Devitt. Thanks to both of you for being here. I know this is not necessarily what a 17-year-old wants to be doing on a Tuesday.

And Eve, you testified before Idaho lawmakers on February 7. I just want to run of what you said about that bill.


EVE DEVITT, TRANSGENDER TEEN: In less than 24 hours, I will be going on a plane to go to a consultation for SRS or sexual reassignment surgery, which is planned to be taking place in a little over a year. I see this as my final step into the body that I should have been born into.

This bill threatens to not only bar me from receiving this care, but also from accessing the hormones that I've single handedly not only improved, but saved my life.


TAPPER: What do you mean by saved your life? Not just improved, but saved your life?

E. DEVITT: I mean, -- OK. So, before I went on testosterone blockers and then estrogen, I was in like the worst mental state of my life because I saw going through male puberty as this irreversible and horribly terrifying thing that would stop me from being able to live the life that I should have been able to, you know? And so that was -- it was absolutely horrifying. And I truly do believe that I would have ended up killing myself, I wasn't able to access that.

TAPPER: Michael, a lot of people who testified pointed out the conflict between the bill and Republican lawmakers statements on other matters of support for parental rights and freedom. One GOP state lawmaker said that Idaho law says some choices are abusive or inappropriate, even for a parent. How do you respond to that?

MICHAEL DEVITT, FATHER OF TRANSGENDER TEEN: It's really hard, honestly. I mean, we live in a state that values parental rights and religious freedom, yet the authors of this bill make it really clear that the only parental rights they are in favor of are those that they agree with. And religious freedom, the only thing they agree with is beliefs that they agree with. So, as a family of faith and as parents who take parenting seriously, I never thought the state of Idaho would be our biggest enemy in trying to step between us and our kids and raising them.

TAPPER: So, Eve, one of the arguments you hear from opponents of body altering treatments is that they should wait until you're an adult, 18. Why are they wrong?


E. DEVITT: Well, because you can't wait until you're an adult, because for the vast majority of trans kids, they won't be adults without this treatment. I wouldn't be -- I wouldn't have made it past, like, 14 if I didn't have that treatment.

TAPPER: Because you would take your own life, is what you mean.


TAPPER: So, Michael, you're your daughter started estrogen about three years ago. Where do you think she would be right now if she had not had access to this treatment? And what is your message to the people watching right now who don't understand, who don't get it?

M. DEVITT: Well, let me start with that. I didn't get it either. I didn't understand right away either. And so, I totally get it. Like -- but I would say to them, let's not make understanding a prerequisite for loving people and allowing them to live the lives that they feel led to live. But I don't think any of us can understand what Eve's going through. But Eve can understand what I'm going through as a parent or an adult or a physical therapist. So, I don't -- I think that isn't as big of a deal as we make it.

TAPPER: And, Eve, this bill would subject physicians to felony charges if they provide puberty blockers or hormone treatments or gender affirming surgeries to transgender minors. You've been treated by physicians with some of those treatments.


TAPPER: Are you worried about physicians in Idaho?

E. DEVITT: I'm terrified. Yes. It would be absolutely devastating, not only to me, but to so many other trans people living in Idaho, so many trans kids living in Idaho, and so many physicians who just want to be able to give their patients these treatments that have been, you know, legal for so long and that are tested and proven to work.

M. DEVITT: Jake, if I may, this is evidence based medicine we're talking about. And the witnesses that the proponents of this bill brought in were really fringy characters that were literally suggesting things that went -- that flew completely in the face of the AMA and the American Academy of Pediatrics. I mean, this is a skilled group. I think they probably could have found astronauts against space travel if they looked hard enough.

And the thing of it is that's setting the standard of care in Idaho to be fringy as opposed to evidence based medicine, which my wife, who's a physician, and I love our kids too much to subject them to fringy medicine.

TAPPER: Yes. I mean, I think one of the things that comes across and there are certainly debates that can be had about girls athletics and things like that, but when it comes to the cruelty that we see in this debate so often, the meanness about some of the most vulnerable people in our society, it's really just remarkable and not how any faith teaches us to behave.

E. DEVITT: Yes. I think it's interesting that you brought that up, because the reason why people are subjecting kids like me, trans kids, to this harsh antagonism is because we are the most vulnerable group right now that are OK to attack, because, you know, before it was trans kids it was gay kids, for that, it was gay adults. And so, as those things have become more normalized, they can't attack that group anymore. And so, we're just next on the shopping block, really.

TAPPER: I just remember hearing the story about George W. Bush when he was president and he had a transgender classmate. You've probably heard it.


TAPPER: But I guess they had the Yale 25th reunion or whatever it was at the White House, and the transgender woman said, you might not remember me, I guess they're in the line, you might not remember me because back when I was at Yale, I was so and so. And then President Bush, not known for being a huge supporter of LGBTQ rights at the time, said, and now you're you. I thought that was a --

M. DEVITT: There you go.


TAPPER: -- special story. Eve and Michael Devitt, thank you so much. Thanks for your courage coming on today. I appreciate it.

E. DEVITT: Thank you. Thank you for having us.

M. DEVITT: Thanks for listening. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: And if you or anyone needs help, please call or text the Suicide crisis lifeline at 988. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 severed thousands of Afghan families. CNN's Natasha Chen talked to one family attempting to reunite.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A daily video call is the only way Ahmad Roman can connect with his wife and daughter in Kabul.


CHEN (on camera): Hi.

(voice-over): We're keeping his wife and daughter's faces concealed for their safety. They're in the dark with electricity for only a few hours each day when they could have been here in this small, light filled apartment in California. Their family's sudden separation happened at the Kabul airport during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. And after a year and a half, Roman is no closer to getting his wife and daughter here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Someone asked me about that day, you can see my hands just shake.

CHEN (voice-over): In mid-August 2021, the family and their relatives headed to the airport, knowing their safety would be at risk under Taliban rule. But when they boarded the crowded cargo planes, they suddenly could not find their older son, Uzair (ph). His parents came out of the plane searching for him amidst the chaos.

ROMAN: Just 1000 people on the ground.

CHEN (voice-over): They finally realized Uzair was already with another relative on a different plane. But by that point, his mother and sister had been pushed beyond the airport gates.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I cried a lot to them. Please let me go inside. My kids, my family had entered the plane, but they didn't let me.

CHEN (voice-over): Roman waited and was one of the last to board his plane. He is now a single parent raising Uzair and little Rahman who has now spent half of his young life in the U.S.

ROMAN: I ask him, "Rahman, who is she?" She told it's mom. But I know Rahman don't know what's mom meaning.

CHEN (voice-over): Roman's wife said the Taliban requires male supervision for her to go anywhere, including the store, and their daughter may not be able to continue school.

ROMAN: I'm just worried about my daughter's future.

CHEN (voice-over): It wasn't until January when the U.S. State Department published a form for humanitarian parolees like Roman to apply for reunification assistance. Several advocacy groups across the U.S. each tell CNN they're working with dozens of families in the same situation with one group, Women for Afghan Women, trying to help 400 separated families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I see my kids on camera but I cannot touch them, it's so difficult for me.

CHEN (voice-over): We asked the State Department how many Afghan families are still waiting for reunification, but their press office says the number is fluid and that they have, quote, "already resettled thousands of Afghans reunited families and welcomed them into our communities across the country."


TAPPER: And our thanks to Natasha Chen for that report. Wolf Blitzer is next in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you tomorrow.