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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Russian Fighter Jet Damages & Forces Down U.S. Drone Over Black Sea; U.S., U.K. And Australia Agree On Unclear Submarine Project; Markets Close Higher After Days Of Volatility, DeSantis Expressed Support For Sending Weapons In 2015 After Russia's Invasion Of Crimea; Trump Amps Up Attack On DeSantis During Iowa Stop; CNN Poll: Trump Leads GOP Field As 2024 Race Takes Place; North Carolina's Republican- Controlled Supreme Court Rehears Redistricting Case On Gerrymandering; Ohio Files Federal Lawsuit Against Norfolk Southern; EPA Proposes First Standards For Safe Levels Of "Forever Chemicals" In Drinking Water. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 14, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And leading this hour, a U.S. drone is forced down by a Russian fighter jet while flying international airspace over the Black Sea. U.S. military officials say one of the Russian jets intentionally flew in front of an unmanned American MQ9 Reaper drone. The Russian jet hit the drone, damaging the drone's propeller. This is the first time Russia and U.S. military aircraft have come into direct contact since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

A spokesman for the U.S. Air Force called Russia's actions today, quote, "reckless, unsound, and unprofessional." Let's bring in CNN's Natasha Bertrand, who's at the Pentagon for us. Melissa Bell is live for us in Levy of Ukraine.

Melissa, let's start with you. This is coming at an already incredibly tense time in the region. What are we hearing today from Ukrainian and Russian officials about this incident in the Black Sea?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're getting, Jake, from the Russian Ministry of Defense in Moscow is a direct contradiction to what the United States has said so far about the drone incident. What the Russians are saying, Jake, is that there was no contract at all and that drone went down into the Black Sea as a result of sharp maneuvering. Moscow accusing that drone of flying without transponders.

Now, those are the devices that allow a plane or a drone to be tracked, and that is in violation, says Russia, of the temporary measures that were put in place for the special military operation in that area. Of course, the euphemism that Russia uses for its invasion of Ukraine.

What seems to have happened, according to Russia, is that drone was detected just off the coast of the Crimean Peninsula. Russian fighter jets scrambled to get up there, identified what Russia describes as the intruder and a sharp maneuver, then saw that drone crash into the Black Sea.

Now, we have seen, as you say, a lot of tension around the Black Sea. There is an awful lot of military hardware up there as a result of what's going on in Ukraine. And what we've heard from the United States is that we've seen a history really recently of aggressive action or dangerous action on the part of Russian pilots.

I think the key question here at this stage, Jake, is whether those Russian fighter pilots got too close to that drone by accident or whether they may have been a deliberate attempt to take it down. For the time being, we just don't know.

TAPPER: And Natasha, the State Department has summoned Russia's ambassador to meet with officials at the U.S. State Department here in Washington. What does that mean?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Jake, we are told that meeting actually just wrapped between the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, and the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Karen Donfried. Look, it basically just means that the U.S. is going to send a very sharp protest to the Russians over this incident. They want an explanation from Antonov over why this happened. And they want to express, of course, their displeasure with the fact that it happened, because, as has been alluded to intercepts of this kind are not uncommon. But the behavior of the pilots, that is what has been very unusual here. The pilots, just to remind our viewers, they actually flew very, very close to this plane, to this drone, dumping a whole lot of jet fuel on top of it, and then at one point actually got close to the propeller of the drone, which then hit the propeller and forced the U.S. military to actually take that drone down over international waters.

So, what we're hearing, of course, is a very stern statement from both the Pentagon and the White House about how this is very unacceptable. Because I should note, Jake, that we're not talking about a small commercial drone. We are talking about a very large drone that is extremely long, that is extremely large, and if it came down in an unsafe way, it could have caused serious damage, of course, not only to the drone, but also to the Russian fighter aircraft. So U.S. officials also briefing allies on this incident, making it very clear to the Russians that moving forward, this is just not going to be acceptable, Jake.

TAPPER: And Melissa, this comes at an incredibly tense time in the brutal fight for the Bakhmut area. How are things going? What's the latest from the ground there?

BELL: Well, for the time being, the Ukrainians continue to defend that city, Jake, with all the huge loss of life on all sides, the devastation to the city. And that, of course, is the result, as we've begun to understand over the course of the last few days of this battle within a battle that's been going on not just between Ukrainians and Russians, for control of what has become extremely symbolic city after all these many weeks and months of siege and battle. But also a battle between the regular Russian forces led by the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Wagner mercenaries, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin with speculation now about whether or not some kind of trap may have been led -- left for Yevgeny Prigozhin by Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defense Minister, given the huge loss of life to his men and the very open war of words that we've seen between them over the course of the last few weeks. And that, in part, explains what's been happening at once, how devastated the city is and just how costly it's been to the Russian side in terms of manpower, Jake.


TAPPER: All right. Natasha Bertrand and Melissa Bell, thank you so much.

Let's bring in White House National Security Council Spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Admiral Kirby, the U.S. Air Force characterized this move today, quote, "as aggressive actions by Russia." They said it could lead to, quote, "unintended escalation." That's some strong language if this was just a misunderstanding. What kind of escalation?

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Well, I mean, first of all, I think Natasha covered it. I mean, somebody could have gotten hurt. Nobody wants to see that happen. And it could lead to miscalculations between, you know, two militaries that are operating not obviously in Ukraine together, but certainly in proximity in the region. And we don't want to see this war escalate beyond what it already has done to the Ukrainian people. And so, this is clearly -- this was inappropriate, unsafe, unprofessional conduct by the Russian pilots.

TAPPER: So, the Kremlin has been lying about the war since before they promised they weren't going to launch it. But that said, the Russian Ministry of Defense said this afternoon that its planes did not use airborne weapons or come into contact with the drone. What is your response to their denial? And will the Biden administration provide proof?

KIRBY: Well, it won't surprise you that we obviously refute the Russian denial. And I think anybody, after a year now, Jake, should take everything that the Russians say about what they're doing in and around Ukraine with a huge grain of salt.

As for proof, we're looking at some imagery to see if any of that might be suitable to put out there, but no decisions yet made on that.

TAPPER: We're also hearing the drone has yet to be recovered. How concerning is that, especially if Russia ends up getting there first and seizing the drone and collecting intelligence from it.

KIRBY: Well, without getting into too much detail, I can -- what I can say is that we've taken steps to protect our equities with respect to that particular drone, that particular aircraft, and it's the United States property. We obviously don't want to see anybody getting their hands on it beyond us.

TAPPER: So the Russian Ambassador to the United States was summoned to the U.S. State Department. Ned Price, the spokesman for the State Department, says U.S. officials are going to voice their strong objections to what happened. You used to have that job at the State Department. How do you walk the line of keeping playing -- keeping diplomatic relations open while making it clear that the U.S. believes that Russia crossed the line?

KIRBY: Yes. One of the advantages of having diplomatic lines open is so that you can do exactly what the State Department did today, which is call the ambassador in and walk them through our very significant and very real concerns over this unsafe and unprofessional conduct by Russian pilots. That's why you want the lines of communication open so that you can actually have those kinds of very direct interchanges and lay bare and lay clean what your concerns are.

TAPPER: And also I want to ask you, President Biden just announced this deal, this multiphase submarine deal with the U.K.--

KIRBY: Right.

TAPPER: -- and Australia being described as a zone defense against China. Of course, this plan is going to take decades to unfold. What if China just develops what they need to develop more quickly than the U.S., U.K. and Australia?

KIRBY: Well, a couple of thoughts there, Jake. First of all, it's not designed against China. It's designed to improve our alliances and partnerships, our networks in the Indo-Pacific region. And this one is unique because it also brings in a key ally from the Atlantic region, the U.K. into the Indo-Pacific in an even more significant way than they already have been engaged. This is about re bolstering our network, our alliances and partnerships in the region to help us collectively deal with a range of threats and challenges. And China's coercive and aggressive activities is just but one of them, there's North Korea, you know, they announced the other day that they launched a submarine launched cruise missile. You've got Russia still on the Indo-Pacific in that region and trying to affect our ability to operate there.

So there's a lot going on in that region. And this deal, this AUKUS deal, is really designed to help all three of us operate and maintain professional nuclear powered submarines in a much better way.

TAPPER: Is there any updates you can provide us on any of the Americans being detained unfairly throughout the country? I'm thinking specifically of Lieutenant Alkonis in Japan --


TAPPER: -- or Paul Whelan in Russia?

KIRBY: I wish I had some specific updates for you, Jake. What I can tell you is that we are working on all these cases very actively every day. And there's other, as you know, there's three U.S. nationals that are being wrongfully detained in Iran as well.

They're never far from our mind, Jake. We're working on their cases every day. Sadly, I just don't have any specific details to provide.

TAPPER: All right. Rear Admiral John Kirby, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

KIRBY: Yes, sir.

TAPPER: Coming up, what's going on with your money? A wild day with warnings about the stability of the entire U.S. banking system. Then it was, quote, entirely avoidable. The newest fight over the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment. That's ahead.



TAPPER: Turning now to our money lead. Investors are breathing sighs of relief as bank stocks rebounded in an economic turnaround from this time yesterday. The Dow closing up 336 points today. But this does come as pressure is continuing to mount on the Federal Reserve over its decision on whether to raise interest rates. While the failure of two banks over the weekend calls for caution and inflation report today showed in some areas of the market, prices continue to rise. CNN's Richard Quest is with us.

And Richard, the Fed is under a lot of pressure. How do they weigh the mixed signals happening in the economy right now?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: Absolutely. You've got the inflation numbers, which were hot. You've got a banking potential crisis, although that's not actually full-fledged yet, which would again, you don't really want to raise interest rates and make a bad situation worse. But at the same time, with these current economic numbers, you really do need to slow the economy.

It is an impossible situation, which is why they will be very relieved today that the market seemed to suggest that the banking crisis is abating. It's not gone away, but it's certainly not as bad or as potentially catastrophic as it might have been. The bank stocks were up. There was a certain amount of confidence that had come back, Jake.


TAPPER: So you don't think that we're necessarily in the clear, but do you think we've avoided a full blown banking catastrophe?

QUEST: Too soon to say. I don't think were ever looking at a full blown banking catastrophe. There's always the potential of a mega disaster, if you will, in the banking sector because something goes wrong. No, I think the reality here is that these banks that have been hit were the victims of their own incompetence, stupidity, misfortune, whatever word you want to use. The big major banks are rock solid, and what now -- what they're basically doing, the authorities is ring- fencing those that really should have known better. There's no mega banking crisis on the horizon, according to everything I hear.

TAPPER: All right, Richard Quest, thank you so much. Joining us now to discuss Gary Cohn. He's the Vice Chairman of IBM. He served as the director of the National Economic Council during the Trump administration.

Gary, good to see you. In 2018, about a month after you resigned from the White House, President Trump signed a bill that rolled back parts of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act, which eased restrictions on some banks. President Biden and some others have said that this rollback may have contributed to this banking failure. Progressive economist Dean Baker told The Intercept, quote, "this was a 100 percent avoidable problem. That bill raised the asset threshold above which banks have to undergo stress tests from 50 billion to 250,000,000,000 SVB, Silicon Valley Bank, would have been required to undergo regular stress tests before the revision," unquote. Do you think these rollbacks contributed to the bank failures we're seeing now?

GARY COHN, VICE CHAIRMAN, IBM: So, Jake, thanks for having me.

Look, I do not. And I think it's really important to understand when you put these banks into these very arduous stress tests, that our largest banks in America have, these globally systemically important banks. It's very costly. It's very expensive.

And who bears the cost of that? The depositors bear the cost of that. The banks have to charge someone for that expense, and they take it out of the rate that they're willing to pay depositors.

It also would have forced many of these small and medium sized banks, and we're talking about medium sized banks 50 billion to 250 billion. It would have forced them out of business. They would not have been competitive with the larger banks because the larger banks can amortize these enormous regulatory costs over trillions of dollars of assets.

What the Trump administration rolled back had nothing to do with capital. It had nothing to do with liquidity. We had an old fashioned bank run here. And what happens in a bank run is all of the depositors want their money out simultaneously. Banks are not equipped to allow all of the deposits out simultaneously.

Remember, banks are really important for the U.S. economy. They take depositors money and they lend it out to stimulate economic growth. They lend it out so people can buy houses, they can buy cars, they can get educations, and they can have credit cards. So banks will never be able to replenish all of their deposits in one day. It's not the way the system was ever designed.

TAPPER: Right. Take a listen to Senator Bernie Sanders, a critic of the rollback of some of these Dodd-Frank regulations. Predicting that this might happen, this is on the floor in 2018.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Just yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office told us that the legislation we are debating today will, and I quote, "increase the likelihood that a large financial firm with assets of between 100 billion and 250 billion would fail," end of quote. That's the CBO. In other words, this legislation makes it more likely that we will see another financial crisis.


TAPPER: So, here's a CBO report. It does mention that repealing the regulations would increase the likelihood that a bank this side, Silicon Valley Bank, with I think it was 206 billion, something like that. Is it not possible that an additional stress test might have revealed some of the bad management decisions being made by Silicon Valley banks, such as over, investing in treasury bonds, et cetera?

COHN: Well, Jake, anything is possible. But remember, this is a bipartisan piece of legislation. We have to remember that. There were 67 Senators that approved this piece of legislation. If my memory serves me correct, that means that 17 Democrats supported this legislation because they understood that medium sized banks in this country are so important to the economic stability of our country and that we had to get them in a position where they could compete with the largest banks.


If you go back to a few years ago, we were all worried about the biggest banks in this country becoming too big. Remember, too big to fail. So we understand that there are huge costs in this regulation, and we want to have as many banks as possible. Unfortunately, over the last few years, over the last decade, we've only seen banks disappear in the United States. We don't see new banks created.

So we have to understand there is a big, huge cost to regulation and that's borne by the ultimate depositor.

TAPPER: Yes. Now, of course, it's bipartisan. I think 17 Democratic senators and I think 31 House Democrats.

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers says there is no systemic banking issue. Mark Zandi from Moody's told me yesterday that Silicon Valley Bank collapse will not cause a recession. Do you agree with those assessments?

COHN: This was not systemic. I agree with that. As Richard Quest said, the largest banks in the United States are very well capitalized, they're in amazingly good shape. And most -- almost all the banks in the United States are in very good shape and have enormous amount of capital. We had a bank run.

There is nothing you can do to prevent a bank run. And in fact, we have FDIC insurance in this country because the regulators know that you can have a bank run. That's why we insure deposits. If the possibility of a bank run didn't exist, we wouldn't bother having a deposit insurance corporation in the United States. This is just the reality of the way banks are structured, and we need them to be structured that way to drive economic growth and prosperity.

TAPPER: All right, Gary Cohn, good to see you again. Thank you so much for your time today.

COHN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Things are already getting ugly on the campaign trail. Next, Donald Trump slams one of his potential Republican rivals. And a different Republican rival joins in.



TAPPER: Topping our politics lead, Donald Trump made his first campaign stop to the site of the first in the nation Iowa caucuses, at least for Republicans last evening since becoming a 2024 presidential candidate, giving Republican voters their first side by side comparison with him and his likely top 2024 rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who made his own Hawkeye State debut on Friday. CNN's Kristen Holmes is in Davenport, Iowa, where Trump held his campaign event.

Kristen, Trump, frankly, he tore into DeSantis during his speech. Tell us what he had to say.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. Calling out DeSantis by name, going after him for a bill he supported while he was in Congress that would have limited the use of ethanol, clearly a large industry here in Iowa. Attacking him over his past support of reforming entitlements. But most of all, Trump making it very clear who he believes his chief rival is at this time.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ron DeSantis. Did anyone over hear of DeSantis, DeSanctimonious. No, Ron DeSantis strongly opposed ethanol. He also fought against Social Security. He wanted to decimate it and voted against it three times.

Voted against Social Security? That's a bad one. But you have to remember, Ron was a disciple of Paul Ryan, who is a rhino loser who currently is destroying Fox.

And to be honest with you, Ron reminds me a lot of Mitt Romney.


HOLMES: So, as he was here trying to link him, trying to link DeSantis to the establishment party to say that he was the establishment candidate, it's important to note that DeSantis himself was actually aligning himself with former President Trump on an issue that has divided Republicans, and that is Ukraine. DeSantis last night in a statement to Tucker Carlson saying that Ukraine was just a territorial dispute between Russia and Ukraine. It was not something that should be a U.S. national interest, obviously putting him at odds with other Republicans and other 2024 hopefuls.

TAPPER: All right. Kristen Holmes, thank you so much. Let's talk about this with my panel. And for the sake of this discontinuity with the Ukraine thing, guys, in the control room, I want to go to soundbite sound bite number five. I'm jumping ahead here because Donald Trump is accusing Ron DeSantis of changing his tune on Ukraine. And I think this is one of the things that he's referring to, because back in 2014, when then Congressman Ron DeSantis was reacting to Russia seizing Crimea, here's part of what he had to say.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We in the Congress have been urging the president, I've been too, to provide arms to Ukraine. They want to fight their good fight. They're not asking us to fight it for them. And the president has steadfastly refused. And I think that's a mistake.


TAPPER: He also criticized what he called -- DeSantis called the Obama's weak policy versus Reagan's piece through strength. Trump's saying it's a flip flop. What do you think?

JOSH WALSH, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, ILLINOIS: I haven't said this in probably 100 years. I mean, Trump's right. DeSantis has a record, a much more hawkish record.

Ron DeSantis realized yesterday that to win the Republican Party nomination, you have to not care about Ukraine. He called it a territorial dispute. He knows that's where the base is. Trump's right.

TAPPER: I don't know that. I mean, that's not where the party is.

WALSH: The base.

TAPPER: It might be where the base is.

WALSH: The base.

TAPPER: Yes, because David Chalian was showing a poll earlier, it's only 36 percent want the U.S. to stop helping Ukraine of Republican voters.

KRISTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It's where Donald Trump is, I think it's fair to say. And it is interesting to remember to look at that and see how far the Republican Party has come. Because at that time, that very much -- what DeSantis was saying very much was the Republican position it to the point that they really were acting like World War III was starting and that the Obama administration was just dithering and that they weren't going to do anything about it.

So I think DeSantis is just showing that he's willing to shift, to move in the direction of going after the same group of voters that are with Donald Trump, right. It's not the majority of people, but it's a block of people that move together.

TAPPER: And Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador who was actually a declared candidate, unlike Ron DeSantis, she says she agrees with Trump that DeSantis is flip flopping. And she writes, quote, "President Trump is right when he says Governor DeSantis is copying him, first in his style, then on the entitlement reform and now on Ukraine. I have a different style than President Trump, and while I agree with him on most policies, I do not on those. Republicans deserve a choice, not an echo."

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes, she's trying to stake out a different space. So one of the things that's interesting here is DeSantis and Trump are going after this block of Republican voters who do favor an isolationist stance. And you have Haley and Pence and some others who are not in that camp. And I think the question now is, is there a lane for those? Are there voters interested in hearing that Republican view?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, right. And I also think, too, if we step back a little bit, the evolution of the Republican Party when it comes to the issue of Ukraine, when it comes to really supporting that traditional classic Republican view of a muscular foreign policy abroad, that shift is -- you can see that everywhere.

You could not only see it in the 2024 presidential field as we're looking at it right now, but also on Capitol Hill, where there is a growing number of Republican lawmakers, many of them allied with Trump, who are skeptical of increased Ukraine aid, which is going to continue to be a priority of the White House in the future.

So whether this is a temporary shift in the party that's been spurred by the former President Donald Trump, or if this is a permanent shift into a more isolation stance by a party that hasn't been like that is -- will be really interesting --

JOE WALSH (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, ILLINOIS: And, Jake, what's interesting is, I don't know that it's just a block. I mean, even CNN's own polling, Trump and DeSantis together are almost 80 percent of the Republican vote.


WALSH: That's -- I mean, that's a Trumpy lane. It's either Trump, DeSantis' supporters are Trump supporters. They just think DeSantis may be able to win.

TAPPER: Well, it's interesting. There's more educational difference. Republican college educated voters are more likely to support DeSantis two to one than non-college educated voters who are more likely to support Trump or what I think he once referred to as poorly educated voters.

POWERS: Yes. Yes. I mean, that the whole -- it's a complicated thing because a lot of this also is because, of course, they have to do the opposite of whatever Joe Biden is doing, right? So if Joe Biden thinks that you should be helping Ukraine, then they don't want to do it because then that's what Joe Biden is doing. That's one part of it.

Another part of it is that it involves Russia and that there has been this weird kind of change in the Republican Party because of President Trump and his relationship with Russia, where suddenly you actually have these people that like Russia now, and their focus is on -- they have other enemies that they're focused on. China is their main enemy, right? So it's not that they've become completely isolationist. It's just that in this situation, they really are following the lead of Donald Trump.

TAPPER: And Catherine, listen to fellow Republican Floridian Marco Rubio, who's the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, responding to Ron DeSantis referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a territorial dispute.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: It's not a territorial dispute in the sense that any more than it would be a territorial dispute if the United States decided that it wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas. Just because someone claims something doesn't mean it belongs to them. This is an invasion.


TAPPER: I mean, Senator Rubio is correct. It was an invasion of a sovereign country.

LUCEY: Yes. And what you're seeing here is really the divide. You know, Rubio and other Republicans today have been really critical of DeSantis. There are a lot of leaders, Republican leaders on the Hill who have been very supportive of aid to Ukraine.

Majority Leader -- sorry, Senator McConnell has been vocal in his support. And I think, though, can they stick together to continue supporting the White House as they try and continue getting aid to Ukraine is going to be a key question going forward.

TAPPER: So after the Iowa event, Trump continued to attack DeSantis. Politico reports that Trump suggested to a bunch of reporters that he regretted endorsing then Congressman DeSantis for governor in 2018. He really did help him win that primary, without question. And Trump went on to say, "If it weren't for me, Ron DeSantismonius would right now be working probably at a law firm or maybe a Pizza Hut, I don't know."

You know, somebody on my staff thought that that was an Italian slur. I don't know that it was that thought out. But --

MIN KIM: I'm not quite sure of that either. But Trump -- the former president is not wrong that he played a significant role in Ron DeSantis rise.

TAPPER: Huge. His ads --

MIN KIM: And --

TAPPER: DeSantis' ads were all about copying Trump.

MIN KIM: Right, right. I mean, I remember that DeSantis sad when he was with his kids, and his kids were echoing build that wall --

TAPPER: Right.

MIN KIM: -- which obviously echoing what President Trump had said during the 2016 campaign.


And look, I was covering Congress when DeSantis was, you know, was just a rank and file Republican. He was just one of many. It's not like he particularly stood out. He could have very easily lost that gubernatorial primary in Florida, had Trump not elevated him. So once the people pupil is kind of outshining the teacher, you can kind of see why the former president is getting irritated here.

LUCEY: You know, Jake, one thing I think is really interesting about Trump's visit to Iowa is that he wasn't just doing big rallies, which is a thing that he did in 2016. He really avoided doing retail events or smaller events. And you saw him at a restaurant, you saw him doing some of the smaller scale stuff, which says to me he is worried. Like he thinks he needs to do the kind of politicking that he felt he was above in his 2016 range.

TAPPER: Well, and just in the poll, CNN's poll today, Donald Trump, when it comes to Republican primary voters, 40 percent. Ron DeSantis 36 percent. That's within the margin of error. And as, you know, generally in these primaries, Trump has something of a ceiling. I don't know that Ron DeSantis has one, at least not yet --

WALSH: Yes, but we don't know. Nobody --

TAPPER: Right.

WALSH: -- knows DeSantis. This is just the dumbest thing. But the -- look, there's one lane right now in this Republican Party. It's the Trumpy lane. And that's the lane DeSantis is trying to fill as well. Nobody else in these polls even measures right now.

TAPPER: Right. And it is early. I mean --


TAPPER: -- do you see a lane for Nikki Haley? She is a more -- I didn't even finish that question.


TAPPER: But she's a more traditional --

POWERS: It's not --

TAPPER: She actually is more like Mitt Romney.


TAPPER: It's actually kind of ridiculous of Trump to say that Ron DeSantis reminds him of Mitt Romney. There's nothing Romney ask about him.


TAPPER: But Nikki Haley, I think there is. I don't mean that pejoratively --


TAPPER: -- but she's a more establishment Republican.

POWERS: I just don't think it's where the Republican Party is. Maybe 15 percent of the party is her lane, right? It's just not enough. I mean, I think there's the Trump lane and then there's the kind of DeSantis which is the Trump plus, right? So it's --

TAPPER: What's Trump plus?

POWERS: Trump plus is he's got a lot of the bombastic like, you know, dealing a lot of name calling. The plus is that he is smarter and, you know, more competent and I would actually argue in some ways crueler. You know, like he is --

TAPPER: How is he crueler?

POWERS: Well, I mean, I just think the stuff about putting people on buses and sending them off to places, you know, migrants sending them to places --

TAPPER: There was a plane.

POWERS: -- where there are no -- I mean, it was extremely cruel.


POWERS: You know, I mean, and I think that -- but he's shown that he's willing to do those kinds of things. And I think he's a probably more competent leader. I'm not saying that he's, you know, that means he's good, but he is a more competent leader than Donald Trump.

WALSH: Republican base voters want a Trump or some cruel authoritarian like a Trump.

TAPPER: Well --

LUCEY: And there was a lot of interest in DeSantis in Iowa also when he was out.


LUCEY: He got big enthusiastic crowds so I think that's a key sign too.

TAPPER: I'll just also say that he won re-election with 60 percent of the vote and won a bunch of democratic strongholds like Miami-Dade and won the Latino vote, and it was a pretty impressive re-election. Thanks one and all for being here. Turning now to North Carolina, where the concern over political polarization is growing at the judicial level. The state's newly Republican controlled Supreme Court will rehear two election related cases. Cases that had already been decided way, way, way back last year when Democrats held the majority on the court.

Now they are going to be reheard. CNN's Dianne Gallagher takes a closer look now at this extremely rare move and the larger political fighter represents.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God save the state and this honorable court.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In an incredibly rare move, the North Carolina state Supreme Court is rehearing a case it decided just last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Council, what has happened over the course of the past 88 days since we issued our opinion in this case that would mandate and compel a different result.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The case itself, which centers on gerrymandering, congressional and state legislative maps, hasn't changed, but the political makeup of the court has. Flipping from a Democratic to Republican majority in November.

The impact of this judicial redo could stretch far past the Tar Heel state, where the 14 congressional districts are evenly split between the parties, even shaping who controls the United States House of Representatives in 2024 and beyond.

CHRIS COOPER, WESTERN CAROLINA UNIVERSITY POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: It's extremely unusual. I think it's possible though, that it may become the new norm if we've got a purple state like North Carolina where partisanship on a court can flip on a dime, can flip in one election.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): So how did we get here? In February 2022, when Democrats held a 4-3 majority on the bench, the court declared the GOP controlled legislature's original maps were an extreme partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution's guarantee of free elections and must be redrawn.

Republican lawmakers argued the court did not have standing to mandate new maps, claiming the U.S. elections clause gives eight legislatures the authority to decide the time, place and manner of elections.


And in December, the final days of the Democratic majority, the court again rejected a second attempt at the maps, ordering a substitute map created by special masters instead. The rehearing was granted last month, shortly after the new justices were sworn in. Today, the Democratic justices once again pointing out the constitutional right to free elections. ANITA EARLS, NORTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: If the maps don't fairly reflect the voting strength of the people of the state, aren't you essentially seeking to prevent voters from exercising control over their own government?

GALLAGHER (voice-over): In a statement, North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley says the case was about, quote, reestablishing the proper constitutional roles.

COOPER: The goal line has moved in some ways. It used to be conversations about, is this a gerrymander? Now the conversation is, does the court even have the right to rein in a gerrymander, or can state legislatures do essentially what they want to do?


GALLAGHER: And if that conversation, that argument sounds familiar to you, that's because this case, the one that was reheard today, is the underlying case for one that went before the U.S. Supreme Court in December. There were oral arguments about the so-called and controversial independent state legislature theory.

In fact, Jake, the U.S. Supreme Court requested additional briefs from all the parties because of this rehearing to determine if it should even weigh in on that case anymore. And look, the North Carolina State Supreme Court is not done yet. They are rehearing a separate case tomorrow dealing with voter ID and whether people need to present a photo ID to vote, something that was also decided by the North Carolina Supreme Court just last year.

TAPPER: All right, Dianne Gallagher in Charlotte, North Carolina, for us, thank you so much.

Coming up, new legal trouble for Norfolk Southern as the fight over the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment plays out. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, Ohio has filed a federal lawsuit against Norfolk Southern over last month's toxic chemical derailment in East Palestine. So many residents of that town and the surrounding area are worried that their headaches and their rashes and other symptoms may be tied to the release of those chemicals.

CNN Correspondent Gabe Cohen is here. Gabe, Ohio's attorney general held a news conference today. What did he have to say about the lawsuit?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in short, he basically said the goal here is to hold Norfolk Southern financially responsible, not just for the derailment, but for the entire aftermath, including cleaning up more than a million gallons of hazardous chemicals.

Now, on the derailment itself, the lawsuit alleges Norfolk Southern could have prevented this, and part of that is how the incident actually played out, that defective wheel bearing that we've been reporting on in the past. But the lawsuit and the attorney general really outlines what they see as a troubling pattern with the way Norfolk Southern has been operating trains like this in general.

How long they are staffing, maintenance schedules, inspections, all of that. And as evidence, the lawsuit points to the company's escalating accident rate. They say up 80 percent in a decade. Take a listen. Here's Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost during today's press conference.


DAVE YOST, OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL: This derailment was entirely avoidable. And I'm concerned that Norfolk Southern may be putting profits for their own company above the health and safety of the cities and communities that they operate in.


G. COHEN: So the state is now trying to make sure Norfolk Southern pays for this entire recovery. And there's a lot there. That includes economic losses for businesses and residents, the clean-up, and those long term effects like health concerns and water and soil pollution.

Plus, Jake paying for this entire emergency response, and that's still going on today. Now, exactly how much that will be? We don't know. The attorney general wouldn't get into specifics, only to say it is a lot of money.

TAPPER: What does Norfolk Southern have to say in response?

G. COHEN: Yes. So the rail company put out a statement late this afternoon. They actually didn't specifically mention the lawsuit, but they outlined three new programs that the company is creating for the people of East Palestine. The first is a medical compensation fund to address long term health risks.

The second is a protection program for home sellers if their property loses value because of the derailment. We know there's been major concern there. And third would be a program, Jake, to protect drinking water in the future.

TAPPER: All right, Gabe Cohen, thank you so much. Appreciate that update.

The harmful chemicals that linger in the human body for a long time and could be in drinking water almost everywhere. What you need to know about the warning about the water, that's next.



TAPPER: Drastic changes could be coming to the water that we drink in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new drinking water standards for PFAS, which are known as forever chemicals. Scientists now believe these human made chemicals are much more hazardous to our health than previously had been believed.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen joins us now. Elizabeth, walk us through this new proposal.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, they're called forever chemicals because they can really linger in your body. They don't just sort of, you know, dissipate. They don't go out of your body. They linger. Let's take a look at some of the products that they're found in everything from certain types of cookware to certain cleaning agents in your home, certain cosmetics. So they're really quite ubiquitous. They are in so many different things.

Now let's take a look at the different problems that they're linked to. Doesn't mean they cause these. They're just linked to cancers, to problems for that developing fetuses might face. liver effects, immune effects. And here is what the EPA is saying. We're going to put limits on this. And water systems are going to be told, you're going -- you can't go above that limit. These could take effect at the end of the year, or they could be passed by the end of the year.

They wouldn't take effect for about three years. So this isn't going to happen for quite a while. And then it's unclear what the penalties are going to be. That seems like that would be sort of a big thing. You'd want to know what those penalties are going to be. And then the water systems can raise rates if they want to, if they feel that they need to.

And then in addition, and this is important, these are only six chemicals that the EPA is regulating. And there are thousands of these forever chemicals. These six, there is particularly strong evidence of these links to human health problems. The EPA says they may look at other forever chemicals time if more evidence emerges. Jake?


TAPPER: All right, Elizabeth, one last question, though, before you go. Are PFAS also in bottled water?

E. COHEN: You know what? The bottled water -- right. Bottled water is not actually regulated for these kinds of chemicals, so it can be there. And various studies have shown that in some brands of bottled water, they are there.

TAPPER: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD from whence you get your podcast all two hours sitting there like a giant grapefruit.

Our coverage continues next with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in a place I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM". See you tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the White House is slamming Russia as reckless after a U.S. drone aircraft was forced down by a Russian fighter jet international airspace over the Black Sea. It's a potentially very dangerous escalation at a critical moment in Russia's war against Ukraine.