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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Yellen Predicts Debt Limit Could Be Reached By June; El Paso Declares State Of Emergency; Former U.S. Marine Killed Helping Ukrainians Evacuate Bakhmut; The Atlantic: Ukraine's Grassroots Fighting Force Key To Its Success; Police: Six Killed, 30 Plus Injured After Illinois Dust Storm. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 01, 2023 - 17:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What you heard from Treasury Secretary today in a letter to lawmakers also from the congressional budget office and their own projections is tax receipts in April came in lower than were expected.

And because of that, the con-critical date, the critical deadline has now moved up, moved up to a month from now. Moved up to a point where people need to figure out a resolution, figure out a path forward, and no one is talking right now.

When you talk to White House officials, when you talk to administration officials, they've made clear their position is the same as it has always been. The President wants a clean debt ceiling increase. There will be no negotiations on anything but a clean debt ceiling increase.

Obviously, as Manu told you quite well, the Republicans are in a very different place right now. The difference between right now and yesterday where those two positions stand is, they have a lot of month to figure this out. There's not a lot of time. Lawmakers are out of session, the President has international travel. How they figure something out is still very much an open question, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And to remind people, this is money that has already been spent. This is not future spending. It has already been spent. Manu, does this new deadline, one month from today, change anything when it comes to negotiations? We haven't seen any real willingness to give on either side so far.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not at the moment, Jake. Of course, this letter just came out, but even Kevin McCarthy, the Speaker, saying earlier today in Israel that they will not do what the White House has been demanding for the past several months, that the House will not pass a clean debt ceiling increase, meaning, a debt ceiling increase without, with no conditions, whatsoever.

The Republicans say there should be some conditions. They passed a bill last week along party lines, they lost a handful of votes, but enough to get it over the finish line. That included a slew of cuts across the federal government, also to go after Biden policies.

What McCarthy has been calling for some time is to have a negotiation with President Biden, try to find some sort of agreement between what the President wants and what the Republicans want and try to get it through both chambers of Congress. The White House has resisted that for some time.

Senate Democratic Leaders and House Democratic Leaders are so far on the same side as President Biden. There are some concerns among some moderate Democrats, some in the rank and file who are calling for direct one-on-one negotiations between McCarthy and Biden.

And the question will be, now that we have a deadline, will that change? Will that pressure intensify to sit down and reach an agreement? Republicans say they are the only ones who passed a bill because the House Republicans did approve that proposal.

Senate Democrats have not yet moved on any of their own proposals, and if they were to move on a clean debt ceiling increase at this moment, that would not get the 60 votes it would need in order to get over the potential filibuster attempt. Meaning, at least nine Republicans would need to support that effort that is simply not there.

So, Jake, it is a major question whether they can get a deal, certainly, the biggest scare of a potential default since 2011. And that time the U.S. credit rating was downgraded as a Republican House battled a Democratic President.

There was no deal in sight. The credit rating got downgraded. Ultimately, they did reach a deal, they did reach a deal to cut spending as well, so a lot of those cuts were later reversed. And nevertheless, we are -- this is the first time we're seeing this scare happening in Washington since the past dozen years. How they resolve this is anyone's guess at this point, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, and there's a new social media app called Blue Sky, and on it, Senator Brian Schatz from Hawaii, Democrat, he just skeeted, quote, the only way to prevent default with a bipartisan majority and 60 in the Senate is a clean anti-default bill. I'm flabbergasted that some of the media treating the Speaker's bill which is deeply unpopular and is coupled with the threat of the collapse of the economy is anything other than extortion, unquote. That's Brian Schatz on -- skeeting on Blue Sky.

Phil, that seems to be the White House position. You have --nobody wants this, it's unpopular, Republicans, you can't extort us. Stop. I'm not going to even talk to you about it.

MATTINGLY: It's their view, and I think this is a view that's been animated and informed by many of these types of battles over the course of the last dozen years, and especially that one that Manu was referencing in 2011 is this is no way to run a government. This is no way to run a country where this type of catastrophic outcome is on the line as you roll up to a deadline year after year after year.

And while negotiations have always been kind of par for the course over the course of these last 12 or 13 years, the calculation was made by White House officials, by the President and by Democrats, and leadership in the House and the Senate that this was the moment to stop it. This was the moment to reverse course, if you want to have longer term, fiscal negotiations, there is a process for that.

There are vehicles for that, as well. This is not that, and that is why they have been so steadfast, so firm in their position of no negotiations. They view this as a hostage-taking leverage type of moment for whichever party holds only one chamber in Congress. They want to change that. The risk, of course, is if you can't get 218 votes on the House side, and that's what they're playing out right now.


Republicans know that this is how it's been done for the last 12 or 13 years, much to the administration, when a Democrat is in the White House and White House officials are saying it stops now. Something is going to have to give here because the results or the outcome of a default which never happened in U.S. history will be catastrophic for markets, for jobs, for interest rates, for any type of consumer debt product at rate that you might have.

It's -- you can't necessarily describe it because you've never seen it before. Everybody just knows it would be terrible, and now we realize that the calendar is shrinking at a rapid pace, and there's no clear pathway out of this, Jake.

TAPPER: And Manu, I have to say, it does seem as though the Republicans have been able to stay more unified on their argument, hypocritical though it may be, given that they never raised these objections from Republicans who are in the White House.

They've been able to stay more unified and there have been Democrats breaking, especially some travelling with Speaker McCarthy in Israel have said, you know, there should be negotiation, there should be conversation. Do Republicans feel like they have momentum because of that?

RAJU: Yeah, no question about it. And when we're referencing that last debt fight from 12 years ago that that point, then Speaker John Boehner had a difficult time keeping his conference united. They tried to put past a Republican-only bill with a whole hodgepodge of Republican priorities that failed in the Republican House, and that gave Democrats significant leverage in the run up to the final outcome in that deal to raise the debt ceiling.

This is different, Kevin McCarthy behind the scenes worked for the last several months to try and get his conference all in line behind a bill. They have a narrower majority now than they did a dozen years ago. They still managed to get it passed. They knew this was just an opening offer, an effort to try to strengthen their argument that there needs to be some conditions attached to a bill. So, the question will be whether any Republicans in the senate break after the House passed its bill. I can tell you, Jake, in talking to some of those Senate Republican deal maker types like Mitt Romney, for instance, I talked to him last week, he said this is not about Senate Republicans trying to cut a deal with Senate Democrats.

This is about the White House trying to work with Kevin McCarthy in getting a deal. He is aligning himself with House Republicans on this issue, and you're going to hear a lot of how Senate Republicans say the same. Just shows you that even the ones who could potentially cut a deal are at the moment sitting this out. We'll see what happens in the coming weeks there, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Phil, before you go, and I know you have a lot of reporting to do, both of you, when you say that the result might be catastrophic, what do you mean? What does that mean for mom and dad and baby Vera watching at home? What does that mean, catastrophic?

MATTINGLY: Yeah, it's widespread on both of macro and a micro level, at least based on economic analysis from private sector firms. Again, we've never seen this play out before but the immediate impact, I think most certainly would be a spike in interest rates, I think from a broader macro perspective, it would lead almost certainly to a recession.

That would mean significant job losses as well coming at the same time. But I think probably most importantly from a person to person family and household perspective, you would see your consumer products, anything that you have a dead end to some degree. The interest rate would certainly spike on that as well.

So, you're owing more money on credit cards, you're owing more money on wherever you're borrowing, and that would take a, that would have a significant impact. And then you add job losses to that. You add a tightening of credit to that as well.

And I think there's just a kind of snowballing macro effect here where I don't think you can necessarily quantify it because it's tough to kind of get your head around. And I think more broadly as well, if you pull it back a little bit, then you have kind of the geopolitical international aspect of this as the U.S. defaults on its debt for the first time.

How the other countries look at that, what does that mean, going forward geo-politically from an international economics perspective. I think the cascading effect is something that people don't even want to consider or broach. And I think that's why this becomes such a dangerous moment because as Manu stated, 2011 is kind of the marking point.

No one's ever gotten that close to that point again even though there's been battles related to this when Democratic presidents have been in office since then, this is the first one that feels as close to that and potentially worse given how far apart things are with such a limited time window.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly, Manu Raju with the breaking news, thank you so much.

Let's talk now with Republican Congressman Tony Gonzalez of Texas. Congressman, I have questions for you about immigration as well, which was the original reason we booked you but this obviously, is breaking.

I want to read you part of this warning from the Secretary of The Treasury Janet Yellen. She says, quote, after reviewing recent federal tax receipts, our best estimate is that we will be unable to continue to satisfy all of the government's obligations by early June and potentially as early as June 1st if Congress does not raise or suspend the debt limit before that time, unquote.

Now, look, let me just pause a couple of things, one, $32 trillion of debt is completely irresponsible, a pox on Democrats, Republicans, White Houses, Trump, Biden, Bush, Obama, everyone for getting us here. It's -- it's -- the interest on the debt alone could be spent on so much better things.

So, no question that the debt's a serious issue. On the other hand, a lot of Republicans didn't really make a big deal out of this at all during the four years of Trump, and now we have a real deadline.


Does this letter change any Republican calculus when it comes to making a deal with the White House or cutting some sort of clean debt ceiling bill agreement and then -- and then coming back to have some sort of negotiation?

TONY GONZALES (R-TX,) REPRESENTATIVE, U.S. CONGRESS: I think it should change. First off, Jake, thank you for having me on. I think it should change everybody's calculus. You know, politics wouldn't be so bad if you didn't have to deal with politicians.

It's always somebody else's fault. It's always the Senate Democrats or the White House or the White House is blaming the Republican- controlled House. It's time for governing Republicans and governing Democrats to sit in the room and act like adults and make sure that the United States doesn't default on our loans.

Is spending out of control? Yes, it is. Do we need to have that conversation? Yes, we do. Inflation is already here. It's here for a reason, so it takes real leadership to sit down, stop playing games, stop blaming somebody else, roll up your sleeves.

We've got 30 days to do it. This is what the country is looking for, direction, relationship going forward. Hopefully this letter sparks that.

TAPPER So, House Republicans passed the deal. You voted for it, knowing that the U.S. Senate controlled by the Democrats and the White House would not support that deal. So, why even pass something that has no chance of passing the Senate?

GONZALEZ: Yeah, it's a start. And look, I was on the fence, Jake. It was 215 to 215, and I hadn't voted yet. I was on the fence. What you're going to see is this, I suspect what will happen is, when the House does pass a debt ceiling bill, it is going to be in a bipartisan manner.

This initial offer, if you will, wasn't in a bipartisan manner. The reality is it's going to take both Republicans and Democrats coming together, maybe not getting everything they want but have a conversation, how do we curb some of the spending, how do we take care of our debts, and also how do we move this country forward?

It's time for real leaders to do that, and I look forward to getting that done in the next 30 days. The good thing is the House will be in session three out of the four weeks, and there will be opportunity to do that.

TAPPER: So, it's 215 to 215, and then you voted for it. Why did you decide to vote for it if you weren't 100 percent on it?

GONZALEZ: Yeah, because this was the initial -- the beginning, if you will, of any -- of any conversation. I think it goes a long way. And the other part is I didn't want any distractions off the border.

What is happening on the border right now is very real. Everyone's looking at May 11th as this day where, you know, where Title 42 is going to end. In my eyes, Title 42 might as well have already ended in places like El Paso are completely overwhelmed, I spent the day in Uvalde.

Uvalde is a hundred miles from the border. You know what happened there nearly a year ago. I sat down with the superintendent of the school, and he's telling me the school in Uvalde is going into lockdown one to three times a week because of this border crisis.

I sat down with a parent of one of the survivors in the classroom, and he's telling me that they're having to deal with issues, you know, these issues when they're trying to heal and recover. I tell you those stories to go the border crisis doesn't end on the border. It continues to spread and get worse.

TAPPER: I wanna ask you about the border but before I change subjects, I just wanna ask, if it came up, a vote on a clean debt bill to raise the debt ceiling, and remember everybody watching, those are for items -- we've already spent that money. That's like not new spending. That's spending we've already --that the Congress and the President have already authorized and agreed to.

If it came up clean debt ceiling with an agreement of some sort or an arrangement of some sort to have a negotiation, would you be willing to vote for that?

GONZALEZ: Possibly. I would need to have more conversations with the White House. I mean, if the White House won't -- if White House won't talk to Congress now, when will they talk to us? So, I think, now is the opportunity to go.

Let's sit down. Let's have discussions not only on this debt ceiling. Let's start building some trust about other important topics this country needs to deal with like school violence, like the border, you know, national security, what's happening in Ukraine. There needs to be more dialogue between Congress and the White House, enough with the finger-pointing, we get enough of that.

TAPPER: Let's talk about Title 42 which expires next week. Do border patrol agents who you advocate for quite a bit, do they have the resources they will need to respond when it expires?

GONZALEZ: Jake, they don't. They are completely overwhelmed, and the reality is they've been overwhelmed for a while now. They're essentially out of the game. What has happened is local law enforcement, Sheriff's and Deputy Sheriffs are filling that gap, and now, it's local P.D.

So, imagine you're the Police Department of Uvalde, and you're no longer just worried about just the city limits of Uvalde, you're responding to cases, you're responding to calls that are miles away from the city. What I'm getting at is border patrol agents are completely tapped out, they're doing everything they possibly can.

I've been advocating we need to give them a pay raise. We need to give them a 14 percent pay raise. We need to give them the resources we need. And this is the part the Biden administration is missing.


They're adding capacity, that's half of the equation. The other half of the equation is getting court cases heard in days, not years. The reality, Jake, is nine out of ten people do not qualify for asylum.

So, stop funneling down the asylum route. We need to have real conversation on immigration reform. We need to have real conversation on getting people to come over legally through work visas. This is an opportunity that the White House is missing. But I think there can be a role in Congress to fill that void.

TAPPER: Before you go, I want to ask you about the manhunt underway in Texas and at the border for a suspect who allegedly shot five of his neighbors, killed them, including a 9-year-old boy. Officials tell CNN that the suspect's current immigration status is unclear, but he'd entered the U.S. illegally and had been previously deported by immigration officials at least four times. As of now, the last we heard, authorities have no idea where he is. Have you heard anything more on the manhunt?

GONZALEZ: I haven't, and honestly, it's scary. It's what it feels like living in Texas. Anything can happen at any point, and honestly, I don't care of the individual's legal status or the people that were murdered, their legal status.

The reality is a murderer killed five innocent people for really seems like no reason at all. This is dangerous, and this is what happens when we don't know who's coming into the border. This is what happens when we don't enforce the laws that are already on the books.

TAPPER: Republican Congressman Tony Gonzalez of Texas, thank you so much. Always good to see you, Sir.

GONZALEZ: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, a U.S. marine veteran killed in Ukraine. He is fighting for Ukraine's foreign legion. What was he doing in Bakhmut? Then, an enormous dust storm shutting down a major interstate after a series of deadly car crashes. The latest on the death toll, and what is fueling the storm. Stay with us.




TAPPER: And we're back with our breaking news. The Secretary of the U.S Treasury, Janet Yellen, just said a few minutes ago that the U.S. could default on its debt for the first time ever in just a matter of weeks.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told CNN earlier today that President Biden has yet to talk to him about any sort of negotiation on the debt limit. Biden has made clear he will not negotiate. McCarthy weighed in on the showdown while visiting Israel.

CNN's Hadas Gold is in Jerusalem for us. Hadas, exactly, what did Speaker McCarthy tell you today?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, this was Speaker McCarthy's trip abroad but even thousands of miles away from Washington, D.C., the first questions pressed to him by the media were about this debt bill.

Now, I asked both in the press conference and after in a one-on-one about this, he said he's very concerned about the debt ceiling, and he said he's looking forward to the President, quote, changing his mind and negotiating with us.

Afterwards, I pressed him specifically on concerns raised by veterans. Of course, the V.A. has projected this bill would reduce its budget by 22 percent. Take a look at what he told me.


GOLD: Do you have any regrets about how the bill was written, considering we're hearing criticism from the V.A., and those that might threaten veterans' healthcare?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES SPEAKER: Can you tell me where in the book cuts the V.A? It doesn't. So, this is the damage that when people do not tell the truth about the book. It actually goes to the funding where we were four months ago.

If you look at back to the Obama, Biden budget that they passed for the next ten years, this actually spends more than what they proposed at this time. And the work of Congress gets to decide where spending is just like every family household. I'm very sad that the Democrats would think about cutting the veterans because we would not.


GOLD (on-camera): Now, as you can see, McCarthy getting quite passionate in that answer on veterans. Now, the GOP has said it would protect veterans' benefits, but as far as I know in that legislation there was no specifics on how they plan to do so, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Hadas Gold in Jerusalem for us, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina who's a member of the Veterans Affairs and the Oversight Committees.

Congresswoman, thanks so much. You were a holdout until the very end of these negotiations on the Republican bill, the debt limit plan. But you knew that it would never get Democratic support and certainly never pass the Senate. What are your feelings about that vote now that the U.S., we're told, could default in a month and Congress appears no closer to a deal?

REP. NANCY MACE (R), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Well, I want the American people to know, number one, if the idea that Republicans do not want to protect veterans or readiness at the DOD and the Pentagon or defense forces here and abroad is a preposterous idea, and the President ought to come to the table.

We have precedent in the past where we've had a Democrat President and a Congress that wants to control spending, out of control spending, and they worked together. And we should do this right now for the American people.

The American people don't want us to be divided especially on economic issues. And when it comes to default, it is a slight scare tactic because in terms of tax revenues today, we get 11 times in terms of the tax revenue as the interest on the debt. So, we're not going to default, and through the appropriations process, we can prioritize spending as needed.

But the President and the Senate ought to come to the table and work together with Republicans and make some decisions about how we move forward and take on spending and the debt. We've got to do it. Thirty- one trillion dollars and counting is too tenuous for the American people to absorb any longer.

TAPPER: Yeah, I know, that's absolutely too much debt. It's also true that Republicans only do this when there's a Democrat in the White House. There were three debt ceiling votes during the Trump years, and Kevin McCarthy had no problem raising it then.

MACE: And I have no problem calling out the former president who put $8 trillion of debt, you know, while he was president. This current president, President Biden has added $4 trillion. That's $12 trillion just over the last six years, Jake, by Republicans and Democrats alike, and quite frankly I'm tired of it. I want them to be adults, man up and get to the table and say we're going to figure this thing out. If it takes 20 years to balance a budget and rein in spending, then so

be it. But under Republican majorities in the past who have had balance in the Obama administration, worked with Republicans, so did President Clinton who was the last president to balance the budget and that was in 1998. And we've got to find a way to work together. Now is the time to do it.


TAPPER: So, your colleague Republican Tony Gonzalez of Texas, just told me that he would consider -- consider passing a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling if there was some sort of agreement with the White House on future negotiations, I mean, we're now like in actual crunch time, real world consequences, you know, the U.S. has never defaulted on its debts.

Could this actually happen, if so, it would be catastrophic. Would you consider that if it came up, if we're getting close to this?

MACE: If there was a gentleman's agreement or a handshake that said, hey, we're going to find a way, we're going to agree to balance the budget in 15 years, 10 years, 20 years, some time frame, then I think that's absolutely doable. And again, I want to reiterate, there is precedent for us as a nation when we have a Democrat President and a Republican-controlled House of working together, 1994 we had a 10-year plan to balance the budget.

President Clinton did it in four years. So, we can do this, but we have to make some tough decisions. And I don't think it's too much to ask to say, let's go to pre-Covid spending levels to try to rein in some of the debt that we have, and quite frankly, the plan that was put forward isn't going to reduce the debt, which is why this conversation is so important.

And look at the midterms, Jake, the American people don't want us to be divided. They want us to come together, work together and make some of these tough decisions together and that's what I'm asking the President and Senator Schumer to do today, come to the table, we're willing to work with you if you're willing to work with us. And that's all what I'm talking about here.

TAPPER: So, yeah, I know, I don't disagree with what you said. CNN has just confirmed that President Biden has called all four Congressional leaders, McConnell, Schumer in the Senate, and then obviously Hakeem Jeffries and Speaker McCarthy in the House to try to schedule a meeting on the debt.

MACE: Excellent.

TAPPER: What would you say to your colleagues and to Speaker McCarthy about this?

MACE: Well, to come together, work out a plan that reins in spending that's been caused by both parties, both parties as you sit down and fix it. I have a plan to balance the budget in five years. But I get it, it's probably too aggressive for most people in Congress. Heck, I would take 20 years at this point, pass a clean debt ceiling, have a plan to balance the budget.

And I think all of us can sigh a bit of relief and quite frankly, Republicans and Democrats should be demanding this from Republican and Democrat leaders right now. I'm encouraged to hear that. That news is breaking right now because that's a new position for the President and that's encouraging to hear this afternoon.

TAPPER: So, McCarthy and you earlier denying attacks from Democrats that the Republican bill would cut benefits for veterans, this after President Biden tweeted, quote, 217 Republicans voted to undermine veterans' health care, which includes a photo of you near the top. Now, just to --

MACE: (inaudible) Jake.

TAPPER: No, no, no, listen, I'm not done. I'm not done. It is true that benefits for veterans could theoretically be cut, but it is also true that in the legislation there are no specific proposed cuts, not just for veterans but for anything. There's no specifics.

MACE: -- (inaudible) applies to veterans. What it does is put spending levels to pre-Covid levels. Now, the spending priorities, how we spend the money would be determined traditionally through the appropriations process in the House, that's where it would originate, that's where it would start, but nobody, and I can tell you Democrats, too, and Republicans, nobody wants to cut veterans' benefits. Nobody wants to hurt social security, and we shouldn't politicize this debate.

I mean, these folks need to grow up and negotiate, get to the table and talk and discuss how we're going to do this because both sides are at fault. Both sides need to take responsibility, and both sides need to move the country forward in a responsible and reasonable way. That's what the American people want, that's what we need to deliver.

TAPPER: Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina, always good to see you. Thank you so much for being here.

MACE: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Another U.S. veteran killed in Ukraine fighting alongside Ukrainian troops, the latest on that grinding, grueling battle for Bakhmut. That's next.


TAPPER: And we're back with our World Lead. Today, the U.S. State Department confirmed that a U.S. Marine veteran was killed on the outskirts of Bakhmut, Ukraine. Twenty-six-year-old Cooper "Harris" Andrews was likely killed by a mortar on April 19th while helping citizens evacuate the embattled city, according to his mother. She says his body still has not been recovered because of the fierce, ongoing fighting there. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports for us now from southeastern Ukraine as the world awaits a major new phase in the war and in the battle in Bakhmut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): It was hard to get much uglier. But each dawn still the battle for Bakhmut grinds on. Ukraine Monday said it had pushed Russian forces back who had abandoned positions. Months of agonizing fighting for about a football field every day, say analysts, leaving little standing and Russian injured. The soldiers here said abandoned.

There was a guy laying there in the reeds, he says, yelling, guys, come and help me for three days only 100 yards from the Russians. Also emerging too, on this, the Road of Life, the last way in and out of the city, news of the death of Cooper "Harris" Andrews, aged 26, a former U.S. Marine and firefighter from Cleveland, Ohio, who felt compelled to join Ukraine's fight.

WILLOW ANDREWS, MOTHER OF COOPER "HARRIS" ANDREWS: Cooper wanted to correct things. We had a lot of conversations about fashion. I said, Cooper so that means you're just going over there to drive an ambulance? And he said, no. You just don't believe in stuff. You like do something about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harris, let's make a picture for our history.

WALSH (voice-over): Here he is near the front line in January as part of the foreign legion. Described as ideological to the core, anti- authoritarian, his body has yet to be recovered from Bakhmut as the fighting is too intense. His mother recalled the last time they spoke.

ANDREWS: I asked Cooper because I'm like, Cooper's mom, like, is there anything I can try and get to you or send you? And Cooper said, yes. Can you send me hot sauce and chopsticks? So I have like 1,000 chopsticks in my house because I was trying to get chopsticks for everyone. I figured, Cooper needs chopstick and I have all these little packets of hot sauce that I was going to send to Cooper.

WALSH (voice-over): Over the past weeks, graphic battle footage has emerged showing what it's like when Russians get into a Ukrainian trench network. Here, a soldier races into cover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking of Foreign Language)

WALSH (voice-over): But soon a shell hits. They are all miraculously OK. But the attack has started. Watch and you see a Russian approach and throw a grenade. He misses and they go on to shoot down Russians advancing meters from them. Shells continue to land. The attack persists for over 10 minutes, but the brutal fight for Bakhmut goes on and on.


WALSH: So, what is happening around Bakhmut? A matter of weeks ago, the Russians seem to be signaling that they were in the Ascendant. And then we had the Russian head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, over the weekend, suggest they're running out of artillery shells and might have to pull back. Now Ukraine says they're on the front foot and Russians are abandoning their positions. The city is becoming a kind of signaling game for both sides to project strength and then possibly drag each other's forces in. It is something of a sideshow despite the extraordinary loss of life. One indication from John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesperson, is they might. Russia have lost 100,000 troops since December, mostly fighting for Bakhmut, that's casualties, dead and wounded. They realize, though, right now on the larger counter offensive, most likely not around Bakhmut, but in the south of Ukraine. Jake?

TAPPER: Jake, all right, Nick. Paton Walsh, live for us in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Thank you. Stay safe.

Joining us now to take a step back on the war in Ukraine, take a 30,000 foot view, The Atlantic Magazine's Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg. He and staff writer Anne Applebaum wrote, the June edition's cover story entitled the case for the total liberation of Ukraine. And you can read that online today. Jeffrey, thanks for being here. I appreciate it. You write that a victory for Ukraine can be easily defined. It would mean sovereignty, safety, justice but getting there, not so easy to define. You spoke with Zelenskyy at length twice. Where does his optimism about a victory, about a path to this proposal, where does it come from?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE ATLANTIC: His optimism comes in part from the serial underestimation of the entire world about Ukraine's capabilities. I mean, you know, we talk about Bakhmut. Russia bogged down in this tiny town, relatively small town, for months and months and months.

If you recall, think back 14, 15 months ago, we thought Ukraine was going to be wiped out, wiped off the map in a matter of days. And, you know, we were in Kyiv, I was in Kyiv last year, I was there this year, the change is remarkable. Even though it's under periodic rocket attack, you know, there is no existential threat to most of the country anymore. And what I mean by all of that is that we have underestimated their resolve, their capabilities, their desire to win. Russia has no morale whatsoever.

Ukrainians are all morale. Our argument, of course, is that Ukraine, the fighters of Ukraine, can do this without foreign troops, without U.S. troops, NATO troops. But what they can't do without is the support is the American material, the weapon systems, the most advanced weapon systems. This is the year to do it. Obviously the U.S. has provided a tremendous amount of material to the Ukrainian.

TAPPER: Yes, more than anyone by far.

GOLDBERG: By far, by far. But what the argument now is if they have just more help, a little bit more concentration of help, they'll actually be able to change the lines on the battlefield.


TAPPER: You also write about the looming counter offensive. You write, quote, Ukrainians are waiting for the counter offensive. Europeans east and west are waiting for the counter offensive. Central Asians are waiting for the counter offensive. Belarusians, Venezuelans, Iranians, and others around the world whose dictatorships are propped up by the Russians, they are all waiting for the counter offensive, too. This spring, this summer, this autumn, Ukraine gets a chance to alter geopolitics for a generation, and so does the United States. Do you think President Biden agrees with that?

GOLDBERG: I think President Biden feels that very much. I think he has a pretty acute understanding of the centrality of the U.S. role here. The U.S. is the leader, to use a somewhat archaic term, but no longer archaic. U.S. is the leader of the free world, right? Ukraine can keep itself from losing however we define losing, right? That's what they proved to us in those opening days of the war when they didn't get steamrolled, right?

Ukraine cannot win without the United States behind it 100 percent. The danger here, I mean, obviously, there's a range of views inside the Biden administration. I think everyone's heart, certainly the President's heart, is with the people of Ukraine and the President of Ukraine. I think there are differing views about whether the Ukrainians can actually push Russia out of all of its territory -- all the territory that it's holding.

TAPPER: Right, Crimea.

GOLDBERG: Crimea the hardest one, obviously. And there's obviously an interesting debate over whether they can achieve that. The main fear, of course, is that the U.S. is trying, and Biden has done a very good job of doing this, calibrating to -- calibrating this, so that they don't provoke Russia into doing something insane. The worry, of course, is that the Russians will use a nuclear weapon in some form or fashion.

TAPPER: Yes. President Biden, when I interviewed him last fall, was seemed to suggest that Putin was halfway there in terms of the stability.


TAPPER: But I want to -- the interesting part of your story, you met with Ukrainians who were working in these privately financed drone workshops, and you saw how drones that were used for wedding photography before the war had been transformed into lethal weapons that could even destroy a tank. Is the ingenuity of the Ukrainian people one of its most secret weapons?

GOLDBERG: This is why they don't need troops from the United States. They don't need that much advice from the United States. They need material help. These drone factories are amazing. The Defense Minister of Ukraine told us something that was fascinating. He said, the war started, people thought that this was going to be a war between a large Soviet army and a small Soviet army. But what they didn't understand was that Ukraine had changed over the last 20 or 30 years and was now a Western army, an innovative or flattened hierarchy. The Russians are still fighting like Soviets. The Ukrainians are fighting like American Special Forces. The drone workshops are just the case in point. The Russians in Bakhmut and elsewhere are just trying to go home alive, right? They don't care. The morale is extremely low. The Ukrainians are fighting for their cities they're building, I mean, they're using literally wedding drones. They're using model airplanes as drones. And they're doing this in hundreds of different locations on their own initiative. It's totally fascinating to watch.

TAPPER: The story is the case for the Total Liberation of Ukraine, written by Jeffrey and Anne Applebaum on right now. Thanks so much for being here.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

TAPPER: Amazing reporting.


Mangled wreckage, the massive dust storm that has closed a major interstate and killed at least six people, what caused this? That's next.


TAPPER: In our National Lead, at least six people are dead and at least 30 others injured after a horrific dust storm led to pile ups on roads in central Illinois. Let's bring in CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers. Chad, how long could this storm last?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I would say at 8:00 tonight, the winds will get down below 25 miles per hour. So that will be done. This is a very localized event on a very large scale wind event that happened today. Overnight, winds are down to about five to ten, but tomorrow the winds actually come back. Everywhere that you saw orange, that's a wind gust over 40 to 45 miles per hour.

It's part of this storm that's circulating here around the Great Lakes. And on the west side is the wind. Ironically, though, in this dust storm area, it did rain on Saturday. So what caused it? Yes, we know there's wind. What caused it, Jake, the farm fields. The farmers tilling the land as they do this time of year. Here's Chicago, here's I-55, here's Springfield, all the way south of Springfield here. What's to the west of this highway? Farmland. Farmland where the till, you turn over the old silage from last year, you're putting it in the ground. Even though there was of rain over the weekend, not enough to counteract all of the people out here with their discs, turning the land over, the dust flying in the air in this very localized event. Man made for sure. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Chad Myers, thanks so much.


Coming up, the latest round in the battle between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the happiest place on earth.


TAPPER: In our Politics Lead, the Ron DeSantis appointed board overseeing the area surrounding Disney World will sue the entertainment giant in response to Disney filing suit against Florida last week. Disney accuses DeSantis and the board of weaponizing government power against the company after Disney publicly opposed a DeSantis backed state law restricting lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools K through three. This growing feud between DeSantis and his state's largest employer and his most famous employer comes as Governor DeSantis is expected to launch a presidential bid perhaps as soon as this month.

The breaking news this hour, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warning the U.S. may default on its debt by June 1st. That's just over four weeks away. Wolf Blitzer is going to have a lot more on this incredibly important story in The Situation Room. And Wolf, you're going to have a notable guest weighing in.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: That's right, Jake. As Secretary Yellen is warning that the debt limit is a ticking time bomb. We're going to speak with one of her predecessors, the former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. We'll get his take on Yellen's June 1st timeline for reaching the debt limit and the potential, God forbid, for an unprecedented default. There's a lot to discuss, as the President has now invited congressional leaders, the top leadership, to meet with him next week over at the White House with the threat of an economic catastrophe clearly hanging over their heads. It's all coming up right here in The Situation Room, and that, of course, begins right at the top of the hour. Jake?

TAPPER: It's five minutes away, Wolf. We'll look for that soon. Thanks so much.


Still ahead on THE LEAD, the giant seaweed blob washing up in Florida. Which beaches are already being buried? And where's the blob heading next?


TAPPER: Lastly in our National Lead, massive amounts of clumpy smelly Sargassum Seaweed are starting to pile up along Florida's east coast beaches. There's already so much of it, tractors have to scoop it out. And some scientists say this is just the tip of the iceberg. While it is natural for Sargassum Seaweed to drift in from the Atlantic Ocean, it's the amount that is catching the attention of scientists who tracking the seaweed believe it could be the largest amount on record, spanning more than 5,000 miles from the coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at JakeTapper. If you have Bluesky, you can find me there. Of course you can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD once you get your podcasts all two hours sitting there like a, well, I was going to say Sargassum Seaweed, but I want you to enjoy it, so never mind.


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