Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Any Moment: Biden, Zelenskyy To Hold Joint News Conference; U.S.: Russia Lost 87 Percent Of Troops It Had Prior To Start Of War; Zelenskyy In Washington To Plead For More Aid From Congress; GOP Blocks Ukraine Aid With U.S. Border Policy Demands; New Hampshire Governor Sununu Expected To Endorse Nikki Haley Tonight; GOP Blocks Ukraine Aid With U.S. Border Policy Demands. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 12, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Ukraine wants more U.S. aid to fight Russia. Republicans say the U.S. has its own problems. How's this going to play out?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Will the president of Ukraine get his wish? Meeting on Capitol Hill and now at the White House, making the case that his country is fighting a losing battle with Russia and any delay from Congress is a dream come true for Vladimir Putin.

Plus, major rift. President Biden privately telling supporters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to change his strategy and his plans for Gaza, and that Netanyahu, himself, needs to change. Will Biden's private comments no impact the relationship with Israel?

And THE LEAD live from Des Moines, Iowa, ahead of a major event in the 2024 race. A CNN town hall tonight with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. But did the Florida Republican just miss out on a big endorsement?


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

We are live from Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. In just a few hours, I'm going to be moderating a town hall with Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as he fields questions from voters less than five weeks before the all-important Iowa caucuses. The stakes are incredibly high for DeSantis, as he seeks to distance himself from front runner, former President Donald Trump, while picking up his voters.

He's also fending off a challenge from close competitor, Nikki Haley, who is about to score a major endorsement in New Hampshire, the first in the nation primary state. Iowans have lots of questions for the governor about domestic and foreign policy, the economy, Social Security, as to bloody and consequential wars rage in the United States finds itself as a critical inflection point.

Right now, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is at the White House on an 11th hour invite from President Biden, as U.S. support for the embattled nation hangs in the balance. And Republicans tie the destiny of $60 billion of new aid to Ukraine, to U.S. border policy. They insist on more radical border policy change beyond the nearly $14 billion in additional funding in border security, already included in the White House's proposed package.

We're going to walk you through just what the Republicans want in a moment, but first, today's visit to Washington, much more sobering than Zelenskyy's first trip there nearly a year ago. a heroes welcome at the U.S. Capitol last December. Today, Zelenskyy was pleading with skeptical lawmakers, as he grapples with the new stage of war, where it's widely accepted that Ukraine's spring counteroffensive has not succeeded, even failed.

A top Ukrainian official telling CNN that the world doesn't understand Ukraine is, quote, already losing, without the U.S. aid, unable to launch offensive operations with just enough ammunition to defend its current positions against Russian aggressors.

As morale on Ukraine's ranks tumbles, and Russia revels in what it sees as desperation, president of the Zelenskyy will have to answer the hard question, what is Ukraine's plan?

Moments from now, Presidents Biden and Zelenskyy will host a joint news conference. We'll bring that to you live as it happens.

But first, we are covering all of this from the White House to Ukraine, Russia, and back to Capitol Hill.

Let us start right now with CNN's MJ Lee, who's live at the White House for us.

MJ, this is Zelenskyy's third visit to Washington since the war in Ukraine broke out. Both Biden and Zelenskyy agree on the need for additional aid. What are they hoping to achieve from this meeting and from this visit?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I think by now, it is abundantly clear to both President Biden and President Zelenskyy that this Ukraine funding that both leaders want is not going to get done before the calendar year. Even after President Zelenskyy made the trip to Capitol Hill to make that personal appeal to lawmakers, lawmakers afterwards, making clear that they're going to leave town for the holidays before the supplemental package gets taken up.

But look, I think White House and U.S. officials would argue that this trip by President Zelenskyy to Washington, D.C., is not just narrowly about the issue of U.S. funding for Ukraine, but it -- it is also about broadly sending a message to the world that is watching, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, with U.S. officials arguing that this sends an important message to Russia at this moment in the war, that the U.S. and the international coalition that has backed Ukraine continues to back the country's -- the country's mission of fighting back Russia.


And they're also saying that this is important for sending a message to the would-be aggressors that are taking cues from a visit like this, as well. Of course, not helping President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people in terms of getting additional funding is a public opinion that has shifted here in the U.S., even over the last year or so, and really, just bringing into stark contrast what a different Washington, D.C. President Zelenskyy is visiting now, compared to a year ago, the last time that he met with President Biden here at the White House, Jake.

LEE: That's right. MJ Lee at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Russia has lost a staggering 87 percent, 87 percent, of the total number of its active duty troops it had prior to invading Ukraine. That is according to newly declassified U.S. intelligence. Still, despite these heavy losses, Putin seems determined to continue to push forward.

And CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Jim Sciutto is at the magic wall for us.

So, Nick, let me start with you.

What are you hearing from Ukrainian forces, soldiers and commanders?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, a palpable sense of concern, anger, even, that is distant debate on the other side of the planet about whether or not border problems can be solved at the same time as Ukraine's war here being funded, actually, potentially could impact their decision to survive on the battlefield in the weeks or months ahead.

Remember, Ukraine's defense of its territory here is taking back parts of it from Russian invading forces, awfully dependent on Western assistance, Western munitions, Western money. That is impacting morale here already, even if funding does magically, somehow, come forwards, there are still feelings amongst Ukrainian troops that that Western unity is beginning to crumble, certainly.

And other signs of issues here to, the defense minister today joking that the chief of staff of the military seemed publicly to be at odds with Zelenskyy over the past weeks or so, because that counteroffensive really hasn't gone the way that many had hoped in the West, that, indeed, the chief of the army had, and in fact, been fired yet. That kind of joke gets made publicly, suggests there are palpable tensions because, essentially, of the failure of that counteroffensive.

What comes next? Well, Zelenskyy himself in Washington, pointing out the possibility about they have to do more long-range attacks on Russian positions in Crimea, but really, what is the broader plan to strike a victory against Russia that means Ukraine can feel it's happy with the situation? It might resort to diplomacy over.

We are seeing near Kherson, the city we were in 48 hours ago, that tense attacks against civilian populations there, but on the other side of the river that its sat on, Ukraine making a bit of a long shot advance towards Russian positions, detach from their own supply lines on the other side of the river. Unclear where that is going to go.

Further away to the east, Russia, on its front foot, moving around the city called Avdiivka, another sign of the amount of resources of lives there willing to necessarily waste to take a town of minimal strategic importance. But Putin, very high tolerance for casualties here, great patience and really waiting for this moment of Western frailty to finally emerge.

Here it is and he must be looking forward, frankly, to this bleak winter ahead -- Jake.

TAPPER: Indeed.

Jim, Republicans in Congress, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, say they are not convinced that Ukraine has a winning strategy going forward. Tell us why you think it has stalled, this counteroffensive.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, this is what U.S. military officials tell me. Ukrainian forces ran into three really difficult lines of defense that Russia had months to dig in and clan tens of thousands of land mines, dig in to repel, as best they could, the oncoming Ukrainian advance.

I'm told a couple other issues that have emerged is that, one, a lot of these weapon systems, new weapon systems, came to Ukraine and they were only able to train on them for a few weeks -- new German tanks, new U.S. tanks, other weapons systems. In addition to that, I'm told there is been some looking back now with 2020 vision, saying that the U.S. and its partners tried to turn Ukrainian forces into something close to a U.S. military force capable of combined arms, that's ground operations, air operations, again, with just a few weeks or few months training.

And even with years of training, this is difficult to break through and, of course, Ukrainians have a tremendous disadvantage, in terms of air power. They just don't have it yet. The F-16s you talk about, they're not going to come soon enough or in significant enough numbers to change that.

I will say this though, Jake -- where Ukrainians have had success is down here in the black sea. They have forced back the Russian Black Sea fleet by dozens of miles due to attacks from cruise missiles including storm shuttle missile, as well as sea drones, which has opened up sea lanes here, which is crucial to the Ukrainian economy.


So, it's not all defeat on the battlefield for Ukraine, but it is a really difficult time. I reported ten days ago, Jake, that Russia was going to be an increasing targeting of civilian targets over these winter months and we've seen that in the last several days.

All these missiles coming in on Ukrainian cities are tying to this moment. Russia senses weakness and they want to increase the suffering among the civilian population.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto in Washington, D.C., CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Now to CNN's Manu Raju who's on Capitol Hill.

Manu, House Speaker Mike Johnson says that his condition of tying any future aid to Ukraine to this conservative border security proposal that passed the House, HR2, it seems to have remained unchanged after meeting with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy earlier today.

What exactly is in the Republicans' border security bill?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as a combination of measures, Jake, including new physical barriers that they want erected on the southern border, as a condition to changes to asylum policies. Making it harder for migrants who are fleeing the countries to apply for asylum and receive asylum. Changing, also, parole policies, how the president can grant parole to broad groups of people, trying to pare that authority back, as well as other measures such as ensuring that migrants have to stay in Mexico while the immigration proceedings are taking place in the United States. And some other things that Democrats have pushed back against, including detention centers for migrants who are crossing the border illegally.

Now, I talked to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer about some of these ideas and why they are not willing to accept some level of these proposals in order to get a deal to unlock Ukraine aid. He indicated they are willing to meet in the middle, but he said that Republican policies go too far.


RAJU: Given what's happening at the border, do you not -- why not agree to more restrictive asylum policies, dealing with president's parole authority, in order to unlock aid to Ukraine?

SCHUMER: The bottom line is very simple. We are willing to meet in the middle. We have moved far more away from the president's original bill than they have moved off HR2, and we want to come to a deal to meet people in the middle.

Everyone knows that HR2 can't pass. It's a total, total abnegation of everything. It's Trump's policies. The American people don't like Trump's policies.


RAJU: But getting a deal has been an incredibly difficult task over an issue that has divided the two parties for years and years. Right now, Jake, there is a meeting in the Senate with top officials from the administration, including the homeland security secretary, Ale Mayorkas, along with top senators from both parties trying to see if there's any sort of agreement that can be reached in principle.

But, Jake, even if there is, getting it through both chambers and getting it all done wrapped up through the House and the Senate by Christmas time seems highly unlikely, as the House is prepared to recess this week, the Senate, potentially, as well, kicking it into next year -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN chief correspondent and anchor of "THE SOURCE", Kaitlan Collins now, to talk about this and much more.

Kaitlan, President Biden, moments away from taking questions from reporters alongside President Zelenskyy. What tough questions is the White House preparing for, do you think?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think one thing that lawmakers have been asking, they say that they've not gotten clear answers to behind closed doors is really what the and goal here is going to look like. What the end of this is going to be. But also, obviously, what this means for immigration.

You cannot basically talk to any Republican on Capitol Hill these days about what's happening in Ukraine without them bringing up the U.S. southern border. It is something that they feel that this is their moment where they are trying to have the leverage.

And so, you saw Senator Schumer they're complaining that the Democrats feels have given some concessions have moved more to the middle as President Biden himself said, willing to make significant concessions, but not actually seeing something that Republicans are ready to accept yet. And they feel that this is their only moment to get Democrats to come and potentially vote for a bill that has those restrictions that they want, something that would clamp down on the immigration numbers in exchange for this aid.

But really, Jake, what this is is a high stakes sales pitch for President Zelenskyy and President Biden, but so far, after President Zelenskyy's visit to where Manu is just standing on Capitol Hill, it has not swayed a lot of opinions. Basically, all of the Republicans who we kind of knew what their positions were going into that closed- door meeting this morning, with President Zelenskyy, had the same opinion coming out of it. Some of them even left the meeting early.

And you can see, Jake, just how much he is trying to make this appeal. I mean, he did it in English earlier, he invoked Ronald Reagan. He is certainly trying to get these senators to come around to this, the Republican senators.


So far, he's not gotten there yet and obviously, Jake, there is even more opposition in the Republican-led House. TAPPER: And then that's just Ukraine on Biden's list. He's also

dealing with Israel and he told supporters today privately that he thinks global support for Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza is slipping and that Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to -- needs to change his government in some ways, because it's difficult to arrive at any sort of two-state solution with the current government.

He also disagreed with him, on Netanyahu's plans for Gaza after Hamas has been destroyed, to Bibi's satisfaction, I suppose.

COLLINS: Yeah, I'm curious to see if he gets asked about this, Jake. Because this is most public break that we have seen yet between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu since October 7th. Because the thinking at the White House is kind of been that if President Biden is very strong with Prime Minister Netanyahu in public, that he can use that as more leverage behind the scenes to get him to do or to at least, you know, listen and be receptive to U.S. pressure.

Right now, what we are seeing or those quotes that you just cited there from President Biden warning about what could happen for Israel if they continue going down the path that they have gone down, what's going to happen with a global public opinion. You're also seeing Netanyahu break with Biden and say, their plans, what they want to happen in Gaza, on day one, after this war ends, it just simply is not going to happen. He is saying that the Palestinian Authority is not going to be in charge of Gaza, which is something that you've heard President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, Vice President Harris, and others float this idea.

But so far, you know, President Biden has really left more direct criticism to come from those other top officials of his. Not he, himself, voicing it like he is now. So, it will be fascinating to see, you know, what he says publicly here in front of the cameras, as he's been, you know, quietly building up more and more criticism of what Israel is doing.

TAPPER: Back to the Ukraine aid. How much is former President Trump's grip on the Republican Party and his influence on the Republican Party playing into so many of these Republicans blocking the aid?

I don't know how many of them are doing it because they actually want this border policy to be part of it. How many of them are doing it with border policy just as an excuse? They just don't support aid for Ukraine.

COLLINS: I mean, Jake, how many times have we seen Republicans in control on Capitol Hill and they've not gotten any kind of significant immigration bill passed? I mean, immigration has always been a priority for them. I'm not saying that it's disingenuous, that they don't care about the border.

We have seen, it is true, the numbers at the border, the crossings are skyrocketing in recent weeks. We have seen that playing out. I don't think anyone in Washington would deny that the southern border is a problem and that it needs to be fixed, but you are seeing them tie it directly to this in a way that we have not seen and they were already fading on their public support for Ukraine. When you see Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene saying that she doesn't even believe Ukraine aid should be tied to the border, that that shouldn't even be brought to the floor for them to vote on.

And Senator Lindsey Graham told President Zelenskyy that today that he should thank speaker Johnson for even bring it to the floor, given just how high the opposition is for within the Republican Party. Certainly, in the house, a lot of that obviously does stem from former President Trump. But also, they are watching public opinion slip away, and they are taking advantage of that, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

You see on the right side of your screen the podiums and the microphones ready to go. We should see President Biden soon at the White House, alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Their joint news conference should begin any moment now. We're going to bring that to you live.

And this programming note, we are in Iowa right now, ahead of a special CNN Republican presidential town hall, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. We are just a few hours away from that. It's live tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. DeSantis will take questions from Republican caucus-goers.

We are going to squeeze in a quick break. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: In Russia, a Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, says they are watching the Biden/Zelenskyy meeting, quote, very closely.

CNN's Matthew Chance is in Russia's capital.

Matthew, Russian leader Putin, Vladimir Putin, must be feeling pretty good watching the U.S. debate over whether to send Ukraine more military aid, and hearing all the skepticism from Republicans.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, I think it probably is very satisfying for the Russian leader to sort of sense the Western resolve and the U.S. resolve maybe, you know, maybe shaky, a little bit. But I think there's also awareness that this could still go either way. This is being held up predominantly, although not exclusively, by a U.S. domestic issues, the situation on the southern border.

And there is still, you know, despite misgivings among some Republicans, a lot of support for Ukraine. I think there's a lot of awareness of that inside Russia. You look at Russian state television and their ridiculing this visit. They love to ridicule Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian president, sort of like painting him as a sort of puppet, his strings are being pulled by Washington. And talking about how he's going hat in hand, essentially, begging for money again from Washington as the only way he can survive.

But, you know, again, the Kremlin says it's watching this very closely and it would not be saying that if it didn't attach significance to the outcome of this meeting, because it knows all these meetings, or this decision, because it knows very well that the billions of dollars that Ukraine has already received in military aid have had a devastating impact on the battlefield when it comes to Russian troops. We heard that estimate from that intelligence report that has come to us, the 87 percent of Russia's armed forces and essentially been destroyed as a result of this conflict.

And of course, if there are billions more, in terms of military aid given to Ukraine -- well, that's going to have more of an impact as well.


And that's something that's going to cause a political price in the future for Putin.

TAPPER: All right. Matthew Chance in Russia for us, thank you so much.

I want to bring in right now two CNN contributors, former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty, and New York "New Yorker", rather, staff writer, Evan Osnos. Evan has written a great biography of President Biden.

Evan, what do you think hurts President Biden more in 2024? Would it be failing to deliver on Ukraine aid or would it be conceding to Republicans on their desired border policy?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, in some ways, you know, these are issues where it's his responsibility to lay out the stakes. I think that's what you're likely to hear from him. We know, from polls, that Americans are more inclined to spend money on our own southern border than perhaps on foreign wars. Americans are exhausted by it. That was one of the issues that Joe Biden ran on, in fact, in 2020.

And yet, at the same time, he has made a case, and for much of the last two years, Americans have believed, pretty emphatically, that it was important to try to stop Vladimir Putin from going across Europe.

I think one of the things you should look for is for him to essentially lay out that this was Putin's bet. Putin's bet was that eventually, Americans would be divided and would no longer support this war, and for that reason, it is a false choice to say it is one or the other. You can do both and the White House has already said, we're willing to compromise on border. But we have to be able to do two things at once.

TAPPER: Yeah. I mean, he's -- Putin is willing to go away and keep pushing and pushing, but, Jill, I mean, he's lost 87 percent of his fighting force. I mean, Biden has been way tougher on Putin than Donald Trump was.

Still, this Republican-led holdup of U.S. aid to Ukraine must -- must feel like Christmas came early for Putin.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that is his idea. His idea, and in fact, we are hearing it today from that intelligence report that was released, is to erode support. And he has done it in two different ways. He's done it with Europe in the United States, trying to divide them, and now, almost without his tribe, just sitting there. He has U.S. Congress divided about this between the White House and the Congress.

So, of course, he's going to be happy and I think that it's really important to realize that the significance, the implications of having Vladimir Putin even be perceived as winning this are really grave. This is -- it's not a border issue in that sense, a domestic issue. This is an international issue in which the United States will be perceived as a country that cannot keep its commitments. Putin will draw conclusions from this about the United States being weak, about NATO being weak, and when Putin thinks that people are weak, he pushes farther forward.

And so, he will be, in my opinion, he will be much more aggressive and he will try to take chances in other countries in Europe.

TAPPER: Evan, "The Atlantic's" David Frum has a theory on the border funding provisions.

He wrote this article today titled, "Why the GOP does not really want a deal on Ukraine and the border", saying, quote, suppose Republicans did extract the big border concession in 2023; suppose they got everything that they wanted. Then suppose their policy worked and the flow of asylum seekers really did taper off dramatically in 2024. Would not the result of that success be only to strengthen Biden's reelection chances and hurt Donald Trump's? Maybe the reason Democrats are having so much difficulty getting to yes with Republicans is that many Republicans are committed to, no, regardless of what the offer is?

I'm not saying I subscribe to that theory, Evan, but how do you think the White House can get out of this one, assuming Republicans really are not willing to compromise on this border provision debate at all?

OSNOS: I do think Democrats are concerned. Look, you heard House Speaker Mike Johnson say today that, really, all that has to be done here is for the White House and for Democrats in the Senate to take up the House Republican bill on immigration, HR2, which, it's worth remembering, received a total of zero Democratic votes. Look, that's not a position that is inclined towards compromise.

You have heard the president say, we are willing to compromise on this. They are already talking about changing the standards by which migrants can get asylum. So, there is room here and -- but I think you're also likely to hear from Democrats that they are confident that, in the end, the Trump-era immigration program, which is, in many respects, what's being reintroduced here, was not popular. It was unpopular with voters, as early as the 2018 midterms and it's not popular with them now.


I think Democrats feel like they are on solid ground, when it comes to that issue, but they want to compromise. They want to get some version of this done.

TAPPER: I don't know how well they have messaged that, though. I don't know how well they were -- detailing what they actually object to, that the Republicans are proposing.

Evan Osnos and Jill Dougherty, stay with us.

Right now, we are, of course, standing by for the joint news conference with President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. We are going to take a quick break and bring in if the news conference begins. We are expecting it at any moment.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Any second now, we are expecting President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to walk out of those doors. The doors you see to the right of your screen, and begin a joint news conference. The focus, of course, will be on Ukraine's need for additional U.S. aid in order to win their counteroffensive and beat back the invading Russian forces.

While we are waiting, let's bring back in former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty and "New Yorker" staff writer, Evan Osnos, who's written a biography on President Biden.

Evan, we should note, this is all coming against this very challenging foreign policy backdrop for President Biden, not just about Ukraine, but also in terms of Israel. We just heard behind closed doors he was voicing some of his frustrations and some of his disagreements with Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu, talking about how he thinks their government, the Netanyahu government, is not able, not willing to deliver a two state solution, which is the only way he sees this peacefully ending, and how, also, they disagree on what comes next for Gaza after the war against Hamas is over. Netanyahu has indicated that he wants Israeli forces to stay. President Biden and other Western leaders do not want that.

OSNOS: Yeah, look, that's a relationship that has been challenging for a very long time. Joe Biden will tell you that maybe Netanyahu has a photograph of that Biden gave him when he was a young senator in which he inscribed it with the message that, I love you, but I don't agree with you on anything.

There is a way in which this relationship, particularly under the pressures, the complexities of this war, was only going to get harder. I think when the president talks about something the way he did today, that is with the full knowledge, frankly, that it is not going to stay behind closed doors, quote, unquote. It is a way of sending a message to the Israeli government, to say, we need you to be listening to what we are saying. We are concerned about what happens after this -- after -- not just what is happening in southern Gaza, but then also what happens after that.

When Biden talks about a two-state solution, he means it, and this is, in some ways, perhaps the hardest thing for the two sides to be able to begin to speak more frankly about. But Biden is beginning to do it and I think we should expect to hear more from that.

TAPPER: And, Jill, what do you think Russian President Vladimir Putin is specifically going to be looking out for as he watches President Biden change his tone a bit on Israel? Because Putin, even though he's met with Netanyahu in the past, Putin has been pretty strongly voicing support for Hamas. Even though Putin's own background includes some pretty strong action against Islamist terrorists in his neck of the woods.

DOUGHERTY: You know, Jake, they look back at the old Soviet Union, when the Soviet Union supported liberation movements and so, Putin, in the way that he is doing in so many different places, he's exploiting that to say that the United States is on the side of imperial colonial powers and that would, in his mind, equal Israel, even though Putin wants a relationship with Israel.

But I think he wants a relationship with the global south, the developing world more, at this point that he wants that. And more than anything, he wants to score points against the United States and against Biden. And Biden is in a very sticky situation.

TAPPER: And, Evan, I know that you know that President Biden and his entire team have been managing the Middle East portfolio are very frustrated with the Israel defense forces. They keep telling them to do more to avoid civilian casualties, to be more to lead in humanitarian aid and they've been very disappointed at the degree to which the IDF and the Netanyahu government have just said, at least with our actions, no.

OSNOS: You know, I see this as, in some ways, larger context, Jake, that is directly related to the press conference we are about to hear about. Joe Biden has framed this moment in global affairs as an attack, in so many ways, on free societies. You saw the attack on October 7th as an attack on free society. He believes Vladimir Putin's attack on Ukraine is in its own indirect way a war against democracy.

And so, his goal, more broadly, and I think you're about to hear that a bit today, is to try to bring people back, to remind them of why it was that they felt so committed to this war in Ukraine when it started and in effect, to also remind, indirectly, I suppose, the leadership in Israel that he has to put this into a logical context for Americans.

[16:40:19] And if this begins to feel too far from the goal of protecting a free society, then he has a harder time making a case for it at home. So, this is, inevitably, all part of a broader project.

TAPPER: Evan and Jill, stay with us.

We're going to try and squeeze in a quick break. We'll be right back. Hopefully, the two presidents will come out and start speaking to the press any second. When that happens, we will be right there.



TAPPER: Any moment now, we are expecting to hear from President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a joint news conference at the White House. We are going to take you to a joint news conference as soon as it begins.

But until then, I am here, actually, in Iowa for a reason. We are covering the 2024 race and there was a major, major pending endorsement which stops for 2024 today.

Sources are telling CNN that Republican Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, in the first in the nation primary state, will officially throw his support behind former ambassador in South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. That will happen tonight at a rally in his great home state of New Hampshire. The goal here, slow the Republican front runner, Donald Trump, continues to dominate the 2024 race.

Let me bring in CNN's Jessica Dean. We are here, obviously, in Iowa, the first of the nation caucus state, ahead of tonight's CNN town hall with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who you've been covering.

And, Sununu, obviously, considered him as well. The only person I think it was not considering was Donald Trump. He thinks Donald Trump is a -- it would be bad. It does seem as though DeSantis is putting all of his eggs in the Iowa basket, though.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that is exactly right and if you talk to people around him, they will say as much. A lot of staff here, he's an all 99 counties, the full Grassley, -- as it were, and he keeps coming back here. They feel like this is a really good spot for him because of his message, they think, should resonate with these evangelical voters that make up such a large bloc of the Republican Party in Iowa.

And their whole thought is, if you do well in Iowa, you get all this momentum, and that kind of can change the trajectory of the race. Of course, if you talk to Nikki Haley's people Chris Christie's people, they think they can do that in New Hampshire. But they have put a lot of their efforts here in Iowa.

And so, that's why tonight is particularly important for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, because he really wants to do well here. TAPPER: Yeah, he's got five weeks to turn it around and one of the

things that is interesting also, we were talking to Tim Alberta a few days ago. He has a book about the new era of white evangelical Christians. He said that the old era is over, where somebody like Santorum or Huckabee --

DEAN: Yeah, Mike Huckabee, yeah.

TAPPER: Mike Huckabee, people who are very conservative and lived -- lived their religion, you know? They didn't just talk it, they actually had conservative --

DEAN: My family is the southern Baptist, yeah.

TAPPER: Yeah, could come here and really, really well in Iowa. And that would help them in the presidential campaign, although neither of them went on to win the nominee. But we are in a different era and Alberta's thesis is that a lot of white Christian evangelicals, they understand Donald Trump is not of them, that he's not religious. I think that is fair to say.

But that he, this is -- I'm paraphrasing Alberta now, but something like he's a barbarian to fight the barbarians. He's like, he's their warrior.

DEAN: Right, I think that within that fate, too, they look at somebody who's been persecuted like they are seeing him being persecuted, and that that feels familiar to them, to your point, that he is going out and acting on their behalf, even if he is not one of them.

TAPPER: Right.

DEAN: And look, we have that "Des Moines Register" poll that came out here yesterday that give us the nice snapshot of kind of where we are five weeks out, and he's still at 51 percent.

TAPPER: Fifty-one percent, DeSantis, 19 percent, and Nikki Haley --

DEAN: Sixteen.

TAPPER: -- 16 percent. But we're still five weeks out, so anything could happen, but that's a big -- that's a big hill.

DEAN: That's a big hill, yeah.

TAPPER: Jessica Dean, thank you so much.

We are standing by, waiting for President Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, to come out for a joint news conference. They appear to be running on Biden time, a bit behind schedule. We'll bring that to you live as soon as they step out. We are going to squeeze in a quick break.

Plus, of course, the other major event on the hill this week, the consequential move today by House Republicans on efforts to impeach, or at least begin an impeachment inquiry, into President Biden. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Bringing you some live images from the White House right now. You see microphones ready. You see the podiums they're all dusted off. We are standing by for the joint news conference set to begin any moment with President Biden and Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. But until they come out, President Biden is pushing for more and more Ukrainian aid and as he's doing so, House Republicans took a major step towards possibly beginning down a road of impeaching President Biden.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is on Capitol Hill.

Melanie, back when Kevin McCarthy was speaker, correct me if I'm wrong. He already opened some sort of impeachment inquiry. What's going on now? What's the difference here?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yeah, that is exactly right. So, this impeachment inquiry has actually been going on for several months, after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy unilaterally opened this inquiry back in September, in part, because of the time. He didn't have the necessary Republican votes to be able to do so.

But now, Republicans are making this new push to formalize their inquiry because they say they want to strengthen their hand in court when they try to enforce subpoenas. As of right now, it looks like that resolution is set to pass. It's almost the entire Republican conference that's lined up behind that resolution.

But Jake, that doesn't mean the votes are going to necessarily be there for impeachment, itself. That is because key moderates from swing districts like Don Bacon of Nebraska say they have yet to see any evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors.


And he also told our colleagues earlier this morning that he doesn't think it's ultimately going to be there.

So, while he does beg this idea of opening the inquiry to try to get all the facts and information, he thinks it's best to let voters decide, not members of Congress, about Joe Biden's fate, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Melanie Zanona, thanks so much for that update. Really appreciate it.

We continue to stand by for that joint news conference at the White House with President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. We're going to bring that to you as soon as it happens. Stay with us. We're going to squeeze in a quick break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.