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Ukraine Loses Ground; Senator Tim Scott Announces Presidential Bid; Debt Ceiling Negotiations Continue. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 22, 2023 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Part of that legislation, limits on transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care.


LIZZO, SINGER: You are valid.


LIZZO: You deserve to be here in every form. You contain multitudes. These laws are not real. You are what's real, and you deserve to be protected!



KING: Thanks for your time today. I hope to see you tomorrow.

"CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Ten days to a potential disaster. The deadline for a debt deal is creeping closer. The two sides are talking, but they still appear to be far apart. And there are warnings that avoiding default might not be good enough if they come too close to June 1, when the U.S. potentially runs out of money.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Tim Scott is running.

The senator from South Carolina, the only black Republican in the Senate, announces a run for the White House. Scott may be hoping to run on a message of positivity, but, if he goes high, can he win if other candidates go low?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: And the suspect in the Idaho college murder case appearing in court for an arraignment, 20-year-old Bryan Kohberger facing the death penalty if found guilty.

When it came time for him to enter a plea, he and his attorneys remaining completely silent. The latest from court.

We're following these major developing stories and many more, all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

KEILAR: Washington is running out of time and money.

President Biden and Speaker McCarthy will meet this afternoon to once again try to avoid a U.S. default. That nightmare scenario could happen in just 10 days. Treasury's funds are already dwindling, and, without a deal, Uncle Sam won't be able to pay out Social Security, Medicare, and military salaries.

This weekend, urgent negotiations resulted in the same old standoff. McCarthy wants major spending cuts. Biden says Republicans are holding the economy and his presidency hostage.

Let's go now to CNN's Jeremy Diamond. He is live for us at the White House.

So, Jeremy, negotiators for Biden and McCarthy, they met for several hours today. Any signs of progress coming out of that?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Brianna, importantly, they are still talking, and both sides seem to be saying that these conversations have been productive. That is a change, of course, from on Friday, when we saw that those two sides faced a major setback, paused negotiations which resumed again over the weekend.

That call also crucial between the president and Speaker McCarthy as President Biden was making his way back on Air Force One from Japan, both the president and McCarthy calling that call productive, the president last night saying that call went well.

So, today, the White House negotiators and Speaker McCarthy's deputies met for another three hours today, Congressman Patrick McHenry, one of those negotiators, coming out there saying that we are at a very sensitive point, but saying that there is goodwill, at least, on both sides to try and reach an agreement.

But what's really notable here is how far these sides remain just 10 days away from a potential default, not only over the specifics of a potential deal, some of those sticking points, like work requirements, for example, but just on the basics of what that top-line spending number will actually look like, where federal spending will be capped, and for how long.

We know that the White House has proposed capping spending for next year at this current year's levels. House Republicans say that spending needs to go backwards to at least fiscal year 2022. And that, it appears, remains one of the major roadblocks here, something that has yet to actually be resolved.

All of this, of course, ahead of this crucial meeting between President Biden and Speaker McCarthy later today. We know that the president yesterday, when he was in Japan, he was asked whether or not he could guarantee that a default would not happen, a question that he was posed by so many world leaders at that G7 summit.

And the president said that he simply cannot guarantee that, putting the onus on Republicans, saying that he doesn't know that Republicans won't do something that would lead the country to default.

KEILAR: All right, Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Lauren Fox. She's on Capitol Hill for us.

Lauren, what are you hearing from lawmakers?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, after this several-hour-long meeting in the speaker's office between White House negotiators and Republican negotiators, one thing became clear.

They are at a very critical moment for these talks, not just because of the high-stakes meeting happening later today between the president and Kevin McCarthy, but also because this is a moment they are going to have to decide, are both sides going to give some major concessions in order to get a bipartisan deal?

Because time is starting to run short. Here is what Patrick McHenry, one of those Republican negotiators, told us.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): We're at a very sensitive point here. And the goal is to get something that can be legislated into law.

I think people are of goodwill. I don't think there's any interest in us delaying these tough conversations. And so we want this to be productive. We want this to be a productive week.



FOX: And these negotiations, Brianna, have been going on for more than a week now, and still no major signs of progress, no major breakthroughs to speak of when it comes to either those spending cuts or other issues related to permitting reform, work requirements, clawing back some of that COVID money that remains unspent.

That just shows you how long of a -- odds this is really to get a deal at all at this point. The other thing to keep in mind is just how long it's going to take on the floor of both the House of Representatives and then in the U.S. Senate to get any deal passed. It does take some time to get lawmakers all on the same page.

In the House, it takes 72 hours for lawmakers to have an opportunity to read legislation before they vote. That timeline could always be moved up in the U.S. Senate, but any one senator could really stall this progress. So, that just gives you a sense, with 10 days to go, they're starting to seriously run out of time, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. The House can move quickly. The Senate cannot.

Lauren Fox, thank you for that, live for us from Capitol Hill -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: All right, it's official. Republican Senator Tim Scott has formerly launched his presidential campaign in his hometown of North Charleston, South Carolina.

Scott is the first black U.S. senator from South Carolina, and, today, he drew on his own personal biography as he kicked off his White House bid. Have a listen.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), PRESIDENT CANDIDATE: This is the freest, fairest land, where you can go as high as your character and your grit and your talent will take you.

I bear witness to that. I testify to that. That's why I'm the candidate the far left fears the most.


SCIUTTO: CNN's Eva McKend is in South Carolina, where Scott made his announcement this afternoon.

And, Eva, I have heard his stump speech where he tells his personal story, gives his vision for the country. It is positive, markedly positive, particularly when you compare it with other current front- runners for the GOP nomination. And I wonder, is that a deliberate campaign strategy for Scott?


It seems as though he has very little appetite to get into mudslinging against his fellow Republican opponents. That will be his immediate challenge going up against his fellow Republicans in this hotly contested Republican primary, where the former president leads the pack.

We actually heard from Trump today, and he wished Tim Scott well. We asked Senator Scott about this, and he thanked him. But we didn't see any direct attacks against Trump or Governor DeSantis, for instance. But this was largely a speech in two parts, the first part really focusing on his personal biography, arguing that this country is a land of opportunity, not oppression, and really going after the left.

Take a listen.



SCOTT: Our party and our nation are standing at a time for choosing. Victimhood or victory.

AUDIENCE: Victory!

SCOTT: Victimhood or victory.

AUDIENCE: Victory!

SCOTT: Victimhood or victory.

AUDIENCE: Victory!

SCOTT: Grievance or greatness.

AUDIENCE: Greatness!

SCOTT: I choose freedom and hope and opportunity.


MCKEND: So, you can hear there the call-and-response nature to this speech really almost felt like a church service.

If you want to say that he tried to go after his opponents at all, I guess you could say the line grievance or over greatness could be seen as a thinly veiled come at Trump, but, largely, he stayed away from that.

The second part of this speech really was an indictment on President Biden, arguing that he is too weak and that this country needs new leadership. So, this will be a difficult road ahead for Senator Scott. He will spend the next several months introducing himself to voters.

Many folks here in South Carolina know him and know him well, have known him for a long time, from when he held local office here. But the challenge now is for Senator Scott to introduce himself to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, the line victim or -- victimhood or victory could also be seen as directed at his other Republican opponent, the former president.

Eva McKend in North Charleston, South Carolina, thanks so much -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Plenty of politics to discuss, so let's bring in Laura Barron-Lopez. She's a White House correspondent for "PBS NewsHour."

Laura, thanks so much for sharing part of your afternoon with us.


SANCHEZ: Scott's speech more uplifting than we have heard from politicians lately.


How well you think that resonates among a Republican base that has been very responsive to populism, to grievance, and to the politics of resentment?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes, that's a good point, Boris, because of the fact that this Republican base, still about a third of it or more actually believes that the 2020 election was stolen. They subscribe to a lot of the ideologies that former President Trump is putting out there, as well as Ron DeSantis, who we expect to jump in very soon. And there hasn't seemed to be, at least when we look at 2022 and the candidates that were picked in the Republican primaries there, as well as so far what has played out over this very short, so far, presidential primary, any appetite among the base to move in the direction that Senator Scott is trying to articulate right now.

SANCHEZ: That case in point, Donald Trump remains far and away the front-runner.

And on the point of Trump's chances, we saw in 2016 more candidates in the field means it gets diluted and Trump advances. So, another candidate in the race, could this benefit Trump?

BARRON-LOPEZ: I think it could.

A lot of the Republican strategists that I talk to in battleground states like Arizona say that, the more candidates that jump in, the more that that helps Trump in these -- in any of the primary states. And, also, even though Senator Scott is trying to project this optimistic tone, I think Senator -- former Governor Nikki Haley has also tried to do that at different times, both from South Carolina.


BARRON-LOPEZ: But that they do align -- and I think it's very important to say that they align on almost every single policy aspect with former President Trump and with Ron DeSantis, particularly on abortion and trying to restrict transgender rights.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Scott has a voting record that falls pretty closely in line with Donald Trump's policies.

Notably, someone that was prominent in the crowd there in South Carolina today in his hometown of North Charleston was the number two Republican in the Senate, John Thune, who is endorsing Tim Scott. That endorsement obviously resonates here in Washington and perhaps in South Dakota as well, but does it hit the base?

Does the base look to these endorsements as a sign of where they should lend their vote?

BARRON-LOPEZ: I don't think they do, because anything -- what I have seen when I go to these rallies, whether it's Trump rallies or rallies for other Republicans that have run down-ballot, you don't hear them talk very much about establishment Republicans, other than to say that they don't agree with them, that they don't -- that they aren't aligned with him anymore.

They regularly attack Senator Mitch McConnell and even Kevin McCarthy and other leading Republicans. And Senator John Thune is a part of leadership in the Senate, but he's not someone that I think the real Republican base is looking to or will determine their vote based on.

SANCHEZ: Well, Laura, there's a huge meeting coming up later today at the White House at about 5:30, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sitting down with President Biden to talk the debt ceiling.

What are your sources at the White House telling you about expectations for this meeting?

BARRON-LOPEZ: So, of course, the White House has tried to project all of this optimism heading into all of these meetings. Of course, there were fits and starts over the weekend, but the White House -- a White House official was telling me today, as they head into this meeting, there's frustrations over two big things, which is that they feel as though McCarthy and his team in recent days tried to propose more extensive cuts on SNAP -- that's food assistance programs, which the president has a red line on that on.

He does not want to pursue more cuts on that at all beyond what was potentially in the Republican bill that they passed, and then also on the sheer number of spending caps. So I'm told by the White House official that Republicans are proposing six years' worth of spending caps. That's not something that the White House wants at all. They're looking more at the two-year range.

So they're heading into this meeting right now trying to find common ground on those areas. And it's anyone's guess if they're going to exit this meeting with any type of deal or not.

SANCHEZ: A lot of ground to make up. And the horizon is getting bleaker and bleaker. That June 1 deadline is looming.

One more question. President Biden obviously has some experience with facing that cliff of falling off the -- essentially that the debt ceiling is here and there's going to be a fiscal calamity, potentially.

He was vice president in 2011, when the U.S. had to see its credit rating get downgraded. How does that experience inform what he's trying to do now?

BARRON-LOPEZ: It's fully informed what he's trying to do, especially at the beginning, when the president initially came in and said that he would never negotiate around the debt ceiling because of the fact that his lesson that he took away from the 2011 fiscal cliff crisis was, you don't negotiate on the debt ceiling.

You don't tie it to anything in negotiation. There needs to be clean debt ceiling increases. The lesson that Republicans took away from that, which Senator Mitch McConnell articulated at the time, was that the debt ceiling is a hostage worth taking to extract things that Republicans may want, even if it means markets being put into turmoil or the potential threat of default.

Now, there are Democrats that are really frustrated with the White House right now, because they feel as though, even though that's the position that President Biden entered the negotiations with, which was not to negotiate around the debt ceiling, that they feel as though now he's been dragged into a negotiation around it, and they're not happy with the way talks are going.


SANCHEZ: Yes, it's interesting. Fiscal cliff crisis, you said it way easier than I did.


SANCHEZ: Laura Barron-Lopez, thanks so much -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barely holding on. Ukraine loses ground and Russia claims victory in the brutal battle for Bakhmut. But Ukraine says the fight isn't over. We will tell you where things stand ahead.

Plus: one year of pain and unanswered questions, parents of the children killed in their classroom in Uvalde, Texas, still seeking a full accounting of the slow police response that terrible day. What city officials are saying.

And arraignment day. Moments ago, the man accused of killing these University of Idaho students faced a judge. And when asked to enter a plea, he and his lawyers all stayed silent. Why? We will have a live report ahead on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



KEILAR: Now to Russia's war on Ukraine and a major attack that happened inside Russian territory.

We have CNN's Sam Kiley, who is in Southern Ukraine for us.

Sam, what more can you tell us about what happened?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this is a really remarkable turn of events.

There is a unit in the Ukrainian armed forces known as the Freedom for Russia Legion. We reported on them back in December. That self-same group has now confirmed that it has crossed the border from Ukraine into Russian territory and attacked three border villages, one, Grayvoron, about eight kilometers, five miles into Russian territory.

Now, in exclusive video that they -- this legion supplied to CNN, when you zoom in, you can see some support for their claim, which we can't independently verify, that they attacked the local headquarters of the FSB -- that's the secret police in Russia -- and also claim to have knocked out a Russian tank in this engagement.

As of midafternoon, when we were in touch with them, they said they were ongoing. The local authorities in Russia have confirmed that they have been invaded, albeit on a limited basis. The regional governor of Belgorod has been to Grayvoron, says the situation there continues to be extremely tense, that almost all civilians have been evacuated or have fled from that village and that there is artillery in use.

Now, the Russian Legion is described for this operation by the Ukrainian armed forces as being an independent group of Russian citizens. And that is true, in that they are Russian citizens, but they are kind of trying to keep them at -- keep them at arm's length when it comes to this cross-border incursion.

But, frankly, it couldn't have been done or would not have been done without the full support of the Ukrainian armed forces and these are people in Ukrainian uniforms who've been fighting already very heavily south of Bakhmut for Ukraine.

But, yes, they are Russian dissidents, all dedicated to trying to end the Putin regime. Very dramatic moment here, because they have in the past, the Ukrainians, conducted covert operations inside Russia, but never admitted responsibility. Here, with a bit of a nudge and a wink, they are.

These are essentially, at the very least, Russian-backed Russian -- sorry -- Ukrainian-backed Russian rebels -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And can you tell us, Sam, the state of the fighting in Bakhmut, which has long now been this sort of stand that Russian and Ukrainian forces have been taking that's really leaving this city just to be a shell of itself?

KILEY: Well, it's just a pile of rubble now. I think that's how the president of Ukraine effectively described it when he said that there was nothing there for the Russians to take.

The Ukrainians are saying that they still have a small foothold in the Southwest corner of the urban area itself, and, more importantly, that they are controlling the outskirts of the city to the north and the south, essentially flanking the Wagner mercenary group that claims that it captured it over the weekend.

But that leaves the mercenaries now very, very vulnerable -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, we see the pictures. It is a ghost town.

Sam Kiley for us in Southeastern Ukraine, thank you so much -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, we're joined now too with retired Air Force General Cedric Leighton to talk about the significance of all this.

First, let's begin on the news of this attack across the border here in Belgorod, Russia, where we know Russia has amassed forces and sent a lot of forces in at the early stages of the invasion.

Military significant -- militarily significant for Ukraine to be able to strike there?


And the reason is, Belgorod is actually the site of a major air base for the Russians. And that air base just happens to have nuclear storage facilities at it. So, that would be one reason to actually go there. And you also pointed out something very important here. This is a

staging area. Every single thing that the Russians have been doing vis-a-vis Ukraine in this part of the country has actually come from Belgorod. And they have moved in this direction, basically, every time that they have gone through here.

So, the big idea here is that Belgorod is certainly a symbolic target, but the fact that the Ukrainians can go there more or less with impunity, that is pretty significant.

SCIUTTO: All right, let's talk about all Bakhmut.

Russia now says it has it, though Ukrainians say they're still on the outskirts to some degree. Both sides expended an enormous amount of energy, troops, thousands of losses on each side, military hardware. Why? Was it worth it, and why the focus?

LEIGHTON: So, Bakhmut, for most Western analysts, Jim, they say Bakhmut has absolutely no strategic significance.

But, if I may, one of the key things that we're looking at here when it comes to Bakhmut is that it is sitting on a road that goes past Bakhmut and heads up this way toward Kharkiv.



LEIGHTON: That very fast means that the Donetsk region, this part right here, is something that the Russians want to take, not only for the significance of getting the road, but they also want to, for political reasons, capture the remainder of the Donbass.


LEIGHTON: And that would be one reason why Bakhmut would be there.

SCIUTTO: That's a big part of their goal here, right, to take all of this. I mean, they tried to take the whole country, couldn't do it, but they do want to take all of this.

So, the Ukrainians say, hey, we still have an advantage here, because we're on the outside. We can move in any time we want to.

Is that spin, having lost a major battle, or is that substantively true?

LEIGHTON: Well, it could be both, actually.

And so the reason I say that is, when you look at Bakhmut and if you look at some of the very specific areas right here...


LEIGHTON: ... you know, as Sam mentioned, we have the Ukrainians to the north and to the south of the city. In the southwestern part, around here...


LEIGHTON: ... there supposedly are Ukrainian elements still active.

All of this -- if the Russians have all of this, that is a significant victory for them. However, like you said, this has taken over nine months to accomplish...


LEIGHTON: ... far longer than the Battle of Stalingrad itself.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Wow.

LEIGHTON: And that very -- back in World War II.

And that very fact shows that these -- both sides have expended a lot of manpower...


LEIGHTON: ... and everything to capture this area.

SCIUTTO: That's remarkable, longer than Stalingrad.

OK, let's talk about, because Ukraine is -- what we reported last week, has already been -- begun shaping operations in the eastern part of the country, attacking back here to prepare for a major counteroffensive.

Is there any advantage to having Russian forces concentrated here to give Ukrainians the ability to strike here and here and here in short order?

LEIGHTON: Potentially, yes, because, if the Russians concentrate their manpower on Bakhmut, like you pointed out very, very correctly here, the Ukrainians have the possibility of going in and cutting them off this way and potentially even this way, from -- from the southwest.

They could also use this area around Kherson to cross the Dnipro River, and that then makes this land bridge right here a very...

SCIUTTO: Potentially vulnerable.

LEIGHTON: ... very vulnerable area.

SCIUTTO: And that -- we know that is a goal, because this was a major goal of the Russians, to create this connection between territories they held prior.

They have been able to do that. Is it vulnerable? Something we're not -- watch very closely if and when -- or when is -- by all accounts, the counteroffensive starts. Cedric Leighton, thanks so much -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Still to come: Uvalde officials speaking out as we approach the one-year anniversary since the massacre at Robb Elementary School, this as CNN hears from some of the families of the children who survived that day why they want others to see the horrific footage of their children escaping.

Plus, the man charged with killing four University of Idaho students in court to enter a plea, but he and his lawyers didn't say a word.

New details when we come back.