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Interview With Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA); Will Republicans Shut Down Government?; Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Capitol Hill; Rupert Murdoch Steps Down. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 21, 2023 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: The Ukrainian president and the American lawmakers. Zelenskyy on Capitol Hill making his urgent plea for help. And he's about to head to the Pentagon this hour.

SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: The man once called America's mayor now being described as a wolf closing in on his prey, the stunning allegations from a former Trump aide and star witness for the January 6 Committee. Cassidy Hutchinson has a new memoir. And Giuliani is responding.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Kaboom, that is the sound you're hearing in the media world. Rupert Murdoch steps down at FOX. So, why now and what's next?

I'm John Berman, with Sara Sidner and Kate Bolduan. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

BOLDUAN: All right, happening right now, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, he is in Washington and he is making the rounds.

He's leaving about -- he will be leaving Capitol Hill very soon, and this hour will be heading to the Pentagon, where he's going to lay a wreath at the 9/11 Memorial.

What you're looking at here is what happened just a short time ago, Zelenskyy walking into a meeting of senators with the Democrat and Republican leaders of the Senate, very important.

Before that, he sat down with the leaders of the House, including with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, though there was no meeting with all House members, specifically no meeting with all House Republicans, which is critical, because Zelenskyy is urgently requesting more aid and funding from Congress, as some hard-line Republicans are pushing back and essentially saying there is no money here for you right now.

This is as Russia is launching a new wave of attacks on Ukraine. Five major Ukrainian cities were targeted overnight. The new images of utter devastation are coming in, which is a grim reminder of Zelenskyy's urgent and desperate pleas for assistance for his people ahead of his meeting later today with President Biden.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is live at the Pentagon. As I mentioned, Zelenskyy will be heading there this hour. What is going to -- what are the meetings expected to be like there?

What's he expected to see?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, let's see if we can show you a picture right outside the Pentagon here of the river entrance.

This is where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to arrive any moment now to begin a few meetings here and then lay a wreath at the 9/11 Memorial, which, from this angle, is on the far side of the Pentagon.

Our producer Haley Britzky is out there in what she says is one of the largest crowds awaiting a dignitary's arrival that she's seen in years. And that gives you have an idea of the importance of this visit, Zelenskyy's first to the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be out there awaiting his arrival.

He will meet both with Austin and with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley. That's noteworthy because it'll be the most substantive meeting between Milley and Zelenskyy. And it comes just eight days before Milley's retirement and a new chairman comes in, General C.Q. Brown, who was chief of staff of the Air Force, that vote happening just last night.

So this will be an important meeting and an important opportunity for Zelenskyy to point out and to reemphasize why he needs more weaponry and specifically what type of weaponry he is pushing for, as we expect a new Ukrainian aid package coming from the White House just a little later on today.

It comes in the middle of a busy day for Zelenskyy. Let's take a look at this schedule of events that we expect for Zelenskyy. He was already at Congress earlier today. He met bipartisan members of Congress, as well as Senators Chuck Schumer and Senators Mitch McConnell, as well as House leadership.

Then he will come here to the Pentagon, that 11:00 a.m. arrival expected shortly here; 11:45 is when we expect that wreath-laying, the meetings with Milley and Austin in between. Then he will head to the White House. And the first lady of Ukraine also expected to speak at Georgetown.

And then perhaps the biggest event of the day, Zelenskyy will meet the U.S. president and the first lady at the White House, so a very busy day. That day starts here. And we expect Zelenskyy's arrival any moment now. But that is just the beginning, not even the beginning. It's the middle of the day for Zelenskyy.


And that day will very much continue, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Oren, so thankful to have you there. This is going -- I did not realize this is the first time that he's going to be going to the Pentagon, which is very significant, especially as probably his final meeting with Mark Milley in his official capacity, potentially, as Milley is retiring.

It's great that you're there, Oren. Thank you so much.

I will say, though, John, that Zelenskyy is going to need to pick up the pace if he's going to keep with military precision and timing.

BERMAN: He's behind schedule, but he's got a lot to do today.

BOLDUAN: This is important.

BERMAN: He's got a lot to accomplish for his country...


BERMAN: ... which is being hit by missile strikes even as we speak, the White House on that agenda.

Let's go there right now.

Arlette Saenz, how does the White House view this visit? What are they expecting?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, President Biden is hoping to hear a battlefield perspective from Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, according to White House officials, as they're trying to still assess what additional needs Zelenskyy needs as this war against Russia is now well into its second year.

Now, in addition to their meeting today, President Biden will be announcing a new aid package to Ukraine. This is all aid that has already been approved and allocated before. But this will include additional artillery, anti-armor systems, anti-aircraft systems, as well as air defense capabilities.

What this does not include is those ATACMS. That's something that's Zelenskyy has been asking for, for a long time, those long-range army tactical missile systems that have a longer-range and larger firepower. The White House has said it's not off the table that they could provide those at some point, but they're not expected to be part of that aid package today, even as Zelenskyy had told our colleague Wolf Blitzer he would be disappointed if that was not included.

But this all comes as Zelenskyy is here in Washington to try to convince the American public and lawmakers of the need for continued and sustained support for his country. And it comes at a time where there's not just a debate up on Capitol Hill about that aid, but also among the American public.

If you take a look at recent polling, there's a real weariness in the idea of providing additional aid to Ukraine. A little more than the majority of the country feels that the U.S. should not. And if you break that down amongst Republicans, that no number is even higher. But as the president has been making this forceful case for Congress

to pass $24 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, that is something that, up in the House of Representatives, at least with Republicans, is facing some real opposition, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy suggesting that he's not even sure he would bring up Ukraine aid for a vote before the end of the year.

Which speaks to some of the complicated dynamics for Zelenskyy and for President Biden, as they are trying to convince people that they do need additional funding to go towards Ukraine, not just thinking about their war, but the long-term consequences that Russia's war on such a country could have for the -- for around the world.

BERMAN: Arlette Saenz at the White House, thank you.

Zelenskyy still behind closed doors with U.S. senators running behind schedule, but that's a sign perhaps of, again, just how much he has to do.

SAENZ: Thank you.


SIDNER: All right, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is trying to hammer out a new funding plan with his caucus, with the hope of avoiding a government shutdown for at least another 31 days.

But his hard right flank is ready to fight him. And it's unclear if he will have the votes to pass. There is another option that is on the table, a bipartisan deal put together by the House Problem Solvers Caucus.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is joining us from Capitol Hill.

Melanie, there are lots of different paths that could be taken here. But we know, from hearing from Republicans, that they are -- the moderates, at least, are extremely frustrated, and they think this is a clown show, as one of them put it.

What do you see happening down the road that might just stop a shutdown from happening?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, first, let me say the House GOP plan would not stop a government shutdown.

That is because it is dead on arrival in the Senate. That plan is all about finding consensus just amongst Republicans, because they're trying to gain some leverage in the potential negotiations with the Senate. But even that, Sara, is proving challenging.

After Kevin McCarthy added a bunch of conservative priorities to the bill yesterday, there is still opposition. There's a bloc of hard-line conservatives who say they are going to support -- or oppose any short-term spending bill under any circumstances.

So,I just caught up with Matt Gaetz, one of those hard-liners, and he said he is confident that they have the votes to defeat this bill. And, meanwhile, you have Donald Trump, who last night came out in opposition to that short-term funding bill which, of course, is going to make Kevin McCarthy's life even more complicated.

But there is some growing talk, especially in recent days, of a bipartisan plan to fund the government. That is something that has been hashed out amid this growing frustration in the GOP with some of their Republican colleagues.

That plan would fund the government for much longer, until January. It would include Ukraine aid and disaster aid. But getting it to the floor is still complicated. They're exploring some procedural tools to try to get around leadership. But that would be time-consuming. It is complicated.


The other thing Democrats are starting to talk about is cutting a deal with Kevin McCarthy and asking him to put that bill on the floor in return for saving his speakership if he is threatened with a motion to vacate the speaker's chair, but, as of right now, no clear signs about how Congress is going to avoid a shutdown in just nine days from now, guys.

SIDNER: OK. And we're so used to seeing you inside. And we see you outside today. I know the halls are filled with people as we're waiting for Zelenskyy to come out and wait for some comments perhaps.

Thank you so much, Melanie Zanona. I appreciate you -- John.

BERMAN: Always a good idea to have class outside.


BERMAN: With us now, Democratic Congresswoman from Pennsylvania Chrissy Houlahan.

Representative, thank you so much for being with us.

So, Kevin McCarthy has a plan. Do you think he has the whole thing figured out in terms of getting the spending bills passed?

REP. CHRISSY HOULAHAN (D-PA): No, I don't think he really has the whole thing figured out, to be honest.

And even if he did, it wouldn't be an optimal solution or one that would sustain a vote from the Senate side as well. I think this, whatever it is, is a nonserious solution. Whatever it is involves things like no Ukraine spending and no disaster spending, which I think are untenable on the Senate side, and, frankly, for the majority of his party as well.

BERMAN: One of the things that might have to happen is some kind of bipartisan agreement, Democrats stepping in. How ready are you to run to the assistance of Kevin McCarthy? HOULAHAN: So I don't know that running to the assistance of Kevin McCarthy would be how I would phrase it, but I think it's my responsibility to do the right thing for the people in my community and my commonwealth in this country.

And I am part of that Problem Solvers Caucus and have been involved in the conversations about what a compromise could look like. But I think that we all need to be grownups here. And, frankly, I'm not seeing that from the Republican side right now. So I'm hopeful that, at some point, Kevin McCarthy will realize that there are 435 of us, and will come and be able to work with us as well.

BERMAN: We're looking at live pictures now as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine continues to meet with U.S. senators, a meeting that has run long now.

How important is it for him, in your mind, Zelenskyy, to get everything he wants from the United States?

HOULAHAN: So, my father actually was born in what is now Ukraine, what was Poland and what is Lviv.

And this is a very personal issue to me and I think, frankly, to many Americans, because this is an existential threat to democracies around the world. And so I'm very hopeful that President Zelenskyy's visit is very timely and it will emphasize to all of us the importance of continued support to him and to his nation as they fight for democracies around the world.

BERMAN: And we are watching this meeting of U.S. senators with President Zelenskyy break up now, a bipartisan meeting.

You do, though, see some need for limits. I do know you were opposed to the U.S. sending cluster munitions to Ukraine. Why?

HOULAHAN: So, specific to that form of weaponry, that, to me, was something that I didn't think would necessarily be useful at that point in time, and also would not necessarily be sustainable when there was a peace.

These are dangerous weapons that have very, very onerous failure rates. And I think that I'm also part of a caucus that is worried about unexploded ordinances. And when we end this war, hopefully with peace, we want to make sure we have the most rapid path to making sure that we're returning the Ukrainian citizens back to their lives.

BERMAN: And, again, President Zelenskyy continues to talk to U.S. senators. We're looking at live pictures here as that meeting has broken up.

Much more universal and bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate than the House of Representatives, bipartisan support in the House, but there are far more Republican holdouts for aid for Ukraine there.

Representative, as you mentioned, you're an Air Force veteran. Late yesterday, finally, the Senate did vote to confirm a new chair of the Joint Chiefs. The holdup had been assistance, funding assistance to pay for travel for reproductive health care.

What's your view of the Senate finally getting a few of these confirmations through and the fact that Tommy Tuberville has been able to hold them up for so long on that issue?

HOULAHAN: So, I have been very vocal and outspoken about the fact that what Senator Tuberville is doing is asinine and irresponsible. It's harmful to our military and to our military readiness. It's harmful to our ability to continue to recruit our military.

Our responsibility here in Congress is to first do no harm, not dissimilar from the Hippocratic oath. And he is harming our military right now. I'm glad to see that somehow he has relented in some way, because we were able to eke out a few nominations. And I'm hopeful that will be the beginning of a dislodging this very, very difficult process of making sure that we have our military ready.

BERMAN: Again, President Zelenskyy shaking hands of both Republicans and Democrats, Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee there, Ted Cruz earlier as well.

Representative, there has been some political news in Pennsylvania, where Governor Josh Shapiro has extended voter registration to make it universal when you get your license. What difference will that make?


HOULAHAN: I'm hopeful that it will be a difference, in the sense that we really need to make sure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote. And I think that this is a good start to make sure that we -- when we go out and we get our driver's licenses, that that's an automatic process to be able to use that given right, constitutional right that we have to vote.

So I'm really hopeful that that is a good first step off for us to be making sure that everybody who has the right to vote is voting.

BERMAN: Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan, thanks very much. We're going to listen in to President Zelenskyy for a moment.



ZELENSKYY: Thank you.

QUESTION: What is your message to Vladimir Putin?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): I'm not speaking to Putin.

BERMAN: "What is your message to Vladimir Putin?"

President Zelenskyy just said: "I am not speaking to him."

It was hard to make out much more of what he said there, other than he said he had a very good dialogue with members of the U.S. Senate. And it's the picture, as much as anything, that you're seeing right now that matters for him.

He has the Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, at one side, the Senate Democratic majority leader, Chuck Schumer, at the other. This is very intentional. This was meant to show the bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate. Wait. Let's listen.

ZELENSKYY: (OFF-MIKE) senators (OFF-MIKE) for helping us, support us. We spoke about so many details, but (OFF-MIKE). Sorry. Thank you.

BERMAN: And there he goes to continue his schedule today, off to the Pentagon now, and then to the White House. And we will hear much more from President Zelenskyy later, Mitt Romney, Tom Cotton there, Susan Collins, again, bipartisan senators at this meeting -- Kate.


And as you were having that conversation, it was so great to have our live camera in -- pointed in the room is that was lingering, John, because that never happens. These behind-closed-door meetings, we never get that view through into the room like that, seeing the kind of behind-the-scenes moment of Zelenskyy meeting with senators.

And it looked, by and large, he was getting pats on the shoulder and pats on the backs and thank-yous from all -- a bipartisan group of senators is a real -- that was a fascinating thing, as someone who ran around those halls for so many years in the Will Rogers area right there. That was very cool to see.

BERMAN: Yes, Democratic and Republican senators waiting in line, waiting their turn to shake his hand before he left.

BOLDUAN: Yes, a huge day.

And you said it so perfectly. It's the picture more -- as much as anything that we clearly couldn't hear, because the audio was not great in the -- in those echoey halls, the picture and image of McConnell and Schumer standing side by side with him walking through the halls of Congress with him and what message they're trying to send that he hopes -- that -- but, obviously, a lot of work ahead.

It's good stuff, John. Great interview with Houlahan. Thank you so much.

Coming up still for us -- for us: After nearly five months of striking in Hollywood, is a breakthrough on the horizon? The big names heading back to the table. What this could mean for writers, production studios, and all of Hollywood.

Plus, a major move in the media world. Rupert Murdoch is stepping down at FOX. What this now means, as a force in media, business and politics for years is heading to the sidelines.

And the same White House aide who gave bombshell testimony to the January 6 Congressional Committee now offering a bombshell allegation about Rudy Giuliani. What Cassidy Hutchinson said happened to her at the rally on January 6.



SIDNER: All right, you are looking at live pictures right now outside the Pentagon, where, in just a few moments, we're expecting Ukraine's President Zelenskyy will arrive there. He has just left the Capitol and is on his way.

He will be greeted by an honor cordon and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as well. As I mentioned, he left the Capitol. We saw his face. We saw him smile, with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle standing next to him, notably, that leadership of the Senate. We will bring you the event when he gets to the Pentagon live as it is happening.

The head of one of the world's most influential news empires now, we're moving on to this big story that just broke during our show. He is stepping down. Rupert Murdoch announced that he will step down as chairman of his companies, FOX Corporation and News Corp, today.

At 92 years old, Murdoch says it's time for him to take on different roles.

CNN's Oliver Darcy is joining us now, along with Katie Robertson, who is the media reporter for "The New York Times."

All right, I'm going to start with you, Oliver.

You reported this a couple of hours ago. Give us a sense of what this means, not just for the Murdoch family, but for FOX as a whole.



Rupert Murdoch is one of the most powerful people in the world as head of FOX Corporation, which is the parent company of FOX News, as well as News Corporation, which is the parent company of "The Wall Street Journal," "The New York Post" other notable print outlets.

And so now he is stepping down from this position really at a pivotal time, a pivotal time in media, as there is this huge shift from linear television to streaming, and also at a pivotal time for politics, where the 2024 presidential election is heating up.

Murdoch is responsible, really, largely for a lot of the right-wing rhetoric that has saturated the public discourse. Of course, his network peddled false information about vaccines, the 2020 election. He just settled a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems over election lies, and now he is stepping down.

If you think that FOX News, though, is going to temper its right-wing rhetoric, I would just warn you that, in his note here, he's suggesting that Lachlan shares his ideological perspective, saying that there is a battle for free speech, a battle for the freedom at FOX, and that Lachlan is a firm believer in freedom.

And so I would not expect major changes at the editorial direction over at FOX News.

SIDNER: All right, I want to go over to Katie Robertson along those lines.

Lachlan Murdoch is actually known to be even further right, more conservative than his father. What do people or should people expect to see on some of their businesses, like FOX Business, like FOX News?


I think that is correct that Lachlan is considered very conservative, perhaps even further to the right than Rupert. Look, it really remains to be seen what's going to happen here.

I mean, with Rupert stepping away, I mean, he even indicates in the note to staff that he will still be around for advice. So I don't know how much is really going to materially change with the companies, if we will -- as Oliver said, probably not going to notice a difference in programming on FOX News or on FOX Business.

But I think it's a moment that people will really be looking at what Lachlan does actually believe. I mean, for the last four years, he has been the heir apparent and has obviously convinced his father that he's going to continue his legacy and in how he's running the businesses.

So we will actually see if that's what he's going to do.

SIDNER: This is a really big moment in the media.

I do want to ask you, Oliver, was this expected because a lot of people we're looking at Rupert Murdoch's age. He's 92 years old, and there was a lot of talk, books written about what happens when he passes away. He's now stepping down. Will he completely get out of the picture? Unlikely.

But was this expected in any way?

DARCY: I mean, there were no signs that he was going to step down, but he is 92 years old, and he is running a huge global operation, and so maybe not too surprising that he wants to give the throne officially to his son Lachlan.

Of course, Lachlan has been chief executive of FOX Corporation for the last several years. And so this probably won't change too much over at FOX. But now he's going to have an additional roll over at News Corporation.

I think the big thing to look at here is that, as Katie said, Rupert's still going to be there for advice. He's still going to be, in his words, that he's going to be involved every day in the contest of ideas. And so he might not be making more of those day-to-day business decisions, but he's certainly going to be there looking at the big picture, I think, and someone Lachlan can count on to help guide him as media, these media companies face a really consequential period in the next few years.

SIDNER: Yes, Oliver, that's a really good point that you made.

Oliver also brought up the word succession, because this is a literal succession from one Murdoch to the next. But there are other children that are in -- could be involved here at some point. What do you see happening there in the future? Will they have any rule at all?

DARCY: I think that's the big question, is really what happened....


DARCY: Sorry, Katie.

SIDNER: I'm sorry. That was to Katie. I'm sorry, Oliver.

ROBERTSON: Sure. No, go ahead.

I mean, as Oliver I think was about to say is that the question everyone is asking, and it all boils down to the family trust, which the children each hold a stake. But the elder Mr. Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch, holds the controlling stake.

So, when he dies, then it is up for debate. He's obviously placed all of his bets on Lachlan, but I think we want to see if the children will vote against Lachlan as a bloc, if they will vote separately. We don't really know exactly what's going to happen. I think that's been a question that's been around for some time.

I think it's -- one thing that it's important to note here, as Oliver had mentioned, FOX has been going through an incredibly tumultuous time, especially this year. It is a tough time in media as well.

So, I think the succession is really them trying to show that there's something orderly happening here, that, you know, this was business as usual, that this is just a planned succession.