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Senate Begins Debate Today on Likely Doomed Voting Rights Bills; Secretary of State Blinken to Visit Ukraine Tomorrow; Russia Holds Sniper Drills Near Ukraine Border; Boris Johnson Categorically Denies Lying About Lockdown Party; Voting Rights Activists Battle to Protect Elections Nationwide. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 18, 2022 - 10:00   ET



KRISTEN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: The earth's rotation. It made it appear as though this asteroid was approaching much slower than it actually was. And so that really rattled NASA and the astronomy community, and so that's part of the reason we now have the first planetary defense mission ever under way right now, the DART Mission. It's going to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid in just a few months.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Fingers crossed we don't have another quirk, right, and in the earth's orbit in the next coming hours.

Kristen Fisher, thank you so much.

FISHER: You bet.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Tuesday morning to all of you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

GOLODRYGA: And I'm Bianna Golodryga. We begin with this hour with ongoing voting rights fight. The Senate will open debate on two key pieces of voting rights legislation this afternoon. As Democrats push ahead with efforts that are likely dead on arrival. Major obstacles stand in the way of passing new voting rights protections, namely Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who refuse to change Senate filibuster rules.

SCIUTTO: Overseas, tensions continue to grow between Russia and Ukraine and the West. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged diplomacy on a call he just held with his Russian counterpart. This as a bipartisan group of senators return from a trip to Ukraine where they met with the Ukrainian President Zelensky.

We're going to have more on that story in just a moment.

GOLODRYGA: But we begin with CNN's Manu Raju joining us from Capitol Hill.

And Manu, has Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer given any indication of what he will do if and likely when these votes fail?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's going to try to change the Senate rules but he needs all 50 Senate Democrats to do just that, to weaken the Senate's filibuster, which now requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. They want to try to change that so a simple majority, 51 votes, 50 Democrats with Kalama Harris, the vice president, breaking the tie could be enough to get this bill to the president's desk.

But there's a problem. Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin, the two moderate senators have been clear for months that they will not budge on this issue, concerns that changing the Senate's filibuster rules will be enough to essentially have drastic ramifications on the United States Senate, allow future majorities to run roughshod and do what it wants, work its will against minorities in the future, presumably when the Democrats, the day comes that they're back in the Senate minority.

But nevertheless, Chuck Schumer is still pushing a head. The way it's going to play out is this. The Senate reconvenes at noon today. Then by 5:00, they'll have a meeting. Senate Democrats will go behind closed doors to discuss their plans going forward where a number of members will undoubtedly give speeches, call on all members to unify and vote to change the rules. Now Sinema and Manchin probably will be there. They may or may not speak.

They often do not speak in these calls because mainly Sinema particularly does not, Manchin sometimes does, but their minds will unlikely be changed. The vote ultimately will be tomorrow. That will be the big -- the major test vote giving the senators who are actually in Ukraine right now meeting with the Ukrainian officials and dealing with the diplomatic situation over there, give them time to come back into town this afternoon so they can attend that vote tomorrow.

Tomorrow when that vote fails, that's when Schumer will have a decision to make. How exactly will he go about trying to change the Senate rules? Will he force that vote or will he decide ultimately back away? Because his votes are simply not there to change the rules, and ultimately Democrats believe that they're going to force this fight. They're going to try to fire up their base and take this to voters in the midterm elections where they hope this will be a big issue that could drive up voters, but ultimately getting legislation to the president's desk simply is not going to happen -- guys.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, I guess making it public is what Chuck Schumer is hoping to do right now.

Manu Raju, thank you so much.

You mentioned Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking this morning to his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as tensions over the crisis with Ukraine threat to the boil over. The State Department says Blinken stressed the importance of continued diplomacy. The conversation comes as Blinken prepares to leave tomorrow for Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood is at the State Department. CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in Ukraine.

Kylie, let's begin with you. There are times, as you know covering the State Department, where U.S. diplomats use very controlled language like talks were constructive, we delivered a firm message. But looking at Blinken's comments at the State Department this morning talking about massive consequences for Russia, readiness to oppose massive consequences, it seems to indicate a level of urgency right now.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right. I mean, I think it's significant that there was this conversation between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov because it is the first high-level U.S.-Russia conversation that we have seen since that effort at diplomacy last week, since there were three rounds of talks with Russia. But as you said, this conversation, this readout, what the State Department is saying, it's not a whole lot different from what they were saying last week in terms of encouraging Russia to pursue diplomacy, to de-escalate the situation, the tensions between Russia and Ukraine.


And of significance there's nothing in here that indicates that that diplomacy actually has real meat on the bone right now, that there's nothing that the U.S. and Russia have set their eyes on that they can agree to that then would de-escalate. Meanwhile, we have Russia taking actions, continuing to build up its troops. We've seen Ukraine subject to cyberattacks last week, subject to malware attacks according to Microsoft in recent weeks.

We also see reports from "The New York Times" that Russia is pulling out some of its embassy staff from its embassy in Kiev. These are not good signals. And meanwhile, you also have Secretary of State Blinken headed later today to Ukraine. Of note, he will, of course, continue saying what the Biden administration is saying, that they stand by Ukraine, they support their territorial sovereignty.

But it's also significant that the State Department said that he would also communicate contingencies to those who are at the embassy should Russia choose to de-escalate -- to escalate, excuse me, further. That's an indication that the State Department is very clear-eyed about the possibility that a Russian invasion isn't just a possibility, it's a more and more growing possibility as we continue to watch -- Jim.

GOLODRYGA: And no signs of Russia de-escalating at this point. In fact, Matthew Chance, I believe for the first time ever we have seen a joint training operations between the Russians and those in Belarus supporting Vladimir Putin on this, Belarusian President Lukashenko.

What is the reaction there on the ground in neighboring Kiev?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, that's a really important, potentially very concerning development. I mean, already Ukraine faces in the east of its country that gathering of tens of thousands of Russian troops just across the border, mainly on Russian territory, but also elsewhere as well. That is a credible threat. That could be given order to cross over and would really test the Ukrainian military, you know, because of the relative difference in sophistication between the two militaries.

The Russian army is much stronger than the Ukrainian army. But when you add into that mix the possibility that Russian and Belarusian forces to the north of Ukraine may be combining forces and potentially pose a threat from there as well, you can get a sense that Ukraine is sort of surrounded on three sides, Crimea in the south, Eastern Ukraine and Russia in the east, and then Belarus and Russia from the north.

And so that puts Ukraine in an extraordinarily difficult position. We haven't seen many Ukrainian deployments, reinforcements to any of those border regions over the course of the past several weeks despite the fact there's been that growing Russian threat, and one sort of international observer that I've been speaking to says the reason for that is because they're simply overstretched. They don't know where to put their forces.

They don't know where the real threat may come from. And if they do deploy to the border, that could be taken as, you know, a provocation from the Russian side.

SCIUTTO: A possibility of manufacturing one as well.

Matthew Chance, Kylie Atwood, thanks so much to both of you.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN senior commentator John Kasich. He's the former Republican governor of Ohio.

Governor, good to have you back.


SCIUTTO: You, I don't have to remind you, but folks might not know this, when you were in Congress you served on the Armed Services Committee for 18 years. You know these national security issues. The Biden administration so far has done a few things. One, it's gotten allies on the same page to call out Russia for this. It's also threatened both economic sanctions and new forced deployments in Eastern Europe if Russia is to invade further.

Is that the right strategy? And do you believe the Biden administration has done enough to deter a Russian invasion?

KASICH: Well, first of all, Jim, I'm not sure that our allies are all on the same page as us. I mean, to me, President Biden should go to Europe. And he should meet with the Germans, the French, the Brits and all our other allies. And obviously a NATO contingency to have one very clear statement. What concerns me is what we're going to do is have, quote, "devastating sanctions."

Well, where has that worked in the world, devastating sanctions? I'm not opposed to them, but frankly there has to be a threat of a military response if the Russians decide to try to gobble up Ukraine.


SCIUTTO: By U.S. forces?

KASICH: And that could come in many forms.

SCIUTTO: By NATO forces? You talking about going to war? U.S. forces, NATO forces?

KASICH: I'm talking about -- well, what I'm saying to you is there are many different ways in which you can have a military response. You can use cyber on the battlefield. You can do training.


You can provide the kind of equipment that I guess the Brits are now saying they're going to provide. But you don't need to spell out what it means.

But, Jim, here's the problem. If the Russians take Ukraine, what happens in the Baltics? What happens in Lithuania? What happens in Estonia, Latvia, Finland? Is this just going to be a constant march? And the -- this is a crucial question for the Western alliance. Are we capable of asserting ourselves in a very strong way, not just economically but militarily? And if we do not do it, then I just don't think sanctions are going to be enough to deter Putin.

And so it's got to be stronger than that. And they can figure out what kind of joint military efforts that the West can make to stop this.

GOLODRYGA: Well, what we do know is that the president, President Biden, has categorically said that U.S. troops will not be on the ground in Ukraine. I know that you said that there are other options. But to get back to the point of deterrence or consequence, if, in fact, Russia does invade, as you mentioned, sanctions have not gotten us anywhere. And Russia has really stressed test its way through the worst-case scenario in terms of setting up itself to be protected against any sort of sanctions.

Fortress itself, right? It's built up its reserves to higher than where they were in 2014, before they invaded Crimea. In the meantime, Europe still relies on Russia for it energy. As we've seen oil prices continue to go up that benefits Vladimir Putin more than anyone else in that region. Is there time as you say for the forces, for NATO and allies to get together and come up with something more concrete, harsher in response at this point?

KASICH: Yes, I think there is. My understanding is the secretary of State will be in Ukraine I think tomorrow. But it requires more than that. I mean, this is an emergency. This is a real test of whether there's any relevance to NATO here in the 21st century. And to just -- to willy-nilly let Putin march into Ukraine and take it, what does that say about the West? What does that say about our determination?

What does that say about the ability to support freedom-loving people? And at the same time, you know, if Russia doesn't invade, there will be a counterinsurgency. We don't need to be threatening anybody, but we can make it clear that we're just not going to sit back and allow them to take that territory because it just threatens so many other peoples in the whole region. And what is the whole purpose of NATO?

I mean, you could even make maybe an indirect argument about Article 5, Jim, which I know you're familiar with. And, you know, this is a serious matter, and I don't think we're all aligned. As Bianna just mentioned, you have the Germans who are still interested in having their gas supplied by Vladimir Putin and Russia. This is way -- this is not a consistent effort by the West.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the --

KASICH: It's a moment of truth.

SCIUTTO: The part of Nord Stream, the pipeline in all this is remarkable.

I do want to ask you about an issue at home. Voting rights, it's going to fail this week. It's not going to happen. The Democrats and the president don't have the votes. I just want to ask you as Republican, why is the filibuster sacrosanct when it's voting rights in question but not for Supreme Court justices, Trump's tax cuts in 2017 passed with not 60 votes, 50 votes. The Obamacare repeal had to have 50 votes, would not have met the 60-vote limit.

My question is, is this selective principle or principle on the part of Republicans?

KASICH: Well, as far as I'm concerned, I can't speak for all of them, but as far as I'm concerned, the filibuster is there to protect wild swings. It's designed to provide stability, number one, and secondly, to provide for bipartisanship.

And, Jim, if anytime we see an issue, what about the border? And by the way I think the other day I noticed that the Democrats were able to block the ability to vote on that pipeline, on that Russian-German pipeline. They couldn't get the 60 votes to have a vote on the Cruz amendment. So, you know, it's -- and look, it's been overwhelming that both sides have favored the filibuster.

Now there have been exceptions to it. I'm not sure those exceptions were justified. Harry Reid had it, Mitch McConnell had it. Look, the whole purpose of it is to calm things down and not let wild swings brought about by somebody like Donald Trump to be able to push something through because I'll tell you what, the party will come in and they'll push the other way.

And I happen to believe you make your case with a filibuster. Here's the disappointing thing, Mitch -- what's his name? Mitt Romney the other day said he was never asked to be involved in discussions around voting rights. I think they could probably figure out some sort of a deal on that.

GOLODRYGA: I get your point. It's just hard to describe the current state of play as anything stable.


GOLODRYGA: But you're arguing that it could get worse.

John Kasich, thank you so much as always.

KASICH: Thank you both. All right.


GOLODRYGA: Well, still to come, the British prime minister forced to apologize again over parties, multiple parties, held at Downing Street during the country's lockdown. Up next, a reality check on how serious the calls are for him to resign right now.

SCIUTTO: Plus Arizona offers a very clear picture of just how much is at stake in the 2022 elections. Why President Trump's comments could be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to election integrity.

And if your car were sinking in an icy river, would you stop to take a selfie? Just a wild scene this hour.



SCIUTTO: New this morning, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now categorically denying that anyone told him a party at Downing Street during the height of the pandemic last year violated lockdown restrictions. Take a listen.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Categorically. Nobody told me and nobody said that this was something that was against the rules, that was a breach of the COVID rules or we're doing something that wasn't a work event because frankly I don't think -- I can't imagine why on earth it would have gone ahead, why it would have been allowed to go ahead.


GOLODRYGA: Just a reminder, this is the prime minister who made those comments.


GOLODRYGA: This counters claims made by Johnson's former aide, Dominic Cummings, who said that he would swear under oath that the prime minister knew about the party beforehand.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is live in London this morning. And Salma, I mean, this is an example of an apology being enough. And

that's what we heard from him last week. It appears he's just been digging a deeper and deeper grave at this point.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bianna, I heard you crack a laugh there, and that's exactly what the country did last week when the prime minister stood up and said, I didn't know it was a party, I thought it was a work event.

Let me remind you the details of this work event. An e-mail was sent out inviting 100 people to bring their own booze, exclamation point, to the Downing Street Garden at a time when the country was under lockdown, at a time when police were strictly enforcing rules about social gatherings. And the prime minister is claiming I didn't know.

It was the butt of every single joke. Do you know if you're at work of if it's not a party? Is that a coffee or an espresso martini? What's the difference between a spreadsheet and a cocktail? He's become the laughingstock of the country, and that's why there's calls for him to resign. Take a listen.


ED DAVEY, LEADER OF LIBERAL DEMOCRATS, UK PARLIAMENT: There cannot be a situation where there's one rule for the leaders, the people at the very top, and another rule for the rest of us. And with this clear, blatant breach of this very core democratic principle and law-abiding Western democracies, this clear breach of that rule by the British prime minister is extraordinarily serious. This really is a ground for the resignation of the prime minister.


ABDELAZIZ: It's that hypocrisy that's at the heart of this matter. It's that hypocrisy that the government wasn't following the very rules that it was setting for this country that might cost the prime minister his job. There's an investigation under way into all of this, Bianna, and it really could blow back on the prime minister.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It seemed in Johnson's comments there that he was trying to say it's not on him, no one told him, the prime minister, that this was a problem. We'll see if that washes there.

Salma Abdelaziz, thanks so much.

Still ahead this hour, as Arizona paints a vivid picture of everything on the line in the coming election, former Trump officials take matters into their own hands fighting to keep him from taking the Oval Office again.



SCIUTTO: Some three dozen former Trump administration officials, people who served the former president, are concerned about his impact on the GOP and the nation and so are now strategizing on how to stop him. CNN has learned that a group held a conference call last Monday in which they discussed ways to fend off the former president's efforts to erode the democratic process. The highest ranking person on the call was Trump's former chief of staff, John Kelly.

GOLODRYGA: However, the only items the group seemed to agree upon was that they're not sure what their way forward should be and that they are way behind the efforts of the former president and his allies.

CNN correspondent Donie O'Sullivan went to Arizona for a closer look at what's at stake ahead of the midterms.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No celebration without legislation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all have a voice in this country in which we live, and voting is that opportunity that we have.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend in Arizona, a battle for the future of American democracy.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We wanted to come on this day because there's also a senator, Senator Sinema, who seems to be blocking democracy instead of being on the side of advancing democracy.

O'SULLIVAN: The King family here calling on Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema to stand up for voters' rights.

KING: She says she wants voting rights but how do you want that without creating a path for that to happen? That is inconsistent and that is unacceptable.

O'SULLIVAN: Sinema and fellow Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia are blocking the passage of a pair of voting rights bills aimed at countering some of the restrictive voting measures enacted by Republicans at the state level. Sinema says she is supportive of the bills but not in favor of changing Senate rules to get them passed.

SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.

O'SULLIVAN: That stance music to the ears of some Trump supporters this weekend on hand at a really for Trump in Sinema's own state.