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Ukrainian Forces Retaking Territory?; Interview With Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT); Inflation Easing?. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 11, 2022 - 13:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thanks so much for joining us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And we have a busy hour taking shape here in the NEWSROOM. Inflation backs off a bit, robbing a little less of your buying power last month after it hit a 40-year high. So could the worst be behind us? Next hour, we will hear from President Biden on this.

In the Senate top Democrat Chuck Schumer calls it the most important vote in decades. Lawmakers will have to go on the record about abortion rights, as the Supreme Court appears ready to overturn Roe v. Wade.

And on a wing and a prayer. A passenger with no-flying experience takes the controls when the pilot can't. We will hear from the air traffic controller who calmly guided that man to a safe landing.

But first to the White House and our Kaitlan Collins, our chief White House correspondent.

Kaitlan, the president is due to speak next hour from a family farm in Illinois. What do we know about his plan to fight high food prices?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, today, Ana, it's all going to be about boosting food production, because this is something that you have heard from officials here at the White House say they have deep, deep concern about the shortages that are happening not just here in the United States, but also globally.

And so that is going to be a big focus that President Biden has today at this farm in Illinois, talking about what he believes U.S. farmers can do to try to help alleviate some of these shortages, things like making sure they have better access, better insurance if they plant a second crop and one year, making sure that they have better access to technology to help reduce the reliance on fertilizer, also boosting production of fertilizer here at home.

That is going to be the focus of what they are talking about today. The big question, of course, Ana, is whether or not those things make a real notable difference in what we have seen in the numbers that are out today, because you saw the prices of food here in the United States rose point 0.9 percent from April from the previous month of March.

That, of course, is a main concern here for the White House, as they are paying attention to these inflation numbers, because you see the price of things from dairy, eggs, everything, not just gas and cars as well, have all been skyrocketing. And so it's a big concern for the White House.

And the president said that he was heartened by the fact that inflation edged a little bit last month, but he is still very concerned about this after saying that it is his top domestic priority. And so, today, he is going to be trying to make the case to voters that this is about the invasion in Ukraine, but also talking to them about other reasons that this is because of, which we know is the supply chain disruptions, severe weather that's happening, all of these issues, of course, that are leading to the main problems that he's talking about today.

But, overall, what we should note is that, six months out from the midterm elections, he's trying to make the case to voters that Democrats are better equipped to handle these issues than Republicans.

So you can expect him to use some of that language that he was talking about yesterday, saying that he doesn't believe Republicans have a better plan here, in his speech today, Ana.

CABRERA: Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank you.

Let's take a deeper dive now. Want to bring in Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics.

Mark, always great to have you.

The inflation rate ticked down slightly from last month, but it is still high. Do you think we have hit peak inflation yet?

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: Well, Ana, I say this was some trepidation, but, yes, I think we have seen the peak in inflation.

The inflation that we're suffering through right now is largely the result of the pandemic, the impact on supply chains and labor markets. And, of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has juiced up oil and other commodity prices.

So I am hopeful that e will continue to move to the other side of the pandemic, supply chains will iron themselves out, and that the worst of the fallout from the Russian invasion on commodity markets is in the rearview mirror.

If that's the case, then, yes, I think we're going to see better inflation numbers ahead of us. But, having said that, it's going to take a while, meaning not for 12, 18 months, to get back to inflation that I think we all feel comfortable with.

CABRERA: OK, so when you're talking about getting back to inflation that we feel comfortable about, let's just be clear here. Does it mean prices are going to drop? Will we get more chips in the

bag again, or does this just mean things sort of plateau, so these high prices we're paying now are going to stick around?

ZANDI: Yes, mostly, they're going to stick around.

It's just -- the inflation is the rate of increase in prices. And that rate of increase is going to slow, I think, here going forward. But it's not like we're going to see price cuts.


Now, some things, we will see prices decline for. So, for example, we're going to be, I think, at some point paying less at the gas pump. We're going to be paying less for vehicles that got all juiced up because of the pandemic effects on the ability of manufacturers to produce, and they're going to produce more, and prices are going to come in. So some prices will fall.

But, for most things, it's not about prices declining. It's just more about the price increase will be more manageable.

CABRERA: So you do believe that gas prices will fall?

Let me ask you about that specifically, because we just saw prices hit another record high today. We're now currently at $4.40 a gallon nationwide. That's the average, at least. And yet we have the U.S. Energy Information Administration saying it expects the national average for gasoline to fall to $3.81 a gallon and the third quarter and $3.59 a gallon in the fourth quarter.

That would be about 80 cents cheaper per gallon than what we're seeing today. Do you share that optimism?

ZANDI: Yes, that sounds about right to me, Ana, yes.

I mean, I think, at these high oil prices -- we're over $100 a barrel for oil -- that energy producers around the world, including here at home in the United States, can make a lot of money by producing more oil, so they're going to produce more oil.

They are. Rig counts in the United States are ramping up here. So we're going to get more oil. And that will put downward pressure on price.

But, of course, the big caveat here is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Obviously, that's going to be a problem for a long time to come. And who knows what path that's going to go down. As long as it doesn't go off the rails, then, yes, oil prices will decline and we will be paying less at the gas pump later this year going into next.

CABRERA: Just real quick, before I let you go, food prices.

Even though the overall inflation rate dipped to 8.3 percent for April, food prices were 9.4 percent the inflation rate there in April from the year before. That's the biggest increase since 1981. So that's huge. Why the disparity depending on the sector here?

ZANDI: Well, I mean, food prices actually goes right back to oil, because it's the cost of trucking the products, the agricultural products from the farm to the store shelf. That's a big part of the cost.

So, if I'm paying a lot more for diesel, and diesel is at a record high by orders of magnitude, then I, as a grocery store, am going to pass that through to you as a consumer. So, if we can get oil prices down, get gas prices down, diesel prices down, I think we will see food prices moderate as well.

CABRERA: All right, Mark Zandi, I really appreciate your expertise and insights. Thanks for being here.

ZANDI: Sure thing, Ana.

CABRERA: To Capitol Hill now and the battle over abortion rights.

We are now just a couple of hours away from a key vote on a bill that aims to protect access to abortion nationwide. Sixty senators are needed to pass this bill. The numbers aren't there. But this vote will get every senator on the record.

And that's the reason Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he's holding this vote today. Schumer says this is no longer an abstract issue, after a Supreme Court draft opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade was leaked, sparking protests for and against abortion rights.

So here's what today's bill would do. It would codify the right to access abortion into federal law and guarantee the right of health care providers to perform abortion services.

Our latest poll shows most Americans, 66 percent, do not want Roe v. Wade to be overturned. But a Pew poll taken before that draft opinion was leaked shows a majority of Americans do want some restrictions on abortion. Only 19 percent say abortion should be legal in all cases.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Senator, thank you so much for taking the time today.

We know today's vote is going to fail. Why is it so important to get everyone on the record?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, Republicans in the Senate have, I think, made it pretty clear that if they win control of the body this November, they are going to move forward with a national abortion ban.

That means that it's not just about the states that are already poised to ban abortion. It's about my state of Connecticut. It's about states that have codified Roe vs. Wade. And so it is important to make sure that voters all over the country understand the stakes of this election, understand that, while the right to have access to a full range of reproductive services may vanish in half the states after Alito's opinion becomes law, the rest of the country may come soon thereafter.

So we have got to put everybody on the record so that voters have a really clear understanding of who they're voting for and the stakes when it comes to women's health care.

CABRERA: Well, in order for Republicans to pass a federal abortion ban, that would require 60 votes, right, unless you got rid of the filibuster and they had the majority.

But even Senator Mitch McConnell was pressed on that this week, said, no, I would never get rid of the filibuster.

And he was pressured multiple times during the Trump administration. And he's -- he held firm to that.


But here's the thing. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, they don't support today's bill that they will be having to vote on, but they do support some abortion rights. And they have put forward their own bill called the Reproductive Choice Act, which would codify the abortion rights established by Roe v. Wade and prohibits states from imposing an undue burden on the ability of a woman to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability.

I just wonder, why not go with their bill that can get bipartisan support?

MURPHY: Well, I think I'd probably dispute that characterization of their bill.

I actually don't believe that it fully...

CABRERA: But that's in the wording of their bill.

MURPHY: No, I think, if you read the bill, you can see that it would continue to allow for states to put onerous restrictions on a woman's access to abortion, above and beyond what many of us believe is guaranteed in Roe.

So there's just a disagreement about what their bill does. I think it's a big step backwards from the Roe protections.

But, just as important -- but if I can just...

CABRERA: But, respectfully, though, respectfully, because I'm reading the direct language out of their bill, that it says, the purpose -- quote -- "It is the purpose of this act to codify the essential holdings of Roe v. Wade in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey."

And, in general, it says a state may not impose an undue burden on the ability of a woman to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability, right?

MURPHY: Right. So -- but the problem....

CABRERA: I have read their entire bill. So I'm confused as to why -- how you see it different than what is current law.



Well, you're reading in part from the preface of the bill, which is not actually law that's binding on jurisdictions. And, second, you have to define what an undue burden is, because this Supreme Court is going to define undue burden in a way that allows for states to effectively eliminate access to abortion.

So, unless you very clearly defined what an undue burden is, you are basically just asking the court through another means to eradicate a woman's right to choose.

So, that's why the bill that we're voting on today is very specific about what burdens a state can put on abortions and what -- which ones they cannot, to make sure that the court can't take the Murkowski- Collins language and turn it into a backdoor ban on abortion.

CABRERA: So, let me read the language in their bill, because they do define undue burden.

It says the term undue burden means any burden that places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability. So it is in their bill.

But let me ask you about your bill, the Democrats' bill, because I know that that's important to get the information out to the public about what's in the bill everybody's voting on today. I also read that bill. And one of the arguments against this bill by Murkowski or Collins, even Senator Joe Manchin, is that this bill is too broad, that it pushes beyond what was established by Roe v. Wade.

Are they wrong?

MURPHY: They are wrong.

And, again, it comes down to this conversation we're having about what an undue burden is. Again, the Collins-Murkowski bill doesn't really provide enough definition. I read the same thing you read. And, to my mind, that allows for this anti-choice majority on the Supreme Court to effectively continue to legislate away the right to abortion.

Our bill is much more specific in making clear what an undue burden is and what it isn't. That is, in fact, what I think is the responsibility of a legislative body when you codify a very broad ruling, like Roe.

So, yes, our bill is more specific about trying to make sure that some of these onerous state restrictions on abortion come off the books. But I think that's what the majority of Americans want. They want the ability to make the decision for themselves as to whether they are going to terminate a pregnancy through an abortion.

CABRERA: So, I didn't see Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood or Casey mentioned in this bill.

And so is that perhaps where the confusion lies? Would it be better to clarify that you're just asking to hold the current law as it stands by codifying that into law through your bill, because it isn't clear when I read it that that's exactly what you're trying to accomplish here.

In fact, Susan Collins came out today. And her quote was: "I want the law today to be the law tomorrow."

Do you disagree with her on what you're trying to accomplish?

MURPHY: But the law today -- the precedent today allows for the Supreme Court, this very political anti-choice Supreme Court, to do an end-around on Congress.

And so you have got to be more specific in the legislation about what restrictions can be placed on choice and what can't, because, if you don't, you are just inviting this Supreme Court to continue to legislate their preferred position on choice.


So, yes, maybe that's the reason for the confusion.

But let me also just quickly push back on something else here. If you think Mitch McConnell is -- and I don't mean you -- I mean the broader American public. If folks thinks Mitch McConnell is not going to change the rules of the Senate to outlaw abortion on a federal basis, then you haven't been paying attention to the Republicans in the Senate for the last 10 years.

They said they weren't going to change the filibuster for the Supreme Court, until they had the opportunity to do it in order to put anti- choice judges. I heard what Mitch McConnell said. I just think that this anti-choice movement inside the Republican Party is a perpetual motion machine that cannot be stopped.

And if they get control of the Senate and the House and the presidency, I just believe that they are going to find some rationale to change the rules to be able to pass a national abortion ban with 50 votes. That's just my opinion, having watched these guys for the last eight years.

CABRERA: Let me play the sound from Mitch McConnell real fast, where he was asked specifically about the possibility of changing the filibuster rules for this specific issue.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There are no issues which Senate Republicans believe should be exempt from the 60-vote threshold.

In other words, there's zero sentiment in the Republican Conference in the Senate to get rid of the filibuster.


CABRERA: And he went on to say: "I have many flaws, but being inconsistent is not one of them. I said repeatedly no to President Trump when he was there, wanted to get rid of that," that being the filibuster.

You just don't believe him? Do you think that that was a lie?

MURPHY: Well, I watched the Senate Republicans get rid of the filibuster for the explicit purpose of putting anti-choice judges on the Supreme Court.

I watched Senate Republicans, who had up until that point opposed changing the rules, come to a convenient new rationale for changing those rules. So I have seen this play before, in which Senate Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, did not support changing the rules. They found a rationale to change the rules in order to promote their anti-choice agenda.

I just believe that they -- the past is predicate, and that the same thing will happen if they get control of the Senate. I have seen it before.

CABRERA: Senator Chris Murphy, I really appreciate your time. Thank you for that discussion. I think it was a good one and important to understand your thinking and clarify some of what is in the bill and some of the arguments against it. Thank you.

MURPHY: Thanks a lot.

CABRERA: Ahead, the latest from Ukraine. A senior official says counterattacks near the Russian border are making Moscow -- quote -- "very worried."

And just an unbelievable story here. A passenger with no experience flying an airplane is forced to become the pilot and land it.

Plus, a potentially life-or-death choice. New evidence backing up the push for COVID booster shots.



CABRERA: More signs today that Russia's grip on Southern Ukraine is getting tighter.

In the city of Kherson, which is currently under Russian control, new Russian-installed leadership is reportedly making a formal request to become part of the Russian Federation. But, in the northeast, Ukraine says it is making gains and has pushed Russian troops away from the city of Kharkiv.

CNN's Scott McLean is in Lviv for us. Scott, tell us more about these developments now in the northeast and

the south.


Yes, the Ukrainians say that, in some parts of the country along that very long front line in the eastern Donbass, they're actually outnumbered when it comes to troops 10-1. Different story, obviously, in the Kharkiv region, where they say that, in the city itself, it's been relatively quiet over the last few days.

But the real fighting is happening in the towns and villages outside of the city. In fact, in some places, between the city and the Russian border, the Ukrainians say that they have got troops just within a few miles of the border. And that is where the Russians have actually moved troops, they say, inside the Russian border, in anticipation of the Ukrainians actually reaching the border.

And we have seen some evidence, we have seen some video from earlier this month that shows that the Russians in some of these areas have had some pretty hasty withdrawals. In one case, the Ukrainians have taken out a bridge, leaving vehicles partially submerged in a river. It's also incredibly dangerous as well.

We saw evidence last week that a group of civilians, 15 cars trying to get out of the Russian-held area to Ukrainian-held territory, took fire from the Russians. Their vehicles were riddled with bullets. We're told that at least four people in that case died. Others were injured.

I want to tell you about Mariupol, though, as well, obviously, the far southeast. We have been watching this for literally months. The situation has been incredibly dire, especially at the Azovstal steel plant, but not quite perhaps as dire as we thought originally.

And that is because a high-ranking Ukrainian general with the armed forces now says that ammunition and aid actually have repeatedly been delivered to the steel plant. This was possible, though, up until the Russians caught wind of it, and they were able to take out their ability with an airstrike to actually do that.

And so this raises all kinds of questions about what their delivery method actually was, how often supplies were able to get in, and when their ability to deliver supplies actually got cut off -- Ana.

CABRERA: OK, Scott McLean, a lot of interest there. Thank you.

Let's dissect all of this with retired Major General Paul Eaton. He's a CNN military analyst and the former commanding general of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team in Iraq


And, General, as we just discussed, Russia is apparently making some gains in the Kherson area. That's here in the south. You can see where it is between Odessa and Mariupol here -- but that Ukraine is making gains up around Kharkiv. And that's here near the Russian border, where Belgorod is and the area where we know Russian reinforcements have come into play.

So what is the significance of these two developments?

MAJ. GEN. PAUL EATON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Ana, so what the Ukrainians have is what we call interior lines.

Their lines of communication are shorter, and they can move more quickly from one hot spot to another to reinforce whatever they need to do. That, coupled with the extraordinary U.S. intelligence contributions, allow them to see the battlefield more clearly and allow them to move more quickly to reinforce where required.

And, of course, their logistics, their lines of communication are shorter, so they don't have all the vulnerabilities that the Russians have got. So, they're working to roll the northeast flank and working to the east and south. And the Russians are in a tough spot right now in both places.

CABRERA: Let me just pull up where Mariupol is.

Again, this is south -- the southern part of Ukraine. And, here, we have been talking a lot about what's happening in and around the Azovstal steel plant. What do you make of Scott's reporting that Ukraine is still able to get ammunition and other supplies into this steel plant? Are you surprised, given Russia's bombardments and the blockade?

EATON: I am not surprised.

The fact that the Russians still underestimate the will and the competence of the Ukrainian military is perhaps the only surprise that we have got.

You have got to be a hell of a slow learner to not understand exactly what the capacities are for Ukrainian army. They really want this. They want it in a competent manner. And they are going to prevail on this. They just want it.

CABRERA: Sources tell CNN that Russian forces are stealing farm equipment and thousands of tons of grain from Ukrainian farmers, as well as targeting food storage sites with artillery.

Now, Ukrainian officials say an estimated 400,000 tons of grain have been stolen so far. General, what do you think Russia is trying to accomplish?

EATON: Well, Putin, of course -- we're all historians, and Putin is as well -- '32-'33, 1932-1933, Stalin just created a mass starvation to bring the Ukrainian people to heel as he consolidated power in greater Russia and Soviet Union.

So, Putin may be working to repeat history here. We also know that Ukraine is a net grain exporter to the world.


EATON: And if we lose Ukrainian grains, we're again going to see a contributing factor worldwide of food shortage, inflation.

And I'm not sure what his economic war tool is going to wind up looking like, but it appears to be using economics as an instrument of political power and power.

CABRERA: Major General Paul Eaton, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for sharing your analysis.

Now, just imagine you are on a plane and, suddenly, the pilot can't fly that plane. What would you do?

Up next, how one passenger with no experience jumped into action.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane.