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Interview With Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY); Elon Musk's Twitter Deal on Hold; Baby Formula Scramble; Ukraine Begins First War Crimes Trial. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 13, 2022 - 14:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Today, the House Oversight and Reform Committee launched an investigation into what's causing this shortage.


One factor was a February recall and shutdown of a key Michigan factory that then created a domino effect, made even worse by pandemic supply chain problems.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told a member of Congress that the administration is strongly considering having President Biden invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up supply.

The FDA says it is working around the clock and will announce plans to streamline the imports of formula next week. But the urgency is palpable for parents, who feel there is no immediate answer to such a basic and crucial question: How will I feed my baby?


SHAUNA BOWMAN, MOTHER: We have been having to look pretty heavily for it, I would say, for the last four or five months. But, this last month, it's just become impossible to find.

MAC JAEHNERT, FATHER: Because Mackenzie is premature, she needs a particular brand of formula.

EMILY JAEHNERT, MOTHER: Not being able to find something that's going to keep record healthy is a fear we didn't understand we would be facing, after we have faced so many just getting her to where she is.


BLACKWELL: With us now, CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and CNN White House correspondent M.J. Lee.

M.J., to you first.

The White House seems to be struggling to get some answers about this. Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the Defense Production Act. What did she say?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a White House that really has been scrambling to answer questions about this nationwide baby formula shortage, as there have been so many stories across the country, concerned parents not being able to find formula on the shelves.

And, as you guys know very well, this is such an acute problem, because there is no substitute for formula or breast milk. So this is the reason that we are seeing parents feel so panicked and feel so desperate.

And the White House has been spending the last 24 hours or so really trying to show that they are taking actions on a range of different things. So, they have been talking about things like working with companies directly to boost their production, importing formula potentially from other foreign countries, cracking down on things like price gouging.

Now, the other thing that CNN reported earlier today is that the White House is strongly considering the use of the Defense Production Act. This is what the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, told a lawmaker that we spoke to.

But there is an acknowledgement this is not a longer-term solution. This isn't really the method that would get baby formula onto store shelves out literally tomorrow. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was just discussing this in the Briefing Room. Here's what she said.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The reason why it would have a longer-term impact is because, for the -- the production of baby formula is so specialized and so specific that you can't just use the Defense Production Act to say to a company that produces something else, produce baby formula. It just doesn't work that way exactly.

That is something that could be a consideration.


LEE: Now, the White House has also been emphatic that one major problem that they are facing is hoarding and panic buying, essentially parents going out there and buying anything that they can get their hands on, because they're worried that they may run out, and also some people who are buying up the supply that they see, so that they can sell it on maybe the black market for a lot more than the formula is typically worth.

Now, you might recall, guys, yesterday, when we were asking White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki what exactly a parent should do if they can't find formula in the stores, and the answer was not really an answer. They couldn't really say whether there was a federal resource that parents could consult.

And just now, minutes ago, in the Briefing Room, Psaki announcing the launch of a new Web page. It's So we will have to see what kind of information is available on that Web site, but just another reminder that they really are scrambling right now in the last couple of days to try to get answers for parents that are really concerned across the country.


Elizabeth, one of the things that officials have said or they have told parents to do is, if they can't find formula, to contact their pediatrician. Do pediatricians have some sort of backup supply that parents could access?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They don't, Alisyn. I really wish, of course, that they did.

There's a very limited amount that your pediatrician can do for you if you're a parent looking for baby formula. They -- if you can't find it at a supermarket or a Walmart or a Target or wherever near you, they can't invent it.

Now, if your baby has a specific medical problem and needs a specific formula, they might -- and I will emphasize might -- they might be able to help you with that. If your baby drinks a certain formula, and you can't find it, and you want to know if another formula will work for them, your pediatrician could surely help you with that.

Another thing your pediatrician might be able to help with is, some moms breast-feed and then stop and transition to formula. If moms want to go back to breast-feeding, your pediatrician should be able to put you in touch with a lactation specialist who could help you try to do that.

But, other than that, what your pediatrician can do is pretty limited.


BLACKWELL: All right, Elizabeth Cohen, M.J. Lee, thank you both.

CAMEROTA: OK, so the House Oversight Committee now launching an investigation into this nationwide shortage, sending letters to four of the largest manufacturers to try to figure out what is causing this problem and how they can ramp up the supply to meet the overwhelming demand.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is the chair of the House Oversight Committee. She joins us now.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for being here.

How did we get to this point? From what you have seen, how is it that now -- that for weeks now, parents have been driving around in the middle of the night, sometimes for miles, looking for baby formula?

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D-NY): Well, the way we got there is, it was exacerbated by a recall from Abbott of a major portion of baby formula, which then hurt the entire supply chain.

But we sent out letters yesterday to the four largest manufacturers. They produce 90 percent of the formula in America. And well over three-quarters of parents use this formula. So it is a severe problem for many of them. I am a mother of two myself. I can only imagine that mothers have told me they have turned to social media.

They're driving around trying to find it. They're gouging them with price increases. What our letter asked for was three major points. First, when are these manufacturers going to have the formula back on the shelves, so that the families can get it? And then, secondly, is this related to supply chain challenges?

Are there raw materials that are missing or labor problems? What other issues are compounding it, in addition to the recall that I just mentioned? And then, lastly, we are asking, what are they doing to make sure that this never happens again? This is a crisis in America right now. And we want to make sure it doesn't happen again.


Senator Mitch McConnell says that the White House has basically been asleep at the switch on this. Could they have engaged sooner?

MALONEY: Well, the White House has come out with solutions. They're working now to import. They're doing all kinds of things. Congress is responding.

There will be a hearing, not in my committee, but in another committee next week. We have asked for a briefing by the end of the month. Our briefing will come from the private sector. I invite the Republicans to join us in trying to solve the problem.

They can write their own letters.


MALONEY: They can write their own -- have their own investigations or join in ours, as we seek to get the product on the shelves for the families.

CAMEROTA: Yes, well, I mean, I think the point is, is that the Abbott recall was mid-February. We're now in mid-May. So wasn't there something the federal government could have done sooner?

MALONEY: Well, we are reacting now. We are reacting swiftly.

The White House is totally engaged. The agencies are engaged. We're working to find a solution. And we invite the Republicans to join us in trying to find a solution.

CAMEROTA: Have you seen examples of price gouging? I know you said that you have heard from some parents anecdotally. Is that what you're seeing?

MALONEY: I'm in Washington today. We are voting.

We just completed voting. I have been here all week. I have been talking to parents and to mothers. I can feel for how they feel. They tell me that they have seen prices three or four times higher than what they have confronted in the past. They're desperate to find the formula. We're working with them to find it and support them in any way.

But the thing we can do the most is to get our four major producers of infant formula, help them through the steps to get it resupplied as quickly as possible. We are asking, when will they have the shelves filled again? When will they have enough product to restock the shelves for our parents?

CAMEROTA: And what's the answer to that? What are they telling you in terms of, when can parents expect to be able to go back to the store and buy baby formula?

MALONEY: They have not given me a specific answer. That's part of the questions that we're asking.

We are seeking documents. We have a document request, information request. And we are waiting for their reply.

CAMEROTA: Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, was on CNN this morning. And she was very reluctant to label this a crisis. Basically, she said she didn't want to resort to labels, that they were more sort of action-oriented.

But can we call this a crisis?

MALONEY: Well, some parents, some women, some mothers are calling it a crisis. So it may be a crisis for them. It may not be a crisis for the country, as we import, as we ramp up production.


But if you are a mother looking for formula, and you do not have it for your infant, I would say it is a crisis for that mother. As a former mother myself, I can only imagine the stress they may be feeling.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Congresswoman...

MALONEY: But we're working together to solve it. And we will get better at it every day.

CAMEROTA: Well, we look forward to you getting answers from those four big manufacturers about exactly when. I mean, that's what parents want to know. When can they go back to their stores? And will there be formula?

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, thank you very much for your time.

MALONEY: Thank you, Alisyn. And we will get back to you as soon as we hear from the manufacturers.

Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, Ukraine's military continues its counteroffensive against Russian fighters. They are pushing them from the areas around Ukraine's second largest city. We have got more from the front lines ahead.

CAMEROTA: And a proxy battle shaping up between former Vice President Pence and former President Trump. Pence will campaign for Georgia's Governor Brian Kemp, while Trump is backing Kemp's opponent. So who's going to win?

That's ahead.



BLACKWELL: Today, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Russian counterpart for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. The Pentagon said Austin urged an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine.

Now, Ukraine's fighters, they're seeing some successes, also some setbacks on the battleground. In the northeast area of Kharkiv, the nation's second largest city, the Russians appear to have destroyed their own bridges to stop Ukrainian troops from advancing. That's according to analysis of satellite images.

CAMEROTA: But, in the east, Russian forces continue to gain ground in the Donbass. Multiple reports say the Ukrainian military has pulled back from the city of Rubizhne -- that's in the Luhansk region -- after weeks of resistance.

Today, Ukraine begins its first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier. This may be the first time this is happening while the war rages on.

CNN's Melissa Bell joins us now from Kyiv.

Melissa, it's great to have you there.

So what is this Russian soldier accused of doing?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's accused on the fourth day of the war, Alisyn, of having killed an unarmed civilian. And that was what he was being tried for today, the very first war crimes trial to be held in a war that has lasted nearly three months and already seen more than 11,000 alleged war crimes registered by Ukrainian authorities.

Now, it's important to note, Alisyn, that this particular trial, the first one, was held by Ukrainian civilian court. There will be many more trials to come. There will be international trials to come. This one was Ukraine's beginning of its bringing to justice with some of these crimes.

Now, the country's prosecutor has said that that is essential that it should take place. And I think this was one of the most surprising and unusual aspects of watching this very young man walk into the court today, was that it is taking place even as you and Victor were just saying the fighting continues in so many parts of Ukraine. It is unusual that a country's judiciary should be sufficiently upright that it can prosecute a case in these circumstances. She explained that it was important that this precedent be set that the trials start quickly, in order that further civilian casualties are avoided, because, she said, the Russian soldiers fighting in those other parts of Ukraine are going to understand that they cannot go about carrying out atrocities on civilians with a sense of impunity.

And I think that is something new, if it is shown to be effective, that could really change the way that soldiers behave on the ground. But it is something of an experiment. And there is, of course, the question of how impartial this trial is going to be.

Everyone involved, including the defense lawyer, said, look, they believe in Ukrainian judicial independence. But remember that one of the things that they're going to be facing, one of the main challenges, is going to be the extraordinary emotion around all of these trials as they kick off -- Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Absolutely.

Melissa, the first major city that the Russians took over was Kherson there. We're hearing about some growing desperation in that city. What do you know?

BELL: Victor, well, to that point that the prosecutor was making earlier, that the urgency for Ukrainian authorities is also to use the judicial system as a sort of weapon for peace, it's important to remember how many more war crimes they fear might be committed.

Now, what we're talking about here are civilian populations deliberately targeted. It's very difficult, Victor, to get a precise idea of what's happening in Kherson because communications are difficult and because it's been under Russian control now for so many weeks.

But we are hearing from Ukrainian officials that some 45 percent of the city's population has been -- believed to have left. Others attempted to flee today, a convoy of several thousand people tried to make it out of the city and, say Ukrainian officials, came under shelling as they tried to do so.

Ukrainian officials also accusing the local Russian authorities that have taken control of the town of trying to carry out or create a deliberate humanitarian crisis. Now, that is of extreme concern, not just to Ukraine, but, of course, to the international community watching this unfold in horror, and with very little that they can do about the situation in Kherson for now.

And yet President Zelenskyy taking to the airwaves tonight and saying that he believes that it is only a matter of time before Russia realizes that it has lost this war. And the good news for Ukraine is coming from the north of the country, as you just mentioned, in Kharkiv, where substantial gains have been made, not just to the north of the city towards the Russian border, but towards the east as well. CNN has seen evidence of those bridges being blown up, we believe, in

order that Russia can try and prevent that counteroffensive from continuing, because its aim is not just to try and prevent Kharkiv from being the victim of that sustained shelling again, those civilian populations being targeted for much of the last two months.


It is also about cutting off those Russian supply routes, essential if Ukraine is going to win this war -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Melissa Bell for us in Kyiv, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Well, there's another new twist in Elon Musk's Twitter takeover. Why is the deal now on hold?



BLACKWELL: Elon Musk's $44 billion bid to buy Twitter has hit the brakes, at least for now.

Musk tweeted this early today: "Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam or fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5 percent of users."

CAMEROTA: Two hours later, he followed that up with another tweet that he's -- quote -- "still committed to the acquisition."

Brian Stelter, CNN's chief media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," is here.

Brian, what is going on, number one? And is this really about the amount of fake accounts?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: No, I think this is about the money, but he's using the fake accounts as a pretext to hit pause on this deal.

There isn't actually -- in SEC regulations, you can't really just hit pause on a deal. I mean, this has SEC violation written all over it, but it's the ultimate Friday the 13th story. It is Elon Musk, super Twitter troll, at it again.

And look at the stock price right now, down nearly 10 percent on the day, Twitter stock suffering as a result, investors now even less confident he's actually going to go through with this.

Here's what Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said in a note to clients this morning. He said: "The street's going to view this one of three ways. Either, one, it's likely falling apart, or, number two, Musk is negotiating for a lower deal price, or, number three, Musk is simply going to walk away from the deal and pay a $1 billion breakup fee."

He said: "Many will view this as Musk using the Twitter filing spam account thing as a way to get out of this deal in a vastly changing market."

And that is part of the context here, right? Tesla's stock has been dragged down, along with a market sell-off overall. All of a sudden, Musk is not worth as much as. He was relying on those Tesla shares in order to finance part of this deal. So this might be a convoluted way to back out of the deal.

But, with Elon Musk, you never, ever know for sure.

BLACKWELL: So, if he backs out for good, what then? What happens?

STELTER: Well, I think this would go back to being a troubled a publicly traded company.

Look at the stock chart for the past year. You can see the rise and fall of Twitter, mostly fall. I mean, that's a roller coaster no one wants to be on. It has come back in recent weeks because of interest in Musk, but now, because Musk says he's on pause, it's on hold, the stock back down again today.

But the company would return to being publicly traded. The -- I guess the CEO and the team would have to get together and decide if it wants to implement any of Musk's ideas or not. But it would be a very difficult position for Twitter to be in. And, frankly, I think it speaks to the vulnerability of the company, writ large.

There are no other known buyers. Right now, it's only Elon Musk. So we're going to find out, is this one giant troll, or is he really still committed to this deal? He claims he's committed to the deal. But I think we should be highly skeptical of that at this point.

CAMEROTA: This is exhausting.


CAMEROTA: Brian, thank you very much for that Friday the 13th update.

BLACKWELL: Thanks, Brian.


BLACKWELL: All right, former President Trump is now taking shots at one of the candidates in Pennsylvania's GOP Senate primary.

Kathy Barnette was once considered a long shot, but now she is neck and neck with her other two top opponents. We will discuss the implications next.