Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

President Biden Hosts Leaders of Finland and Sweden After Nations Apply to NATO; Biden Could Meet with Saudi Crown Prince as Soon as Next Month; Trial Resumes for Russian Soldier Who Pleaded Guilty to War Crimes; House Passes Funding Bill to Address Baby Formula Shortage; Interview with Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) About the Baby Formula Shortage and Abortion Rights in America. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 19, 2022 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Two big stories we are following this morning. First, a show of support at the White House, an important one. This hour President Biden meeting with the leaders of both Sweden and Finland as their countries take steps towards joining NATO. A move by all accounts prompted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The meeting comes just hours before Biden departs Washington for his first trip to Asia since taking office. During the visit, the president will make stops in South Korea and Japan with hopes of reinforcing those alliances there, with China in mind. But as Biden prepares to head overseas, there are concerns that North Korea is preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile in the coming days, yet one more dose of saber rattling.

The other major story we are following this morning, the U.S. economy influx, to say the least. Wall Street set for another rough day. Dow futures already down. You could see there this morning, after the markets' worst day in nearly two years yesterday, ending down nearly 1200 points, 3.5 percent or so.

Inflation fears now depressing investor sentiment. Many CEOs are publicly stating their concerns that a recession could be coming.

Let's begin this morning at the White House, CNN's John Harwood is there.

So, first, John to this meeting today, Sweden and Finland, two countries that avoided membership in the alliance for years, for decades in fact. The invasion of Ukraine changed that. The president showing his support today.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And this is one of a series of consequences that have unfolded from Russian aggression in Ukraine that have -- that are clearly not what Russia intended, but that's how the NATO and the Western allies have rallied. So Finland and Sweden have applied for membership in NATO. That provides leverage for every country within NATO because they all have to approve their accession to NATO.

Turkey, as you know, Jim, has been making noises about opposing the accession of those two countries in part because of their relationship with Kurdish communities, which the Turks have branded terrorist organizations and an arms embargo that was placed on Turkey after the invasion of Syria to quell Kurdish resistance a couple of years ago.

There are diplomatic talks under way to try to get over, smooth out those disagreements. The United States continues to express confidence they'll get over that. That will certainly be discussed this morning and we'll hear from the leaders after their meeting. Then in -- around 11:30, the president is scheduled to leave for that trip to Asia. Security concerns, of course, will come up in South Korea with both countries expecting that ballistic missile test.

But the principal focus of the trip, both to Korea and to Japan, is to roll out this new Indo Pacific economic framework. Trade deals are not popular in the United States these days because of concerns they cost America jobs. So the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by President Obama has not been revived by President Biden after it was scratched by President Trump. But this is a substitute for that, trying through regulations and coordination of the digital economy and other ways in which they smooth out relations to counter China in some way.

It's not as powerful as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but it's something, and President Biden wants to show that he's not going to be distracted from the United States' concern about Asia in the future because he's engaged in this conflict in Ukraine, not to mention his domestic political problems -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: So much, so much on the plate. Not the least of which is war in Europe.

John Harwood at the White House, thanks so much.

CNN has also learned that President Biden could meet with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the first time during the trip to the Middle East next month. It would be a major pivot for a president who once labeled Saudi Arabia a pariah, criticized its human rights records, particularly for the brutal murder of the Saudi journalist Jamaal Khashoggi, who was a resident here in the U.S.

Let's begin with CNN's Natasha Bertrand here.

So, Natasha, this is quite a shift. I mean, relationships are complicated. The U.S. needs Saudi Arabian oil, it has distaste, disgust for Saudi Arabia's human rights record here. How does the president balance those two things in this meeting?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very delicate kind of tightrope that he's walking here. He on the one hand understands based on the advice of his National Security team that Saudi Arabia is a key ally in the Middle East, that they need them for things like regional stability, of course, for things like oil because they are the number one producer of crude oil in the world.


And, of course, as they attempt to isolate Russia, also one of Saudi Arabia's allies, from the entire global economy, from the world, they realize that they need to bring other allies back into the United States's orbit here. So this would follow months of diplomatic heavy lifting by senior members of the -- Biden's National Security team to try to repair this relationship because as we remember, of course, it really soured in the beginning of the Biden administration when he released this declassified intelligence, accusing the Crown Prince MBS of murdering Jamal Khashoggi, "The Washington Post" columnist. And even before that he had vowed to make Saudi Arabia a pariah on the world stage. Here's what he said.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Khashoggi was in fact murdered and dismembered, and I believe in the order of the Crown Prince, and I would make it very clear we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them, we were going to in fact make them pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are. There is very little social redeeming value of the -- in the present government in Saudi Arabia.


BERTRAND: So what we're told, of course, is that the president does, of course, still recognize that Saudi Arabia's human rights record here is egregious, but that in terms of real politic and in terms of the, you know, necessity of Saudi Arabia to some of the United States national security priorities, he realizes that the relationship, especially with MBS, the crown prince, really needs to be repaired here -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Maybe the lesser of two evils, classic calculation.

Natasha Bertrand, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss the big picture, Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, also author of the new book, "The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats and Our Response Will Change the World."

Ian, good to have you on. I want to get to the thrust of the book because it's an important book in an important time. First, to some issues in the news, and Natasha's reporting there about meeting with Saudi Arabia.

I mean, is the essential calculation here for the Biden administration and the U.S., yes, Saudi Arabia is bad in some ways, but we need him more certainly than we need Russia right now?

IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP AND GZERO MEDIA: Look, I mean, they just sent a high-level delegation to Venezuela and they're now weighing whether or not they want to invite the Venezuelans in to the -- some of the Americas because, you know, this is the -- they're trying to engage to get a little bit more energy out of that country. And certainly that's much more of a rogue that we have distaste for than the Saudis.

Also, I will say, the human rights record in Saudi Arabia is nothing to be proud of. But the reform agenda in Saudi Arabia in the last couple of years has been pretty substantial. And on a number of issues, diversifying the economy, trying to bring more Saudis into the workforce, including women, on culture issues, on sports issues and the rest, and those things matter as well.

So, I mean, this is -- you know, President Biden, who personally has distaste for the Saudi regime and for the crown prince, being pushed by a lot of people around him in the White House and across the administration to say you're just going to have to get over yourself on this one.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, listen, reform for everything but dissent. Right? I mean, that's the exception when you look at Saudi Arabia. If we can talk about Russia --

BREMMER: Many Gulf States. Absolutely that's true, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, for sure.


SCIUTTO: So we have a war in Europe now, and we have really a realignment here, a return in many ways to what we saw before the fall of the Berlin Wall, right? I mean, you have -- you had a long frontier there now with more weapons and guns are going to be on that frontier and that frontier is going to extend if Finland does go ahead and join NATO.

Is that the way folks should be looking at this, that we're turning back the clock three decades, in effect, resurrecting a Cold War Europe?

BREMMER: Well, the peace dividend is over, but also let's keep mind it's not just about turning the back the clock, it's also about turning it forward. President Putin believed that the United States, the West and NATO were in inexorable decline. He did not believe that a weak Biden, and Germany without Merkel and Macron going his own way with Trump having said NATO was obsolete, with Macron saying it was brain dead, he did not believe that they could muster a response to an invasion of Ukraine.

He obviously didn't believe the thesis of my book. He was wrong. And the fact is that the West is much stronger, even the incredibly divided United States. You had Pelosi and then McConnell going to Kyiv, dueling weeks, to show that they were supportive of what the administration and the West today is doing for Ukraine and to Russia. So this is Putin, Putin has made the biggest miscalculation of any major world leader since the collapse of the Soviet Union and has provided opportunities for the West to be far more aligned than we had been before February 24th.

SCIUTTO: Yes, yes, Putin, the savvy lead, the brilliant strategist, was praised by many in this country, you know, prior to this invasion.

I do want to ask you, when you look at your book, "The Power of Crisis," you highlight these three great threats, further global health emergencies, pandemics, transformative climate change, and the next technological revolution.


You said, you know, we need global cooperation to address these issues. Is that unity possible when you have a new Cold War in Europe, with Russia, and arguably a developing Cold War to some extent with China in Asia?

BREMMER: It's made more possible because of the scale of the crisis. I say in my book that it needs to be a Goldilocks crisis. It can't be a crisis that's so small that it doesn't really compel action, that you feel like you can be complacent. But it can't be so big that you want to curl into a ball and wait for the end to come. And what we are seeing both in terms of the Russian invasion and also specifically with climate change is that there are big aspects of Goldilocks crisis.

We have 195 countries in the world today that all recognize that we have 1.2 degrees centigrade of warming. All agree that it's because of what we did. The dedication of my book is to a glass half full, that first half was tasty. In other words, it's optimistic, it's hopeful, but we are the ones that drank the first half. And there is a recognition globally, that's the case, and we are doing far more to all invest in renewable energy and make a faster transition than anyone thought possible 10 years ago.

And by the way, you know, even with China, who we don't trust, and we don't collaborate with, you know, the powers, Republican and Democrats, see that the Chinese are investing a lot in solar and wind, electric vehicles, and in rare earths supply chain, and it's not just about hugging trees and saving whales. If we don't invest in a post carbon future, the Chinese are going to dominate that world.

And so are we going to let them do that by themselves? So in that case, it's competition, but it's virtuous competition as opposed to new Cold War competition.

SCIUTTO: True. I mean, unless you re-elect a former president who denies the science of this, right? You know, right down to saying windmills kill birds.

BREMMER: Even if. Even if, Jim, you know, the fact is when we elected Trump the first time around as our president, he left the Paris Climate Accord. He had aspects of being a climate denier, it did not matter to the governors, to the mayors, to the banks.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point.

BREMMER: To the corporates in the United States. If you look at U.S. carbon emissions through the Trump administration, they continued to move towards transition. SCIUTTO: It's smart. And the carmakers, too, right? I mean, that's

what they're investing their money, the EVs.

BREMMER: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Thank you for a dose of optimism, Ian Bremmer. The book again "The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats and Our Response Will Change the World."

Ian Bremmer, thanks very much.

BREMMER: Thank, Jim.

SCIUTTO: The first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes is back on the stand today in Kyiv. The 21-year-old who, goodness, looks like a teenager pleaded guilty Wednesday to shooting a 62-year-old unarmed Ukrainian civilian, and this morning he had a message for the victim's widow.

CNN's Melissa Bell is live in Kyiv with the latest. What did he have to say?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, just extraordinary scenes this morning at this courthouse here in central Kyiv. Bear in mind that as we've been talking about these last few days together, what's so extraordinary about this trial is that it's taking place even as the war continues.

Now it covers those first few days of the war. Vadim Shishimarin is accused of having killed an unarmed civilian who had been riding his bicycle on a phone, in his village, not far from his home. Today, in court, just now, his widow got a chance to speak to Vadim Shishimarin who pled guilty now to killing him. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Can you please tell me what did you feel when you killed my husband?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Do you repent?

SHISHIMARIN (through translator): Yes. I acknowledge my fault. I understand that you will not be able to forgive me, but I am sorry.


BELL: Vadim Shishimarin, as you suggest, a young man, 21 years old, and what we heard in court after that exchange, Jim, really spoke to the chaos of those few days. His tank unit coming down from the Russian border, hitting a land mine, he and his men fleeing in a stolen car, finding themselves in the village, just before that civilian was killed. And we didn't just hear from Shishimarin today. We heard from another

soldier who was also traveling in that car, another Russian prisoner of war, speaking to the chaos, speaking to the pressure that Shishimarin was under to fire that shot. He'd initially been reluctant to do it. He was ordered to do it, and you really felt the disarray that these young men faced as they found themselves in a situation that they themselves didn't properly understand -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: What a powerful moment, widow to her husband's killer there, and, again, those words, just following orders.


Melissa Bell, thanks so much.

Still ahead, the CDC is investigating an extremely rare confirmed case of monkeypox here in the U.S. Details on the symptoms, how it spreads, still a small number of cases we should specify, but multiple other clusters of the disease have been detected around the world.

And House lawmakers passed two bills aimed at easing the baby formula shortage. I'm going to speak to Senator Bob Casey about whether they can get enough support in the Senate plus his proposal that would give the FDA more authority to respond. That's coming up.


SCIUTTO: President Biden is taking new steps to address a nationwide shortage in baby formula, invoking the Defense Production Act and allowing federal agencies to use military resources to help tackle the supply crisis.


On Capitol Hill, House lawmakers passed two bills aimed at alleviating the shortage. The legislation would provide $28 million in emergency funding for the FDA, also lift restrictions on families who buy formula with WIC benefits, as they're known, that's aid to families with low income.

CNN's Melanie Zanona joins me now from Capitol Hill. So, Melanie, where do these bills stand?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really to be determined. And it totally depends on whether Senate Republicans are not only willing to vote for these bills, but allow them to move quickly through the Senate. One of the bills would provide $28 million in emergency funding to the FDA, that won the support of all Democrats but not a single Republican voted for the bill, citing concerns that the FDA was being given a blank check. So that could have a tricky path in the Senate, where you need the support of 10 Republicans.

Now the other bill would provide more flexibility to low-income families who rely on federal assistance to purchase baby formula. That bill had overwhelming bipartisan support, so it's likely to clear the Senate at some point. But the timing here is unclear. Now, Jim, I think it's important to emphasize that there really is no

magic wand or silver bullet to address this shortage. Even if both of these bills are signed into law, it's not going to immediately solve the problem. But Democrats and Republicans, but mostly Democrats, are under immense pressure to show that they're at least trying to tackle the issues that voters care about, whether that's the baby formula shortage, gas prices, inflation.

And that is especially true for vulnerable Democrats who really wanted to have something in their hands that they could tout when they head back to their districts for a two-week recess -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and trying is one thing, folks are going to want to see results.

Melanie Zanona, on the hill, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss is Senator Bob Casey. He's a Democrat from Pennsylvania. He sits on the Senate Finance Committee as swell, as the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee involved in this issue very closely.

Senator, thanks for taking the time this morning.

SEN. BOB CASEY (D-PA): Jim, good to be with you. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: So you have these House bills coming, one providing, as Melanie was saying, $28 million emergency funding to the FDA. Will it pass the Senate? Will there be enough Senate Republicans to get this through and quickly?

CASEY: Well, Jim, I sure hope it would. And we'll see when we get to the vote. I think we should vote as soon as we can. We obviously have time the next week to do this. And I hope we can get it done. But, look, it's not good enough for Republicans just to point the finger at President Biden. They got a vote for these bills. I think they should also support legislation that I've introduced to focus on some of the near-term but even longer-term challenges on better notification, as well as dealing with -- in more -- in real time the contamination issues that can arise and to give families a lot more notice.

The FDA has been calling for more authority for years to be able to intervene earlier with these formula manufacturers.

SCIUTTO: We did a deep dive on this yesterday, and that slow diving in, right, by the FDA on this certainly a factor. But there are other factors, too. Only four producers in the whole country, one of them produces close to half of all the baby formula. They shut down, that's a big impact. There are restrictions on foreign imports. I mean, is there going to be an effort in Congress with Democratic control to address those longer-term issues?

CASEY: I don't think there's any question we have to do that. When you consider all the consolidation that's happened throughout corporate America, but especially when it comes to food-related companies, you can't have a circumstance going forward where families are awake at night worried about whether or not their baby is going to get formula because of that kind of consolidation.

You've got one company controlling 50 percent of the market. So I think that has to be the subject of not just focus but hearings and legislation. In the near term, of course, we have got to get supply on the shelves. That's why this Defense Production Act and other steps the administration has taken is vital. But we have got to pass legislation to deal with both the FDA issues and notification issues but also this corporate consolidation.

SCIUTTO: OK. Another topic that you've been close to, that is the issue of abortion. You are conservative on this issue, particularly among Democrats. You did decide to support the Democratic bill that would codify Roe v. Wade. But that went too far. Even for fellow Democrat Joe Manchin, but also for pro-abortion Republicans such as Lisa Murkowski.

Is there space in the Senate to figure something out that can garner enough votes among Democrats and Republicans to protect some access to abortion? Is there any effort there? Is there overlap or possibility?

CASEY: Jim, I think there can be. But right now we're at a place where we're in a brand-new chapter in America on abortion in my judgment. We're in a country now where we're either going to have a ban or no ban. That's the choice that Americans have to make.


And the reason I supported the legislation that the Democrats were pursuing, the Women's Health Protection Act, is that would at least, at a minimum, stop a nationwide ban on abortion. Because this is about more than simply the decision that we're thinking is going to be coming in a matter of days or weeks that would allow individual states to ban abortion. Now the Republican Party is fully committed, the presidential candidates, their House and Senate leadership committed to a six-week ban on abortion.

And I think most Americans, and certainly most Pennsylvanians, don't want to have that. Having said all that, I think that there's -- if we can get past this question of even debating the issue, well, the reason we were voting twice now, both in February and May, even to debate it, that's what the vote was, the vote wasn't on final passage. It was just to debate the issue of abortion. I think we should. I think a lot of Americans expect us to debate big issues. And that's what Republicans were holding up.

SCIUTTO: You just articulated it in a way that I haven't heard many Democratic candidates for election in the fall articulate it, that the choice is between a ban or no ban. I mean, is that the reality here? Because, you know, Republican leadership has certainly left open the possibility if they gain control of the Senate to voting to ban it entirely.

CASEY: There's no question about it. I think it's that simple and there is -- there are a lot of issues to debate and we should have that debate, especially when you have a court, a right-wing -- not even conservative, a right-wing majority in the court, willing to overturn a 49-year precedent, whether it was on abortion or any other issue, that in and of itself should cause concern.

But when you get down to what will happen is the Supreme Court appears ready when they have a final decision to allow states to ban it. In essence, the United States would become what Texas is now with the six-week ban. I don't think many Americans support that. But at least let's have a fulsome debate on the Senate floor when it comes to the position of one party wanting to ban it.

SCIUTTO: Senator Bob Casey, appreciate you joining the show this morning.

CASEY: Thank you, Jim. Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: We are just moments away from the Opening Bell. A major sell- off yesterday, markets closing at their lowest in nearly two years. What to expect today. Those red arrows pointing down again. That's coming up.