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Flood Damage May Close Parts Of Yellowstone For "Substantial" Time; Biden Admin Announces $1 Billion In New Military Aid For Ukraine; Secy Austin Meets With Defense Ministers On Weapons Support For Ukraine; Gen. Milley: Russian Control Of Eastern Ukraine Not "An Inevitability"; 2 American Fighters Missing In Ukraine And Feared Captured; Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) Discusses Negotiations On Gun Safety Legislation, Durbin's Concern Over Biden's Trip To Saudi Arabia. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired June 15, 2022 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Nearly 100 million Americans are sweating through some record-breaking temperatures right now. A dangerous heat wave is stretching across large portions of the country.

Now this excessive heat is testing power grids and forcing closures, including in Detroit where public schools are closing early for the rest of the week.

In central Ohio, tens of thousands of people are without power. The heat index in Columbus is expected to climb near 110 degrees.

And Yellowstone National Park is closed again today. Record flooding forced evacuations. And people in some nearby communities are stranded there without safe drinking water.

CNN's Nick Watt is with me from Gardner, Montana.

So parts of Yellowstone may be shut down for quite a while. What's happening?

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, the northern entrance, which is where we are is going to be closed for months, probably for the rest of the summer at least.

Why? There's only one road into the park through this northern entrance and the Yellowstone River has washed it away in multiple places. It's going to take months to fix that.

So Gardner, this town, the gateway to the park has basically become a ghost town.

I just bumped into one of the county commissioners. He said, "We need help."

I also spoke with a woman who runs an inn here. Take a listen to what she had to say.


WATT: Do you have anybody staying at the moment?

KARI HUESING, YELLOWSTONE GATEWAY INN: I think we have one person. They might have checked out this morning.

WATT: Wow. And do --


HUESING: We were booked.

Yes. I live right across the street.

WATT: You were booked?

HUESING: We were booked solid for a year.

WATT: And now you have one person -


HUESING: We were booked for a year.


WATT: And so how did this happen? It's basically climate change impacting people's livelihoods.

There was a huge dump of snow late in the snow season. There were very high temperatures early in the summer season. And there was rain. And that all combined to basically raise the Yellowstone to levels never recorded before.

And they had they reckon about three months of worth of water barreled down here in the course of just three days.

Now, where I'm standing -- Jim, if you pan over -- I think we've all seen the pictures of that house floating away. That house used to be here, and it is no longer.

I don't want to get any closer to there because the river is running underneath us now. They are going to lose more.

All of this was actually predicted by a U.S. Geological Survey study last year in Montana that said there would be more rain, there would be earlier heavier snow melt, basically that this would happen. And it just has.

And this is also not over even for now. There's about 12 inches of the snowpack still left up there. There are high temperatures in the 60s and 70s forecast for this weekend.

So the fear is there's going to be more snow melting. The river's going to rise and there could be more damage -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: Wow. Nick Watt, for us there in Gardner, Montana. Thank you, Nick.


A chief GOP negotiator on gun reform is casting some doubt on when we'll actually see the text of a bipartisan bill. He says key issues still need to be ironed out. Democratic Senator Cory Booker joins us next to discuss.


BLACKWELL: Today, the White House announced an additional $1 billion in new military aid to Ukraine. Now, it comes as U.S. Intelligence believes the war is reaching a pivotal stage.

Russia continues to make some important gains in the east while Ukraine burns through ammunition. It's an issue Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin addressed with his counterparts from close to 50 countries earlier today.

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us from the Pentagon.

What would be included in this latest shipment?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Victor, this is a $1 billion package. Part of this will come directly from U.S. inventories, about a third of it.

The other two-thirds would come from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative where the U.S. will contract directly with arms makers to get those weapons to Ukraine.

In terms of what's in this package, 18 more howitzers and 36,000 rounds of ammunition. That's on top of what the U.S. has already sent in.


As well as ammunition for the HIMARS system, a multiple launch rocket system. The training on that just completed today. So that weapon, one of the most powerful and advanced weapons the U.S. has sent in, that should be in the fight by the end of the month.

In terms of what the U.S. will contract, two harpoon coastal defense systems. So those will also, at some point, be joining the fight to protect Ukraine's coasts from the Russian Navy that's operating in the Black Sea.

In terms of why this is so critical, Russia has made incremental, but as you pointed out, important gains in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine is fighting back.

The top U.S. general says the outcome here not inevitable.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: It's not a done deal. There are no inevitabilities in war. War takes many, many turns. So I wouldn't say it's an inevitability.

But I would say that the numbers clearly favor the Russians in terms of artillery. They do outnumber, they out gun and out range. You've heard that many, many times. And they do have enough forces.

But the Russians have run into a lot of problems. They've got command- and-control issues, logistics issues, morale issues, leadership issues, and a wide variety of other issues.


LIEBERMANN: Other countries have also committed to send in following this main form, including Germany, for example, which will send in three of its own multiple launch rocket systems -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: Oren, I see you're not at the Pentagon. Clearly, it's not at Brussels. You're at NATO headquarters where the secretary of defense is today.

Let me ask you about the reporting we're getting about two American fighters missing in Ukraine, feared captured. What do you know?

LIEBERMANN: Victor, we just have some basic information here, but let me fill you in on what we do know at this point.

Two American fighters who were fighting alongside Ukrainian forces are missing. They've been missing for about a week now. And the fear is that they have been captured by Russian forces.

Their names, as we've learned, are Alexander John Robert Drueke, 39 years old, and Andy Huynh, 37 years old. Both men are from Alabama.

We have spoken to those close to them, who last talked to them on June 8th.

From a man who was acting as their team sergeant, who wished to remain anonymous for his own security reasons, they were fighting north of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine on June 9th when there was a very heavy fight, and that's where they went missing. The fear is that they were captured by the Russian forces.

The State Department says they are aware of these unconfirmed reports and they are in touch with Ukrainian authorities but won't say any more than that at this point -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: All right, Oren Liebermann, thank you.

Happening now, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is speaking to reporters after issuing the largest interest rate hike in 28 years. We have some new developments.


BLACKWELL: Right now, on Capitol Hill, some mixed messaging on when we'll actually see a gun safety deal, the actual legislation. Republican chief negotiator, Senator John Cornyn, says it may not happen at the end of this week because he's still concerned about a couple of key issues.

CNN chief congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, has talked with the Republican lead negotiator.

What are these issues?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are two issues that they're trying to hammer out. Remember, this group, 20 members, ten Republicans, 10 Democrats, they did agree on an outline, but they are trying to turn that into detailed legislative text, which is proving to be a difficult issue.

The two issues they're trying to sort out, Red Flag laws. These are the laws that states can adopt to essentially allow authorities to take away firearms from individuals who are deemed a risk.

There's talk in this legislation to provide funding for states to adopt these laws.

And also, the issue of the so-called boyfriend loophole, closing that loophole. Allowing people, domestic partners who have been convicted of misdemeanor offenses related to domestic abuse, denying their access to firearms.

But Cornyn indicated there's still disagreement about how to deal with that Red Flag law funding, as well as how to define who would fall under that so-called boyfriend loophole.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): One of the issues has to do with whether the funds that we will vote for will be available to states that don't have Red Flag laws but do have crisis intervention programs and things like mental health courts, veterans courts, assisted outpatient treatment programs, things like that.

The other issue has to do with the way that nontraditional relationships are handled in terms of domestic violence, misdemeanors. We've got to come up with a good definition of what that actually means.


RAJU: Now, these negotiators are planning to meet this afternoon to deal with those differences.

I did ask Cornyn whether it would be a heavy lift to get a deal by the end of this week, finish the legislative drafting by the end of this week. He said maybe not a heavy lift, but it will be a lift, and the goal I've been trying to pass this next week.

And the big reason why there's a dispute over that Red Flag law issue is because conservatives, in particular, are concerned about incentivizing states to do this, saying allowing these laws to go forward could deny people their Second Amendment rights.


RAJU: So some work still --


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): I don't think we should be spending taxpayer dollars to encourage states to take away weapons from law-abiding taxpayers and U.S. citizens. So I've got major concerns about that.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Red Flag laws need investment of hundreds of millions of dollars for them as an incentive. But also of to -- (INAUDIBLE). And at the same time, we could have a variety of other crisis intervention modes that also help save lives.


RAJU: So the Democrats are saying there, Victor, there needs to be actual details to ensure that these states don't just take the money and use it for other issues but deal with actually implementing those Red Flag laws.

Republicans are saying the money should allow states to do other issues, such as crisis intervention centers and other matters, rather than just simply using it to implement those new Red Flag laws.

So that dispute continues, Victor. The question is, can they resolve it and get that all finalized by this week?

BLACKWELL: All right, Manu Raju, for us on Capitol Hill. Thank you, Manu.

Joining us now to discuss is New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker. He's part of the bipartisan group of Senators working on this.

Senator, thank you for your time here.

I hope you heard some of the concerns that Senator Cornyn expressed about the boyfriend loophole, how nontraditional relationships would be treated, also the funding for these incentives for Red Flag laws in states.

Are those concerns do you think will be solved pretty shortly?

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): I was in conversations about this earlier. I'm hopeful we can work through some of these challenges.

The reality is we know, and both sides of the aisle know, that the same reason we're restricting spouses, these nontraditional relationships, is often we're getting the same levels of violence manifested through gun violence as we see often from married couples.

So there's an urgency. There's good intentions on both sides. I think we can work through this.

BLACKWELL: When do you expect there will be language, there will be a bill for Senators, for the public to read?

BOOKER: I'm encouraged. There is, again, on both sides, Senator Cornyn on his team and Chris Murphy, both want to get it done asap. To me, they're hoping they can get something done before the week is out.

BLACKWELL: OK. You still think that's possible?

BOOKER: I see some of the drafting challenges as we were discussing earlier today. But we're pushing hard. This is always where the rubber meets the road. This is always what makes it a challenge.

I've been around Washington, D.C., for eight years as New Jersey's Senator. This is the most good intention I see, people really leaning into this, trying to answer the public's cry to get something done.

We know the stakes are high. Clearly, it's not going to solve everything. But if we can get this done, it'll be the greatest gun safety legislation we've passed in 30 years here.

BLACKWELL: You say it's the greatest gun safety legislation in 30 years. I read a piece in the "New York Times." They spoke with a man named Ricardo Negron (ph), who survived the Pulse shooting in 2016.

And he supports it. He says it's something, right? He supports the elements, but he also said it's the bare minimum of the bare minimum.

You say it's significant. What do you say to those people that say it doesn't feel like enough?

BOOKER: I tell them come to my community. When I was mayor of the city of Newark, so many guns were coming into Newark because of straw purchasers were trafficking guns into our city.

Finally, finally, we've been fighting for it for years, that becomes a significant federal penalty.

Number two, we're a nation that has a lot of folks that get guns and we know they're showing early warning signs, that can be predicted and prevented. The bolstering of resources for Red Flag laws will save lives.

You were just discussing the boyfriend loophole. We've been trying to close that for years and years and years, as so many women who have a significant other who has murdered them, this is something that could -- if we get it right, it can save lives.

So, yes, it's a step in the right direction. Does it get us where we need to go? Will we still have an epidemic of gun violence? Yes.

But, dear god, for those of us who are dealing with this every single day, for people who live in neighborhoods like mine.

Because remember, these mass shootings are horrific, but they're a small percentage of the everyday shootings we have in America. And there's an urgency. Lives depend upon us getting something done.

BLACKWELL: Getting from the agreement on the framework, and you have 10 Republican Senators -- let's make it 11. We've heard some positive comments from Mitch McConnell as well but he still wants to see the legislation.

Getting from that point to yeas on legislation, there is still some work to do.

And we're hearing from the gun lobbies, Gun Owners of America, which is to the right of the NRA, they wrote to their members, "This is our do-or-die moment. We need one Senator -- maybe now two -- "to change course in order to rip gun control" -- as they call it -- "to pieces."


Are you confident you'll have these Senators when it's time to cast those votes?

BOOKER: I have reasonable confidence we can get it done. I know they're going to face a lot of backlash.

This is what I predict. If and when we get this done, all the fire and brimstone that's supposed to rain down on Senators is not going to appear.

How do I know that? In states like Florida, where they passed moderate gun safety laws, people that voted for it, none of them lost their office because of it.

A lot of these big organizations are paper tigers when it comes to the general electorate where the majority of Republicans agree with commonsense legislative changes like the ones we're opposing.

BLACKWELL: But Senator, that was the argument in 2013 when the then- vice president came to Congress and said, we have to do something.

Here's the list of polls that show most Americans want universal background checks. They want this list of gun safety elements. That went nowhere.

When you say you're confident there will be no backlash, that these groups are paper tigers, history would suggest they're not.

BOOKER: Again, I give you the facts of folks in purple and red states. Because of the organizing of groups like Moms Demand Action and Parkland Kids, there's been a lot of gun legislation passing on the state level and very few people are losing office because of that.

But you're right, on the federal level, how many Parklands, how many Newtowns, how many churches and mosques and synagogues have we had to have our fellow countrymen slaughters until we on the federal level do something?

Until this moment, I have not seen 10 Republicans willing to get on a moderate, modest, incremental change like this. But we have that now. Never before seen in my time in the Senate or the years before.

This gives us hope. But hope is the act of conviction. Despair will never have the last words. With the operative word being "active." We'll stay active, stay on this, keep pushing until we get something done.

BLACKWELL: One other topic here. You sit on Senate Foreign Relations.

We heard from the majority whip, Dick Durbin, who is concerned about the president's planned visit to Saudi Arabia. Of course, Mohammed bin Salmon, the U.S. Intel community says he's responsible for the murder of "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

Are you concerned about the president's decision to go there? Do we know he will engage in some way with MbS?

BOOKER: Again, I'm concerned about human rights violations in many, many different countries. That's something we should take seriously and focus on that.

Is the president doing the right thing going to Saudi Arabia? And it's not just important about the oil issue. There are a whole bunch of regional issues in which the Saudis are our allies, like the Abraham Accords.

So, yes, I believe and I'm confident that the president is doing the right thing.

I believe we have a complex relationship with Saudi Arabia. But when it comes to the regional crises that we have, countering Iran and their ballistic missiles, dealing with the protection of our critical ally, Israel, and many more things, it's very important we have dialogue and engagement with Saudi Arabia.

BLACKWELL: Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, thank you, sir.

BOOKER: Thank you very much.

All right, this just into CNN. Dr. Anthony Fauci has tested positive for COVID-19. Details ahead.