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Possible Rail Strike As Sides Meet With White House Today; Inflation Reports Spur Fear Of Another Fed Rate Hike Next Week; President Biden Continues To Tout His "Pro-Union" Platform; Zelenskyy Visits Izium, One Of The Areas Just Liberated From Russia; Biden Speaks On Massive Electric Vehicle Investment. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 14, 2022 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you. We are now waiting for President Biden in Detroit; he's set to announce a major $900 million investment in electric vehicle charging stations. The chargers will soon be built across 53,000 miles of the nation's highways.

CAMEROTA: Now, this is part of the bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which invests nearly $8 billion for electric vehicles. CNN's M.J. Lee is in Detroit. So, M.J., why is today so significant?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, we are about to see the President take the stage behind me in just a few minutes. And you're absolutely right, that this is an event where the President and White House officials hope to really talk about the administration's ongoing investments in electric vehicles. We've seen the President sort of touring the floor, getting a sense of some of the newest models of cars that are out, some of the new technologies, even driving an electric Cadillac. All wanting to use these remarks when he takes the stage again behind me in just a few minutes to talk about the important work and the focus that the administration has had on electric vehicles.

Now, one of the announcements that we do expect to hear from the President is a new $900 million investment in building electric vehicle charging stations across the country across some 35 states, including here in the State of Michigan. Now, of course, no need to emphasize that this is obviously a very important battleground state. So, this is an opportunity for the President, too, to meet with local elected official leaders, union leaders, and talk to the folks here on the ground.

And again, this is an issue where he can really talk about a couple of legislative victories for Democrats, including that big infrastructure package from last year, the CHIPS Bill that he signed into law just a few weeks ago, and of course, the climate change, healthcare, and tax package that he also signed into law a couple of weeks ago. So, all really important themes as the White House looks ahead to the midterm elections in just a few weeks.

CAMEROTA: OK, M.J., thank you very much for setting the table for us there. Also happening right now in Washington, high stakes talks are underway in an effort to avert a nationwide rail strike. Union and railroad officials are reportedly negotiating in good faith during a mediated discussion with the Labor Secretary.

BLACKWELL: If there's no deal by Friday, the strike could cause a slew of disruptions across the country and significant economic fallout. U.S. grain shipments are already being affected. Railroads are starting controlled shutdowns in anticipation of a strike. Joining us now is CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz and CNN's Pete Muntean. Arlette, let's start with you. Where in negotiations right now?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Alisyn, it's all hands on deck right now as the White House is trying to avert a possible rail strike that could cause major disruptions for supply chain issues, as well as have a ripple effect on the U.S. economy. And that is why there is this high-stakes meeting ongoing between -- been led by Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who has brought together representatives from rail -- for the railroad as well as unions, that includes the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Smart Transportation Division. Those are the two unions that have chief concerns and disputes right now with rail officials.

And a bit earlier today, a spokesperson of the Department of Labor said in a statement that, quote, the parties are negotiating in good faith and have committed to staying at the table today. This is something that the Biden administration really is hoping to work through quickly as that Friday deadline is approaching. Now, President Biden himself has also gotten involved in this earlier in the week as he was traveling in Boston on Monday, he made a call -- some calls both to rail and union officials to try to avert a strike.

And the White House has also been working on possible contingency plans if a strike were to go into effect. They want to ensure that these supply chain transportation methods would still be available in some form and format if a strike were to occur. Of course, there are various departments within the Biden administration who are talking, the Department of Labor, Department of Transportation, also the Agriculture Department, as they are really trying to avert a strike -- a possible rail strike by this coming Friday.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, Pete, can you just explain for us the impact that a rail strike could have on all of us?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A huge impact. We're talking about 40 percent of all freight, Alisyn, is transported by rail. And if these rail workers go on strike, that would bring all of that to a grinding halt. It is so critical to transporting commodities. Things like coal, things like crude oil for gasoline, parts for your car.


And in fact, we just found out from Norfolk Southern, one of the large railroads in the U.S., saying that it will stop accepting grain today, because of this looming rail shutdown. That would pose a two-fold issues to consumer -- consumers. Not only would it cause the price of grain to go up, things like bread, et cetera, at a grocery store, but also will make it harder for farmers to get grain for feed. So, we're already seeing the impacts here, even for passenger rail, too.

You know, what's so interesting is that Amtrak, 97 percent of its rails are operated by these freight rail companies. And it is preemptively suspending some of its longer haul service routes, places like Chicago to the West Coast.

Those are already coming down now. And the list could grow even further as we get closer to the strike -- potential strike, which could start as soon as midnight tomorrow night. We're right down to the wire as these negotiations are going on right now. And the Biden administration really needs a win here. This could deal a pretty big blow to the economy when you consider all of the impacts of this, Alisyn and Victor.

CAMEROTA: OK, please keep us posted on the talks. Arlette Saenz, Pete Muntean, thank you. Now to this, a key inflation report out today showed wholesale prices fell slightly in August compared to last month. But overall, inflation remains stubbornly high, fueling concerns about another major rate hike by the Fed next week.

BLACKWELL: Let's discuss with CNN senior political correspondent Abby Phillip and CNN economics and political commentator, Catherine Rampell. Welcome to you both. Catherine, let's start with just the economic portion of this first, then we'll talk about the politics. If you fit what we've learned today about the economy, about inflation, it's worse than people had hoped and expected. What's it mean for the larger picture? Is it possible that we're not past the peak?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The numbers were better than they have been. So, I want to emphasize that, but they are nowhere near where we want to be. And the real challenge for the Federal Reserve right now is how much they need to raise interest rates, again, to temper inflation, to cool down demand a little bit, but not so much that it tips us into a recession.

And that's a really tricky, narrow path to walk. It's not like they have this, you know, finely tuned instrument. They can raise interest rates, but interest rates are a pretty blunt tool here. And so, the risk is when you continue to get report after report after report showing inflation is uncomfortably high, even if it's not as bad as it was, that raises the pressure on the Fed to jack up interest rates, so that we don't have entrenched inflation going forward.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, Abby, President Biden keeps trying to celebrate good, you know, news, economic news. I mean, yesterday, he was doing the Inflation Reduction Act, he was trying to celebrate that. Today, he's doing, you know, electric cars, which are so connected to the infrastructure act. But then, you know, the split screen is that on the other side, we keep having all this data, showing that we're still in trouble. And so, Republicans are seizing on it. Is the thinking -- is that this is what, you know, people will vote on in two months? ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this

is the fascinating part about the combination of the economic data and economic moment that we're in and the political moment that we're in, the inflation data that we have is somewhat backward-looking, meaning that people have been living with this level of inflation. And yet, in spite of that, during that same general period, the President's approval ratings have been taking up slightly, the Democrats, in general, on the generic ballot, their standing has been improving slightly.

And so, it's curious, I don't think that we really have an answer to it yet. But it seems that at least at the moment, voters are considering other things, perhaps. And that's what the White House is really, at the end of the day, hoping for. They feel like they are doing all they can on inflation, maybe they feel like they can't do a whole lot more. But what they can control is this perception that the President and his party either can or cannot get things done.

So, their work there, they're focusing on the part that emphasizes, oh, OK, we passed legislation. Oh, we're making these changes that could make electric vehicles more available to you. I think so far, so good, in that their standing has improved, but we still have a long way to go until November, and the inflation numbers really are bad. It really is hurting families. And at the end of the day, history has shown that people vote with their pocketbooks.

BLACKWELL: Abby, let me stick with you for this one, and the negotiations now happening to try to avoid this rail workers' strike. This President has promised many times that he is pro labor. Let's get a reminder from the campaign and the administration.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I make no apologies, I am a union man, period. You've heard me say many times, I intend to be the most pro-union president, meaning the most pro-union administration in American history. I promise to be the most pro-union president in American history. And Marty's keeping me make that promise.



BLACKWELL: So, as the White House with the Labor Secretary Marty Walsh involved here, they're going to have to approach this deftly, with the President making those commitments.

PHILLIP: It's a huge test for them. First of all, they need to resolve this, they cannot afford a supply chain disruption at this point. But also, this is a test of the President's sway with union households. He did when he didn't households nationally in the 2020 election, but this is also an environment in which unions are weaker than they have been. They have also not been exclusively voting for Democrats. Trump did very well with union households, especially in key battleground states. So, Biden has to prove he has the juice where he says he has the

juice, and he has to resolve this for the broader economy and for his own political standing. I think that this is an administration that knows that, obviously. You see what they're doing over at the White House, they're really focused on this. I think they think that of all the administrations, Democratic or Republican, this is the President who has courted this relationship the most, and we'll see whether or not it can actually resolve this impasse.

CAMEROTA: A rail strike is the last thing the country -- never mind, the politics. Because I was reading, it could cost the U.S. $2 billion a day?


CAMEROTA: I mean, it could send the inflation higher, obviously, compound supply chain issues. This has to be (INAUDIBLE).

RAMPELL: Well, there's the imminent prospect of a rail strike. There are also very tense negotiations over the West Coast ports, which could throw another wrench into supply chains that's further down the line. But yes, this is a huge test for the Biden administration, because as those clips you played just reveal, Biden has said he is the most union -- pro-union president in history. He has also said that confronting inflation and supply chain issues is his number one economic priority.

What happens when those two objectives or intention as they may very well be very soon, if the unions decided to strike? Will Biden criticize them? Is he going to support them? I think it's -- we don't really know, we don't know what he's communicating to them behind the scenes and whether they assume that he will stand by him. I think it's a really big test for this administration. And in the past, when there has been tension between what organized labor wants and what has been good for inflation, generally, the administration has sided with organized labor. So, we'll see what happens.

PHILLIP: And -- but things behind the scenes, they -- I mean, you have to be aware, there are teacher strikes, thinking about how COVID has been handled. They've been working behind the scenes to have some influence with the unions, and we'll see if they're able to do it this time around.

BLACKWELL: We shall see, Catherine Rampell, Abby Phillip. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, now to this, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the newly liberated Izium district today. He said he's shocked by all of the death and destruction at the hands of Russian forces. But Ukraine continues to deal a major blow to Vladimir Putin. Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces have retaken more than 3,000 square miles of territory from Russia. You can see the growing patch of yellow around the Kharkiv region in these side-by-side maps.

BLACKWELL: CNN's international security editor, Nick Paton Walsh is there in Kharkiv. What's happening where you are, Nick? NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, I mean, obviously, we're seeing the blackout behind me here, characteristic of a city, which is still fearing the potential bombardment, although less over the past days. But that visit to Izium City itself startling, frankly, a characteristic I would say, courage near the frontlines of President Zelenskyy, visiting a city which still you could hear explosions.

Actually, while he talked to cameras there in the distance, saying how the people there needed to look after themselves, that they were Ukraine's greatest asset, and saying how the destruction around him, startling as it was, was something he was sadly familiar with, having seen similar scenes after Russian forces pulled out of the Bucha area near the capital Kyiv.

But it is remarkable, frankly, the speed of the Russian retreat here. Some Western officials saying perhaps this may, in fact, have been sanctioned by the Russian General Staff and a kind of ordered retreat, but the feeling is of collapse and chaos. Often Ukrainian forces we're talking to simply trying to work out how fast they can move into the land that's been vacated by Russians all to the north of Kharkiv, where I'm standing. We saw back in May the violence, the extraordinary fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces to take land that Russia has now simply abandoned.

And that leaves you today looking at the strikes that we've seen on the past days here, critical infrastructure of Kharkiv, partially responsible for some of the blackout that we're seeing, but it appears to be being slowly restored here, the power, as possibly Moscow lashing out. They do increasingly look desperate in terms of what they're able to field on the frontlines here, and that frontline is getting smaller and smaller as Ukraine reclaims so much of it.


CAMEROTA: Nick, you have a great piece for right now about this hasty retreat by Russia, and what it says about Putin's military and its meltdown. So, how did that happen?

WALSH: Yes, I mean, it is very hard to understand how a military that has been, frankly, the reason for so much spending by NATO member states over the past decades, could perform quite so appallingly over the past week. Now, it appears that a lot of this was down to Ukraine being very surgical and savvy about where it hit, detecting the weakest point of defense.

But what we've seen is a withdrawal that seems so chaotic, as I said, it's often difficult for Ukrainian forces to keep up with the land they need to try and move into now as well. And it appears to portray the lack of proper supply chains here, the absence of, frankly, Moscow being able to understand its own mistakes, take ownership of them, and try and correct them.

And so, the fundamental question we're looking at now is, you know, for so many years, Russia was considered to be NATO's peer, was the big possibly bear that NATO armed itself to defend itself from. Now, the last week, Russia has not really been able to be a peer of Ukraine that is now NATO equipped. And frankly, for the last decades or so has been much more of an agricultural power than a military one.

And so, it's a startling moment for the Kremlin to assess exactly how much juice it frankly has left in its much-faulted military, and what it might be able to still defend. And for Ukraine, to wonder how far it needs to push, whether at some points, it might begin to overstretch its fast-advancing forces and need to take a moment to pause to resupply and work out what it's managed to achieve.

But I have to say, I never expected six months ago to be standing in a position where quite so much territory would change hands back to Ukraine, away from Russia quite so fast. We've seen something like this in 2014 when Ukraine pushed back but then Russia brought in heavy forces and knocked Kyiv's forces back again. But Moscow doesn't seem to have the army left to do that anymore. And so, we're in very uncharted territory here in the weeks ahead. Alisyn and Victor?

CAMEROTA: OK, Nick Paton Walsh, it's wonderful to have you there for us to explain what's happening on the ground. Thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: And ahead, we'll take you to London, where mourners are now filing through Westminster Hall to pay their final respects to the Queen.



BLACKWELL: President Biden is in Detroit announcing new investments for electric vehicles. Let's listen.


BIDEN: And the rest of the world is catching. But not anymore. Now, we're choosing to build a better America, an America that's confronting the climate crisis with America's workers leading the way. And we're rebuilding the economy, a clean energy economy, and we're doing it from the bottom up and the middle out. I'm so tired of trickle down, I can't stand it.

By the way, remember, when the middle class grows, the middle class grows, everybody does well, the poor have a way up and the wealthy do very well. And by the way, don't forget, middle class build America and unions built the middle class. That's a fact. And nowhere is that more evident than right here in Michigan. We're building the future of the electric vehicle. We're bringing back U.S. manufacturing jobs. 680,000 jobs just since I took office, good paying jobs, union jobs, middle class jobs, jobs that give you a sense of dignity, and a fair shot.

My dad used to say, all I want is a little bit of breathing room. Just a family should have just a little bit of breathing room and be treated with dignity. I used to be -- it used to be that to buy an electric car, you had to make all sorts of compromises, but not now. Thanks to American ingenuity, American engineers, American auto workers, it's all changing. Today, if you want an electric vehicle with a long range, you can buy one, made in America. If you want one that charges quickly, buy American. You want one that's fast in a quarter mile, buy American.

So, by the way, while we're here in Detroit, building in America, we're making it easier for folks at home to buy it here in America. Companies have announced new investments, more than $36 billion in electric vehicles and $48 billion in battery manufacturing here in the U.S. And we're just getting started. I signed the law, the Inflation Reduction Act that gives tax credits to new electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles, made in America. And for the first time, you get a tax credit if you buy a used electric vehicle. That's all coming. And part of the infrastructure law we're investing $7.5 billion to build electric vehicle charging stations all across America.

So, today, I'm pleased to announce we're approving funding for the first 35 states, including Michigan, to build their own electric charging infrastructure throughout their state. And you all are going to be part of a network of 500,000 charging station. 500,000 throughout the country installed by the IBEW. (INAUDIBLE) a special thanks, too, for the last election.

Look. Look, folks, you know, the great American road trip is going to be fully electrified, whether you're driving coast to coast along I-10 or on I-75 here in Michigan. Charging stations will be up and easy to find as gas stations are now. We're also going to invest $7 billion to make American car companies and have the batteries and other critical materials they need.

The auto companies like Ford, GM, Stellantis I still have -- I still am inclined to say that other word, Chrysler, my dad worked for them for a while, are all our partners here. They've made commitments, and we're having investing billions of dollars in themselves to go electric. And we're lucky to have the most skilled auto workers in the world and that's not hyperbole. The single most skilled auto workers in America are right here today, UAW. I'm not joking.

You know what I tell people? What I tell business -- and I'm not joking. Whether I'm speaking to the Chamber of Commerce to the business roundtable, and in the major organizations, why am I so pro- union, they don't give you the credit -- the American people don't understand. For you to get to be -- go through the apprentice program and other trades, you got it four, five years like going to college. You're getting paid little bit, not a lot, but you're working like hell before you get certified. And it's cheaper long term to hire you because you do it the best, and lasts the longest, and in fact, you do it with everybody.


I really mean it. And by the way, we don't tell people that. People don't know that. Neighborhoods I come from, they know it, but they don't know that. It's not that they're mean about, they just don't understand. Like one day you show up and you got a trade, man, you're all set. But you work like the devil to get there. And your work product shows it. I recently signed the CHIPS Act, CHIPS

and Science Act, investing billions of dollars in research and development, workforce training, manufacturing incentive to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to America. We invented that little computer chip. We invented it here in the United States of America. We don't have to rely on other countries to power smartphones, washing machines, automobiles and so much more.

Last week, I was in Ohio, to break ground on a multibillion-dollar semiconductor manufacturing plant in Intel. 7,000 construction jobs. By the way, Dave is making wage nothing less. And folks, 3,000 full- time jobs making an average of 135,000 bucks a year, and you don't need a college degree for all those jobs. Skilled workers. So, folks, all toll, my administration is investing more than $135 billion to advance America's electric vehicle future. Our infrastructure law is also helping make it in America and win the economic race of the 21st century. Once in a generation investment on our nation's roads, bridges --


CAMEROTA: OK, we've been listening here to President Biden in Detroit, Michigan, talking about his administration's investment in electric vehicles. Because of the Infrastructure Act, they're going to be investing something like $7 billion in electric vehicles over the next many years. And the first one is building all of these charging stations, allowing states to do it throughout their state, which will be really helpful for owners of electric vehicles. And that's just the start, he says.

BLACKWELL: Yes, 35 states, this network will include 500,000 charging stations. He said they will be installed by the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers. So, this is the President, again, you've heard him say so much about how he is the or will be the most pro-union president. He said a special shoutout for the election to the IBEW, but this is the beginning of that investment into spreading the use of electric vehicles across this country.

All right, so we're in a moment, going to go back to London, where Queen Elizabeth is now lying in state at Westminster Hall. The streets of London are filled with mourners waiting to pay their respects. Some people are waiting up to 30 hours to pass through this hall.

CAMEROTA: And key primary races in New Hampshire provide a clean sweep for election deniers. What happens if they win in the general? We discuss.