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Florida Braces For Direct Hit As Ian Intensifies; Interview With Tampa Mayor Jane Castor About Tropical Storm Ian; Liz Cheney Says She'll Leave GOP If Trump Gets 2024 Nomination; Interview With Finland's Ambassador To The U.S. Mikko Hautala About Ukraine; Cubans Vote On Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage; Giorgia Meloni Set To Be Italy's Most Far-Right PM Since Mussolini. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 25, 2022 - 18:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May lose power for multiple days.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: The path of this is still uncertain. The impacts will be broad throughout the state of Florida.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): If he is the nominee, I won't be a Republican.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney is drawing a political line in the sand.

CHENEY: The fact that my party has refused to stand up to him I think does tell you how sick the party is.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thousands protest across Russia over the draft by Putin.

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The Russian army is struggling badly, and that he doesn't have a lot of options left. Any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: I'm Alex Marquardt in Washington in for Pamela Brown tonight. Thank you so much for joining me. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

The most powerful man in the world is no match for a brewing monster named Ian. President Joe Biden has canceled his Tuesday visit to Florida as this storm churns toward the warm waters of the Gulf. There it is expected to explode into an intense, powerful category 4 storm. Then Ian will likely weaken a bit before charging ashore somewhere along Florida's Gulf Coast. Florida's governor saying that the storm's massive size means that the entire state, the whole state will be impacted. And he has activated the Florida National Guard.

CNN meteorologist Tom Sater has been tracking all of this in the weather center. Tom, what is the latest?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it continues to look a little disorganized, really. So it is a tropical storm. It's not moving very quickly, Alex. Only at 12 miles per hour, but it's getting ready to enter some of the warmest waters in the entire Atlantic. Higher elevations, winds are light, so once it starts to feed on those warm waters, all cylinders are going to be firing up.

Now the last few frames of this animation, if you look near the center here, really some dark colors. So deep convection is starting to occur. This could be the beginning. We've been watching this since last Thursday off the coast of South America thinking maybe this is the acorn that could become the oak. But it's taking its time. However, that doesn't mean the watches and the warnings aren't issued and it doesn't mean we don't follow the computer model.

And we really need to lean into that. The last advisory at 5:00 p.m. now includes a tropical storm watch and that's for the lower keys. All eyes right now are on Cuba. However, let's look at the environment as mentioned and this orange area, the warmest waters in the Atlantic. And it's not just at the surface. It's deep. So once this starts getting into this deep well of this high octane fuel we expect it to develop. Maybe a hurricane overnight tonight.

Again, by 2:00 in the morning, this is Tuesday, just on that southern coast of western Cuba, all right, could be a category 2, possibly a 3, but right now we're going for 2. But right now the surge alone is going to be maybe 12, 14 feet for them.

Here's the latest model, I'm going to show some changes from earlier in the day. So it makes its way across western Cuba and there will be a time that we see this rapid intensification. Only so many storms do this, but it gets up to category 4 status. When it hits category 4, and remember 3 and 4 are major hurricane status the upwelling of water underneath it is going to start to really become a big deal, and it's going to carry all of that water to the shoreline.

So even if that category drops to 3, to a 2, maybe to a 1, that's just for the winds, OK? It's going to carry that surge as a category 4 into this. So that is really, I think, the most dangerous element of all of this. Now, again, this is a forecast. Things can change. This is the American model. This actually looks pretty good. If you're going to have one, let's have it where the winds are lighter in the Big Bend area, sparsely populated, right. The European model, though, is quite frightening.

This is a worst-case scenario if this holds true. And again, if this is around let's say Tampa, down Bradenton, Sarasota, all of that water from that category 4 status is going to go into the bay, it's going to go into the canals and the tributaries. It's going to be a big deal.

Two quick models, again this is what we do not want, European model takes it right into this area, high winds, high surf, heavy rainfall. As the surge is going in toward the tributaries and canals it's going to impede and keep that water from flowing out. The American model if we can have one in our favor it would be this. The problem is we just don't know yet. So anyone from Pensacola over down at Cape Coral needs to be prepared for this.

It could change at any minute. It could take that right turn early. That would be Wednesday morning, or it could be up to the panhandle and that'd be maybe Friday. So a lot of questions still. We need to watch this, everyone does because you're going to need to know your evacuation plans and have them ready at the last minute -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: And that is such an important warning, do not lower your guard if that category number drops.

SATER: No. Right.

MARQUARDT: Tom Sater, in the CNN Weather Center, we will be coming back to you as we watch this.

And as Tom has said, a worst-case scenario is Ian slamming into the highly populated and vulnerable Tampa Bay area. And that's where we find our Carlos Suarez in Tampa.

Carlos, how are the city and its residents getting ready for Ian?


CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, some folks out here have started to get their hurricane supplies and pick up their sandbags. In fact, the city of Tampa today opened three sandbag distribution sites, and the lines at each of these locations was quite long. City and county officials they have echoed Governor Ron DeSantis' declaration that folks need to start preparing for this storm and now, not later in the week.

At a briefing in Tallahassee the governor said that 2,500 members of the Florida National Guard are now on standby, and he noted that the entire state of Florida is now under an emergency declaration. He said that because the uncertainty of the path of Ian is so great it doesn't really matter where you live in Florida, you need your supplies now.


DESANTIS: It really is important to stress the degree of uncertainty that still exists, and so anybody from Tampa Bay all the way to Escambia County, there are different tracks that would take it into one of those places. And I would also say to other Floridians, even if you're not necessarily right in the eye of the path of the storm, there's going to be pretty broad impacts throughout the state. You're going to have wind, you're going to have water, there could be flooding on the east coast of Florida as a result of this. It's a big storm.


SUAREZ: And we're already starting to hear about some closures, Alex. Just a few minutes ago the Hillsborough County Public School District said they are going to start closing their schools tomorrow through Thursday considering that a lot of their buildings will be used as shelters -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right, Carlos Suarez in Tampa. Carlos, stay safe out there. Thank you very much.

Tampa's mayor has declared a state of local emergency as the city does prepare for the storm. Gas stations, grocery stores, already packed as residents get ready for high winds, potential flooding and of course power outages.

Tampa's Mayor Jane Castor joins us now.

Mayor Castor, thank you so much for taking the time. We certainly know how busy you are and how much you have to do ahead of this storm. I do want to ask you about that. How are the preparations going? How worried are you?

MAYOR JANE CASTOR (D), TAMPA, FLORIDA: The preparations are going very, very well. And of course there's a high degree of worry whenever we have a named storm that we are in the trajectory or in the path of that storm. So -- but we are preparing. You know, we like to rehearse and practice for these but we certainly don't want to be on the main stage of Ian.

MARQUARDT: One of the most vulnerable parts of infrastructure in situations like this are wastewater facilities. There is, of course, the potential for flash flooding in Tampa, so what kind of preparations is the city making to protect those wastewater facilities?

CASTOR: We have had those protections in place for quite some time, and as a matter of fact our wastewater facility is not up to capacity on any given day. Our bigger concern is our storm water. And we have during these storm seasons and the heavy rain situations we empty out our storm ponds. We put a great deal of water over the dam much more than on a daily basis and really try to prepare, clean out our storm ditches, do everything that we can to allow that water to freely flow out into the bay and into empty storm ponds.

MARQUARDT: Of course as we've been saying there's so much uncertainty as to where this storm will hit. It could be anywhere from southern Florida all the way up to the panhandle. But it could very easily, of course, land right on your city. What are you considering now about evacuations and telling people to leave town?

CASTOR: Well, that's something that, you know, is quite a tightrope to walk. You don't want to call too early, and clearly we don't want anyone out on our roadways when the evacuation call is made. And what we're saying, too, is that you need to hide from the wind and run from the water. And so when we say evacuations you don't have to go to another state. We're just saying get inland someplace that may be safe.

But the county makes that call, but they make that call in collaboration with a number of parties throughout the Tampa Bay area and also in consideration with the state and FEMA.

MARQUARDT: All right, and we're talking of course about millions of people there.

So, Mayor Castor, we will let you go. Thank you so much for your time and the best of luck, all the best in the coming days.

CASTOR: Thank you very much, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Take care.

Now still ahead tonight in the CNN NEWSROOM, Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he doesn't think that Vladimir Putin's nuclear threats are a bluff. Finland's ambassador to the United States joins us here in the studio with his assessment as a notable number of Russians flee to his country, Finland.

But first Congresswoman Liz Cheney says that she would leave the GOP if Donald Trump runs and is the party's nominee again.


Can she really have an impact? Who would she join? Maria Cardona and Alice Stewart are here to discuss that next. Stay with us.


MARQUARDT: Liz Cheney drawing a line in the sand. The Wyoming congresswoman who just lost her primary bid for re-election was asked a very specific pointed question yesterday at the Texas Tribune Festival. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you remain a Republican regardless of what happens in the next election?

CHENEY: I'm going to make sure Donald Trump -- make sure he's not the nominee, and if he is the nominee I won't be a Republican.


MARQUARDT: She will not be a Republican. Cheney also said that she will campaign for Democrats to ensure that Republican candidates who promoted election lies do not get elected.

Joining me now to discuss this are CNN political commentators, Republican strategist Alice Stewart, and Democrat strategist Maria Cardona.

Thank you both for being with me this evening.


Alice, to you first. We just heard there that pretty forceful statement from Liz Cheney. If she leaves the Republican Party where do you think she ends up, and do you think Republicans care?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, privately there are a lot of Republicans that support what she's doing in terms of standing up for defending freedom, peaceful transfer of power and upholding the rule of law. But publicly, many of them are saying don't let the door hit you on the way out. They say that she has caused too much attention to her frustration with Donald Trump and what he's done with January 6th, and they are happy to see her leave.

I talked with her camp, and they tell me that she doesn't really want to leave the Republican Party, but if he's the nominee she has no choice. She would view Donald Trump as the nominee of the Republican Party in 2024 as the party is more of a cult of personality as opposed to a party of principles. And what we need to do moving forward is get back to the principles that bring this party together, and focus on issues that voters care about which is the economy, inflation and crime.

That's what we need to focus on. We don't need to continue to carry water for Donald Trump on his past grievances of the election that he clearly lost.

MARQUARDT: Maria, as closely as Liz Cheney has worked with Democrats on the January 6th Committee, it would be stunning to see her on the campaign trail, campaigning for Democrats. Do you think she'd be welcomed with open arms?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think she would be because, Alex, one of the most tragic things about all of this is that Liz Cheney is one of the most conservative Republicans that exists today. I mean, her name, her history, her voting record. And the fact that her party is punishing her for her values, for putting country and democracy and the Constitution before her party and her politics to me is just astounding.

And I really do think that what she said should be underscored, that it demonstrates just how sick the party is and how completely deviated from what Alice says are the party's values, principles, because as much as my dear friend Alice wants her party for that to be the focus, it's not. The focus is on election deniers. And so Liz Cheney is absolutely right to say that she does not want Donald Trump to be re- elected again.

As a Democrat I agree. As an American I agree more because he's a huge danger to our democracy. And I do think that she will absolutely be welcomed from the Democratic side to emphasize this huge threat to democracy that would pose giving control over to Republicans who many of them are election deniers.


STEWART: And I do think -- one quick follow up to what Maria said. Election deniers in large part are the people that we have, the Republican nominees in these midterm elections. I think this November will be a big test for the party if these people that are fine with January 6th and have problems with the way elections are run, if they lose in November, the Republican Party needs to realize we need to do away with that wing of the Republican Party and put people that are certainly more moderate and focused on different issues in 2024. MARQUARDT: And of course in the midterms there are a number of

election deniers who are running. We have a new poll with just 44 days to go until the election, this poll from CBS and YouGov showing that 7 in 10 women say that a candidate must agree with them on -- must agree with them on abortion issues to get their vote or agree with them in general to get their vote especially for women who want abortion to be legal.

Alice, how much do Republican candidates need to be worrying about women voters right now?

STEWART: Based on what we've seen and two times when the election was really on the ballot, one was an amendment and the other New York congressman ran on that key issue, this was a win for Democrats. So Republicans needs to realize abortion has proven to be a motivator for women and even some men and undecided voters.

But the key here is to shift the focus of the election to inflation, to the economy, and to immigration. Abortion is certainly a driver, but it's always the economy that really turns out voters. And from a messaging standpoint, which Maria and I both do, candidates need to focus on messaging their service and what they plan to do as a way to improve the economy and certainly work on inflation.

MARQUARDT: Yes. I mean, abortion of course is certainly something that we've heard all the Democratic candidates emphasizing.

CARDONA: Absolutely.

MARQUARDT: Maria, I want to ask you about another poll also from CBS and YouGov showing that by a 2-1 margin, 2-1, voters believe that a Republican Congress would lead to women getting fewer rights and freedoms than they have now. So how much more confidence do you believe Democrats are feeling right now with, again, just 44 days to go?

CARDONA: Well, we are certainly feeling confident that abortion is going to put front and center the message that you just mentioned, which is it's not just abortion.


It's the fact that the Republican Party is a party that does not believe that women are equal to men, that does not believe that women should have equal rights to men, that does not believe that women should have the freedom, the privacy, the liberty to make decisions about our own bodies and our own reproductive futures. That should be damning, period.

And so what I believe Democrats are looking at is to mobilize and energize women voters across the board, not just Democrats but independent women, even Republican women who believe, again, that putting Republicans in power is a huge danger to the future of the rights of women, the future of democracy, the future of this country.

Alex, there is a Republican candidate in Michigan that has said that giving women the right to vote was a mistake. This, I think, just -- it really gives you the picture of a party, the Republican Party, that is spectacularly out of touch with where this country is and where this country should be going in the future.

MARQUARDT: I do want to ask you, Alice, about the direction of the Republican Party in light of this new excerpt that we've got from Maggie Haberman who's putting out one of the most highly anticipated books about Donald Trump since he left office. Haberman says that she had three two-hour interviews with Donald Trump. And in those interviews, in one of them at least he called her his psychiatrist.

And she talks about a conversation that he had with Mike Pence ahead of the January 6th riots, and this is what he told Mike Pence. "Mike, you have a chance to be Thomas Jefferson or you can be Mike Pence," Trump told Haberman, repeating an inaccurate comparison to the election of 1800. And, quote, "He chose to be Mike Pence."

So, Alice, do you think that Mike Pence is offering Republicans a version of the party that they're interested in and a potential candidate that they could be interested in 2024?

STEWART: Let me just say thank God Mike Pence was Mike Pence on January 6th and did what he could to help certify the election. But, look, the good thing is GOP has a deep bench right now. We have several candidates that are already testing the waters and going out to these early states, and we have a good number of people that would be good, viable candidates. Mike Pence, we certainly have DeSantis. We have Tom Cotton. We have Tim Scott, several people.

So whether it's Mike Pence or any of these others, I am encouraged to know that the GOP has several other options than Donald Trump to choose from.

MARQUARDT: I want to play a little bit of sound from Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace. This is what she has to say earlier today on "MEET THE PRESS." Take a listen.


CHUCK TODD, ANCHOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Do you expect an impeachment vote against President Biden if Republicans take over the House?

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): I believe there's a lot of pressure on Republicans to have that vote, to put that legislation forward and to have that vote. I think that is something that some folks are considering.

TODD: Wow.


MARQUARDT: Maria, first of all, what would they impeach him for, and how likely do you think that is?

CARDONA: They would impeach him for being a Democrat. I mean, really there is no other -- MARQUARDT: Retribution.

CARDONA: Right, retribution, getting back at him for everything that he and the Democrats have focused on in terms of making Donald Trump accountable, making the Republicans accountable, for getting us so close to losing our democracy. And for them not caring, not doing anything about it, not putting Trump to the side, putting him, continue to put him front and center.

I think that sound should terrify all of us. And there is already legislation, right, that Republicans have filed to try to make that happen if Republicans take over. And I think it underscores the fact that they have zero solutions on the things that they say should be front and center like my friend Alice says inflation should be front and center, the economy should be front and center. And yes, it is.

And guess who has actually done things to help the economy, to help inflation? The Democrats and Joe Biden with zero help from the Republicans. They are completely bankrupt of ideas to solve the American people, and more than that they represent the tremendous danger to democracy that we haven't seen since the Civil War.

MARQUARDT: Yes, they've certainly been telegraphing what they plan to do if they take back the House, not just impeachment but dismantling, of course, the January 6th Committee, watching all kinds of investigations.

We have to leave it there. Alice Stewart, Maria Cardona, thank you very much for your time.

CARDONA: Thanks, Alex.

STEWART: Thanks, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Appreciate it.

Now officials in Finland say more than 8500 Russians have crossed the border into that country by land after President Vladimir Putin of Russia raised the stakes in his war on Ukraine. Finland's ambassador to the U.S. joining us live in just a moment here in studio with his thoughts on that and on Putin's mindset.


We'll have that next. Stay with us.


MARQUARDT: Between Russia's mobilization and the sham referenda in Ukraine in the past few days it is clear that President Putin of Russia is escalating this conflict in Ukraine. But are nuclear weapons actually on the table? The Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, he seems to think so. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): I don't think he's bluffing. I think the world is deterring it and containing this threat. We need to keep putting pressure on him and not allow him to continue.



MARQUARDT: Joining me now is Mikko Hautala. He is Finnish ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining me. You were previously an ambassador in Moscow. You, in fact, know President Putin. I first want to ask you what you make of President Zelenskyy's comments there about nuclear weapons, and whether we've actually seen any indications that that is the direction that Russia is moving in.

MIKKO HAUTALA, FINLAND'S AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: I think always when a leader of a nuclear nation makes this kind of comments I think we have to take it seriously. And I think Zelenskyy -- President Zelenskyy is doing the right thing by pointing that to all of us. At the same time I think we have to see the Russians have never used nuclear weapons so far.

I think this is not the first time President Putin mentions that, so I think there's that element, too. I think there's also -- if you start to take this as an effort that we start to freeze, that we start to kind of rethink our policies, I think that's exactly what Putin is trying to achieve. So I think we have to keep on helping the Ukrainians and keep on doing the right thing and protecting the international law.

But at the same time I think it's the right thing to do to convey tough messages also to the Russians that should they do it, that would have major consequences also for that nation.

MARQUARDT: Finland is perched there right on Russia's border. It's one of the reasons that Finnish officials like yourself understand Russia so well. And we've seen these extraordinary scenes over the past few days of Russians fleeing their country into Finland to try to escape, we believe, of this mobilization. Do you think that in this moment other countries in Europe should be more welcoming to Russian men who want to flee in order to deplete -- further deplete those potential forces who could be sent into Ukraine?

HAUTALA: First of all, in our case basically the Russian inflow of people it has now doubled in the course of the last five days or so. It's still far below what we had before the pandemic. So we are not still kind of facing huge numbers. Obviously there's a well- represented number of military age male persons. So definitely there's a fleeing -- people are fleeing the military service. That's one thing.

I think from our side we are now already in the process of basically squeezing the inflow. We are in the process of adopting decisions that would actually make it more difficult or basically impossible for the Russians to use Finland as a transit route or to come to Finland. So we are in the course of making these kind of decisions.

MARQUARDT: But do you think that -- would you rather that military age men stay inside Russia in order to protest this mobilization decision? Or would you rather them come out of the country?

HAUTALA: I don't think we can make kind of policies what we would like the Russian young men to do. I think we are -- we have to start from the fact that we have to protect our own borders. We have to make sure that we will be able always under any circumstances to control the flow and make a decision who is coming. So I think we are also -- we should meet common European responses. I think not a single country is well placed to do deal with this challenge alone.

MARQUARDT: Do you think when you see the level of anger that is growing over this mobilization, do you think that Putin is in political trouble?

HAUTALA: I think he is because basically he didn't want to do the mobilization. I think it was to the Ukrainians who basically forced him to do that. I think they always knew that this is a risky moment.

MARQUARDT: Through their successes.

HAUTALA: Exactly. So I think that now the Russians are still seeing if this first shock will kind of go away, if they can really keep it running and make it happen. I think it's a bit early to say. We will know already, it's not a full success. It can also be a full failure, but it's still a bit early to say how it will go. But I think it's -- we can easily see that this is a beginning -- it's kind of a watershed moment in the Russian political system because now the ordinary people do understand that they cannot kind of get away with this war without having some personal effect.

I think up to this point most of the people felt that this is a war, we would like to see a victory but it's for somebody else to fight in the war. Not people (INAUDIBLE) they're seeing but nobody can kind of stay away from this conflict.

MARQUARDT: It does appear that already President Putin is not going to be able to be true to his word, that the mobilization will expand beyond those who are reservists who've served in some capacity to just ordinary civilians?

HAUTALA: I don't personally use the word partial mobilization because I think it's a mobilization full stop because they will obviously enlarge the numbers.


I don't think any numbers they have given are kind of solid or kind of -- there's a flexibility there. I think basically they are desperate. They also -- they're trying to get as many people, eligible men as they can. And I don't look at the numbers. I think this is kind of -- along with (INAUDIBLE) and it's done because they have simply no other choice.

MARQUARDT: I know it's impossible to get inside President Putin's head, but knowing him as you do, what do you make of his recent moves and recent speeches that he's given?

HAUTALA: Like you said in the beginning he's definitely escalating, and I think mobilization, these annexations are illegal annexations he's about to do and also this nuclear saber-rattling are part of the escalation process. My estimate is that he's not going to give up, he will go on and he will try to continue this conflict and escalate the conflict by all means he has at his disposal. So I don't see any end from his point of view.

And I think most of the Russian people still do not accept the possibility of a defeat. Obviously, as I said, many people are feeling now the effect that they can't kind of get away with this without any problems. But, still, I think the Russian society as a whole is not yet fully kind of grasping the reality and the consequence. So I think we are still going to see the continuation of this conflict for a long time.

MARQUARDT: Hard for them to grasp when, you know, they're getting very limited information. I do want to ask you, you mentioned annexation. We've got these sham referenda going on right now. What do you think changes when, and I say when, Russia claims that these territories that they've taken in Ukraine are now Russian territory? Does anything change in concrete terms?

HAUTALA: I think he tries to harden the defense and he tries to make the case for the soldiers that you are now defending Russia itself, so you should be doing that like the way you should be doing. And I think he is also trying to kind of change the public perception of the conflict by saying that they are not attacking anything or trying to change anything, they are simply defending Russia as it is.

So I think it's probably a big change, but I don't believe at least at this point that even Russia would kind of buy this story because obviously they know that these regions are part of Ukraine and any claim otherwise is illegal and will never be accepted by anyone in the West.

MARQUARDT: And through these mobilizations it will become increasingly clear to the Russian citizens what actually is going on in Ukraine.

Ambassador Hautala, thank you so much for coming in. We're very lucky to have someone like you who is uniquely placed to offer some up-close expertise. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

HAUTALA: Thank you, Alex. Thank you.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, still ahead tonight a look behind the scenes at a media empire with incredible global influence. A new CNN Original Series dives deep into the Murdoch family. We'll have a preview next. Stay with us.


MARQUARDT: A new CNN Original Series, "THE MURDOCHS: EMPIRE OF INFLUENCE" airs tonight on CNN, and through exclusive reporting it will reveal how one family's ambitions are shaping business, media and politics all around the globe. Here's a preview.


SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Rupert has always operated from an incredibly privileged perch, but that has not prevented him from feeling a sense of outsider-ishness and aggrievement.

JIM RUTENBERG, WRITER AT LARGE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: His sense of alienation speaks to every working class Brit who knows they'll never be accepted by these people, so he invents a new language for them.

ERIC DEGGANS, TV CRITIC, NPR: It's articulating the passions of an audience that gets overlooked and giving them a voice in media. And oh, by the way, he makes a penny or two off of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you're technically offensive and a bit controversy, and if it keeps it going for six weeks so much the better.


MARQUARDT: Joining us now is Jim Rutenberg, writer at large for "The New York Times," he's also a consulting producer for this show, "THE MURDOCHS: EMPIRE OF INFLUENCE."

Jim, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Rupert Murdoch, of course, one of the most powerful forces in modern media. But when you look back at his career how key has fomenting division and anger been to that success?

RUTENBERG: Well, I guess you could think of it as Rupert Murdoch like the political party specifically like the Republican Party these days really it was about playing to a base voter. And that alone can be divisive, but because very much the sensibility was we're with my media outlets are with you against them.

MARQUARDT: When it comes to politics, U.S. politics, Rupert Murdoch was a late supporter of Trump when he announced his candidacy. And you have said that Murdoch is now turning on Trump and giving more and more airtime to the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential rival of President Trump in 2024. So how much of a blow is that to former President Trump?

RUTENBERG: Well, we'll see about that. Yes, certainly Mr. Murdoch, his son Lachlan are sending every signal that they will treat former President Trump like just another candidate, but the same thing happened in 2016 where Mr. Murdoch was not initially really supportive of Mr. Trump, but Mr. Trump spoke to the base, the base I was talking about earlier that happens to also be Mr. Murdoch's most important audience.

MARQUARDT: It is a fascinating subject. This is going to be really interesting to watch.

Jim Rutenberg of the "New York Times," thank you very much for your time.

And be sure to tune in to the all-new CNN Original Series, "THE MURDOCHS: EMPIRE OF INFLUENCE." That premieres tonight at 9:00 p.m. with back-to-back episodes only on CNN.


You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. Cuba may be on the verge of a monumental social change as people cast ballots on whether to legalize same-sex marriage. We'll have a look at what's at stake. That's coming up next. Stay with us.


MARQUARDT: Cubans went to the polls today to vote on an issue that has divided many in that island nation, the so-called family code would legalize same-sex marriage and civil unions. Cuba's president said a yes vote would abolish prejudices and taboos ingrained in Cuban society.


And as CNN's Patrick Oppmann reports, members of the LGBTQ community in Cuba have waited decades for this moment.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Annery and Yennys are getting married. It's a symbolic ceremony as same-sex unions are not legal in Cuba, at least not yet.

I believe we are all equal in terms of rights, options, possibilities, she says. And in terms of being a citizen and expressing that citizenship, I don't think we are less than the rest of society.

It's been a long struggle for LGBTQ rights in Cuba. At the beginning of Fidel Castro's revolution, gay people were sent alongside others deemed by the new government to be undesirables to toil in the work camps. Slowly, though, there's been growing official acceptance for gays, lesbians and transgender people in Cuba.

Raul Castro's daughter Mariela has been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights and sponsors a parade against homophobia. The new tolerance, though, has had limits. In 2018, Cuban lawmakers removed language authorizing same-sex unions from a proposed new constitution amid fears that voters would reject it. Many in Cuba's evangelical community say they will vote no on the new family code.

(On-camera): The growing influence of the evangelical church in Cuba is one of the reasons it has taken so long to legalize gay marriage here. People like the ones in this church have opposed the government's measures in a way that is rarely seen in Cuba.

(Voice-over): And Cubans from other parts of society could join them in voting no.

It's not just Christians, this pastor says. There are Communists who are not in agreement, materialistic people not in agreement. A lot of people who believe in different things that don't agree with the changes they want to make with the new family code.

But other people of faith embrace the idea of legalized same-sex marriage. This church in Matanzas, Cuba is one of only a handful conducting same-sex marriages and encouraging parishioners to vote for the new family code.

I have faith that love will win, she says. If it's a yes or a no, it's the same. We tell our community, no one can take away your value, who you are.

Annery and Yennys say if the family code passes, they will also hold a civil wedding. But no matter what takes place with the vote, they say the long journey to achieving true equality is only just beginning.


OPPMANN: Alex, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Sunday said that he thinks that the referendum will pass and this family code will be approved. But he also added there could be what he called a punishment vote. People who are upset with the Cuban government's handling of the economy going out and voting no.

The final results are expected to be released on Monday -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Patrick Oppmann in Havana. Thank you so much for that very important report.

Anti-regime protests are building in Iran despite the security crackdown there. The latest on that and the solidarity demonstrations happening in other countries today. That's coming up.



MARQUARDT: Early exit polls show that Italy is about to elect its most right-wing government since World War II. An alliance of far-right parties that are being led by Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy Party appear to be on track for victory. Meloni will likely become the country's first female prime minister and the most far-right Italian prime minister since Benito Mussolini.

CNN's Barbie Nadeau is in Rome with the latest.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Alex, early exit polls in the Italian general election point to a very comfortable win for the center right coalition. Now this means two things. It means Italy is on track to have its first ever female prime minister. That would be Giorgia Meloni whose Brothers of Italy Party seems to have garnered the most votes in this election. She's anchored by the Donald Trump loving Matteo Salvini and his Lega Party that it's campaigned on anti- immigration and secured strong borders.

She's also anchored by veteran politician Silvio Berlusconi who led this country as prime minister three different times. This will also be the first time since the end of fascism that Italy has had such a far-right leaning coalition government -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Our thanks to Barbie Nadeau.

Now in Iran, more massive protests over a 22-year-old young woman Mahsa Amini who died while being held by the country's morality police. Iran state media has reported at least 35 deaths from the protests and more than 1200 arrests across Iran.

Now CNN cannot independently verify that death toll. Protesters gather today outside the Iranian embassies in Paris and London. They're demanding a full investigation into the woman's death and condemn Iran's record on human rights abuses.

Thank you so much for joining me this evening.