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Biden Signs 45-Day Spending Bill To Keep Gov't Open; Senate Passes Short-Term Funding Bill Just Before Deadline; Ukraine Marking Day Of Defenders Holiday; Ukraine Aid Takes A Hit As U.S. Avoids Govt. Shutdown; Party Led By Pro-Russian Former PM Wins Saturday's Vote; Senate Clears 45-Day Spending Bill To Keep Govt. Open; Feinstein's Body Flown To San Francisco On Military Flight; UN: 100,000+ People Flee Breakaway Region; Ukraine's "Army Of Drones" Taking On Russian Troops; Saturday's Rugby World Cup In Action In France. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired October 01, 2023 - 03:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from CNN Center. This is "CNN Newsroom with Michael Holmes."

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: And welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Appreciate your company.

Well, the gloom of unexpected government shutdown has lifted in Washington at least for now, with U.S. President Joe Biden signing a 45-day stopgap measure to keep the government functioning and the military paid. Twenty-four hours earlier, it seemed almost impossible that U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy would reach across the aisle but he did on Saturday, and Democrats helped him get the short-term bill over the finish line. After complaining that critical aid to Ukraine had been cut out of the package, the Senate passed the House Bill 88-9. But cooperating with Democrats could put McCarthy on a collision course with GOP hardliners who have been aggressively calling for his ouster as a speaker.

Here's what he had to say after the bill passed with more than half of the Republicans voting for it.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The bill on the floor in suspension. So, there's no bill that can pass with one party or the other. When are you guys going to get over that it's all right that you put America first? That's all right if Republicans and Democrats joined together to do what is right. If somebody wants to make a motion against me bring it. There has to be an adult in the room. I am going to govern which one is best for this country.


HOLMES: CNN's Manu Raju now takes a look at how the last-minute deal unfolded.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): So, after a chaotic day and feeders have shut down, gripped Washington for weeks, Congress gave final approval on a bill to keep the government open for 45 more days. This after Speaker McCarthy changed plans, reversed course and relied on Democratic votes to get this bill out of the U.S. House. For some time, the Speaker McCarthy had wanted to just pass a bill along Republican lines, just get Republicans on board but he struggled amid opposition from a handful of conservative hardliners who refused to give him the votes.

Also, those same hardliners warned that if he decided to work with Democrats that could cost him his job as speaker. At the end of the day, after a meeting on Saturday with his conference, McCarthy decided to roll the dice, go take on these hardliners directly and try to keep the government open with Democratic support. That happened they passed a bill out of the House that had overwhelming support, bipartisan support, half of -- more than half of the House Republican Conference voted for it. All but one Democratic House member voted for it as well.

Now then moved over to the United States Senate where the Senate approved it overwhelmingly 88-9 vote, nine Republican senators voted against it. But there didn't come without some controversy, namely, the decision by Speaker McCarthy to not include Ukraine aid in this final package. The White House had pushed for $24 billion in Ukraine aid to be approved this year. But the Senate was trying to approve as part of the bill to keep the government open $6.2 billion of that package. McCarthy had a different idea because of opposition within the conservative ranks of his conference and divisions within the House GOP. McCarthy decided to not include Ukraine aid as part of this package, leaving open the question, can Congress get behind and give approval to Ukraine at this critical, critical time in its war against Russia? It is unclear if that will happen.

But that will be a major point of contention when Congress resumes and deals with this funding issue again in 45 days. This all comes as there is still a threat to McCarthy's speakership, a number of members expressed their dissatisfaction with his handling of the talks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's shameful in many, many ways.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot continue to kick this can down the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm disappointed. I wish would fall we just didn't fight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We should have forced them to come to the negotiating table and come to conference and hash out our differences.

RAJU (on-camera): Now, no those members though said that they would actually vote the House Speaker McCarthy. I asked every single one of them if they're ready to do that. They would not go there raising questions about whether the effort to push them out will succeed. Matt Gaetz the ringleader of that effort has not said explicitly, he will file a vote to push McCarthy out of the speakership. But this is a threat that has been over the Speaker for some time. And when I asked the Speaker about this earlier today, he said, bring it on.


Mana Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.


HOLMES: And joining me now from Washington, D.C. is Maria Cardona, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist. We also have Jason Osborne, former Republican strategist and ex-campaign adviser to Donald Trump. He joins me from Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Thanks to you both for staying up late for us.

Jason, let's start with you. So, McCarthy got more Democratic votes than he got from his own party. I mean, he relied on the enemy. Even some of his own colleagues are saying that, where did the events of the last week or so leave McCarthy in terms of his job security?

JASON OSBORNE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you know, I think we're getting -- we're reached slowly reaching a point where if I'm McCarthy and I, and other members of his leadership team, I'm going to call Matt Gaetz's bluff on this, because we can't continue to go down this road where every single time there's a vote, or an issue that's coming up, McCarthy has to worry about whether he's going to have a revolt against him within his own party.

I think, though, that I mean, as we're moving forward here, I mean, McCarthy does have 45 days to try and accomplish what he has set out to do, which is to pass 13 appropriations bills out of the House, and hopefully have the Senate could step in and, and pass them as well, so that we can get that portion of the agenda taken care of. But I do think that Kevin McCarthy certainly is breathing a sigh of relief today. It's not the way that he wanted it to happen. But it happened. And I think he's turning to the next page to go on to the next battle.

HOLMES: Yes. Maria as a Democratic strategist, how should Democrats handle what's happening in a political sense? I mean, heavens forbid bipartisanship became the preferred way of doing things in Congress. What do you think?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think clearly, Democrats did exactly what they had said that they would do for weeks, which is work with a sensible Speaker McCarthy, if he was going to bring to the floor, a clean CR, which he finally did. And Democrats decided that that was the right thing to do. And of course, they were going to vote for this to keep the government open. But they also stressed that this was all wasted energy, wasted time, chaos that was not needed, stress on the American economy that was not needed embarrassment on the global stage that was not needed. If only McCarthy had realized from the get go, that he needs to govern by putting country over party by putting the American people before his own job ambition. And so, I think Democrats said finally, Speaker McCarthy is doing the right thing. He came to his senses, and asked for help from Democrats to pass what we all knew, in the end, had to be a bipartisan bill to keep the government open. But he could have avoided this way before if he had not broken his promise that he made with the White House, and with other Democrats back in May to be able to again, keep the government open, focused on what they had agreed two months ago.

HOLMES: And when it comes to the system. I mean, the public reaction to the -- to the whole political dysfunction is clear. I just wanted to pull up some research from Pew. And, you know, we're just a little more than a year from the presidential election, nearly two-thirds of Americans who said that 65 percent say they always or often feel exhausted thinking about politics, 55 percent feel angry. And there's another one too, that says, eight in 10 Americans, 86 percent in fact, say that, the following is a good description of politics, and I'll quote, Republicans and Democrats are more focused on fighting each other than solving problems.

Jason another shutdown, there was a near death default not long ago, what needs to change to have effective governance, rather than the nonstop ideological battles and dysfunction that the public clearly hates?

OSBORNE: But well, listen, I mean, I've been doing this now for 30 years. I know, in the beginning, you said former Republican strategist. I don't know if I've retired yet. But you know, since the '90s, at least that and that's what I can speak to is the '90s through now, that congressional approval and political approval or politicians' approval is always very low, right. And I don't know that we're going to reach a point where things will change too much except when we can get rid of some of the folks like Matt Gaetz on our side and there's a few on the Democrat side that I think are stirring the pot and making things difficult for people to actually get the job in many ways.


I mean, I remember back when we had a moderate Republican and we had a conservative Democrat, and those folks tended to band together and respect each other and try and get things accomplished. But I'm afraid that we're, we're at least a year away from shutting the door on some of these more outspoken folks. On both sides, quite frankly, but I wish I had a magic wand to be able to answer that question and come up with solutions. But I'm afraid I don't.

HOLMES: Yes, Maria, Senator John Fetterman, I mean, it was interesting. He made the comment, I'll just quote him, he said, pushing the snooze button solves nothing, because these same losers will try to pull the same S-H-I-T, you know, what, in 45 days. And it really does make the point that we're just talking about that this keeps happening.

I mean, looming shutdown is now a routine phrase for journalists these days. And you know, we're going to an international audience. This stuff doesn't happen in other major countries with the regularity that it does here.

CARDONA: That's exactly right, Michael. And that's why I stressed in my first comments that this is a global embarrassment, because this is not what should be happening in the greatest country in the world and the greatest democracy in the world. But the fact of the matter is that our political system has been poisoned by Republican MAGA, what we call MAGA, Make America Great Again, Trump inspired extremists who are the ones that were holding Kevin McCarthy hostage in the House of Representatives.

And I agree with Jason, that this is not going to go away until those MAGA extremists are gone. And I know he likes to include Democrats in here. But let's be very clear, that is a false equivalency. There is no one on the Democratic side that has ever done anything that the MAGA extremists in the House of Representatives just tried to pull with Kevin McCarthy. And we have never had a speaker of the House that has kowtow to that -- to the extremists the way that Kevin McCarthy did. Lord knows Nancy Pelosi had never, never had that problem.

And so, the extremists on the Republican side have to go. I hope Kevin McCarthy is able to continue to put them to the side and make sure that they know that what they need to do as a party is to put the country over party and govern. That is their job. You're going to be in political peril if they don't realize that.

HOLMES: Do have to leave it there. Thanks so much.

CARDONA: Thank you, Michael.

HOLMES: Well, Ukraine aid takes a hit in a move that avoided a U.S. government shutdown, as we were just discussing. We'll get a reaction from a Ukrainian lawmaker to that decision, coming up.



HOLMES: Ukraine is starting a new tradition today to honor military members who gave their lives for the country. President Zelenskyy urging all Ukrainians to drop whatever they're doing at 9:00 a.m. local time, which was about an hour ago, and remember their fallen heroes. It's all part of a holiday known as the day of defenders which is usually in about two weeks from now. But for the first time being celebrated on October 1st.

For more Katie Polglase joins me now from London. Good to see you, Katie, after this is all course, all coming after the U.S. spending bill passed without Ukrainian military support include. But Sunday marked by Ukraine is the day of the defenders. Explain that all for us.

KATIE POLGLASE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER: Morning, Michael. Well, yes, this is a somber moment for Ukraine. This is a day to remember those that have died taking their lives, taking that sacrifice really for their country. That is what's Zelenskyy wants to project here, that these are sacrifices really quite grave serious sacrifices people are making on a daily basis to continue this fight against the Russian invasion. But of course, as always, with Zelenskyy, there is a global message, as well as a national message. And while this is a National Day of Remembrance, it's a National Day of Mourning for the lies that have been lost in this conflict.

It's also a day to tell the world about why they continue to need support, why they continue to need aid and assistance from their Western allies, as you've been discussing, that may now be in doubt from some allies, including the United States. And why also the sacrifice is so significant. This is really about life and death for the Ukrainians. And also, it's worth noting that today is not only the day of this remembrance, but also, it's the first day of military conscription in the annexed areas as well in these areas such as Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk Donetsk, areas that are currently under Russian occupation. There is those areas are now going to have military conscription into of course, the Russian army.

So, this is really demonstrating how significant this war is for Ukrainian civilians on a day-to-day basis. And therefore, to remember the lives lost the sacrifices people have made is of extraordinary national significance. And as we're seeing this global support for Ukraine waiver effectively, not just with the U.S. spending bill that we've been discussing this morning, but also if we look at Europe as well, we've been talking this morning about Slovakia potentially having a political shift. We've also been seeing in the last couple of weeks that dispute with Poland over grain that was then resolved. But again, it shows how fragile that support is from Ukraine's allies, and how crucial it is for Zelenskyy to ensure that as we go into the winter months, this counter offensive gradually progressing but dragging really, particularly as we head into these colder, colder weather in the winter months. Really, this is something that Zelenskyy is concerned about. He needs this western support.

And so, these kinds of moments of global reckoning of remembering the lives lost showing the Ukrainian sacrifice on a day-to-day basis are of incredible political and symbolic significance as well. Michael


HOLMES: All right, Katie thanks so much. Katie Polglase always there in London for us.

Now one former Republican lawmaker has slammed the decision to exclude Ukraine aid from the U.S. stopgap measure. Former Congresswoman Liz Cheney posting that the vote happened on the anniversary of a 1938 speech by the former British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. The so-called Peace In Our Time speech is widely seen as his attempt to appease Nazi Germany. Chinese post saying that, quote, appeasement didn't work, then it won't work now.

For reaction to the decision to keep Ukraine aid down to the U.S. stopgap bill, I'm joined now by Ukrainian parliament member Oleksiy Goncharenko. He's speaking with us from Odessa, and thanks for doing so.

So, Ukraine funding has become such a political hot button issue among some because most Republicans in the House and certainly the Senate are in favor of that support. What message does funding being withheld to send to Ukraine, European partners and of course, Russia?

OLEKSIY GONCHARENKO, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: Hello. That's not a good message. Because the United States were telling loudly. And President Biden and also GOP members, Republican members of Senate and Congress that United States will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes. But now we see that the stopgap deal is without money for Ukraine and support of Ukraine. And this is a very bad signal, because the United States is the key ally of Ukraine. And without this ally, we really, we don't have chances in this war, which should be clear.

But if Ukraine would fail in this war, it would mean just one thing that involved in Putin, will attack further European countries. And that time already American soldiers and officers will fight and will die. Then Ukraine, we have the Day of Ukrainian Defenders, and many of them are dead. This is the highest possible price we are paying. And the United States by financial support can help us to restore international order, to restore international law, to show its leadership in the world, to solve so many problems.

And in general, I mean, it's one of the best investments in the United States history. By 3 percent of the United States military budget will use in these Ukrainian army destroyed 50 percent of Russian military capacity, at least in conventional weaponry. And Russia is the second biggest rival of the United States to China. So, it's great investment.

And I think it was a great mistake yesterday to exclude Ukraine. The message is bad both for Ukraine. And definitely this is something a bad message for Moscow, because this will embolden Putin.

HOLMES: So, what, I mean, it is a small group. But it is a growing group on the Republican side who opposed more money. What would you say to those Republicans that if they were listening right now, what would you say to them?

GONCHARENKO: I would say them just show what you did and ask President Reagan, would he like it? Is it a normal and is it a good to move to involved in Russia? To help aggressor, to leave your key ally and Ukraine ease ally of the United States at the moment when this country desperately needs your help? I don't think this is in best practice of this great party, which is Republican Party. I have all respect to both the Democratic Party and Republican Party in the United States of America.

But I feel that some of Republican Congressmen, they lost maybe some core idea about United States leadership in the world. And without this leadership, the world will be much more dangerous place to live in, also for Americans.

HOLMES: Right.

GONCHARENKO: So, I don't think this movement was in the best interest of American citizens. I think quite opposite. That was a mistake.

HOLMES: Right.

GONCHARENKO: It's not -- it's not late to fix mistake and it should be made.

HOLMES: And to put a -- put a sort of ribbon on that, a top official from the Pentagon actually told lawmakers on Friday that the Department of Defense has quote, exhausted nearly all available security assistance funding for Ukraine, nearly all.

Ukraine aid isn't in the package passed on Saturday. But what is going to be the potential impact on the battlefield if aid is not forthcoming? If it does stop?

GONCHARENKO: I like -- that that can be disastrous. Without military support, Ukraine will not be able to continue expression Russians but what quite opposite. Russians will restart their offensive, that can be a result. It definitely we will fight -- we're fighting for our countries, and we will fight with support or without support. We don't have any other choice, this is essential for us.


But what will be the message for the world, what we'll think Chairman Xi, about maybe he can attack Taiwan or other dictators say, or (INAUDIBLE) runs in the world can make their bold moves. So, what will happen in the world that will be a world of like a jungle, where predators are hunting for peaceful nations? I don't think this is the world, the American people would like to see it.

So, I think that this can -- again, I hope, now that now we have time these 45 days, and during these 45 days, that should be fixed. Just -- not just for Ukrainians. Yes, we are suffering our children and women are killed. But it's not just about us. It's a much, much wider picture. The future of the next decades is decided to stay in Ukraine, and we can't lose it.

HOLMES: It's a very good point that Ukraine is obviously the focus, but it's about a lot more than Ukraine. And Democrats and Republicans, certainly in the Senate say that they will get that funding that it will come through but worrying obviously for Ukrainians.

Oleksiy Goncharenko, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time there.


HOLMES: Right now, to Slovakia where a party headed by a pro-Kremlin leader is heading for a win in Saturday's parliamentary election. Preliminary results show former Prime Minister Robert Fico's party has won more than 22 percent of the vote, while a significant number Fico will need a coalition partner to form the government.

Let's talk more about this. Get the perspective from CNN's Scott McLean joining me now from London.

For a while there you had two candidates progressive and this candidate who wants to cut off aid to Ukraine running pretty neck and neck. But as the count wrapped up, the news isn't looking good for Ukraine.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. This was expected at least according to the polls, Michael to be much closer than it was. Robert Fico SMER party outperformed what was expected in the polls, and that is worrying for certainly the Ukrainians and those who are supportive of continuing to send aid to Ukraine and Slovakia has been one of those countries that has sent helicopters, artillery systems, air defense systems, you name it since the outset of the war, but that may slow down perhaps come to a stop.

Robert Fico has blamed in his words, Ukrainian Nazis and fascists for provoking Russia into war. And his general argument is, that look, the longer we send weapons and ammunition to Ukraine, it just prolongs the war that the Ukrainians are not actually capable of winning. So, he is framing, he has framed his argument as one of peace. And you can understand from the Slovakia's, or from the ordinary Slovak point of view, why this is appealing, you have a country that is, you know, dealing with the high cost of living, dealing with inflation, dealing with hosting some 100,000, plus Ukrainian refugees, all of these things straining the public purse. And so, ending this war sooner rather than later. A lot of people would argue should be done.

Robert Fico, though we'll need a coalition partner, as you said, if you look at the results as we have them so far, his party has won just about 23 percent of the vote, the next closest rival 18 percent. And if you look down there at the bottom, the Republic Party is the far- right party, which shares its view on Ukraine and on Russia, the only other party that does he hadn't ruled out, linking up with them, but they actually fell short of the 5 percent threshold that in Slovakia, you need to actually be granted seats in parliament.

So, it is most likely that he will form a coalition with the Hlas Party, that was the third party that you saw, they're sitting at 14.7 percent of the vote. It's actually an offshoot of his own SMER Party. And they've been much more vague about the Ukraine issue saying that, look, Slovakia has provided all that it can afford to provide to Ukraine, but also that it is a manufacturer of ammunition and for the sake of the economy that should continue to be sent.

But whatever happens here, Michael, it will take a few weeks for all the dust to settle on the coalition talks and for there to be an actual government in place.

HOLMES: All right, we'll see how it unfolds. Scott, thank you. Scott McLean there in London for us.

All right, the U.S. House Speaker turns to Democrats to pass the spending bill and it could cost him his job. A former Republican lawmaker weighs in. Next.


[03:33:23] HOLMES: And welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching "CNN Newsroom" with me Michael Holmes.

Washington has approved a last-ditch plan to avert a government shutdown both Houses and Congress passing the continuing resolution on Saturday night, just hours before the deadline. President Joe Biden later signing the bill which will keep federal agencies running through mid-November. In a statement, Mr. Biden challenging lawmakers to approve a long term spent -- spending plan saying quote, there's plenty of time to pass government funding bills for the next fiscal year. And I strongly urge Congress to get to work right away. The American people expect their government to work.

Now earlier, I spoke about the stopgap spending bill with Charlie Dent, a Republican -- or Republican former member of the House from Pennsylvania. I've asked him what the House Speaker had to do to get this passed and whether his actions could affect his job security.


CHARLIE DENT (R) FMR U.S. CONGRESSMAN: There would be a bipartisan bill, leans continuing resolution or stopgap measure this is (ph) disaster funding. They kicked the can on Ukraine funding, but there would be a bipartisan outcome. You know, he's felt that if they had a bill like this, they get 300 votes in the House, they got 335, and the Senate pretty much accepted it is. It's not surprises happen. I believe McCarthy was under tremendous pressure. He was under tremendous pressure from his right flank not to engage in a bipartisan solution but he did the right thing here.


And I think that the you know Hakeem Jeffries was there as expected to provide a lot of votes and support. And so, this is a good outcome. Now, that said, they're going to have to deal with Ukraine funding sometime between now and November 15th or 17th, whenever they see this, this resolution expires, and they're going to have to negotiate the full appropriations bills all 12 of them for the next fiscal year. They're going to have to do all that.

So, we're not done with this problem yet. But at least this by some time.

HOLMES (on-camera): And when you talk about, you know, that right flank? I mean, how has McCarthy's deal with the devil those MAGA Republicans, I mean, to just get the job of speaker. How has that impacted and how beholden is he to them? And how is it impacting how the business of running the government is going?

DENT: Well, his -- it seems that the speaker's modus operandi up to this point has been to appease that element, which has empowered them and embolden them. And I think what he has discovered, once again, that the more he gives them, the less he seems to get from them. So, he gave them seats on the House Rules Committee, on the House Appropriations Committee, gave them an impeachment inquiry. And it didn't really translate into any help with these matters of governance, like funding and government are passing the debt ceiling.

So, he has to -- so McCarthy needs to resort to bipartisanship. I think he has to marginalize those members that whatever that number is five to -- five to 15 or so of those hardliners, he's going to have to marginalize them. And the way he does that is by engaging in bipartisan deals with Hakeem Jeffries. That's the way out. Appeasement doesn't work, obviously. And I think the Speaker discovered this rather belatedly. And then of course, he did the right thing by putting that bill on the floor.


HOLMES: Now the body of longtime Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has arrived in San Francisco aboard a plane from President Biden's military fleet. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi accompanying the late Senator on her final journey home. The two women spent decades together in California, in state politics there before shattering glass ceilings in Congress. Dianne Feinstein was the first female mayor of San Francisco and the first woman from California to serve in the U.S. Senate, where she became the longest serving female senator in U.S. history.

She died Thursday night, aged 90.

People are being allowed to return home in Illinois after a deadly crash involving a vehicle carrying thousands of gallons of ammonia. Five people were killed when the semi-truck crashed into a village a couple of 100 miles south of Chicago, hundreds of residents initially forced to flee. The fire department now says testing indicates that the danger from the ammonia has dissipated.

Also, in the US a warehouse burned for several hours in Arkansas. The fames -- flame possibly fled -- fed by cleaning supplies in the building. And you can see there huge plumes of smoke going up from the blaze. The fire department posted an alert on Facebook warning residents about a significant structure fire in the area. Officials say no one was hurt and the fires being contained.

Still to come, desperate scenes as thousands of ethnic Armenians flee a breakaway region in Azerbaijan. More on that growing crisis in a few moments.

Also, we'll check on Ukraine's progress to build what it calls an army of drones.



HOLMES: Welcome back. The UN's refugee agency says more than 100,000 people have arrived in Armenia after fleeing the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, now recognize as part of Azerbaijan. Many people are said to need urgent medical attention, thousands caught up in what you see there a massive traffic jam on the Mountain Highway to Armenia. Baku staged a military offensive a few days ago to return the region to Azerbaijani control. Almost the entire ethnic Armenian population has now left.

A journalist describing the upheaval she witnesses.


SIRANUSH SARGSYAN, JOURNALIST: This Exodus is unbearable, not only because of psychologically, as many people here, they are becoming refugee already served time in their lives.


HOLMES: Armenia has asked the EU for urgent help. Meantime, Azerbaijan denying allegations of ethnic cleansing saying, people left the region by choice.

Ukraine plans to build what it calls an "Army of Drones" to take on Russian troops on the battlefield.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen went with a Ukrainian drone unit to see firsthand how effective those weapons can be.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): Ukrainians currently say they have a lot of momentum going for them both in the south of the country where of course you receive that main thrust of their counter offensive, but also here in the East. And one of the things that we recently witnessed was a massive battle around the city of Bakhmut, where the Ukrainians are trying to take background from the Russians. Here's what we witnessed.

(voice-over): Rolling into battle as night falls, Ukraine's army attacking in the east around Bakhmut.

(on-camera): For the Ukrainians this is an extremely important, but also very complicated and potentially very dangerous mission and we're going to be located very close to where the Russians are.

(voice-over): We're with a frontline drone unit called code 9.2. Their drone the Ukrainian made Vampire, the crew attaching the bombs, as artillery whistles over our heads. The Vampire is fully night vision capable and plays a soundtrack showing it means business.

The team leaders callsign is Groove (ph), and he confirms because Ukraine doesn't have a modern Air Force tonight, they are the Air Force.

The drones see in the night like in daylight, he says. We see the infantry we hit the vehicles, cannons, everything we need to destroy. Groove (ph) also says Russians from the Wagner private military company have returned to the battlefield around Bakhmut.

Yes, there is Wagner here too. They swiftly changed their commanders and have returned here he says, we're breaking through their line of defense and hitting them well. As the drone takes off, the battle is already well underway. The Ukrainians using Western extended range artillery shells and cluster ammunitions to attack Russian ground forces. Groove (ph) is already busy targeting the Russians.


Oh, something's burning, he says. His unit also managing to take out a Russian main battle tank by dropping several bombs on it.

The Ukrainian army now starting to push forward our photo journalist Dan Hodge films powerful explosions as armored vehicles advanced in the moonlit night.

(on-camera): We're now hearing a lot of fire, a lot of outgoing fire, a lot of incoming fire actually also as well as the Ukrainians are trying to move forward and they say they want to take a key road away from the Russians.

(voice-over): But the Russians are fighting back, firing flares to unmask the Ukrainians advance and hit (INAUDIBLE) forces. Groove (ph) remains unfazed hunting a Russian tactical vehicle before destroying it.

The code 9.2 drone team often hunts Russian armor here recently even destroying a modern T-90 tank in a highly complex operation. After more than a half dozen missions, the drone returns the final time. But as we tried to get away from the battlefield, a tire burst on our Humvee. No time for spare, we push off.

(on-camera): We just witnessed an extremely tough battle between the Russians and the Ukrainians both sides going at it for hours with very heavy weapons and the area where we were shells landed close to there on various occasions. Now we're heading back to base.

(voice-over): Hobbled but rolling after a long night on one of Ukraine's most dangerous frontline.

(on-camera): Now there's two things that really stood out to us as we were witnessing that battle unfold there that night. On the one hand, it's the use of drones which is vastly expanded during the past couple of months as this war has been dragging on. But then also the amount of ammunition that the Ukrainians were using, especially artillery ammunition, it's one of the things of course that they have said to their partners is that if they're going to be able to sustain operations at this pace, they need a lot more ammo.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, in eastern Ukraine.


HOLMES: Still to come on the program, a dramatic come from behind victory at the Rugby World Cup, Fiji defeating Georgia to inch closer to a berth in the quarterfinals.

We'll have that more when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


HOLMES: Birthday greetings keep rolling in for former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the White House putting up that huge birthday cake you see it there on the grounds that he called home for four years. The former president turns 99 today. Carter has largely remained out of the public eye since he started receiving hospice care at his home in Georgia seven months ago.

Meanwhile, country singer Willie Nelson sharing a birthday message for his longtime friend.


WILLIS NELSON, COUNTRY SINGER: Happy Birthday President Carter. I'm thinking about you. We love you. We miss you. I hope you have a real good one.


HOLMES: The Carter Center arranged for 14,000 people around the world to send messages of appreciation, thanks, birthday wishes all to the President. Happy Couple there.

Now for the first time in its nearly 400-year history, Harvard University has inaugurated its first black president Claudine Gay also became the second woman ever to lead the Ivy League school. Gay became the 30th president since Harvard's founding in 1640. And in her inaugural speech, Gay said she is humbled by the prospect of leading Harvard. And as for the students and faculty, the consensus is Gay's appointment is long overdue.

Turning now to Spain, where the mercury is rebounding after a post summer cooldown. In Madrid, forecast to say temperatures are far above normal for this time of year. Spaniards have reached for their summer wardrobes once again, after what has been a period of cooler rainy weather. The outlook is calling for temps in the mid to 30-degree Celsius range that's around the low 90s in Fahrenheit. That'll be in Madrid and it'll be even hotter further south. This coming after what was a blazing hot summer of extreme heat all across the region.

And now to the Rugby World Cup in France where Fiji, Argentina and Scotland all advanced-on Saturday, working their way into the later round. Scotland now set to face top ranked Ireland.

CNN World Sport anchor Patrick Snell with the highlights.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: On Saturday some really encouraging news for World Cup host France regarding their captain Antoine DuPont. The strong half is now back with the blue squad. This after undergoing surgery on that fractured cheekbone. DuPont could make it back to the team in fact for the quarterfinals in mid-October if France make it there of course.

The Saturday action and Fiji find themselves trailing nine points down but they come from behind to see off the challenge of Georgia. This in Pool C to over cement their place in the last state for the first time since 2007, Waisea Nayacalevu going over for the games opener in the second half, opening try in that second half to give his team a real event Stade de Bordeaux, Saturday and more to come from the (INAUDIBLE) when Vinaya Habosi diving over for another one to seal the win which in the end was 17 points to 12 a victory. They certainly had to work for heart as well.

A late penalty earning Georgia a losing bonus point, but defeat means they can't now advance to the quarterfinals.

Fiji stays second in the pool behind leaders Wales and they will guarantee their spot in the last date with a victory over Portugal next weekend. Third place Australia could still qualify from Pool C, but the Wallabies two-time World Champs no longer controlling their own destiny.


Let's get to Pool D action now from Saturday as two South American nations went head-to-head this at Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes Argentina. Tokyo and Chile, this the first time these two countries had ever met to the World Cup and they would be Los Pumas in control for the moment Nicola Sanchez going over for a dry on his 100th appearance for Argentina. A really special career moment for him. Argentina would add seven more tries including two from Juan Martine Gonzalez as Argentina will rack up the points to win it 59 points to five with a win. Argentina now setting up a winner takes all showdown against Japan for second place in Pool D. Argentina's victory also eliminating Samoa, 2003 champs England already through to the last eight.

Now in Pool B, Scotland needing the bonus point victory to maintain their hopes of advancing and the Scots leaving nothing a toilet to chance against Romania. Scotland, running in a total of 12 tries for them alone coming from Darcy Graham, there was simply no stopping the 26-year-old who really is one of the best finishes in the game. Graham once again proving exactly why his four tries now taking his tally for the national team up to 24, and you think counting. Scotland win at 84 points to none at all. Next up peds Ireland, the top ranked team in the world, and that one will decide who will progress to the quarterfinals.

Well, Australia is trying to keep its hopes alive on Sunday when they take on Portugal while defending champs South Africa facing Tonga.

Busy day ahead. With that is right back to you.


HOLMES: Thanks, Patrick. Go Australia.

And finally, the Powerball jackpot in the U.S. has sought after there was no winner again, but I think the 30th draw. In Saturday night's drawing the lotteries website says the prize is now a eyewatering $1.04 billion. Those opting to take the jackpot in a lump sum would get 470 million in cash. And that's before taxes. So really, it's not worth it.

It's the latest, the second largest jackpot this year. The next drawing is Monday morning.

Thanks for watching everyone. I'm Michael Holmes. Laila Harrak more -- with more news after the break. (INAUDIBLE).