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Biden Administration Launches Airstrikes Against Multiple Targets In Middle East Linked To Iran In Retaliation For Drone Attack That Killed Three U.S. Servicemembers; Jordanian Officials Deny Participating In U.S. Led Airstrikes In Iraq But Not In Syria; Biden Administration Indicates Retaliatory Strikes Against Iranian Proxies In Middle East To Continue; South Carolina Holding Democratic Presidential Primary; Members Of Eagles Pass Fire Department Describe Pulling Dead Bodies Of Migrants From Rio Grande River; Criticism Of Singer Taylor Swift Attending Kansas City Chiefs' Football Games Examined; Whales Important Allies With Humans In Combatting Climate Change. Aired 2-3p ET.

Aired February 03, 2024 - 14:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right, new developments in those punishing U.S. airstrikes against the Middle East. Russia is now demanding an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting in response to the operation. The U.S. conducted strikes against 85 targets across Syria and Iraq on Friday. Officials say they were linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds force and affiliated militia groups. All of this in response to Sunday's deadly attack on U.S. soldiers in Jordan.

Iraq claims Friday's U.S. strikes killed at least 16 people including civilians. U.S. Defense secretary Lloyd Austin is saying this is just the beginning of the United States' response. Iraq, Syria and Russia are warning that the U.S. is fueling the conflict in the Middle East. Iran says the U.S. has made a strategic mistake.

CNN has teams around the globe covering all of these developments. Let's go first to CNN's Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon. Oren, what more are officials there revealing about these latest strikes?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: First in terms of the details of the strikes themselves -- four locations in Syria, three locations in Iraq, according to officials here who briefed the media following the strikes. In terms the number of targets, you point out, more than 85 targets in these locations, more than 125 precision guided weapons used in carrying out these strikes. That is effectively an order of magnitude if not greater more than the strikes we've seen carried out in Iraq and Syria by the U.S. over the course of the past several months.

It's also worth noting this is the first time we have seen the U.S. attack both Iraq and Syria, targets therein, at the same time. Normally it's Iraq or Syria. So here it's both. And that a measure of essentially what the U.S. is trying to show here, its capability to carry out something like this. These pictures from Iraq, a location the U.S. has struck before, although the U.S. not saying its specific locations in this set of attacks on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iranian-backed militias in the region here.

So you see the number of targets, the types of targets, command and control centers, intelligence centers, weapons, really going after the times of weapons and the ability of the Iranian backed militias to carry out these sorts of attacks. It's worth noting that the U.S. says there were likely casualties as a result of these strikes, and that perhaps part of the intent here. I'll read you a quote from General Douglas Sims, the director of the joint staff here. He says, "We made these strikes tonight with an idea that there would likely be casualties associated with people inside those facilities used by these Iran-backed militias here." So we'll wait to see what more we learn. Of course, both the president and the defense secretary promising these are the beginning of the responses.

WHITFIELD: And Oren, this is separate, perhaps a continuation of activity that has been happening there. We've learned that the U.S. conducted strikes in Yemen targeting multiple Houthi drones preparing to attack ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden on Friday. What more do you know?

LIEBERMANN: So this is part of the, what is essentially the ongoing effort to try to disrupt Houthi attacks on critical shipping in the region, on international shipping lanes there in the Red Sea and the in the Gulf of Aden. And this took place in the hours before the U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria.

So first, early in the morning, there was one UAV that was shot down in the Gulf of Aden. Then U.S. forces destroyed four UAVs, that is drones that were preparing for launch, according to U.S. Central Command, and posed a threat not only to international shipping lanes but also to U.S. warships in the region.


Then several hours later the U.S. shot down, that is, a U.S. destroyer and U.S. fighter jets shot down seven more drones over the Red Sea. So you see not only the continued Houthi attempts to target shipping lanes but the ongoing U.S. effort to go after those launches, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Oren, thanks so much.

And to you, CNN's Ben Wedeman in Jordan. Ben, Jordan's Air Force is now denying any involvement in these U.S. strikes in Iran and Syria. What more are you learning?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, an official, Fredricka, in the United States did tell CNN that Jordan did, in his words, participate in the operation. Now, participate doesn't necessarily mean that they were, actually Jordanian warplanes were involved, and the Petra, which is Jordan's official news agency, has come out with a statement categorically denying the involvement of the Jordanian air force in the U.S. strikes on Iraq. However, notably absent from that statement in Petra was any reference to possible Jordanian involvement and air strikes on Syria.

So it leaves room for interpretation, all of this. Keep in mind that during the war against ISIS, Jordan was a member of the U.S.-led coalition, and Jordanian planes did participate in those strikes. But Jordan is in a sensitive situation. The monarchy, the government is very close to the United States, but public opinion is not. Many Jordanians are highly critical of the role of the United States in providing military and diplomatic support to Israel, and therefore, many would not be pleased to see Jordan actively participating in U.S. military operations in the Middle East. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Thanks, Ben. And now to Priscilla Alvarez in Los Angeles where President Biden will be traveling later on. Priscilla, what is the White House saying about the strikes?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Fredricka, simply put, they're saying this is only the beginning of a series of attacks that are expected, or strikes that are expected after, again, those three U.S. servicemembers were killed in Jordan. And President Biden saying pretty explicitly in a statement on Friday, saying, quote, "Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing." It goes on to say, "The United States does not see conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this -- if you harm an American, we will respond."

Of course, that included striking 85 targets in Iraq and Syria yesterday. And the president, sources tell us, had reached his decision on how to respond on Monday morning. But of course, there was some time that went between Monday and Friday before these strikes happened. Part of the reason for that according to U.S. officials had to do with the weather. They wanted clear skies to determine their targets and also make sure there was no unintended casualties.

They're still doing an assessment on that, but official have also said that they don't expect that this is going to shut down Iranian proxies, but the hope here was to diminish their capabilities and to continue to do that with these counterstrikes. And it all speaks to the delicate balance that President Biden is having to navigate here between retaliating and being forceful in that retaliation, particularly when U.S. servicemembers are killed, but also trying to deter these groups and avoid being pulled into a regional war.

Now, notably, the U.S. did not strike in Iran. That was not expected going into these strikes. But it all goes to this idea U.S. officials have underscored repeatedly, which is that they do not want to escalate the conflict in the Middle East, especially as that region continues to be on edge. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Priscilla Alvarez, Ben Wedeman, and Oren Liebermann, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it. Let's dig deeper now into this developing story. Joel Rubin is the

former deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs in the Obama administration. He's now running for Congress in Maryland. Good to see you. In your view --


WHITFIELD: -- was this the best option for the Biden administration in terms of how it should or could respond?

RUBIN: Fred, President Biden has been very patient and very deliberate in the response, and very focused on ensuring that the public understands as well as countries in the Middle East understand why he's taking these actions. I think we've heard time and again from the president, he does not want us to get into a regional war, he does not want to us explode into a regional war. But Iran's actions and the proxies of Iran, those actions have been irresponsible. What they are doing is exploiting the war between Israel and Hamas by launching strikes against our forces, having third parties attack shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf.


And now as we saw, they crossed the red line, which is they killed American troops. And so I think for the president, he has to show that he has the back of our forces in the region. This means the response to attack those targets that were responsible for killing our servicemembers. And he does need to couple this with more diplomacy. That's why I'm happy to see Secretary Blinken heading out next week as well to try to get this diplomatic track stronger. It's always going to be a fight to do that, but the president made the right call in how he's executing this.

WHITFIELD: And what do you think the decision-making on retaliation, the form of retaliation, what did it entail? Who might have been at the table? What were all the potential that's they were exploring before rendering, before the president rendered a decision on how to proceed?

RUBIN: So when it come to the targeting itself, what the president is doing is he is expecting that our commanders on the ground, that they understand exactly where the source is. And we saw hints of that with the drone that struck the base in Jordan. It was being tracked, but it was confusing, clearly, and that led to the tragedy of the killing of our servicemembers.

But the lines of where the assets come from and the operations of the proxy forces, that's something that our intelligence community is consistently monitoring as well as Cent Com, our defense central command in the Middle East. And so they have a watchful eye. They understand where to strike. And I think that's why we saw these strikes so deliberate.

And also, it's important to note that there has been a lot of criticism of the president. Why did he wait? Why did he spend several days? It's because he's allowing our commanders on the ground to make that operational decision, and they did when they had best visibility, which is what they decided was the right time to launch these strikes.

WHITFIELD: Early on, earlier in the week, some Republicans were calling for U.S. attacks inside Iran. Do you think that is completely off the table? Or do you think that could potentially be part of the phased retaliation that the U.S. is embarking on?

RUBIN: Yes, I think that's highly irresponsible. That is the kind of logic that sets us into a trajectory where we do not want to go. And the president is being very clear about how he wants to ensure that the attacks against our forces do not escalate.

But the calls for attacking Tehran, those came before months -- they've been coming for years. They've been coming, for example, from Senator Lindsey Graham for 15, 20 years now. And they do want that kind of a war which would launch, turn the region on fire. So I think the president, he's smart. He's staying away from that. He is making it very clear what his objective is.

This does, of course, also lead us to an opportunity for more diplomacy. There should be a direct line with Tehran. There should be a way to deconflict any potential escalation. Let's just remember, Iran is about four times the physical size of Iraq, twice the population. We don't have forces in the region. There's no justification for attacking Iran right now. This has to be focused on the task at hand. It's called bringing calm to the region. It's about bringing a path forward on the Israel and Hamas war. And it's calling Tehran to change its tack. Rather than exploit that war and try to increase violence in the region, how about calling on its proxies to reduce the violence in the region? And I think that's where the president and his team are trying to drive us right now, and that's why a strike on Iran would be really, really distasteful and counterproductive.

WHITFIELD: Joel Rubin, thank you so much.

RUBIN: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Right now, voters are heading to the polls in South Carolina for the Democratic primary. Will they back President Biden again? Our team is at the polling stations.



WHITFIELD: Election day in South Carolina, and voters in the Palmetto state are heading to the polls right now. This year Democrats made South Carolina their first official primary state this cycle, and it's the first time the delegates will be awarded, 55 Democratic delegates are at stake. Despite Congressman Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson also being on the ballot, Biden is expected to win big in today's election.

For the very latest on the race, let's bring in CNN's Eva McKend at a voting site in South Carolina, in Columbia, South Carolina. And once again, Eva, it's not very busy behind you. But you tell me, what has been happening there all day?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Fred, it has been relatively quiet all day. We're now up to 112 voters here at this polling site in Columbia. No doubt President Biden, the Democrats, they're looking for a big turnout, though, today in South Carolina, because they want to foreshadow what it could mean about a core constituency.


MCKEND: Saturday's "South Carolina primary will serve as an early test" of President Joe Biden's standing with a loyal constituency -- black voters.

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're the reason I am president. You're the reason. Kamala Harris is a historic vice president. And you're the reason Donald Trump is a defeated former president.


MCKEND: While the president is expected to win the first official Democratic contest, the results could signal how much work he has to do to shore up support with a critical piece of his coalition ahead of an expected rematch with Donald Trump in November.

GABRIEL FANT, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: We need somebody who speaks to black Americans in the United States. And I don't think that either/or are doing so.

MCKEND: Gabriel Fant is a server at Hannibal's Kitchen, a must stop for political candidates visiting Charleston, including the president just last week.

FANT: I am a seventh generation in South Carolina, so I've seen the hardships black people go through. And no one is addressing that. And economically, we are at the bottom.

MCKEND: Not even facetime with the president has changed her mind, her economic anxieties too great.

FANT: We need a candidate who is going to stand up and stand up strong for us, or we're voting for the couch.

MCKEND: So you're considering staying home and not voting?

FANT: Yes. And a lot of us are.

DR. TONYA MATTHEWS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, INTERVIEW AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM: History reminds us to never forget that there was a time we did not have that choice.

MCKEND: Dr. Tonya Matthews is the CEO of the International African American Museum in Charleston. She says black voters have created the organizing power to elevate issues vital to them, like fair wages, housing development, and small business support.

MATTHEWS: We think about the ancestors who died to fight for this, but we also think about aunts and uncles that are currently poll workers. When we see encouragement or strong turnout or strong voices in places like South Carolina, it is a note to the rest of the country, not just to other black voters, that black voters are paying attention.

MCKEND: The significance is not lost on shop owner Mimi Striplin, who met Biden last month with other South Carolina entrepreneurs. With this administration, she says she feels like she has a seat at the table and her voice is valued.

MIMI STRIPLIN, SOUTH CAROLINA SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I think that we have to be able to step back and think a little more long-term. Like, yes, four years, eight years, feels like a long time in my lifetime. But we think about these changes and how they are hopefully going to be impacting the next generations to come.

MCKEND: She worries about what another Trump presidency would bring.

STRIPLIN: It could be chaos all over again. Like there were days that I just wake up as a person of color in this state and fear for my life. And that shouldn't be the case for anyone. So of course, there are definitely worries and fears around that.

MCKEND: National Democrats are leaning into those concerns, hoping they will motivate voters to turn out while also making an affirmative argument for Biden.

JAMIE HARRISON, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIR: Diabetes and heart attacks, there are a lot of ways that we've been trying to make things more affordable for working people, student loan debt. We have seen the lowest unemployment for black folks in 50 years. We've seen this president work to cut childhood poverty in half, particularly in black communities.

MCKEND: Many are ready to give Biden another four years to continue making the case.

GEROGE MCCRAY, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I've always been in support of Biden because on the inside, I think he's fair. On the inside, I think he's fair. I don't think Barack Obama would've him part of the team if he wasn't. And I'm a firm believer of Barack Obama.

MCKEND: But it may not be enough to convince some black voters weary of supporting Democrats again.

FANT: I'm telling black people, stay home.


MCKEND (on camera): So you can hear there, Fred, a variety of views from black voters across the state. Earlier today, President Biden and his headquarters in Delaware telling volunteers there that this campaign, it's more than a campaign. It's a mission. At least one voter I spoke with today agreeing with him as he was exiting the polls today. He told me that he actually voted for former President Trump in 2016 and 2020. But he is now concerned about the health of our democracy, the preservation of the Constitution, and voted today for President Biden. Fred?

WHITFIELD: And Eva, did I hear that last young woman at the end of the piece, did she say I'm telling voters to stay home?

MCKEND: She did, she did. She's very, very frustrated. She is a waitress in -- here in the state, and she feels like economically her life has not gotten any better. The black voters are routinely asked to vote for Democrats, but she doesn't see any significant change in her life. She actually says the last couple of years have actually gotten harder for her.

So that is a constituency that Democrats really have to pay attention to, these sort of disaffected Democrats. She voted for President Biden in 2020, but now she's actually told me she's considering voting third party this election.

WHITFIELD: OK. Eva McKend, thank you so much.

The federal government has failed us, I'm quoting. What some firefighters on the front lines of the border crisis are saying. How one department is handling the historical surge of migrants, next.



WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Amid a historic surge of migrants at the U.S. border, a sobering sentiment from first responders in south Texas. "It's the drownings that get you." That quote from the Eagle Pass Fire Department who pulled 47 men, women, and children from the treacherous water crossing in 2023. That's more than six times the annual amount seen in prior years. A few members of the department shared their stories with CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The calls I dread the most is when they're dispatched as drowning. There is this sense of adrenaline, but fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the drownings that get you over and over again. You never get over it. You never get over it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leading this hour, the astonishing surge of migrants at the Texas border.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This part of the Rio Grande is one of the deadliest part for migrants. Not only are there adults dying as they are crossing the river. There's an increasing number of children.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the year 2023, the Eagle Pass Fire Department responded to approximately 47 body recoveries. The average count of body recoveries that this department was used to prior to 2023 was anywhere between six and seven. All --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- and then all of a sudden there's a 25-foot plunge and you're down there, and she sweeps you away, and you're just filling your lungs full of water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ones that are the hardest are obviously the ones with kids. We're pulling out 14-year-old kids, and I have one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Recently, we ended up running a cardiac arrest inside a cargo container. I believe she was 13 years old. What goes through my mind is how cold must she have been when she was crossing. She's soaking wet. She's wearing clothes to keep herself warm. And then you smell the dirt, you smell the regurgitation of the water. We got her pulse back, and I think she ended up being brain dead, unfortunately.

The next shift we went and we recovered her little brother's body from the river itself. Of course, he's been under water for three or four days before resurfacing. And just the stench of the dead body, rotten flesh as it gets up in your nose and stays there the rest of your shift here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We responded under to the port of entry where all the -- show is. It involved a four-year-old female. And just the desperation in the parents' eyes. It was tough. I took that home with me. That poor little girl. It's frustrating me, because she didn't ask her parents to put her in that water. She didn't ask to be tossed over that sea water. It's hard not to get political.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we run calls because of the immigration issue, nobody is supplementing that. It's the taxpayer. It's money that's coming from our budget, because there's no insurances that we can bill. The federal government has failed us, and hundreds of lives were lost unnecessarily.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we get called out, we don't ask whether it's a citizen or an immigrant. I'm going to go where the call is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just because there's a crisis today or there's a crisis tomorrow, it's not going to change my perspective. I signed up to help people. And as long as there are people, I'm going to help.


WHITFIELD: Now let's bring in CNN Digital Producer Alexandra King who traveled to Texas for this story. Alexandra, great to see you. It really is really important to hear these points of view. And it sounds like they really wanted to share this and pour their hearts out. This is frustrating.

ALEXANDRA KING, CNN DIGITAL PRODUCER: Yes, well, Fredricka, these guys are EMTs and firefighters, right. They're used to seeing the hardest parts of life -- death, injury, suffering. But even they couldn't have imagined what they've seen over the last year. As Chief Cardona (ph) noted in the piece, prior to 2023, they would recover six to seven migrant bodies in the Rio Grande River per year. And that's obviously still too many. But last year they recovered 47.

These are tough guys. And as we went to film them at the firehouse, there was an atmosphere where they all kind of gathered around, and they were laughing and making fun of each other. But as we started the questions, things took a more somber turn. It became clear that many of them are still processing the horrors that they've seen.

There have been so many calls. It's like they haven't had time to really grapple with it. Before they've had a moment to get to grips with the horror that they've just seen, another call comes in. So one firefighter, for instance, spoke movingly about recovering bodies of children who were the same age as his own children, and it's hard not to take that home.

WHITFIELD: And so how are they feeling about government response to the crisis at the border?

KING: Well, first and foremost, Chief Cardona (ph) feels that the government has let their team down. And he also thinks that hundreds of lives have been lost as a result. But it's not just that this is a small town. It's the money that has to be spent in order to support the number of migrant rescues and recoveries. It has largely come out of their budget. The average call volume before the crisis was about 15 to 20 calls a day, and last year, that climbed to 35. Some days, he says, there were way over 50.


At times the local hospital had even been completely at capacity. And they've received no federal funding in reimbursement for the extra costs they've had to deal with.

WHITFIELD: All right, Alexandra King, thank you so much. Thanks for bringing all of that to us.

And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: OK, just days away, just a little over a week from Super Bowl LVIII, and alongside the excitement over the Chiefs and the 49ers going at it, and of course, the halftime show, Usher, it's another superstar, Taylor Swift, who is getting a whole lot of attention. People are wondering, is she going to be there? And in what capacity? Who is going to be taking center stage?


After all, she and tight end Travis Kelce are quite the item. But it's her repeated attendance at some of the Chiefs' games during the season that has ruffled quite a few feathers of some football fans. Why is that?

Joining us right now, Danielle Campoamor. She's a freelance writer and reporter who recently penned an op-ed on So let's get to the heart of it. People aren't that upset, right, when you see Drake or when you see Eminem, or a host of celebrities on the sidelines of a basketball game or at an NFL game. But what is it about Taylor Swift that seems to be rubbing some people wrong?

DANIELLE CAMPOAMOR, SENIOR EDITOR, "ROMPER": Well, in no uncertain terms, it's because she's a woman, a successful woman who has the audacity to experience joy in public, heaven forbid, right?

And to your point, there have been plenty of male celebrities who are shown onscreen enjoying themselves at a football game or a basketball game or even, you know, a game that's played at the collegiate level. And it's an honor and everyone is excited. But for her, it somehow seems to be an issue. And it really talks to a larger problem within the NFL when it comes to how the league has historically treated women, how it has protected players, coaches, staff, from violence against women. And so there are certainly a portion of fans and rightwing political talking heads who have an issue with the woman deigning to enjoy football in the name of supporting her partner.

WHITFIELD: And she actually responded, didn't she? She responded in that "Time" magazine person of the year profile, saying I'm just there to support Travis. I have no awareness of I'm being shown too much, and I'll say it because it's written there. But I know a lot of our viewer audience doesn't want to hear it, but pissing off a few dads, Brads, and Chads. So she's aware of it, but she's carrying on. And Kelce has also said it is not distracting him from the game. Is that enough?

CAMPOAMOR: I mean, it should be. And to her point, while she doesn't want to piss off anybody, she's also bringing a lot of people together. There are a lot of parents, dad-daughters, or girl dads in particular, who are going on social media and sharing how her presence there has brought them closer to their daughters. Their daughters now want to watch football. They want to know what's going on. They want to be part of this cultural moment.

And the NFL knows that, too. They're smart, so they're taking advantage of it as well. It's not a bad thing, especially now. People talk about how they're so upset with how divided this country is. How it seems that no one can get along and we're all just going at each other. Here's something where you have a pop princess, a pop icon, and a tight end, future hall of famer at the best of his game coming together and bringing people together as a result of their personal relationship. I don't understand what's wrong with that other than this country, especially in the wake of Roe v. Wade, it's not hard to disseminate that we still really don't like women.

WHITFIELD: Why can't people just celebrate, two people at the top of their game who are together, having a great time, enjoying it. And like you said, now has also helped get people who weren't necessarily watching any NFL games watching NFL games.

So you write, "Let's be clear. A lot of women watched football before Tayvis, this but this is different. The largest pop star has introduced an entirely new demographic to professional football, one the league would have otherwise had a difficult if not impossible time trying to reach. But for an organization with a nefarious history when it comes to violence against women, does the NFL really deserve Taylor Swift?"

So we haven't heard the opposition coming from anyone representing the NFL. It really has been kind of a fan base or perhaps there have been some announcers, et cetera. But you are now saying, wait a minute, the NFL is benefitting from her popularity. And you're posing a very provocative question, are they deserving of it? So tell us more about your thoughts. You answer the question that you posed.

CAMPOAMOR: I grew up watching the NFL. I've been an NFL fan since I could walk, since I could talk. I've been watching football for forever.


But as I grew older and educated myself, the violence against women, this organization has had, like I said, a nefarious history with, it has been hard for me to be a fan. Do I want to give money to an organization that has not necessarily stood for violence against women, but has certainly advocated for those who have been found guilty of violence against women, or have been in the spotlight for certain nefarious actions.

And so it's kind of hard for me to see the NFL, to their credit, take this opportunistic moment to their benefit. But are they really going to do anything different? Just this year after 10 years of Ray Rice beating his then fiance unconscious, it has honored him. So it's kind of hard to square those two things together. But I am hopeful. I'm hopeful that because Taylor Swift has so much power, so much capital power, so much power, cultural power, that she can hold the NFL to account in a way that very few people, if any, can. And perhaps we'll see the NFL as a whole shift toward a less toxic masculinity type organization where they really do care about women, not just in name but in action.

WHITFIELD: All right. Danielle Campoamor, great having you. Thank you so much.

CAMPOAMOR: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Coming up, could whales be our biggest allies in fighting climate change? The details straight ahead.



WHITFIELD: All right, here's a question. Can whales be our biggest allies in fighting climate change? CNN's Bill Weir goes to antarctica to find out.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It may be the wildest place I've seen on seven continents.

Do you see something? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw something come out of the water, but I

didn't see what.

WEIR: There he is right under us. He's right under us. Oh, my god. No way. Hello. Hello, lovely boy. Oh, my God.

This is a minke, the smallest, stealthiest, and the stinkiest of the baleen whales. And as a result, long the safest from whale hunters. That green stuff is a colony of algae called diatoms. And since they get scrubbed off on long migrations, it's a clue that this whale has been hanging around out here a while, and we're likely the first humans it has ever encountered.


WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh, that is so gorgeous. With me now is CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir. Bill, I'm telling you, you should have told me. I would have been your grip. I would have carried bags, whatever to be on that. But I would have been probably no help at all because I would have been tears, because that just made me tear up. That was so beautiful. These whales are spectacular. So tell us more about meeting these whales and how meaningful it is.

WEIR: Well, when we saved the whales, which started with the movement of the songs of the humpbacks and all of that, it may be the greatest conservation story ever, the comeback of the humpback, enormous success. And they go down to the South Pole down there to feed, and then they come up to the tropics to make babies, and we followed that migration route because a couple of years ago some economists from the International Monetary Fund put a dollar figure on the free earth services that whales provide, and it's about $2 million for a living whale in carbon capture and fertilizing the ocean. They're the biggest fertilizer pumps. They bring these nutrients up from the deep. And when they poo on the surface, it creates the bottom of the food chain.

So when you see whales, wherever you are, east coast, we had some off the Jersey Shore the other day, know that they're out there gardening the ocean. They're creating food wherever they go, which draws down carbon. So we saved the whales once. If we save them again, as a byproduct we'll save ourselves and everything else, because they are the hardiest creatures, and they're showing us a lot of looming threats.

WHITFIELD: Wow. And it is amazing to be able to hear them underneath. They communicate. I mean, they are an amazing family that communicate. But then I understand they're using A.I. now to figure out how whales speak, and perhaps will they try to use that to communicate with them?

WEIR: Well, actually a team in Alaska in December had a 20-minute virtual conversation with a humpback whale. They recorded clicks of a female and then played it back in the same way the next day. And this whale responded 36 times in the same cadence. And now they're trying to use A.I. to figure out the different patterns. We may never know the lyrics of the songs of the humpback whale right now, but everything we learn is a new fascinating twist of our biggest planetary roommates, and they're literally our biggest allies in earth repair, ocean repair.

The whaling industry is almost dead. Japan still hunts about 300 of those minke whales, the little guys, a year. But now it's krill fisheries for omega three supplements. They have to compete with those. It's ocean pollution. It's fishing nets, onshore development, a lot of stresses because they move all over the world. And if we pay attention to what they're telling us, it will really help us understand the best way to save life on earth, really.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my God. We need whales. We've always needed whales. But they have been a target for so many things. You just touched on it there.


So, OK, the whaling industry may have -- maybe on the decline, but there are perils for the whales, like the netting, lots of things, pollution and all that. So through, I guess, this science of further appreciating whales, are there new discoveries how to protect them?

WEIR: Absolutely. In fact, a lot of the science has formed the first ever high seas treaty, global oceans treaty. Two-thirds of the ocean's surface is un-lawed. It's just open, no man's land, so nobody takes care of it. But it passed the United Nations. If 60 nations saw it, ratify it back at home. The first of 60 did it. Chile is going to be next. Once 60 nations do that, there's a framework to protect these long migration corridors and help all of marine mammals, all marine life.

WHITFIELD: Awesome. That just took my breath away. I cannot wait to watch the rest, because it's just extraordinary, magical, beautiful.


WHITFIELD: Good job. Bill Weir, thank you so much.

Be sure to tune into an all new episode of "The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper", one whole hour, one whole story, which airs tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. eastern and pacific, only on CNN.