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US Conducts Strikes Against Houthi Underwater Vessel For The First Time Since Red Sea Attacks Began; Hospital Director: At Least 13 Killed In Israeli Airstrikes In Rafah; Global Outrage Aimed At Russia Over Death Of Putin Critic. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired February 18, 2024 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: All right, hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Washington, DC.

And we continue to follow breaking news out of the Middle East. The US military has conducted a new round of strikes against Houthi- controlled areas of Yemen and targets in the Red Sea. These new strikes hit anti-ship cruise missiles and vessels, and also included strikes on the first unmanned underwater vessel. The Iranian-backed rebel group has used since the attacks in the Red Sea began.

The Houthi attacks have forced some of the world's biggest shipping and oil companies to suspend transit through one of the most important maritime trade routes, which could potentially cause a shock to the global economy.

We have team coverage: Jeremy Diamond is in Tel Aviv and Katie Bo Lillis is in Washington.

Katie Bo, let's begin with you. What more are you learning about these new strikes?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Fred, the US military carrying out five strikes against targets in Houthi-held territories of Yemen, including three anti-ship cruise missiles one underwater drone, and one drone boat.

Now, as you mentioned, this is the first time that the US military has seen the Houthis use this underway water drone since the onset of hostilities inside of Gaza and since the Houthis began conducting their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

At this point, we don't have a lot of details about that system. The US military in its statement saying only that this is the first time they've seen the Houthis use it, not providing any further details on how they discovered that the Houthis had this system, how the Houthis were using it and what risk it might pose to commercial shipping and to US forces in the region.

The US military selecting these targets. It said in a statement because they presented an imminent threat to US navy ships and merchant vessels in the region, the combatant command, adding in a statement that, "These actions will protect freedom of navigation and make international water safer and more secure for US Navy and merchant vessels."

Fred, this is just the latest in a series of retaliatory strikes that the US military has taken against the Houthi rebels. This Iranian- backed group that controls a large amount of the territory inside of Yemen and has been conducting for months now, dozens of attacks on both commercial shipping and military shipping in the region, it says in solidarity with the Palestinian cause inside Gaza.

As you mentioned, these attacks, hugely consequential for the global economy. Some major shipping companies suspending transit through the Suez Canal, having to reroute ships around the southern tip of Africa, obviously, adding tremendous costs to commercial shipping.

The big question at this point, Fredricka is whether or not these American strikes are going to have the deterrent effect that the US military is hoping for. Are they actually going to get the Houthis to stop conducting these attacks? Right now, the answer to that sort of, at best appears, we don't really know.

The Houthi militants have said that they intend to continue attacks as long as Israel continues to conduct military operations inside Gaza. The pace of those attacks certainly has not slowed since the United States began responding and because US intelligence gathering inside of Houthi controlled Yemen is fairly anemic.


The United States doesn't really have a great sense of how big the arsenal that the Houthi militants still have is, essentially how many more military capabilities can they continue to bring to bear.

WHITFIELD: All right, Katie Bo Lillis, thank you so much.

Let's bring in now Jeremy Diamond and Tel Aviv.

Jeremy, give us an update on the fighting in Gaza and particularly that hospital, which continues to be under assault.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred. Over the last few days, Israeli Special Forces have been operating inside of Nasser Hospital. They said that they entered the hospital in the first place, demolishing its southern wall to locate the bodies of Israeli hostages. They said that they were acting on credible intelligence.

So far though, they have yet to turn up the bodies of those hostages. Instead, what they say that they have found so far are weapons caches, as well as vehicles. Both vehicles that they say Hamas used on October 7th, as well as Israeli vehicles that they believe were brought into Gaza on October 7th.

And they also say that they found medicine with the names and photos of Israeli hostages, which could perhaps be from the medicine that was sent into Gaza that was destined for those hostages, but we have already gotten several reports that that medicine never indeed reached many of those hostages.

Now, we can't independently verify all of this information, but it does give you a sense of what they have been finding on the grounds of that hospital, but what is also very clear is the very real impact that this military operation has been having on what is Gaza's second- largest hospital.

And now that hospital has been put out of service according to the World Health Organization. There are only about 25 medical staff remaining at that hospital, and they do not have the ability to handle cases requiring critical care.

Electricity has been cut off to the complex. And in addition to that, there also appeared to be 70, at least 70 health care workers who were arrested at the hospital.

Now, beyond the situation at Nasser Hospital, which is in Southern Gaza, we also have to pay close attention to what has been happening in Central Gaza, and that is over the weekend, very, very intense Israeli military bombardment there.

Just yesterday, the death toll rose to at least 68 people killed in these strikes on Central Gaza. The Israeli military said that they killed at least 10 militants there. But clearly there are a number of civilian casualties.

And this morning, once again, more airstrikes hitting Central Gaza, and the images that we've seen from the hospital in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Central Gaza are absolutely heartbreaking.

One after the other, you see child after child after child being brought into that hospital, some of them wounded and some of them killed, unfortunately, in those strikes.

So a very desperate situation made worse, of course, by the fact that the Israeli government has been telegraphing the potential for this offensive in Rafah, which has already begun to send hundreds, if not thousands of people fleeing that area of Rafah towards the central part of the Gaza Strip, where there is still very much intense bombardment and intense fighting.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jeremy Diamond, Katie Bo Lillis, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

All right, turning now to Russia and the war in Ukraine, President Biden warning that more towns in Ukraine could fall without renewed US aid. He blames congressional inaction on new funding for the fall of the key town of Avdiivka, where Ukraine's forces quickly retreated in recent days.

Multiple towns along the frontlines appear to be in danger of falling as Ukraine's forces battle a larger and better equipped Russian military. We are also monitoring the situation inside Russia where hundreds have reportedly been detained for attending vigils and rallies following the death of opposition leader and Putin critic, Alexey Navalny in a Russian prison.

Earlier today, the US and British ambassadors to Russia laid flowers in memory of Alexey Navalny right there in Moscow.

CNN chief global affairs correspondent, Matthew Chance is in Moscow for us. So Matthew, what is the latest?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Fred, actually thousands of people across the country of been taking the step of coming out to pay their respects to give their sympathies, to lay flowers following the news of the death of Alexey Navalny, Russia's most prominent and outspoken critic of the Kremlin.

In a country where protesting is cracked down upon hard by the authorities, it was significant that so many people have come out as an indication of the crackdown that's continuing even with people laying flowers at memorials because that hundreds of those people, as you mentioned, have been detained by the authorities.

Many of them had been led off with a fine or with a warning, but nevertheless, the authorities sending a firm clear message that even this kind of protest in support of Alexey Navalny will not be tolerated.


And I think it gives us an indication of just how hard line Russia has become over the course of the past several years. The other unanswered question at the moment in Russia is where is the body of Alexey Navalny? He died at a penal colony thousands of kilometers, thousand or so miles away from the Russian capital in the far north of the country.

His mother, Lyudmila has traveled to that remote location to try and recover the body of her son, but she was told by the morgue there that the body wasn't there. Subsequently, the Russian authorities have come out and said, look, were not going to hand the body back to the family so it can be buried until such time as the autopsy has been completed, which sounds reasonable, of course.

But Navalny's supporters, the people in his anti-corruption organization say, this is the Kremlin trying to hide the evidence, trying to hide the body, and of course, trying to hide the real reason why he died so suddenly in that Russian penal colony -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Matthew Chance, thank you so much in Moscow.

All right, let's get more now on President Biden's reaction to the fall of the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka. CNN White House reporter, Priscilla Alvarez joining us now.

Priscilla, the president is drawing a direct correlation to the battlefield loss with Congress failing to pass Ukrainian aid.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: He is and in doing that, he is also underscoring the stakes here by essentially saying that by not giving these funds to Ukraine, they are low on ammunition. And as a result, having to cede ground to Russia. Of course, those remarks yesterday coming after learning that Ukraine had to pull out of one of their towns because they were low on ammunition and the president was very forceful in his language when talking about this incident.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, the Ukrainian people fought so bravely and heroically. They have put so much on the line, and the idea that now, they are running out of ammunition, we walk away. I find it absurd. I find it unethical. I find it just contrary to everything we are as a country.


ALVAREZ: What unfolded yesterday in Ukraine is something that US officials had been concerned about and something that they had already been warning in this push for those $60 billion in funding to Ukraine.

And what I am being told this morning is that we can expect to hear more of that from the White House putting pressure on Congress To pass these funds, which had been stalled since last October, but also highlighting the real impacts on the ground on the battlefield for Ukraine the longer that these funds go without being sent to Ukraine.

Now, again, Fred, just to give a reminder to viewers of what we are talking about here, these are funds that were requested as part of a broader national security supplemental request last October. They were stalled after infighting in Congress.

There was some progress last week when the Senate passed a foreign aid package that included $60 billion for Ukraine. But since then, the House has gone on recess for two weeks and House Speaker Mike Johnson has indicated that he has no plans to put this package on the floor, meaning that the funds or the future of the funds remains uncertain.

And so, President Biden for a second day in a row yesterday, coming out forcefully and putting this immense pressure on Congress to pass these funds, and citing what had occurred in Ukraine earlier in the day as a result of congressional inaction.

So, the White House making very clear their posture here, while also having their own private conversations with the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to say that they do still stand by Ukraine as the US will support them, and that there is confidence for now that they can get those funds over.

But when that happens and if it happens, still very much in question.

WHITFIELD: All right, Priscilla Alvarez, thank you so much.

All right, let's bring in Colonel Cedric Leighton. He is a CNN military analyst and retired US Air Force colonel.

Colonel, great to see you. Let's stick with the Ukrainian thread here. President Biden is blaming the lack of urgency on US Congress saying that US military support and aid needs to get to Ukraine. He is also making a direct correlation between the fall of Avdiivka and this lack of action from US Congress. Do you agree with him on that?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I actually do, Fred, and you know, the key thing here is that if you don't get those supplies, ammunition, weapons system to the Ukrainians, they will not have a chance to defend themselves. Right now, they are able to do what they can, but you have ratios like ten to one of Russian artillery being fired to one Ukrainian artillery piece coming back at the Russian.


So this is a very difficult thing for us to really support in the proper way, but the key thing is here, if you don't provide this kind of support to the Ukrainians, then there is going to be the chance that not only could Ukraine fall, but there could also be some major, major threats directed at NATO countries, which line of course, that Eastern border between Ukraine and Western Europe.

WHITFIELD: And at the Munich Security Conference, where Volodymyr Zelenskyy made his direct appeal to nations in attendance, there, he seemed like he was also targeting US Congress when he said "dictators don't go on vacation." Members of congress have gone on a two-week break, and at the same time, you heard allied countries who said no, we are here for you as well.

But without the US support, can other allied nations, neighboring nations do enough to help Ukraine stay afloat as it continues to take on Russia? Or is it incredibly imperative that the US continue to play a larger role?

LEIGHTON: It is definitely imperative that the US continue to play a larger role, Fred, but the key thing here is yes, the Europeans can provide a lot of support to the Ukrainians and it is certainly welcome, but without the support, without the types of weapons systems that the US brings into the fight, it becomes an incredibly difficult for the Ukrainians to hold on.

So you basically need both the European element and the American element to provide the equivalents with as much support weapons and ammunition so that they can actually not only stand and fight, but also protect their territory.

WHITFIELD: All right, now let's talk about what's going on in the Red Sea. And what do you make of this Houthi target being called an underwater vessel that was targeted?

LEIGHTON: Yes, that's very interesting. It sounds like it is in essence an underwater unmanned surface vehicle or USV is how they are called, how they are termed and it is going to be interesting to see exactly where that came from. Is this something that they came from Iran or is this thing that came perhaps from Russia?

But my bet on it right now is that this is an Iranian weapon system that has been deployed to the Houthis and they in essence will use it as a way of going after shipping in the Bab-el-Mandeb, that strait, that connection between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

WHITFIELD: Has the US felt like it knew a lot about the military capabilities of the Houthis, particularly following the dozens of US strikes carried out in the last few weeks, or does this now reveal that there is still a lot to learn about their capabilities?

LEIGHTON: I think it reveals that there is still a lot to learn. There are so many aspects to -- and the Houthis have had quite a bit of time in order to, in essence get ready for this kind of a military operation. This type of action, in essence, cutting off the shipping lane for western and other countries, that is something that is out of the Iranian playbook.

So we have anticipated this to some degree, but the very fact of the matter is, is that the Houthis are pretty good students of the Iranians and they are also using these weapon systems, or at least trying to use these weapon systems to further their goals, which are basically to cut off these shipping lanes from the rest of the world.

WHITFIELD: All right, Colonel Cedric Leighton, great to see you. We will leave it there for now.

LEIGHTON: Thank you, Fred.


And we are following this breaking news out of Minneapolis, where two deputies and a firefighter had been shot and killed. The very latest, next.



WHITFIELD: All right, now to this breaking news out of Minnesota, where officials say two police officers and a firefighter have been killed in a shooting related to domestic disturbance call just south of Minneapolis in the city of Burnsville. And right now, along an overpass in the city, you can see a fire truck parked with its ladders extended and flying an American flag to honor their fallen comrades.

CNN's Camila Bernal is following the story.

Camila, what more are you learning about the circumstances? What preceded the shooting and the killing of these first responders?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fred, we are learning so much more now that we got some information from the city of Burnsville, but I do want to start off with the victims because they have now been named: 27 year-old Officer Paul Elmstrand, another 27- year-old officer, Matthew Ruge and paramedic firefighter, Adam Finseth, just 40 years old.

Authorities with the city now saying that this call came in at 1:50 PM and it was a domestic call reporting a man who was allegedly armed. This was also a man who was barricaded with family members and the city saying that moments after all officers arrived, the situation escalated to gunfire with police and they say this man shot and killed both of these three first responders.


Now, they also said he shot and injured another officer and they said this was Sergeant Adam Medlicott. He was injured and is being treated at the hospital, but his injuries are nonlife-threatening.

Now, authorities also saying that at about 8:00 AM, they reported that suspect, that shooter to be dead. They said later, the family was able to exit the home. They are now safe and there is no ongoing threat to the family or the community, but they do say this investigation is in the very early stages.

They also announced a vigil later on today, and we are still waiting for that press conference to get more details from authorities. But I want to go back to the victims because they will be honored and remembered today and really for a long time for their efforts and for really running towards danger.

Twenty-seven-year-old Elmstrand, he joined the department in 2017, but was promoted to officer in 2019. He was a member of the Mobile Command Staff, the Peer Team, the Honor Guard, and the Field Training Unit. Ruge, he was also 27 joined the department in April of 2020. He was part of the department's crisis negotiations team and was a physical evidence officer.

And then we know that the paramedic, the firefighter, Finseth, he was -- he joined the department in February of 2019. So again, these are three people who are being honored and remembered today as authorities continue this investigation -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Terribly sad. All right, Camila Bernal, keep us posted. Thank you so much.

BERNAL: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, New York governor, Kathy Hochul is now apologizing after speaking at an event and suggesting Israel had a right to destroy Gaza.



WHITFIELD: New York Governor Kathy Hochul has apologized for remarks she made last week on the Israel-Hamas war. CNN's Polo Sandoval, joining us now from New York. So what did she say exactly?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Fred, in her remarks, Governor Kathy Hochul called out Hamas saying that it was a terror organization that must be stopped. But it was her use of an analogy that essentially suggests that -- at least suggesting here that Israel would be justified in destroying Gaza.

It has really made her the subject of criticism, and has her issuing an apology. I want to read you a portion of what she said at this philanthropic event before I get to the apology right now. My understanding, we actually don't have that ready for you at this moment.

The governor saying on Thursday: "If Canada someday ever attacked Buffalo, I'm sorry, my friends, there would be no Canada the next day." The governor then says, "That's a natural reaction. You have a right to defend yourself and to make sure that it never happens again. And that is Israel's right."

Again, these were some remarks from her at a philanthropic event on Thursday.

Days later, the governor now issuing an apology calling those statements, "inappropriate," calling it a poor choice of words. I want to read you more of her apology statement that she issued to CNN here recently. Governor Hochul writing, "Well, I have been clear in my support of Israel's right to self-defense. I have also repeatedly said and continue to believe that the Palestinian civilian casualties should be avoided, and that more humanitarian aid must go to the people of Gaza."

The analogy prompting anger from the governor's own constituents including the Buffalo Chapter of the Jewish Voice for Peace, which is a progressive Jewish group that has been a prominent voice of pro- Palestinian demonstrations in New York, that group calling the governor's statement "disgusting."

But again, the governor insisting here, Fred, that it was not her intention to hurt her community with these words, but certainly a reminder here, Fred, that months after that attack, words certainly matter as a conflict in the Middle East rages on -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, okay.

Polo Sandoval, thanks for bringing that to us. Appreciate it.

SANDOVAL: You bet.

WHITFIELD: All right, former President Donald Trump is running away with the Republican presidential nomination? But could his recent fights in courtroom hurt him on the campaign trail?



WHITFIELD: All right, this could be another consequential week for former President Donald Trump in the courtroom and on the campaign trail. The US Supreme Court is expected to make a decision any day now on Trump's request to temporarily block his Federal election subversion trial.

And in Georgia, a judge may soon decide whether Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis will remain on the election subversion case against Trump in that state.

Those cases follow Friday's stunning ruling from a New York Judge who ordered Trump to pay nearly $350 million in the New York civil fraud trial.

With me now to talk about the political impact of all of this, is Tia Mitchell. She has a Washington correspondent for "The Atlanta Journal- Constitution."

Tia, great to see you.


WHITFIELD: So, Nikki -- so Nikki Haley. Wonderful. So Nikki Haley, she spent yesterday on the campaign trail reminding voters he will be spending more time in the courtroom than on the trail. Any chance all of these legal problems could begin to slow Trump's momentum?

MITCHELL: Well, I think not necessarily slowing his momentum in this Republican primary contest. I know Nikki Haley would like to think that these cases are going to become a concern for Republican voters, but that's just not what we are seeing.

We are seeing exactly what President Trump has been saying is that these cases kind of make people in the primary season more energetic about President Trump.

However, it is true in what we saw last week is that these cases are taking him away from the trail. He was actually double booked in court, so to speak last week with the hearing in Fulton County, as well as a hearing in New York on the same day. So yes, in a way, he does have to make some choices because he can only be in one place at one time.

And to the bigger question about will these cases affect him perhaps in a general election? Of course, that remains to be seen, but I think there is concern that particularly independent voters, those swing voters who we know in battleground states like Michigan and Georgia, and Nevada, Trump's legal issues could have some influence and if people begin to think that he is unfit for the job, again, these swing states with close margins, it could be a difference maker.


WHITFIELD: Oh, interesting. So for now, he really does use it to his advantage, these cases, right? He adds it to his campaign jargon in the primary season because his supporters, you know, are really dug in.

But I get your point, you're saying things might be different later on during the general. So let's now turn our attention to the South Carolina Republican primary.

You know, voters are going to be heading to the polls for that showdown between Trump and Haley. She wants to think that she has got home court advantage because that's her state. But then today on CNN, South Carolinas Senator Tim Scott, who recently endorsed Trump, well, he dodged some questions about whether he would have done as Vice President Pence did.

So is this kind of a new litmus test, if you will, for candidates who might potentially want to be Trump's running mate?

MITCHELL: I think so. I think exactly what you said that the Pence question has become a little bit of how people who would, again like to indicate their support for Trump. But particularly those who are jockeying to serve as his running mate.

We saw Elise Stefanik answer the pence question recently as well. So it does indicate that they believe in a way they are auditioning to say if I were your second in command, here is how I would have responded in that same situation.

Now, again, it is troubling to a lot of people because January 6 happened. We saw what happened when people tried to disrupt Congress because they didn't like the decisions Mike Pence was making, but they're not speaking to a general electorate when they are making these comments. They are not even just speaking to fellow Republicans. It seems a lot of times, but they are answering the Pence question. They are speaking directly to one person, and that's former President Trump who at the end of the day does have a decision to make relatively quickly, relatively soon about who will be his running mate this year.

WHITFIELD: Interesting, okay, so while there is Trump and all of his legal stuff in court, shall we say, this was a pretty good week for President Biden and Democrats, particularly because of that FBI informant -- or former FBI informant now charged with lying about Joe Biden's alleged role in Ukraine business dealings, perhaps dealing a real big blow to the GOP's House efforts to actually impeach the president.

And then there is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who decided, well, he is not going to run for president. So how is this positioning the Biden White House right now?

MITCHELL: I do think that, you know, for the Biden White House and the Biden re-election bid, there have been setbacks, you know, last week we had the Hur report about his keeping top secret documents after he left the White House the first time as vice president.

And so last this week was kind of a low point. We know that that report had some critique about his mental state and his age and President Biden was really angered by that, and so -- but one of the things that has kind of helped President Biden is every time there is something embarrassing or something that is about him that has put him in a negative light, there is always something from Trump that allows Biden and his supporters to pivot and say, remember, as much as you know that Biden is slowed by age and he is the oldest president in history, look at this guy, look at his competition in what he is doing, isn't that a lot worse?

And so that's what we saw from President Trump with the hearings, with the verdict of that really huge penalty in New York with some of his rhetoric at that big campaign rally yesterday and Michigan.

Again, you're allowing the Biden campaign to pivot away from anything that is perceived negative because they'll say, look at these other things, and to your point. Yes, Joe Manchin is saying he is not going to run as a third-party candidate. I think that is music to Biden's ears.

We know these third-party candidates are a concern because we do again, predict it will be close in 2024 just like it was close in a lot of battleground states in 2020.

So these potential third party candidates really do matter.

WHITFIELD: All right, Tia Mitchell, we will leave it there for now. Great to see you. Thanks so much.


WHITFIELD: All right, tonight, Laura Coates examines the case of the United States versus Donald J. Trump, but what exactly are the charges and how strong is the evidence? "The Whole Story" with Anderson Cooper tonight, 8:00 PM right here on CNN.



WHITFIELD: All right. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner is defending his message about a potential national security threat from Russia.

The Ohio Republican faced backlash from his own party for his initially, vague warning last week about Russia's anti-satellite capabilities. Some members called his comments alarmist and reckless.

Here is what he said today.


REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R-OH): The, threat is very serious. Everyone who has looked at it used the same language that I have.

This was not just an action by myself, but I am glad after meeting with Jake Sullivan that the administration is taking this seriously and will now be able to see action.


[15:50:11] WHITFIELD: All right, Turner also emphasized the need for more Ukraine aid, but House Speaker Mike Johnson says, he will not put the Senate foreign aid bill to a House floor vote in its current form.

All right, Super Tuesday is just over two weeks away. It is a major moment in the 2024 election cycle as primaries in 16 states determine who will be on the November ballot, not just in the presidential races, but down ballot ones as well.

In California, the race of the US Senate seat that was held by the late Dianne Feinstein is one of the country's most closely watched with a razor thin margin in the US Senate. Democrats are trying to hold onto the majority.

Joining us right now, one of the candidates vying for that open seat, Democrat Christina Pascucci.

Good to see you, Christina.

So you left your job as a local television news anchor in Los Angeles to run in this race. Why is it so important to you?

CHRISTINA PASCUCCI (D), US SENATE CANDIDATE: It has never been more important. First of all, thank you so much for having me. It is great to be with you, Fredricka.

I think our democracy is at stake, and one of the biggest threats that I see is a polarization right now within our leadership, our Senate our House.

We need people who are willing to reach across the aisle, who are willing to be moderate voices, who are putting people over party to act and the time is now.

So I am also expecting my first child. I am almost nine months pregnant, and so I see it as -- it is a lot to take on it once, but it is about her future and her generation's future, and right now, we are failing them.

WHITFIELD: Wow. Okay. You've got to have a lot of stamina to do that. As you said, that, I'm like recalling what it was like for me when I was at that point, and you know, boy, that would be a very heavy load, heavy lift, but obviously you're very passionate about it.

And what are you hoping your experience knowing, you know, based on your former job, knowing your viewing audience, which will now be potentially your constituency.

You know, what do you know about that constituency that you feel like you would be able to address that perhaps your competitors would not.

PASCUCCI: They are craving change and they are craving transparency and just people who are going to keep it real and be real, put people over party and I think it comes down to common sense.

We've seen such a shift in politics across the nation, but especially in California where people are starting to look around and say, I don't feel safe. I don't understand what is happening at the border and why people within our own party, within the Democratic Party are denying there is a problem in many cases.

They want to feel safe, they want the economy to thrive. Inflation has really impacted our state. People are moving out in record numbers and as a native Californian who loves this state so much, when I look around, I don't recognize what I see and so this is really an opportunity to step up and say what I think the majority of Californians are saying, and they want -- and I am in touch with them because I spent nearly 20 years as a journalist interviewing thousands of people and hearing directly from them on what their needs are and what their concerns are, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so what do you mean when you say I don't recognize what I see, like specifically, what do you mean?

PASCUCCI: Yes, well, I mean, just in the last couple of years, my home was burglarized. My car was stolen, involved in a high-speed chase. My mom was robbed at Costco. People don't feel safe and there is just this polarization and this nastiness in politics and kind of like a hypocrisy that we are even seeing in this US Senate race, which is really frustrating.

And I just -- I think we want to go back to an era where our politicians truly represented as I am running as an Independent JFK era Democrat who believes we've got to serve our country, look out for our neighbor, sit down and talk to those who we disagree with and that hasn't been happening.

WHITFIELD: California's primary is a bit different than most states. All candidates are put onto the same ballot. There is no separation of Republicans or Democrats, then the top two will continue to the November general election.

Do you think that system does a disservice to voters for each party? Are you indifferent about it? Where does this sit with you?

PASCUCCI: I think, overall, it is a good system. I mean, but right now you see how political games are being played to kind of use that system to the advantage of the people who are running for this race, for example, two of the frontrunners are two of the people who are in the top three.

They are now running ads to try to lift up Republican opponents, so that they can take away votes from one another.

For example, Adam Schiff, who is the front runner in this race, he has been putting out ads that are lifting up the name recognition of Steve Garvey and then Katie Porter who criticized him for that just a week ago.


Now, she is running ads for another Republican to lift his name ID to try and take away votes from the top Republican so that she can go up in the votes.

And so these political games are why I think people need a new generation of leadership and someone who is not going to feed into that dysfunction.

WHITFIELD: All right, it is a big race and you're all big names. Christina Pascucci, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

PASCUCCI: Thank you. Appreciate you.

WHITFIELD: All the best and all the best on your pregnancy as well.

All right, we are getting new details about the US airstrike against an underwater Houthi vessel. Stay with us.