Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Measles Outbreak Grows In Southern Florida; Biden Expected To Visit U.S.-Mexico Border On Thursday; Biden Set To Meet With Congressional Leaders Over Ukraine Aid. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 26, 2024 - 11:00   ET



JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: A few cases that were seen in the U.S. So far this year, there have been at least 35 cases reported across 15 different jurisdictions here in the United States. And a lot of those cases are in pockets of unvaccinated communities. So, that's why there is a lot of concern around this right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Yes. Folks, this is not about catching the cold. This is about catching measles. Please do what's in the best interest of public health.

HOWARD: Exactly.

ACOSTA: All right, Jacqueline Howard, thank you so much. Thanks very much for joining me this morning. That's a fast hour. I'm Jim Acosta. Our next hour of CNN News Room with Wolf Blitzer starts right now. Have a great day.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A dire warning from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Millions will die without U.S. Military aid. Also ahead, Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley campaigns in Michigan despite a huge loss in her home state of South Carolina and chaos in Alabama following a court ruling that declared frozen embryos children. I'll speak to the state's House majority leader about his solution to protect fertility treatments. Hello, I'm Wolf Flitzer in Washington and you're in the CNN Newsroom.

We begin with breaking news. President Biden is planning a rare visit to the U.S. border with Mexico this Thursday. That according to a source familiar with the plans, it would come the same day as a visit to Eagle past Texas, also on the southern border with Mexico by former President Trump. Biden is considering sweeping executive action to try to restrict asylum seekers at the southern border.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is over at the White House for us. Priscilla, you're covering the story very closely. What more are we learning about this visit?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, this is a pretty extraordinary move for a White House that for years has tried to distance itself from the border. The president with plans now to visit the Texas Mexico border on Thursday, the same day that former President Donald Trump is there, in a move that appears cast to be counter programming. But all of this, of course, comes as the White House tries to flip the script on republicans on border security. Recall that White House officials, along with Senate negotiators, worked to hammer out a deal on a border deal that would include some of the toughest border security measures in recent memory, but that was later tanked by Republicans with the encouragement of former President Donald Trump.

The White House has since been hammering Republicans for doing that. And you can expect that to come up during the president's trip on Thursday. And also in the interim, the president is weighing executive action on the U.S. Mexico border that would restrict the ability of migrants to seek asylum if they cross the border unlawfully, a measure that is reminiscent of the Trump era.

So all of this culminating in this visit that is expected on Thursday. I should note, Wolf, that the president did visit the U.S.-Mexico border in January of 2023 on his way to Mexico City for a meeting with the Mexican president and the Canadian prime minister.

BLITZER: Yes, he did. That was more than a year ago. A little bit more than a year ago, Priscilla. As you know, President Biden is also holding a meeting with congressional leaders from both sides tomorrow. It comes as CNN's Kaitlan Collins spoke to President Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine. I want you to listen to this. Listen to this.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You're basically saying that there will be no new success for Ukraine if there's no new us aid. Essentially, this all depends on U.S. aid.

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINE: Steps success forward will depend on USA. Yes. Not defending, not only defending line, because if you defend, just defend. You give possibility, Russia push you. Yes, small steps back. But anyway, we will have these steps back, small one. But when you step back, you lose people. We will lose people.


BLITZER: Priscilla, as you know, President Biden is pushing hard to try to get an aid bill for Ukraine war funding through the House of Representatives. How important is that meeting with congressional leaders tomorrow?

ALVAREZ: Well, this is an opportunity for President Biden to appeal directly to House Speaker Mike Johnson. For days, the question here at the White House was, is the president going to meet with or speak with House Speaker Mike Johnson, who had no interest in putting this Senate foreign aid package that included $60 billion in additional funding for Ukraine on the House floor. So this meeting tomorrow is pivotal. It is an opportunity for President Biden to meet with Johnson, along with Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell and Hakeem Jeffries, the top four congressional leaders, to discuss not only this Ukraine funding, which the White House has described as imperative, but also to discuss government funding because we are barreling toward a partial government shutdown later this week if they do not meet that deadline. [11:05:02]

So all of these threads are combining in this meeting. But what I can tell you, Wolf, in talking to a U.S. official yesterday, it is clear that the president wants to elevate the consequences of what happens if Ukraine doesn't get this funding and makes a link between congressional inaction and losses on the battlefield. So clearly, this is a top priority for the president who in private conversations with allies is telling them that the U.S. will support Ukraine.

BLITZER: Yep. It's a critically important meeting indeed. Priscilla Alvarez over at the White House for us. Thank you very much.

I want to get some analysis on all these important developments. Joining us now, CNN Global Affairs Analyst, the Former Secretary of Defense during the Trump administration, Mark Esper, he's joining us now. By the way, he also serves on the board and as a strategic advisor for a handful of aerospace and defense related companies.

Mark, thanks so much for joining us. First of all, what's at stake if Congress can't pass this important military aid package for Ukraine?

MARK ESPER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, there are a number of things at stake. Well, first of all, of course, we will see the continued deprivation of arms and material to Ukraine. They will continue to ration arms and ammunition on the front lines, and they will face the point where they have to continue to trade space for time, territories, cities for time. We learned this morning that another small town was lost in western Ukraine. So this will be what happens at the tactical edge. And of course, my bigger strategic concern is that over time, if the United States does not provide this material and ammunition, then eventually our NATO allies in Europe, their willingness to support will slowly falter as well. And that's going to put incredible pressure on Volodymyr -- Voldemort Zelensky to go to Russia and try and negotiate from a position of weakness.

I doubt he'll do that but that's where we're heading toward.

BLITZER: Where would the U.S. aid package, Mark, have potentially the biggest impact for Ukraine's military if it were to come through, if the House were to pass it?

ESPER: Well, what they need most right now, as it appears, is 155 millimeter ammunition, some small arms, but also air defense systems, PAC three missiles for the patriot launchers and other systems to defeat which has been a Russian onslaught against Ukrainian towns and cities. So to me, those are the most important things.

But look, I also got to keep saying that the Biden administration has really hampered the Ukrainians for two years now. They still don't have f 16s. They still don't have long range attack them. They still don't have all the systems they really need to fight a really good fight against the Russians. And I would keep encouraging the Biden administration to accelerate and provide more of what the Ukrainians need. BLITZER: Yes. This is a critical moment, indeed. While I have you,

Mark, we're just getting some breaking news into CNN. Sweden will become the 32nd NATO ally. Now. Just getting that. Your reaction to this historic move?

ESPER: Yes. Look, it's a great achievement. It's long overdue. The final holdouts for Turkey and Hungary, of course, I guess, just relented. So it's important they provide critical capabilities. They're another country on the Baltic Sea. So now the Baltic Sea becomes a NATO lake, which will constrain Russian naval activities. And, look, they have a capable military that adds to it. The addition of two NATO allies, Finland and Sweden, over the past two years, since the invasion two years ago, marks another reason why the invasion of Ukraine has been a strategic failure for Vladimir Putin and will remain so. But that said this is all the more reason why we, our NATO allies and other western democracies need to keep providing Ukraine with the arms and ammunition they need to keep up with this fight.

BLITZER: Another issue that's developing right now and will be significant this week. As you know, Mark, President Biden now appears to be headed for an appearance on the southern border with Mexico the same day as former President Trump is there on the southern border with Mexico. What do you make of these dueling appearances? Is there any substance there as far as you can tell?

ESPER: Well, personally, I've always said that border security is national security so just to kind of lay that down. But look, poll after poll shows that the top two issues that Americans are thinking about right now as they look ahead to the 2024 election in November is border security and immigration. And Donald Trump clearly has the advantage in this regard. Certainly most Republicans and the large numbers of Democrats, over a majority, fill at the borders in crisis. So President Biden is going down or he's going to wave the flag. We'll see whether he announces some new measures, maybe an executive action with regard to this. But he really needs politically to shore up his flank.

And clearly, from a border security issue, we've had over 8 million people cross the border in the last three years, many of whom are on the terrorist watch list, others coming from countries of concern like Iran and China and Venezuela. And it really is out of control. And I think he recognizes that, particularly, again, from his political perspective.


BLITZER: We'll see what President Biden announces on the border if he does make some major announcements. Mark Esper, thanks so much for joining us. And this important note to our viewers. Be sure to catch the full Kaitlin Collins one on one interview with President Zelensky of Ukraine later tonight on the source. Her program 09:00 p.m. Eastern.

Nikki Haley, meanwhile, is vowing to fight through Super Tuesday on March 5 after suffering a devastating defeat this weekend in her home state of South Carolina and losing some major financial backing. Today she's pushing forward in her longshot bid for the republican presidential nomination, hitting the stump in Michigan on this, the eve of its primary. CNN senior data reporter Harry Enten is here with running through some of the latest numbers for us. How big of an uphill battle is Nikki Haley facing in Michigan, Harry?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Huge, as the former president Donald Trump might say. Take a look here. This is a choice for GOP nominee in the Wolverine state. Look, Donald Trump, 72% of the vote. Nikki Haley coming in with just 27% of the vote.

Now, I will note, Wolf, we have not had a lot of recent polling, but some of the more recent numbers that I've been looking at look very similar to this poll. Donald Trump again with a huge leap, just like we've seen throughout much of the polling and much of the contest so far this primary season. And I will know. Nikki Haley really sort of camped out in South Carolina, her home state. She's not doing the same in Michigan. Check this out.

Only in the last week, she announced a Michigan leadership team, started airing tv ads and only started making campaign stops in the state of Michigan within the last week. This is very much unlike the early states, Wolf. We're starting really to sort of get fast on the calendar very quickly. So I would not be surprised if a lot of the contests starting in Michigan look a lot more like what we see nationally rather than these sort of individual contests where these candidates are allowed to spend a lot of time there and sort of make the states their own.

BLITZER: As you know, Harry, Michigan is just the beginning of what will be a very busy few weeks in the GOP primary contests. What are you watching specifically?

ENTEN: Yes. I mean, Wolf, take a look at the sort of cumulative delegates allotted. It's going to get very late, very soon on the calendar at this point. So far, just 6% of delegates have been allotted a week from now, eight days from now. It's going to be up to 50% March 12th, 15 days from now, 56%. By March 19, it's going to already be 71% of the cumulative delegates allotted.

As I said, it's going to get very late, very soon on the calendar. And as we sort of head towards this nationalized campaign, take a look here, the choice for GOP nominee nationally. Look at this. Donald Trump up by 63 points in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Up by 58 points in a recent Marquette University law school poll.

So the fact is, Wolf, Michigan is just the start of a sort of nationalized calendar where Nikki Haley won't be able to camp out in these individual states and sort of try and bring down Trump's lead. At this particular point, the Trump train is moving and it's going to be awfully difficult to stop. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Harry Enten with the latest numbers for us. Harry, thanks very much.

I want to discuss what's going on with CNN's chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny, CNN politics reporter Alayna Treene, along with CNN's senior political analyst, the senior editor over at the Atlantic Monthly, Ron Brownstein.

Ron, let me start with you. Nikki Haley is facing, as we just heard, very serious headwinds after her bruising loss in her home state of South Carolina. This weekend, for example, the influential coke network announced they would no longer contribute to her campaign. And Senator John Thune, the number two Senate Republican, endorsed the former president. Can Haley survive these devastating blows?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I mean, her situation is already, I think, very clear. We've seen a very clear pattern in these first three major contests of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. And it tells us that her coalition is not big enough to seriously threaten Trump for the republican nomination, but her coalition is plenty big enough to cause him headaches in the general election if he can't corral it. I mean, we've seen a very consistent pattern at best. When she's had time to camp out in a state like New Hampshire and South Carolina and campaign extensively there, she can get to 40% of the vote.

She's beaten him among college graduates in each of the last two states. He's only won about 40% of independence. That, as I said, is not enough for her to win the nomination. But a significant share of those voters are, at least for now, saying in polls they will not vote for him in a general election. And it's unlikely, I think, as Harry was saying, that she can match that performance in Michigan where she hasn't had the time or money to make as deep an imprint. But she is establishing herself as a leader for the remnant of the party that is uneasy about Trump, and he will have to find a way to mollify those voters in a general election.


BLITZER: Let me get Jeff Zeleny into this conversation. Jeff, you know politics as well as anyone. Do you see any scenario in which Nikki Haley can really survive as a significant candidate following March 5, the Super Tuesday primaries?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Certainly a limited scenario, a limited window. Here's one reason, I think, talking to her advisors, say that could keep her in the race a bit longer. If she would happen to essentially repeat her South Carolina performance, get some 40% of the vote, that is still sizable 4 in 10 republicans essentially saying that they don't want Donald Trump. That is a very tall order. She's very well aware of that. She's not been advertising in these states.

The only state that they are sort of looking at in the distance there is Georgia. Georgia votes a week after Super Tuesday on March 12th. It's, of course, a key battleground state. It's an adjoining state to South Carolina. They share media markets. So she's certainly well- known there, or more well known. That's the only reason.

But look, now, her role, essentially, and we heard her say this yesterday in Michigan, she's talking about the fact that she's getting less than 50%, but she's talking about how president, a former President Trump has to win over her supporters. So that's what I sort of see her role right now, is trying to shape this conversation. But beyond March 5th, her donors, of course, will have the final say, but that money is going to begin to sort of dry up.

There's a sense when I was in South Carolina last week talking to voters, they're ready to get on with it.

BLITZER: Elena, you've been covering all of this as well. She did get, what, 40% of the vote in her home state of South Carolina, meaning 44 out of ten voters voted against Trump. Republican voters voted against Trump in South Carolina. Is that a potential warning sign for him down the road in a general election?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Absolutely. And I think that's something that the Trump campaign knows very well. They know that the general is going to be very difficult for Donald Trump if it ends up being a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. It's going to be close, and they really need to chip away at as many votes as they can from Joe Biden. And I know from my conversations with the campaign, the part of the way they want to do that is try to go after black voters. We saw him give that speech on Friday to black voters right before the South Carolina primary. He also wants to go after Hispanic voters, working class voters, trying to get these people in as many battleground states as he can pull them away from Joe Biden.

Now, I do quickly, just want to mention what Nikki Haley was saying yesterday in Michigan. You alluded to this, but it's a good argument. Let's play what she said because she speaks to this.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The issue at hand is he's not going to get the 40% if he's going and calling out my supporters and saying they're barred permanently from MAGA. He's not going to get the 40% by calling them names. He's not going to get the 40% by trying to take over the RNC so that it pays all his legal fees.


TREENE: Now, part of this as well, I think, is, and I was talking to many voters in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, on Saturday, it's one of the counties, I should note, that didn't go for Donald Trump, even though Donald Trump has won in all the past South Carolina elections that he's run in Charleston county hasn't. But a lot of democratic and independent voters showed up at that polling place wanting to vote for Nikki Haley, really as a way, not for Nikki Haley, but against Donald Trump. And that's another problem he's going to face ahead of November.

BLITZER: I want to get Ron Brownstein feedback into this conversation. Ron, Trump, as you know, claimed this weekend that black voters across the country actually like him because of his criminal indictments, right now. I want to play this clip for our viewers.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I got indicted a second time and a third time and a fourth time. And a lot of people said that's why the black people like, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against. And they actually viewed me as I'm being discriminated against.

The mugshot, we've all seen the mug shot and you know who embraced it more than anybody else? The black population. It's incredible. You see black people walking around with my mug shot.


BLITZER: As you know, Ron, those comments were widely panned as being racist. What kind of impact do you see this having on Trump as he tries to appeal to black voters?

BROWNSTEIN: I think that is a perfect encapsulation of the larger dynamic that in all likelihood is going to settle the presidential election. Trump does have an opening with black and Hispanic voters, just as he does with working class white voters. There are a lot of voters living around the median income whose lives have been deeply disrupted by inflation over the last few years, probably more than people in upper middle class communities. And that is an opening for Trump based on Biden's performance and disillusionment with Biden's performance on the economy.

The problem Trump faces is that his own inclinations and intentions, as symbolized by those kinds of comments, raise a lot of resistance to him in those same communities that might be open to him out of discontent, Biden. I really think how voters weigh their uneasiness about Biden's performance against their uneasiness about what Trump would do in a second term and what he would mean for life in America is the fundamental balance in this election. And those comments about black voters are just a perfect encapsulation of the twin forces that are shaping this election across the full waterfront of shoes and personal attributes.


BLITZER: A good point. Let me get Jeff into this next question. As you know, the RNC, the Republican National Committee chair, Ronna McDaniel, she has announced now that she will step down after the March 5 Super Tuesday primaries. Do you suspect the RNC potentially could move to start paying off Trump's legal bills, part of the RNC funds that are coming in, is this going to lead to that?

ZELENY: It certainly could. And that's one of the concerns among some members of the RNC who are putting forward a resolution to try and slow down this takeover. But the reality is if passed his prologue here, they likely will pay for the bills because that is what was happening before he became a candidate the second time. So that certainly raises a big question here.

Ronna McDaniel was supposed to be serving throughout the whole year, but of course they've had fundraising issues. That's not really why she's stepping down. She's stepping down because it's time for a Trump takeover, in their view. So Chris Lacivita, a top advisor to the Trump campaign, will effectively be running the nuts and bolts of it. But in terms of the legal bills, I would not be at all surprised if that happens.

The real question why it matters is how does that impact the fundraising? A disparity between the Biden campaign and the DNC. For all the challenges the president and the DNC have, fundraising is actually not one of them. That's actually one of the shining lights of their campaign. So that's why it's a real challenge and problem.

TREENE: I do also just want to quickly jump in on that when I've talked to the Trump campaign about this. They insist that they are not planning to ask the RNC or rely on the RNC to help pay for some of his legal bills. But they say that now we know that he has such an issue with his mounting legal troubles, especially as he faces these trials. But I just wanted to (inaudible) up there.

ZELENY: And the bills will get more expensive during the trial, actually, not less, but we'll see.

TREENE: Exactly. Exactly. Riht.

BLITZER: He's got a lot of debt that potentially is out there as well. Guys, thank you very much. Still ahead this hour, some fertility -- actually, we're going to get to that in a moment. But one of Alexei Navalny's closest advisors is now saying that a prisoner exchange was being finalized just before his death. Stay with us. You're live here in the CNN newsroom.



BLITZER: New this morning, a heartbreaking new claim in the death of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. One of his closest advisors says a prisoner exchange to free Navalny and two Americans was being finalized just before his death.

Seen as chief global affairs correspondent Matthew Chance is joining us live from Moscow right now. So Matthew, what are you learning about this?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for months now there have been rumors that Alexei Navalny may have been part of a prisoner swap deal that was being negotiated between the United States and Russia in exchange for several of the US citizens in Russian prisons. We're talking about Evan Goshkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter, and Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine, and others as well. But this is the first time that Navalny's team has come out publicly and said that Alexei Navalny, the late Russian opposition leader, was part of that negotiation and could have been swapped if he hadn't died so suddenly in that arctic penal colony. In fact, his team saying tonight that the negotiations to have him swapped were in their final stage just the day before he was pronounced dead.

BLITZER: And of course, the Navalny team blaming the Kremlin for that, saying that basically the Kremlin killed him because they didn't want him to see him freed. They wanted to essentially take him off the negotiating table.

Now, I've spoken to the Kremlin about this over the course of the past several hours. First of all, they categorically deny any connection with his death. And also they say that they've got no knowledge of any negotiations to have Alexei Navalny swapped. It hasn't been corroborated either by the United States or by the Germans.

But nevertheless, it is a fascinating twist in this tragic saga involving Alexei Navalny, the late Russian opposition leader. One further bit of news, Wolf, which is that within the past few hours it's been announced by Navalny's team that the longer waited funeral for the opposition leader is expected to be held at the end of this week. It could be a flashpoint in life. Navalny was able to bring out tens of thousands of people in anti-government protests, could do so again at this very public event, Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting live from Moscow. Thanks very much. And we have this just in from CNN's Kaitlin Collins. She did an interview, a special interview with the Ukrainian President Zelensky. He's addressing what will happen in his country if former President Donald Trump is reelected. Listen to this.


COLLINS: Donald Trump appears that he is on the verge of becoming the republican nominee for president. The last time I interviewed him, he refused to say if he wanted Ukraine or Russia to win this war. Are you prepared for him to be re-elected?

ZELENSKY: The decision, who will be the president? Decision of your society. But one moment, I hope it will not be so, but this way.