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CNN This Morning

Biden, Debt Talks "Moving Along" Ahead Of Crucial Meeting This Week; White House, Biden And Congressional Leaders To Meet Early This Week; Israel And Islamic Jihad Agree To Ceasefire After Days Of Violence; Gaza Border Crossings Begin To Reopen As Ceasefire Appears To Hold; Zelenskyy, First Steps In Counteroffensive To Come Soon; At Least 21 People Injured In Russian Attacks On Western Ukraine; Washington Post, Leaked U.S. Documents Show Zelenskyy Privately Plotted Attacks Inside Russia; U.S. Border Cities See Smaller Than Expected Migrant Surge; Biden Previews 2024 Pitch To Black Voters In Commencement Speech; DeSantis Warns GOP Of Getting Distracted By 2020 Election. Aired 6-7a

Aired May 14, 2023 - 06:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Welcome to CNN THIS MORNING. It is Sunday, May 14th. I'm Victor Blackwell. Happy Mother's Day to you.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: It's very kind of you. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Happy Mother's Day to you as well.

WALKER: That's right. Happy Mother's Day to everyone. I'm Amara Walker. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. And here's what we are watching for you.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think were moving along it's hard to tell. We're not -- we have not reached a crunch point yet.


WALKER: President Biden and Republican leaders are expected to meet this week as they rush to avoid an unprecedented debt default. The warning coming from the White House as that crucial June 1st date inches closer.

BLACKWELL: Ukraine's president says his country's counteroffensive against Russia will begin soon as he meets with countries supplying billions of dollars in aid. What that looks like on the battlefield and the new reporting that Zelenskyy could be planning attacks inside Russia.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gone through a fiscal crisis, a pandemic, and a horrific tragedy that could shatter any community, but did not here.


WALKER: Four University of Idaho students fatally stabbed in their off campus apartments six months ago are awarded posthumous degrees. The moving moment one of the student's parents accepted the degree on their daughter's behalf.

BLACKWELL: Plus, New York City passes a law banning weight discrimination in employment and public housing. Why supporters say it's a necessary move but some businesses are concerned.

WALKER: And we begin this morning with negotiations on the U.S. debt limit as the U.S. inches closer to a catastrophic default. President Biden said Saturday that talks between congressional and White House negotiators are -- quote -- unquote -- "moving along" and that more will be known in the coming days.

BLACKWELL: Sources also say the dialogue between the staff members on both sides has been productive, respectful and in good faith this is ahead of an expected meeting between Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the next few days. But time is running out with just weeks left before June 1st when the government could run out of money to pay for its bills.

Let's go now to CNN White House reporter Jasmine Wright who is with the president in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. So, the president sounds optimistic.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, cautious, Victor, but optimistic is how the president was sounding yesterday when describing the state of negotiations to really stave off economic calamity. Staff met Friday. They are expected to continue meeting over the weekend and try to figure out the contours of where a deal be made. That includes staff from the White House, wider Biden administration as well, so his top congressional leaders like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and others.

Now, if you remember, Victor, President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the other congressional principals were expected to meet again Friday at the White House but that visit was postponed. Now, staff postponed the visit because they said that talks were progressing in a positive manner but they had not yet progressed enough to bring the principals in so that they could have a productive meeting so that was the goal this weekend.

We know that when it comes to the state of negotiations, what they were talking about at least last on Friday was talking about the contours of a negotiation, where they could come to a deal. Sources said that the White House very clearly told congressional leaders what their red lines were and that included the Inflation Reduction Act, that key pillar of President Biden's economic agenda that made those historic investments into climate change as well as student debt forgiveness, as you can see on your screen here, Medicaid and SNAP benefits. But, of course, here, Victor and Amara, time is ticking and President Biden made that very clear when talking to reporters yesterday on his way here to Rehoboth. Take a listen.


BIDEN: I think were moving along it's hard to tell. We're not -- we have not reached a crunch point yet. But, there is real discussion about some changes (INAUDIBLE). But we're not there yet.


WRIGHT: Now, it's interesting that President Biden said we are not yet at crunch time. Because to remind our viewers, June 1st, just a few weeks away, is the earliest date that the Treasury Department declared that the U.S. would no longer be able to pay its debt for the first time in this country's history.


So, really it's not a lot of time here. And we know that President Biden is expected to leave for a foreign trip to Japan and Australia on Wednesday. So, only a couple of days. But when we are talking about going forward here, we know that the president and the top congressional leaders are expected to meet early this week. Obviously, it would probably have to be before Wednesday when the president leaves.

And also Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen she will be meeting with top CEOs and Wall Street bankers in Washington to really talk about the state of negotiations as the U.S. faces this very possible catastrophic event. But President Biden yesterday on the tarmac when asked if a deal could be reached by June 1st, remember only a few weeks away, he said, has to be. Victor, Amara.

BLACKWELL: Yes, just a few days until June 1st. And when you consider that the House and Senate are not in session for every one of those 17 days, there is even less time than you think. Jasmine Wright for us there in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Thanks so much.

All right. This morning Israeli military officials say several border crossings into Gaza as well as its maritime area have partially reopened after a ceasefire between Israel and Islamic jihad was declared last night.

WALKER: Palestinians were also seen celebrating in the streets after the ceasefire took effect in Gaza City following days of violence that claimed the lives of at least 35 people, 34 of them Palestinians. CNN's Elliott Gotkine is live in Jerusalem this morning. Hi there, Elliott. What is the latest?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amara, the ceasefire is holding for now. That's the latest. It was touch and go to begin. It was meant to come into effect at 10:00 p.m. local time. But for more than an hour after that Islamic jihad militants were still firing rockets towards Israel. And Israel is still carrying out airstrikes up until midnight.

But for the past 13 hours calm and quiet has prevailed. As you say Israel has began reopening the border crossings allowing, for example, fuel trucks to go in to replenish supplies in Gaza. And calm has also returned to Israeli communities around the Gaza Strip who have pretty much been under lockdown and in bomb shelters for the past five days. This after more than 1,200 rockets were fired towards Israel in this latest round of hostilities. And Israel says that it hit more than 370 targets. As you say 33 Palestinians killed, including militants as well as uninvolved civilians including women and children and two killed inside of Israel.

So, for now the ceasefire is holding but Israel said that quiet will be met with quiet adding that if Israel is attacked or threatened it will continue to do everything that it needs to do to defend itself. For its part Islamic jihad along with other militant groups in the Gaza Strip saying this round of fighting is over but the will to fight has not receded.

One big take away from this five-day conflict, Hamas, the bigger militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, was not involved at least according to Israel. Israel is not striking Hamas targets and as a result things didn't pan out as badly as perhaps other rounds of fighting between Israel and the Gaza Strip have done in the past.

So, for now all eyes really on this week's flag march in Jerusalem where Israelis celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem. It often leads to violence both in Jerusalem and has in the past spilled over into conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip. Perhaps because of this latest round of fighting that threat has receded somewhat but still all eyes on Thursday. Victor, Amara.

WALKER: All right. We will be watching with you closely. Elliott Gotkine, thank you very much.

All right. Turning now to Russia's war on Ukraine. President Zelenskyy is hinting that the long anticipated summer counteroffensive will begin soon. The comments come as he continues his tour of Europe vying for support from his European partners.

BLACKWELL: Today he is in Berlin. It's his first visit to the country since Russia's invasion. And you know just recently Germany promised its biggest batch of military aid to Ukraine.

Now, inside Ukraine Russia is hitting targets across the country. This is new video. Look at that fireball. This is new video of a drone attack that injured 21 people in western Ukraine Saturday. Another attack in the east killed two people, including a 15-year-old girl.

WALKER: That is a spectacular sight. CNN's Sam Kiley joining us now from southeastern Ukraine. Sam, we know that Ukraine has been gearing up for a military counteroffensive. How soon might that happen, Sam?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the Ukrainians are keeping everybody guessing and that is part in a sense of the campaign itself. It is a go/no-go, will we go, we're going to go soon, we are not ready to go, working on the minds of the Russian troops. And we have seen some effect of that around Bakhmut perhaps where the Ukrainians locally have launched a very significant counterattack there against the Wagner mercenary group and the Russian regular army. The mercenary group saying they are worried about being encircled in the parts of the town that they have captures.


This points to fractious behavior, poor communications within the Russian ranks, with President Zelenskyy now threatening a full-scale offensive sometime soon. Just a few days before that he said that Ukraine wasn't really ready. But at the same time the Ukrainians, I think, with psychological operations have been flooding social media with all kinds of disinformation intended to rattle not just Russian troops but their fans, friends and family back home all intent on this final push when it comes which many people in Ukraine see as Ukraine's last real chance to rid their country of the Russians or face some kind of inevitable peace process that could mean a loss of territory and a freezing of the front line.

So, there is a lot of energy behind this future offensive. And I think what we are seeing now is shaping operations, bombardments of Russian logistics positions, threats even to strike inside Russian territory, Special Forces operations, mysterious explosions inside Russian territory. But, of course, the Russians get a vote as you've seen with that attack in the west of the country. They continue to go after Ukraine's logistical capabilities, Amara.

BLACKWELL: I'll take it. Sam for us there in Ukraine. Thanks so much. Joining us now to talk more about this is CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel, good to see you again.

Let's start here with the counteroffensive that's coming. First, what are you expecting that this will look like and how important is the timing of when this starts?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Victor, timing is everything. And good morning to you. The big thing here is that I think we'll see some movement in the east around Bakhmut as Sam mentioned in his reporting. We will also probably see something in places a little bit further south like Avdiivka and Vuhledar.

And then I expect things to really move into the southern area, particularly around Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. So, that's going to be a particularly dangerous thing for the Ukrainians to do especially because of that Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. That is going to require a lot of real planning, real operational planning, a lot of finesse in their movements, and it's going to also require the element of surprise.

So, the strategic part of that is is kind of gone because we have been talking about this offensive for many months now but the tactical part is there. And so, the Ukrainians are going to strike at times and places of their own choosing. And I think what we are going to see is some quick movements in localized areas. And we'll notice after a little bit that the offensive has actually started. It will probably start before we actually say, OK, this is it, this is that moment.

BLACKWELL: You mentioned Bakhmut. Let's check in there for a moment. It's been a long, bloody, hard-fought battle in Bakhmut. The Ukrainians are showing off some advances there. Are they substantial enough to be the foothold for what we're expecting to see next? And is this maybe the start of some sustainable momentum for the Ukrainians in Bakhmut?

LEIGHTON: Yes, I think the battle for Bakhmut is really a battle of momentum. So, as soon as the Ukrainians establish momentum, they have gained about two kilometers, 1.6 miles or so into some of the areas that they had lost to the Russians before. So, that is a significant thing. You get, of course, the commentary from Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner group, that they may have to pull out. You can't really trust exactly what he is saying, but there is clearly something going on not only between him and the Russian army but also internal to the Wagner group and internal to the Russian army.

So, the Russians seem to be in some disarray. The Ukrainians don't have that problem, at least they don't appear to, and it's going to be pretty clear that the Ukrainians will use any foothold that they gain in Bakhmut to move forward. So, yes, I think that would be kind of one of those pivot points where it's going to make a huge difference for them at this particular point in time.

BLACKWELL: "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Zelenskyy privately is discussing being far more aggressive than he is describing publicly, potentially occupying Russian villages to gain some leverage over Russia, to also maybe use some long-range missiles he is hoping for from the West to reach targets inside Russia. Now, that's reporting from "Washington Post." They say they are getting this from the Discord classified document leak.

Zelenskyy has pledged never to do that. U.S. officials say that they are not aware of any instance of Ukraine using U.S. provided weapons or equipments to attack targets in Russian territory. There is no trust deficit with Zelenskyy. I wonder if you see that this is the reason that the West is holding back these longer range weapons despite the rhetoric from the U.S. that the ATACMS are not coming from the U.S.


How much does this potentially inform what the U.S., what Germany, what the West will do next with and for Ukraine?

LEIGHTON: I think it makes a huge difference, Victor. The key thing here is that, you know, Zelenskyy is perhaps private musings, if you will, are one thing. His actions, of course, maybe another. I think as any leader he would want to strike back at somebody who is attacking him and, you know, kind of the idea of setting Russia ablaze to kind of paraphrase Churchill. That would be, I think, his inner desire.

But he knows that if he does that, he risks changing everything that is surrounding the Ukraine war. He risks losing support in the West. He also -- and arms most importantly. And he also risks losing momentum because once you start getting into Russia, that would be a whole different story and that would be a big mistake from a military standpoint.

I understand the desire to do that, but the problem is, if you do that, that then negates Ukraine's reason for fighting this war unless you do it with a very precise idea in mind that you are going to do it in order to get rid of Russian forces that are in Ukraine. So that would have to be very, very clear if he did anything like that.

But I think it is unlikely that he would mount any occupation of Russian territory. However, it's something that, of course, the West is very concerned about.

BLACKWELL: And, of course, Putin has said if there is some existential threat then that brings nuclear potentially back into the conversation. Colonel Cedric Leighton, always good to see you and have your insight. Thanks so much.

WALKER: Officials along the U.S./Mexican border say they haven't seen the chaos they were expecting after the expiration of Title 42. There is speculation as to why things have been calmer than expected coming up.

Plus, a moving moment at the University of Idaho commencement ceremony as four students who were killed in their off campus apartment last year are awarded posthumous degrees.



BLACKWELL: This morning there are no reports of a migrant surge along the U.S./Mexico border despite the end of Title 42. The Biden administration has vowed tougher consequences for migrants who try to enter the country illegally.

WALKER: But border communities still fear the situation could turn into a crisis with tens of thousands reportedly waiting in northern Mexico to cross into the U.S.


MAYOR JAVIER VILLALOBOS, MCALLEN, TEXAS: Of course, we're concerned because we still know about the numbers in Reynosa (INAUDIBLE) Reynosa and the numbers that are coming from different areas. But as of right now, we are within capacity and we're logistically doing well.


WALKER: CNN's Polo Sandoval is at the border for us. Polo.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Victor and Amara. Good morning to you. Here on the border there is a general feeling that the situation is perhaps not as chaotic as what was initially anticipated leading up to the expiration of Title 42. That's also according to a senior Customs and Border Protection official that cited some recently filed court documents. That say that currently the 10-day average of migrant encounters stands at about 9,000. That document, though, in it there is a projection that indicates that number could go up to as many as 14,000 in the coming days or perhaps weeks.

Here on the ground there is some speculation about what could possibly behind that -- be behind that. I've heard from some people here who believe that perhaps the message from the Biden administration about these stricter policies could be making it south of the border, so there are many migrants just south of the border here that are still weighing their options. Now, if they do choose to illegally enter the country that, of course, it could be a completely different situation.

We should mention, though, the average daily custody number in terms of the people that are in the custody of Customs and Border Protection that numbers is still at about 23,000. Meaning that many of these centers that process these migrant arrivals they very well could still be either at or well over capacity.

And then, of course, there are the numbers of asylum seekers that choose to leave these border communities, which are most of them, and then settle into cities throughout the United States. Of course, we know New York City has already processed well over 60,000 in the last year. And there is concern that as we continue to see people cross and then of course processed and released that that number will continue to rise not just in New York, but many people here telling me that they want to go to Denver, some want to go to California or some just want to stay in Texas and go to Houston or Dallas. Amara, Victor.

WALKER: Polo, thank you. Well, President Biden used a commencement address at Howard University Saturday to draw a stark contrast between himself and his potential Republican opponent in 2024, Donald Trump.

BLACKWELL: The president's remarks at the historically Black university, Howard University, also offered a preview of how he intends to campaign in next year's race, of course, during the waning enthusiasm from one of his key constituencies, voters of color. CNN's Arlette Saenz has more on what the president told graduates.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Amara, President Biden was delivering a commencement address to graduates at Howard University but there were several moments that made it sound a lot like a campaign speech. The president urged graduates to consider that the battle for the soul of the nation, one of his main mantras of his campaign, is not yet complete.

Now, Biden did not specifically mention former President Donald Trump by name, but he did talk about some of the traits and moments of his presidency. He warned of people who try to stoke division in this country and also those who have tried to cling to power. The president also specifically referenced those clashes down in Charlottesville and the comments from the former president when he said that there were very fine people on both sides. President Biden tried to warn that there are still sinister forces operating in this country to try to thwart progress, including racial progress.

[06:25:09] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: That fearless progress towards justice often meets ferocious pushback from the oldest and most sinister of forces. That's because hate never goes away. It only hides under the rocks. And when it's given oxygen, it comes out from under that rock. And that's why we know this truth as well, silence is complicity. It cannot remain silent. We have to live through this battle for the soul of the nation.


SAENZ: This marks the first commencement address President Biden has delivered this graduation season and there is a reason why he chose Howard University. It is one of the country's most prominent historically Black universities, somewhere where Vice President Kamala Harris attended when she was in college.

Now, during his address several graduates did stand up in a silent protest, holding signs with messages that were important to Black voters. Black voters were key to propelling President Biden to the White House back in 2020 and it's a constituency he will need to court once again if he wants to be reelected in 2024. Victor and Amara.

WALKER: Arlette Saenz, thank you. Let's discuss now and get some insight on the president's speech and more of today's top political stories from "The New Republic's" senior political correspondent Daniel Strauss. Good morning to you, Daniel. Thank you so much for joining us.

So, let's first talk about what Biden had to say at Howard University. I mean, could you talk about this enthusiasm gap that he has with Black voters for next year's presidential race? I mean, if you just look at some recent polling, this one from "The Washington Post" and "ABC News," it put his approval rating among Black voters at 52 percent which is a huge drop compared to 82 percent when he took office. How do you explain that?

DANIEL STRAUSS, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW REPUBLIC: I mean, partially it's just that a lot of voters have not seen a contrast between the Biden administration and the Biden ticket and the Republican Party, and that's because there is no nominee right now. Donald Trump is technically the frontrunner but he has not won the nomination yet.

And there is also a lack of energy among voters broadly right now. After four years of the Trump presidency and that constant deluge of political news, there is a fatigue among voters. But at the same time, it is telling that President Biden who has long kept strong ties with the African American community and is the first president to pick an African American woman to be his running mate and make her vice president, it's still struggling or lagging substantially among support with African American voters.

I think this is going to change over time, though, as we near closer to Election Day, as the number of months toward Election Day dwindled down. There is going to be more attention towards that race. And I think the Democratic base of the party, with you is largely African Americans, will still rally around the president in the end.

WALKER: And a lot of what we are hearing him say, Daniel, you know, sounds very familiar to what, you know, his campaign slogans in 2020. You know, this is a battle for the soul of our nation. He also casting himself, you know, as the antidote against racism. What do you make of this strategy? Will it be effective this time around?

STRAUSS: I mean, on the one hand, it's still -- it's an argument that we have seen before and the real rule in campaign politics is don't run last year's race. At the same time, though, it really shows us that the Biden team wants to keep most of the focus on a chaotic Republican primary right now. And this is the pitch that they made in 2020.

Biden's argument in this last -- in his most recent presidential campaign was that he wanted to bring normalcy or lower the temperature of the country. He wanted to offer a sort of sense of stability to voters which they in the end found appealing.

So, yes, I am not surprised by the slogan and by arguing that this is about democracy and the soul of the nation. Those are all sort of themes that President Biden used to argue that he was the more stable candidate, that his administration would be less chaotic, and again turn down the temperature in a country right now that's very tense.

WALKER: And, meantime, on the Republican side, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who hasn't formally declared that he is running yet, he was in Iowa Saturday. Trump was also supposed to be there but his rally was canceled, you know, because of weather. But listen to what DeSantis had to say this warning that he issued to Republicans. Listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): If we make 2024 election a referendum on Joe Biden and his failures. And if we provide a positive alternative for the future of this country, Republicans will win across the board. If we focus the election on the past or on other side issues, then I think the Democrats are going to beat us again, and I think it'll be very difficult to recover from that defeat.


WALKER: So, DeSantis obviously is saying let's move on from Trump, right? I mean, indirect jabs, but clearly he's talking about him. But look, Trump still has an iron grip on the Republican Party, as we've seen in some polling. So, will his argument, DeSantis' argument that hey, let's not get stuck in the past and move forward, is that going to resonate?

STRAUSS: I mean, that's certainly his bet. I'm a little skeptical. Just -- if you asked both Democratic and Republican pollsters, they will always say time and again that there's this 30 percent chunk of the Republican Party that will not move from Donald Trump. No matter what he does, they are always going to be with him.

And so arguing, as DeSantis did in the clip you play, as other Republicans have said over the years since Trump was elected president that it's time to move on, it's time to not look toward the past, really doesn't move those voters. And in a crowded Republican primary field like the one we're seeing take shape right now, that may be an argument that does not rally enough of the voters that anyone candidate needs.

I mean, when you take out 30 percent of the Republican Party's base and just give it to Trump, that makes the eligible pie much smaller and much more difficult for one candidate to win, when there are so many different candidates.

WALKER: Daniel Strauss, we'll leave it there. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Still to come, a bittersweet graduation ceremony at the University of Idaho. The school honors the four students killed off campus earlier this school year with posthumous degrees.



WALKER: North Carolina's governor Roy Cooper vetoes a controversial bill that would ban most abortions after 12 weeks. But the legislature now has enough votes to override his veto after one state representative switched parties and handed Republicans a veto-proof super majority. At a pro-choice rally on Saturday, Cooper said he thinks a vote could still go his way.


GOV. ROY COOPER (D-NC): It's just one Republican in either the House or the Senate keeps a campaign promise to protect women's reproductive health, we can stop this ban.


WALKER: Well, if the override succeeds, the abortion ban goes into effect July 1st.

An emotional day for the families of four University of Idaho students who were murdered in their off-campus home last November.

BLACKWELL: The University awarded each of the students their degrees and certificates as part of a spring commencement ceremonies on Saturday. CNN's Gary Tuchman reports from the campus.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Amara and Victor, it's been exactly half a year since four students were brutally murdered in their off-campus house here at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. And now, six months later, this university is doing something that is wonderful. Yesterday, the spring commencement was held. There was a morning

ceremony and an afternoon ceremony held in the University of Idaho football stadium. And what was done was this. The family members of the slain students were honored with the posthumous degrees their loved ones would have earned.

Case in point in the morning, Maddie Mogen. Maddie was one of the four victims. She would have been 22 years old a week from Thursday. She was in the business school and received a bachelor's degree in marketing. Her family accepted her diploma, her mother, her mother's husband, and her father.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Green, Madison May Mogen has been recommended by the faculty of the College of Business and Economics to receive a posthumous bachelor's degree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Regents of the University of Idaho, I hereby confer upon Madison May Mogan the posthumous degree earned in testimony whereof her family will receive the diploma of the University of Idaho.


TUCHMAN: During the afternoon commencement ceremony, the family of Kaylee Goncalves accepted her diploma, bachelor's degree in general studies. The two other students were not seniors, they were underclassmen, so their families accepted certificates signifying their progress towards their bachelor's degrees, and those two students were Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin.

Bryan Kohberger, the man accused of murdering them, remains in jail. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for the end of next month, but this is not the time to talk about him, this is the time to talk about these four students who were honored by their university, honored by their parents, honored by the people who were at the commencement and should have had the opportunity to be at the commencement in person.

Amara, Victor?

BLACKWELL: All right Gary Tuchman for us there, a wonderful honor from the university.

All right, coming up, in many places across the country, there are no protections against discrimination based on weight and height. But now, one major city is taking some strides to change that.



BLACKWELL: So, you know that there are laws to prohibit discrimination based on race and gender when you're looking for a house or for a job, but what about your height and weight? WALKER: Well in many places there are no protections, but one major

city recently took steps to change that. CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich has more.


JENNIFER PORTNICK, FITNESS INSTRUCTOR: I teach around 17 classes in a typical week and it's what I love doing.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Jennifer Portnick is a veteran fitness instructor, but she still remembers the time she applied for her first job at Jazzercise in San Francisco.

PORTNICK: I was invited to go to tryouts where the regional manager is kind of behind you watching you dance. And after class, she told me you're going to be fantastic. There's just one thing. I want to get a picture of you with your arms out and she sent that picture to the corporate offices.


YURKEVICH (voiceover): She did not get the job. Instead, she got this letter. She had "all the qualifications for a potential trainee, except for the fitness level required.

PORTNICK: This doesn't make any sense, number one. And it's wrong.

YURKEVICH (voiceover): Portnik wanted to take action. And the San Francisco law, one that bans height and weight discrimination, allowed her to do just that.

PORTNICK: They were going to change the rule that said you have to look leaner than the public in order to be a Jazzercise instructor. If it hadn't been for the law, I'm sure that I wouldn't have had the outcome that I did.

YURKEVICH (voiceover): That was 22 years ago. Since then, just five cities and one state have similar laws.

SHAUN ABREU, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: There is no legal path if you are being discriminated based off your weight or your height.

YURKEVICH (voiceover): And that's why councilman Shaun Abreu introduced a bill making it illegal to discriminate against height and weight in housing, employment, and public accommodations in New York City. He says people treated him differently after he gained 40 pounds during the pandemic.

ABREU: This is not only protecting people in the workplace from this or in getting apartments, but it's also about changing the culture and how we think about weight.

YURKEVICH (voiceover): Studies have found that weight discrimination is widespread and is comparable to the levels of racial discrimination in the U.S.

VICTORIA ABRAHAM, SELF-PROCLAIMED FAT ACTIVIST: This city that I love so dearly is built without my body in mind.

YURKEVICH (voiceover): Victoria Abraham testified in support of the New York City bill last month. She is a self-proclaimed fat activist and content creator.

ABRAHAM: I know I'm fat. That's not a bad thing though. And I think the more that we use it as a neutral, as a descriptor, the less power it has.

YURKEVICH: Do you think that some of the discrimination for fat people happens through unconscious bias?

ABRAHAM: I think a lot of the biases against fat people are unconscious because they're never called out. Because our society functions with fatphobia imbued in it.

YURKEVICH (voiceover): Weight discrimination has real financial impacts. The average American woman is reportedly a size 16, but one study showed that women considered obese earned $5.25 less per hour than women considered normal weight.

ABRAHAM: Walking into a job interview as a fat person, I'm already at a disadvantage. My weight is a con, right? And regardless of if it's intentional or not.

YURKEVICH: But there is one thing that will be different if you do decide to pursue the job market, this new law.

ABRAHAM: Yes, exactly.

YURKEVICH: Does that make you feel a little bit better?

ABRAHAM: For sure. This bill is so important because we're having this conversation because we're talking about what it means to be a fat person existing in the world, that we are being reminded that our bodies should never be a barrier to anything.


YURKEVICH (on camera): And the New York City bill passed with overwhelming support, but the Partnership for New York City, which represents the interests of small businesses, raised concerns over what they say is the broadness of the bill, saying it could open businesses to a lot of incoming litigation and could be costly. But other states like Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York state are looking at similar legislation.

Victor, Amara?

BLACKWELL: It's a lot to think about there.


BLACKWELL: Yes, that we've not considered before. Vanessa Yurkevich, thank you so much for the story. Up next, arguably the two greatest words in sports, game seven. The

NHL's newest team forces a win-or-go-home scenario against Dallas while the NBA's Sixers and Celtics prepare for a decisive game this afternoon.



BLACKWELL: Everybody loves a game seven. And no two teams in the NBA history have gone head to head in game seven as many times as the Celtics and the 76ers.

WALKER: And on the line this time, a spot in the conference finals against the Miami Heat. Carolyn Manno joining us now. Hi, Carolyn. This game could come down

to one player.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: It could. Hey, good morning to you both. You know, we might not even be talking about this game if the Sixers had just stuck with what got them here in the first place, which is getting Joel Embiid the ball. I mean, he's the reigning MVP for a reason.

And not only did he not score in the final four minutes of their game- six loss on Thursday, he never even touched the ball. And that cannot happen again if Philadelphia wants to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in over two decades. Now, history is not on their side either, guys. Philly is 11 and 17 all-time in game sevens. That includes being two and five against none other than Boston.

Meanwhile, if you look at the Celtics track record, they are 21 in five in-game sevens at home. So, both teams knowing all that matters though is what they do today.


JOEL EMBIID, CENTER, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: We know what we got to do. We've -- you know, we've gone on the world. We've won. It's not going to be easy in that environment, but everybody has to step up starting with me.

JAYLEN BROWN, GUARD, BOSTON CELTICS: Celtics fans, they love to call us out, right? So, I'm going to call you guys out this time. Energy in the garden has been okay at best. I need you to be up. I need you to come with the energy because we're going to need every bit of it. No excuses.


MANNO: And if you've been to a game seven at the garden, you understand how crazy that place can get. So, that game tipping off at 330 Eastern today.

On the ice, the Seattle Kraken has played two playoff series and both are going the distance after beating the defending champion Avalanche in game seven in the first round. They have forced another game seven against the Dallas Stars. So, the Kraken scoring six goals in game six last night, two in each period. The series heading back to Dallas for a winner take all game tomorrow.

The Edmonton Oilers, meanwhile, also hoping to keep their season alive at home tonight and force a you know what, a game seven against Vegas.

In the WNBA now. If the league needed any more proof that it's finally time to expand, this is it. A sold-out crowd of more than 19,000 attending the league's first-ever game in Canada. So, this is a preseason matchup in Toronto between the Chicago Sky and the Minnesota Lynx Toronto believed to be a front-runner to land one of the two new teams in the next couple of years along with the Bay Area out in California. So, good to see a big crowd there.

And it is graduation weekend in the NFL a few weeks after signing a $255 million contract with the Eagles. Quarterback Jalen Hurts was back in Oklahoma yesterday to receive his Masters in Human Relations. And on Friday -- that was really great to see. On Friday, 37 years after going pro, Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles making good on a promise that he made his mother, returning to his alma mater Mount St. Mary's to earn his bachelor's in youth and community development.

I love that, guys. You make a promise to mom, you got to keep it. And for Jalen Hurts, he is surely set financially for the rest of his life after inking that deal, but said he wanted to get that Masters and good for him.

WALKER: Yes, just some time from Mother's Day. Make her happy.

Carolyn Manno, thank you.

And make sure you tune in to CNN tonight. See how streaming changed the music industry in a new episode of the CNN Original Series The 2010s premiering tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN. CNN THIS MORNING continues right after this.