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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden's High-Stakes Trip To Europe On Ukraine Crisis; Russian Forces Claim Using Hypersonic Missiles To Strike Ukraine; Are Any Republicans Willing To Confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson? Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 21, 2022 - 05:30   ET



ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: They're going to miss the three. But Christian Koloko comes through with the put-back slam and that sealed it for Arizona. They hold on to win 85-80, punching their ticket to the Sweet 16.

All right. Duke, meanwhile, keeping Coach K's career going for at least another week. It looked like this was maybe going to be Coach K's final game. The Blue Devils down by five with five minutes to go but they rallied, ending the game on a 20-6 run to beat Michigan State 85-76.

Coach K getting his 1,200th career win and afterwards said all the credit for the win goes to his players.


MIKE KRZYZEWSKI, DUKE HEAD COACH: I'm so -- I'm really proud to be your coach. You know, that -- it had nothing to do with coaching in those last four or five minutes. It all had to do with heart and togetherness and they followed their hearts, and God bless them. And, you know, we're in the Sweet 16.


SCHOLES: All right, four double-digit seeds have made it to the Sweet 16, including 10-seed Miami. They dominated highly-touted NBA prospect Jabari Smith and two-seed Auburn last night. The Canes never trailed, winning 79-61.

Miami -- they haven't trailed in either of their first two games. They're going to face a team in the next round that only won two games last year. Iowa State going into Milwaukee and beating third-seed Wisconsin last night.

New coach T.J. Otzelberger, a Milwaukee native, took over a team that was picked to finish last in the Big 12 this season. Hey -- now they're into the Sweet 16. What a turnaround there.

In the women's tournament, we had a huge upset in the Iowa-Creighton game. Lauren Jensen, who transferred from Iowa two Creighton, hitting a three with 15 seconds left to give the Bluejays the lead. Iowa, in the final seconds, had a chance to take the lead and win it but they could not get a bucket to go.

One of the nation's top players, Caitlin Clark, really struggled in this one as Creighton wins 64-62. Bluejays off to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever.

All right. And finally, St. Peter's men's team arriving back home in New Jersey after becoming the third 15th seed ever to reach the Sweet 16. Fans showing up for a rally at Run Baby Run Arena on the Jersey City campus. They're going to face off against Purdue in Philadelphia in the next round. But it's clear that this fan base and this fan, right here, doesn't care who they play next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New Jersey runs basketball. Jersey City runs basketball. Kentucky, I don't care what kind of party -- I don't care. Murray State, I don't care. We don't care. We don't care. We don't care.


SCHOLES: That's what March Madness is about right there, guys -- Cinderella teams like St. Peter's making it -- making a run. Only 3,000 students in their enrollment at St. Peter's --


SCHOLES: -- so, awesome to see them make it this far in the tournament.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And the only perfect brackets in America are in Jersey City.

SCHOLES: On that campus, right, if there are any left at this point.

ROMANS: All right, Andy Scholes. Thank you so much.

JARRETT: Good for them.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: Nice to see you, Andy.

All right. President Biden heading to Europe this week. Why a visit to besieged Ukraine is unlikely. Our new reporting just ahead.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. John Berman here in Lviv this morning in western Ukraine.

President Biden faces a crucial diplomatic test this week as the U.S. and its allies try to coordinate their responses to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The president will travel to Brussels for a NATO summit. That happens on Thursday, followed by a visit to Poland.

CNN's Jasmine Wright live in Washington with what we can expect from this crucial week, Jasmine.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John. Look, deterrence and defense are going to be at the top of the agenda for President Biden as he heads to Europe this week. And he, plus other world leaders, are going to have, really, a three-pronged goal here, which is to agree upon and then unveil new sanctions to punish Russia -- unveil new measures to help Ukraine and do all of that while keeping a united front showing real unity among the Western allies.

But one thing that remains unclear heading into this week is exactly what President Biden and world leaders can unveil that is actually going to change the trajectory of this ongoing conflict, especially as things that Ukraine has asked for -- more planes, no-fly zone above the skies -- has really been a non-starter for U.S. officials and others across the globe because it would basically draw the U.S. further into this war -- something that they don't want to do right now.

So as you just said, we learned overnight more about the president's trip. After he attends that extraordinary NATO summit and attends the European Security Council summit in Brussels, he will be heading to Poland where he will meet with Polish President Duda about a few weeks after Vice President Harris met with him in the same country.

The one place that he will not be going, at least as of right now John, is to Ukraine. The U.S. officials, over the last day, have basically said that's off the table. That he has no plans to go after he has heard pleas and pleas for President Biden to visit the country -- to now visit the war-torn country.

So, today, we will see the president as he heads -- as he holds a call with leaders from France, Germany, Britain, Italy, really as they all try to chart a path forward here trying to come to some conclusion about what more sanctions and what more new measures they can put in place really to try to deter Russia from their ongoing aggression -- John.


BERMAN: Yes, it's such a big week. Normally, NATO meetings like this -- like the one we're going to see on Thursday -- take months if not years to plan. This one thrown together in days. It'll be fascinating to watch.

Jasmine Wright, thanks so much for being with us.

So, overnight, Russian forces claim to have launched a series of strikes on Ukraine using these new hypersonic missiles. These weapons are capable of striking targets more than 1,000 miles away at a speed 10 times faster than the speed of sound.

CNN's Nada Bashir live in London with the latest on this -- Nada. NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, John, Putin has repeatedly highlighted Russia's investment in these hypersonic missiles. And now we're hearing from the Russian Defense Ministry that for the first time in combat, these missiles have been used by Russian forces in Ukraine.

Now, according to Russian officials, these missiles are targeting what they have described as a weapons depot in western Ukraine and what they've claimed to be a fuels depot used by the Ukrainian armed forces in the southern Mykolaiv region.

Now, there is some concern around these missiles. They can travel at a lower trajectory, making them harder to detect, and they can maneuver to evade missile defense systems. So that is clearly a concern.

But what we've been hearing -- the message from multiple U.S. sources is perhaps the intention of using these missiles by the Russian forces is to send a message to the West regarding Russia's military capabilities.

And we also heard from U.S. Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin. He said that the use of such missiles isn't a major gamechanger. Take a listen.


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You kind of question why he would do this. Is he running low on precision-guided munitions? Does he have, like, complete confidence in his ability to -- the ability of his troops to reestablished momentum?


BASHIR: Now, in terms of regaining that momentum, we have heard reports of waning troop morale. We've seen opposition within Russia against this war. And we've also heard of what President Zelenskyy has described as unprecedented losses within the Russian armed forces.

We've also heard from British intelligence just this morning of significant logistical challenges. But the U.K.'s Ministry of Defense has warned that Russia will continue its attempt to encircle Kyiv and will continue to use heavy fire in urban assaults, raising concerns over those devastating indiscriminate attacks we've seen on civilian infrastructure by Russian forces since the beginning of this invasion -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, it has been horrific.

Nada Bashir, thank you very much.

Christine, back to you in New York.

ROMANS: And we heard, you know, from Vladimir Putin on Friday. He called this the self-cleaning of our country, which is just so troubling when you hear what's happening there --

JARRETT: Yes. ROMANS: -- his motivations and justifications there.

All right, thanks, Berman.

A Supreme Court justice in the hospital right now just as hearings begin for the next nominee to the high court. The latest on Justice Clarence Thomas, next.



ROMANS: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. The court says the justice does not have coronavirus and that his symptoms are improving. The justices will take the bench this morning for oral arguments but a court spokesman says Thomas will not participate remotely. We're told he expects to go home in a day or two from the hospital.

JARRETT: Also later this morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee begins historic hearings on President Biden's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. If confirmed, Judge Jackson would become the first Black woman to serve on the country's highest court.

Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. John, good morning to you.

ROMANS: Good morning, John.

JARRETT: What are you watching for today as these hearings kick off? Democrats don't need any Republican votes to get her confirmed if they stay unified. But does it look like any Republicans are willing to give her a fair hearing? She's gotten confirmed in the past from Republican votes.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think so. Look, you've got Senate majority leader -- minority leader Mitch McConnell saying it's highly likely she's going to be confirmed. They've all conceded what the outcome is going to be.

And as you mentioned Laura, she got three Republican votes just last year when she was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals -- Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski. Graham has made some noise about -- complaining about Ketanji Brown Jackson because he had another candidate from his home state of South Carolina he wanted.

There is no sign of any Democratic defections. The only question is how vigorously some of the Republicans want to try to beat her up in the hearings. I don't think there's a lot of general appetite for that but some of the fringe Republican players, like Josh Hawley, are trying to raise some questions about her record on crime. They are weak questions but the question is how much do they want to press that.

ROMANS: Yes, and some of that he's bringing up almost sounds like he's talking to a QAnon fringe, not necessarily to the -- to the public with what he's already raised.

If they choose to confront her -- if anybody decides to get aggressive, what do you think they're going to go after? Her representation of terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay, her work as a public defender? They'll try to paint her as soft on crime. What are you expecting?

HARWOOD: All of that. And McConnell has raised the question about whether there's a pattern of Biden picking people who were former public defenders who have an empathetic record toward criminal defendants, suggesting that will make the federal judiciary broadly soft on crime.

But you're right -- it is not an accident that Josh Hawley, the senator from Missouri -- the one who pumped his fists to all the protesters on January sixth as they approached the Capitol, which they ended up storming -- is raising an issue that is -- dominates the discussion among the lunatic QAnon sect or faction, or whatever you want to call it.


They're obsessed with this idea, and they have been for a number of years, that there is some sort of secret child pornography or child pedophilia thing going on with leading Democrats. It is ridiculous, it's crazy. And the idea that he's seizing on that issue suggests that he, as an ambitious Republican, is trying to pump up that group and win their allegiance.

JARRETT: John, do Republicans face any risks by going after her and attacking her? What do you think the strategy is inside the GOP for how exactly to go about this, if there is one?

HARWOOD: Well, I don't think there's a singular strategy. I think at the highest levels we've seen the signals from McConnell that he doesn't want a whole lot of fireworks. He has got a pretty good political landscape in front of him for the 2022 midterm elections. He doesn't want to try to mar that with a bunch of controversy that isn't going to go anywhere and that will ultimately be proven to be weak. So, he has said, sort of, as a -- at the outset, the table stakes are we know this is going to happen.

But you do have people who have different agendas, different ambitions within the Republican Party who are going to go off on their own way for their own purposes. And I think McConnell has some control over what they do but only limited control. And I think to the extent he has any, he's going to try to reduce the fireworks in this process because he knows what the outcome is going to be.

ROMANS: Look, these choices are the most important decisions that a president can make. I mean, her life experiences, her judicial experiences will shape -- would shape the court for years to come. So, do Republicans -- obviously, that's the backdrop of any -- of any nominee. What kinds of blowback would the Republicans face if they get too aggressive here? HARWOOD: Well, the question Republicans have had for a few years -- and it colored the midterm elections of 2018 -- is that do you go so far in appealing to the zealous far-right base that you turn off the suburban moderate voters -- people who don't have -- don't share the QAnon beliefs or don't share the most aggressive of the -- of the culture war concerns that right-wing Republicans do?

You have the potential of turning those people off. And in 2018 when Republicans lost the House, they turned a lot of those suburban voters off. So, the -- that's what's in play.

And right now, those suburban voters are pretty favorably inclined toward Republicans. And what Mitch McConnell doesn't want to do is disrupt a winning hand at this point.

We've seen the polls show President Biden is -- has weak approval generally speaking. Republicans are favored to win the House. It's a more competitive landscape in the Senate. And so, it's going to be dicey to see who controls the Senate because of where those Senate races are in a lot of states that Joe Biden won in 2020. So, Joe Biden -- Mitch McConnell doesn't want to change an equation that right now is pointed in the Republican direction.

JARRETT: A do no harm approach from Mitch McConnell. We'll see if the rest of his party --

HARWOOD: Exactly.

JARRETT: -- can follow suit, though.

John, thank you.

ROMANS: John Harwood, nice to see you this Monday morning.

A brief programming note. CNN's special live coverage of Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson -- that begins this morning at 11:00, right here on CNN.

We'll be right back.



ROMANS: All right, it's Monday. Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Looking at markets around the world, Asian shares, last night, closed mixed. Europe has opened narrowly mixed, with London down a little bit.

And on Wall Street, stock index futures falling a little bit -- a pause, really, after that surprise rally for stocks last week. A rally after their initial swoon over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. All three major indices rallied despite the war in Ukraine, despite high inflation, and Federal Reserve rate hikes. Inflation watch. Two states have suspended their gas tax with more likely to follow. Georgia has paused its 29 cent gas tax through the end of May. Maryland suspended its 36 cent per gallon tax for 30 days, ending April 16th.

Lawmakers in California are proposing a $400 rebate. They say that would cover the cost of the state's highest-in-the-nation 51 cent tax for most people.

A lot of ways -- trying to figure out a lot of ways to stop the bite of high inflation.

Thanks for joining us this Monday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" starts right now.