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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden, Dems Scramble for Ways to Protect Abortion Rights; Stocks Surge After Fed Raises Rates by Half Point; Ukrainian Commander: "Bloody Battles" at Mariupol Steel Plant. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 05, 2022 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here we go. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, May 5th.


Happy Cinco de Mayo. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Laura Jarrett. It feels likes I went away for two days and the world changed.

ROMANS: A lot happened on your beat while you're gone.

JARRETT: Oh my goodness, a lot to get to this morning.

We start here, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress scrambling right now for ways to protect abortion rights in America. President Biden vows that his administration will be ready, if the Supreme Court sticks to that draft opinion that leaked -- striking down Roe v.

Wade. The way the opinion is written, leading many, including the president himself to question what other rights are now in jeopardy.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happens if you have the states changed a law saying that children who are LGBTQ can't be in classrooms with other children? Is that legit, under the way the decision is written? What are the next things that are going to be attacked?


ROMANS: CNN has learned that Biden's team has preparing options that can involve the Justice Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration.

Senate Democrats are searching for their own path, plotting a vote to codify abortion rights under federal law next week. Though, as it stands, they don't have the votes, but they want members on the record.

Lawmakers and advocates on the state level are also gearing up for a fight here. Many Republican-led states have enacted so-called trigger laws, which abortion -- which bans abortion as soon as Roe is overturned. At the same time, neighboring blue states are getting ready to fill the gap in abortion care.

JARRETT: At the Supreme Court, overnight, workers put up a taller fence around the perimeter, bracing for more protests there with the court set to deliver the most consequential abortion decision in decades in just a matter of weeks.

We have two reports this morning.

First to CNN White House reporter Kevin Liptak.

Kevin, good morning. The administration has not formally announced what they will do if and when it seems Roe is overturned. So what are you hearing about possible action that the administration might actually take?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, this has really prompted a scramble behind the scenes at the White House as officials really try to map out what they are going to do. And really what they are looking at is the reality that there will be a patchwork of state laws should Roe v. Wade be overturned that they will have to navigate. And what officials say is that there is a reality that there is not a lot that they can do to get around that overriding reality that Roe v. Wade would be overturned, but they are looking at some other options that would maybe mitigate some of the effects.

And so, some of the options that are being discussed internally and externally would be trying to look at some of these abortion pills, medication abortion, try to make that more accessible to people in states where abortion becomes illegal. So things like removing certain FDA restrictions on those pills, and then challenging state laws that require people to go in person to get these pills prescribed.

They want to make it easier for people to receive these pills by mail. That's one of the options that's under discussion. Another sort of broad area that officials are looking at is trying to make it easier and maybe even paying for women to travel from states where abortion becomes illegal to states where it is legal. So, an option could be allowing Medicaid to cover that travel, also allowing Medicaid to cover the abortions themselves. And then also contesting state bans on leaving the states to go get an abortion and that would be through the Department of Justice.

And other options some considered potentially less likely but still on the table, things like drafting a Department of Defense rule that would pay for abortions for service members, and then also removing a rule that would exclude birth control on insurance, sort of challenging that in court.

So these are some of the options that have been raised. But in the end, officials are sort of clear-eyed in all of this, that there is not a lot that they could do to challenge a court ruling that is this sweeping. This draft order really hit the White House with a thud when it landed on Tuesday. Now, officials are scrambling to come up with options.

ROMANS: Kevin, we're not expecting this opinion to be formally released until June. Is there any chance that Biden acts before then?

LIPTAK: No. And White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was very clear on that yesterday. These options are reserved for when the Supreme Court actually rules. They would not come down before then.

And this would not necessarily be an unexpected outcome for the White House. They have been preparing behind the scenes for months for this to kind of come into effect. But when they saw that ruling, that draft ruling yesterday, there was sort of a sense of panic that their options are so limited.

And one thing that the president is saying is that Congress could codify Roe v. Wade, that would require lifting the filibuster and that is considered highly unlikely. And one thing White House officials are concerned about if they do lift the filibuster, if Republicans take the Senate back in November, that they could just pass their own law banning abortion and that could be -- have a much more dire effect as well.


So that is one of the on positions that the president is raising but certainly not a likely option.

JARRETT: Kevin, you have a great piece up that kind of lays out how the president's own personal and really sort of political views on abortion have evolved over the years. In fact he hadn't even used the word abortion since he had become president until recently, until that draft leaked out. Tell us more about how he's changed his views.

LIPTAK: Yeah, when you look at the span of President Biden's political career, it kind of tracks this issue from start to finish. And he was elected senator a year before Roe v. Wade was passed and he said then that he thought the ruling went too far. And he always remained sort of one of the most moderate figures in the Democratic Party on abortion. And, of course, he is a practicing Catholic. That has always played a large part in his views on this issue.

But he has evolved over the years. He has shifted more towards the left of the Democratic Party on this issue. When he was running for president in 2019, he changed his view on a key -- the key issue of the Hyde Amendment which bans federal funding for abortions. He dropped his support for that.

That came after some pressing from his campaign advisers who said that that stance was really kind of untenable for a Democratic candidate in 2020. Now, as you said, the president now faces this sort of defining issue on this in the last 30 years. It will be up to him to kind of get around this ruling and do these executive orders, regulatory actions.

And that's not necessarily comfortable position for him. As you say, he had not used the word abortion -- not said it out loud until Tuesday. So, it will really be interesting how this plays out over the next couple of months.

ROMANS: All right. Kevin Liptak, CNN White House reporter, thanks so much for getting up early with us, Kevin.


JARRETT: Appreciate it.

All right. In the meantime, Senate Democrats are making their own plans to take action in response to the Supreme Court draft opinion.

CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill with that angle.

Daniella, it seems like Democrats' best action to preserve abortion rights is not going to work if they are trying to codify it in law at least in the Senate at least for now.

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: At least for now. But that is not going to stop them from trying anyway. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has committed to putting a bill on the floor before the 2022 midterms that would codify Roe versus Wade depending whatever happens of course if the Supreme Court ends up issuing a formal opinion that expect in June.

Remember this is just a draft of the ruling that meant that they would overturn Roe v. Wade. It is not permanent, we don't know if that will happen. But, of course, Senate Democrats are preparing.

They are also rallying around this issue of abortion rights, of women's reproductive health, ahead of the midterm ahead of the 2022 midterms, hoping that they can get more Democrats to the Senate, to the House in hope of preserving Roe v. Wade. And, look, it is not just Senate Democrats that are planning to vote in support, of course, of codifying Roe v. Wade.

There are two moderate Republican senators that plan to support this, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, they both support Roe v. Wade and said that they plan to vote in favor of codifying Roe v. Wade should this bill be put on the floor.

The question mark here of course being Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from west Virginia who is a pro-life, he's said it again and again, he is against abortion. And also, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, he has voted against Democrats on this issue.

So, really, it is all up in the air. But, of course, a lot could change, Laura, between now and June when we expect that formal opinion to drop from the Supreme Court, whether they plan to overturn Roe v. Wade or not.

JARRETT: All right. Daniella, thank you for your reporting.

ROMANS: All right. If you have a credit card, if you are shopping for a car, you are trying to buy a house, big news, folks. The Federal Reserve cranked up interest rates Wednesday, a rare 50 basis point hike in the benchmark rate. This is the biggest increase in 22 years. It is the Fed's job, of course, to fight inflation with prices rising

faster than they have in 40 years. The Fed is getting more aggressive.

Here is Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.


JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE BOARD: The economy and the country has been through a lot over the past two years and proved resilient. It is essential that we bring inflation down if we are to have a sustained period of strong labor market conditions that benefit all.


ROMANS: This is only the second rate hike since 2018, the Fed raised rates by a quarter percentage point back in March. The Central Bank also will start shrinking its enormous $9 trillion balance sheet that will begin in June.


The Fed has a big job here. Inflation already a problem coming out of a recession and now the raging Russia/Ukraine conflict makes it worse, so shutdowns in China also making inflation worse.

High prices for food and energy persist.

So the more common pace of slow, you know, quarter percentage point increases is not doing the job here. Higher rates raise the cost of borrowing money. Credit cards, auto loans, student loans, mortgage rates already above 5 percent, will likely go higher.

Wall Street liked the news. Investors have already sort of priced this in. And the Fed chief did not say something bigger was on the table. That was really important. Stocks rose after he said that the Fed is not actively considering even bigger hikes at least for now.

This is one of those -- one of those people -- the Fed chief I think that most Americans don't know who probably has more control over your personal finances right now than anyone else in the world.

JARRETT: It's interesting that it was already sort of baked in. And you give us a realty check on actually how consumer behavior sometimes doesn't match the reality of all of the hoopla around these things.

ROMANS: People are complaining about rising inflation, about rising interest rates. But when you look at the numbers, people are spending like crazy, on vacations, on goods, on services. People are complaining about I call it the sourpuss economy. They are complaining about it, but they are spending like mad.

JARRETT: Because there is so much pent up demand, too.

ROMANS: And coming up for you, how the GOP was already pushing for its own federal law on abortion before even that Supreme Court leak. Plus bloody fighting as Ukrainian troops make a desperate last stand

inside that steel plant.

JARRETT: And Amber Heard in her own words, hear her chilling testimony about Johnny Depp, next.



ROMANS: Welcome back.

Ukrainian forces making a desperate last stand at that steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol.

CNN's Isa Soares is live for us in Lviv, Ukraine.

Good evening, Isa.

The commander of Ukraine's forces at the plant says that there are heavy bloody battles under way. What do we know that is happening there?


It has been relentless and brutal the last 24 hours of course inside Mariupol steel plant there, the Azovstal steel plant, that last line of defense for Ukrainian soldiers. Many civilians, of course, holed up inside, but we're hearing from Mariupol officials that shelling has been nonstop, it has intensified and the attacks also intensified supported by aircraft and supported by drones.

Mariupol officials telling CNN if there is hell in this world, it is it. It is in Azovstal. Just shocking when you look at these images that we're seeing and a reminder to people, this is not a video grain. This is not special effects in the movie. This is happening in Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol right now with people still inside.

We heard from a commander just yesterday. Have a listen to what he said.


DENIS PROKOPENKO, AZOV COMMANDER (through translator): For two days now, the enemy has broken into the territory of the plant. These are heavy bloody battles. I'm proud of my soldiers who are making super human efforts to contain the enemy's onslaught.


SOARES: As you heard from the commander, Russian troops entered the part of the Azovstal plant for a while, Ukrainian officials having a line of communication with those inside, we've been told that has been reconnected. But there are still civilians inside that plant. According to Ukrainian officials, there are hundreds of civilians still inside, including 30 children. It is just incredible to wrap your head around this, 30 children according to Ukrainian officials.

We have heard from -- really from Russia promise of a humanitarian corridor expected to happen today between 8:00 to 6:00. I can tell you it has been almost three hours and still no word of that happening. We did see evacuations yesterday from Mariupol, President Zelenskyy saying that 344 people were evacuated, but that is just from the city of Mariupol, not from inside the Azovstal steel plant.

We also know that President Zelenskyy had a private phone call with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres where he pleaded, where he urged the secretary general to help to facilitate, of course, the evacuation for those inside the Azovstal steel plant, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Isa, thank you so much for that update. Keep us posted -- Laura.

JARRETT: And meantime, the European Union has proposed banning all Russian oil imports by the end of this year, but not all EU members are happy with the proposal or plan to go along with it.

CNN's Melissa Bell is joining us live from Paris on this.

Melissa, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, they are all seeking a much longer transition period on this. Why is that?

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Laura. You are talking about countries that are hugely dependent on Russian oil, where their oil imports from outside the EU, more than 75 percent of them come from Russia. That gives you an idea of just how dependent they are. And it is also of course the cost to industry, and it is not just about the supplies of the oil itself that will dry up progressively, but also the infrastructure that goes with that. So these are economies that will be taking a huge hit. What they are looking for is exemptions.

And as we've been hearing from Moscow from the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, look, these sanctions are always double edge weapons.


I think it's important to remember. And the more we go, this is the sixth round of sanctions announced by the European Union, the tougher they become for the countries trying to impose them.

The difference for the EU is this. It isn't just a measure of their resolve, it is also a measure of their unity. You are talking about 27 countries having to agree unanimously to impose these sanctions that affect some member states more than they affect other member states.

Now, that is why it has been so difficult to come to this particular point. What we expect is happening, we've been hearing from the French energy ministers, the Europeans are confident that by giving some exemptions for some European countries, they will come to an agreement by the end of the week and that will be a massive hit to Russian coffers, Laura.

JARRETT: Melissa Bell in Paris, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Let's bring in Kimberly Dozier, CNN global affairs analyst and "Time Magazine" contributor.

Kim, so nice to see you this morning.

Heavy shelling at the Mariupol steel plant. You just heard about bloody battles there, Ukrainian commander tell us. What is the Russian end game there?

KIM DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: To try to stop what is for them not just a public relations embarrassment, but also to free up some of their troops that are still fighting to get the Ukrainians out of that steel plant so that those troops can join the fight for the rest of Donbas. I've already heard from military experts who use open source intelligence to examine troop movements every day. And they say that you can see that the Russian troops haven't done what you are classically supposed to do if you are going to take a lot of territory, and that is mass their forces.

So instead, you've got this sort of piece meal attack of the eastern Donbas region, and that means that they are behind schedule, and they also present a target for the Ukrainian forces to pick off and those Ukrainian forces meanwhile are every single day getting more and more of the weaponry that the U.S. and other Western nations are sending to them.

JARRETT: So can we know that U.S. intelligence has helped Ukrainians by sharing information on troop movements? We know that the Russians have obviously suffered heavy losses when it comes to troops and generals in the field have been killed. What are you hearing on this?

DOZIER: Well, I just spoke to a senior U.S. official who was a little bit frustrated at some of the criticism of the Biden administration early on from Capitol Hill saying that the U.S. wasn't sharing enough intelligence. This person said that from the beginning, they have been sharing crucial battlefield intelligence with the Ukrainians and once the battle for Kyiv was won and the Russian troops withdrew with this new flow of U.S. weaponry, has also come stepped up data that has helped Ukrainians be more targeted.

And also helped -- Ukrainians will gather their own intelligence, but to really trust it, it helps to have another set of eyes confirming, yes, that is what the U.S. is seeing too. So that is a legitimate target worth committing your forces to.

And this U.S. official explained to me that they got this intelligence, Ukrainians impressively got the intelligence from the U.S. all the way down to the forward troops at the front of the battlefield, in a way that it takes sophisticated armies a long time to sort of develop. So since this flow is working, the U.S. has stepped up and continued it.

ROMANS: Maybe you can see some of benefits of years of the Ukrainian military working with U.S. military officials, right? And with -- you know -- JARRETT: Yeah, having those relationships.

ROMANS: Very interesting.

Kim Dozier, CNN global affairs analyst, thank you so much.

JARRETT: Thanks, Kim.

DOZIER: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, abortion rights advocates prepare for a post-Roe America.

JARRETT: First, Amber Heard's dramatic testimony about Johnny Depp.


AMBER HEARD, ACTRESS: I just laughed because I thought he was joking. And he slapped me across the face.




JARRETT: Welcome back.

January 6th committee closing in on Trump world now. Two sources telling CNN that Donald Trump Jr. met with investigators for over three hours Tuesday. This virtual meeting was described as cordial and the former president's oldest son answered all questions without asserting the Fifth Amendment.

Don Jr. joins a growing list of family members that have met with the committee. The committee's spokesperson and an attorney for Don Jr. both declined to comment.

ROMANS: More emotional testimony expected today when Amber Heard returns to the stand at her ex-husband Johnny Depp's $50 million defamation trial. The actress testified in her defense for nearly three hours Wednesday, describing her tumultuous relationship with Deep.


HEARD: I felt that like when I was around Johnny, I felt like the most beautiful person in the whole world. You know, he made me feel seen, made me feel like a million dollars.

It just felt very intense. But we weren't doing normal life stuff. We weren't like stuck in traffic with each other. We weren't going to the grocery store and doing life. We were like hiding in these places around the world.

And we were staying in this little hallway area outside of the bathroom and he starts, you know, what feels like patting me down or saying that he was patting me down. I can't recall. But he ripped my dress, the strap top part of my dress.