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President Biden to Meet with New South Korean President; Senate passes Bill to Ease Access to Baby Formula; Biden Arrives in Asia in First Presidential Trip to Region; January 6th Committee to Probe Capitol Tour Led by GOP Congressman the Day Before. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 20, 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 Friday, May 20th. I'm Christine Romans.


We begin this morning with President Biden just landing a short time ago in South Korea on the first leg of a trip to Asia that will also include a stop in Japan. In the next few minutes we will see the president arrive at a Samsung chip plant where he will meet with South Korea's new president and take a factory tour.

This all taking place under the shadow of China flexing its military and economic might in the region and escalating provocations from North Korea which U.S. intelligence thinks may be planning a missile test while Mr. Biden is there.

Let's bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul for us.

Paula, good morning, tell us what is the underlying purpose of the president's visit there?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, what the president is here for and what he would like to be talking about is alliances and talking about economic prosperity and partnership with South Korea, talking about security ties.

What he might find creeping up the agenda, though, is North Korea. As you mentioned there, we have heard from both U.S. and South Korean intelligence sources that they do believe that an ICBM test, an intercontinental ballistic missile test, may be imminent. Now this is the kind of missile that if fired at a normal trajectory could potentially hit mainland United States.

Now at this point we're hearing from a U.S. source telling CNN's Barbara Starr that they believe that they may even be close to fueling an ICBM. They have satellite imagery showing the preparations that go into this kind of launch in the past appeared to be happening right now. So clearly that is of a concern. We've heard from the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, he said

that they are preparing for all contingencies. They say that they do have a genuine possibility that there could be some kind of missile test while President Biden is here or after he is here.

Now, it would be remarkable, Laura, because the fact is there hasn't been a North Korean missile or weapons test or underground nuclear test while a U.S. president has been in country. That would be a first. And certainly we're hearing from the White House as well through Jake Sullivan that they do have contingency plans in place. They have spoken to their allies and have a plan if this were to happen.

Also we've been hearing that they believe there could be an underground nuclear test, the seventh but potentially not imminent while President Biden is here -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right, that would be notable. Paula, thank you for that. We expect to see the president very soon and we'll of course bring that to you.

ROMANS: All right. Back home to the story top of mind for so many American families. The Biden administration says it has now secured its first batch of baby formula from overseas. How the administration plans to distribute it once it receives it still a work in progress.


BRIAN DEESE, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: This is a fast-moving process and we are doing exactly that. We are in consultation with the manufacturers and the suppliers to identify those instances where this will help to get those manufacturers to full 100 percent production.

I was on the phone late into the night with a manufacturer. Our teams have been on the phones and engaged consistently.


ROMANS: One new estimate shows 45 percent of baby formula was out of stock nationwide at some point last week. That's up slightly from the week before and that compares to just 5 percent a year ago.

JARRETT: I have been going every day online looking for it and you cannot find it right now.

ROMANS: So frustrating.

JARRETT: Yes, it's quite something.

The pressure on the White House to solve this formula shortage more intense than ever. But FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf says the end of the crisis is in sight.


ROBERT CALIFF, FDA COMMISSIONER: It will gradually get better. Within days it will get better. But it will be a few weeks before we're back to normal.


JARRETT: We are not at normal right now, let me tell you. CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill for us.

Daniella, lawmakers are sending a bill to the president's desk for his signature. How exactly is it going to help?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura, this specific bill that passed by unanimous consent in the Senate yesterday, meaning every single senator supported this legislation would allow for families to continue to purchase baby formula when there is a shortage, when there is supply chain issues. Really, really important considering of course and using WIC -- excuse me, they would continue to be able to purchase baby formula using WIC benefits.

And this is incredibly important especially since so many families, low-income families have been affected by this baby formula shortage. However there is another piece of legislation that did not gain enough Republican support that would have given $28 million into helping trying to alleviate some of those supply chain issues with baby formula.


That price of course angering Republicans. They don't think it should be that high of a price tag which is why they didn't support that specific bill. But the bigger picture here is some Democrats actually voiced opposition to the Biden administration in the past couple of weeks for not doing something sooner on baby formula. In fact yesterday a group of Democrats sent a letter to the Biden administration, to President Joe Biden, asking for him to appoint a person that would implement a national strategy to help with the baby formula shortage.

So this is a continuing issue here on Capitol Hill, Laura, even though of course the administration has taken steps to alleviate those supply chain issues. It's not over just yet -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Daniella, thank you.

ROMANS: Yes, some of those Democrats were really with pointed questions and angry about, look, this is a safety issue that has to do with the health of children. Why the investigation into this plant takes so long? Just who is in charge of this at the FDA? There were a lot of pointed questions yesterday from Democrats and not a lot of answers from the FDA.

JARRETT: And it just feels like the timing here has everyone scrambling in cleanup mode.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: But why wasn't any action taken months ago?

ROMANS: Exactly. All right. Just ahead, the U.S. state that could soon have the most restrictive abortion rules in the country.

JARRETT: Plus a troubling new money trend. Americans getting behind on their house and car payments.

ROMANS: And President Biden just arriving in South Korea. There he is. We expect to see him again in just moments.



JARRETT: Oklahoma is on its way to having the most restrictive abortion law in the country. A bill passed by the state legislature Thursday bans the procedure from the moment of fertilization, effectively prohibiting nearly all abortions in that state.

Now it's modeled on a Texas law that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or really anyone who knowingly helps a woman get an abortion. There are exceptions here for certain medical emergencies and also for cases involving rape or incest, but only if reported to law enforcement. The law takes effect as soon as Oklahoma's Republican Governor Kevin Stitt signs it, which he says he will.

ROMANS: All right. Right now President Biden in Seoul, South Korea. He's about to meet the South Korea's new president.

Joining us now is CNN White House reporter Kevin Liptak live this morning for us from Seoul.

A really important trip here for this president. What are we expecting today?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's very important and really the goal of the president while he is over here is to reassure these key allies that the United States remains focused on Asia even as the crisis in Ukraine is sort of boiling over and the president has just arrived at this Samsung factory which is near the air base where he landed.

And it's kind of interesting, the president -- and when the president is in the United States, he often goes to these factories, takes a tour and delivers remarks. So it is kind of interesting that the very first thing he does when he gets to Asia is sort of do the same thing. And now what's important is this company, this Samsung factory is producing semiconductors. Those microchips that are in short supply globally because of shutdowns due to COVID at Chinese factories.

And what the president wants to do, and you see him there, just to note he's meeting the new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, the very important meeting. He just took office in the last week or so, so this is a critical meeting. The first time obviously that they have met face-to-face.

But while the president is at Samsung, he really kind of wants to reiterate the importance of weaning the United States off its reliance on these Chinese-made components and focus on other allies like South Korea to get them from there but also to boost domestic production in the United States of these facets. So when you hear the president speak later, you will hear him talking about passing this key bill that's pending in Congress that would help boost production of these chips in the United States.

And so there is kind of a domestic focus as soon as gets here. Of course the chip shortage is part of the larger supply chain issue that is contributing to one of the many, many components to rising prices in the United States. So kind of an interesting focus, and back home as soon he gets here to Asia. But you see them starting to sit down and look at some devices there at the Samsung factory.

ROMANS: Yes, these are -- it's cool, these are live pictures so we're getting to watch, you know, just as if we were a reporter in the room, right? We're getting to watch exactly what these two leaders are doing here this morning.

You're right the significance of that Samsung plant I think is interesting.


ROMANS: Because the chip shortage and the -- just the tangled global supply chains and the important thing about talking about how to rebuild reliance on supply chains. I mean, these are things that must be top of mind for leaders. You see the camera moving around a little bit as we're getting in to position there, Kevin. But --

JARRETT: It ties into what's going on at home so well.

ROMANS: It does. It really does. Because we know inflation is issue number one for this White House, right?

LIPTAK: Yes, certainly is along with as you were talking earlier the baby formula shortage, the crisis in Ukraine. So certainly the president has so many issues on his plate back home, not the least of which is the midterm elections which are coming in November which has huge stakes for the White House. And what the president is doing over here is trying to sort of incorporate all of that into his message when he gets here.

And of course the threat from North Korea is a huge issue. That's something he'll be talking about with President Moon when they sit down tomorrow. But the big message that the president is coming here with is economic. He is expected to unveil kind of a new Asia trade sort of plan. It's not a full trade pact but it's sort of an outline of a plan when he gets to Japan, and that's sort of the centerpiece announcement that he'll be making on this trip.


And so I think that the domestic issues that the president is confronting back home have certainly followed him over here, but this is of course the first time the president is in Asia. He is finally able to turn his attention here after so many other things came up, popped up, consumed all of this attention back home. This is really his opportunity to come here and demonstrate that he is

committed to focusing on Asia, that he is committed to countering China militarily and economically in the region. Sort of demonstrate that this is the centerpiece of his foreign policy as the countries here sort of look ahead what's going to happen in the next years or decades. They certainly want to hear these reassurances from the American president that these alliances are strong and could grow even stronger.


JARRETT: Yes. The backdrop, just China and North Korea, is just fascinating and the timing really critical here.

Kevin, thank you so much for popping up for us. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: Yes, we'll let you get back to covering that. Thank you. Let us know if anything happens.

All right, turning now to the economy and early signs of stress on paycheck-to-paycheck households. Subprime borrowers are starting to default on their car, home and credit card loans. This analyzing data from the "Wall Street Journal." Why? Well, pandemic-era benefits have expired, right. Savings are winding down for these households and these borrowers are having trouble again.

Look, it's a tale of two economies. The housing market is still very strong. Home sellers are in the cat bird seat. Look at this, home prices hit a record $391,000 in April. That's up 15 percent from a year ago. Just think of that.


ROMANS: Your home, the value of the home, the typical American home, 15 percent in a year. At the same time, sales, though, are starting to slow for the third month in a row. You know, first-time buyers are essentially all but priced out here and mortgage rates, they fell slightly, but look at that. The 30-year fixed rate mortgage still 5.25 percent. It's like doubled in the past year, right.

What does it all mean? No one really knows. There are so many cross- currents all at once in the economy. We keep picking each one of these little threads trying to figure out what is the story it is weaving for us. Is the U.S. economy still strong and powering through in the post-COVID world or hopefully a post-COVID world? Or is it weak and we are on edge here and nearing higher risks of recession? No one knows for sure.

JARRETT: Well, and all of these things can be true at the same time.

ROMANS: Exactly.

JARRETT: But I know the short story is it's really hard to buy a home and it's really expensive.

ROMANS: Yes. Exactly. JARRETT: That's the short story.

ROMANS: For someone who's been in the market for buying a home.

JARRETT: That's the short story. Just ahead, the January 6th Committee looking to question one of their own. What they want to know about the day before the riot.

ROMANS: And emotional moments in the courtroom, a war crime suspect asking for forgiveness.



JARRETT: Welcome back. The January 6th Committee is investigating a tour of the U.S. Capitol given the day before the insurrection by one of their own. Lawmakers say there's evidence that the tour was led by Georgia Republican Congressman Barry Loudermilk and they are asking for his voluntary cooperation now.

CNN's Zachary Cohen is live in Washington on this story.

Zach, the congressman essentially admitted that he met with these people.

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Laura. That's right. This is really the first time that we've seen the committee ask serious questions about these tours that were happening on Capitol Hill the day before the January 6th attack.

Now, as you mentioned, this is the first time that they're really naming names and they named the congressman from Georgia, Barry Loudermilk, and they said that they have evidence that contradicts previous claims from Loudermilk and other Republicans that they did lead tours of the Capitol complex on January 5th, the day before the Capitol riot.

Now it's interesting because on January 6th itself, Congressman Loudermilk gave an interview with a local radio station in Georgia and described meeting with about a dozen people in his office on the Hill. Take a listen.


REP. BARRY LOUDERMILK (R-GA): We actually had about a dozen people up here that wanted to come by and visit. We had them in our office. They definitely were, you know, peaceful people, people that we've met at church. They were supporters of the president. And they just wanted to be up here as if it was another rally.


COHEN: So it's important to remember, Laura, that at this time we were in the peak of the COVID pandemic, there was really nobody visiting or allowed to visit Capitol Hill or take tours at this time. Now there's nothing nefarious, you know, the congressman said in that audio that we just listened to and really the committee has not provided a lot of detail about why it's raising this accusation now. But, you know, it remains to be seen if the congressman will answer the questions voluntarily that the committee has for him.

JARRETT: So what's his response?

COHEN: So essentially the congressman told the committee and told the Capitol Police they should release the tapes. The committee is claiming that it's seen security footage that contradicts what Loudermilk and others have said about these tours that happened before the riot occurred. Now the congressman is essentially daring the committee to show its cards and prove and back up what it's claiming.

You know, we're coming up to public hearings that the committee is about to hold and we'll see what happens then. The congressman didn't seem very enthusiastic about cooperating voluntarily, but he also didn't rule it out.

JARRETT: All right, Zach, great to get your reporting this morning. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, the FBI's investigation of the January 6th insurrection, the largest in its history, has hit a new milestone. More than 800 people have now been charged in the Capitol riot, charges range from things like disorderly conduct and obstruction of law enforcement to much more serious charges such as assaulting a police officer.


Of those 800, 290 have pleaded guilty, some face thousands of dollars in fines, and 175 have been sentenced for their actions now. At least a dozen received prison time. A judge giving one man more than five years behind bars.

And this is still very much an active investigation. The FBI has arrested more than 90 new defendants since the start of this year and agents are still searching for hundreds more people, hundreds more alleged rioters, many of them as you see here were caught on camera that day. Some even posted pictures of themselves in the act on social media which eventually led to their arrest.

JARRETT: All right. Just ahead for you, tens of thousands of SUVs now on a recall list. You do not want to park them in your garage. And Ukrainian soldiers who don't know the meaning of surrender.