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White House Refuses To Answer Repeated Questions On Khashoggi Murder; Biden To Hammer Point That Inflation Top Priority At Philly Event; Yellowstone Entrances Closed Following Unprecedented Rainfall. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 14, 2022 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The White House getting ready for President Biden's first trip to Saudi Arabia since taking office and getting pressed about the murder of a Washington Post journalist four years ago.


REPORTER: Does President Biden believe that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for Kamal -- Jamal Khashoggi's death?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I mean, we've spoken to this before. I think he was asked this question directly recently, last week. So, look, the president is focused on getting things done for the American people.

REPORTER: The question that I asked though, does he believe that MBS was responsible for Khashoggi's death?

JEAN-PIERRE: The president has spoken to this before and I'm going to just let his words stand. Go ahead, go ahead.

REPORTER: Does he believe --

JEAN-PIERRE: I've already answered the question.


ROMANS: All right, let's bring in CNN's Nic Robertson in London.

An uncomfortable moment there. U.S. intelligence found that the prince did, in fact, approve the hit of that American-based journalist. And when pressed multiple times, press sec. Karine Jean-Pierre refused to address it directly. I mean, the question is why? Is it an inconvenient truth as they head into what is a very important meeting for the U.S., especially at a time of very, very high oil prices?


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It is. Saudi Arabia's a swing producer of oil and so far, it's sort of denied U.S. and European requests to up its oil output to offset the difficulties of getting oil out of -- out of Russia at the moment, particularly for the European users.

So, this is an awkward moment. President Biden went in on the campaign trail saying that he was going to paint Saudi Arabia as a pariah state. The Saudis really expected the first year of the relationship with a new White House administration a year or so ago -- they expected it to be a tough ride. They didn't expect it to get this bad. Now they find themselves in a position of being a very valuable ally and partner not just in oil but on Iran and on fighting terrorism.

It is a long historic relationship. It goes back decades and decades. Both countries have come to rely on the sort of mutual benefits of this relationship. President Biden has painted himself as a -- as a president who wants to champion democracy and democratic values around the world. And yes, it doesn't really fit that picture.

But this is real politics and there's a necessity here for the two nations and President Biden, in particular, to put some of that behind him and face down his disagreements and disapproval of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. MBS is very likely going to be the leader of the most powerful nation in the Gulf Region for decades and decades to come, and that relationship with the United States is not something that either Saudi or the United States can afford to get wrong.

ROMANS: Yes, textbook real politics.

You know, the trip to Saudi Arabia has not yet been formally announced but you see it's already generating this criticism from Democrats, human rights advocates -- I mean, environmentalists, too, who are saying wait, why are we rushing off to the Middle East trying to beg for pumping more oil when that's not good for the climate long-term.

And also, Biden, as a candidate, said Saudi Arabia must, quote, "pay a price for its role" in that Khashoggi murder. The president going to get some grief from the left here, no question.

ROBERTSON: He's going to have to eat it. I mean, I think that's the real outcome here that he perhaps got ahead and lent out too far over his skis on what he said he was going to do to Saudi Arabia. And the geopolitics of today dictate that he cannot be as tough as he wanted to be.

You know, I was speaking with Saudi diplomats late last year not long after the Glasgow climate summit and they were saying look -- and I have to say at that point in time the relationship with the United States was in the doldrums with Saudi. I've never heard Saudi diplomats talking so despondently about that relationship.

And they were saying look, you know, we've come to this summit -- this climate summit. We've been pressed to cut back on our -- on our oil and gas production. Yet, here we are now being asked to increase it again.

But I think the reality -- and this is what I was getting from Saudi diplomats over the past couple of months -- is that they really wanted to repair the relationship. Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, went to Saudi Arabia. From the Saudis' perspective, that was about rebuilding the relationship with the White House. President Emmanuel Macron of France has been -- met with MBS as well in Saudi Arabia.

President Erdogan of Turkey went to Saudi Arabia and met with MBS. Big rapprochement for them. Let's not forget Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Turkey and Erdogan tried to use that as leverage over Saudi Arabia. And the Saudis were saying to me look, we'd like -- we would like our conversation with Erdogan as well to reflect that we want a new relationship. We want to get this relationship back on track with the United States. So, it's from both sides here.

But Biden -- yes, this is going to be a tough one for him but it's reality.

ROMANS: All right, Nic Robertson. Thanks for laying that out for us -- fascinating stuff. Thank you.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: New diplomatic developments could one day put President Biden and China's President Xi in the same room together.

Diplomats from the world's top two economies met for nearly five hours Monday. The talks could pave the way for a potential meeting between the two in the coming months. But disagreements on human rights, Taiwan, and China's military expansion have strained relations between Washington and Beijing.

ROMANS: Yes, another diplomatic relationship in the doldrums just like Nic Robertson was saying. And just yesterday, the Chinese called the United States a --

JARRETT: A bully.

ROMANS: -- big bully.

All right. Just in to CNN, new details on what President Biden plans to tell the American people about inflation and the bear market just hours from now. That's next.



ROMANS: All right. Just in to CNN, new details on what President Biden will say later today when he speaks about the economy at a union event in Philadelphia.

A White House official telling CNN moments ago the president will hammer the point that fighting inflation remains his top priority. He'll also outline the strength of the economy, including historically low unemployment rates. And he says there will be more work to do.

Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. Is this message going to get through here, you think -- I mean, to talk about gains made under infrastructure and his American Rescue Plan? I mean, are people going to feel better about the economy?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No. A presidential message can't make people feel better about the economy, but he has no alternative but to try to chip away with a political message in this midterm election year.

And the message he's going to offer to the AFL-CIO is one tailored to this political and economic moment. Organized labor is a receptive audience to his -- to the positive parts of the economy, which are job creation, low unemployment rates. Labor likes that.


But, of course, members of labor unions, like everyone else, is affected by inflation, which is a huge political problem for the president. You cannot talk your way out of that problem. But what you can do is try to say what you're doing about inflation and draw a contrast with Republicans.

And so, he's going to make this point I'm looking out from Scranton, Pennsylvania where I'm from. Of course, he's going to be in the state of Pennsylvania. And I'm not looking to help Wall Street. That's something that, clearly, Wall Street is in tune with because Wall Street is having a lot of problems with the inflation's impact on the economy and what the Fed is going to do about it.

And try to make the case that for real people, he's better than the alternative, and the alternative is Republicans. And he'll, of course, make the familiar arguments against Republicans who he says favor the rich. They are hostile to Medicare and Social Security, and they want to raise taxes on ordinary people.

That's the message he's going to offer and not likely to have a huge impact -- any one speech -- but he's going to chip away.

JARRETT: Another thing the White House is trying to chip away at if you will is this dust-up surrounding the president's age, which by all accounts sort of started with a call coming from inside the House -- or at least the old House.

David Axelrod, a political commentator here at CNN, we all know, wrote an op-ed essentially saying that Biden's age is a factor and that despite the White House's best efforts -- it's spinning on this that this is -- this is a real issue.

The White House then forced to address it, saying he is going to run in 2024. Sort of an odd thing to have to say.


JARRETT: Usually, it's sort of a given.

ROMANS: It goes without saying.

JARRETT: It goes without saying. But that's where we are.

Isn't this at least a legitimate discussion point?

HARWOOD: Of course, it is. Look, when you're 79 years old there's no getting around dealing with the issue of age. First of all -- any of us -- the older we get are more susceptible to health problems. And health problems, of course, are an issue for any president. Now, that doesn't mean it's the only factor but it's certainly a factor.

I would expect that President Biden would run for reelection as he says, barring more significant health problems than he's facing right now. He seems to be a reasonably healthy 79-year-old.

Republicans have tried to make the argument that he's not up to the job and that the problems that he's facing reflect that. Not up to it physically, not up to it mentally. I don't think there's any evidence for that. He certainly has political problems to deal with. I don't think they're mostly a function of his age.

But yes, he's going to have to answer that question. Nevertheless, he starts certainly within the Democratic Party in a strong position, as any incumbent president does, to claim that nomination. And there's no particular reason at the moment to think he's not the strongest Democratic president -- Democratic candidate for a general election.

ROMANS: David Frum, who knows a little bit about messaging -- he used to write speeches for George W. Bush -- he writes that a bad economy may not exactly spell doom for the president in terms of future reelection. He points out that Eisenhower in the '50s, Reagan in the '80s, both reelected after dealing with a recession.

What do you think about history here on Biden's side or against him if we're in a sort of different era here? I mean, the pessimism in the American public is so, so deep about gas prices and inflation, and just malaise at two years after going through this global health crisis. I mean, where -- how does that set Biden up?

HARWOOD: Well, it's not just Ronald Reagan. Almost every recent president has dealt with economic problems in the early part of their term that produced a very negative midterm for their party. But they --

ROMANS: Yes. Barack Obama, too.

HARWOOD: -- generally speaking -- exactly right. Barack Obama faced the aftermath of the Great Recession. It ended on his watch but he -- you had very high unemployment and Democrats got crushed in the 2010 midterm election.

Same with Bill Clinton. He took over -- there was an economic feeling of malaise. We weren't in recession when he became president but people were very concerned about the direction of the economy. He had a huge setback in the 1994 midterm elections. Republicans won the Congress. He couldn't get his legislative program passed.

So there's nothing unusual about a president having the kind of difficulties that Joe Biden is facing. And more often than not, they get healthier in the second two years of their term and have solid chances for reelection.

The challenge for Biden, of course, is if we go into recession, say, next year, that is not a good run-up to 2024. You need to have some economic growth as you are running for reelection.


So the economy had recovered for Ronald Reagan and was beginning to get much better in 1984.


HARWOOD: He won easily. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both had improving economies for their reelection years.

So the question is the economic direction. But I think overemphasizing this particular moment for Biden is to ignore the longer run of history which suggests that presidents can come back.

ROMANS: That's really fascinating.

JARRETT: All about timing. John Harwood --

ROMANS: And the history books.

John Harwood, thank you so much.

JARRETT: Thanks, John.

Just ahead for you, $250 million from Trump donors who bought into his claim that the election was stolen when it wasn't. So where did the money go?






ROMANS: That home swept right into the raging Yellowstone River. Right now, all five entrances to Yellowstone National Park are closed. Why? Record flooding and rock slides have swept through the entire park which spans Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

Power is out. Many roads are washed out or simply covered in mud. There have been days of unprecedented rainfall that could continue for several days.

All right, to sports now. The Golden State Warriors are now one win away from claiming their fourth NBA Championship in the last eight seasons.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hi, Andy.


So if I would have told you that Steph Curry, for the first time in 233 games, was not going to make it three and he was going to go 0-9, you would have probably thought that the Celtics were going to win game five. But that was not the case.

Boston -- they were down 16 early but battled all the way back to take the lead in the third quarter. Al Horford -- a big three here. In the closing seconds of that period Jordan Poole would come through with a three at the buzzer.

The Warriors up by one heading to the fourth quarter. And with Curry struggling, Andrew Wiggins picking up the slack. The former first overall pick with the game of his life. He scored 26 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and this dunk with two minutes to go had the home crowd going nuts.

Warriors win 104-94 despite Curry not making a three for the first time in his playoff career.


STEPH CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS GUARD: I don't think I've ever been happier after an 0 for whatever type of night. Just knowing the context of the game there's a fire burning and I wanted to make shots. But the rest of it is just about how you win a game, and we did that.

AL HORFORD, BOSTON CELTICS CENTER: Our backs are against the wall. We have to -- this is the time that we look at each other in the eyes and we've got to figure it out. We have an opportunity now and we've got to figure it out. There's no tomorrow for us.


SCHOLES: Yes, the Warriors can now win it all Thursday night in game six. That game back in Boston.

All right, the Phoenix Mercury, meanwhile, meeting with the State Department in D.C. yesterday to discuss the status of Brittney Griner's wrongful detention in Russia. The meeting lasted about an hour. It took place at the team's hotel.

Griner's been in custody for 117 days after being arrested at a Russia -- Russian airport back in February.

Teammate Diana Taurasi said there's a lot involved in trying to get Griner back home.


DIANA TAURASI, PHOENIX MERCURY GUARD: It was just nice to hear from the people at the very top knowing that they're working relentlessly. And we're here to do whatever we can to make sure we amplify and keep B.G. at the forefront of the things that we want to do, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that's going on in our lives. B.G. to come home safe as soon as possible is number one on all our lists.


SCHOLES: All right. Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, arriving at the U.S. Open outside of Boston yesterday. He didn't practice. He showed up to do his media session and then left. And when answering a variety of questions about leaving the PGA Tour for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, Phil said the word "respect" 16 times.


PHIL MICKELSON, 6-TIME MAJOR CHAMPION: Many people have strong opinions and emotions about my choice to go forward with LIV Golf, and I understand and I respect that.

I certainly respect him. I respect his ideas. I respect all the players that choose to stay on the PGA Tour.

I certainly him. I respect that -- I respect that.


SCHOLES: Yes, guys, it will certainly be interesting to see what kind of reception Phil gets on Thursday when he tees off at the U.S. Open.

ROMANS: Yes, drama in golf land.

OK, thank you so much. Nice to see you, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" starts right now.