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Biden Blames 'Congressional Inaction' For Fall of Ukrainian Town; VP Harris Returns From Munich, Heads To Michigan This Week; Trump Launches Sneaker Line Day After He Loses $355 Million Judgment. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 19, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. It is 5:30 here on the East Coast.

President Biden is laying the blame for the fall of a key Ukrainian town on Congress. Ukrainian troops were forced to withdraw from Avdiivka in the Donetsk region with Congress unable to pass a new aid package. President Biden blaming that pullout on a dwindling supply of ammunition that has been forcing Ukraine's military to ration supplies.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, the Ukrainian people fought so bravely and heroically. They put so much on the line. And the idea that now they're running out of ammunition, we'd walk away, I find it absurd. I find it unethical. I find it just contrary to everything we are as a country.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in CNN global affairs analyst Kim Dozier. Kim, good morning to you.

Can you help us understand the significance of the fall of this town, and help us also underscore why it is that the lack of American money has contributed to it?

KIM DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST (via Webex by Cisco): Sure. Avdiivka isn't a huge town. It isn't that strategic though taking it does free up roots into parts of Ukraine that Russia wants to take. But it is Russia's biggest territorial win in about nine months and it marks a change in momentum after we've had largely static lines after Ukraine's largely failed counteroffensive.

So one of the reasons that the Ukrainians had to pull out of this town is they're conserving their artillery ammunition. This is the kind of stuff that they lob that keeps the troops on the opposing side further away. It's a standoff weapon in the military term of art. Being the major manufacture of it or the country that can manufacture

it fastest and supply Ukraine is the United States. There are European countries that have signed deals with Ukraine to supply them more but it takes them minimum, a year -- up to 20 months to get an order off of the assembly line. The U.S. has most of the stocks that Ukraine needs right now. And basically, European -- Europe's defense industry -- they talked at the Munich Security Conference of needing five years to be able to stand alone without U.S. support and supply Ukraine and anyplace else that gets attacked.

HUNT: Yeah, it's a -- it's a very -- it's a stark reality when you put it that.

And Kim, the other thing about this, of course, is the backdrop of the death of Alexey Navalny in Russia. You know, I'm curious your perspective on why it was Putin thought -- you know, if we're going to say OK, Putin's responsible for this, as the President of the United States has said -- former President Donald Trump hasn't said anything -- we should note that. But clearly, he would have felt as though he could do this without the repercussions being such that it would be damaging to him.

I mean, why did he think that, what's the calculation, and what's the fallout?

DOZIER: Look, from Putin's perspective, every single Western leader who clucks at him and is indignant over the death of Alexander Navalny is just one more sign of what he sees as the West's inability to change his actions.

As the West has trouble supplying Ukraine, which it says is so important to the fate of democracy, it's actually Moscow that secured its supply lines for ammunition and on lethal aid from places like China and North Korea to keep prosecuting its weapons with Ukraine -- against Ukraine.


And also, the U.S. still needs Russia for things like enriching nuclear uranium. We have no other source to run our nuclear plants than Russia. So in a sense, Russia has the U.S. and other Western countries over a barrel in terms of energy. And it's increasingly creating alliances and economic networks that mean it doesn't need to care about whatever sanctions the U.S. lays upon it.

HUNT: Yeah.

Kim, how do you understand the affinity for Russia -- arguably, for Putin? I mean, Liz Cheney called it the Putin wing of the Republican Party. How do you understand that from the national security side of things? I mean, I -- you know, I certainly cover it from a political perspective but sometimes I have trouble -- your world is slightly different than mine. How do you understand it from the perspective you bring to it?

DOZIER: Well, I mean, from your world, the reality you laid out that some of the lawmakers who voted for Ukrainian aid might get primaried shows that there is a wing of the Republican Party that seems very open to Russia expanding its influence and its authoritarianism.

And the way European diplomats I speak to explain that is they see Russian politicians -- they see American politicians, sorry, parodying the same disinformation that they see people in Europe parodying when they've absorbed things on TikTok and things on various other outlets of social media that are pro-Russian.

One of the things that Russia is able to do is throw a lot of different versions of something that happened into the information space and confuse people. But one of the other things they do is make themselves look strong against the United States. Make the U.S. look like a bully. And the strange thing is to watch U.S. politicians eating that up and then parodying the same sort of slogans that you're hearing in part of Europe that are starting to go pro-Russia as well.

HUNT: Really interesting.

All right, Kim Dozier for us this morning. Kim, thank you very much.

All right. This week, Vice President Kamala Harris is going to be back in the crucial swing state of Michigan. She is focused on reproductive rights. The visit is the second to the state in just a month.

And it comes after her high-profile trip to Munich. She spent the past weekend trying to reassure European allies and embracing the sudden opportunity to be the most prominent American voice on the world stage as news broke of Alexey Navalny's death.

This as Harris tells reporters she is, quote, "ready to serve" and has been taking on more responsibility for some of the Biden campaign's most central political issues.

Let's bring in CNN's Isaac Dovere. He's been reporting on Harris' quiet effort to shape the Biden reelection campaign.

Isaac, I read your story over the weekend --

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning.

HUNT: -- with great interest. Thank you so much for coming in to talk about it. Because, basically, you report that she's been convening these salons -- groups of Democrats who are, the critics would say, bedwetting about the state of the Biden campaign but who are anxious about it, right? And she says -- you report that they're trying to break through the bubble, is the word, of Biden campaign thinking.

Can you explain what's going on there?

DOVERE: Yeah. Look, she's been having these meetings -- a lot of them at the Naval Observatory -- at her residence, but also at Eva Longoria's house in Los Angeles at one point in December, on Air Force Two, on the sidelines of the White House Christmas party for members of Congress. Trying to talk to people and say what's really happening out on the ground? How is what we're doing in the Biden-Harris campaign coming across? What's working? What's not working?

She's been hearing a lot of complaints about what's not working and people saying that there needs to be some real shift in both the responsiveness that they're getting from the campaign and some of the ways that they're talking about this.

A big focus of what she's been talking about is outreach to Black men and has had a bunch of celebrities from the entertainment world of Black men come see her. Also, political and financial leaders among Black men.

But she's also been talking, for example, last week -- last Saturday, at the Naval Observatory, she had a meeting with six Democratic governors from around the country and there was a lot of talk about the way abortion rights have been talked about by the Biden administration -- the Biden campaign.

The way that they feel like the president needs to go more on offense in talking about immigration and what the Republicans did by not going forward with the bipartisan-negotiated bill.

HUNT: Very interesting.

So you mentioned Black men. Charlamagne tha God was on a Sunday show over the weekend and he talked a little bit in this interview about what potentially Harris could bring to the table with that group. I want -- I want to show you a little bit about what he had to say.

DOVERE: Um-hum.



CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD, HOST, SIRIUS XM, "THE BREAKFAST CLUB": There is things that she could say that I feel like he can't. And, I mean, man, we all remember her in those Senate hearings when she was pressing those people. When she was, like, really on -- she was prosecuting these people. And I want to see her prosecute the case against Donald Trump in this country.

I feel like she could go out there and really let the American people know what's going on. I'd like to see her going on outlets like Fox News. I'd like to see her going in there and mixing it up.


HUNT: So, Isaac, what's the perception in the White House? Do they think Charlamagne tha God is right about that? Because I've always sensed that there's been some nervousness, a little bit, around putting Kamala Harris out there.

DOVERE: Well, there has, certainly, because she's had a bunch of high-profile fumbles. One of the things though that she's talked about in these meetings is -- she says she doesn't think that she and President Biden are going to lose to Donald Trump. What she worries about is that they're going to lose to the couch. What she means by that is that people are just not going to be feeling enthused enough about going to vote for Biden and they'll stay home. And the Republican support or the support for Donald Trump will be there and that will be enough to carry him to victory.

That's the thing that the White House and the Biden campaign is really struggling with here and that she has been trying to say we need to change things up to get people connected to what we're trying to talk about.

A big part of what's going on here is, importantly, she's not scheming about this. She is really just trying to make sure that she and Biden get reelected. That Donald Trump does not get reelected.

HUNT: Yeah.

Isaac, how did that go over in the White House? We actually can put that quote that you mentioned up on the screen.

"Harris often says in one-on-one conversations in smaller group gatherings described by CNN -- to CNN by two dozen people she doesn't worry Biden will lose to Trump, but she does worry about to the couch."

Is saying that out loud in -- is that something that the Biden team is happy to hear from her? Did that cause any ruffled feathers? Do they agree with her?

DOVERE: Well, look, the Biden campaign -- the inner circle around Biden does not tend to love when people criticize them. They try to -- they tend to say we're always criticized and look what happens. Joe Biden keeps on winning. We're always underestimated.

But one of the things that in this piece, as you mentioned, is a feeling from a lot of the people who have been in these meetings -- and there's a quote from one of them who says the bedwetting complaints are running thin. This idea that everybody's saying that there's something going wrong with the Biden campaign is just making things up or just complaining for the sake of it.

A lot of people -- a lot of leading Democrats around the country -- many of them in these meetings, but not just them -- are feeling like there is not enough energy behind the Biden campaign. There's not enough going on to really grapple with what this election year is going to be. And, of course, we're only at the very beginning of it. We're not even into March and the election is all the way in November.

HUNT: Indeed, but that's going to come faster than anybody thinks.

CNN's Isaac Dovere. Thanks very much for being with us this morning, Isaac. I really appreciate it.

DOVERE: Thanks.

HUNT: All right. Up next, why some political insiders believe Nikki Haley may be the best thing to happen to Joe Biden. And, Donald Trump's side hustle. The former president now a shoe




HUNT: Welcome back.

If there are any sneaker-heads among you watching right now you might have missed an opportunity to purchase some politically significant footwear. Appearing at Sneaker Con, in Philadelphia, over the weekend, the former president, Donald Trump, announced he is launching a sneaker line. The shoes -- you can see them there on the podium -- here they are up close -- The "Never Surrender" high-top sneaker.

This came just one day after a judge ordered Trump to pay nearly $255 million in his New York civil fraud trial.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is something I've been talking about for 12 years, 13 years and I think it's going to be a big success. That's the real deal. That's the real deal.


HUNT: Those sneakers, priced at $399, apparently sold out within hours.

Let's bring in Julia Manchester. She is national political reporter for The Hill. Julia, good morning.

There is a lot going on in what we just showed -- the former president going to Sneaker Con. The room apparently pretty divided. He's not usually in situations --


HUNT: -- where some people are booing him the way, apparently, that happened.

The Associated Press reported that occasionally, the smell of weed wafted through the room as Trump sold these sneakers.

What's he doing here?

MANCHESTER: Yeah -- certainly, not a traditional room for Trump to be in. And I would say it really shows how politicized the Trump brand has become over the past decade-plus years.

Look, in terms of what he's doing, I don't think it's a surprise. We do know that Donald Trump has been trying to profit off of his name and likeness for years now. We know that last year he began selling those NFT trading cards. I think this is certainly a continuation of it. Now, the website where these sneakers are sold on, along with other products like Trump cologne -- it says that this is not connected to his reelection campaign or the Trump Organization.

But I thought it was interesting how the former president talked about maybe this is a way to reach younger consumers. Maybe younger voters.

But like I said, I think the Trump brand has become very divisive, whether you like him or hate him. So it's hard to say how successful this venture will ultimately be.

HUNT: Indeed.

So one of the things, of course -- one of the questions -- could these things be used potentially to pay mounting legal fees, right? So his super PACs have spent over $50 million of contributors' money on legal expenses in 2023.


One of Trump's surrogates, the former presidential candidate and current senator Tim Scott, was on the Sunday shows over the weekend. He was asked about this and there's kind of a lot going on in this exchange. Take a look.


ROBERT COSTA, MODERATOR, CBS "FACE THE NATION": When it comes to former President Trump, Sen. Scott, do you believe the RNC -- the Republican National Committee -- should be involved in paying his legal expenses, which are mounting?

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): I can only tell you that without any question, when you look at the two-tiered justice system that we have that I just reinforced, I think it's important for us to note that without any question, the American people are very concerned about how that would impact their lives. The American people aren't asking the questions about legal challenges. The American people are asking questions about economic challenges.


HUNT: So, didn't answer the question directly there but does buy into this two-tiered justice system line that the former president has been pushing.

It is -- it's an awkward -- it's an awkward question, right? Should the Republican National Committee, which is responsible for getting Republicans elected, be paying legal fees? I mean, I suppose it is something that could help him -- the presidency -- get Trump elected to the presidency. But this is an unprecedented situation that the country -- the committee is facing.

MANCHESTER: It really is. And look, I mean, if the -- it's going to make it harder on the RNC if they have to not only raise money to run ads and run a ground operation to support the nominee but also compete with the DNC. We know that the DNC has been successfully fundraising over the past couple of cycles. They will continue to build off of that. So it seems like the RNC is juggling there.

But Kasie, one other thing that I thought was very interesting about what Sen. Scott said there is that he's absolutely right the American people want to be talking about economic issues and those kitchen table issues. But the problem for the Trump campaign in his reelected bid is that if he's continuing to have to make these courtroom appearances -- to have to -- you know, continuing to vent and complain about the decisions that are made in these courtrooms, that's already distracting from those economic issues.

So this may work in a primary to galvanize his base. However, in the general, if Joe Biden is going out there talking about the economy and the economy continues to show signs of growth, that's going to be an issue for Donald Trump if he's wrapped up with his legal issues.

HUNT: And, of course, Trump, let's not forget, has suggested that he doesn't want a recession on his watch, which is something that the Biden team has embraced and used in criticizing them further.

Julia Manchester of The Hill. Julia, thanks very much for being with us.

MANCHESTER: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: Just ahead here, a man who makes Shaq look small. The Bleacher Report up next.



HUNT: The East topped the West in the highest-scoring NBA All-Star Game ever.

Andy Scholes live in Indianapolis with this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, good morning, Kasie.

You know, if you love a lot of offense and not much defense, the NBA All-Star Game is certainly for you. And fitting in a season where teams are scoring more points than they have since 1968. We had the highest-scoring All-Star Game ever.

Now, the game was back here in Indianapolis for the first time in nearly 40 years. And the Pacers' Tyrese Haliburton giving those hometown fans plenty to cheer about in this one. He was red-hot making five threes in the first quarter. He would score 32 points in the game.

And LeBron starting in his record 20th-straight All-Star Game and getting the oohs and the aahs from the crowd a couple of times with some monster slams.

Now, Karl-Anthony Towns -- he had a fantastic game. He scored a game- high 50 for the West.

But it was Dame time all weekend here in Indy. A day after winning his second-straight three-point contest, Damian Lillard remained red hot. He made 11 threes from all over the court, scored 39 points, and was named the game's MVP as the East would win the highest-scoring All- Star Game ever 211-186.


DAMIAN LILLARD, 2024 NBA ALL-STAR GAME MVP: People who are fans at a game -- you know, they love it. They enjoy being entertained. And that's the kind of game that it's going to be. I think 200 is a lot to be scored. It just shows that we didn't go out there and compete like I guess you would -- you would want us to or whoever would want us to. But I think that's just what it is. Guys are talented and make a lot of shots. We hit a lot of threes and that was it.


SCHOLES: Now, the highlight of the weekend came Saturday when we had the first-ever battle of the sexes 3-point contest. Steph Curry taking on the WNBA's Sabrina Ionescu. And this was awesome. Sabrina shooting from the NBA 3-point line scoring a 26. But Steph just proving once again why he's the best shooter of all time. He would get hot late and win with a score of 29.

And I asked Steph afterwards if he was feeling the pressure after Sabrina put up such a good score.


STEPH CURRY, 10-TIME NBA ALL-STAR: It added a lot of pressure, for sure. And we just wanted to get it off to a good start and settle in. And thankfully, I made enough to get over the top. But that was perfect the way -- I mean, great entertainment and great shooting.

SABRINA IONESCU, 2-TIME WNBA ALL-STAR: I think it's going to show a lot of young kids out there -- a lot of people who might have not believed or even watched women's sports that we're able to go out there and put on a show. And so, it was really exciting to finally be able to do this. And like Steph said, it happened perfectly.



SCHOLES: Yeah. And if you're wondering how big Victor Wembanyama is, take a look at him meeting Shaq over the weekend. Wemby just towering over him, Kasie. Whenever I stand next to -- next to Shaq I feel like he's the biggest human being ever. But Wemby just looking down at him. Just incredible how big Wemby is.

HUNT: Unbelievable. Wow. Look at those two. That's crazy.

All right, Andy. Thank you very much. It sounds like you had a great weekend. I really appreciate -- SCHOLES: Yeah.

HUNT: -- your time this morning. I'll see you tomorrow.

Thanks to all of you for joining us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.