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Zelenskyy: Russia's Attack On Mariupol "Is An Act Of Terror"; Putin Vows To Rid Russia Of "Traitors" While Fighting War In Ukraine; Zelenskyy Addresses U.S., Canadian, German Governments; Senate Confirmation Hearings For Judge Jackson Begin Monday; Leaders To Assess Ukraine Conflict At NATO Meeting This Week. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired March 20, 2022 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): Russia's death toll in the thousands, as Ukrainian cities are decimated and Mariupol now under siege. Can anyone win this war?
VITALI KLITSCHKO, KYIV MAYOR: We defend our children, family, our buildings, our city, and our future -- future of Ukraine.
PHILLIP: A two-hour call with China's president and an emergency summit with NATO leaders.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: I wish you being the leader of the world, being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.
PHILLIP: Is there a path to cease-fire?
Plus, Putin's mindset, a soviet-style rally and a Stalin-esque warning.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): They will try to bet on the so-called Fifth Column, on traitors, on those who earn their money here but live over there.
PHILLIP: Is the Russian leader fighting a two-front war?
PHILLIP: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Abby Phillip.
As we enter week four of the war in Ukraine, it has reached a stalemate, with Russia making only marginal gains, but increasingly targeting civilians.
We begin with the latest brutal attack this morning, local officials in the besieged city of Mariupol say an art school being used as a shelter was being bombed by Russian forces. Officials say 400 people were inside and there is no word yet on the number of casualties.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is calling for peace without delay and said the world's eyes are on Mariupol.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENSKYY (through translator): The besieged Mariupol will go down in history as an example of the responsibility for war crimes. What the occupiers have done to Mariupol is an act of terror that will be remembered for centuries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: The international community is increasingly worried about Vladimir Putin's savage attacks and President Biden heads to Brussels this week to sit down with NATO allies about that very subject. He and his fellow leaders hope to unveil a package of new measures that are aimed at punishing Russia, helping Ukraine, and demonstrating western unity.
But other than a show of solidarity, it is still unclear what the leaders can do to stop Russia's unprovoked war in Ukraine and get the Russian president to the negotiating table.
But joining us now, from Ukraine, in the city of Dnipro is CNN's international correspondent Ivan Watson.
Russian troops have bombarded the city of Mariupol, as we were just saying, targeting civilians in recent days. And, Ivan, I know that you are at a facility where families who have just evacuated that city are coming now. What are you seeing and hearing where you are?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this is a very improvised shelter, for around 40 people right now, who have all fled the siege, the Russian siege of Mariupol. This is normally kind of a kids' entertainment center and it runs laser tag and on Sunday would probably have birthday parties.
But as you can see, we have families who have been eating kind of donated food here and taking shelter after enduring horrific, horrific ordeal in their home city, where people have described living for weeks, hiding in the basements of their buildings, under constant Russian bombardment, without electricity, without heat, without running water.
Just to give you a flavor of how people are sheltering here, you know, kids would normally be playing here instead people --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sleeping.
WATSON: Somebody's sleeping, I may have been too loud, I'm afraid.
The people that have spoken with have described melting snow, and then boiling water to have drinking water, collecting water from gutters, to try to have some water. And having to cook with wood scavenged from trees out on the street because again there is no electricity inside. One man I've spoken with described helping to bury three of his neighbors who were killed by a Russian artillery shell in the courtyard of their building, having to bury them in that courtyard right there.
Now, CNN has spoken with a commander, a Ukrainian military commander who has been defending the city from the siege. Take a listen to what he sent us a day ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJOR DENIS PROKOPENKO, UKRAINIAN NATIONAL GUARD AZOV REGIMENT: People are cooking food in the streets, risking their lives under the continued shellings and bombing as the temperature is minus 5 degrees Celsius.
Killing civilians, the amount grows every day, now it is more than 3,000, but nobody knows the exact amount because people are buried together, the same dump, with no names, many bodies just outside the streets without being buried. Some people are under the ruined buildings buried alive. Ukrainian army is trying to help civilians with food and water, but it is not enough.
There is no safety places for people in Mariupol. The missiles of the enemy are attacking the houses and people are dying there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WATSON: Now, if families have escaped in this case the folks here have gotten out with their own vehicles, driving through Russian military front lines, many of them have left grandparents and parents behind who are still enduring daily nightly bombardment, hiding in basements, by candlelight.
This is a modern-day siege of a port city that had a population of more than 400,000 people before Russia launched its deadly invasion of Ukraine, which the Russian government to this day refuses to call a war. They officially call this a special military operation that has made millions homeless -- Abby.
PHILLIP: And left hundreds dead. It is so heartbreaking to see the children behind you. But for the time being, they are safe.
Ivan Watson, thank you for being with us this morning.
And joining us now, to break down what is happening on the ground is CNN's international correspondent Alex Marquardt, just back from Ukraine. Susan Glasser, of "The New Yorker". And Tom Nichols of "The Atlantic," who is also professor at the U.S. Naval War College.
What is going on in Mariupol is absolutely horrific. And it seems like it is not ending anytime soon. Is this a foreshadowing of what could -- what could be to come for Kyiv or is this the Russian strategy, maybe, finally get a hold of the south, and maybe limit their military ambitions to that area where they had a little bit more success militarily?
TOM NICHOLS, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, two problems here. One is if they bombard Kyiv, then the whole rational for this operation just goes away. The idea here was that it was supposed to be liberating Kyiv, not destroying it. I think the reason that he's pushing harder in the south is that he has a natural military advantage there. Putin's and his forces have a natural military advantage and they're trying to siege it to create that land bridge.
But that's also necessary for them to try encircle Kyiv, which I think is going to be the attempt, but I'm not sure they can do it.
PHILLIP: One of the scary things just in the last 24 hour, reports of kidnappings of Ukrainians into Russia. What do you think is going on there?
ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Forced displacement. This was from the Mariupol city council, we learned yesterday that they're claiming that thousands of residents have been forced to go into Russia, many of them into camps where they say their phones and documents were checked and others, they simply don't know the location. So that's absolutely terrifying and obviously drudges up all kinds of memories of World War II.
We know in the past few weeks the Russians have been creating these humanitarian corridors, but into Russia and into Belarus, which is not where the residents of Mariupol and other places want to go. To your earlier question, abbey, Mariupol is a key prize to the Russian military and whatever happens in the north and around Kyiv, it would to emphasize Tom's point allow Russia to create that stretch of land across the south, a band from Crimea, which is already annexed eight years ago, of course, to western Russia and essentially create that land bridge in a way that Russia, whatever happens elsewhere, would be able to maintain an occupation there, able to cut off Ukraine from the Sea of Azov.
So that's why we're seeing such fierce bombardment, such a ferocious siege of that city. But it also does explain why we're seeing the bombardment of civilian areas elsewhere because they had been stymied by the Ukrainian military, not just Mariupol, but elsewhere. You expect to see the same tactics as they're frustrated in Kyiv and elsewhere for the Russians to use those same tactics on civilian areas that we are now seeing on Mariupol.
PHILLIP: I mean, some people have suggested that Putin -- that a way out of this for Putin might be for him to say, you know, we have connected, you know, these separatist regions in the south, and we have created this sort of land bridge to Russia and that might be good enough for him. What do you think of the prospects he would be satisfied with the limited, you know, military objective being reached, but not the political one, which is the toppling of the government in Kyiv?
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah. I mean, look, he's achieved none of his objectives so far, and remember this is a campaign that clearly was designed for a sort of, you know, Blitzkrieg-like attack that would topple the government.
It seems though the problem we have seen is this Vladimir Putin has an almost messianic approach to the war. He is really in the destroy Ukraine in order to save it approach, and unfortunately, it's not just that he's stymied and he's resorting to these tactics. This is the Russian and before it the Soviet playbook for war which is to attack civilians, to create terror, it is a tactic you're bringing in the artillery and bombarding cities, that was part of the plan because that's what the artillery is there for, that's what Russians have done in Grozny, it is what they have done in Aleppo, it is what they're doing now in Ukraine.
So it is very hard when you have Vladimir Putin in a stadium of, you know, cheering throngs, saying that Ukraine is not a real country and that we're denazifying it, we're only going to denazify the Nazis in Mariupol? Unfortunately, the president of Russia has outlined a very maximalist approach to this war.
PHILLIP: It seems to suggest, right, that he wouldn't take a half loaf.
So, Tom, you argued that the most important thing, perhaps, is for NATO to really stay out of something broader. But does that mean that Putin's -- all of Putin's escalations will likely go unchallenged?
NICHOLS: Well, they're being challenged by the Ukrainians and with the Ukrainians being with arms from the West, and fairly successfully. I think Susan's point about Putin not achieving any of his strategic objectives here is really important. That this whole idea was that in two or three or four days, Ukraine was going to be the -- just another province of the Russian federation and that's not going to happen no matter what.
The question is what the next escalation is. He's already gone to atrocities and war crimes. Now is he going to try to widen the war to bring in NATO, or to use unconventional weapons of some kind, that is, I think, what we're all waiting to see.
PHILLIP: If that happens, if it is -- we're talking nuclear, tactical nuclear weapons or chemical weapons, then what?
GLASSER: You know, there is dead silence and there is rarely dead silence, I think, from a group like this because, you know, the real fear is that nobody has a playbook, there is no plan right now. First of all, we have gone very far up the escalation ladder in terms of sanctions and economic measures already. So it is hard to see how you can cut off Russia way more than it already is being cut off from the rest of the world, you know?
But demands, the political demands on President Biden and on European leaders will be overwhelming for a real show of force in response to use of chemical weapons or other kinds of escalatory attacks.
PHILLIP: There are some political concerns for the Ukrainian president, for Zelenskyy, you were just in Ukraine, what do you think his options are in terms of de-escalating this crisis, what would the Ukrainian people even accept at this point? They have put up a big fight.
MARQUARDT: Yeah, Putin hasn't achieved his objectives and there is no sense that he's backing down from any of these maximalist demands. But we're at this -- we're at this stalemate now, where you hear Russia saying we want Ukrainian neutrality. We want Ukrainian demilitarization, we want recognition of those breakaway republics and recognition that Crimea is actually Russian.
What's really interesting now is we don't know where these negotiations stand between the Russians and the Ukrainians, it is all very opaque, neither side is saying much, we heard some positive noises, we heard President Zelenskyy indicating there might be some wiggle room, particularly when it comes to the question of neutrality, whether to join NATO.
Zelenskyy knows that Ukraine is not going to join NATO anytime soon. But at the same time, he can't recognize Crimea as Russian. He's not going to very easily recognize those republics as independent because that would be surrendering, that would be giving away a huge chunk of his country, and why would he do that right now?
His forces are actually doing quite well. They're keeping the Russians at bay in a way that we certainly did not expect. He has the world support, he's getting all this weaponry from the West, and he has been built up into this hero.
So, we are this stalemate because for all the failures that we have seen of the Russian military, they have so much more that they can throw at the Ukrainians, even well before you get to any of those really, really scary types of weapons like thermo baric or nuclear or anything like that, there so much more they can do because of the quantities of men and weaponry that they have.
PHILLIP: Right, they may not be winning, but losing can go on for quite a long time.
Coming up next for us, what we know about Vladimir Putin's mindset and what he might do next.
PHILLIP: The world got a fascinating and perhaps terrifying look into the Russian leader's mindset this week from a Stalin-esque speech where he called his own people traitors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PUTIN (through translator): They will try to bet on the so-called fifth column, on traitors, on those who earn their money here but live over there, live not in the geographical sense, but in the way they think, with the mindset of a slave. (END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: To this Soviet-style pro-war propaganda rally at a packed Moscow stadium on Friday and several Russians tell CNN that authorities actually pressured people to attend the event, where Putin justified the invasion of Ukraine in front of a banner that read "For a world without Nazism" and perhaps without irony.
Putin is in his own world, of course. But this -- both of those speeches, the one sort of at his desk and the one at this rally, what do you think it says about where his head is at on all of this?
GLASSER: You know, Abby, I have to say, like, in 20 years of watching Vladimir Putin and his speeches, I have never seen anything like what we saw this week. It is an echo not only of the Soviet Union, but of, you know, he's marrying like pre-imperial, pre-Soviet Russian empire rhetoric, there are elements of Hitler-like race war in this.
And, you know, again, I mean, you know, think about this happening in 2022. Vladimir Putin has never given a speech like this. The elements are common. He's launched wars before. He's had, you know, great intolerance for the West before. But we have never seen, I think, a campaign of domestic repression that he's unleashing in concert with his war of aggression outside of the country.
MARQUARDT: It also shows he's, you know, he's trying to show he's got popular support. This is in Moscow's biggest stadium, Luzhniki, and, you know, we have seen him at the desk where he's been, you know, making these grand proclamations and telling these stories, but it shows a certain level of care about how it is being perceived by the Russian people and I think that's what we're all trying to figure out as well.
PHILLIP: It does matter.
MARQUARDT: Yes, it does. And there is -- this is why we don't have, you know, accurate numbers of how many Russian troops have been killed because he's afraid that there could be a negative response from the population. Obviously, he's conditioning the obviously he's conditioning the population to support the war because he's cracked way down on the type of information that they're actually getting.
And -- but it is breaking through. Susan and I both lived in Moscow, we speak to people who still live there. People are devastated and feeling the link between the war and the sanctions and how it is affecting their normal lives. So that is something that, you know, the popular support for the war is something that Putin has to keep a close eye on.
NICHOLS: But there is one other aspect to this, that sometimes gets missed in the west, and that's the interlocutor with the Orthodox Church. That Putin speeches sound like the speeches from the Russian patriarch.
NICHOLS: The patriarch head of Russia is supporting this war. It's caused a huge division in the orthodox world, which is normally something here in the west that is transparent to us.
I mean, aside from the kind of acrid stench of fascism that is starting to come off the speeches, there is also a real appeal here to these very conservative religious --
PHILLIP: Religious, like in the U.S., you know, we would -- there are some Christian nationalists here who identify with what Putin is doing in Russia.
GLASSER: That's right. But to say, I mean, this is what is so extraordinary, why I say that it is destroying Ukraine in order to save it. So he's saying that these are our brothers, and then he's ordering had his troops to kill their brothers, number one.
Number two, I think we should point out the unbelievable and outrageous rhetoric of denazification, you know, to go against a country that is run by a Jewish president, that is fighting what by all accounts is almost a right wing fascist movement that has come to attack their country.
PHILLIP: His bastardization of, you know, World War II history, for his propaganda use in Ukraine is amazing.
But, I mean, Tom, I'm curious what do you think is the historical analogy for what Putin is trying to do right now?
NICHOLS: Well, it is easy to draw the 1939 analogy, right, that Putin is going to -- he's a dictator on the march, he's trying to take over other countries. I'm a little more worried about the 1914 analogy, which is that this is a country expecting a little war, it would be over quickly, no need to get seriously invested in it and run huge risks and now the whole thing has unraveled into a complete mess, bungled.
Apparently, there are reports now he's starting to go after people in his own defense ministry, his own security services, looking for the people that he can punish for this. That analogy worries me more because I don't think he has given any thought to anything beyond his original plan of capturing Ukraine. And when you don't have a plan B, you start improvising very violently.
PHILLIP: Is there any chance there was a two-hour call with Xi Jinping. Is there really any hope that he will weigh in a constructive way to pull Putin back from the brink that he created for himself?
GLASSER: Well, it's is an uncomfortable new timing for a partnership between Beijing and Moscow this 5,000-word manifesto, this embrace of a no limits partnership between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, literally took place weeks before the war began, right at the beginning of the Beijing Olympics.
[08:25:14] It is hard to see Xi Jinping reversing himself on the other hand, as much as there is a cost to China as well of this enormous global disruption. It is not like the Chinese to say, well, never mind about Russia. So, you know, I can imagine there might be behind the scenes pressure, obviously the Biden administration is hoping that that's a message that is getting through, even if, you know, we're not going to see the Chinese turning course.
But there is no sign whatsoever right now that this is, you know, going to be an abrupt about face or any kind of public pressure from the Chinese on Moscow.
MARQUARDT: It is a fascinating moment, though, isn't it, a real test for China. They have -- there is no question, I think that they are supportive of Russia in this, and it comes on the heels of that major declaration of unlimited partnership. But at the same time, we have to -- it remains to be seen to what extent China will materially support this war in Ukraine, and if they don't, then it certainly speaks volumes as to how they are seeing it, how they might be seeing this Russian misadventure, and it really is -- it is a moment that needs to be watched carefully.
PHILLIPS: So, for the folks at home, I mean, the reason this matters is because China has the ability to sort of give Putin a soft landing here. Russia is facing an enormous amount of sanctions, but something else happened this week on another front, Syria President Bashar al Assad, showed up at UAE as if nothing happened. He is a true international pariah.
But it's almost as if the passage of time, not just that, these sort of dictators, they have ways to kind of skirt around the West trying to punish them. Is what we're really facing here with Putin, potentially having a way out of this through China?
NICHOLS: The bad guys have learned the lesson, which is survive long enough and we all get used to it. We all just get used to -- I mean, seems like yesterday we were all saying, Assad must go. Apparently Assad must go on a tour.
GLASSER: And you're absolutely right, that this is a lesson of Vladimir Putin has learned. He would not have invaded Ukraine today if there had been a different response to Assad, if there had been a different response to Putin's own previous aggression.
Remember that after Putin illegally annexed Crimea, the World Cup was hosted in Moscow. Okay? You know, Vladimir Putin has a basis for thinking that the world would be okay.
There is a president of the United States, the previous president of the United States who essentially endorsed Putin's annexation, despite his own government and the U.S. government, the Trump administration being against it, Donald Trump repeatedly said in private, and even in public that he thought it was okay that Crimea was taken over because those people wanted to be Russian anyway.
So Vladimir Putin has a basis for thinking that the world might forgive and if not forgive at least forget his excesses.
PHILLIP: Sad, but it's probably true. Thank you all so much for being here.
And coming up next for us, Ukraine's president is asking for more assistance as Russia bombards his country. But what more will and can the U.S. do?
PHILLIP: Speaking from his besieged country, Ukraine's president pleaded for more aid. He appealed to the 1.5 Ukrainian-Canadians and asked German lawmakers what happened to never forget. And to the American people and the U.S. Congress he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Remember September 11th, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories in battlefields.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: That speech earned bipartisan praise, standing ovations and emotional reactions. But Republicans turned it into a political cudgel against President Biden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR BEN SASSE (R-NE): What the administration is going to be telling us, should be telling us is what their plan is to help the Ukrainians win. If it shoots, we should ship it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: Six days earlier, Sasse and 30 other Senate Republicans voted against a bill that would have included $13.6 billion for Ukrainian military aid and humanitarian assistance.
Joining us now Seung Min Kim of the "Washington Post", CNN's Phil Mattingly, and Julie Davis of the "New York Times".
This Zelenskyy speech was obviously a major moment, I mean probably in history, let's be honest. But here in the United States, there was bipartisan support. There's a lot of bipartisan support for the U.S. reaction to Ukraine. But you almost wouldn't know it based on the reaction from some Republicans on Capitol Hill.
SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Right. Well, it's been really interesting to watch over the course of the last three weeks where right at the start, at the end of February when the conflict began, you did see this kind of almost rally around the commander in chief effect, even on Capitol Hill when Republicans are kind of going after President Biden at every turn. But I think as the conflict goes on -- you do see partisanship and the fissures -- and the partisanship fissures kind of come into that and a lot of what we saw this week was a lot of that messaging coming from Republicans. Republicans have said for some time and are escalating their criticism saying the president is not going far enough.
The White House is responding and saying like well, you didn't support our request for additional aid to Ukraine. So I feel that, you know, again as long as this conflict goes on that you are going to see more and more of these sharp attacks from Republicans.
PHILLIP: And it is this pattern of, you know, on energy prices, for example, on gas prices, they want, you know, stronger energy sanctions. But they also want to run on high gas prices. So I mean the White House is looking at this and they're like this is not in good faith.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're saying might be political?
PHILLIP: Maybe. Maybe.
MATTINGLY: In terms of messaging --
MATTINGLY: -- look. I mean to some degree, it's I think one of the more kind of absurd ideas or things we have seen over the course of the last several weeks was you need to go much further on energy sanctions, despite the fact that that would break up the unified front that they put together in terms of the international coalition. But also we are going to yell at you about gas prices being extraordinarily high while we want that. And that's again -- that's basic economics that's only going to drive gas prices higher.
I do think though from the White House perspective, while there's frustration about those attacks, the gas price issue in particular -- energy prices in particular is a huge domestic issue. There's no question about it.
MATTINGLY: And while President Biden attempted to kind of lay the groundwork for this, there was going to be pain, you are going to be feeling feel this, when gas prices were $4.30, $4.40 depending on where you are in the country, even higher, that is a major political problem.
And it's why you're seeing -- you saw the administration this week kind of get into a secure message of, these are Putin's price hikes or this is because of the oil and gas companies, which Democrats have started to rally around.
But the reality is, while the economic team is working a lot behind the scenes to come up with any number of potential domestic ideas here, it's an international issue. It's a global commodity. It's priced as such. That is why you have seen a lot of behind-the-scenes work trying to get Saudi Arabia and UAE in particular to boost their supply prices. That's the biggest answer in terms of prices, not anything they can do about it --
PHILLIP: And here is that -- here is the tweet from the White House basically blaming the oil and gas companies saying oil and gas companies shouldn't pad their profits at the expense of hard working Americans. I mean will that work?
JULIE DAVIS, "NEW YORK TIMES": I mean it's kind of their only option right now, right, given all of what Phil explained about how this issue is just sort of baked in the cake of economics and what we're seeing happen geopolitically.
Republicans are going to continue to use this. They were already hitting Joe Biden on gas prices before this conflict broke out and made things worse. They're going to continue to do that. So the best that the White House can hope to do and the best that Democrats can hope for ahead of the midterms is to try to contextualize this for Americans.
They feel it. People -- voters know that their gas prices are up. And they're not happy about it. Who are they going to blame for it? They're going to try to frame the issue as a Republican attack line that really doesn't have much substance behind it. Remains to be seen whether that will work when people are really feeling it in their pocketbook.
PHILLIP: So out of political fight -- I mean Republicans, most of them in Washington, as all of you know, tend to be more in the hawkish column. But there are some of these more Trumpy Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene who say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I will not vote to spend hard- earned American tax dollar in foreign nations when people are hurting back home. We cannot fund more of it by sending money and weaponry to Ukraine to fight a war they cannot possibly win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: Is she on an island here? We don't have much time but -- or is this an ascendant wing?
KIM: I think it's a pretty small island that does have a few inhabitants right and there have always been isolationist voices in the Republican such as Rand Paul of Kentucky.
PHILLIP: Such as former President Donald Trump.
KIM: And former President Donald Trump.
But they are a relatively rare breed and I think it's particularly, with Putin's aggressions against Ukraine just so evidence and so visible, the hawkish wing of the Republican is rising again.
Coming up next for us, how contentious will this week's Supreme Court hearings be? The GOP has been dropping some hints.
PHILLIP: It's a big week coming up for Biden's Supreme Court nominee. Monday is the first day of confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson who would be the first black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Now Judge Jackson has spent the last few weeks meeting with 44 senators for the White House, including every single member of the Judiciary Committee that she will face this week.
Now minority leader Mitch McConnell was on the floor on Thursday previewing what the GOP line of attack is going to be.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATEW MINORITY LEADER: President Biden's is deliberately working to make the whole federal judiciary softer on crime. If any judicial nominee really does have special empathy for some parties over others, that's not an asset. It's a problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: So very carefully laying out what the McConnell strategy is going to be. But then you have others like Josh Hawley saying, she's soft on child pornographers.
Where is this all headed? Something really nasty or is it going to be kind of just a preview of this 2022 midterm message?
KIM: Well, I think to the extent that there has been kind of one common thread in the Republican strategy over the last several weeks, they have kind of grappled at different tactics that they would try to use against Judge Jackson, it is the issue of crime.
And it isn't just on the Supreme Court nominee in general. But this has been a tactic for a lot of these conservative Senate Republicans for a lot of Biden's lower court judicial nominees, attacking if they were public defenders, which Judge Jackson was formerly.
So that's kind of the strain that you are going to be seeing throughout the hearing next week, at least from several Republicans. They have pledged to not make this a character assassination. They do say this is focusing on her record and not anything else. But at the same time this is something that obviously is a little uneasy in the manner they are bringing it up.
And they realize -- they're doing this because they know that barring some major turn of events that she will get confirmed to the Supreme Court. She will perhaps get on or two maybe a couple more Republican votes to be confirmed.
So they are making this a political issue now. One advisor told me that right now it's a political win for Democrats to be able to put the first black woman on the Supreme Court. And they want to make it at least a political wash for Democrats.
PHILLIP: I mean can they succeed in that or is there a risk if they go so far on some of these -- I mean the argument about the softness on child pornographers is fallacious but going to far. Is there a risk of that.
DAVIS: Absolutely. And I mean I think we saw in the very beginning when President Biden first nominated Judge Jackson that Republicans were, you know, privately expressing some reservations about how were they going to go after this person who is obviously very qualified?
Distinguished career. She's been confirmed by the Senate for lower court seats on the bench. When she would be the first black woman to sit on the court, do they want to be on the wrong side of history on that question? And how were they going to do that in a careful way.
I think what we have seen in the week since is a recognition among Republicans that they do need to at least try to cut down the benefits that Democrats might get from having achieved this and from having, you know, allowed her to be elevated.
And so they are really kind of taking the gloves off a little bit. But it will be interesting to see how aggressive they are with her in that hearing room.
Some of these attacks have real sort of racial undertones here. I mean if you are going to attack all public defenders and the idea that, you know, we're going to adjust criminal sentences, which has been a consensus thing that has gone --
PHILLIP: Even Republicans --
DAVIS: -- even Republicans --
PHILLIP: -- sitting in the Senate today --
DAVIS: Absolutely --
PHILLIP: -- support.
DAVIS: -- have supported. Then you're going to -- there are consequences to that. There's a sort of a logical conclusion to that. And I think that they're going to be grappling with that in the coming days.
PHILLIP: The White House is obviously preparing for this.
Here's how Jen Psaki answered some of these critiques.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not sure that someone who refused to tell people whether or not he would vote for Roy Moore is an effective and credible messenger on this.
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PHILLIP: Roy Moore, for those of you --
PHILLIP: They were prepared for the question about Josh Hawley's allegations and the concerns that he raised. What I thought was most interesting, you know, in talking to people -- obviously we've all been very focused on Ukraine.
I have been following Seung Min's coverage of the Supreme Court and hoping that she doesn't beat me terribly like she does traditionally during these moments.
But it's been -- you know, the White House has a fully formed and very traditional political team behind the nomination -- team behind the negotiation. They have done everything very according to the book, because it is an administration that is just packed with people that have been through this from the president to the chief of staff on down.
It was almost like they had to wait for the attacks to actually come. Like they had been kind of cooling their heels ready to defend their nominee.
PHILLIP: Yes. It has been a busy news cycle.
MATTINGLY: It's been a busy news cycle. I know, suddenly attacks came and they didn't hesitate. And I think that they are -- they were prepared for the attacks. They knew a full range of the types of issues that might be brought up, could be brought up.
They had seen some of the documents that are floating around Republican circles in terms where they would actually go. They are ready to defend and defend her in a full-throated manner.
I think their biggest concern is not what Josh Hawley is going to be bringing to the table. They believe they can keep their 50 in line. They want to get a couple of Republicans if they can.
And so calibrating that in terms of the response. Making sure you defend your nominee, making sure you defend them as full-throated a way as you possibly can, as sharply as you possibly can in a rapid response manner but also making sure that Susan Collins feels pretty good about your nominee.
And that's I think what they have been trying to do. PHILLIP: And speaking of Seung Min reporting, you reported this week
there are some Republican concerns that this is not a news cycle that is conducive to amplifying these kind of attacks on this issue when there's a war happening in Ukraine as well.
KIM: Right. I mean I've to a lot of Republican strategists and they're like well, we can put up a little bit of a fight. But we would rather spend our energy focusing on pocketbook issues that we feel will resonate so much more with voters in the midterms. That it terms of the attacks on her being a public defender there's at least one Republican on the committee John Kennedy who told me that I don't like these attacks.
There's a guaranteed bight to counsel. And we can't be attacking people for who their clients are.
PHILLIP: Right. Absolutely. We always seem to forget that.
Coming up next for us, an emergency meeting in Brussels tests Biden's diplomatic efforts.
PHILLIP: At last year's NATO summit the scene in Brussels was relaxed and jovial. The world leaders welcomed a new U.S. president who unlike his predecessor had campaigned on strengthening the alliance.
But now they're set to meet again this week in a hastily planned unprecedented summit one month after Russia's invasion of Ukraine began. It's an urgent show of force by the reinvigorated western alliance, the same one that President Biden warned in the campaign that the Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to tear apart.
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JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe Russia is an opponent. I really do. And look, Putin's overwhelming objective is to break up NATO, to fundamentally alter the circumstance in Europe so he doesn't have to face an entire NATO contingent, any one country he is stronger than.
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PHILLIP: And Susan Glasser is back with us.
President Biden came in alliance-focused. This is who he is, frankly, as a person. What is the job he has this week?
GLASSER: Yes. I mean if there is one thing that you can say that has defined President Biden's approach to foreign policy, it's been all about alliance, allies, unity at every step along the way.
In fact, in this crisis with Putin, you've seen President Biden even hold back in order to ensure that the Europeans were ready to go along with the next step in sanctions.
So I think this is a key moment for him. I can't even think of a summit that has as high stakes as the NATO summit that this one is going to have.
You have to reach back into the 1980s and Reagan's first meeting with Gorbachev to have something like the drama of this moment for the stakes involved. And is this group going to be able to redefine security and to confront Vladimir Putin?
PHILLIP: I mean does the White House see the objective for this meeting in those broad terms, maybe relooking at the NATO alliance and whether it's meeting its objectives, dealing specifically with China whom the president had a call with on Friday?
MATTINGLY: You know, it's a great question. I could flash back to the last time in Brussels with the President. You shared the sound of it. The entire thing was about this alliance has been sleepwalking for the better part of the last certainly four years, maybe decade and it needs to be reinvigorated.
That has absolutely happened over the course of the last six weeks. To scale that I think surprises some administration officials when you look at sanctions package that is put together.
But the China element is fascinating here because during that summit in Brussels, there was not kind of a unified approach to China. There are European countries that have a very different view in terms of how the posture towards China should be, certainly different from where President Biden's is.
And given the very palpable concern inside the administration, with (INAUDIBLE) public was the genesis for the call between Biden and Xi.
How that issue is dealt with during this -- obviously there will be a big show of force, whether deliverables when it comes to Ukraine, those will be the key components that everybody is watching here.
But how the European nations address China if they do at all I think will be fascinating. It's going to be very significant concern inside the White House right now.
PHILLIP: Yes. I think one of the interesting back drops of all of this is this kind of Biden, the Cold War era, you sort of mentioned the Reagan era. But he is the guy who has been in some of these rooms during the Cold War era. He and Putin are kind of facing off in that way.
I mean what role do you think his history -- long, long history on the world stage would play here?
DAVIS: I mean I think it's -- as Susan said, he has always been very focused on the alliance. And this has been a calling card of his since he was in the Senate. Clearly he's coming into this summit with a lot of credibility built up among the allies and a real sense of the priority that he places on their strength as a group. The issue I think is what -- and Phil mentioned, what are the deliverables going to be. There isn't a clear sense of what they want to have coming out of this other than a show of force, a show of community against Russia and against Putin.
It's going to be very challenging for Biden, even with his long history with this issue and with this alliance to figure out what can I come away with to show that we're really, you know, we're getting somewhere here given what's happening in Ukraine, given the continuing military challenge, what is the alliance going to be able to show coming out of this.
And I think for Biden, that is a real -- a key focus going in.
PHILLIP: And of course, his presence on the continent of Europe itself is going to be pretty significant. There's been some talk maybe he will go a little further east. There's been some talk within Ukraine, maybe he should come to Kyiv. What do you think are the prospects?
KIM: Well I think just on any presidential trip, domestic or foreign, when there is a certain conflict or a natural disaster going on, obviously the logistics of sending a United States president can be a little bit difficult. I know the former Ukrainian president extended an invite to President Biden to come to Ukraine.
PHILLIP: I'm not sure it's his invitation --
KIM: I think that might be a little bit difficult. But certainly his presence whether it is in Brussels or elsewhere on the continent certainly sends a very strong message to the rest of the world about where President Biden is in protecting the alliance.
Going back to our conversation about, you know, Biden and Putin, I mean just the anecdote I always think of is President Biden saying, when I looked into Putin's eyes I saw a man with no soul.
I think he's been clear-eyed about who this president is for some time. And so I think what we'll see in Europe this week will be really -- a really key moment for this entire conflict.
PHILLIP: And we'll end it right there. Thank you all for being with us here at the table.
And thank you at home for joining us on this busy Sunday again.
That's it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Don't forget, you can also listen to our podcast and download INSIDE POLITICS wherever you get your podcast. Just scan that QR code that's at the bottom of your screen.
Coming up next on CNN, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.
Jake's guests include the U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and the former CIA Director David Petraeus.
Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Have a great rest of your day.