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CNN Goes Inside Irpin, Left In Ruins After Weeks Of Fighting; Pentagon: U.S. Security Aid Shipments "Already" In The Region; Biden Admin Ending Pandemic-Era Border Restrictions On May 23. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired April 01, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I'm going to try to help you on the inflation stuff. But look, this stuff is better.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It seems like they did two -- he did two main things there. Not only putting blame on the previous administration, but trying to draw a connection between the high prices that families may be facing at the pump, at grocery stores, well, specifically for gas prices for a minute, and what's going on overseas as well, trying to say that look, acknowledging, yes, I understand that you're bearing the burden here, this is something we've actually heard from the administration in the past couple weeks.

We understand that this is taking a toll. But in a way, it's -- this is the price of a war that Putin has caused here. Now, the challenge is going to be in the weeks ahead, inflation could continue to rise. You have a tight labor market, which directly connects to wages increasing, wages increasing, you could have the Fed feeling pressure and, you know, continue to, excuse me, not inflation, but raise interest rates. At that point, yes, you have families with maybe bigger paychecks but if you're going and buying goods that cost more, at that point, are you really going to be supporting the President in this administration.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But also inflation existed before the invasion started. And that's the other thing. Yes, it is exacerbated by this invasion, the gas prices and whatnot. It's also complicated by COVID-19 outbreaks happening in Asia that's affecting the supply chain. But this did exist before this. And it has been a problem that they have been facing for months. And remember, back in December, President Biden told us he thought that they had reached the peak of the crisis when it comes to inflation. And so that's the big concern as well for them is that it's going to keep going.

KASIE HUNT, CNN PLUS ANCHOR, "THE SOURCE WITH KASIE HUNT": And voters know that. I mean, voters, they understand that. They were feeling this pinch before we went to war.

KANNO-YOUNGS: And it's a bit of a tough ask as well to even ask voters who are going to face high prices, hey, it's because of this looming foreign policy crisis overseas as well.

KING: It's a giant complicated challenge.

Up next for us, back to the breaking news in Ukraine, including an up close look at Irpin, now back in Ukraine's control, but in ruins.



KING: Ukrainian officials today say Irpin is back in their control, the suburb just northwest of the capital Kyiv has been the source of fierce fighting and persistent Russian bombing. CNN's Fred Pleitgen took the dangerous trip inside the city. Take a look here, his firsthand look at the damage.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): There is no safe way to get into Irpin. The only feasible route is on the back of a police special forces pickup truck on dirt paths. But even here, the earth is scorched after Russian troops shell the trail.

(on camera): Ukrainian forces are taking us into this area on back roads, because they say taking the main roads is simply much too dangerous. They want to show us the damage done when Russian forces tried to enter Kyiv.

(voice-over): Ukrainian authorities say this is still one of the most dangerous places in this war torn country and we immediately see why. We are driving right towards an area engulfed in smoke from artillery shelling. This is where Russian forces tried to push into Ukraine's capital, but were stopped and beaten back by the underdog Ukrainians. The battles here are fierce. Authority say 50 percent of the city has been destroyed, to us that number seems like an understatement.

(on camera): We have to keep moving quickly, because this place can get shelled anytime.

(voice over): Ukraine's National Police now patrols Irpin again, but their forces frequently come under fire, the chief tells me. Just yesterday, our officers who were searching for dead bodies, they were shot at with mortars, he says. They had to lay under the bridge and wait for it to stop.

But the grim task of finding and taking out the many dead continues. More than two dozen on this day alone. Some have been laying in the streets for weeks and can only now be removed.

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine, they quickly advanced on the capital Kyiv all the way to Irpin. Here, the Ukrainians stood and fought back.

Vladimir Putin's army controlled large parts of Irpin and the battle laid waste to much of this formerly wealthy suburb. And this was the epicenter where we find burned out Russian trucks and armored vehicles.

(on camera): So this is the area where some of the heaviest fighting took place in the Irpin. And as you can see that there was a Russian armored vehicle which was completely annihilated. We do have to be very careful around here because there still could be unexploded munitions laying around.

(voice-over): We meet Volodymir Rudenko, a local resident who says he stayed and took up arms when the Russians invaded. Always, there was not a single day when I left town, he says, even during the heaviest fighting. It must have been difficult, I asked. Just so you understand, he says, once there were 348 impacts in one area in one single hour.

And the battle here is not over. Suddenly, Irpin's mayor shows up with a group of Special Forces saying they're looking for Russians possibly still hiding here.

I asked him how it's going. We're working, he says, there's information that there are two Russian soldiers dressed in civilian clothes, with our group, we're going to clean them up.

Ukrainian forces say, they will continue the fight and further push Russian forces away from their capital. The Deputy Interior Minister saying they need the U.S.' support to succeed.


(on camera): What do you need from the United States?

YEVHEN YENIN, UKRAINE DEPUTY INTERIOR MINISTER: Everything, military support, first of all.

PLEITGEN (voice over): Weapons to help the Ukrainians expel the invading army, they hope, and finally bring this suburb out of the reach of Vladimir Putin's cannons.

Frederik Pleitgen, CNN, Irpin, Ukraine.


KING: I just want to take a very quick second to applaud the bravery of Fred and his crew and our correspondents in their teams all across, all across the war zone, remarkable reporting there.

Ahead for us, new details on the U.S. troops and weapons surge to NATO's eastern flank since Vladimir Putin for began.



KING: A big announcement out of the Pentagon today about military posture, United States military posture, right now the 82nd airborne, the American troops President Biden recently visited in Poland will stay in place quote, a while longer. So will the Harry S. Truman Aircraft Carrier it is in the Mediterranean, sent there to bolster NATO's eastern flank CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reports that deployment could extend through the summer. Barbara joins us now live.

So Barbara, let me go through a few quick numbers then help me put them into context. Before the Putin's invasion about 60,000 U.S. troops in Europe, now that number is that 100,000 and potentially to grow. Some of these troops serving in what are called NATO battle groups. There were 5,000 troops across four countries in these battle groups shared by the NATO nations back in February. The NATO says now it's 25,000 troops. I know you're not quite sure about that number. You think it might be higher, but 25,000 troops around eight countries, I just want to show people what that means because you have the today and tomorrow about military deployments. Then you have this NATO rethinking.

Back in 2017, these NATO battle groups are in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Now Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria added to it. Help us understand more U.S. troops but also more NATO troops.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, I think what you're beginning to see lay out right in front of you on that map is the future of the U.S. military presence in Europe for many months to come if not years, as well as NATO. This is the money, the troops, the weapons, the commitments to NATO, to try and bolster the eastern flank against Russia, and really have a more long term presence in the region.

In fact, the top U.S. commander in Europe just this week said things could be changing for the very long term, more troops, more of these battle groups, these multinational groups of military forces, including the U.S. that are in the eastern flank, to bolster and reassure NATO, and also very clearly send a message to Russia.

These are the levers of influence, money, troops, power, weapons, that are being exercised to try and influence Russian activity to try and be a strong bulwark against the adversary, which is Russia, keep them on their side of the border, get them out of Ukraine. This may be a very long term proposition. And this is going to be a commitment and a strategy that the President is going to have to decide upon rather quickly. John?

KING: And so Barbara, you talked about those battle groups that's that call or now the expanding call around Ukraine and Belarus and Russia. Let's talk more about the Pentagon says, it is as quickly as possible, getting into Ukraine itself, 60 million rounds of ammunition, 25,000 helmets, those body armor sets, javelin missiles, stinger anti- aircraft, machine guns, grenade launchers, Humvees, just about everything, a panoply of military assets here. How is that going in terms of not only he's promising it but delivering it?

STARR: Well, the Pentagon was on the defense on this this week earlier, saying that they were moving very quickly as soon as that 800 million was signed by the President. They had equipment moving within four days very key to it, two items on there, the stinger anti-air missiles and the javelin anti-tank missiles. But what is not on the list still, no fighter jets for Ukraine, the U.S. will not be providing those if some of the allies in Europe want to do it. Well, that's up to them, according to U.S. military policy right now.

And none of the longer range air defense systems they're called the S- 300. If you start hearing about that the S-300 is a Russian system that many NATO allies in Eastern Europe have. The Ukrainians want it. Greater range, greater distance, greater firepower against incoming Russian missiles much stronger than stinger, they want it, they're going to have to get it from the East European allies. The East European allies want the U.S. to backfill whatever they give to Ukraine. John?

KING: Barbara Starr at Pentagon, grateful for the important reporting. Barbara, thank you.


When we come back, breaking news on a big controversial pandemic restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border, a new move from the Biden administration. We'll explain it live in Texas, next.


KING: Important breaking news this hour, President Biden now rolling back a Trump-era pandemic policy that effectively blocked migrants from entering the United States. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez joins us now from Del Rio, Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border. Priscilla, break it down.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN IMMIGRATION REPORTER: John, this is a significant moment as the country opens up and the -- and we try to move forward from this pandemic, the CDC now announcing that on May 23rd, it's going to terminate the public health authority that has allowed authorities to turn back migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The reason for that date, John, is to allow the Department of Homeland Security to set up its preparations for when they go back to the normal operating procedure that was in place before these restrictions and as they anticipate more migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats John had been wary of this moment, this week speaking out about seeing a comprehensive plan from DHS as we anticipate a busy few weeks ahead. John?

KING: Priscilla Alvarez for us in the field and the border, Priscilla, grateful for that report.

Let's bring it back in the room with our great reporters. And so here's the sort of an irony, if you will, Democrats who complained repeatedly that they thought Trump administration policies were inhumane and that then President Trump found any reason he could to be tough on immigrants, and so many Democrats said even abusing pandemic science to do so now say, whoa.

[12:55:15] HUNT: People are very, very nervous about what is going to happen here. And quite frankly, the Biden administration has been incredibly, and Kaitlan you know this better than anybody, has been incredibly careful in how they have addressed issues of immigration, because they know that it could can and will be used against them in the midterm elections, and they've come under a lot of pressure from activists who, you know, frankly, they were angry at Barack Obama for not doing enough on these issues.

And they've been pressuring the administration again, but the reality is there are increasing numbers of people who are trying to come across the border, and this is likely to set up a lot of really difficult pictures, images, and a potential humanitarian crisis, depending on how many people come across.

KING: And so this is a subset of the immigration issue, someone say immigration problem, you choose your word, it's those who are coming to apply for asylum. In the old days before what's called Title 42 in the Trump administration, you would cross into the United States, you would file your asylum papers, and then you would most likely, normally stay in the United States while that was litigated, 89,296 such people turned away in the month of February.

The Biden administration has now said effective in May. We're going to set that policy aside. Joe Manchin, listen here among the Democrats who say bad idea.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I think they should reconsider, I sent a letter and I'm against removing Title 42. If anything we ought to be looking for permanency on Title 42.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And what's your concern with the removing Title 42.

MANCHIN: Oh my goodness. Just watch the news that you all put out every day, what's coming across.


KING: What the, what's coming across part, offense immigrant rights advocates, just as when the former President Trump would say, you know, who Mexico is sending? I won't repeat it.

COLLINS: Yes. And even some of his own Democrats were very critical of those comments saying that they don't believe that's accurate because the Biden administration has been heavily criticized. It's kind of hard to overstate how much they've been criticized for keeping Title 42 in place. The CDC director has been under immense pressure as has DHS to remove this because they -- it's exactly what you said. They said Biden promised to be different. They wanted it changed. The CDC made the argument, of course that given what was happening with the pandemic, that it should stay in place.

But you saw people like Senator Chuck Schumer saying that they needed to remove it, they called it inhumane and said it needed to be gone. Of course, now the challenge is, you know, that they are removing it in late May. They say that's to give them time to implement the processes because they know these numbers are going to skyrocket. They're expecting a 30 to 60,000 people in May alone to just be waiting, ready for this.

And so I think that is the next step of this is how they handle it. And even immigrants, right advocates have said they want to make sure that it's handled accurately and competently. And that's what they're going to be looking for, to make sure they've set up that system, given how long Title 42 has been in place to start processing these people.

KING: And so it has for a long time been a giant policy debate in the country. And so quicksand of American politics, in many sense, to the point Joe Manchin says, look who they're sending across. Bob Menendez, you mentioned the Democrats, the pushback. Bob Menendez, Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee says let's not adopt the -- they are not sending their best hate speech from the right, Joe. So there you have number one, it's a giant issue. And now you have another democratic divide in an election year.

KANNO-YOUNGS: No. That's right. That's right. You know, they, the White House has faced pressure from top Democrats including Chuck Schumer, but also including their own administration officials about keeping this policy in place, specifically, not just when it comes to how it impacts illegal border crossings but also keeping in place a policy, direct source of frustration was, does this violate international refugee laws by denying the ability to claim asylum?

One thing about the numbers that I actually don't think gets addressed enough is, if the concern as well as illegal border crossings, one ramification of Title 42 that you might see in the weeks to come are actually the people that were turned away. Some of those people are still there in Mexico waiting for a chance to cross again, one thing that doesn't get mentioned enough is that Title 42 also had a recidivism issue.

So if you are concerned about illegal border crossings, the old way of doing things when somebody crossed, they're actually detained, they may actually face jail time before they're repatriated. Title 42, actually, you're rapidly turning somebody away, which can then give somebody a vast chance to come back across the border.

So if the concern as well as about crossing skyrocketing and increasing in the weeks to come, many of those people were turned away by Title 42. And in the past year or two, many of those people that were crossing were repeat crossers, as a result of Title 42.

KING: And to connect this to the other story we talked about with a booming economy, whether it's those seeking asylum, that's a separate subset or just people want to come across the border with jobs for the having here in the United States. The question is, is the Biden administration prepared? Are they staffed up to deal with it?

KANNO-YOUNGS: The issue though, for that, as well is, apologies, the issue for that as well as also the backlog for work authorizations for many of those people that are going to come across as well. You may be fleeing for persecution or poverty, but it's not exactly like you can just jump into the employment market as soon as you're here.

KING: It's going to be a fascinating debate starting today through the election without doubt.


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