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U.S. Sending $800 Million Worth Of Weapons And Ammunition To Ukraine; Russia Warns It Will Deploy Nuclear Weapons To Baltics If Sweden And Finland Join NATO; Sen. Grassley: GOP Won't Repeal Obamacare If We Take Majority. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 14, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: -- you thought this was going to be yours. The United States of America is here as the U.K. just was flying the flag.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think. Yes, I think the discussions that are happening right now is, is it worth the security risk sending that message to Putin, sending that sort of symbolic message of solidarity? Is that worth the security risk? Is it worth pulling these people out of meetings? Who would go, how they would get there, all of that is being figured out now.

But I think what the administration has said the priority is still on the sanctions, on the military aid. And so while the visit would be symbolically, you know, good, the focus remains on the aid packages that they're giving Ukraine.

KING: And if you look at that package, and it's a long list, we can put it up on the screen, it can seem overwhelming, but just go slowly through it if you're watching at home. At the top, Howitzers, 40,000 more artillery rounds to go along with that, more Javelin missiles, that's been happening, more switchblade drones, the kamikazes essentially, you drop them from the sky and they go after tanks and other armored vehicles, but armored personnel carriers, armored Humvees, this is the reflection of how brutal the next chapter of this war which will play out in east.

The Biden administration up until this package, Julie, has resisted saying, we've used certain weapon systems as too much, too provocative, maybe an escalation. They've decided now maybe not to go all in, but to go more in.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: right, I mean, they're clearly throwing the kitchen sink at this, obviously that as Kaitlan mentioned, that we are now weeks into this invasion. And they want to show and they want to actually provide some of what is the really critical assistance. I think Tarini is right that the focus is very much on the sanctions, but you can't see sanctions.

And so I think the significance of them having these conversations about this visit is, people will see somebody an American presence, a high ranking official in Kyiv, in, you know, on the ground and Ukraine, and call attention to the fact that there is, you know, billions and billions of dollars worth of aid that is coming from the U.S.

You listed some of what is the first tranche that's been approved that is going to be sent just in the next short term. But Congress had really been pushing the Biden administration to do more, to consider more in the run up to approving that big package of aid. And now the administration, I think, is in a position where they really want to do that. And they're very much leaning into that, as it said.

KING: And they have this. They're being pushed to be more aggressive from Congress. But it also is one of these truly and rare bipartisan moments, where you have just about everybody saying help, help, help. Another thing, you mentioned the pressure from Congress, and it's unmistakable, whether it's sanctions or now this package, calls from Congress have made the administration more muscular or more aggressive, I don't know what the right word is.

On this list also, these M-17s Mi-17 helicopters. These are Russian Soviet era helicopters that the Afghans had in Afghanistan, the United States now sending some. And this is going back and forth. There were reports just yesterday had been pushed out of the package. And the reporting is that President Zelenskyy personally asked President Biden, I need these. So it's also an example, you mentioned the power of Congress, the power of Zelenskyy.

PARTI: He made the plead to the -- directly to the President. And, of course, the U.S. is now sending these to Ukraine. And I think the distinction that the administration had tried to make between offensive and defensive weapons, we're sort of seeing that as sort of nonexistent now.

The President is more willing to listen to what Zelenskyy is saying, what he's hearing from members of Congress and actually give what Ukraine needs, rather than sort of coming up with some sort of distinguishing line between what is considered offensive or defensive, or what could be considered more escalatory, toward Russia.

KING: And we know where the President's heart is, because the language he uses to describe Vladimir Putin, including most recently, the word genocide. Now, there's two top members of Team Biden trying to explain the difference between the President's personal views and the legal definition.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's the President of the United States and the leader of the free world. And he is allowed to make his views known at any point he would like.

VICTORIA NULAND, UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: President Biden spoke from his heart when he called what we are seeing in Ukraine genocide by the Russian Federation and its forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: We've seen this before. The President speaks from the gut. Sometimes the lawyers have to clean it up a little bit. Does this matter in this case, though?

DAVIS: I mean, I don't think it does it. He does speak from the gut. But there is a clear legal definition here that, you know, his staff is very, very quick to point out, he was not making. I think here, he's also taking a page from Zelenskyy, right? Zelenskyy has said many times that this is a genocide, that this is what's underway in Ukraine. And I think, you know, it's clear the President does feel that way.

I'm not sure it really affects the debate whether he's willing to use the word or not. But there is a legal question here that's going to have to be answered. And it'd be interesting to see where his administration ultimately comes down on that. We know what he thinks obviously.

KING: Right. And we know what the pictures tell us when you look at what's happening inside Ukraine.


Up next, a new Russian warning, Moscow threatens to move nuclear weapons to its western border if Finland and Sweden signed to join NATO.


KING: Nuclear weapons in the Baltic Sea region. That is how Russia says it will respond if Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO. The threat came from the number two on Russia Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, excuse me. Sweden and Finland say they are now thinking about joining NATO because they are alarmed by Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Let's get some perspective now from our CNN Global Affairs analyst New Yorker staff writer Susan Glasser. Susan, just as Sweden and Finland are thinking about this is a huge deal. And now Russia obviously maybe feels threatened or feels worried and is issuing essentially a threat saying don't do it.


SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That's right. I mean, first of all, this underscores what a terrible miscalculation Vladimir Putin made. He complained about NATO well the response to his war of aggression in Ukraine which the United States and others warned him about in advance very explicitly, is now potentially an incredibly significant expansion of NATO.

And that would be a direct consequence of Putin's actions. A reminder, by the way, that Sweden and Finland, the entire Cold War, Joseph Stalin didn't caused them to join NATO in the way that Vladimir Putin looks like now he will have, so a big miscalculation. KING: And it's remarkable. We've been talking throughout the program about this new $800 million Biden security assistance package, it's on top of prior packages. But what makes this one so unique is they are heavier, more deadly weapons included in it, because of appeals from President Zelenskyy because of expectations about what the next phase of the war will be in eastern Ukraine.

Eliot Cohen writes this in the Atlantic, it's an interesting perspective, in Washington, the metronome of war ticks too slowly. The administration has not taken advantage of the near-unanimous support for Ukraine in Congress, a marvel of bipartisanship in this contentious period of American politics to press for much larger sums for the Ukrainian military. Is that a valid point that even though this new package is quite significant, that maybe the President should be asking for more?

GLASSER: Well, I think there are certainly strong arguments for doing so. And, you know, President Zelenskyy, by the way, has been extremely effective at mobilizing world opinion, lobbying directly for these weapons, even from, you know, his bunker in Kyiv. And I think you've seen the United States as a result of that give far more than was ever possible. But the Biden administration, it's like walking over the ice and testing each step along the way, what will it bear?

And there have been these enormous concerns, every step along the way of Russia and escalation, which is to your previous point about the nuclear saber rattling that you hear from Russians, you know, that's one of the major deterrence that they have left for the United States and NATO is threatening nuclear escalation. And so that's why you hear it, in part because they don't have a lot of other options to deter the United States at this point.

KING: I like the testing the ice metaphor, now that they have decided, we're sending Howitzers. We're going to give you the helicopters you wanted. We are sending much more heavier anti-armor weapons into Ukraine. Have they are irreversibly across the line to be more muscular? Or is this one package at a time we need to look at it?

GLASSER: Look, I don't think Putin is under any illusions here. He understands that the United States and the NATO alliance would like to bleed him as much as possible in Ukraine. Certainly that increases the security of NATO members themselves. It's much less likely that Putin has the capability to threaten the NATO members in the Baltics and Poland right now if he is being pinned down and made to really pay the price inside Ukraine itself. So he understands that that's the American calculation right now. We're shipping as much heavy weaponry as possible to the Ukrainians.

KING: Susan Glasser grateful for the important insights, conversation. Well, of course continue. Thank you.


Up next, President Biden back on the road today promoting his efforts to boost the economy. It's an early midterm year test. And at the moment, the President's grades are not so great. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: President Biden is back on the road today promoting his work and searching for some midterm traction. North Carolina is his destination today to tout administration efforts to boost manufacturing. High inflation, though, is shaping public opinion overwhelmingly so about the economy and the President's numbers, take a look, they are in a funk. In our latest CNN polling average just 39 percent of Americans approve of the President's job performance, 55 percent disapprove.

Tarini Parti, Julie Hirschfeld Davis back with us. Julie, we've been through a lot of midterms cycles, numbers like that, if they hold up mean, a Republican House and a Republican Senate. The question is, can the President on the road and otherwise change them?

DAVIS: Right. I mean, this is history repeating itself, right? You have a President in a midterm, the first midterm after he's elected, and his approval ratings are not good. This is bad news for congressional Democrats who are hoping to be reelected to their seats. There is a lot of time, right? I mean, we're in April, and there are a lot of months between now and November.

But this is going to be the singular concern of these members whose names are on the ballot in November and of the White House because, as you said, the issues that he's dealing with high inflation, rising gas prices, widespread sort of economic discontent and uncertainty as we come out of the pandemic, maybe, you know, and still a lot of shakiness about whether pandemic restrictions and pandemic precautions are going to stay in place.

I think it's a real challenge for these candidates. And I think the White House knows that. And that's why you see him go to places like North Carolina and talk at a historically black university, about what the agenda has been and what they have been able to accomplish even if his -- the bulk of the agenda is now, you know, stalled.

KING: Right. And so you look at the President's travels, Iowa this week, New Hampshire this week, North Carolina today, Wilmington, Delaware as well that's when he goes home on the weekends to Delaware. But that is the challenge. When you know you have a wind in your face people are exhausted from the pandemic as Julie notes, then you have high inflation, kicking people in the teeth every time they fill up the gas tank. The President is got to try to find a way, you know, say I get it.


PARTI: Yes, and I think what's tricky for the administration is if you look at the poll numbers, it's Democrats and Independents who are also saying that they disapprove at an increasing rate of the President's performance so far, it's not just, you know, Republicans, of course, who have not supported the President. And what's even trickier is that it's expected to get worse in some ways.

You know, we're already seeing Republicans bring up immigration and the border. And those numbers, the administration has acknowledged, are going to increase as Title 42 is lifted in May. They're also predictions from economists in the next two years of a possible recession. So, you know, the economy remains uncertain. So it could even get in terms of sort of the external factors that the administration is dealing with, it could get even more challenging.

KING: And so you just mentioned two key points for Republicans are going to run against, run on immigration and inflation, probably inflation and immigration in that order, but depending on where you are around the country. What's missing, though, is we're coming out of this pandemic, right, where everyone's exhausted. One of the things we do know is that Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. It's a lot more popular now than it used to be.

In the 2010 midterms where the Republicans took back the House in the Obama presidency, that was their issue. But listen to Chuck Grassley, Chuck Grassley is running for reelection in Iowa this year. Chuck Grassley is a senior Republican, Chuck Grassley was part of the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the Republican plan to provide affordable health care for my children?

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): It's not repealing the Affordable Care Act. Does that answer your question?


KING: Pretty quick answer there, which was politically that smart, Republicans are saying, no, we're done with that.

DAVIS: Absolutely. I mean, they tried for a while to figure out a plan that was a replacement for Obamacare, that would be appealing enough. And it fell flat, and weren't able to get consensus within their own party. And it wasn't popular with the public because the fact is that the public likes the Affordable Care Act, people like having insurance coverage, things are better on the health care front than they were when that law was enacted.

And so Republicans are now backing away from that, of course, it won't stop them from criticizing the Biden administration on what they had, you know, they'll say they haven't done to keep healthcare costs downs, but that down, but that is why you will hear Democrats talk about their efforts, so far unsuccessful to, but to get the cost of prescription drugs down to get for instance, this legislation across the finish line that would bring down the cost of insulin, things like that, that actually -- people actually feel right now. But I don't think we're going to hear a real debate over whether or not we should repeal Obamacare again.

KING: And we showed you the President's, their dismal. They just frankly, are dismal poll numbers at the start. The question is, can you turn them around? To be fair, I want to show you something. Again, we always say don't believe one poll, don't believe one man. But this is the University of Michigan Consumer Confidence Survey. It's beginning to tick back up. You see it. It was started in the Biden administration, way up near 90. It fell last month to a low of just below 60.

For the past month, it is ticking back up. The challenge for the president is to keep that trajectory to try every little bit that goes up, it improves your prospects. He needs to improve them because listen to Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell has lived through previous midterm years. He says this one's fantastic.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Atmosphere for Republicans is better than it was in 1994. So from an atmospheric point of view, it's a perfect storm of problems for the Democrats, because it's an entirely democratic government, which leads you to ask the question, how could you screw this up? It's actually possible. And we've had some experience with that in the past.


KING: He has had some experience that in the past, normally in places where Mitch McConnell thought Republicans are going to win, they nominate candidates who can't. That's why he's worried about the Trump effect this year.

PARTI: That's exactly right. And the screwed, you know, how can you screw it up part is the question because there are a lot of states with very crowded Republican primaries, and you're already starting to see Donald Trump investing in -- against Republicans. We heard yesterday that he's going to be putting money against the governor, the Georgia Governor who is a Republican. So if you start investing in Senate races things could get pretty messy.

KING: Oh, all right, April now, primary starting to come up. It's fun to watch. Appreciate your both being here to help.


Ahead for us, Elon Musk offers to buy Twitter. Yes, all of it.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today the Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, is offering to buy Twitter. According to a new filing with the SEC, Musk is offering $43.4 billion for the social media platform. Musk who's been buying up shares of Twitter since back in January, says he believes the company needs to be quote, transformed. He made the announcement, where else, on Twitter only this morning.

The Republican National Committee just voting unanimously this, it will not participate, it says, in the traditional presidential debates. Last June, you might remember the RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential debates that letter echoing complaints former President Donald Trump made but about how those debates operated back in 2020. But this issue is complicated. So stay tuned. Despite today's vote, the RNC claims candidates can participate in other debates if they are not sponsored by that commission.

Iowa may no longer be the first in the nation to pick a president at least on the Democratic side. Democratic Party officials approving a plan Wednesday that lets other states apply to hold the first primaries or caucuses. The Committee will pick up the five states to move up before Super Tuesday that's the first Tuesday in March. The current first for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina will have to apply keep their place.


Appreciate your time today in Inside Politics. We'll see you back here tomorrow. Dana Bash picks up our coverage right now.