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Inside Politics

Russia Says Demand for Mariupol Surrender Rejected by Ukraine; Ukraine Braces for New Russian Offensive in the East; Biden Faces Crises at Home and Abroad in Year 2 of Presidency; GOP-led States Reshape Abortion Access with Restrictive Laws; Trump Endorsement Errors? Aired 8-9a ET

Aired April 17, 2022 - 08:00   ET





ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST (voice-over): The shifting battlefield. Ukraine prepares for a new assault in the east.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It is Donbas that Russia wants to destroy in the first place. They only want stones to be left and no people to be left at all.

PHILLIP: The U.S. ups its commitment to help Ukraine fend them off. New choppers, drones and how howitzers are on their way to the front. Does it signal a bigger U.S. commitment to defeating Russia?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: All of them are designed to help Ukraine in the fight that they are in right now and the fight that they will be in, in coming days and weeks.

Plus, President Biden's approval rating keeps falling as inflation keeps rising.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm doing everything within my power to bring down the price and address the Putin price hike.

PHILLIP: But with six months until the midterms, are voters still listening.

And the red state rushed to pass the most socially conservative agenda America has seen in decades.

GOV. KEVIN STITT (R), OKLAHOMA: We want to outlaw abortion in the state of Oklahoma.

GOV. KAY IVEY (R), ALABAMA: We need to protect our young people. When the Lord makes you a boy when you're born, you're a boy.


PHILLIP (on camera): Hello and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS on this Easter Sunday. I'm Abby Phillip.

No place in Ukraine is safe. That is the message that Russia appears intent on sending this weekend. Its forces have intensified their shelling in the east and south of the country as they prepare for a major new assault in the Donbas region. There were also strikes in major cities far from the eastern front, including Lviv, Kyiv and Kharkiv.

And at this hour, a deadline set by Russia for Ukrainian forces in Mariupol to surrender has come and gone. What is left of that city is on the verge of falling. Mariupol has been decimated by weeks of Russian attacks. Thousands are thought to be dead.


ZELENSKYY: The situation in Mariupol remains as severe as possible, just inhuman. This is what the Russian Federation did, deliberately did, and deliberately continues to destroy cities.


PHILLIP: CNN's Matt Rivers joins us now from Lviv.

So, Matt, at the moment, Mariupol is still standing, but this is a tense moment. What is the status now that Russia has delivered this ultimatum?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Abby, that ultimatum from all remaining Ukrainian resistance to lay down their arms and surrender, that passed about two hours ago now. What we heard from the Ukrainian side is they have no intention to surrender, they'll keep fighting.

The Russians have since acknowledged that the Ukrainians are ignoring that ultimatum and now say anyone who continues to exist in that city will be, quote, eliminated. That quote from Russia's defense ministry.

So, what all this means is that the siege that Mariupol has been under for weeks now, the fighting that it's seen, will apparently go on. Now, what we're hearing from the Russians is that they have said that the resistance pocket remains quite small, centered on the steel plant but the Ukrainian side trying to push the narrative that the resistance is actually bigger than that. They say there are resistance pockets across the city, including Saturday night. They're fighting just five kilometers away from the steel plant.

So, competing messages from both sides. We should not omit the fact there are tens of thousands of civilians, Abby, that remain trapped in Mariupol this Sunday here in Ukraine. Ukraine announced Ukraine and Russia were not able to agree on a civilian evacuation route, which means all those civilians after weeks and weeks of being trapped in that city without necessary food and water, this he remain trapped today.

PHILLIP: A horrible situation there. But where you are in Lviv right now, tell us about what the situation is there, in northwest Ukraine. RIVERS: Well, sure. So, what we're seeing across the country, as we

wait for this offensive, that is gearing up in the east we expect to begin in earnest, as we is he shelling, we expect ground troops to start moving in the days and weeks ahead, we continue to see isolated attacks by Russian missiles in different parts of the country.

So, take Kyiv, for example, three straight days of missiles landing in and around the city. Yesterday, it was a missile landing in a southeastern district in that city. Today, overnight rather, there was a missile that landed in a suburb outside of Kyiv. That's what we're seeing in Kyiv.

And even here in Lviv, we've had several straight nights being woken up by air raid sirens and we were told by the Ukraine defense ministry yesterday they shot down four cruise missiles launched by Russian warplanes that were headed to an unspecified target here in the Lviv region -- Abby.


PHILLIP: Matt Rivers, continue to stay safe where you are. Thank you for that reporting.

And the Ukrainians, they are getting some extra firepower today. The first shipments of new U.S. weapons began arriving in the country this weekend, officials say. The $800 million package includes heavy weapons and artillery that the U.S. was hesitant to send until now.

Joining me now with their reporting and analysis is "Washington Post" Pentagon correspondent Karoun Demirjian, and Evelyn Farkas, a top Defense Department official in the Obama administration.

Ladies, thank you both for being here.

So, we are at what seems to be a major pivot point for the Ukrainians. This coming battle could be decisive and the Americans are responding by sending weapons. It seems to be a change. A change in willingness to do the next step that, perhaps, they thought was, escalating just a few weeks ago.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: I mean, yes, you saw there was this resistance previously by the U.S. administration to sending things that might be considered to be provocations by Russia. In this cost benefit analysis of every stage of how much bang are we going to get for this particularly weapon that we're sending, will they be able to use it?

You saw that happening around the warplanes issue. You've seen that happened around various other types of munitions. But we have made a pivot really, in a way. When we are talking about attack helicopters being provided now, Humvees, you're talking about howitzers. These are heavy firepower instruments of war.

I think that these are kind of a lagging indicator of what Ukraine has shown it can do. I mean, if you look back six weeks ago, everybody was saying well sure, Russians are making mistakes, Ukraine was fighting hard. There is always a little dose of that they were outmanned, but they're outgunned and outweighed.

And we've seen that pivot. People are saying, wait, they could maybe actually win this, they are putting Russia on the back foot. They have a chance here before Russians get fully reorganized in Donbas for the Ukrainians to try strike fasten strike hard to fight back.

PHILLIP: Yeah, how do you see this?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA AND UKRAINE: I think, Abby, and in the big pictures of the Biden administration. Well, it feels to me that Putin needs to be defeated, and that the only way to defeat him is on the battlefield in Ukraine. It's not going to happen through sanctions, right? It's not going to happen through diplomacy, even though those are important components of all this.

But the real way to defeat Vladimir Putin is on the battlefield. And that means we have to give Ukrainians longer range, air defenses systems, you know, all the things that Karen just mentioned. Those are the way that Ukraine can now push back the Russians. We will see that they can push them out of the country.

PHILLIP: Right. And Russia has responded by saying, you all better stop sending these weapons. They sent a diplomatic note, letter, saying, we call on the United States and its allies to stop the irresponsible militarization of Ukraine, which implies unpredictable consequences for regional and international security.

And I imagine that in the White House, the Pentagon, the say that the point is -- that is the point of sending all these weapons.

Do you think that these threats -- this threat, but also just kind of environment of potential nuclear retaliation, chemical weapon retaliation, is it serious?

FARKAS: I mean, on one hand, Abby, you see that the Kremlin is constantly launching these kinds of threats. They are waving the nuclear saber all the time. So, I feel like sometimes of the little bit like crying wolf, but we can't dismiss it entirely, because they have a lower threshold for nuclear use, especially tactical nuclear weapons.

So, there is a chance, but it can't let it deter us. Ultimately, we have to help the Ukrainians defend themselves and to win this war.

DEMARJIAN: I was just going to say, you know, that the Russians cannot win an active conventional land war against NATO forces. They would be decimated very, very quickly. I think they know that.

But there is the element of, well, we might be crazy here, you know, you don't know how far we might be willing to go.

PHILLIP: That's why their threats, you know, Sweden and Finland are now saying, we want to do this and maybe as soon as summer joining NATO after resisting for quite some time. Russia is saying, we're going to move our nuclear further West but they know that's not a fight, as you pointed out, that they can win.

DEMARJIAN: Yeah. And, also, I mean, look, for Sweden and Finland, this is the moment to do it. Russia says, if you're not in NATO, it will do potentially what it's doing in Ukraine. And so, if you're Finland and Sweden, you want NATO's backing, no questions ask. And, you know, those -- Russia can send nuclear weapons further than across land borders. So, the threat of moving them further west is something, but it's not everything.

FARKAS: Yeah, they have nuclear capable weapons in Kaliningrad, which is close enough to Finland and Sweden. I mean, the other reality is, let's face it, we have nuclear deterrents.

So, I'm hoping the White House is speaking to Russians, reminding them we also have nuclear weapons.


Not that we would ever want to get into that situation --

PHILLIP: The fact they even need to be reminded -- I mean, yes, the United States has nuclear weapons.

One fascinating thing about the last -- you know, actually several weeks. President Biden and his rhetoric, his evolution, on how he uses language in this context -- take a listen to how he discussed his use of the word "genocide" when it comes to what Russia is doing in Ukraine.


BIDEN: Yes, I called it genocide because it's become clearer and clearer that Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being able to be Ukraine. We'll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies but it sure seems that way to me.


PHILLIP: The White House has in some cases walked some of his more intense rhetoric back. But has Biden changed his view of whether it matters that he calls a spade a spade, for example?

FARKAS: Well, I mean, my view as a former policy maker who worked with President Biden when he was vice president, he's doing what a political leader does, you call it what it is and let the lawyers argue whether it's legalistic matters or not. But he's leading the international community right now by coming out and saying exactly what Vladimir Putin is doing.

DEMIRJIAN: Yeah. I mean, I think Biden speaks from the heart and when he says Putin has to go, there's a tangible consequence of that, the Russians see everything we're doing as regime change.

Genocide is a really powerful word. You know, anybody who looks my last name notice I'm Armenian descent -- like I know personally how much of a powerful word that can be. But it's not a word that has immediate consequences for what you have to do for tangible ones.

So, this is one where he can speak from the heart. Nobody in the government has to walk it back but it puts it out there. I mean, if you look at the genocide convention, it's trying to kill people or move them forcibly because of their nationality or their religion or race. It's kind of in the right wheelhouse.

PHILLIP: There have been other teams, for example, when Biden said, Putin cannot remain in power. The White House was like, no, no, no, that's not what he meant.

In this case, as you pointed out, they didn't walk it back quite as strongly and that's an important sign of the distinction here and the language.

Evelyn and Karoun, thank you so much.

Coming up next for us, the pride of Russia's navy fleet is at the bottom of the Black Sea. How big of a setback is this for Russia's military mission.



PHILLIP: Ukraine says Russia is enraged by the destruction of its prized warship in the Black Sea and retaliating with stepped-up attacks on civilians in the south and new strikes on cities in the west. Ukraine is bracing for what might be the bloodiest part of the war so far, a brutal offensive to take the eastern part of the country. The government has warned it could resemble some of the worst battles of World War II.

Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Steven Anderson is with us now.

So, General Anderson, this morning -- an ultimatum has been issued in Mariupol. It has expired. What do we expect to happen there?

BRIG. GEN. STEVEN ANDERSON (RET.), U.S. ARMY: I think the Ukrainians are going to continue to fight. And I don't see them surrendering. I mean, I know that's what the Russians want to play this as. I don't see it happening.

They're just too tough, too resourceful. They realize it would be a psychological and political victory for Vladimir Putin if they did surrender.

Urban warfare is incredibly difficult. It's going to take, I think, more time to root them out there. They've been there for six weeks and they haven't been successful in making them surrender.

I just don't see it happening to the timeline the Russians want us to believe. But it could happen. That would be, of course, a major blow to them, but it's not as operationally significant as, perhaps, some would want us to believe. PHILLIP: And meanwhile, the Russians are regrouping, trying to

resupply, reposition themselves in the eastern part of the country for this upcoming battle. Walk us through what we can expect and what timeline are we talking about for when this battle for the east, for the Donetsk region is going to happen.

ANDERSON: I think we're still a couple of weeks away. They had 130 battalion tactical groups that started this fight. We know 40 to 50 of them are combat ineffective. It's going to take a while.

It's not like a light switch we can turn it on and off. This is not a good army. This is a third rate army. They are poorly led. They are poorly equipped. They don't execute good tactics.

They're not suddenly going to jump into a phone booth and jump out as Superman how they basically fight. The problem with their strategy is they continue to violate the principle of mass. They don't concentrate their efforts. They're trying to attack on a 1200-mile front.

The greatest likelihood of success would be to pick one spot, probably toward Donetsk, attack through already held Russian separatist areas, utilize interior lines to keep their supply lines open, and use brute force, mechanized warfare, heavy artillery, to try to push them into the Kramatorsk area.

PHILLIP: So, you're talking about the city of Donetsk, which is in this area here. It's adjacent -- inside the separatist-backed area. You say they need to push north toward the city.

ANDERSON: I think that's the greatest likelihood of success. People talked about them coming down from the north, even coming up from the south. They have not shown they can execute fire maneuver, they can execute combined arms.


They don't know how to integrate artillery, aviation, ground assets to successfully synergize their efforts. And so, I think the only thing they can really do is this brute force, fire artillery, push them back --

PHILLIP: And they have to go through the Ukrainians at this point.

ANDERSON: They would have to, because they're dug in in those positions. They could -- they have friendly area. The Russian separatists are supporting them. So, they're not going to have the interdiction to the supply lines they've been having thus far.

Remember, if they want to get 40 battalion tactical groups to move into Kramatorsk, they're going to need 200 trucks a day --

PHILLIP: The Russians are.

ANDERSON: The Russians are going to need.

PHILLIP: Yeah. ANDERSON: That's a huge exposure. That's why they can't attack through the north or south because those flanks would be exposed. If they come up through Donetsk. They could protect the supply lines.

PHILLIP: Let's talk about what the Ukrainians have at their disposal. The U.S. is sending a lot more weapons. Some are heavy weaponry they have been asking for, including helicopters, switchblade drones, howitzers.

Talk to us about this package. What is the most significant that you see here?

ANDERSON: I like the switch-blade drones. We've been talking about heavy maneuver warfare. You need the Q36 radars, the anti-counter battery radars that we can use, when they fire, we detect them, when we can attack. But we've got 300 kamikaze drones, they've used those with incredible success.

I think we need 3,000 drones to tell you the truth.


ANDERSON: I think -- the reason the Ukrainians are winning is their will to fight, their superior logistics and their technology. I think we need to continue to leverage technology, to let them use them. Show their resourcefulness, just like they took out the Moskva cruiser.

They have showed incredible resiliency and tenacity and using technology. And they can continue to do that in the Donbas.

PHILLIP: The Ukrainians basically want a package like this pretty much every day, like they need this on a constant, ongoing basis. What is logistical challenge look like to make that happen?

ANDERSON: Well, we have a challenging strategic logistical forest. I used to be a joint lift validator on the joint staff, and I can tell you, we have 232 C-17s, we have 125 C5s. There are the most capable aircraft in the world.

We can fly to Poland in a matter of hours. C5 can take two M1 tanks. We could establish, and we have established a air bridge all the way into Poland. In Poland, we essentially, in World War II, we had this effort with 6,000 trucks a day pushing. We could set up another red ball express in Warsaw, and in Lviv, to push 600 miles in using trucks, using rail, using river barges, everything we can to move as much as we can into Donbas.

PHILLIP: And to be clear, that -- this is what is possible in your mind? That has not happened up to this point.

ANDERSON: They are doing a very good job, thus far, because they are doing great logistics already. We can ramp up our support even greater. We can use a lot more of our strategic support. We have the most capable in the world. There is no reason why we are flying 8 to 10 planeloads a day, right now. We could be flying 50 to 60 today.

PHILLIP: There is a lot more room for us to go.

ANDERSON: We could pick it up, push the attack, and take it to the Russians.

PHILLIP: Brigadier General Steven Anderson, thank you so much for being with us.

And coming up next, President Biden wants to hear we simply want voters he hears plan on fighting inflation. But 15 months into his presidency, have they already tuned him out?



PHILLIP: A stubborn pandemic, record high gas prices, and a horrific war in Eastern Europe. This is what is defining President Biden's second year in office. His approval rating that began falling last summer after he botched the withdrawal from Afghanistan and amid a resurgence of COVID, it's been dropping over since. It's 39 percent in the latest CNN poll of polls.

But Biden still thinks that he can win back the voters who have lost in him.


BIDEN: Our economy has gone from being on the mend, to being on the move. Now, I know that we are still facing the challenges of high prices, inflation.

I'm doing everything within my power by executive orders to bring down the price and address the Putin price hike.


PHILLIP: And joining me now with their reporting and insights, Molly Ball of "Time Magazine", Jordan Fabian of "Bloomberg", and CNN's Melanie Zanona.

So, Jordan, the Biden administration is pivoting. They've got a lot on their plates, but they know that the midterms are coming up. Biden wants to know he's listening, he's paying attention, they're trying to do some incremental things on supply chain, on chips, all of the staff.

But is this all just baked at this point? Are voters movable?

JORDAN FABIAN, BLOOMBERG WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Abby, I think they are movable, but they are going to see some movement on inflation for voters to be moved. At a certain point, you can't jawbone inflation. Americans are noticing that they're paying more for things like gas and food.

So, the sense in the White House is that even if inflation starts to go down later this year, they might see some voters come back in their direction. But time is running out, they need to see that movement soon.

The problem for them is the president himself can't do much to bring down inflation. It's going to take action from the Federal Reserve for that take place. That could take months or even longer for voters to see the effect of that.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: The other issue for Biden is that some of the efforts to address these issues, like gas prices, actually put him in the crosshairs of his own base.


ZANONA: Look at climate for example. They announced this week that they are going to resume drilling on public lands. That infuriated environmental activists. You see he's losing support with young voters. And so, he's in a real bind here.

PHILLIP: It's an environment of overall discontent. You've got a poll, a CBS/YouGov poll showing liberals, Democrats are split on whether the economy is good or bad. There are those out there who are saying, you guys in the media keep talking about inflation, but even people who probably voted for President Biden still think that this is potentially -- this is a real problem that they're experiencing in their lives.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT, "TIME MAGAZINE": Yes. Well, I think the bigger problem for Biden is, just as Jordan was saying, people correctly perceive that he's not in control of the situation.

And I think ever since that Afghanistan last summer, people have had -- voters overall have not had a sense of leadership from the White House. Have not had a sense that there's a president in control, who is strong and consistent and knows what he's doing and can project, you know, a consistent message from one day or the next, even when they agree with what he's doing, like broadly on Ukraine where the public generally supports, you know, the overall strategy of supporting the Ukrainians and rallying the international community while drawing the line at sending troops.

That you still have, you know, the president continually stepping on his own message. The White House continually having to correct things he said. And so I think, that overall, it's harder for him, you know, it's not any particular policy or particular decision that he's made so much as people just questioning whether -- you know, whether there is strong leadership going on.

PHILLIP: The alarm bells among Democrats are ringing and it's not just to sort of say things are bad, things are bad. They want the party to do something.

Here's a five-alarm fire from President Biden's own pollster.


JOHN ANZALONE, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: They don't feel Democrats can get their (EXPLETIVE DELETED) together and get things done. And so, you know, if we're able to do something, skinny BBB or whatever on, you know, health insurance costs, prescription drug costs, you know, elderly care, child care, that's a big deal and it will cut through the inflation narrative, the Ukraine narrative, the Afghan narrative, the border narrative, et cetera.


PHILLIP: So, that's a whole -- that's a long list of maybe if you can do something, but can anything get done?

ZANONA: Well, that's a great question. I think Democrats think that one of their chances to turn things around is passing a scaled-back version of Build Back Better that would address climate change and some other social spending issues. But that is a tough task.

I mean they tried and failed to do that once already. It's unclear if they can make it happen. Time is running out. I think the other thing that they're hopeful for is, perhaps, there's going to be a ruling on abortion this summer that can energize their base voters.

But there's a lot that needs to happen to turn things around.

FABIAN: And I'll just go back to say, though, that I think there's a kernel of truth to what John Anzalone said but ultimately if voters don't feel it in their pocketbooks, it's not going to matter.

I mean they could get a good headline from passing a bill like that, but if they're still paying high gas prices and high food prices come the fall, they're going to get punished at the ballot box.

PHILLIP: And here's how one Democrat, Tim Ryan of Ohio is answering this directly, head on in an ad.


REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH): Who here is tired of getting hammered by inflation? We've got to get serious about lowering costs and actually helping people. And that means both parties need to stop wasting time on stupid fights.

We've got to take on China, fix our supply chains by making things in America.


PHILLIP: So yes, they need to feel it in their pocketbooks but they also need to not deny that it's happening, too. I mean do you see this message working?

BALL: We'll see. You know, it's always tough for candidates to distance themselves from the White House or the president of their own party, right. And it's a very common thing in midterms when the president's approval rating is sinking for candidates to try to do this. But, you know, as Melanie was just talking about, you risk losing some of your base when you do that and potentially not convincing any of those independent voters who have already been put off or drifted away.

So it's always a risky bet. We'll see if it works in this case or other cases. But the more you see Democratic candidates start to do this, I think the more sort of alarm bells are going to be ringing in the White House because it is a sign that they sense that there is nothing to be gained by continuing to be allies of the president.

PHILLIP: One interesting thing just in the last week, some new poll numbers as you mentioned about young voters, you know. Before we go, I mean what do you think is going on here? Biden down 21 percent Gen Z, 19 percent with millennials, only 14 percent with all adults. But with young voters he is losing ground and quick.

FABIAN: Well, Biden made a lot of campaign promises about things like student debt, et cetera, for young voters and he hasn't delivered on a lot of those. And so these numbers are a tremendous failure for a Democratic president having numbers like that among young voters.

And what's interesting to me is that, you know, the White House keeps doing this incremental move on student debt to postpone it, you know, I think a lot of Democrats like to see them make that permanent --

PHILLIP: Or maybe they're teeing it up for the weeks before the midterms. That's possible too.

FABIAN: Perhaps. Yes, that's perhaps true. We'll have to see what happens.


PHILLIP: Yes. I mean this could be -- you know, I don't think many parties are counting on young voters in a midterm but is it a canary in the coal mine? I think it's something that we'll be looking at.

But coming up next for us. Red states aren't waiting on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe versus Wade. Some are already passing laws to ban nearly all abortions.


PHILLIP: Republican-led states are reshaping abortion access, school curriculum and the rules around gender identity. In just the last week, two governors signed new abortion bans into law.


GOV. KEVIN STITT (R-OK): We want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country. We want to outlaw abortion in the state of Oklahoma.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): This will represent the most significant protections for life that have been enacted in this state in a generation.



PHILLIP: Oklahoma's law will completely ban abortion. Florida limits it to 15 weeks. In Kentucky the law says 15 weeks but it includes other restrictions that have effectively banned all abortions in the state.

And the map that you're seeing there, that doesn't include the state of Texas, which of course, last year passed a six-week ban on abortion.

Melanie, you were talking about this a few minutes ago as something the Democrats are looking toward for the Supreme Court to rule on. But right now, these changes are happening. And hearing, you know, Governor Stitt saying, we want to outlaw all abortion in the state.

You know, years ago, Indiana Senate candidate Richard Murdoch, he basically lost his Senate race for not talking about exceptions for rape or incest. Things have really, really changed on this issue especially for Republicans.

ZANONA: That used to be the mainstream Republican position, right, supporting exceptions when it comes to rape and incest. Now, you're seeing some of these bans in some of these states have no exceptions.

I mean this is a right-word shift. Republicans, this has been years in the making, amassing the power at the state level. This is a huge story line.

Democrats are playing catch-up but there's not a whole lot they can do other than the messaging component of this.

BALL: Well, one problem that I think Democrats have always had on this issue is that they had already achieved their policy goal with Roe v. Wade, right. And so there could always be efforts to, you know, keep that in place or expand it, but they basically had what they wanted.

And something that I've been hearing when I talk to voters about this issue over the years is, they just don't really believe all the sort of scary Democratic ads that say Republicans are going to take your abortions away. So does that change now that it's actually happening in some of these states?

Now, I don't think anybody thinks Oklahoma is going to turn into a blue state over this issue, for example. Will that change? If the Supreme Court rules and it suddenly seems more real to people or will it depend on what happens because no matter what the Supreme Court does, overturning Roe v. Wade doesn't make abortion illegal across the country.

So it will be very interesting to see how this plays out. It is, as Melanie said, a completely new landscape for something that's always been an important issue in politics. PHILLIP: It doesn't make -- automatically make abortion illegal but it

does allow some of these state laws to go into effect. The interesting thing -- one of the interesting things you just pointed out, Roe v. Wade had been viewed as settled.

Other things like LGBTQ rights, gay marriage, all of those things, now you have Republicans taking on the issue of, you know, trans athletes in women's sports, the use of, you know, gender-affirming care for minors, making those things major campaign issues. And also actually broadly relitigating actually LGBT issues in this country.

FABIAN: Yes. You know, it's interesting because if you look at that broadly, especially on abortion, repealing Roe v. Wade is not a popular position. In the history of the Gallup poll on this issue, it's never crossed above 40 percent.

And if you look at the Senate map, a lot of these contested races are happening in purple states like Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, where there's still a lot of pro-life voters, suburban voters who kicked Donald Trump out of office.

This is an animating issue for Republicans clearly, but they might be giving Democrats an opening if they, perhaps, overreach here, go too far with some of these laws and you start seeing some of the effects of these laws if they're allowed to go -- taking place.

PHILLIP: Just on, you know, on the point about abortion, broadly popular, but look at the movement on same-sex marriage. 1996, 27 percent support. 2021, 70 percent support. And yet the line now from many conservatives is that, you know, gay teachers talking about being gay in schools is grooming, et cetera, et cetera.

But one of the reasons this is happening, of course, is because Republicans can do it. In the state legislatures, in this country, Republicans have a trifecta. They control the house, the senate and the governorship in 23 states.

And in three states where they don't control the governorship, they have super majorities that can override a Democratic governor. That is what happened in the state of Kentucky. The lesson, perhaps, for Democrats is the time to have won these elections was ten years ago? Maybe longer?

BALL: Well, easier said than done. I feel like I hear Democrats say after every election, oh, why weren't we putting more money into state legislative races? And it takes more than that.

You have to also have an appealing message. You have to also be in the same place as the voters. And I think that's the bigger problem for Democrats on some of these social issues. You know, Republicans aren't really relitigating gay marriage in a lot of these cases but they have taken assertive stances on things like trans rights and gender identity where Democrats have staked out some very unpopular positions with the public.

And that's a classic political wedge issue. That's how you do it, right. So it will be interesting to see, you know, where this lines up and how big a factor it is, in whether in local elections or national elections because so much of this, as you say, is happening on the state level.

PHILLIP: Is the strategy politically for Democrats one of avoidance or are there Democrats talking about how do we address this?

ZANONA: They're definitely struggling to figure it out, right.



ZANONA: Like, they haven't coalesced around a message yet. They're kind of on their heels. They're playing defense in a lot of these cases.

But we are seeing a broad strategy starting to emerge. They're trying to paint Republicans as extreme. Trying to say they're trying to turn back the clock on abortion rights, on gay marriage. But whether that's a winning message, we'll see.

FABIAN: Yes. No, 100 percent. And unfortunately I think for a lot of people who might be affected by this, you might have to see some of the negative effects of these laws to happen what, you know, women being denied access to abortion perhaps a lawsuit involving these LGBT cases for it to really take hold in voters' minds that, wow, there are consequences to these laws.

And you know, we're seeing the White House starting to talk about it more. Jen Psaki has read some statements from the podium about abortion which we haven't heard them really weigh in on social issues too much in the past.

But again, we might have to see this all play out before it becomes a really salient political issue for voters.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean I think this is -- we are having a political conversation here at the table about the moving the ball in one direction or another, but at the end of the day, the people affected are actual people in these states.

And a lot of the laws that we discussed, especially when it comes to abortion, are not actually in effect. Legislatures have passed these laws, they've been stayed. But if the Supreme Court takes this on and rolls back Roe versus Wade, we could be looking at a very different scenario in this country.

Thank you all.

And coming up next for us, Trump makes two high-profile picks in Senate primaries but some in MAGA world says he's backing the wrong candidates.



PHILLIP: When it comes to a few high-profile recent endorsements, former president Donald Trump is ignoring the advice of some of his close allies and aides and he's going with his gut.

His latest choice is JD Vance in Ohio's GOP Senate primary. Vance is running against three other Trump loyalists and he hasn't led in any major polls and he bashed Trump repeatedly in 2016.

Still Trump had this to say about Vance. He says, "Like some others, JD Vance may have said some not so great things about me in the past, but he gets it now."

So Molly, you have spent some time with JD Vance who is a fascination of Washington in part because he was a completely different person four years ago. But Trump is making this endorsement against the will of a lot of MAGA supporters in Ohio and outside of it. What is he doing here. And is he maybe setting himself up for failure?

BALL: When I spoke to JD Vance a few months ago when he got into the race, his gamble was essentially what Trump has just said, right. That Trump would recognize that he does get it now and that he has come around to embrace not just what he sees as a consistent set of issues that Trump supports, but also Trump himself.

And -- but if there were a sort of MAGA consensus in this race, the primary would not be so unsettled. It's clear from the fact that it is such a fractured primary field with different candidates trying to project to Republican voters that they are the MAGA candidate, that there was no consensus.

So Trump is potentially doing those Republican donors a service I think, here is the one that I say is the MAGA choice in this field.

Now will it work. Will the Republican voters of Ohio now coalesce around JD Vance given that many of the other candidates have credentials, have local support, have you know, different types of appeal in this race? That remains to be seen.

But Trump clearly is signaling, you know, to the Republican electorate that out of a field of pretty MAGA heavy candidates, this is the one he sees as most legitimate.

ZANONA: Trump doesn't have to get involved, to be clear. I mean number one, no matter who emerges --

PHILLIP: That's a very important point. He's doing this by choice.

ZANONA: It's very unusual actually to see former presidents this involved in competitive Republican primaries. And to Molly's point, who ever emerges is going to be a pro-Trump candidate. It's also a huge gamble. You better believe his 2024 rivals are going to be looking at this race very closely for any signs of weakness.

But, you know Trump wants to show that he's still a dominant force in the party. He loves those campaign rallies and he wants to stay relevant if he does run again.

FABIAN: And you're seeing this happen in not just Ohio but in Pennsylvania where there was David McCormick who was bringing on a lot of pro-Trump people but he went with Dr. Oz.


PHILLIP: Well -- and to that point, just in the next months, let's take a look at this.

It's going to be a big test for Trump. We've got Ohio. We've got North Carolina, Pennsylvania where he endorsed Dr. Oz, Texas, Georgia -- lots of Trump candidates coming up on the ballot with tests about whether his endorsement has juice.

FABIAN: Absolutely. And the point I was going to make about Dr. Oz, is that Trump is endorsing some perhaps weaker candidates in the field than some stronger candidates who do have some pro Trump credentials.

So if these candidates end up losing some winnable Senate races to Democratic candidates, that's going to hurt Trump's credibility as a GOP king maker and that could also then hurt his chances in 2024 if he chooses to run again.

PHILLIP: One of the factors it seems based on the reporting the "Washington Post" has a story about this very idea saying that in key contests Trump's statements have not cleared the field like they once did.

And some advisers actually fear that he's diluted his endorsements by backing hundreds of candidates for some low-level positions all because of their willingness to support his false claims of election fraud. A lot of this is about the big lie, right.

BALL: And you know, another thing that he does by endorsing so many candidates it ensures that his winning percentage stays pretty high, right. He endorses so many candidates --


PHILLIP: That's right. He's playing with statistics here, yes.

BALL: -- vast majorities of whom are a sure thing. So he can always say well, you know, 90, 95 percent of my endorsed candidates never mind, you know, these few high-profile ones who lost his endorsement, has never been a sure thing in Republican politics.

There's always been candidates who have, you know, different connections to the Republican electorate that Trump's endorsement was not big enough to overcome. And he still -- you almost get a sense from the way that he has embraced the sort of maximum chaos choice in some of these primaries that he almost just enjoys the process.

You know, we know that he loves sort of holding court at Mar-A-Lago and having people come and suck up to him as he did when he was president as well. [08:55:00]

BALL: So it's possible that he's just enjoying the process. But he does really care if the endorsements are successful also as we've seen with the unendorsed for example.

PHILLIP: He wants to be the decision maker, and in this case, actually outside of office, he's saying to his advisers, hey, you guys stay over there. I'm the guy making the choice at the end of the day.

Well, thank you all for being here and thank you for watching this Sunday. That's it for us on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. But don't forget, you can also listen to our podcast. Download INSIDE POLITICS wherever you get your podcast. And you can also scan that QR code at the bottom of your screen.

But stick with us, coming up next, "STATE OF THE UNION with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Jake's exclusive guest this Sunday is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Thank you again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Happy Easter and have a great rest of your day.