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Ukrainians Refuse To Surrender Mariupol Despite Russian Deadline; Russian Defense Ministry: Russian Military Tests New Intercontinental Ballistic Missile; U.S. Preparing Another $800M Security Aid Package For Ukraine; Ukraine: 80 Percent Of Luhansk Region Under Russian Control; Ukraine: Russia Will "Destroy Everything In Its Path"; Biden: Up To The Individual On Whether To Wear A Mask On Plane; Poll: 56 Percent Favor Mask Mandate For Travel; DOJ To Appeal Mask Mandate Ruling If CDC Says It Is Needed; FL Gov Pushes To End Disney World's Self-Governing Power. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 20, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. And we begin this hour with desperation in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. The mayor there are urging residents to leave, amid another surrender deadline from Russia. A marine commander there are making this dire and he says possibly final plea.


MAJ. SERHIY VOLYNA, COMMANDER UKRAINE'S 36TH SEPARATE MARINE BRIGADE: We might have only a few days or even hours left. The enemy's units are 10 times larger than ours. We appeal to the world leaders to help us.


KING: Melitopol mayor telling the European Parliament in Brussels earlier today, Ukrainians are "not thinking about comfort, they're thinking about mere survival." His southeastern city fell to Russia's military back in early March. So far, U.S. defense officials watching the battlefield see no major rush and territorial gains in the Donbass region.

To Ukraine's east, we are though seeing destruction like this, and major cities like Rubizhne, as Russia steps up shelling across the east. And Ukrainian soldiers are fortifying Luhansk. The military governor there tells CNN, 80 percent of his region's territory is under the control of Russian forces. And he says, they're not stopping.


SERHIY HAYDAY, HEAD OF LUHANSK REGIONAL MILITARY ADMINISTRATION: The whole of Luhansk territory is being shelled. There is no safe town. We understand that the Russian government is going to push ahead and going to destroy everything on its path.


KING: Get the latest now on the ground from CNN's Matt Rivers, who's live for us in Lviv. Matt, what is the latest?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, John, they say they're going to destroy everything in their path. But that's whatever Ukrainian forces, I guess allow them to do based on their own ability to fight back. And what we are hearing from the latest report from British intelligence, for example, is that the Russians have not managed to break through in any substantive way.

A lot of different probing attacks across the frontline in the east, perhaps not, yet Russia throwing the full weight of its military into this fight. That is something we're expecting in the coming days and weeks, of course, but for now, it does appear that Ukraine's front lines in the east are holding. This is an offensive that the Ukrainians have been expecting for some time now.

And so, they're definitely dug in as the Russians continue to try and push west, taking over more of that Donbass region. But we're also keeping our eye on the south, in the besieged port city of Mariupol, where we know there are tens of thousands of civilians that still need to be evacuated from that city that has been surrounded, and basically cut off from the rest of Ukraine by Russian forces for weeks now.

A slight glimmer of hope today, John, in the sense that there was a humanitarian corridor that apparently was opened around 2:00 pm. Reuters reporting that they have talked to witnesses who have seen small convoys of civilians allowed out of Mariupol. CNN cannot independently verify the information. And it's so hard to get information out of Mariupol because so much of the communications infrastructure there has been destroyed during fighting over the last few weeks.

Anybody getting out of Mariupol at this point, would be some sort of a miracle given what we've seen there and given how dire the situation is, especially in and around the as of stole steel plant complex. That is where the bulk of Ukrainian resistance forces have hunkered down as they continue to fight with the Russians.

And we know inside that steel plant complex, hundreds of civilians right alongside, they're with the fighters, the people inside that steel plant complex, John, hoping to be evacuated, calling on a third- party country like the United States, or maybe Turkey to help facilitate that process. A state department official telling CNN earlier today that if that were to happen, it's likely that a NATO ally would be involved. But noting that these kinds of attempts in the past, in the recent past have failed.

KING: And Matt, as we watch this play out, we're watching a Russian troop buildup, a tank buildup, an artillery buildup, a ground war in the east, but Russia today also testing an ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile, sort of bragging about it.

RIVERS: Yes. This is their Sarmat ICBM. This is a system that Vladimir Putin has been bragging about going back several years now. So, the missile system itself is not new. And the idea that Russia has ICBMs is not new. This is a concept going back decades. Now, what is notable here, of course, is this conspicuous timing of all of this.

Vladimir Putin knows that if he does a test like this in the middle of a war, it might play well at home in state media propaganda, and it also sends a message to the west and to Ukraine, maybe not more of a message than his ground war and the invasion that he has conducted in Ukraine has sent, of course, but this is clearly a message trying to be sent via the Kremlin. Look at our new hardware. Look at our ability to strike you wherever you are. That's the message, they're trying to send.


KING: Matt Rivers, live for us on the ground in Ukraine. Matt, grateful for the live reporting. The Biden administration here in Washington preparing another $800 million in military aid for Ukraine. One senior administration official telling CNN, this new package could be approved within days. Let's get to CNN's Barbara Starr, who is live for us at the Pentagon. Barbara, what's in it?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, clearly trying to move everything as fast as they can. What we are told is to expect to see more artillery. In fact, President Biden said that himself yesterday, ammunition which the Ukrainians continue to desperately need, the weapons that they will need for that long range fight in eastern Ukraine.

How is all of this shaping up? Well, the battleground looks like this. Right now, the Russians have 78 battalion tactical groups inside the eastern south of Ukraine, rough math, maybe up to thousand troops in each one of those 78,000 Russian troops in the east. And their strategy appears to be to encircle the Ukrainian forces that are there.

So, that means the artillery, the ammunition, the rockets, everything for that long range fight to keep the Russians at bay is going to be urgent. It's going to come in as it has been through NATO's eastern flank. The Ukrainians will take it clear across the country from the west to the east.

And the concern now is that the Russians may try to attack those convoys and rail cars that are expected to be carrying this equipment. So, the urgency to get it right to the frontline to is growing more dire as what Matt Rivers just laid out is happening there. They need to get it there and they need to get it there fast. John? KING: Barbara Starr, live at the Pentagon for us. Barbara, thank you. Let's get some important insights now from retired Major General, CNN military analyst, Dana Pittard. He's also the author of "Hunting the Caliphate: America's War on ISIS and the Dawn of the Strike Cell." General Pittard, grateful for your time today.

Let's start with what Barbara Starr was just talking about in terms of the battlefield right now. This is what Russia wants. Russia wants Donetsk and it wants Luhansk. It wants to take the entire Donbass region. It has troops coming in this way. It already has troops here. The Russian border is here.

In terms of this military aid, you just heard Barbara Starr talk about general. How? Is there any other way? Is there any other way than bringing it all the way across the country like that? Should the United States and the NATO allies be looking for other, but they would be provocative delivery options?

MAJ. GEN. DANA PITTARD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good afternoon, John. Yes. I mean, logistics is always tough. And the best way is what you just drew from Poland, through the middle of western Ukraine but do ensure that that is protected. As we've talked about before, the U.S. and NATO need to immediately declare western Ukraine as a humanitarian assistance zone, from Kviy in a north to Odessa in the south, and all the way west to the Polish border.

And that way they can protect supply lines. They can ensure that air defense systems are in place, so that when Russia tries to shoot missiles, or artillery across that area, that can be stopped. But that is an issue right now is trying to get the weapons, ammunitions to the place where they're needed in the east.

KING: If you're listening at the top of the program, A, you heard a military commander. I just want to come in closer on Mariupol. Ukrainian marine credit who's down here in an iron and steel factory in Mariupol, which has been under siege for weeks. And he thinks this could be final hours, maybe final weeks or days if they are lucky. Appealing for third party help.

And at the state department, a senior administration official, saying there have been conversations with the Russians. They keep falling apart, she says, but there have been conversations about trying to get in here and rescue these people. This is Mariupol here. This is the steel factory here as you see it.

General, it's right along the port. I am showing that I just want people to see the devastation here. But now I want to pull out to just show it here in Mariupol. Is there any way? Is there any way if you come out to the broader map for some NATO country in the middle of a war to go in here and have a rescue mission?

GEN. PITTARD: I think it's highly unlikely under the circumstances that the Ukrainians find themselves in right now, brave courageous, defense at Mariupol. It is tying up so many Russian forces. In fact, when the Russians and I do think that they will finally take Mariupol at some point. What do they have? They have a destroyed city that they can do very little with. But those brave defenders, they certainly deserve to be evacuated, but it is unlikely that they could be evacuated by a third party at this point.

KING: So, as you put this all together, General, helped me understand that the U.S. defense official say, so far, we're in day three or so of what they believe is this new Russian defensive out here in the east. The Pentagon would say, no major territorial gains, but they would also say the Russia is deliberately being more methodical this time, that Russia is learning from some of the mistakes, it made over here.


So, as you discussed this new $800 million package already being delivered, another $800 million package being considered. As the Russian troops try to do this, and obviously, they have forces down here as well. What? What is most important for the United States, other NATO countries trying to help Ukraine with heavy offensive weaponry? What systems do you think are most critical at this moment?

GEN. PITTARD: I think what's most critical right now, the artillery systems and munitions of course, but tanks and tanks weren't a part of the package. They need tanks to be able to quickly maneuver as a quick reaction force along with other forces Ukrainians have as the Russians try to envelop them.

And then of course, aircraft, release the MiGs, the MiG aircraft from Poland, Romania and others who want to give this to the Ukrainians. They could use that right now. And the Russians have nearly 80,000 troops in that area, but it still may not be enough. This is the same area that the Russians have tried to take now for eight years.

The Ukrainians are dug in. It's trench warfare in some places. They're trying to outmaneuver the Ukrainians by enveloping them, but with quick reaction forces, and that's what the Ukraine's appeared to also have, they can parry each of those blows as they happen.

KING: General Pittard, is always so grateful for your insights. Thank you so much.

GEN. PITTARD: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you. Up next for us. Mask confusion at the highest levels of government. Maybe is the Biden administration answering. The question, whether it will appeal a ruling that tosses out its public transportation mask mandate.




KING: Stay tuned and maybe, those are the current Biden administration answers. When asked, if it plans to challenge a big defeat in federal court. A Florida judge on Monday, struck down the government's mask mandate for public transportation. Two days later now, White House lawyers are still debating whether to appeal, and the president says you should use your best judgment, when deciding whether to mask up.

With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast, and Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times. Let's listen to the president. He was traveling yesterday. This has been a major issue for the administration, COVID pandemic safety. They know it was being challenged in the court. As the president, he says, I don't know.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, should people continue to wear masks on planes?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like to appeal the ruling, or the ruling of the judge made striking down the mandate?

PRES. BIDEN: I haven't spoken to the CDC yet.


KING: So, that's about 24 hours after, we're now almost 48 hours after this ruling, 40 plus anyway. It just seems like they are deliberately like just, let's take some time here, which is different than if we rolled back the tape a couple months ago.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The White House, I think views this moment as just fundamentally different from a year ago or two years ago. And it is fundamentally different. We have vaccines, we have a lot more protections for people and a better understanding of how the virus works.

And from their perspective, I think they view the role of mandates as waning, both their efficacy when they are in place. And also, just in general, the feeling that Americans want to move forward, they want to move on. And even if it's popular right now, which some of the polling suggests that it is a transportation mask mandate, that over time, more and more Americans want to move toward normalcy.

KING: Right. That's why polling sometimes can be both interesting and somewhat deceptive. To your point, let's put it up. This is from an AP poll, conducted just a couple of weeks ago - just a week or so ago. Favor 56 percent, neutral 20 percent, opposed 24 percent. So, you could look at that, and say, OK, this is majority plus, 56 percent popular. But the energy and we're in a midterm election year, we just have to acknowledge that fact, the energy is on those who don't like this mask mandate.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And it was going to expire in fairly short order. I think one of the things that they're grappling with, an administration official told our reporter Scott Bixby yesterday, inside, different people feel different things about go forward to this, but I think really encapsulates sort of where we're at, because there is a thought that they don't want CDC mandates to be undermined by this in the future, right.

But also, at the same time, what's the risk reward, both politically and from a public health perspective of fighting this, of trying to get it reimplemented. When it was something that, for all intents and purposes, was being phased out, going into the summer months. So, it really is, it does seem like they're between kind of a rock and a hard place with this.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: But I think part of the issue here is that the political imperatives and the legal imperatives are maybe a little bit of conflict here, and also the public health imperative, right? They want to leave this to the CDC. That's what the mantra has been for a long time at the White House says, we're going to follow the science, we're going to let the science determine what we do.

And if they do determine that this is no longer needed, or we are at a phase in the pandemic, where a mandate of this kind is not necessary. That's one thing. But then if we have another spike, they're the ones who are going to get the blame for that. And then you have the very important, future looking issue of - if they go ahead and challenge this, and they lose, then what happens the next time.

There is a flare up of this pandemic or another pandemic, and you actually can't count on the legality of having a mandate in place when you really need one. So, there's a lot of crosscurrents here that are not easily - they don't blend together easily. They don't end up with a pat answer of the kind the White House would like to be able to give right now.


KING: And that's a critical point in the sense that any administration we want to defend its authority to do things in a major public health crisis. So, you would think, even if it was going to expire and you're dead right about that, OK we need to protect the CDC's authority. The question is, is this the case? Is this the case to push that with?

This is from our CNN reporting on this. If the 11th Circuit, which oversees appellate challenges from Florida, oppose the ruling, striking down the mandate, it would be a precedent for all the other federal courts in that circuit, which covers the southeast, a Supreme Court ruling, obviously, would put the CDCs authority in nationwide.

But think about the region, the 11th Circuit covers. Those are most of the states that have been challenging the Biden administration on COVID policy anyway. The question is, ultimately, they may have to pick this fight but is this where to pick it?

PHILLIP: Sometimes the way to maintain the authority that they want is to not push this forward into a higher court where you could end up with a precedent that they can't fight down the road. There's some awareness of that because this is one pandemic, this is COVID-19, it's probably not going to be the last pandemic, it may not even be the last significant wave of this pandemic.

And so, not just from a legal perspective, but also from just a persuasion perspective, the CDC and the federal government have to maintain their ability to say to Americans, please do this, for your safety and for the safety of others. And if they can't do that any longer, that's why the mask mandate is probably going to - was probably going to go away anyway. They need to roll those things back, so that when they need to roll them forward, when it matters, they still have the authority to do that.

KING: Yes. If that's the case, shouldn't they have just said, we're going to let this one go? It was going to expire anyway. We're not going to appeal this as opposed to. If the CDC wants us to appeal, we'll think about it. We're going to look at it. We're 48 hours in now. It seems to be adding to the confusion, but we will see what the ultimate decision is. When we come back. Fantastic political story playing out in Florida, DeSantis versus Disney. What this fight tells us about the politics in Florida and the ambitions of its Republican governor.




KING: There was a special legislative session in Florida this week, and the state's Republican governor is trying to make the most of it. Lawmakers are voting on a new congressional map, one drawn by Governor Ron DeSantis. It is very generous to Republican, very generous to say the least. And the lawmakers today are discussing steps to possibly punish Disney that after the company took issues with Florida so called don't say gay law. CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live for us right there in Tallahassee. Dianne, what's happening today?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, just in the past couple of minutes here, the Florida state Senate did pass that bill that would eliminate what's we call the Reedy Creek Improvement District. But to people who don't live in Florida, it's essentially that sort of self-governing special district that was set up for Disney back in 1967.

Now, this was a bill that was only added to the special session docket yesterday. Many of the members, even the ranking member on the committee of the Senate tells me that they didn't even know about it until it was announced. And essentially Democrats view this as retribution. They view it as almost a revenge decision from the governor after Disney executive spoke out. Once that bill was signed into law that prevents schools and teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation with young children.

Now, Disney at that point pulled some of their fundraising saying, I'm sorry, donations, saying, we're going to do political donations in Florida. They also said that they hoped that that bill would be overturned. DeSantis back then in March, said that he thought that was a bridge too far from Disney, and had sort of foreshadowed this might happen.

The man who brought that bill up in the House, told me that this wasn't revenge, he didn't feel like it was retribution. But when Disney spoke out, they kicked the bear, that they poked the bear, they kicked a nest of hornets, and they started looking into Disney. And that's when they noticed this special district.

Now, I do want to point out, John, that this was only special districts that had not updated themselves after 1968. So, it's Disney and I believe four other districts that will be affected. But Ron DeSantis, sent out a fundraising note this morning, essentially saying Disney spoke out and they see what they get.

KING: The governor trying to raise money, get political points for that one, Dianne. That's an aggressive tactic. So too is his congressional map. What's the status of that?

GALLAGHER: So, the state Senate also passing that congressional map this morning. Now, I do want to be very clear about the fact that House still has to do all of this as well. We're expecting most of that to take place tomorrow. But that map will likely eliminate two of the black members of Congress that Florida has, their districts. And so, they're only five, four of them are Democrats and two of those districts under this map would disappear. They'd be divided up.

Obviously, Democrats have called this or speaking out against it. They don't have the power to do anything about this. What makes this most interesting and most unique here in Florida, though, is that the legislature is controlled by Republicans, John, they passed their own version of maps during the regular session. And the governor vetoed those maps, instead offering this version and essentially saying you've got to do this.

And so, they did it. They did not make any sort of changes. And yesterday, they even brought in one of his legislative aides, essentially telling them, hey, this is what we did. There was no real debate from Republicans on this whatsoever.