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DeSantis Pushes Culture War Issues Ahead Of Possible 2024 Run; U.S. Official: U.S. Was Notified Ahead Of Russian Missile Test; Russian Billionaire Blasts "Insane" War, Russian Army. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 20, 2022 - 08:30   ET



DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Dianne Gallagher, grateful you're on the ground force in Tallahassee, as all this plays out. Let's bring the conversation back into the room. I want to get into some of the particulars. Let's just start with the governor who, yes, wants to be reelected governor, but he's got some other plans.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, Disney wasn't the only major corporation that he threatened recently. He also threatened Twitter for keeping Elon Musk from buying it and saying that, you know, that somehow they should be punished in Florida. Somehow, he's also going to Nevada to campaign with a Senate candidate there.

It just seems like a lot of this, you have to view it through the context of what his broader ambitions may be, perhaps on a national stage, perhaps in 2024. But these very Trumpian way of doing things in terms of punishing anyone who speaks out against him, is something that's really earning him points on the right, because these are companies that are seen as pushing back on some of the more conservative moves.

KING: And by trying to draw attention by taking as Dianne notes, a map drawn by the Florida Republicans in the legislature and saying, not bad, but I can be -- I can do even better, meaning I can punish the Democrats even more. If you look at the new map, Florida's gaining a seat, 16 Republicans now. Those who look at the DeSantis map, think that's how it's going to end up somewhere around there, 20, maybe even 21. And the Democrats would lose four. So they would go to seven, maybe eight, that's fairly aggressive. And again, it gets you a lot of tension in your state and more.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, and so two elements to this. One, that is a pretty significant gain for Republicans, not just in that state, but in the overall context of redistricting in the country, where Democrats had actually come out of that process, doing OK, because a lot of these congressional maps were struck down by courts. They were able to get maps that they viewed as more fair. This would basically wipe that out completely, according to a lot of experts.

But secondly, he's doing it by eliminating a lot of districts that represent -- are represented by black lawmakers. And so part of the explicit part of this is for DeSantis to say he's calling some of these districts racially gerrymandered, we're going to make it race neutral. He's eliminating a lot of districts that are represented by plurality of black voters. That's part of the culture war too.

KING: Right, part of the culture war. Let's just lookJulie at some of these headlines, Florida rejects 41 percent of new math textbooks, citing critical race theory among its reasons. DeSantis moves against Disney with push to eliminate special status. DeSantis proposes new Florida congressional map. DeSantis signs Florida's 15-week abortion ban into law. Ron DeSantis is trying to raise his national profile and his state profile. But this is also a reflection, we often talk about is Trump's influence growing or waning. Forget Trump for a second. This is a changing Republican Party heading into 2022 emphasizing a lot of these cultural issues.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean, there's no question that he is trying, he's very Trumpian tack when it comes to Disney, of punishing your opponents punishing your detractors. But also if you just look at the issues that that he's putting out there, and those headlines, which clearly are what he's after, at least in some regard, they are sort of all on the theme of, you know, going after woke culture, going after progressive values, you know, abortion rights, this whole discussion about critical race theory, we heard some of these themes come up in the Supreme Court battle, and it's no coincidence.

A lot of these issues are going to drive the midterm message for Republicans. They're then going to feed into the presidential election cycle and 2024. And they are, I think, Republicans believe where the voters are going to be in terms of the people they need to appeal to both among very hardcore conservatives, but also when they try to reach beyond that into more sort of suburban independent territory. Some of these issues are what they think are going to give them an edge to instill fear in people, that there is a change underway in this country that they don't want to see. And the Republicans are the ones who are going to push back against it. And that's I think, what he's teeing up and what a lot of Republicans are teeing up for this year and beyond. KING: Well, as you mentioned, the suburbs. Florida will be one of the many test cases as we watch. Can Republicans come back in the suburbs after the last couple of cycles where they've been punished? We'll watch that one.


Coming up for us back to Ukraine, and a critical meeting in Kyiv today as the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy welcomes a top E.U. official. What they discussed, that's next.


KING: Some brand new images just into CNN. Russia says this video right there shows a test launch of its new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Russian President Vladimir Putin saying, it would quote give thought to those who are trying to threaten Russia. Meantime, Russian forces are attempting to advance on the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia. That is a key stop on the evacuation corridor leading out of Mariupol. Still, Mariupol's mayor urging residents to evacuate today, saying one boarding location is near a steel factory under constant Russian assault. That steel factory sheltering the last holdout Ukrainian troops and civilians as well. This is day three of Russia's major offensive in eastern Ukraine, so far no major territorial gains. That is according to a new U.S. assessment.


Pentagon officials, though, believe Russia is moving slowly, methodically on purpose trying to learn from lessons made at the beginning of the war. In Kharkiv, two city zoo employees were found dead. They stayed back to care for animals amid some heavy shelling, Russian shelling there of the city and particularly of the zoo. Those workers had been missing since last month. I want to get back to CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon now with some new reporting on what the Pentagon sees in that new Russian ICBM test. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, by definition, an ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile, could hit the U.S. It would have that capability. But a short time ago, Pentagon officials said this test is not a threat and is not of particular concern to them. They knew it was coming. Why are they saying this? Because Russia properly notified the test through international authorities, the U.S., other countries have obligations to notify these kinds of ballistic missile tests. And the Russians lived up to those obligations.

The U.S. knew the test window was open. They knew when the missile launched and where it was going out into far eastern Russia from its launch point in the north of the country. How did they know this? Well, U.S. satellites, U.S. intelligence assets are able to track the signature, if you will, the heat given off by these kinds of missile launches and are able to track them all the way to their target.

So the U.S. knew this was not something aimed at the U.S. They knew it was a test. This is a program that Russians had been working on for some time. It's a program they say will become operational in the coming months after they finish the test phase, and it will replace a Soviet era ICBM that they've obviously had for some time. It doesn't mean that the U.S. isn't watching this carefully.

They track Putin statements. He is using a lot of inflammatory and escalatory language these days. But it's a question of intentions versus capabilities. They do not believe that this missile has any intention of striking in an adversarial way at this point, but it does demonstrate that the Russians are modernizing that very capability. John?

KING: Critical reporting and context. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Barbara, thank you so much.

European Council President Charles Michel, the latest foreign leader now to visit Ukraine, standing alongside Ukraine's President Zelenskyy today, Michel said Russia must pay the devastation it has caused in Ukraine.


CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT: There are no words in order to explain what I feel not as President of the European Council but as father, as human being. These are atrocities. These are war crimes. It must be punished.


KING: CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson standing by live for us in Brussels. Nic obviously, the symbolism of visiting Kyiv is important. Anything else, any substance to come of this?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Michel, shall Michel promising a donor conference the 5th of May, the IMF, the World Bank involved, Sweden and Poland along with the E.U., he said it'd be putting it together. So important financial assistance, he said, that would continue to flow to Ukraine for humanitarian, the military component continuing to flow. He said, it's important Ukraine can continue to pay its government services, government employees in the days and weeks ahead, but also committed to helping rebuild Ukraine.

Zelenskyy interestingly said nothing on the horizon at the moment in terms of any peace negotiations with Russia. He said, there were 120,000 civilians still trapped besieged in Mariupol, he said. That's a much bigger number than we've heard recently by the Ukrainian president putting that number out there saying essentially, they're in danger at the moment from Russian forces.

And another interesting point from Zelenskyy, very interesting in the context that most leaders that come to visit him or he talks to virtually he berates them over not providing enough weapons or not, or dragging their feet on sanctions or whatever it is. Today he said he felt a warming from Western nations over their weapons supplies to Ukraine. And even said, he's getting some aircraft. He said he wasn't going to go into any specifics on the aircraft and precisely what is receiving. But it does seem like the Ukrainian president is feeling a little better about the military hardware he's getting. But still, you know, standing there side by side with a European Union leader wanting more on the sanctions and saying that oil needs to be high on the agenda of things to be embargoed from Russia.

KING: Nic Robertson grateful for that important reporting from Brussels. Nic, thanks so much.


Up next for us, the Russian billionaire says Putin's war is quote, insane. But don't bet, just don't bet that the Russian president will listen.


KING: The bulk of the fighting in Ukraine now is in the east, a region Vladimir Putin has long sought to steal. The Donbass is an industrial and mining center in Ukraine's east as you see in the map there, and Putin is hardly the first Russian or Soviet leader for that matter to claim this area belongs to Russia. Let's bring in Steve Hall. He's our CNN national security analyst and a former CIA chief of Russia operations. Steve, grateful for your time. I would just want to put up, this is a 100, literally 100 years old, 101 years old Soviet propaganda poster that shows the heart beating coming out of this region in Ukraine. It describes this area as the heart of Russia, as you know better than most, Vladimir Putin likes to fancy himself as this big, major historical figure. Why is the Donbass so important?


STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There's a couple of reasons, John, why I think this is important, and especially for Putin. To hit on your last point first, you know, Putin sees himself really in messianic terms. You know, most people in the West, when you talk about, you know, what is the President's legacy, you know, they talk about, you know, maybe some important legislative reforms.

For Vladimir Putin, he wants to be a historical figure. He wants to be the new, you know, the new czar of the next century. And part of that is reclaiming, I would argue, not so much the Soviet parts of Russia, which are still out there, but rather, he wants to establish a whole new empire and sees himself as an emperor. And Ukraine has always been critically important to the Russian empire into the Soviet empire, not only for the infrastructure that it provides in terms of metal works, or coal, metal works and that sort of thing.

But also, you know, it's the breadbasket. It used to be the breadbasket of the Soviet Union. So it's important both just in economic terms, as well as sort of, you know, imperial philosophical terms for Putin.

KING: And one of the questions as we've gone through this, now day 56 of the fighting in Ukraine is, will he listened to anybody? Will Putin listen to anybody except the guy in the mirror? I think I know your answer. But this is from a Russian billionaire, one of the oligarchs, Oleg Tinkov writing on Instagram, I don't see a single beneficiary of this insane war, innocent people and soldiers are dying. Generals, waking up with a hangover have realized they have a not so good army, as I will paraphrase there. The Kremlin civil servants are in shock, not only they're against their children don't want to go to the Mediterranean this summer, 90 percent of Russians are against this war.

Will Putin listen, obviously, these are the wealthy people who have benefited, who have stolen state assets and made a ton of money during his governing. But is he listening now? Or is he just in the blinders?

HALL: You know, the oligarchs are in a really interesting position right now, because of, you know, the fact that they became rich early on in Russia, largely with Putin's help and the Kremlin's help. So they're in a real interesting position right now economically. But in terms of who Putin is going to listen to, I mean, I think the more pressure that comes his way, you know, the better, because you just never know exactly what he's going to make his decisions on or who he is going to listen to.

I think at the end of the day, there probably are some folks that are in his innermost circle, which he will listen to pieces of, not necessarily follow their counsel, but he'll listen to them. But what he will really hear is when his own interests, and that is Putinism, when his own interests are put at risk. And I think the more that becomes clear to him, and the more his inner circle begins to tell Putin, look, the stuff that you are really interested in, your legacy, your continued well-being as a leader, your continued leadership role over Russia, all of those things, as those things become into more and more question on the part of Putin in his inner circle, that -- those realities, I think, is what he will listen to.

KING: Right. But do you see any evidence that's getting through yet in the context of, you know, part of your job, part of your old job was to break through the bluster, the bravado and the propaganda, and try to see if there are any shifts in his language, are there any shifts in his actions? Today, they have this ICBM test, and Putin does a little chest pounding, saying that anybody who's against Russia should take deep thought here at this that's sort of typical bravado and propaganda, any indication this is getting to him?

HALL: So not yet, or at least I haven't seen any yet or anything that I would indicate signal, signs that I would indicate that this is getting through to him. There are signals that are coming out of the Kremlin a lot, obviously, the one that you just mentioned, is clear, this nuclear saber rattling that they continue to do. So you hear some things, but it's really hard to tell what he bases his decisions on.

KING: Steve Hall, grateful for your insights as always, as we continue this important piece of this story.

And this programming note on this very point, the unbelievable true story of the man who took on Putin and live to expose important truths, the Sundance award winning CNN film, Navalny airs Sunday 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. [12:54:10]

Coming up, Michelle Obama's brother is suing a private school in Wisconsin. We'll tell you why, next.


KING: Topping our political radar, the President Joe Biden and the First Lady Jill Biden will attend this year's White House Correspondents Dinner. COVID shut down that event for the last two years, so this will be the first time the sitting President will attend that dinner since Barack Obama was in office. Former President Trump always skipped it.

Trump also facing a new political blow as the Tennessee Republican Party voted to boot a candidate with his endorsement off the ballot. Morgan Ortagus is no longer on the primary ballot for the state's Fifth Congressional District. That decision came after state party officials agreed to review challenges to three candidates including Ortagus that raised questions about their Republican bona fides. In a statement to CNN, Ortagus said she is quote, disappointed.

Michelle Obama's brother and his wife are suing a private school in Wisconsin. Craig and Kelly Robinson say they raise concerns about racial bias at the University School of Milwaukee. And their two sons they say were kicked out of school as a result. The school is defending the move, saying the students were rejected because of how the parents communicated alleging they violated school policies.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott in a big political speech at the Reagan Library laying out his vision mentioning Trump only once, he did criticize public schools.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): Teaching kids to some are oppressors is just as bad as teaching other kids that they're always going to be victims.


KING: Scott is the only black Republican senator. He says he is passionate about the GOP becoming quote, the party of parents.


Thanks for your time today in Inside Politics. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.