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Russia: Blasts Reported In Three Russian Regions That Border Ukraine; Biden Signals New Willingness To Forgive Some Student Loans; Funeral For Former Secretary Of State Madeleine Albright. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired April 27, 2022 - 12:30   ET



SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Putin there didn't specify what kind of tools he's talking about. He also didn't specify what kind of threat he might be retaliating against either. Clearly, the Russian president does not appreciate that foreign weapons are making their way into Ukraine. The Russians have said many times that those are legitimate targets once they get on to Ukrainian soil.

Clearly economic targets are legitimate for the Russians as well in response to sanctions against Russia. The E.U. is calling this decision to shut off the gas pipes to Poland and Bulgaria, blackmail. Well, Moscow says it's just policy. The E.U. says that both countries are now being supplied by other countries. Poland, in fact, says that it won't need Russian gas at all by the fall. But let's keep in mind that 40 percent of Europe's gas comes from Russia. And the Russians are even warning, that warning Poland, for instance, because a pipeline goes through its territory in route to Germany, warning the polls not to siphon gas from that line or it will shut it off even to the Germans as well.

It seems John like the footprint of this war is beginning to expand as well. There were three missile strikes on Russian territory. Early this -- in the early hours this morning, one about 10 miles inside of Russian territory hit an ammunition depot there, another 175 miles in. The Russian say that it was struck down. And then a third 200 miles from the Ukrainian border on Russian territory. It's not clear in that case, what it hit. But the city that was being aimed at is a key military and transportation hub.

Now the Ukrainians did not take direct responsibility for these strikes, but they might as well as of an adviser to President Zelenskyy said that if you invade another country, sooner or later debts have to be repaid, and also said that karma is a cruel thing. One of the things you mentioned John, and that is that early this morning, a bridge, a very key bridge that connects the southwestern part of Ukraine to the restaurant, the rest of the country was struck for a second time. It was hit yesterday. It was hit again this morning after repair work had already started there.

That is concerning because the Ukrainians, it is very close to Moldova, the only other route now by road for Ukrainians to link up with their own country is through Moldova. And the Ukrainians are worried that perhaps the conflict could expand into the separatist part of Moldova, Transnistria. Though President Zelenskyy says that if the Russian troops stationed in Transnistria were to attack Ukraine, he says his country is ready. John?

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Scott McLean, live for us in Lviv. Scott, grateful for that reporting. Let's get some perspective now from retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges. He's the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe. General, grateful for your time today. Let's start, before we go break down the battlefield, let's start with what we just heard there from President Putin talking about we have these tools, we are not afraid to use them. Do you take that as just bravado meant for the propaganda in Russian state T.V.? Or is that a serious threat to the United States, to the NATO allies?

LT. GEN. BEN HODGES (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY EUROPE: Well, I think President Putin is very serious. But I also do not think it's likely that he would actually follow through on that. He's been threatening us in the West for years, if Sweden or Denmark or Poland did anything. So he has weapons, he has no humanitarian streak, so he might do it. But there's no real battlefield advantage for him. And I think it would be impossible from the -- for the West to stay out if he uses a nuclear weapon, let's say.

And I think the people around him are also thinking about life after Putin, I don't believe he wants to be Nero, you know, burning the place down around him. Now, it is worth thinking about, if he were to use a tactical nuclear weapon, let's say which is a relatively low yield, the destructive effect would not be much more than what he's already done to Mariupol and other cities.

And our response would not have to be nuclear either. I mean, this is why the F-35 was designed, was to deal with a situation like this. So I think the right people are working on this and we'll have the right responses.

KING: You hear those tough words from Putin. And you have the decision to cut off gas to Poland to Bulgaria, a day after the United States pulled together 40 nations and this message was we're going to meet every month, and we're going to keep sending What Ukraine needs to Ukraine, including a big decision from Germany for the first time the Germans providing heavy equipment here, these Gepard anti-aircraft systems, it looks like a tank but it's essentially an armored vehicle that has anti-aircraft guns on it.

You're familiar with this weapon system, sir. The Germans no longer use it, but they are now giving it to the Ukrainians. How significant, A, is the weapon and B, that the Germans who have been historically reluctant to use their military are now sending these to Ukraine?

HODGES: John, if I may, the fact that President Putin has decided to cut off gas to Poland and Bulgaria is another in a long line of strategic blunders by the President of the Russian Federation. This only accelerates the departure of his Former customers who are now looking for alternative sources and alternative types. So he's only hurting himself in the long run. [12:35:07]

As far as Germany goes, obviously, this is important. You know, I live in Frankfurt. So I'm aware of the debates going on inside the coalition government of Germany. They've made the decision to do this. The Gepard represents a very good capability against helicopters and drones and of course could be used in a ground support role as well. You're right, it looks like a tank because this turret is mounted on the same chassis as a Leopard, the German Leopard tank. So this is a very good capability that Ukrainians can use for this fight.

KING: General Ben Hodges, grateful for your time, sir, we'll continue the conversation, obviously, as this plays out in the days and weeks ahead.

Up next for us, they'll return to politics here in Washington. Democrats and their try again moment, President Biden considers election year action to wipe out student loan debt, but Democrats in Congress still have a math problem.



KING: President Biden and Democrats in Congress are looking for policy wins that might improve their midterm election adds. The President, for example, is said to be voicing a new willingness to cancel some student loan debt. A Congresswoman who was part of a White House meeting earlier this week, says ideas discussed at that meeting included extending a pause on student loan payments or perhaps erasing at least $10,000 of debt per eligible student. Up on Capitol Hill, the debate is familiar and it is frustrating to Democrats with large policy ambitions. In a 50-50 Senate Democrats of course need every vote and Joe Manchin still in no mood to go big.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): There's no Build Back Better revival. There's not. I mean, public policy, these major social changes should go through the process. That's what the process is for.


KING: Our great reporters back with me, Francesca, let's start with the President who has been reluctant to just wipe out student debt. A lot of Democrats especially progressives have said just erase it, use executive power, erase it. He has been reluctant, this new willingness to think about it. A, do we know how serious that is? And B, it is proof the President understands maybe he's not going to get a ton out of Congress, I have to find executive ways to get things done.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Well, the White House has said that one way or another by the time we hit the end of August, they're going to they're going to determine whether or not he's going to just erase the debt as we were talking about, or continue with this moratorium or pause. But what you heard Senator Elizabeth Warren making an argument about this week is about the authority. And that's a big part of the debate right now for the White House is whether the President wants to do it or not, does he have the authority to do it?

Senator Warren says that he does have the authority. She's deriving her argument from the idea that by pausing interest, you're essentially canceling all the interest. So use the same authority to say we're just going to cancel it all entirely but the White House telling me this week that they just aren't at that point yet.

KING: Well, the lawyers, I guess will keep looking at that. That's one thing that's a president act. You heard Senator Manchin, we've seen this movie before. But he has enormous sway because you need his vote. You need Senator Sinema's vote and he says we're not going big again. Elizabeth Warren, to your point, Senator Warren, one of those ambitious progressives who would like to go big, says let's be realistic, we have to do something. Listen here, she says we better do it now or else.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): There is so much we can do. And if we do it over the next 200 days, we're going to be in fine shape. I think we're going to be in real trouble if we don't get up and deliver that I believe that Democrats are going to lose.


KING: Democrats are going to lose if we do not deliver. And by lose that means the house and maybe even the Senate. The question is does that -- does the political reality of where we are in the midterm year force compromises, force a smaller package? Or do they keep fighting like they did all last year?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, it's hard to say at this point. But I mean, the reality is that not all Democrats agree. I think most Democrats will say, yes, we've got to pass some sort of agenda if we're going to turn out our base. And we're going to do OK, in the midterms. But then you have people like Manchin, who are just as concerned about blowback because of inflation specifically, so can they come to a compromise?

I mean, look, there are Democrats and people in the White House, who are fearful that they can even get Manchin to agree to $1 trillion. That would be a huge victory in terms of social spending for the President. And I think because of that, that's why you're hearing the President sound more open to using executive orders for things like student debt forgiveness when he could have been doing, talking about this all year, but specifically chose not to, because the politics of that are a little tricky.

But look, they really want some sort of victory, and they don't all agree, and there's still in the same tough boat that they were at last year, and the clock is really ticking.

KING: And, you know, to the President's credit, and to the Democrats credit, they have passed a couple of big things. We'll show you a scorecard. The American Rescue Plan was a giant package of the infrastructure plan, which was bipartisan, significant that a huge package anyway, job creating and infrastructure improving and bipartisan, but because the Democrats were so ambitious and so public about their ambitions, you see gun reform, you see immigration, you say expanding Medicare and Medicaid, a big climate change bill, criminal justice reform, voting rights, those are all not done. TBD, still time, but they're also incredibly difficult issues to get done and now in an election year, even more so.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Right. And the White House has been confronted with that reality. And so they're trying sort of a two track approach, it seems here where they're clearly trying to sell the infrastructure package, the rescue package, you know, months later, still trying to get voters to realize what they've actually accomplished.


And then on the other hand they're realizing it's going to be very tough to do something on Capitol Hill. So the President is seeming to be more open to taking executive action, a few things that we've heard from the White House that are that he's considering that's -- that are being debated right now, how does inflation factor into the timing of a potential student loan forgiveness announcement?

And then also, can he take a more targeted approach to the student loan forgiveness, because there's some politics on that within the Democratic Party, where some viewed as sort of more regressive, so you know, whether they can target it more, you know, provide that forgiveness to lower income families, for example. So those are the discussions that are currently happening at the White House.

KING: And look, Democrats believe this is good policy. That's what they believe whether you at home agree or disagree. But they also understand they have to fix this. This is the president's latest polling numbers, the average of the most recent national polls. President's approval ratings at 39 percent, disapprove with 55 percent. If that anywhere close to that come November, they're going to lose both the House and the Senate.

CHAMBERS: But it's student loan debt forgiveness good politics, they're pointing to a political poll and morning console poll that came out this week to say that it is. But some of those people who say that they support this in theory, only one it targeted as you were just noting towards lower, people of lower income, and 80 percent of the respondents said that they don't even have student loan debt.

BADE: Yes, this is not, this is clearly not like a win, like for him necessarily. It could be it could not be. But it shows that they really grasping at straws here that you can find anything.

PARTI: Right. So, on the states that have the highest student loan debt though, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, all states with big races so you never know.

KING: All states with big races. I like studying maps too. That's part of doing this.

Up next, President Biden remembers trailblazing diplomat Madeleine Albright, tough on politics but light on her toes.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She can go toe to toe with the toughest dictators then turn around and literally teach a fellow ambassador how to do the Macarena on the floor of the U.N. Security Council.




KING: President Biden dignitaries, foreign ministers, foreign leaders, ambassadors, all along those honoring the late former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at her funeral services today here in Washington. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama where there, former First Lady's Michelle Obama, First Lady Hillary Clinton, Secretary Clinton as well, as well as the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Albright's three daughters also attending those moving services. President Biden delivering one of the eulogies. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live for us outside of the National Cathedral. Suzanne, take us inside and tell us about the services.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, right now you are actually listening, we are listening to one of the daughters speaking is very emotional. And it's really brought tears to the audience there as they get into their personal stories. And they simply refer to the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as mom. So you can imagine the kinds of stories that are actually coming out of this.

The President Joe Biden and many others calling Albright a force of nature, if you will, someone who really turned the tide of history. And President Biden really connecting the dots here with Madeleine Albright's work as a diplomat to what is taking place today saying it was fitting that he had heard of her passing as he was traveling to Europe and emergency meeting with NATO allies to deal with Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Former President Bill Clinton as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talking about two weeks ago getting the phone call before she passed, where she made a point to warn them and say that this war that what Putin was doing was a test of international alliances that had to be dealt with, and her words once again saying that democracy was not permanent, that it had to be fought for over and over.

We heard from Hillary Clinton just about 20 minutes ago, and the point that she was making that this was somebody who was her friend as well, and that she was always in a hurry to do good, that she was very impatient. She wore one of her famous brooches, pins of a snail to let people know that she wanted things to move along that there was a lot to be done. Take a listen.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: So the angels better be wearing their best pins and putting on their dancing shoes. Because if as Madeleine believed there's a special place in hell for women who don't support other women. They haven't seen anyone like her yet.


MALVEAUX: And John that got the applause line, really of the ceremony here. She stood at five feet 10 inches tall in stature and she was really a titan in American history, John.

KING: She sure was. Suzanne Malveaux, outside of these services, I met Madeleine Albright 35 years ago when she was an adviser to that Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis. She was tough. She was really funny.


Ahead for us, a controversial Republican Congressman caught trying to go through airport security with a loaded gun. And this isn't the first time.


KING: Topping our political radar today, North Carolina Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn caught by the TSA bringing a gun through airport security. The Staccato C2 9 millimeter handgun was loaded. Security officers at Charlotte International Airport confiscated the gun Tuesday morning. Cawthorn, the Congressman was issued a citation. Cawthorn did not respond to a CNN request for comment.

The nation's top infectious disease expert now says he will skip the White House Correspondents dinner this weekend amid COVID concerns. Dr. Anthony Fauci says he made the decision after the Vice President tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday, but Fauci also expressing optimism about the overall state of the pandemic in the country. He said at this moment the United States is quote out of the pandemic phase of COVID, citing low cases and hospitalizations.


Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. Hope to see you tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.