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United Nations: Evacuation Convoy On The Way To Azovstal Steel Plant; Russia Strike In Kramatorsk Leaves Six Injured; Ukraine: "If There Is Hell In The World, It Is In Azovstal"; Azovstal Commander: "The Enemy Has Broken In"; Pentagon: Russia Trying To Hit "Critical Infrastructure"; On Poll: 66 Percent Disapprove Of Biden's Handling Of Economy; CNN Poll: Only 23 percent Have Heard Good News About Economy; Tape McCarthy Slams Trump, Calls 25th Amendment Process "Too Long". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 05, 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. The enemy is inside the gates. After weeks of heavy bloody battles, Russian forces have now breached Mariupol's final stronghold. Video here shows the breakneck pace of the Russian artillery strikes, shells continued to bombard a network of foxholes inside the Azovstal steel plant, each hit bringing that plant closer and closer to Russian capture.

In Popasna, dust and ash. A drone gives a glimpse at what much of eastern Ukraine now looks like, simply broken. In Dnipro, at the speed of a blink, a Russian missile smashes into an important bridge, that another attacks. The Pentagon says, now part of a deliberate Russian plan to decapitate Ukrainian resupply routes.

In Kharkiv, signs of a Ukrainian surge. Commanders on the ground, say Ukraine's military has reasserted control in the suburbs surrounding the city. The breakthrough may blunt, may blunt Moscow's push to sweep through the east. But progress elsewhere it does little to change the fate of Mariupol. The last battalion inside faces near certain death and they know it, making this a song of defiance, all the more remarkable.

That is Ukraine's battle, echoing through and at Azovstal bunker the words just haunting. It is sweeter to die in battle and to live in chains. We begin our coverage this hour in Lviv, western Ukraine, CNN's Scott McLean right there for us. Scott with the latest?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, well, some good news, maybe the U.N. special envoy for Ukraine, I should say has just said that there is a humanitarian convoy in route to Mariupol, specifically to that steel plant to try to get people out, of what he calls a bleak hell, probably an understatement.

The hope is that that convoy can arrive at the plant tomorrow morning to begin that evacuation process. He said that the process is working with the Red Cross with the parties again, like we saw with the successful evacuation on Sunday.

Now, nothing happens quickly. You'll recall that when more than hundred people were able to make it out from underneath of that steel plan, all of them civilians. Well, it was President Zelenskyy who announced that there was some kind of an operation underway to get people out on Friday.

And then, we heard precious little on Saturday. And it wasn't until the operation was actually underway on Sunday, that finally Ukrainian officials broke their silence. So, in this case, no news may in fact be good news.

The reality though, is the news that we have been getting is not good. Russia, of course, offered this all of branch last night, saying that there would be a way for civilians to get out today tomorrow and Saturday. But an Azov regiment, part of the Ukrainian military that's doing the bulk of the fighting from that plant, and Azov regiment deputy commander says that Russia has not kept their word. There is no ceasefire at this point. In fact, there was very heavy fighting going on.

The Ukrainian say that the Russians are trying to get into or trying to storm the plant from the ground. That is something that the Russians deny, saying that President Putin has given specific orders not to do that. But we know that there's also been heavy bombardment of this plant as well.

All of this adds up to a pretty bleak picture for the people who are trapped under there, and the Ukrainian say, up to 30 children as well. That Azov deputy commander, says that he's really pleading with the international community to do something to get people out and also pleading specifically with President Zelenskyy to also help the many wounded soldiers, he say, are dying in agony. John?

KING: Sober reporting. Scott McLean, live for us in Lviv. Scott, thank you so much. Control of Kramatorsk is another Russian goal in the east. And overnight there, a Russian missile colliding with three buildings, damaging a school and a kindergarten. CNN's Sam Kiley, they are on the ground to observe the damage.

SAM KILEY, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kramatorsk was hit overnight with at least six missiles. Now, they have had clearly a devastating impact. This is a heating, a pumping station sewage area. The size of the building would indicate that it was in no way could have housed any kind of military equipment.


LUDMYLLA, KRAMATORSK RESIDENT: I just got lucky. I went to the bathroom. I heard a bang. I sit down on the bed, and it heats me, and all the furniture fell down.


KILEY: But the scenes here are absolutely extraordinary. The way that these trees have been completely decapitated, torn to shreds. And the same goes also for these homes. Now amazingly, very few people here considering the scale of the damage were injured and none were killed.

There were 25 injured, six have been hospitalized, one is in a critical condition. And the reason for that is that at least two thirds of the city of Kramatorsk have already left. But this without any question is yet another strike by the Russians on a civilian residential area. Sam Kiley, CNN, in Kramatorsk.


KING: Lets get some insights now from retired Lieutenant General, CNN military analyst, General Mark Hertling. General, grateful for your time today. I want to start. I want to get to the bigger broader campaign in a minute, but I want to start by getting us in - getting us to Mariupol.

We've talked about this for weeks, the strategic importance of that city. Russia trying to have the land bridge all across the south, but you have these last holdouts, fighters and some civilians in this steel plant, was showing you some bombing. This is from yesterday, but it continued into today.

The Russians could just surrounded. They could choke it off. They could let humanitarian aid workers into try to get the last civilians out at least instead, they have decided to continue shelling it and shelling it and shelling it. Why?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: You know, John, I got to tell you the beasts' reality of this entire operation, you know, I'm trying to maintain contact with the entire campaign and watch it. But truthfully, I cannot get Mariupol out of my head, because those fighters had been in there for almost two months.

And you know, when we go back and forth to it, you know, we have rested, we have had food, we have enjoyed our life. They have been under continuous fire for the entire period. So, the physical fatigue is just overwhelming for any soldier that's been in battle. Why is Russia doing this? They desperately need that city, that road junction between the east and the west, and between the logistics that would go to the north.

And now it almost seems like it's become a point of pride that Russia will destroy this city. But truthfully, John, they're going to have a hard time. You know that that steel plant has seven underground layers. And we used to train cave complex in the U.S. army to prepare soldiers to go to Afghanistan. That is some of the hardest operations because it takes a defender, very few people to hold off a large number of enemy coming into those caves.

And that's what you have here. Basically, it's a constructed cave. In Azovstal, they can't bring tanks, they can't bring artillery down into the lower levels. So, Russia is just going to continue to pound the top level. And they're going to have a lot of soldiers die, fighting in the lower levels, if the Azov battalion can hold out.

KING: Let's move on to some other issues brought. I just want to first show a little bit more video here. This we showed at the top of the show. This is a bridge in Dnipro. And I know you've been critical of the Russian incompetence, as you would call it throughout this campaign. But they do seem to be more strategic in their targeting of late.

You see the bridge here, General, and I was trying to bring up a map of the region, and you know this well. It might be hard for some viewers to see at home. But here's the south. Here's Mariupol. Here's the east. You see these dotted lines, those are railways. You see the red lines, those are roads. The Russian targeting in recent days does seem to be correct, General. Take out the railways if you can, take out key bridges, so that the Ukrainians the resupply is coming from Poland across the country this way to choke them off. Right?

GEN. HERTLING: That is the critical point. That map with the roads and the railroads, John, is very important compared to the other maps we've been showing, because it shows how Ukraine is getting their logistics, and how Russia is attempting to prevent those from those transfer points of roads and rails and rivers, all critical. The bridges and everything that Ukraine is using to their advantage, the Russian is trying to stop.

And you're right, they have been exceedingly precise in destroying these kinds of things and also destroying civilian infrastructure. But they've also been using the dumb bombs and the area fire artillery to kill civilians in a large, methodical way. So, they have the capability as we've seen to strike precision targets. So that makes it even worse, that they are killing so many civilians with these arbitrary strikes.

KING: So, help me understand the challenge. You've heard President Biden, you've heard other allies, NATO allies and other western nations, say we're going to give you what you need will write (Ph) Russian, the heavy artillery. but if the Russians are more successful.

Here is Kramatorsk here of taking out railways. Here is Dnipro. We just showed the bridge bombing there. There have been others even more to the west. If the Russians are more successful in hitting those key infrastructure installations, if you will, how does that change the challenge of resupply?

GEN. HERTLING: Well, it makes it more challenging but certainly Ukraine knows this terrain, and they can find ways around it. So, what you're talking about is Russia hitting pinpoint logistics transfer points to disrupt. But again, you know, when your friendly forcing, you've just had those kinds of implications to try and to get logistics and heavy weapons forward. You find another way to do it.


And Russia isn't capable of hitting everywhere, so they are hitting the key places to disrupt the logistics flow but they're not hitting everywhere. So, I'm convinced that the Ukrainians are going to continue to get, you know, on secondary roads across terrain. They're going to continue to get those things to the front lines and repair the roads and the railroads as best they can. That's what an army does when they have those kinds of complications with resupply routes, and it becomes a primary importance.

KING: General Hertling, great for your time. Sir, appreciate it.

GEN. HERTLING: Thanks, John.

KING: Next, we shift to politics here at home, the Democrats in the midterm message. There are some who believe a Supreme Court decision to racing abortion rights will become this year's driving issue. Others though, say the economy is almost always issue number one. And on that front, the president is in a heap of trouble.




KING: Some Democrats see the now very real prospect. The Supreme Court will end abortion rights by wiping Roe v Wade off the books, as a decisive turn in the midterm campaign dynamics.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 72 percent of the American people think this is a mistake. If that kind of number holds, it's going to have a determining effect on the outcome of the next election.


KING: Other Democrats, though, are more skeptical. Yes, they believe such a dramatic step by the High Court would help motivate Democratic voters, and perhaps give some moderate Republicans pause about voting for the GOP this year. But in most campaigns, the economy is issue one. And in some new political reporting, exploring the political impact of overturning Roe, a democratic pollster put it this way. To hold the House or the Senate, we need inflation to go away.

With me to share their reporting and their insights, Politico's Laura Barron-Lopez, CNN's Jeremy Diamond, and CNN's Eva McKend. Laura, that story written by two of your colleagues, and that is the big debate among the Democrats now who believe they don't want this Supreme Court decision to happen.

But if it does, and it appears inevitable at this point, how much of an impact on the campaign? But the economy, the economy, and more importantly, the psychology of voters about the economy right now seems to be driving.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT POLITICO: Right. The perception that voters have about the economy and about their pocketbooks and prices being expensive at the grocery store or at the gas pump. That is definitely the overarching issue right now across campaigns, whether it's House or Senate.

But there are a lot of Democratic candidates running for positions like attorney general or for governor, they see the abortion issue as something very potent in their races, because they're saying, we are the last line of defense. If this gets overturned, which it's poised to be, then they are positioning themselves as vote for us because we can actually protect it in our states.

KING: So, it's early May. We will see as this plays out. First, we'll see if the Supreme Court actually issues its opinion, which again, appears most likely. And then we'll see how the campaign plays out. But Jeremy Diamond, you cover the president. He's aware of these numbers. This is a trajectory. You do not want disapproval of the president's handling of the economy.

Look at that, you go back to April 2021. On the left, 66 percent. Now in a brand-new CNN poll, I mean, that line is heading in the wrong direction and heading in the wrong direction. When we are now inside six months to election day, it gets hard to improve the numbers in time.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And the White House has been holding out hope that inflation will abate somewhat between now and Election Day. But as you're saying, we're within that window now where it's going to be very hard to change voters' perception of these issues, perception of these pocketbook issues.

And this is all despite the fact that President Biden, at least once a week is holding some kind of event, trying to talk about the strength of the economy, and also trying to acknowledge some of those inflation concerns, while also insisting that his administration is doing everything they can to try and get at that.

Look, I think there's agreement among Democrats that this abortion ruling if indeed it comes down the way it's anticipated to, will help Democrats. The question is, how much? And will those suburban women who helps Democrats win the House in 2018. Will they care more about this abortion issue? Or will they care more about their ability to get food on the table and their ability to put gas in their cars? And I think that some Democrats at least are leaning in that direction.

KING: And I think some of that depends on what state are we talking about. Is it a deep red state? Is it a purple state? Are we talking about a congressional race or maybe you're in a small district, you can change the dynamic? But the national wind right now is against the president because of that economic number right there.

Here is another piece of it, Eva. We asked in our poll. On the economy, what have you heard lately? 89 percent say at least some bad news, 23 percent say at least some good news. That's the thing. There are a lot of great economic numbers for the president right now.

Job growth is good. The fundamentals of the economy are strong, but people are hearing about inflation. They don't need to hear it on the news. They hear it every time they stopped to fill up the tank or every time, they stopped to get groceries.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right, John. No doubt that for a long time, this has been the administration's largest political problem. But I don't think that we should downplay the role of this draft ruling. Listen, the ads have already been cut. Sarah Godlewski, who I interviewed this week, she is running for Senate in Wisconsin.

That is a state with a trigger law on the books. She already has an ad in front of the Supreme Court, imploring voters to support her because of how consequential this potentially could be. So, she even went so far as to call it a game changer. So, I would not downplay what this graph, what this potential ruling might mean.

KING: It's a key point. I think the idea is that we don't know and everyone's going to try to figure it out. But you make a key point about the different races too. Is it a question, will the voters decide this is how I'm going to vote for House or Senate, when they're just blanket and say, I'm going to vote democratic, blanket and say, vote Republican or doesn't matter by race?


I got a phone call yesterday after I said something on the air about, you know, Ohio being a red state, and some Democrats didn't like. I said that. It's a red state statewide. I get their point about gerrymandering within the state and every state by Democrats and Republicans, but a Democrat they were saying, you know, we nominated for the first time in Ohio, a woman for Governor. We think that might help in this dynamic, maybe.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. I mean, to your point, John, yes, it we're months away. We don't totally know how it's going to impact a lot of these races. But one thing that I think it's interesting that the White House is doing, because Jeremy noted, is that abortion, or is it inflation that voters are going to care about more.

That's why the White House and Biden, you heard him immediately talk about, this is not just about abortion, it's also about privacy, it's also about contraception, it's about gay marriage, and the found, if this is overturned, and if that draft opinion, is pretty much what is issued, ultimately, then it takes aim at a lot of these other rights that people, whether it's civil rights, natural rights, that you know, a lot of voters might take for granted.

KING: And never mind the issue, set the issues aside for a minute. I don't mean never mind them but set them aside for a second. The language the president use, radical, mega, radical, mega. His language has shifted. He's trying to make the other side evil radical.

DIAMOND: Yes. And you're going to see him heart continue to harden his language over the next coming months. I think there's also a question of this abortion ruling. I mean, we've seen the reaction now to this draft. But what about the people who are holding out hope that it won't be true? They can't be true that it can't actually happen.

What will happen? If indeed, this actually becomes the official ruling of the Supreme Court? Will we see those numbers move even more? Will we see fundraising totals move even more? And obviously, that'll be close or not as close as some Democrats would want to the November midterms, but it'll be closer. And potentially you could see more of a shift than some Democrats are seeing at this very moment.

Mckend: That's absolutely right. Democrats have often been accused of being alarmist when they talk about this issue. Well, if this actually happens, that completely changes this conversation.

KING: The Casey decision, Casey versus Planned Parenthood back in 1991, did have an impact on 1992. That's a presidential year will be the same in the midterm. This is one of the questions. We'll explore as we go forward. Up next for us, Kevin McCarthy, in his own words. Again, this time, he's part of a conversation about whether the Trump cabinet should force the president from office and it's a safe bet. Trump won't like what he hears.




KING: There is another recording of the House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy today. And in this one, he sounds like he's in a hurry to get rid of Donald Trump. This is January 8, 2021. Two days after the mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. An aide on this call tells Leader McCarthy, Democrats wants the Trump cabinet to declare the president unfit for office and remove him.


JOHN LEGANSKI, HOUSE GOP FLOOR DIRECTOR (voiceover): I think the options that have been cited by the Democrats so far are 25th Amendment, which is not exactly an elegant solution here.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA) (voiceover): That takes too long too. It could go back to the House, right?


KING: Not, no, not, that's a crazy idea. The House Republican leader worries again his words "that takes too long." CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero joins the panel. Leader McCarthy is right there. If the Trump cabinet voted to remove Trump, Trump could protest and then the House and the Senate if you read the, how it works would have to vote to overrule Trump. But Leader McCarthy's voice there was not like, that's not sir, Trump doesn't deserve that it was, that takes too long.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it was late in the process when we look at the calendar in terms of January 6 have taken place and the inauguration coming up in just weeks. But really, John, I never thought that the 25th Amendment was really the right way to address the threat that the Trump presidency posed to U.S. national security.

If we want to look at what Congress could have done. What members of the administration could have done to prevent that and to prevent the threat that actually took place at the Capitol? We can look back to the first impeachment where members of Congress did not vote to impeach him, where he demonstrated that he abused his foreign affairs authority.

Or we can look to what happened right after January 6, where they either could have publicly pressured him to resign. Or they could have voted in favor of the impeachment, which at least would have created the record after the fact. They didn't do any of those things.

KING: The publicly versus privately as a critical point when you get to the politics of this. Leader McCarthy did say some things publicly critical of Trump at the time. But listen to more of this call and I would just want to give credit. Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns have this recording as part of their book. It's both New York Times reporters. Their book came out yesterday. Listen here, Kevin McCarthy talking about how, A, he says Trump did something terrible, and B, how it's important that Republicans make peace with Biden.


MCCARTHY (voiceover): Yes. But what the president did is atrocious and totally wrong. I do think the impeachment divides the nation further and continues the fight even greater. That's why I want to reach out to Biden. I wanted the President to meet with Biden, but that's not going to happen. I want to see about us meeting with Biden, sitting down, making a smooth transition to show that and continue to keep those statements going.


KING: Last part there are, people watching at home tend to view these things for their partisan spectrum, which is fine, that's their right. But that lap parts there sounds like a responsible public official, saying this is over. It's time to sit down with Biden and at least have a smooth transition. I'm not sure Trump's going to like that part either.

BARRON-LOPEZ: No. I mean, you know, in private, we have heard time and time again McCarthy on these tapes, say this was atrocious, this was wrong. And very briefly as you noted, John, right after January 6, he did go on the floor and say that Trump bore responsibility for this.