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Biden on NATO's Frontline as Putin meets with China; U.S. Believes Russia Carried out Failed ICBM Test; Republicans Divided over U.S. Aid to Ukraine; Republicans Split over Future Aid for Ukraine; Haley: Ukraine "Is a War about Freedom" that "We have to win". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 22, 2023 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. President Biden flying home after 72 consequential hours in Europe, an undercover trip to Kyiv a defining speech and today a huddle with allies on NATO's front line his parting message colliding with a new Russia China joint effort to condemn the West and promise, "New frontiers".

Plus this is their mess. The President puts the job of cleaning up a toxic rail spill on the shoulders of Norfolk Southern Railway but the stern words from the President come only after Ohioans in Ohioans impacted, say they believe the President has ignored them for weeks. And the new Republican majority one key Speaker McCarthy ally calls for red states to leave the union. And an Alabama Republican wants to enshrine the AR-15 as the national gun of America.

Up first for us though, an important split on the global stage. President Joe Biden in Warsaw President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, their agenda is underlying the state of play in Ukraine right now. There is no end in sight to the year old war.

Right now President Biden is on Air Force One his trek home, capping a three day trip jam packed with high drama high stakes and yes, high tensions. Today the Leaders of NATO's firewall, the Bucharest Nine flanking President Biden in Poland, President Biden again painting this fight in Ukraine as a must win test for the West.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: As NATO's eastern flank you know the frontlines of our collective defense. And you know better than anyone what's at stake in this conflict, not just for Ukraine, but for the freedom democracies throughout Europe and around the world.


KING: Also, today, we saw the Russian President give a direct counter to his American counterpart today, Mr. Putin playing host to China's top diplomat at the Kremlin and ginning up a pro Kremlin crowd in a Moscow stadium. Let's begin our coverage this hour in Warsaw, our CNN's Chief White House correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil the President on his way home after a trip the White House believes achieved its objective prove to Putin that the West will not blame.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a trip that almost certainly will be defined by the dramatic symbolism, the very high minded wide ranging rallying cry to the entire Western coalition over the course of the 48 hours leading into today.

But as the President lifted off just moments ago, I think the meeting that he had behind closed doors more than an hour with the Bucharest Nine countries, the nine countries that make up the flank of the NATO alliance, I think probably is the best window into the process that's going to be happening next, there is a reality here.

And it's a reality that you laid out in the split screen we've seen now twice in two days from Presidents Putin and Biden. And that is that there is a long path way to go with no clear outcome, nuclear endgame in terms of how things are going to play out.

And that underscores that the discussions that actually happened behind the scenes, including in Kyiv, where U.S. officials said there was a very intensive, very detailed discussion between Presidents Biden and Zelenskyy, between their teams yesterday, as well with President Duda here in Poland.

And then today with the nine leaders of the eastern flank NATO countries, these were not just gripping grab photo lines, these were actually intensive discussions about policy about needs, about what needs to happen going forward, not just in terms of the coalition's assistance for Ukraine, the coalition strategy, in terms of the process going forward with the Ukraine and Russia war.

But also in terms of what NATO allies need? What NATO allies on the front lines want and how the U.S. cannot just offer their reassurance, but also deliver, whether it's about troop's money, equipment, as well? All of this is in play right now. And those are critical discussions that will lead to critical decisions in the weeks and months ahead, John.

KING: Phil Mattingly for us live in Warsaw. Phil, appreciate your coverage here and throughout the last few day. Now let's get to some important and related CNN reporting. U.S. officials telling CNN that Russia failed in an effort to test launch an ICBM just around the time the American President was in Kyiv, Ukraine. Let's go to the Pentagon, CNN's Oren Liebermann has more details. Oren, what do we know?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, two U.S. officials tell CNN that Russia carried out a test of its SARMAT intercontinental ballistic missile. The SARMAT is a heavy ICBM capable of reaching most points around the globe and carrying 100 ton warhead.

One of the reasons U.S. officials believe this test failed and according to a U.S. official it was carried out on Saturday is because it came just days before Russian President Vladimir Putin State of the Nation speech and yet in that hour, 45 minute monologue he made absolutely no mention of the SARMAT missile tests.

The SARMAT has a NATO nickname of the Satan II. He has boasted about this missile in the past. There was a successful test last April in which he said the missile would give thought to those who wanted to threaten Russia.


LIEBERMANN: Instead now after this missile test, there was absolutely no mention in that entire speech. Worth pointing out that U.S. officials tell CNN that Russia did give proper notification ahead of the test to the United States.

And defense officials say that it was not viewed as provocative and the U.S. was ready for it also worth noting here that the U.S. went ahead with a visit of President Joe Biden to Ukraine, even after this test and the notification, John.

KING: Oren Liebermann live at the Pentagon. Appreciate that important reporting Oren, thank you! Let's get some important perspective now, as we hit the one year mark on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General George Joulwan.

General Joulwan, appreciate your time. Let me just start with a pretty basic question. You had the President of the United States in Kyiv and then in Poland for a couple of days. The split screen contrast, if you will stare down you might call it with Vladimir Putin throughout the last 72 hours.

What is different today? Obviously, that you see the political show of force by both presidents, what is it - what do you see as different in terms of the political will, going forward now, as we move into year two?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: You see a very definite political role on part of those Former Warsaw Pact countries that now part of NATO. And I think that's extremely important.

And I think you also see a really clear understanding of what democracy is all about. And that was very evident, I think, and the President might visit. He was my best supporter when I was in NATO. And he really speaks very clearly from the mind and the heart. And you, you saw that on this visit.

KING: And so now we move into year two, and President Biden says the West will not blank. He promises to keep this coalition together that includes military assistance, economic assistance, other assistance to Ukraine.

What do you think is critical on the battlefield so that we are not here a year from now talking about moving into year three of this war? And in that context, this is the new CNN reporting on the United States pushing Ukraine to alter its battlefield tactics.

The hope is, Ukraine can use its arsenal of sophisticated weapons transition away from the sort of pitched battle of attrition that is dominated much of the fighting to a style of mechanized maneuver warfare that uses rapid unanticipated movements against Russia. A is that the right advice and B, just what do you see as the next key challenge on the battlefield?

JOULWAN: Well, I think that will be one of the right moves. I think the most important thing now is to give strategic intelligence to the Ukrainian so they understand what's on the other side, in both Belarus and then in Russia.

So they understand where the main attack will be coming. And they could respond to it. I think they're going to evolve in time here, all the weapons, the armor, the tanks, and the artillery, but they need to be able to concentrate that where the main attack of Russia will come. And I think they're heading in that direction. The Ukrainians are very good learners of the NATO tactics in particular and that will be very helpful in the fight that's to come.

KING: We've seen an escalation in - I use the term muscular quite a bit the muscular nature of U.S. assistance to Ukraine, and the other nations as well over the past year. If you go back to April of 2022, it was howitzers. We're howitzers on the ground so you can fire artillery, then it was High Mars, which is a mobile rocket launching system off to Ukraine.

Then by December, we were talking about Patriot anti-missile batteries and now tanks that will be arriving in the spring, both American Abrams tanks, German Leopard tanks. The conversation right now is should jets be added to that? Should F-16s and other NATO fighter jets be added to that? Do you believe that continued escalation will happen in the second year of this war, including fighter jets?

JOULWAN: Yes, they well. I think the sooner the better. The air cap that we want to Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine are necessary and they don't have no-fly zones and often Iron Dome, then they must have capability that's air capability and ground capability in the way of artillery and anti-aircraft weapons.

KING: General Joulwan, appreciate your insight, sir. We'll continue this conversation obviously important trip for the President. We'll see how it plays out on the battlefield in the weeks and months ahead? Sir, appreciate your time today.

Up next for us, some brand new CNN reporting on the growing Republican divide over Ukraine in Congress and among the GOP's 2024 contenders. And just into CNN the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sets a date to visit East Palestine, Ohio as the people affected by that toxic train derailment grow frustrated with the response. We will take you there live next.


[12:10:00] KING: A house divided over military and financial aid to Ukraine. Some brand new CNN reporting reveals a growing chasm among the GOP as the war enters its second year. Some hardline Republicans say the billions spent back in Ukraine is a prime example of government waste and given their slim House majority, it could be enough to complicate or potentially even block additional funding down the road.

Joining us now to share their reporting and their insights CNN's MJ Lee, CNN's Isaac Dovere, Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal- Constitution and CNN's Lauren Fox, Lauren, Lauren, so the House Republicans you report it's a minority, but it's a vocal minority. Who say America First what are we doing? Where's the money going?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it's been a dramatic split screen this week while you've had the President visiting Ukraine; you have had a lot of these House Republicans arguing he shouldn't be there in the first place. He should be back In the United States. So I think one of the biggest chasms that you're starting to see right now is just fatigue about why is the U.S. spending money at all?


FOX: And it's a real big difference between the leadership and some of these rank and file members. You have people like Mitch McConnell, who are going to go out there and argue all day long on FOX News that this is an important issue for the Republican base.

Then you have people like Kevin McCarthy, who's going to have to contend with some of those conservatives like Matt Gaetz, who has a resolution asserting American fatigue over giving Ukraine financial aid for this war.

Kevin McCarthy said he did not support that resolution, but he also doesn't support a blank check. And that leads to a lot of question marks as this fight on Capitol Hill really intensifies overspending over the next several months. What does that mean for the future of Ukraine?

KING: And this isolationist movement is growing in the Republic, right? It's not new, but it is growing. And you see - it's noteworthy many House Republicans said what is President Biden doing there for the last few days? They did not seem to question while their own House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McFaul was there leading a bipartisan delegation of House members.

He was in Kyiv right after President Biden. I didn't see any tweet saying why isn't he back in Texas? Why isn't he at the border? They seem to have forgotten that part. It's interesting, though, because over in the Senate, most Republicans in the Senate think this is a fight the United States must be in.

Most Republicans in the Senate this is an area where they say President Biden is doing the right thing. They might even want him to do more. Shelley Moore Capito a Republican West Virginia, maybe they aren't getting the same information, she says of House members. I think maybe there are more people over there who view it as an enhancement of war where we see it as protection of freedom. That's what President Biden has been saying that if you give Putin Ukraine, what's to stop him from going into Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, that group of nine countries we just showed?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yes. And I think what the more seasoned Republicans, the Republicans who've been around, we have to remember the House, especially this new kind of more empowered far right contingent of the House has not been around a really long time.

But those Senators who have say, if you empower Putin, and quite frankly, even this rhetoric around withdrawing U.S. funding, is something that can further empower Putin to say, hey, I can stay the race, and hope to wait out the U.S. and then bide my time.

And I think what we're hearing from Senators is that you can't let that happen. The question is, will the House that new Republican majority start standing in the way of further U.S. support for the Ukraine?

KING: And what makes it all the more interesting is as we head into the presidential cycle, it's not just a House Republican or even the internal House Republican divide, you see it playing out on the campaign trail among declared and likely soon to be Republican presidential candidates.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The war in Ukraine it's more than just about Ukraine. This is a war about freedom. And it's a war we have to win.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They have effectively a blank check policy with no clear strategic objective identified. And these things can escalate. And I don't think it's in our interest to be getting into proxy war with China.


KING: Is this a fight President Biden wants to have on the campaign trail? Or is there any concern at the White House that if this is an either or campaign issue, it undermines the effort in Congress?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well look, I would say that I think the last 72 hours have shown what a tough hand Republicans have to play in many ways, right? We've had this President who has made a dangerous trip into a war zone has been sticking his finger in the eye of Vladimir Putin and standing next to an international hero, that being Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

American voters like seeing a president who looks strong on the international world stage, particularly heading into a war zone on such an unprecedented trip. And Republicans want to sort of make something political out of something that is very challenging for them to deal with.

The imagery of the President making this trip has been something challenging for Republicans to deal with. But I think, you know, Lauren, you make a really good point about how this isn't really the majority of Republicans, the Republican Party, in large part, they are supportive of continuing to fight against Vladimir Putin. But I think someone like Kevin McCarthy; he hasn't really made clear what exactly he means when he says there's not going to be a blank check. made out to Ukraine?

KING: Pick your cycle. Presidential Primaries often settled debates in parties. Bill Clinton was a different kind of Democrat. George W. Bush wanted compassionate conservatism. Donald Trump rewrote the rules of Republican politics. Will this debate be settled?

ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Well look, what we're going to as already, Nikki Haley is saying that if we don't continue in the war for Ukraine, then that will lead to World War III. Donald Trump is saying if we do continue it that will lead to World War III, that's where the Republican Party is divided on this.

And then you get into all the House dynamics. This is going to be something where you have a lot of Republicans who are facing these isolationist ideas, also budget ideas, but trying to figure out how they attack Joe Biden? How they make Biden the bad guy here as MJ said? He through the imagery of this week made that a little bit tricky for them.

KING: Everybody standby, we have some news just into CNN.


KING: The Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will visit East Palestine, Ohio tomorrow that nearly three weeks after a toxic train derailment. Earlier this week Secretary Buttigieg said he would visit the town "When the time is right".

Meanwhile, the President now promising his full support to the town as well. In the new statement, he pledged full accountability and cleanup writing, "I want affected residents to know that we've got your back". Let's go live now to CNN's Miguel Marquez, he is joining us from East Palestine. Miguel there is some disenchantment in the community they don't feel they're getting enough attention enough help.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is going to be a very hard audience for a Democratic administration to win over. This is sort of hardcore Trump country. And they were very upset the Mayor on down here in East Palestine that the President went to Ukraine, for instance, rather than coming here to East Palestine.

But I wanted to show you the level of the cleanup here. They've just pulled out several of these barriers that they have in different streams here that are contaminated. They have these big generators that are pumping water out of the streams, and then pumping it back in to sort of disturb the water so that it hits these barriers, and any sort of toxins in the water get trapped in these barriers. This is one stream there's another stream that comes through town, both of them are contaminated. And all the way along, I see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 barriers in it about 100 yards or so here. And you see this all the way through town, just a massive effort to clean up the water here and the air.

Great distrust at the way all of this played out. Norfolk Southern doing this controlled burn after the train derailed, that controlled burn center, a massive plume of smoke. So it affected not just the town here, but the area around it. A lot of farming in this area and then they found out that there were even more chemicals on that train than they first indicated.

So a lot of concern the EPA, the President, the Transportation Secretary, all now trying to tell people in this town, that they are here for the long haul to clean up this mess, and they're going to make Norfolk Southern now pay for, John.

KING: Miguel Marquez live for us on the ground. Appreciate that important reporting. Let's bring the conversation back into the room. The administration would argue we've been watching this from day one. But it's the fact that the EPA Administrator went yesterday, Secretary Buttigieg goes tomorrow, I suspect the President of the United States will not be far behind.

Transportation Secretary gets home. It's a community that voted 70/30 for Donald Trump. Who cares? These are fellow Americans dealing with a crisis. Is there some sense that the White House that even if they were watching it, they should have been talking about it more?

LEE: Look, I think it's clear that time is definitely of the essence as Miguel and others on the ground have reported. There is real lack of trust at the federal government's response. Did they respond fast enough? There's a clear desire within that community to see big names common actually see with their own eyes.

And I think you're absolutely right, that as soon as the President touches back down on U.S. oil, there are going to be real questions about what he personally is willing to do and show he is doing to really address this problem.

We'll see how long this problem ends up being serious and continues to make serious headlines before this White House time is of the essence. And they have to show very quickly that they are dealing with this head on. And I think it's also just a reminder that there are so many times for any White House, external circumstances and developments they really do and can derail whatever the issues are that the White House would like to focus on.

KING: And you see this is Scott Perry, remember the House Freedom Caucus saying why is the President in Ukraine when he could be at the southern border or in Ohio? Again, the administration would argue in the states Republican Governor has said he's getting full communication cooperation with the federal government. But showing up sometimes helps? MITCHELL: Right, the Biden Administration will argue they're always doing a lot of things at the same time. And just because the President went to the Ukraine doesn't mean that he wasn't devoting federal resources and attention to East Palestine.

But they also have to deal with the political realities, which is that conservative Republicans, Republican Leaders in general are criticizing the Biden Administration and criticizing the administration's response to this derailment.

So you know, they might want to make it - they would like it to be perceived as we're doing all these things at one time, but politically, they need to probably put a little bit more public attention public facing attention on this issue.

KING: And again the administration would argue a lot of these same Republicans helped deregulate the industry and maybe more regulation might have helped. But again, showing up on the ground helps no matter what your argument is tonight.

Be very shortage tuned at 9 pm Eastern tonight for CNN town hall on this toxic train disaster. The Ohio Governor Mike DeWine will be there, along with concerned residents. And ahead for us, two GOP extremes an Alabama lawmaker calls for the AR-15 to be the national gun. And Marjorie Taylor Greene is pushing for what she called a "National Divorce"



KING: Some provocative stories this week for members of the new Republican House Majority. Freedom Caucus Member Congressman Barrymore of Alabama wants Congress to designate the AR-15 assault style rifle as the country's national gun. And Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene now a key ally of the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says it is time for what she calls a national divorce for red states to break off and form a separate alliance.