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Inside Politics

Missile Barrage Kills At Least 11 In Overnight Assault; 81 Missiles, Including Hypersonics, Puncture Air Defenses; Norfolk Southern CEO Testifies For First Time Since Derailment; Senate Republican Leader McConnell Hospitalized After Fall; White House Releases Biden's Budget; Biden Budget: $3T In New Deficit Cuts; Manchin: Let's "Go Back To Normal" On Spending; Nikki Haley: Raise Retirement Age, Limit Benefits For Wealthy. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 09, 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. Russia goes hypersonic, a furious. Overnight missile barrage 81 launchers, including some of Moscow's most sophisticated weaponry, piercing holes in Ukraine's air defense.

Plus, President Biden's budget is just out. It outlines big ambitions on the deficit, on cost cutting for families, on bulletproofing, entitlements and more. A Republican House though guarantees most of it won't clear Congress, but it is a roadmap to the president's 2024 campaign contrast.

And we're done that from California's Democratic governor. He is walking away from a $54 million state deal with Walgreens because he says, the pharmacy giant decided it will not dispense abortion inducing drugs in red states.

Up first for us though, a hypersonic high tide wave after wave of Russian missiles shattering cities across Ukraine, and Moscow's most ferocious assault in weeks. Today. air raid sirens across Ukraine. And look at the map, it shows you why. Russia leaving no corner of the country untouched, killing at least 11, injuring at least 20 more.

A black smoke shower, darkening the early morning sky in Kyiv after strikes near the city center. At least one of them Ukrainian officials say, was a dagger, that is a hypersonic missile. One of the most advanced munitions in Russians arsenal. And to the west, near Lviv. This near the NATO border, actually first responders battling through piles of mangled debris.

We begin our coverage in Kyiv with CNN's Ivan Watson.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, this is just one of dozens of impact points across Ukraine from a massive Russian military barrage that took place overnight. Fortunately, nobody was killed here, but look where the missile parts landed, right across from a big apartment building, it shattered windows here. It scared people, crashing in at seven o'clock in the morning. But people here are accustomed to this threat after a year of war. I spoke to a mother and her adult daughter. Both of them went to work today after this frightening wake up. Now in the western city of Lviv, five victims were tragically far less fortunate, three men and two women killed.

The Ukrainian armed forces say that this was an attack that came by land, sea and air, at least 81 different types of missiles fired at Ukraine as well as Iranian made Shahed so-called suicide drones. Ukrainian anti-aircraft was able to shoot down about 34 of the missiles, the Ukrainian Armed Force has claims and four of the drones.

But the Ukrainian Air Force has said that they don't have the capability to shoot down Russia's hypersonic caliber missiles, which were fired and some of the other missiles, and they remain vulnerable to these types of attacks.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has claimed responsibility for the attack. They say it was retaliation for some kind of incident that took place in the Russian region of Bryansk on March 2, which Ukraine has denied any connection to, and CNN has not been able to independently verify what in fact took place there. John?

KING: Ivan Watson, thank you. Moving on now to another big story playing out here in Washington. Right now, the Norfolk Southern CEO says he's sorry. And he is vowing to make things right and he's Palestine, Ohio after that last month toxic train derailment.

Right now, he's being pressed up on Capitol Hill about the steps his company will take to help clean up that Ohio community and to prevent future disasters. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is tracking this hearing for us and joins us now live. Sunlen, what are we learning?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there certainly has been some very sharp questions from the senators at this panel for the CEO of Norfolk Southern, talking about the initial steps that were taken after the derailment what went wrong. What went wrong in the immediate aftermath and communications, and certainly how they can make this whole for the residents of east Palestine.

Now, we did hear an apology as you noted from the CEO of the company, Andy Shaw, and he point blank admitted that mistakes were indeed made and specifically admitted that the safety mechanisms that were in place were just not right. And he committed to being on ground for as long as it takes. He said next week, next month, next year, five years, 10 years from now, here's what he said to those residents.



ALAN SHAW, NORFOLK SOUTHERN CEO: I am determined to make this right. Norfolk Southern will claim the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency. You have my personal commitment. Norfolk Southern will get the job done. We will be in the community for as long as it takes. To be clear, there are no strings attached to our assistance. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: Now, certainly given the huge and notable concerns from the residents in those communities over their health and safety and also the concern, more long term for their businesses. There was a huge kind of pushback from the company this week in the lead up to this community, really taking pains to lay out that they are making some safety changes, on that they are investing many millions of dollars in the community trying to make it right.

But for many on Capitol Hill and certainly many residents that does not go far enough. And we heard from some other witnesses today, most notably from the two senators from Ohio, a Republican and a Democrat who they pushed the company today and said, will you commit to this piece of bipartisan legislation, John, that they have put forward, which talks about bit more wholescale changes for the rail industry writ large.

And when he was asked about that, Andy Shaw, the CEO, he would not commit. He says, I commit the intent of this legislation, but certainly there are many parts of that that they don't agree with. But he said he believes that the culture of safety right now is good and certainly been improving. And that's what he said although, that does not go far enough for many residents.

KING: No guarantee is the questions, and the scrutiny will continue. Sunlen Serfaty, grateful for that reporting, important reporting. We'll continue to track the hearing as it plays out. But now to another major story developing as we speak up on Capitol Hill.

The Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is in the hospital today, that after the 81-year-old leader tripped and fell last night while at a dinner here at a hotel in Washington. One Republican senator telling CNN a short time ago, he expects a briefing on McConnell's condition sometime today.

Let's get to our CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, what more are we learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Republican senators are really in the dark about exactly the extent of Senator McConnell's injuries. Even the number two Republican Senator John Thune, just told a group of us moments ago that he has not spoken yet with the Republican leader, and he does not know exactly what happened last night.

Now he was, McConnell - Thune was at the same event as McConnell, which was an event for McConnell's leadership PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, a big money event. Very often McConnell goes to these kinds of events here in Washington. At the hotel, the Waldorf Astoria hotel, not far from the White House.

And after that event around 9:17pm, to be precise, that's when the emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene to help Senator McConnell who fell, who fell and tripped and fell and injured himself. Now, it is still, as we said, uncertain exactly how - what he was - to the extent of his injuries are, how long they'll be in the hospital, what his treatment is, but we do expect more information about all of that later today.

Now in talking to Republican senators, including Senator John Barrasso, a medical doctor. He has not spoken to McConnell yet, but he's still optimistic that the Republican leader will have a full recovery.


RAJU: Just general, take him out of it, 81-year-old falling, you're a doctor, what do you - what's the first thing that comes to your mind?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-YW): Well, you know, Chuck Grassley broke his hip earlier, he's doing remarkably well as to people and the president's age, other senators, which is going to do fine.

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): Here is some advantages to having a little gray hair and some life experience. But the truth is, is once you start getting the elderly, things start happening and you lose your balance, you get sick more regularly. And you know, growing old can be pretty rough.


RAJU: Again, the last Senator, Senator Jon Tester weighing in about the aging nature of the Senate, of course, the Senate is a much older body than the rest of the American public. The median age here, about 65 years old. We've seen some aging senators that have their own health issue. Senator Dianne Feinstein 89 years old, had been hospitalized just recently for shingles. She's now out of the hospital and receiving treatments.

Senator Chuck Grassley, also 89 years old fell and injured his hips. Just recently, he's had surgery to recover. Grassley making a recovery here in the Senate. But this is an issue, John, that has been very common absences from senators, but less common absence from the top member of leadership. Mitch McConnell, who's still in the hospital as we await more details about his condition.

KING: And Manu, a follow up on the details. Maybe it's because the senator is 80 years old, but I'm 59 years young, as I like to say because of my MS. I have balance issues sometimes. I have dizziness issues sometimes, I fall sometimes. The question is, do we know? Did he faint or get dizzy and fall? Or did he trip and fall? It could be a big distinction.


RAJU: It is a big distinction when we do not know any of the details about the circumstances around that fall. Even the senators who were at that event in which he fell last night did not witness it themselves. So, it is unclear exactly everything that happened here.

But John, as you know, Mitch McConnell was a polio survivor at a young age. So, he has sometimes trouble walking, he would walk one step at a time, he typically walks very carefully, but it's still uncertain exactly everything that happened here. But that's one of the big questions about his condition, what happened, and what's going to happen next.

KING: Manu Raju live on the Hill, important details. If you get any more, you know where we are, come back through the hour, throughout the day as we get them. Manu, thank you. Just moments ago, the Biden administration officially unveiling the president's 2024 budget.

Before as you see right there, the president taking a trip to Philadelphia to roll it out and to talk about it. It offers families help, with child-care costs, and it frames fights with Republicans on taxes, on Medicare and on Social Security.

And the Republican presidential hopefuls Nikki Haley already taking issue with Biden and with most of her fellow Republicans. She suggests raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for wealthy Americans.




KING: Just moments ago, the White House unveiling its new budget. President Biden calling for $3 trillion in deficit cuts, and more than $800 billion for the Pentagon budget. Liberal wish list items in the budget, also include raising taxes on high earners and corporations, shoring up Medicare, capping insulin prices at $35 a month, and a big, very big expansion of the Child Tax Credit.

The White House calls the budget a value statement. And we do know that with Republicans controlling the House, the new budget more than anything, frames the president's priorities now. As he negotiates with Republicans this year, and campaigns for reelection next year.

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Phil Mattingly to break it down for us. Phil, what jumps out?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think in the last 14 minutes, John, I assume you have read each of the 100 plus pages of analysis, black and white budget documents, all of the numbers, all of the tax policies that are in there. I'll shorthand it a little bit and really frame this for what it actually is.

This is in black and white, the drawing of the political battle lines both on the near-term fiscal fights that we'll be embracing. I think, to some degree when you talk to White House officials in the months ahead, particularly as it relates to the debt limit, but it also serves as an implicit campaign platform document.

When you look at some of the investments that are included in this $6.8 trillion budget, you're talking about, as you noted, the expansion of the childcare tax credit, the implementation of national paid family leave, incentives for states to boost childcare options. These are the types of things the president has talked about. He ran on in 2020. And he tried to implement in his first two years, was unable to, and he's still pursuing them, even though they know they don't necessarily have a pathway forward.

I think that's the reality here that White House officials are keenly aware of. This is not a document that will ever end up on the president's desk from a policy perspective. But it does lay out the very clear contrast between this White House and House Republicans. And it does lay out kind of the battle lines as things move forward.

And central among those is the issues of Medicare and Social Security. We saw the president talk about it. In the State of the Union address, he has continued to try and elevate this fight. And his budget director Shalanda Young, who I sat down with yesterday in advance of the budget proposal was trying to do the same. Take a listen.


SHALANDA YOUNG, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: This budget makes clear that this president will fully fund Social Security and extend the life of Medicare by 25 years with his policies. The speaker has said they won't cut, but they have plans in black and white and different proposals that have said they will cut benefits to Social Security and Medicare. So, I say show us the plan. I'll believe it when I read it.


MATTINGLY: And in that last statement, I think, John, is an important one because it alludes to another element of this that I think people need to pay close attention to this budget. While it is certainly required by law, the White House has always planned to produce it is also bait.

They want House Republicans to produce their own budget. They know the steep cuts that House Republicans have said, they're considering and yet have not detailed yet. And each one of those cuts will create a political opportunity for this White House to attack.

Again, view this through the lens of the fiscal battles ahead. And also, the political contrast that will define a 2024 reelection campaign, when or if the president decides to launch it. That's very much what this is all about. You know, this is a values document. But John, this is also a very clear political document as well.

KING: Interesting days beginning today, ahead as we go through the priorities debate. Phil Mattingly at the White House, thanks for kicking that off. Joining me now in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's MJ Lee, CNN's Melanie Zanona, and Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As Phil rightly put it, this is bait, chiefly for the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who did have one meeting with the president that he said was productive. That was about the debt ceiling, which they're going to have to deal with within the next couple of months. The budget is related to that because the Republicans want spending cuts, but Kevin McCarthy yesterday, not willing to give any details. He just says, why isn't the president called?


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): He told me once that he would, I believe eventually he will. But that's a month wasted. That's a month that brings more doubt financially, that's a month that hurts Americans. The sooner we get together, the better off all America will be. So, I'm looking forward to him being willing to sit down and be able to move this forward.


KING: Let's just start with the White House perspective on that. I assume the president's answer, the staff answer would be when you put something on paper, come on down. What were the coffee?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think the honest answer might be the president hasn't called because the White House has made clear all along that they don't see this as a negotiation that when it comes to raising the debt ceiling, they're not willing to have conversations, they're not willing to have back and forth about what they might be willing to give to House Republicans, because they are not willing to give anything. They think that this needs to be a clean raise.

I think Phil put it really well, when he said this is obviously a political blueprint. You know, it's interesting, you don't typically think of the OMB Director as being in any way political. But she kind of in that interview with Phil, went as far as an OMB Director might in a political direction, even by simply suggesting that this document is supposed to show a contrast between the president's vision and Democrats vision versus what House Republicans are wanting to do.


KING: And so, where are the House Republicans? On this question, because they have the narrow majority because they have such huge divisions within that narrow majority, are they anywhere close to putting things on paper because in the meantime the president's plan is on paper. And it's an interesting document, agree or disagree at home, but you have a Democratic president.

A Democratic president saying, let's slash the deficit. Democratic president say, let's give the Pentagon, a lot of money. And then you have a Democratic president saying, the biggest problem out there in the economy is affordable childcare costs. Let's deal with that. A lot of senior voters, reliable voters worry about Medicare and Social Security. I will make them more solvent without cutting anything. When, if, were?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right. So, I actually asked the House budget chairman yesterday, when is the Republican party going to put out their own budget. He said, it might be a month delayed from that April 15 target deadline to the May. His spokesperson then walked that back and said, no decisions have been made.

But the fact that they're even laying the groundwork, or putting this idea that there might be delayed, shows how much they are struggling because the reality is what Republicans are trying to achieve by their own parameters is really difficult if not impossible.

They said they want to enact deep spending cuts, but they don't want to raise taxes, they don't want to touch Medicare and Social Security, they don't really want to touch the Pentagon budget. And so, there's very limited pools that they can cut from, it's likely going to touch on these very popular programs. It's probably likely going to include reforms in Medicaid and snap, it's going to open them up to a tax.

So, it's going to be very difficult for them to pass a budget all. But the White House calculation is that they won't be able to do that, and that Republicans ultimately will cave and have to just agree to a clean debt ceiling hike.

KING: And so, as we watch it play out, this is Joe Manchin, who's in the middle of everything again, of course, because yes, the Democrats have one more seat in the Senate, but it's still good. His view of this is you have a Democratic president, a Republican House, a pretty evenly divided Senate, everybody is going to have to compromise. His take is, go back before the pandemic when Washington spending increased dramatically, a status quo, budget somewhere around there.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Everyone is talking about spending cuts. Can we just see if we can go back to normal? Where were we before COVID? What was our trajectory before that? How much new debt do we accumulate during COVID because of all the subsidies? And is it possible to start going back? And just getting back to the normal before you start cutting the bejesus and scaring people to death?


KING: That sounds pretty rational. When you have the first - this is the first crack in a budget with divided government. That sounds like a pretty rational compromise, which means it's never going to happen, right?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Right. I mean, it sounds rational, but it's not pre COVID. You know, what I mean. So, it's hard to go back there. Ukraine and Russia is a reality now that did not exist pre COVID as well. So, some of the discussions that are going to be had about military spending, defense spending are not going to be the same as pre COVID, as well as the discussions that Democrats want to have about the safety net about childcare.

Those are things, you know, that with the new Democratic majority, they want to have now. They don't want to say, we'll just go back to the status quo of pre COVID. They saw what the child tax credit did in the wake of COVID and they want to go - they want to embrace that. KING: And the timing is interesting. Number one, first budget and divided government. Number two, first budget as the 2024 campaign is in its early days, including the former governor of South Carolina, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, saying yesterday, something that takes courage. The question is, is it also foolish.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Joe Biden now is basically saying the only way to deal with entitlements is to raise taxes. He doesn't care that runs out in five or 10 years. He's not going to be there anymore. So, the first thing you do is you change the retirement age of the young people coming up, so that we can try and have some sort of system for them. The second thing is, you go and you limit the benefits for wealthy people.


KING: That he's not going to be there anymore is kind of a meanness about the president's age that I think we could do with that, we could still debate policy issues. But, but her point there, raise the retirement age and essentially means test benefits, Medicare and Social Security. If you make more money, you don't get as generous benefits.

That's not a brand-new idea. But when you have Joe Biden saying, look, that's what Republicans want to do. And when you have Donald Trump, her opponents in the Republican primary saying don't do that. Where's that go?

LEE: Yes. I mean, she was actually pretty careful to in her broader language about entitlement programs. She said, you can make reforms. But what I'm suggesting, wouldn't actually touch the current beneficiaries. I'm talking about sort of a broader structural reform that would affect future generations. You're absolutely right. You have Donald Trump basically warning his colleagues, his fellow Republicans saying, you should not touch a penny of these programs because they're too important.

And you shouldn't focus on these programs because people are - voters are going to notice if you try to cut away those programs. And Republicans know, as Melanie, you were saying, they know that making cuts of these programs and doing it in a way that wouldn't frankly make people furious. That is a very, very difficult political tasks.


MITCHELL: But that also means you're doing things that are for the long term. And I think that's why it becomes so politically untenable, because you're still risking making people mad without having any short-term payoffs as far as the current deficits in the current debt. So, that's why, you know, Republicans or Democrats quite frankly don't want to have that conversation that is more long term in view, but it's probably the one that they should be having.

KING: And Kevin McCarthy says, this is off the table. One of his party's credible presidential candidates says, no, it's not.

ZANONA: Well, you know, Republicans used to actually have this position even 10 years ago, they were talking about entitlement reforms. But president, former President Donald Trump has put Republicans in such a bind in this situation. I think there had been hope on Capitol Hill that finally they would be able to someone knowing there's a bunch of leverage points, be able to address these programs and make them more solvent. I mean, it's a fiscally responsible position, but they know it's just such a third rail for them that they're not going to touch it.

KING: President's plan is printed. Now the House Republicans get to see if they can settle on this. Up next for us. The new frontier of abortion access and abortion politics. Red state attorneys general try to block access to abortion pills. And California's Democratic governor says, OK, he'll punish Walgreens for going along.