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Tornado Threat Across Plains; Journey into China Lockdown; Kim Jong-un's Adopting Putin's Playbook; Huge Crowds for NFL Draft; First All-Private Astronaut Team. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired April 29, 2022 - 06:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Taking a look at our weather now. This morning, portions of the Plains are at high risk amid an increasing tornado threat. A parade of severe storms could also slam the central U.S. with heavy rain, large hail and damaging winds.

So, let's get straight to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers to tell what we are looking at here.


CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is that time of year where you expect severe weather in the Plains, and we will get it. A beautiful weekend in the Northeast, though. Watch this, though. Big tornados possible from Nebraska all the way down to the Gulf Coast. One round of storms after another today and even through the night. Those nighttime tornadoes are the ones that are the most dangerous because you're sleeping. Make sure you have a way to get those warnings if you're in this area.

A lot of rain in places that need it. This is corn belt and wheat belt. We'll take the rain here. Don't need the wind where the fires are already burning, extremely critical weather out there, dry fuel. Temperatures are going to be in the 90s and the winds will be 40 to 50. Even some fire danger in the northeast today because really things haven't really greened up much. The winds are going to be gusty and the air is dry, although all in all if you want to take a normal couple of days, this is about as normal as you get for the northeast over the next couple, Brianna.

KEILAR: It is. And I see 72 in D.C. on Sunday.


KEILAR: Beautiful.

MYERS: Nice.

KEILAR: All right, Chad, thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning at least 27 Chinese cities are under some degree of Covid lockdown. This is affecting around 180 million people. Entering the fortress that is China requires a three- week quarantine period. And a remarkable report.

CNN's Selina Wang documented her journey traveling from Japan and trying to reach Beijing.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Traveling into China is like entering a fortress, the country has been virtually sealed off since the start of the pandemic, guarded by strict border controls and the world's harshest quarantine. My journey to get in started with three PCR tests in Tokyo.

WANG (on camera): Seven days out from my flight, just got my first Covid test.

WANG (voice over): Back at home I tracked my daily temperature and pack a suitcase full of snacks to prepare for 21 days in quarantine. Within 48 hours of boarding, China requires PCR tests at two different government-approved clinics.

WANG (on camera): This is possibly the most paperwork I have ever needed to board an airplane.

WANG (voice over): I say good-bye to Tokyo, my home for the past one and a half years. Checking in at the airport, relatively smooth.

WANG (on camera): Still checking my documents.

I finally have my boarding pass. I'm at the gate. I'm going to China.

WANG (voice over): Most people on my flight are Chinese citizens. Foreigners can only enter under very limited conditions. It's even harder for American journalists because of U.S.-China tensions. All the flight attendants in full protective gear.

WANG (on camera): Getting ready for takeoff. Here we go.

WANG (voice over): Flights into China, especially Beijing, are extremely limited. Even though I'll be based in the capital, first I'm flying to Yunan (ph) province. After landing, I get another Covid test. A bus eventually takes us to the quarantine location. No one can choose where they'll be locked in for the next 21 days. Hours later, we arrive. I count myself lucky. It's a hot spring resort

converted into a quarantine site. It's my first time here, but I'll have to enjoy the view from the window. I can't step out on to the balcony or open my door, except for health checkups and food pickup. Two temperature checks a day, regular Covid tests, sometimes even twice a day.

Food delivery isn't allowed, but breakfast, lunch and dinner are part of the quarantine fees. These restrictions are all part of China's zero Covid policy. Across China tens of millions are sealed inside their homes. Since mid-December, China's average new daily case count has surged from double digits to more than 20,000. Any positive case and close contact has to go to government quarantine. Entire metropolises brought to a standstill.

Most of Shanghai's 25 million residents have been locked in for weeks, many struggling to get enough food and medical care. In year three of the pandemic, most of the world is learning to live with Covid. But in China, no case is tolerated, no matter the emotional and economic cost. [06:35:03]

Selina Wang, CNN, Kunming (ph), China.


BERMAN: She can't even go out on the balcony.

KEILAR: I know. And I imagine not everyone gets the jacuzzi tub suite, right?

BERMAN: No. I mean, again, you know, it's just -- this is two years into the pandemic, and two years plus in China, and they're still not letting people out on the balcony there? It -- really, it's draconian.

KEILAR: Yes, it doesn't really match with the science. I mean there has to be some sort of common sense about how you deal with this. And it seems like early on it was a different direction and now it's this direction.

BERMAN: All right, we have new images just into CNN showing Kim Jong- un alongside his troops as he seems to be trying to escalate his nuclear threats. Our next guest says the North Korean leader is trying to take a page out of Vladimir Putin's playbook.

KEILAR: And plans to evacuate civilians from the besieged steel plant there in Mariupol now facing new obstacles from Russian forces who are blocking the way. Stand by for the latest developments there.



KEILAR: While the world's attention is focused on Vladimir Putin and his next moves in Ukraine, North Korea's Kim Jong-un is declaring full speed ahead for his nuclear program. And our next guest says that is no coincidence.

Joins us now is the author of this piece, CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist Josh Rogin.

So, Josh, tell us how North Korea's strategy has changed since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.


Well, Kim Jong-un, ever since Putin attacked Ukraine, has become more belligerent, more aggressive and has been mimicking Putin's playbook in two important ways. First of all, he's reorienting his forces for -- to prepare for the capability to launch an offensive attack against South Korea. He's been testing more missiles, more dangerous missiles, missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. And at the same time, him and his sister, who's also his propaganda chief, have been talking about nuclear attack in a way that's different than before, mimicking Putin's aggressive brinksmanship.

And what this means for a lot of people in east Asia is that Kim is looking at Putin as his teacher and learning and taking notes from the Ukraine war. And not that he's going to attack South Korea tomorrow, but that the risk is increasing because he sees that when megalomaniac totalitarian dictators attack their democratic neighbors, sometimes they can get something out of it. And so he's giving himself a chance to do that.

BERMAN: So, President Biden is heading to Asia, to Japan and Korea next month. What can he do about this?

ROGIN: Right. Well, you know, officials in South Korea and Japan and all over east Asia are sounding the alarm, both in public and private, John, and they're saying to the United States, listen, let's not repeat the same mistakes we made with Putin. Let's not wait until after the attack starts to start bolstering our defenses. Let's not pretend that this megalomaniac totalitarian dictator is deterred when he might not be.

So, we don't know exactly what the Biden administration is preparing for Joe Biden's trip to Korea and Japan next month, but let's hope he's got something up his sleeve. And that could be a number of things. It could be more weapons. It could be a stronger commitment to an alliance, not exactly NATO, but something like NATO. There's a need in Asia for upping the deterrents on Kim Jong-un to meet the rising threat.

KEILAR: Josh, thank you so much for that insight. It's a really fascinating column that you've written. And we appreciate you being with us to talk about it.

How the Pentagon kept Defense Secretary Austin in the nuclear chain of command while he traveled in the war zone in Ukraine. We have new CNN reporting next.

BERMAN: Plus, plenty of surprises in round one of the NFL draft. What happened in Vegas next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BERMAN: New this morning, it was just a few days ago when U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, went to Kyiv, an active war zone, to meet with President Zelenskyy. Well, we are just learning that a highly classified communications effort allowed Austin to retain his role in the nuclear chain of command.

CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon with this new reporting.

Barbara, what have you learned?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's fascinating and it is classified we are told. Very few details available. But when Lloyd Austin was preparing to go to Kyiv, the Pentagon began to develop a secret communications package for him, modified from what he usually carries as he travels. A defense secretary, a president of the United States, they're traveling, they need secure communications. They have their airplane. They have embassies. They have troops on the ground if they're visiting military bases that all can handle that for them.

But in Ukraine, Austin had none of that. He walked into that room with two aides, with two staffers, his senior military assistant, General Randy George, and his top Ukraine policy expert. That's all he had. So, in order to stay in touch, they modified his communications package, we are told.

And the Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby, hinted at how significant it was. He said, and I quote, at no time was Secretary Austin unable to execute his authorities in the chain of command.

We are specifically told that included the nuclear chain of command. Had there been that kind of crisis, Austin could have exercised his authorities to advise President Biden and even to verify that the president, if he gave such an order, it was coming from him. He could verify all of this classified information.

Of course, none of that happened. It all went smoothly. But consider this, he gets on a train at the Polish border, trains all the way into Kyiv, has a three-hour meeting, has to train back and does not have his regular communications gear. It worked, we are told, and it becomes a very interesting question, if this could be sort of a practice run, if you will, if President Biden was ever to go to Kyiv.

It's a kind of secure communications that are so essential. You don't want the defense secretary standing out on the corner with his cellphone, you know, saying, can you hear me now? This is how it's going to work and this time, apparently, it worked well.


BERMAN: Really, really interesting. A new wrinkle. No defense secretary has been in that position before.

Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

STARR: We have brand-new video just in to CNN showing an attack on a key railway hub and supply line for Ukrainian troops in the eastern part of the country. Look at the fires burning there. We are live on the ground, next.

KEILAR: Plus, CNN speaks with the first all-private crew aboard the International Space Station. Hear the unique reason they had to rely on their Russian counterparts in orbit.



BERMAN: More than 100,000 NFL fans packed the Las Vegas Strip for the first round of the NFL draft.

Andy Scholes has this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Andy.


So, yes, last night's first round, it began with a run of five straight defensive players getting selected. It was the first time since 1991 that the first five picks all on the defensive side of the ball. And there was a huge crowd on hand to see it all unfold. They had a red carpet in front of the Bellagio fountains with the main stage over by Caesars.

Now, the Jacksonville Jaguars taking Georgia Defensive end Travon Walker with that first pick. Walker originally projected as a mid to late first round pick. But after dominating the columbine and draft process, shooting up all the way to number one.


The national champion Bulldogs making history as the first defense to produce five first-round picks in the draft.

The first and only quarterback taken in the first round was Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett. He was emotional as he gets to stay home after going to the Steelers with pick 20.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you should hear this place. It erupted.



SCHOLES: Yes, that was the reaction from Steelers fans. They were pumped up when the pick was announced. Pickett is the first Pitt quarterback taken in the first round since Dan Marino back in 1983.

And there was a huge run on receives in the first round. Six of them were picked in the top 18 for the first time ever.

And there are always surprises in the NFL draft. Even coaches and GMs don't see some picks coming.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really? Oh, my, UT Chattanooga to the first round.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, where is -- how about that? And we wasted our time watching him thinking he'd be at 104 maybe.


SCHOLES: Yes, that was Rams' head coach Sean McVay when the Patriots selected offensive lineman Cole Strange out of Chattanooga. You know, John, you know, he was hoping he could maybe get him at 104. Bill Belichick sniffed that out, takes him at 29.

BERMAN: There's two full rounds in between that, though. The issue is, did the Patriots need to take him so high? I had the same reaction as Sean McVay. Thankfully, Bill Belichick knows more about football than I do.

Andy, thank you very much.

SCHOLES: All right.

BERMAN: Brianna.

KEILAR: The first all-private astronaut team has returned from the International Space Station after more than two weeks in orbit. A former NASA astronaut led a group of three businessmen there and now in his first national interview one of those businessmen tells CNN about the historic mission.

And Kristin Fisher is with us now on this.

Some really interesting details.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so I spoke with Larry Connor, who was the pilot for the AX-1 mission, which was organized by Axiom Space. And he just spent 15 days up at the International Space Station. And it didn't take him too long to get to experience kind of that unique dependency that U.S. astronauts and Russian cosmonauts share while they're in orbit.

I'm going to let Larry explain exactly what he's talking about. But the piece of equipment that he's about to talk about is actually a toilet on the Russian segment of the International Space Station. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY CONNOR, AX-1 PILOT: It's a remarkably durable piece of equipment that the Russians developed. That's the other reason why we have to operate as one group, all the international partners, because if the toilet ever goes down -- and, by the way, we had one day when it was down for a couple hours. Well, we go -- in our case escorted over to the Russian side -- and they're happy to let us -- yes, let us use that.


FISHER: So, in addition to sharing toilets, they also shared two family-style dinners with the Russian cosmonauts on two Friday nights, which is tradition up at the International Space Station. And he says that at no point did the situation in Ukraine ever come up.

One other thing that I thought was really interesting about the toilet story is he says that up at the space station you're divided into two categories, you either are a user of the toilet or an operator of the toilet. Larry says he fell in the user category, while the professional NASA astronauts fell in the operator category, meaning they knew how to fix it and they did very quickly. I mean toilets break up in space just like they do on earth. But he was so impressed by how quickly they could fix it and also by how much the NASA professional astronauts helped with their research mission, right? This was a massive research mission. More than 25 experiments. Larry spent more than 100 hours training for this mission and yet he still described it as a very rigorous and challenging environment when you're trying to conduct research up in microgravity and in a weightless environment.

Listen to this.


LARRY CONNOR, AX-1 PILOT: It was rigorous and challenging. You know, we had a very aggressive schedule of research. We essentially completed all the experiments. But I can tell you, was it not for the NASA crew three and their phenomenal help, we would never, underscore the word never, been able to accomplish all those objectives.


FISHER: You know, so it really goes to show you just how well trained and why it takes so long to be a professional NASA astronaut.

And one more thing, Brianna. I asked Larry, you know, well, how are you doing now? How do you feel? He says, I feel like I just played a football game and just got hit and tackled. He has all these body aches and pains. And so when he asked his commander, you know, Mike Elay (ph), who was a veteran NASA astronaut, you know, why is this happening? Why do I feel this way? Larry says that Mike Elay told him, hey, buddy, it's gravity, get used to it.

[07:00:06] KEILAR: It's gravity. May be nice to not have some at some point.