Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Biden Hopes to Pierce White House Bubble in 2022; Biden Pushes Build Back Better Plan as Solution to High Prices; Supreme Court Rejects Trump's Request To Block 1/6 Committee Access To White House Records; Soon: Senate Vote On Advancing Voting Rights Legislation. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 19, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And so it seems like voters get the ballots, but the messaging from the president just now, I think, was not in the right place.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Evan Osnos is the nation's -- the world's preeminent Biden biographer. What struck you after this marathon performance?
EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, there was this kind of wistfulness quality about it. He acknowledged something that he did not anticipate about the politics he's contending with as president. He returned to it a few times. He said, who anywhere really expected that not a single Republican might break in order to support one of our bills?
It reminded me of something he told me last summer, summer of -- actually two summers ago, summer of 2020, where he said, look, if we can get an edge in the Senate, all we have to get is two or three Republicans to break away, and then we can start making some headway. That is really what he anticipated.
And what he said today is, did anybody imagine that Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party would do absolutely nothing to help me? Look, a lot of people did expect that to happen. But Joe Biden, frankly, did not. And I think that is one of the areas where we're beginning to see him coming to terms, slowly, belatedly, in a lot of people's view, with the Washington he inhabits.
TAPPER: You know, it's interesting about that. This was a press conference where he was trying to also say that we in the press focus too much on the negative and not enough on the positive. And he did talk about 2 million vaccines when he started, now it's 210 million -- I'm sorry, 2 million vaccines, now 210 million, 6 million new jobs created, et cetera, et cetera. He didn't really lean very much into the bipartisan infrastructure bill. And the money is going out the door now. And he didn't really talk about it very much. It is a very -- it's one of his biggest accomplishments.
PHILLIP: It is absolutely a major achievement. And I think -- I mean, he said something in the response to a question where he challenged a reporter to say, okay, what president has done more than me? And, look, some people said, okay, LBJ. Let's put that out there.
TAPPER: Right, FDR won a war.
PHILLIP: Well, in his first year, to be fair.
TAPPER: First year, right.
PHILLIP: I think he's right in a certain sense that many presidents in recent history have really struggled in their first year to get more than one really big thing done. And Joe Biden was able to get a major COVID relief bill done and a major infrastructure package done. That is true. But I think the fact that he himself didn't go up there to tout his own infrastructure bill tells you that this is something that they know is hard to sell to the American public. It doesn't answer the kitchen table problems that Americans have today. And that's why I think he's struggling.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can I just add one quick thing? I just -- I got a text from what we call front-liner Democrats, a Democrat who's going to be in a tough election race this year, who said, listening to him, what the White House is doing is focusing on things that are failing. Why not talk about things that we are doing and can do? That will help us in the midterms and, in turn, him.
TAPPER: So, let's got to CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who was in the room during Biden's news conference, asked the president about the competence of his administration when it comes to all sorts of things, including the Afghanistan withdrawal and the testing shortcomings. What was your overall take of this very long press conference?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I think very long is the key point there. And this was the sense that you had almost going into this that President Biden was there for the duration, one that just showed that he had stamina, as you were just saying, walked in front of the lectern and clearly made that case.
But think I beyond that, I thought one of the most interesting things came in the final seconds, when Mara Liasson of NPR asked about will he negotiate with Republicans? He then acknowledged that he's not the president-senator. And it almost just like he was getting around to -- like that idea had been working in his mind throughout the almost two hours, and that that's what he has been doing.
And that's what it has seemed like really for much of the last year as he's having senators here for this shuttle diplomacy. At some point, Senator Sinema was coming to the White House multiple times a day. For what? So, we will see if going forward here the president was serious about his intent to get out of the bubble. We've heard many presidents say they love to get out of the bubble. We'll see if he means that or not.
But, Jake, I was struck by, he didn't really acknowledge a lack of competence, but he did -- or incompetent government. But that is the sense internally at the White House that people just have the sense that things are not going the right direction, things are not on the right track, if you will.
And I think that he said he plans to keep his White House staff, he stood behind them, which I think no one expected anything different. But we will see about that going into this year. Because the reality is, he knows he needs to make some changes, this is what happens at this point.
But, I think, overall, the president trying to show he's in command of every subject, yes, there's some cleanup, but I think stamina and command were what they were trying to convey. Jake?
TAPPER: One of the biggest headlines came, obviously, internationally on the Russia/Ukraine crisis.
Here's one of the many things that President Biden had to say about Russia and the possibility of an invasion, another invasion, of Ukraine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Russia will be held accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do, et cetera. But if they actually do what they're capable of doing, with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia.
My guess is he will move in. He has to do something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, let us go now to Matthew Chance, who is in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, where I'm sure officials were watching with interest and maybe even chagrin. Matthew, was Biden's -- were Biden's remarks interpreted there as a less than wholehearted warning to Putin to not invade?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, that's an understatement. I mean, they watched those remarks I think with horror. One Ukrainian official who I've been in close contact with while this marathon press conference is under way said that he was, I'm quoting here, shocked that President Biden would give a green light to Vladimir Putin in this way, that the U.S. President would distinguish between an incursion and an invasion, and then suggests that a minor incursion would elicit a lesser response than a more full invasion. The big concern, of course, which is what he was alluding to, is that it gives Putin -- and this is another quote -- it gives the green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure.
And that's not just one Ukrainian official. Other Ukrainian officials have responded in a similar day. Kyiv, in the words of another, is stunned by what President Biden had to say. And the reason for that is twofold. First of all, a minor incursion is perhaps the preferred option of Vladimir Putin. There's been a lot of talk in military circles about a land corridor being seized in the east of Ukraine by Russian forces, whether tens of thousands of troops gathered, of course, in order to connect the war zone, the rebel-occupied war zone, and the Crimean Peninsula, which has already been annexed by Russia.
So, that's the kind of incursion that would perhaps be the number one option for Vladimir Putin. And if that's now possible, with only limited sanctions in response, the chances are raised, I think. That's the concern here, that that might now happen.
The other reason for the response, I think, is that we're getting all these very public displays of solidarity from U.S. officials. Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, was here yesterday expressing his support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, using the mantra, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. That's been the mantra of all these discussions that have been taking place. But the suspicion here is that some kind of agreement, some kind of a deal, may be being done behind Ukraine's back. And I think that comment by President Biden really touched that very sensitive nerve.
TAPPER: I'll bet. Matthew chance in Kyiv, thanks so much for that, that excellent reporting.
And, John King, I have to say, just to give the context of what Biden was trying to say was that there would be a difference in response from the U.S. depending on what Putin did. If it was a, quote, minor incursion, then there would be a commensurate or proportional response by the U.S. and NATO. And if it was the maximum kind of invasion that Putin is capable of, with hundreds of thousands of troops taking over the country, perhaps even seizing Kyiv where Matthew is right now, then that would be different.
But, again, this isn't a chant off the record in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This is the president of the United States in a very high-power, high-stakes showdown in which Putin is talking about potentially the biggest invasion since World War II.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a lack of discipline is what it is by the president of the United States about a question he knew he was going to be asked and asked repeatedly. Sometimes all of us speak -- our tongue can get ahead of our brain. We're on live television. The president of the United States is in the press conference room. But his staff prepares him going in. He had a light schedule in the days going in. He knew the big things he was going to be asked. And you have to decide, as president of the United States, what am I going to say? And almost more importantly on something like this, what am I not going to say?
The president publicly saying, essentially, NATO is divided. So, if Putin does three on a scale of ten, we're not going to fight about it. Why would you say that right now? Why would you say that right now? And his team would do, as Secretary Blinken has done traveling the world, the burden is on Putin. He must not violate a neighbor's sovereignty. The world is watching. We will respond if he acts. That's the answer. Do not go through scenario A, B, C and D at this tense moment.
TAPPER: And, Evan, I mean, one of the things that President Biden often says about himself is he has admitted in the past his propensity to let his mouth get ahead of his brain, to commit a gaffe, what Michael Kinsley famously said is when a politician in Washington accidentally tells the truth. But the point is, that might have been an honest answer but it's not a deterrent answer, right? I mean, it's not what the world, Putin, President Zelensky, the NATO countries, Angela Merkel -- well, her successor, actually -- it's not what they wanted him to say.
OSNOS: This was the analytical Joe Biden. This was the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who already talked this afternoon about how much he wants to sit down with academics and experts and talk about these issues. That's a very different function than getting up and, in effect, giving a message to the leader of a foreign power.
He did something that was very classic Biden in thinking about foreign policy. You heard him try to get into Vladimir Putin's head. He started to walk through the things that are weighing on Putin's mind. What are his interests? The fact that climate change is affecting Russia, his economy is failing. That's all perfectly useful, particularly in THE SITUATION ROOM. But when you get out there and you're giving this message that's going to be heard in Kyiv, it's going to be heard in Moscow, that took him awhile to get to the answer he wanted to deliver.
The answer was, as he said, it's going to be devastating for Russia. Then he also added, it's going to be very challenging for Americans, it's going to be challenging for the rest of the world. I think he wants people to understand, this is a turning point that would be, as he indicated, one of the largest foreign policy changes in decades. If, in fact, Russia goes in, then we should be preparing as Americans for something truly, truly destructive. And that he wanted to get across, but it took him awhile.
TAPPER: And he was asked about the effect on the region, because, obviously, it goes beyond just Russia and Ukraine. There are all sorts of other countries. There are NATO allies there that are worried. He talked about how they would send in troops to NATO allies, such as Poland, et cetera. I mean, this rumination potentially has international results.
PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I think that that's part of the problem is that, hopefully, it's not up to Putin to determine what minor incursion means, right? I mean, the problem is that the words came out of the president's mouth, and then Vladimir Putin, who's looking for an excuse to do something, might take him up on that and, you know, test the boundaries of what that means.
But, I mean, I think what's also I think for the White House really frustrating right now, probably, is that, earlier today, things were actually looking pretty positive on this front. Negotiations were actually going pretty well. And there was a sign that things had really cooled off. And now I think the people are anxious again. And as you pointed out, he was asked specifically about what happens if all of the NATO allies that surround Ukraine get caught up in some kind of tension in that region?
And, you know, Biden basically said, you know, he doesn't really know what Putin's going to do. He thinks Putin hasn't made up his mind yet. But he just wants him to know that there will be consequences. And I think it's just -- for Biden, he just -- he needed to have settled on a clear line to draw in the sand at this press conference.
BASH: And you know what? Before he got to that point, before he got to the minor incursion line, I wrote this line down. You get the sense that this is what the White House had planned with him. He said of Putin, he's never seen sanctions like the ones I would impose if he goes into Ukraine.
TAPPER: Right, period, stop.
BASH: Next question there. Next question. I starred that in my notes because that was clearly the message that geopolitical diplomatic message that they had collectively planned for the president of the United States to deliver, and then it got buried.
TAPPER: Let's talk -- I think the international issue is one that probably we're going to be talking about for days. I do want to touch on a few other issues.
John King, there were a lot of questions about inflation and rising prices. He had a three-parter, three-part answer when it came to what he was going to do about inflation. It included kind of leaning on the Fed, even though he said he respected its independence to deal with pricing, also the Build Back Better bill, trying to get parts of that. Was that enough, do you think, in terms of conveying to the American people, I'm on top of this?
KING: I think he certainly conveyed in a way he has not in the past, or when he said back in the summer, it will be fleeting. And it's not fleeting. I think he did show concern about it, and he showed involvement in it, he showed -- but he was also honest, Jake, in the sense that he said, it's going to be a haul. It's going to be painful for a lot of people in the meantime.
Now, a president should be honest, should be straight with the American people. However, that tells you -- that just makes crystal clear -- we already know it's a difficult environment for Democrats, the midterm election environment. Inflation is going to be with us for some time. I do think the president is much better off looking the American people in the eye and say, hey, I need your help.
And then he did say that if you pass the pieces -- again, significant, he said he would break up his agenda, he believes if you break up the agenda, you'll get some easing in inflation. He believes what they're trying to do and started a couple of months ago on the supply lines, supply chains are hatching an impact. But the fact that the president says it's going to be a haul, painful for a lot of people in the meantime, again, it's the truth, but that's a tough message.
TAPPER: Yes. On the supply lines, he said something along the lines of 89 percent of the shelves are full or something.
PHILLIP: Compared to 91 percent prior to the pandemic or something.
KING: That was difficult. To use statistics like that for someone out there in the country watching who's been in a grocery store, they went to get something and look at the shelf, it's empty, that's where -- I think, for the most part, the president was trying to recalibrate but he missed it there.
BASH: That's where they started growing things at the --
TAPPER: What's the 11 percent that's not on the shelves? Bread? I mean --
PHILLIP: I think on the economic stuff, I mean, he made -- it was an interesting point about the Build Back Better. He was basically saying that even if they can't control the parts about maybe you go to the grocery store and beef is more expensive and chicken is more expensive, if he can bring down the cost of other things, particularly child care, that on the whole, the balance sheet for Americans might just be better.
And that actually might be a pretty accurate portrayal of where they are as Democrats. He may not be able to really get to the heart of the supply chain issues that are causing -- and other issues, whether it's climate change or other things that are causing prices to go up on food and on cars and on gas. But within his hands is the power to adjust the balance sheet for Americans on some other things. And child care is a huge chunk of it. But there are other parts of the Build Back Better plan that Democrats are very interested in getting passed because it means money in people's pockets.
TAPPER: I just want to bring this breaking news to the attention of our viewers. This is from Ariane de Vogue, our Supreme Court Reporter. The Supreme Court has just cleared the way for the release of presidential records from the Trump White House to the congressional committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol, that means more than 700 documents that could shed light on the events leading up to the insurrection will be transferred to Congress. That is the U.S. Supreme Court weighing in.
THE SITUATION ROOM is going to come up in just a few minutes, and Wolf Blitzer and his team will have more on that.
One other thing I wanted to talk about with you, Evan, is the fact that Biden said he wasn't going to negotiate -- he said he was willing to break up the Build Back Better Act that Abby was just talking about, into chunks. And he said, I'm not going to negotiate but then he proceeded to negotiate. He basically conceded that two parts that he really likes, one of which is the community college part of that, which is obviously also very important to his wife as a community college teacher and the other one --
OSNOS: Child care.
TAPPER: -- child care would not be in the bill, likely, in likelihood, but he would fight for them. So, he was, again, diving into the minutiae. I don't mean that as a criticism but making news there.
OSNOS: He was. He really sort of got into what might happen now. Everybody asked that question. Build Back Better is dead. So, what do you do? And he basically acknowledged something they hadn't done before, which he said, we're going to try to break it up, get through what we can.
It's a really interesting moment though actually when he talked about voting rights. But in the same spirit of how we spend all these weeks and hours, as he said, talking to people in Washington, that, of course, as a reference to people like Joe Manchin. And he said, that was part of the reason why I didn't get out into the country. And he acknowledged, really, that he was, as he said, sort of frustrated that he hadn't been out in the community more talking to people.
That is a sign of how he feels right now about not only Build Back Better but also voting rights, that this effort which has not succeeded to get the people in his own party on the team, that that has taken him away from getting out into the country. And that's one of the breaks he's trying to signal now about year two.
TAPPER: That's a familiar complaint of every president. I remember Bill Clinton calling the White House the crown jewel of the American penal system.
John King, what did you make of President Biden refusing to say that the results of the midterm elections would be legitimate? He seemed to be suggesting -- he compared it to what President Trump tried to do with counting of ballots and throwing out ballots. He seemed to suggest maybe if they actually are successful with the shenanigans that Trump attempted, it won't be legitimate, but, I mean, he did sow some doubt.
KING: That it depends. It is striking to hear an American president not named Donald Trump raise questions about the legitimacy and sanctity of our democracy. I get the point he was trying to make. Abby articulated it well beforehand. But, again, it's a discipline and choice of words. The president could have said, not on my watch. I am going to stay on these Republicans as they try to do this, as they try to change who counts the votes and how to count the votes. I assure you, I will be watching them. The Justice Department will be watching him.
I get his point. There are things happening in the states that he doesn't like, that no American should like, not the way to say it.
TAPPER: All right. Thanks for everyone for joining us. I appreciate it. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. [18:20:01]
Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM picking up our discussion of President Biden's lengthy, nearly two- hour news conference. We're covering it from every angle, including exclusive new reaction from Ukraine to the president's remarks about a potential Russian invasion.
There's another breaking story we're following right now as well. The United States Supreme Court has just rejected, rejected former President Trump's request to block the release of his White House records, clearing the way for the documents to be handed over to the January 6th select committee. We're going to have complete analysis of that breaking story in a few moments.
But right now, I want to start our coverage with our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, the president certainly covered a lot of ground in his news conference at the White House, on the challenges he's faced during his first year in office and the progress he says he's made.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. It had been 78 days since the president's last formal press conference. And he appeared intent to make up for any lost time, addressing a sweeping array of issues for nearly two hours between a statement and questions from 24 different reporters.
The message and the responses vacillated between very carefully calibrated messaging moving into his second year, underscoring some of the accomplishments of his first but also some real-time analysis that left real questions about his comments regarding the legitimacy of elections but also Russia's potential incursion of Ukraine.
BIDEN: It will get better.
MATTINGLY (voice over): Tonight, President Biden striking a tone of optimistic resolve as he faces a nation reflecting anything but.
BIDEN: I know that after almost two years of physical, emotional and psychological weight of this pandemic and the impact it's had on everyone, for many of us, it's been too much to bear. We're in a very different place now.
MATTINGLY: In his first formal press conference in 78 days, an effort to highlight what White House officials view as underappreciated wins.
BIDEN: The fact of the matter is that we're in a situation where we have made enormous progress.
MATTINGLY: And seeking to draw an explicit contrast with congressional Republicans. BIDEN: I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn't get anything done.
MATTINGLY: As Biden underscored progress on the pandemic.
BIDEN: I call it a job not yet finished. It will get better.
MATTINGLY: Even as the omicron variant continues to surge in parts of the country.
BIDEN: We're moving toward a time when COVID-19 won't disrupt our daily lives, where COVID-19 won't be a crisis but something to protect against and a threat.
MATTINGLY: Directly addressing price increases now at a four-decade high and overshadowing a robust economic recovery.
BIDEN: The best thing to tackle high prices is a more productive economy with greater capacity to deliver goods and services to the American people.
MATTINGLY: And in a first year with some notable legislative victories, Biden speaking just a few hours before Senate consideration of a voting rights measure.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Win, lose or draw, we are going to vote. We are going to vote.
MATTINGLY: One doomed to fail amid unified GOP opposition and two Democrats opposed to changing Senate rules. Now, Biden opening the door to a more scaled-back measure.
BIDEN: I predict to you we'll get something done on the electoral reform side of it.
MATTINGLY: But the voting bill marking the latest in a series of first-term priorities frozen in the Senate, including Biden's cornerstone $1.75 trillion economic and climate package, which Biden now hopes to bring back to life.
BIDEN: I'm confident we can get pieces, big chunks of the Build Back Better law signed into law.
MATTINGLY: Biden issuing a stark warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
BIDEN: It's going to be real. It's going to be consequential. In addition to that Putin has a, you know -- has a stark choice. He either -- de-escalation or diplomacy, confrontation and the consequences.
MATTINGLY: And predicting an imminent invasion.
BIDEN: I'm not so sure he has -- is certain what he's going to do. My guess is he will move in. He has to do something. MATTINGLY: For the White House, a critical moment both for the country and for his party facing midterm elections.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Make no mistake about it, the election this fall is a referendum on this all-Democratic government.
MATTINGLY: Democrats increasingly frustrated, multiple sources say, as tumbling poll numbers put narrow Democratic House and Senate majorities in real jeopardy. One Democrat who speaks regularly with the president telling CNN of Biden's powerful chief of staff, Ron Klain, quote, if I was down this much in my ratings, I'd have a new chief of staff.
But Biden making clear there will be no dramatic shift in course.
BIDEN: I don't think I've overpromised at all and I'm going to stay on this track.
MATTINGLY: Attributing his political decline to a subpar messaging effort, something he plans to change.
BIDEN: What I have to do, and the change in tactic, if you will, I have to make clear to the American people what we are for.
MATTINGLY: Laying GOP opposition directly at the feet of his predecessor.
BIDEN: Did you ever think that one man out of office could intimidate an entire party where they're unwilling to take any vote contrary to what he thinks should be taken for fear of being defeated in a primary?
MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, as the president tried to lay out what he viewed as clear successes in his first year, he also made clear he understood the frustration, fear and concern of the American people. However, he said he was satisfied with his current team and laid out three things he wanted to do differently in the weeks and months ahead. One of those things, get out of the White House more often, the second, listen more to outside experts and opinion leaders in terms of what to do, the third, be deeply involved in those races that will make up the midterm election, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Phil Mattingly at the White House for us, thank you very much.
Let's break all of this down, dramatic news indeed, with our correspondents, analysts, and commentators. Gloria Borger, the president is looking for a reset right now. Year one tomorrow will be over. Was this it? Was this the reset?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, this wasn't a reset at all. I think it was more of a replay of what he had done, taking credit. He said, I didn't overpromise, I outperformed what anybody thought would happen. And then he listed his accomplishments, as, of course, a president would, but refused to give any ground on -- except on testing, perhaps and how they could have gotten control of testing for COVID, but refused to give any ground on anything else.
And I think what we really heard today was kind of a road test of what he intends to talk about in the midterm elections, and that is Republican obstruction. And he said, ask the Republicans what they're for. And it's clear to me that what he was saying was that Republicans, even during the Obama administration -- of course, David can speak to this better than I can, but he said, Republicans during the Obama administration were not as obstructionist as this. And you can ask the question, since he was in the Obama administration, why didn't he know that this is eight years later and, of course, they were more obstructionists because of Donald Trump, and paying homage to Donald Trump, as he said, during this presser.
So, it really wasn't a reset. And, in fact, I think it was a little confusing about what he intends to do with Build Back Better, what he intends to leave on the table, what he intends to try ask go for, and also, of course, with the question of Ukraine, and what does a minor incursion mean, and what will the United States do?
BLITZER: That's a huge story.
BORGER: Yes, in and of itself.
BLITZER: We're going to have more on that in just a moment.
Nia-Malika Henderson, during this nearly two-hour news conference, did the president do enough to reassure the American people?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. He leveled with the American people and said, essentially, that it's going to be a long haul in terms of any number the issues that Americans are concerned about, the price of gas, for instance, empty shelves, even though he said it was only something like 89 percent in terms of grocery, groceries being on shelves, and it was down from 91 percent. Well, if you go to the grocery store and the item you need isn't there, you don't really care about that kind of data that he was spouting.
So, you know, I agree wholeheartedly with Gloria. They sort of overpromised what this press conference was going to be, that it was going to be a reset. It wasn't a reset at all. And you have now -- I think this real admission by this president of failure, right? He came into the White House saying that he could work with Republicans. That was sort of his stock in trade. He had worked in the Senate for many, many years. And now he's admitting that he sort of misread them all along.
And I thought it was a real admission of naivete, really, saying that who would have thought the Republicans were going to be so in lockstep with Donald Trump? Well, everyone who watched the last four years expected the Republicans to behave in a way that they're behaving now. BLITZER: You know, Matthew Chance is our correspondent in Ukraine right now. And there was a huge development during this news conference, Matthew, on the Russian threat to Ukraine, the president trying to make a distinction between an invasion and what he called a minor incursion.
Tell our viewers, how did that go over where you are in Ukraine?
CHANCE: Well, I mean, to say they're a bit displeased about that would be an understatement. I mean, one Ukrainian official that I'm in close contact with here said that he was shocked to hear President Biden use that kind of nuance, make a distinction between an incursion and an invasion and suggest that a minor incursion may elicit a lesser response to a full-scale invasion.
It's not the kind of nuance we've heard before, usually, when U.S. officials, when the president speaks about the consequences of Russian action against Ukraine, they talk about crushing sanctions, major consequences for the Russian economy. They don't break it down on a sliding scale, as if you take a little bit of territory with these sanctions, maybe take more, there will be more. That may be something they discuss behind closed doors. But I've not heard it publicly before expressed in this way. And the Ukrainian officials I've spoken to tonight have not heard it publicly either.
This is an interesting quote from that same official, saying that this remark potentially gives the green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure. The idea that if Putin senses some weakness, if he senses he can get away with a small incursion with limited sanctions, he may well go for it, Wolf.
BLITZER: And it's very interesting, Jim Sciutto, because President Biden actually predicted that Russia will, will, invade Ukraine before trying to walk that back a bit. Did he actually give up some significant leverage with his remarks today?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The White House clearly understands it's got some clarification to do. In fact, I just was told, Wolf, in the last couple of minutes that there will be a statement coming from the White House, probably before the top of the hour, clarifying those remarks.
And fact is, Emily Horne, spokesperson for the NSC, has attempted to clarify this already via Twitter. I believe we have this. She says, the president was referring to the difference between military and nonmilitary/paramilitary cyber action by the Russians. Such actions would be met by reciprocal response in coordination with allies and partners. So, the White House realizes it's got to walk back that sense the president gave that a minor incursion would be okay, the U.S. and NATO would settle with that, whereas a formal military invasion or full-scale invasion is the only outcome that would be met with a formidable response. So, you have that tweet there and you should expect some further clarification from the White House in the next several minutes. I will say that what was notable was the contrast between that comment, that flub, and the message the president was trying to convey earlier, which was that Russia faced massive consequences for further invading Ukraine. And keep in mind, Wolf, the way the president described that, he described years of penalties, which, by the way, is consistent with CNN's reporting in the last 24 hours that this would be a long timeline of penalties, both in terms of economic sanctions but also with what is the intention of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine and that is to raise the costs for Russia of military intervention. That's why you're seeing anti-tank missiles to kill more Russian tanks. That's why you're seeing discussion of anti-aircraft weapons, known as MANPADS, to knock out more Russian aircraft. That's the intention. That was, seems to me, the intended message of the president. They're going to try to clarify on the minor incursion comment before the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Yes. They're going to have to do some significant clarification. There's no doubt about that.
David Axelrod, as Phil Mattingly noted earlier, President Biden also laid out three things he'll be doing differently going forward. Listen to this.
BIDEN: Three things I'm going to do differently now that I -- now that I've gotten the critical crises out of the way in the sense of knowing exactly where we're going. Number one, I'm going to be out of this place more often. I'm going to go out and talk to the public. I'm going to do public fora. I'm going to interface with them. I'm going to make the case of what we've already done, why it's important and what we'll do, what will happen if they support what else I want to do.
Number two, I'm bringing in more and more, now that I have time -- I mean, literally, like you, it's -- I'm not complaining, it's, you know, 12, 14 hours a day, no complaints, I really mean this sincerely. But now that certain of the big chunks have been put in place and we know the direction, I'm also going to be out there seeking more advice of experts outside, from academia to editorial writers to think tanks and I'm bringing them in.
And the third thing I'm going to do a lot more of is being in a situation where I'm able to bring -- I'm going to be deeply involved in the -- these off-year elections.
We're going to be raising a lot of money. We're going to be out there making sure that we're helping all of those candidates.
BLITZER: What do you think, David Axelrod? Good goals during year two of the Biden presidency, or would you have different advice? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let's take point three. He wants to be out there raising money and campaigning for Democratic candidates. The thing that would help Democratic candidates the most is if the president of the United States' approval rating isn't at 42 in November but at 50 percent. And the way you get there is by being actively engaged on the things that people are most concerned about.
You know, he had a difficult task today because he wanted to make clear that he has accomplished a lot, and there are a lot of things he has done. But we're in a country where 28 percent of Americans feel we're on the right track. And I've said it many times, you cannot jawbone people into feeling better. He says he wants to go out and talk to people and make the case.
But, really, I think what would have landed better with people is that he wanted to get out and talk to people about what's going on in their lives and respond to them rather than try and make the case about how he's doing.
So, I didn't think it was very impressive. Listen, I'd probably go back to the drawing board.
BLITZER: Governor Kasich, the president said one of the things he hasn't been able to do, in his words, is get Republican friends into the game of making things better. I asked the question, is there a -- is that a fair assessment, because he did get Republicans to work with Democrats on the infrastructure law that was very, very significant?
JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Somehow we continue to gloss over the infrastructure bill. That was a bill that had 19 Republicans in the United States Senate support it and I believe that there were at least 20 votes in the House among Republicans that could have passed that thing. And in the process of trying to pass it, they just -- they fouled it up so badly that when it finally passed, no one kind of cared about it. So, there was an opportunity.
The other interesting thing I saw today was when the president was asked about Mitt Romney, not having a call about voting rights. And President Biden said, well, you know, I've got to get my own people together. Wolf, I think when you're an executive and you're going to start to plan something, you've got to invite the other side in. You don't have to invite people in who are never going to go along with you, but he should have taken an effort to reach out.
I think infrastructure was an example of where he did get Republicans. I think there is something to be said for Voting Rights Act, and particularly with what Mitt Romney had to say. There's probably some space there for child care. But if you're going to do it, you have to reach out. And you can't go to him and say, well, here it is, and either take it or leave it. That's where you put things together on a bipartisan way, which I think the country, frankly, would applaud. Had they not hammed up the infrastructure, I think he would have gotten more credit for it.
BLITZER: Nia, the president was also pressed about whether he's actually delivering for black voters. Let me play a little bit of what he had to say. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I've had their back. I've had their back my entire career. I've never not had their back. I started on the voting rights issues long, long ago. But part of the problem is, as well, I have not been out in the community nearly enough. I've been here an awful lot. I find myself in a situation where I don't get a chance to look people in the eye because of both COVID and things that are happening in Washington to be able to go out and do the things that I've always been able to do pretty well, connect with people, let them take a measure of my sincerity, let them take a measure of who I am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, Nia, is that explanation going to cut it?
HENDERSON: Well, listen, I think you never want to talk about so many millions of Americans in a monolithic way. It is true that he hasn't been out in different communities, whether it's African-American communities or any communities across the country because of all the things he listed there.
I also think that, by and large, African-Americans still support Joe Biden much more than average Americans. His approval rating among African-Americans is higher than it is among average Americans. So, that's good for him. And I do think there is a sense of relief among African-Americans that Donald Trump isn't in the White House but some disappointment too on voting rights, that that wasn't more of a priority. And also that Biden hasn't been able to do what he said he would do, which is, A, work with Republicans more productively to get big things done, and also work with people like Joe Manchin. I think that was one of the expectations a lot of voters had of Joe Biden. And you see some of these failures are racking up, not only on domestic issues but also foreign policy, right?
He was also supposed to be the president that sort of could reset America's image on the world stage, and then you see him today in this press conference really flubbing his answer in terms of Russia. So, I do think there are some doubts and some disappointments among this very key voting bloc, but there is still some real relief that he is president.
SCIUTTO: If I can, just the statement that I referenced from the White House clarifying the president's comments on Ukraine, it is now out from the White House. I could read it for you. Clearly, they realized they had an issue here with that comment on minor incursion, so let me read the statement in full.
President Biden has been clear with the Russian president, if any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that's a renewed invasion and it will be met with a swift, severe and united response from the United States and our allies. It goes on. President Biden also knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics, and he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal and united response. So, the White House hitting back there to say, one, minor or major, it will get a response. And also, I think, sensitive to that idea that there is disunity among the NATO allies saying that the NATO allies are united on responding in such a way, regardless of the --
BORGER: But I don't think that clarifies. Does that clarify what a minor incursion is? Does that mean that cyber is a minor incursion?
SCIUTTO: Well, to the point of whether any -- because one question had been, can he take a little bit of land, right, Gloria, not a lot of land. But the statement says, any -- basically, any land, we're going to call that a renewed invasion.
As far as -- they do specifically mention cyberattacks and say they will be met with a decisive, reciprocal response. That's notable, right? Because we've been told, and my colleagues and I, as we've been reporting this out, that there is a menu, so to speak, of responses, full-scale invasion gets the most severe response. Something short of that gets a lesser severe response, but a response nonetheless. That seems to be the White House message tonight.
BLITZER: David Axelrod, you spent several years during the Obama administration in the White House helping the then-president. Are you surprised the White House actually let President Biden go so long with reporters, nearly two hours? His opening statement was about 12 minutes, but then he went on and on and on.
AXELROD: Yes. Look, I think that one of the things that they were trying to address was this issue of his stamina. Can he hang in there? Can he stand up to these questions? And so they made a decision that they weren't going to cut this thing off. He seemed irritated by that at one point and sort of said, thanks for the help, he said to his communications team. I think you've got to look back at this and some of the questions and some of his answers toward the end of this and ask whether that was the right streak strategy.
And, look, this is an issue. You know, how you use Biden is a constant challenge. He's got some real gifts, particularly for empathy, which I think he didn't use very well today. But, you know. He also has limitations and they wanted to prove that he could stand up to it. People will decide whether they thought that worked for his benefit.
BORGER: It seems to me he was begging to get out of the White House. And he kind of said, I'm going to be out there because he knows that that is supposed to be his superpower, and they're not letting him do it. So, he wants to get out and talk to voters.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by. I want to go back to Matthew Chance. He is in Ukraine now. Matthew, you heard Jim Sciutto read the latest explanation from the White House on what the president may have meant when he said that Russia may have what he called a minor incursion into Ukraine, suggesting maybe the U.S. wouldn't do much about that, the NATO allies wouldn't do much about a so-called minor incursion. What do you think the reaction is going to be to this clarification, shall we call it, from the White House?
CHANCE: Yes. I'm sure they're very glad to hear that -- sort of nuanced and clarified by Washington. And, of course, I expect Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, will be doing something similar tonight because he's actually in Kyiv and will undoubtedly -- I don't know this for sure but even undoubtedly have his phone lit up with messages from all the people he's been meeting today with unique leadership here, to give assurances that the United States stands foursquare behind Ukraine when it comes to negotiations with Russia.
But there's always been that sneaking suspicion in this country, despite this mantra that the United States isn't going to talk about anything to do with Ukraine without Ukraine. All of the meetings with the Russians have been without Ukraine. And there is that suspicion that some sort of back deal, backdoor deal, may be done. And these remarks by Biden really touched that nerve.
BLITZER: Yeah, they have every right to be very nervous right now. Guys, everybody stand by.
There's more breaking news we're following tonight. Another huge story we're following, the United States Supreme Court just moments ago rejected former President Trump's request to block the January 6th Select Committee from obtaining his White House records.
Stand by. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: There is more breaking news we are following tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM. A major legal defeat for former President Trump.
The United States Supreme Court just ruled moments ago that the January 6th Select Committee can have access to Trump White House records.
Let's go straight to our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.
So tell us, Jessica, what the court actually said.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Supreme Court here telling the former president and his legal team that they can no longer block these documents from the January 6th select committee. That is a significant victory for this House Committee. They have been waiting months and months to get their hands on more than 700 documents from inside the Trump White House.
And with this Supreme Court decision today, they will soon, if they haven't already, got -- get these documents in their possession. This could shed significant light on what the president was doing on and around January 6th and significant insight into his thoughts and the thoughts of the people who surrounded him. The Supreme Court, in this case, really had the decision here whether
or not to continue blocking these documents because, remember, the Trump team has been challenging this for several months even though they lost at the district court level, at the appeals court level here in D.C. all of these documents remained blocked. And starting December 23rd, it was in the hands of the Supreme Court to decide exactly what happened next.
Trump's team wanted the documents to remain blocked. They wanted the Supreme Court to take up this case. And with this order today, the Supreme Court's saying they will not take up this case and instead, they are clearing the way for all of these documents to be handed over.
This is significant because these 700-plus documents -- they include things like handwritten notes, drafts of speeches, documents from Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the former chief of staff Mark Meadows. They also include visitor logs, call logs, logs of the president's movements and meetings on January 6th, before January 6th.
Wolf, this will finally be released to the committee after months of waiting and it could shed significant light on what the former president was doing on and around January 6th -- something that he and his allies have, so far, been unwilling to talk about to the committee. These documents might give a glimpse at that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, major legal setback for Trump.
Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.
Let's discuss with our chiefly political analyst, Gloria Borger, she is with us -- still with us, along with our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and our senior legal analyst Laura Coates. She's got a major brand new book. There you see the cover "Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness".
We are going to have you back, Laura, to talk about the book tomorrow.
But let's get to this major decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Jeffrey, how significant is this decision?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what's significant is that the court didn't just reject the former president's position. They really gave it the back of their hand. This is a one-paragraph opinion. It's unsigned.
There were -- the only dissenter was Justice Clarence Thomas who didn't even write an opinion. So, it was an 8-1 opinion. All three of Trump's appointees voted against his position.
So, the -- the principle that only the incumbent president should be in the position to exercise executive privilege -- that, more or less, was the basis for the decision. But I mean, it -- it is somewhat surprising to me that the court dealt with what is a fairly substantial constitutional question in such a back of the hand way.
BLITZER: Yeah. As I say, a major legal setback for -- for Trump.
You know, Gloria, the Select Committee will now have access to these more than 700 documents from the Trump White House. How much of a game changer potentially could that be for the investigation?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, I think it's hugely important, particularly as it -- it -- in regards to the former president of the United States. I mean, these are records of phone logs, visitor logs, schedules, speech notes, Mark Meadows' notes, his former chief of staff, Stephen Miller, former senior adviser, and as Jessica Schneider outlined, so many things that lift the veil on what the president, himself, was doing, what he was thinking, what he was telling people on or about January 6th.
And if you are assuming that the president isn't going to -- the former president isn't going to come in voluntarily and say, hey, why don't you interview me? This is a way that the committee can tell the American public here is what was happening, minute by minute by minute, inside the White House.
BLITZER: You know, Laura, I am anxious to get your thoughts because I wonder how much can the committee now piece together with this new information -- more than 700 documents -- it's about to receive?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This might be the missing jigsaw puzzle piece we have all needed to look and see what actually led up to, what transpired, who -- and who played a role and to what extent.
Just take a step back here for a second. You had a president of the United States who during an insurrection was engaged in some form of behavior, and then refused to allow the documents to be transferred over. We know the Presidential Records Act says those documents belong to the American people. And when the Supreme Court is in the past looked at these issues, it's about balancing the need for transparency and a nation's need to know based on what your personal prerogative or, you know, ownership of a document.
And they have said in this instance, essentially, that is in favor of transparency. And think about what the committee is saying and what they have been saying, that there is an urgent need for transparency. It is not a partisan or political witch hunt but there is a need for the American people to better understand what happened. Who was involved? Who involved was actually maybe funding or promoting or encouraging or dictating behavior?
And so, this is a monumental decision as Jeffrey and Gloria talked about, that the Supreme Court didn't even feel the need to have to explain why the incumbent president of the United States could dictate what is best in the nation's interest for transparency, and a duly commissioned select committee could ask for information with its legislative and oversight function.
This is a very big deal and we should soon know the answers to why he wanted to shield it.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what kind of lasting impact could this decision by the Supreme Court have?
TOOBIN: Well, it -- it's a very important decision for congressional prerogatives, for the idea that Congress, as a coequal branch of government, has the right to investigate the executive branch, and the executive branch has to cooperate. This -- you know, the -- the presidential power has grown so much in the 20th and 21st century. And the idea that Congress now has this very clear ratification of its right to investigate the executive branch is really -- it's going to be important in this case and obviously these documents are immensely importantly to the January 6th investigation.
But I also think it will empower congress, both, now and in the future to conduct serious investigations of the executive branch.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, we all know how Trump feels about loyalty. How do you expect he is responding to this major, major loss? Three of the Supreme Court justices were named by him.
BORGER: Right. Look. He has always assumed that whatever justice he appointed was in his back pocket. We know that not to be the case.
And I think that what -- you have a conservative court here, as my colleagues have pointed out, with a dissent by Clarence Thomas, a conservative court here reaffirming, um, the right of a sitting president to assert privilege when he wants to. And so I think the -- you know, Donald Trump is going to be very upset because these things contained in the -- in these archive documents are very, very telling and very important to this committee as they look at what Donald Trump was doing on January 6th.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by.
There is other news we are following right now. Very significant news. The U.S. Senate is holding long-shot votes on overhauling the filibuster and President Biden's signature voting rights legislation.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent Jessica Dean. She's up on Capitol Hill.
So, what are you learning? What are you seeing?
JESSICA DEAN, CNN COINGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest on this, Wolf, is that this vote has now been pushed to later in the evening. It is now more likely to be around the 8:00 hour. That is due to so many speakers that we have seen on the floor of the U.S. Senate today.
We have seen a host of senators speaking out on these issues, and chiefly and namely, Senator Joe Manchin who reiterated his opposition to changing the filibuster in any way without any sort of bipartisan support. And so, that is nothing new.
What do we expect to happen tonight? Well, they're going to vote on these voting rights bills. The Republicans will block that due to the filibuster, which means they need 60 votes to get it passed the Democrats do not have 60 votes. And then we know that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is going to move to make some rules changes that would allow a simple Democratic majority to move bills.
Now, the problem for Democrats there is that Manchin and also Senator Kyrsten Sinema are both opposed to making any changes to the filibuster right now. So we do not expect that to go anywhere, either. But we are going to see this all playing out over the next several hours, Wolf. Again, with we've heard some passionate speeches from senators on both sides of the aisle and we spoke with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier today. He talked to reporters. He said this was one of the most important days in the Senate.
So, people on both sides of the aisle watching this closely, but obviously wanting much different outcomes, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah. What's pretty unusual is that Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, is letting these votes come up knowing that they are going to fail. Usually, they don't do that when you are the majority leader.
Jessica Dean, thank you very much.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.