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Rising Economic Anxiety As Drastic Rate Hike Looms, Markets Reel; Biden To Visit Saudi Arabia Despite Vowing To Make It A Pariah; 1/6 Committee Split On Whether To Make Criminal Referrals To DOJ; Intelligence Officials: Ukraine War Reaches Pivotal Moment That Could Determine Long-Term Outcome; U.S. Plagued By Extreme Weather With Heat, Floods And Fires. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 14, 2022 - 18:00 ET
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Our coverage now continues with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, economic anxiety is rising here in the United States, as prices soar and the stock market reels. Now, consumers are bracing for the most drastic interest rate hike in nearly 30 years.
Also tonight, the White House confirms President Biden will visit Saudi Arabia, next month, and expects to meet with the crown prince, despite vowing to make the country a pariah. We'll discuss the backlash over Biden's trip with National Security Council Official John Kirby.
And the January 6 select committee just released new video evidence after an abrupt change in the hearing's schedule, this as we're learning more about a split within the panel over whether to formally seek any criminal prosecutions, including against former President Trump.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with a nation on edge right now at a critical moment for the U.S. economy. Tonight, President Biden is making a new effort to calm Americans' fears, while also trying to defend his record. Here's our Chief White House Correspondent, Kaitlin Collins.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Inflation, it's sapping the strength of a lot of families. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): President Biden acknowledging the pain of higher prices in Philadelphia today.
BIDEN: Gas is up and food is up, which we're going to get down come hell or high water.
COLLINS: Biden promising to bring prices down as the worst inflation in 40 years consumes his agenda and threatens his party's majority on Capitol Hill.
BIDEN: Jobs are back but prices are still too high. COVID is down but gas prices are up.
COLLINS: As part of a new messaging push, the president also ramping up his criticism of Republicans.
BIDEN: Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to stop my plans to bring down costs on ordinary families. That's why my plan is not finished and why the results aren't finished either.
COLLINS: Biden's speech coming the day before the Federal Reserve is expected to announce its raising interest rates three-quarters of a percentage point to combat inflation, which would be the biggest hike since 1994.
With gas prices on the rise, the White House formally announced that Biden will visit oil-rich Saudi Arabia next month, after vowing to make it a pariah state for the grisly assassination of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
BIDEN: After the cold-blooded murder of a journalist, giving the crown prince of Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt.
I think it was a flat-out murder and I think we should have nailed it at that.
We were going to make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.
COLLINS: Biden and his aides insist the upcoming visit has more to do with national security than oil prices, as high-ranking Democrats urge the president to call off his meeting with the Saudi crown prince.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): I know he has a tough job dealing with gasoline prices, so I have mixed feelings on this. And if the president called me, I'd say, Mr. President, you can't trust these people. Their standards are not our standards. Their values are not ours.
COLLINS (on camera): Wolf, it's clear the state of the economy here in the United States has changed the president's approach when it comes to Saudi Arabia. White House aides are saying, yes, oil production will be on the agenda when he travels there next month. Whether or not he walks away with any commitments to produce more oil, though, remains to be seen. Though, you can see from these comments from Democrats, he is paying a price already for going.
BLITZER: Kaitlin, I want you to stay with. I also want to bring in our Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt and CNN Business Correspondent Rahel Solomon.
Kasie, the president, he can promise all he wants to get prices down, he says come hell or high water but the reality is simply there's no relief in sight immediately.
KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: There's no relief in sight and the reality is that the president doesn't have that many tools. What Kaitlin was reporting there, his trip to Saudi Arabia is evidence of that reality that he does have to risk looking like he's compromising principles around Jamal Khashoggi to try and get some policies in place that will actually help get prices down here.
BLITZER: Yes. That's the hope. We'll see what happens. You know, Rahel, what can American consumers, consumers expect as a result of this expected very dramatic interest rate hike?
RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, Wolf, American consumers can expect the price to borrow increasing, right? You're already seeing it in mortgage rates. But, really, borrowing costs across the board in terms of consumer loans, like car loans, credit card rates, auto loans, mortgage loans.
Take a look at the 30-year fixed mortgage rate. So, at the beginning of the year, Wolf, that was at about 3 percent. Today, it's hovering closer to 6.5percent. Even last week, the 30-year fixed was set at about 5.3 percent, so a dramatic spike in mortgage rates.
And by the way, Wolf, that's exactly the point. The Fed is trying to cool demand, they're trying to cool spending and it's doing so by raising rates and making borrowing more expensive, trying to curb demand.
BLITZER: I wonder what you're hearing, Kaitlin, over at the White House, because none of these steps by President Biden or for the Federal Reserve for that matter are seen as a magic bullet, are they?
COLLINS: No. That's the thing, that White House keeps talking about what they're doing, what they're obviously relying on the Federal Reserve to do, but the issue facing them is that nothing is really in the immediate term. Nothing is in the near term where things are going to change.
And you see the president trying to at least change the messaging here, saying that he's criticizing Republicans for not enacting his agenda on Capitol Hill, even though its members of his own party that have played a role in torpedoing that.
But it's really been an issue for the White House, in a sense of frustration, because there's not a lot they feel they can do in the near term, but they are worried obviously that come November with the midterm elections, they are going to be the ones paying the price because it's just five months away.
And there has been this deep frustration inside the White House as well, because you've seen the president touting the smaller steps that they have taken but none of that is really resulting in big action. For example, today, he's touting that release from the strategic reserves but it didn't move the needle much on gas prices. Now, they're back over $5 on average across the nation. And so I think that's been -- was really playing a role.
And the president has been speaking more bluntly about inflation in recent days. And instead of talking about prices going down in the near term, he's now saying things like what he said last week when he was in Los Angeles, which is that inflation is the bane of his existence.
BLITZER: So, Kasie, is the president getting out there speaking on these very sensitive, critically important economic issues maybe just to show the American public he understands the burden that they have right now?
HUNT: I mean, that's the important -- it's an important role for any president, right? To go out there and say, look, I know what you're dealing with, I feel your pain to the extent that they can actually demonstrate that.
I think the challenge for this White House is that's really the only option that they have on the table. And there's unfortunately a pretty long backlog of commentary from the president's aides, the administration, where they said that they thought inflation was going to be transitory or that it wasn't going to be a problem. And so they're really vulnerable particularly to political attacks on this issue.
So, you know, I was speaking to one Democratic member of Congress earlier today, who, you know, they're looking at losing the House in the fall, right? And they're extremely frustrated, not necessarily -- they don't exactly know how to take their anger out on the administration because they realize that the administration is in a real bind in terms of not having a ton of tools here, but they also know that Democrats don't seem to be helping themselves right now, and it's really, really hard to see a way out of this jam.
BLITZER: Yes. I think you're right. You know, Rahel, I know you're speaking with a lot of top economists. Bottom line, just how bad could things actually get?
SOLOMON: Well, look, I think the likelihood of a recession increased after Friday's inflation report, right? The job for the Federal Reserve was already difficult, try to raise rates to fight inflation and cool demand but not raise them so much that it sort of, you know, pumps the brakes on the economy, not so much that it triggers us into a recession So, it was already a difficult job before Friday's inflation report. Friday's report that showed inflation was accelerating, that made it that much more difficult and increased the odds of a recession. And that's what we're seeing sort of in the markets.
That said, there are some bright spots in the economy. The jobs market, 3.6 percent unemployment still very low. And, by the way, we're also adding hundreds of thousands of jobs into the economy each month. So, that's a bright spot.
Also, consumers are still sitting on quite a bit of savings. And so, understandably it feels very scary out there. There are, however, some bright spots. But there's a lot of uncertainty about the next few months and even years to come, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Good point, indeed. You know, Kaitlin, the claim by the president, calling all of this Putin's price hike, that's not exactly the whole story, is it?
COLLINS: It's not the whole story. It is definitely part of the story but it is not all of it. And you saw President Biden today, as he was fired up giving this speech, he talk about how gas is up. It's about $1.75 since that invasion started. And, obviously, that's the concerns that not just people have with oil production but also, of course, the fact that a lot of countries do not want to buy Russian oil at this time.
That is playing a role on this but that is on purpose and intentional by the White House using that messaging where the president initially, as this invasion was getting under way, was saying that gas prices were going to go up, that people should be prepared for that, but basically that he thought that was a penalty that they should be willing to pay because, of course, this brutal invasion that's been happening.
And I think the thing that Republicans would point to and that they often are when they're talking about these higher prices, is saying that gas prices were already going up before this invasion started, that food prices were already going up before this started. So, yes, it's been exacerbated by that but also the supply chain issues.
And one thing that the White House has not been willing to concede is the fact that their own policies, including the American Rescue Plan, helped contribute to inflation and to the numbers that you're seeing.
That is something that you've seen critics of this administration happily talk about, Wolf, but it's not really something you've seen the White House concede. Even the president saying, he didn't believe his policies hurt, he thinks that they helped.
BLITZER: You know, Kasie, there's no doubt that Democrats are really worried going into the midterm elections that the economic numbers could hurt them badly. HUNT: Extraordinarily so. I mean, I think they really do believe that regardless of a lot of the external factors, I mean, there are some discussions about what's the Supreme Court going to do on Roe versus Wade, how might that impact the midterm elections. We've obviously seen a whole host of other issues.
But the bottom line -- there's the January 6th hearings. The bottom line is, if this problem is not under control in the fall and if people aren't feeling like their budgets, their day-to-day lives aren't getting under a little bit more financial control, it's going to be a really -- they're going to have a really tough time in the midterm elections.
BLITZER: Yes, they certainly are. All right Kasie Hunt, thank you very much. Kaitlin Collins, thank you. Rahel Solomon, thanks to you as well.
Just ahead, we'll have more on President Biden's upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, a country he vowed to make a pariah. Key National Security Council Official John Kirby, he standing by live. We will discuss when we come back.
BLITZER: Tonight the White House is preparing for President Biden's trip to Saudi Arabia next month where he's expected to meet with the crown prince, a man he once accused of ordering a murder.
Let's discuss with the National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, John Kirby. John, thanks so much for joining us. As you well know, there's growing opposition to this trip from within the president's own Democratic Party.
Senator Dick Durbin, for example said, he would advise the president not to make this trip. Senator Tim Kaine calls it, and I'm quoting him now, a big mistake. How do you respond to that?
JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Well, I think there's also been quite a bit of support for this decision by the president to make this trip that we've also seen from today, but look, he understands and appreciates that not everybody will have the same view.
I think it's important, Wolf, to keep this trip in context. It's not just about going to Saudi Arabia for bilateral meetings, although that's a piece of this. It's also about attending the summit of the gulf cooperation council, which is important.
Nine heads of states will be there to discuss a range of regional issues, including counterterrorism, the threat from Iran, climate change, the war in Yemen. And before that he's going to Israel, and he's going to be speaking to Israeli leaders as well as Palestinian leaders about his desire to continue to support a two-state solution there in a critical part of the boulder world. So there's an awful lot riding on this trip, a very important region to our national security interest and that's why the president is going.
BLITZER: You say the president will meet with the crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, as part of wider talks. Is a one-on-one meeting with the crown prince off the table?
KIRBY: I think he's going to have bilateral discussions with King Salman and King Salman's leadership team and the crown prince is part of the leadership team. So, clearly he will see the crown prince in the context of this meeting -- context of this summit.
BLITZER: Is it worth setting aside major human rights concerns in the hopes that Saudi Arabia will help increase oil production and lower the price of gas here at home?
KIRBY: That's just it, Wolf. The president does not set aside human rights concerns with leaders all around the world routinely. He brings up our values and our foreign policy and our commitment to human and civil rights. And I suspect he will do that clearly on this trip as well. We don't set that aside.
BLITZER: But is a one-on-one meeting off or on the table?
KIRBY: Again, he's going to be meeting with King Salman and King Salman's leadership team. The crown prince is part of that team so he will obviously see the crown prince in the context of those bilateral discussions.
BLITZER: Will President Biden also push Saudi Arabia to join what's called the Abraham Accords and fully normalize relations with Israel?
KIRBY: I'm not going to get ahead of specific discussions here on a visit that is still about a month away, Wolf. But, look, I think the president has been very clear about wanting to see better relations throughout the region and he'll be obviously talking to leaders in every meeting that he's in, about how those things can be advanced, those priorities can be pursued but I don't want to get too far ahead of the president here.
BLITZER: I'm just curious, you say the president when he visits Israel meets with the Palestinian leadership in the west bank.
BLITZER: Wants to underscore his support for a two-state solution, Israel alongside a new state of Palestine. Will he meet jointly with Israeli and Palestinian leaders?
KIRBY: No, I don't think there's time on the schedule for a joint meeting. He will meet with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem and of course he will have a chance to go to Bethlehem and meet with Palestinian leaders as well.
BLITZER: So he will meet with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President in Bethlehem?
KIRBY: That is correct. Yes, that's right.
BLITZER: All right, John Kirby, over at the White House, thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up, the January 6th committee just teased video evidence from its next hearing. We'll going to have details on that and on a split within the panel over potential criminal prosecution. Stand by for information.
BLITZER: The January 6th select committee is looking ahead to its next hearing on Thursday, releasing a preview of video testimony just a little while ago. This, as the panel is now dealing with a change in the hearing schedule and a disagreement within their ranks. CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is up on Capitol Hill and is covering the story for us. Ryan, tell us more.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. The committee surprised many when they announced their hearing on Wednesday, had been postponed until next week, but they are and some ways raising the stakes for the hearing on Thursday that will be focused on the attempts to put pressure on Vice President Mike Pence by teasing out a video featuring one of the top Trump campaign lawyers.
NOBLES (voice over): Tonight, the January 6th select committee teasing their upcoming hearing with a clip from a top Trump campaign lawyer, who warned conservative lawyer John Eastman to drop his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the warning coming the day after January 6th.
ERIC HERSCHMANN, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: He started to ask me about something dealing with Georgia and preserving something, potentially for appeal. And I said to him, are you out of your f'ing mind? I said I only want to hear two words coming out of your mouth from now on, orderly transition. And I said I don't want to hear any other f'ing words coming out of your mouth no matter what other an orderly transition. Repeat those words to me.
NOBLES: Eric Herschmann, also told Eastman he could face legal jeopardy.
HERSCHMANN: Eventually he said orderly transition. I said good, John. Now I'm going to get you the best legal advice you're going to get in your life. Get a great f'king criminal defense lawyer, you're going to need it. NOBLES: The video, a preview of what is to come on Thursday, when the committee focuses its efforts on the pressure campaign on Mike Pence to stand in the way of certifying the election results. This, after the committee adjusted their schedule, postponing the hearing scheduled for Wednesday until next week.
The next hearing is now on deck for Thursday, but it comes as the committee is at a major crossroad, wrestling with what to do next with the mountain of evidence they have uncovered.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Attorney General Garland is my constituent and I don't browbeat my constituents. I think that he knows, his staff knows, the U.S. Attorneys know what's at stake here. They know the importance of it. But I think they are rightfully paying close attention.
NOBLES: The committee making it clear they don't have the power to prosecute crimes. They are a legislative body. But over the course of their investigation if they uncover evidence of a crime, they have said they'll refer that information to the Department of Justice.
Then Monday night, Chairman Bennie Thompson surprised many when he suggested the committee did not plan to make a formal criminal referral.
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): No, that's not our job. Our job is to look at the facts and circumstances around January 6th, what caused it, and make recommendations after that.
NOBLES: Thompson's comments were quickly refuted by his fellow members. Vice Chair Liz Cheney tweeting, the committee has, quote, not issued a conclusion regarding potential criminal referrals. And representative Elaine Luria adding if criminal activity occurred, it is our responsibility to report that activity to the DOJ. As for Attorney General Merrick Garland --
MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Then, I'll be watching all of it. And I can assure you that the January 6th prosecutors are watching all the hearings as well.
NOBLES (on camera): And the committee also dealing with another issue that they have been investigating, and that's whether or not members of congress were giving reconnaissance tours of the capitol leading up to January 6th. They asked Congressman Barry Loudermilk to come and talk about a tour that he gave around that timeframe.
Now, Loudermilk, had pushed back and said there was nothing nefarious about this tour. He asked the capitol police to look into it. They did release a letter from Police Chief Tom Manger that there was no evidence that Loudermilk was giving a tour of the Capitol building itself but didn't necessarily absolve him of any wrongdoing because at this point Loudermilk has not been accused of anything specific.
Now, the committee says that they still have evidence that concerns them about that tour as it relates to Loudermilk and, Wolf, they tell us, that we should see that evidence in the very near future. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, we will see. Thanks very much, Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill for us. Thank you.
Shortly before the select committee released that new clip from its next hearing, I spoke with a key member of the panel.
And joining us now, a key member of the January 6th House select committee, Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. I want to remind our viewers what you told CNN yesterday about the Trump family profiting off these election lies. Watch this. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: You were just asked, I think, by Manu Raju, if the committee has found evidence that Trump and his family, quote, personally benefited from donations, and you said yes. That's a serious allegation. Do you have more details? Is that a crime?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): I don't know -- you know, we're a legislative committee. So that's for somebody else to decide. But, for example, we know that Guilfoyle was paid for the introduction she gave at the speech on January 6th. She received compensation for that.
TAPPER: But is that a crime?
LOFGREN: I'm not saying it's a crime, but I think it's a grift.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN has since learned, Congresswoman, it was Turning Point USA, a separate conservative pro-Trump organization that actually paid Kimberly Guilfoyle. Did you mischaracterize that payment?
LOFGREN: Well, I don't think so. It's one -- it's part and parcel of the Trump campaign.
As a matter of fact, the major donor to that was a woman who took the fifth amendment when she was interviewed by us, who specifically excluded speakers' fees from her donation. And obviously that was done in contravention to that caveat. But the question is are Trump individuals benefitting from this whole enterprise of raising money around the so-called stop the steal, and the answer is yes.
You know, we will -- I'm working with the committee staff, the accountants and financial lawyers. We're going to put out some additional information and people can look at what we have and reach their own conclusions. So, we hope we will have that out in the next couple of days.
BLITZER: We'll look forward to seeing all that information. Your committee chairman, Bennie Thompson, said last night that the committee will not make any criminal referrals to the U.S. Justice Department. Did he speak too soon in ruling that out?
LOFGREN: Well, in talking to Bennie, I think he -- I don't want to speak for him, but I think his comment was misconstrued, I think or -- the really -- here's the fact. The committee has not yet had a discussion about anything relative to criminal referrals. As a matter of fact, there are no such things as criminal referrals. There's no like process in statute.
We haven't had a discussion about whether we'll send a letter to the Department of Justice or not, because that basically is what the discussion is about, but it's premature. We're certainly going to finish our hearings before we have that discussion.
And I personally believe that in the end, we will end up sending all of the information that we have to the public and to the Department of Justice, all the evidence, which is really the main point.
Now, the committee has views, each one of us does. American citizens have views about what they have seen. But in the end, only the Department of Justice can decide whether or not to prosecute.
BLITZER: They can prosecute with or without formal criminal referrals from your committee. On another sensitive issue --
BLITZER: -- D.C. capitol police now say, and I'm quoting now, there is no evidence that Republican Congressman Barry Loudermilk led a reconnaissance tour with Trump supporters just ahead of the January 6th insurrection. What's your reaction to that?
LOFGREN: Well, I was quite surprised by that. And I'll tell you, we will have some information, the committee will be releasing some information on that point, you know, very soon, maybe later today or tomorrow.
BLITZER: So do you believe he did lead some sort of reconnaissance tour for potential rioters the day before?
LOFGREN: We have video evidence that caused us to send a letter. We didn't make any accusations. We said we wanted to ask him some questions and he's refused to talk to the committee. I don't understand why. And when you see the pictures that we will release, you'll understand why we wanted to talk to him.
BLITZER: Representative Zoe Lofgren, thanks so much for joining us.
LOFGREN: You bet.
BLITZER: Just ahead, will Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say yes to the gun reform bill taking shape up on Capitol Hill? I'll discuss with a key negotiator, Senator Chris Murphy, right after the break.
BLITZER: The gun reform legislation currently taking shape in the U.S. Senate, potentially just picked up support from a key Republican. The Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell.
And joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Senator, thanks for joining us. I know you have a lot going on right now.
The Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, says if, if the final bill reflects what's in your framework, he'll support this deal. How big of an if though, is that?
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, the heavy lifting is done. We've negotiated the framework. We should be able to get that framework into legislative text. And if we do, I'll be very pleased to earn senator McConnell's support. I think that indicates we'll get well north of 60 votes necessary to pass this bill.
And I think the reason we're picking up Republican votes right now is because what we include in this bill is wildly popular. The public wants red flag laws, the ability to take guns away from people who are threatening suicide or mass slaughter. They support closing the boyfriend loophole to make sure all domestic abusers can't go buy a gun.
These are popular, mainstream proposals. And I think we're going to get them down into paper this week. We're going to try to get this passed before we leave town for the July 4th recess. And I hope we'll have a big bipartisan vote.
BLITZER: But the devil is often in the details, as you well know, Senator, and already Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas says, there's been a mischaracterization and that this deal won't, he says won't incentivize states to pass what are called red flag laws. You say this will. Which is it?
MURPHY: Well, I think we're going to make sure that there's plenty of money in this bill for states that pass red flag laws or states that don't pass red flag laws. We've got to have an incentive structure with a pot of money to help states that do want to enact red flag laws, but we shouldn't punish states that choose not to pass red flag laws by withholding money to help law enforcement or providing them with support for better mental health services.
You know, this in the end is going to be a bill that has a lot of money for law enforcement, for safe schools and for mental health. And all of that money will be eligible for states whether they pass red flag laws or not. We have to have a specific incentive fund for states that do choose to pass red flag laws.
BLITZER: But how real, Senator, is the risk that the gun specific proposals in this bill, this potential bill, could get watered down or actually removed from the deal completely as you draft the actual text of the legislation?
MURPHY: Well, that's why it was important for us to have ten Republicans as well as ten Democrats supporting the framework we announced on Sunday. And I don't sense that any of the Republicans that supported that framework are reversing course in part because I think they have seen the really outpouring of support for this legislation from all across the country, from gun owners and non-gun owners.
So I expect that we are going to spend this week. Just putting that framework into text and trying to get a vote in front of the Senate as quickly as possible. That's the commitment that we all made to each other when we put that framework out and that's what we're engaged in.
BLITZER: And common sense gun reform as I often say, it's so important. Before I let you go, Senator, you're a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Do you agree with some of your Democratic colleagues in the Senate who are calling President Biden's upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia a big mistake and advising him not to go?
MURPHY: Well, I'm looking forward to getting briefed by the administration on what they are going to get in terms of human rights concessions from the Saudi regime. I admittedly have been a little buried in gun negotiations over the course of the last three weeks, but I, of course, have led the fight here in the United States Senate to recast and recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.
I'm glad the Biden administration stopped selling offensive weapons for the Yemen war to the Saudis, but if the president is going to sit down and talk to this regime, then I hope that what comes with it are some real concessions about what's happening in Yemen and on the Saudis human rights record and I look forward to being briefed by the administration. I just haven't had the chance to sit down with him yet given everything else that's going on in the gun talks.
BLITZER: Senator Chris Murphy, thanks as usual for joining us.
MURPHY: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's other important news we're following right now up on Capitol Hill. The House of Representatives has just passed legislation extending security protection to immediate family members of U.S. Supreme Court Justices. The move comes just days after a man was arrested outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh's house and charged with attempted murder.
Coming up, just in to CNN, a stark new intelligence assessment from U.S. and western intelligence officials on the war in Ukraine. We'll share that with you right after this quick break.
BLITZER: Just in to CNN. U.S. and Western intelligence officials believe the war in Ukraine has now reached a pivotal moment that could determine the long-term outcome of Russia's invasion.
CNN's Barbara Starr is joining us from the Pentagon right now and has new information.
What's the latest, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening.
Well, the pivotal part of all of this may come tomorrow as we learn when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs, sit down in Brussels tomorrow with more than 50 countries to discuss what additional weapons and aid they have available to give to Ukraine.
It will be a critical moment. Ukraine is continuing to say it needs more and it needs it fast because Russia is continuing to press what advantage it does have in Eastern Ukraine with long-range missile strikes, with artillery. They have an overmatch of weapons and personnel against the Ukrainians in the east, and everybody knows it.
So what are we looking at? There are several scenarios in play. Putin could decide to declare victory and go home. Not very likely.
The battle lines could harden into essentially a stalemate with the lines frozen in place, more death and destruction, and a long-term impact, strategic impact on the global economy through rising food and fuel prices and that's what the allies are worried about. And that makes Ukraine very worried that support for their cause could eventually soften.
So the pivotal point right now is what comes next. Will the allies tomorrow make commitments to additional weapons, additional assistance, weapons out of their own inventories, which may be old soviet stockpiles or will they make commitments to new weapon shipments. That is what Austin and Milley will be pressing for. That is what everyone is waiting to see -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Clearly, a pivotal moment right now.
Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.
Let's get an update on the battlefield in Ukraine where Russian forces have just destroyed the last remaining bridge in the strategic eastern city of Severodonetsk.
Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is joining us from the war zone right now.
Ben, this key city is increasingly isolated and clearly vulnerable to Kremlin forces.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Basically they are cut off. The Ukrainian forces left in Severodonetsk now can no longer drive across those bridges. Those bridges are no longer there. The only way out is the river that goes by the city. And of course we understand that that river, the riverbanks are under
fairly frequent Russian artillery bombardment and Russian snipers as well. Now the Russian defense ministry called upon the remaining Ukrainian troops in Severodonetsk to surrender and not repeat the experience of Mariupol, where for about a month, they were holed up in that steel plant.
Now, they are currently, most of the Ukrainian forces there, are in the Azov chemical plant. I've been there, I was there in April. There are basements and bunkers and bomb shelters and tunnels there where people are hiding out, including, apparently, according to Ukrainian officials, 500 civilians.
And we saw that in Mariupol, the Ukrainian forces were able to hold out for an entire month and so we may be seeing the beginning of a repeat of that siege -- Wolf.
BLITZER: As you know, Ben, President Zelenskyy tonight is pleading and pleading for more anti antimissile weapon systems. What more is he saying?
WEDEMAN: Well, basically, that's the big headline and it's something we're hearing time and time again from Ukrainian officials. The deputy defense minister of Ukraine said that Ukraine has only received the 10 percent of the weapons they've asked from their allies.
And we spent yesterday with Ukrainian troops who were training with new U.S. supplies M4 weapons, and said these weapons are not enough. We need, in order to stop the Russian advance in eastern Ukraine, heavy weapons, artillery to match, at least parity with Russian artillery and if that doesn't happen and doesn't happen soon, the Russians will be able to continue taking more and more ground in eastern Ukraine -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ben Wedeman, stay safe over there in the war zone. Ben Wedeman, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, dramatic video of a house collapsing as flood waters rage. It's just one example of extreme weather plaguing so much of the United States, right now.
BLITZER: Tonight, the United States is in the midst of an extreme weather nightmare, with record heat, fires and severe flooding.
Brian Todd is working the story for us.
Every region of the country seems affected at least in some way.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, just every corner of the Lower 48. On one extreme, officials say 40 active wildfires burnt more than a million acres in six states. On the other, historical rainfall and snow melting dealing a crippling blow to iconic landmark. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
TODD (voice-over): A large house crumbles into the surging Yellowstone River and washes downstream.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is insane.
TODD: The town of Gardener, Montana, where that house was, left isolated, surround said by water according to officials with swift water rescues taking place.
Heavy rain and melting snow caused flooding in Yellowstone National Park which had to be evacuated, roads and bridges washed away.
The parents of CNN supervising producer Tim Carter told us of their nail-biting trip out Yellowstone over a bridge that was compromised.
MARTHA CARTER, EVACUATED FROM YELLOWSTONE: When we were going out of it, it was really scary because the water was already violently, you know, swirling around the bridge. So we did find out later that it had washed out.
TODD: But the Yellowstone region is not alone. Several areas of America's lower 48 states are experiencing extreme weather, between inescapable heat, floods, heavy storms and tornados. More than 1/3 of Americans, 125 million people are under heat alerts from North Carolina through the plains states, due to a so-called heat dome that parked itself over the Tennessee Valley. A public health official in Houston says no one in these areas should shrug off the risks.
PORFIRIO VILLARREAL, HOUSTON HEALTH DEPARTMENT: When you have extreme heat, then everyone is in danger. When you suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke, then your vital organs, your brain suffers damages and you could die.
TODD: At one point in the past 48 hours, more than half a million households in the upper Midwest had lost power as residents dealt with crippling heat in those areas. Violent thunderstorms in the Midwest dealt severe damage and prompted tornado warnings in Chicago.
In the West and Southwest, record-breaking temperatures combined with high winds, low humidity and drought are fueling wildfires. The pipeline fire near Flagstaff, Arizona, grown to more than to 20,000 acres. One resident of a Montana town near Yellowstone can only hope her new home survived the flooding.
TRACY PLANICHEK, RESIDENT OF ABSAROKEE, MONTANA: Husband and I just put in a brand new house, never been able to afford a new house, it's sitting at the top of the lane and hoping by some God miracle our house will be there.
TODD (on camera): This particular pattern of extreme weather is expected to last at least the next few days and beyond that, not a lot of relief. Our experts at the CNN weather center say because of climate change, heat waves like this one are going to become increasingly common and more severe, and, Wolf, we haven't even gotten to the heart of hurricane season yet.
BLITZER: Pictures are so dramatic. Bryan Todd, thank you very, 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.