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Vice President Harris Meeting With Expelled Tennessee Democrats; Israel Says, One Dead, Six Wounded In Tel Aviv Terror Attack; Russian State Media Reports, U.S. Reporter Formally Charged With Espionage; Judge Suspends Approval Of Medication Abortion Pill, Delays Ruling For One Week For Justice Department Appeal. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 07, 2023 - 18:00   ET




ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Vice President Kamala Harris is in Nashville, Tennessee, throwing her support behind to Tennessee Democrats ousted from the statehouse for protesting gun violence. We will have details on her meeting and the vice president's message.

Also tonight, Israel reeling from an apparent terror attack, killing at least one person and wounding six in Tel Aviv. There are new fears right now that the conflict could escalate and spread. CNN is on the ground in the Middle East as violence in the region heats up.

And Justice Clarence Thomas firing back, claiming his luxurious vacations with a conservative mega donor were personal hospitality. But even some Republican judges aren't buying his explanation.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Alex Marquardt, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin our coverage tonight in Tennessee, where Vice President Kamala Harris is meeting with two Democratic lawmakers who were expelled from the statehouse by Republicans.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is on the scene in Nashville. Gary, this is a major show of support by the vice president, a chance to reiterate the Biden administration's calls for gun control. What is the latest in Nashville?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Alex. This is a local political story that has gone extremely national, last-minute visit here in Nashville, Tennessee, by the Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris. She arrived at the Nashville airport a short time ago, and she is now attending a meeting at Fisk University, which is an historically black liberal arts college.

He did invite the two legislators who were expelled from the state legislature yesterday after last week protesting against the wishes of the Republican majority. They violated rules, the Republicans said, and they decided to expel those two state legislators.

So, she'll be meeting with them, but she's also invited every Democratic state legislators here in the state of Tennessee over at Fisk University. It is expected that she will call for an assault- style weapons ban during this meeting with state legislators.

Now, there's a very interesting component to the story. The names of the two members of the House of Representatives here in Tennessee who were expelled are Justin Jones and Justin Pearson. Under Tennessee state law, the counties that they represent in the state legislature have to have a meeting. And in that meeting, they will appoint a temporary House of Representative member to represent their county.

So, what we know about this Monday? Is that here in Nashville, Davidson County, there's one metropolitan government entity for this city and this county, they have announced they are going to have a meeting this Monday where they will vote on who should temporarily represent them in the state capital until a special election is held, and it's very possible that the person they vote on will be Justin Jones.

So, what will happen if these two legislators get voted to come back? We'll have to wait and see what happens at that point.

One other thing I want to tell you, Alex, is that on Monday, there will be a protest held here on the very ground I'm standing on. It's expected that hundreds of people will come out with the two legislators who have been expelled and are no longer officially legislative. Alex?

MARQUARDT: Those two gentlemen certainly no intention of going silently. We will certainly see them again.

Gary Tuchman, please do stand by. I want to bring in CNN Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly as well as our Senior Political Correspondent Abby Phillip. Good to see you both.

Phil, I want to start with you. What more can you tell us about Vice President Kamala Harris' trip, how it came together and what her message is going to be tonight to Tennessee lawmakers who she's meeting with?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alex. This came together very quickly. We did not have much advance notice. It all came together earlier this afternoon. And I think it underscores the White House officials' view right now, as both a very organic moment. There's no planning behind what's happened here, and it was driven almost entirely by the actions of the Republican supermajority, but also a moment where both the lawmakers that were expelled on the issue of gun reform, which the administration has long pushed for, but also for the young protesters that have been out there by the thousands day after day after day and just saw two lawmakers expelled with very little precedent. All of those are issues that the vice president is expected to touch on, try and elevate and try and maintain system to some degree a level of momentum. They recognize that this moment has really kind of come out of nowhere. And I think, as you heard from the two lawmakers who were expelled last night, they plan to leverage this moment, both on their push when it comes to gun restrictions but also from a political perspective as they try and continue outreach to younger voters, keep them engaged at a moment that I don't think anybody expected a week ago, certainly not the people here in the White House, but one that they recognized the importance of and recognize, as Gary put it, just how much this became something everyone in the nation was paying attention to over the course of the last several days.

MARQUARDT: They certainly were. And, Abby, even as Vice President Harris is expected to re-up this call for the ban on assault weapons, we cannot ignore race when it comes to the expulsion of these two young black men expelled in an unprecedented fashion while their white colleague was not. Is that something that we can expect Kamala Harris to address tonight in this meeting at Fisk University?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, I think it's absolutely a huge part of this story. I mean, this is one of those rare moments in politics where you have all of these different themes really converging on each other. You've got the gun issue. You've got the issue of race and the issue of protests that ties that both Nashville and where she is speaking tonight, Fisk University have to the civil rights movement is actually central to all of this.

And on top of that, you have this issue of teachers and the safety of children in schools. Democracy is a central part of this too, what a Republican supermajority is able to do when there are no checks and balances.

MARQUARDT: Abby, I'm just going to interrupt. I want to listen to this moment where the three lawmakers who face expulsion have just arrived.

Abby, I apologize for interrupting you. Please (INAUDIBLE) here in terms of the types of the types of issues that will be -- that the vice president and these lawmakers will be speaking about tonight.

MARQUARDT: Abby, are you there?

PHILLIP: Yes, I hear you now. That's exactly right. I mean, look, these young lawmakers really epitomized. I think what the White House and what the vice president wants to highlight, which is that there is a younger generation that's galvanized by a lot of these -- the central issues to them and that when they are motivated in moments like this, I think that they see it as an opportunity politically, really, to kind of elevate their voices.

We talk a lot in politics about how young voters don't participate. They don't come out to the ballot box. Well, we are starting to see that changing the 2020, two election, in those midterms, they played a key role. And even just this past weekend, Wisconsin they also played a key role. And there's the vice president I see walking in.

MARQUARDT: All right. Look, Abby, we're going to listen as the vice president comes in.

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Hello everyone. Let me come around and (INAUDIBLE).


K. HARRIS: Of course, Kamala Harris. Thank you, good to be with you.

STATE REP. BILL BECK (D-TN): Bill Beck, Nashville, so good to have you.

K. HARRIS: It's good to be back.


K. HARRIS: Thank you.

STATE SEN. HEIDI CAMPBELL (D-TN): Heidi Campbell, Nashville.

K. HARRIS: Kamala Harris, nice to see you.


STATE SEN. CHARLANE OLIVER (D-TN): Charlane Oliver, welcome to my district.

K. HARRIS: Oh, thank you for welcoming me. Thank you.


K. HARRIS: Good to be with you.

STATE REP. VINCENT DIXIE (D-TN): Vincent Dixie from Nashville.

K. HARRIS: Thank you.

STATE SEN. JEFF YARBRO (D-TN): Jeff Yarbro, ma'am.

K. HARRIS: Thank you, good to see you.



K. K. HARRIS: Hey, cousin.

T. HARRIS: Hey, cousin.

STATE REP. BO MITCHELL (D-TN): Bo Mitchell from Nashville.

K. HARRIS: Good to be with you. How have you been? You good? It's good to be back.

STATE REP. SAM MCKENZIE (D-TN): Sam McKenzie, Knoxville.

K. HARRIS: Good to be with you. Thank you. STATE REP. RONNIE GLYNN (D-TN): Ronnie Glynn, Montgomery County.

K. HARRIS: Kamala here.


K. HARRIS: Is that right?

PARKINSON: Yes, that's right.

K. HARRIS: So, there are three of us?

PARKINSON: That's right. That's right. We're family. That's right.

K. HARRIS: Where were you born.

PARKINSON: Providence Hospital?

K. HARRIS: So, your family had money. I always want a cut.

STATE REP. JASON POWELL (D-TN): Jason Powell, Nashville.

K. HARRIS: Good to be with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, Erin Campbell (ph), good to see you.

K. HARRIS: Of course. It's good to be -- okay. Come, let's come in, please.

MARQUARDT: Well, that was Vice President Kamala Harris at Fisk University meeting with the Democratic lawmakers from the Tennessee statehouse.

Republicans, Abby and Phil have some 75 of those seats, a supermajority in the statehouse. So that was just -- that was definitely minority of the members of that House that she was meeting with, including Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, who have just been expelled.

Phil, I want to go back to you. The White House is clearly trying to make this a moment to talk again about gun control, but is there any sense that they think they can make tangible progress?

MATTINGLY: You know, I think when you to these officials, they're not naive, right? They've been in this town. They've been in this fight, the fight between gun rights advocates and gun restriction advocates, which has been decades' long. they actually were able to secure the passage of the most significant bipartisan gun law in decades and yet they recognize that this is still obviously a very significant problem.


No other country in the world has to deal with at the scale of the United States does, and they understand that the dynamics of the fight that is still ongoing are both very hardened. The battle lines aren't changing anytime soon. And that one issue or moment or any advocacy effort, as we've seen so many, because there have been so many of these horrific tragedies over the course of the last several years, is not necessarily going to shift that dynamic, isn't going to flip everything on its head, isn't going to clear pathways that didn't exist prior.

I think this was fascinating about this moment, and Abby would have a great sense of this as well, is the agility with the recognition that this isn't some grand strategy moment, right? This is something that came together very quickly. This is a White House, this is a team that operates kind of planning weeks and months out into how they're going to try and leverage moments on issues to really get momentum behind them. This is not that this is a recognition of what everyone has been watching over the course of the last several days and a recognition that adding the vice president's voice to that will elevate it.

What happens from there? I don't think anybody has a really good sense of things, but they know they want to be a part of this moment. I think they know that they can help in this moment given their alliances when it comes to these lawmakers.

PHILLIP: and I think I think, Alex, it also really highlights that the politics of this for the White House to them is pretty clear. I think that they view this as something that has kind of blown up in the face of Republicans, both locally and to some extent nationally as well.

And this is not -- the vice president's office is not one to kind of go out on a limb here and do things that are necessarily politically risky. So, to me, it speaks to the fact that they view this as a pretty easy slam dunk, aligning themselves with this energy on the left.

And maybe it's not just on the left. Maybe it's on the center left because what you're talking about here are actual Tennesseans, people who live in Nashville who came out to petition their government and the legislature, basically ignoring them and moving to expel these lawmakers since then.

MARQUARDT: All right. Phil Mattingly and Abby Phillip, thank you so much for joining me. And Abby will be back on Sunday for Inside Politics Sunday at 11:00 A.M. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

Now, just ahead, a vehicle strikes several pedestrians in Israel, killing at least one in what authorities are now calling a terror attack. Next, we will go live to the Middle East for more on the escalating violence.



MARQUARDT: Tonight, there are new fears that conflict in the Middle East could quickly spiral out of control, the latest eruption of violence and apparent terror attack in Tel Aviv. CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is on the scene for us. Fred, that is a very popular area where you are, particularly on a Friday night, lots of people would have been out and about. What are officials saying about this deadly vehicle strike?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. First of all, you're absolutely right, Alex, it is definitely very popular place right here in the center of Tel Aviv. And they're saying that, essentially, what happened is that down this promenade right here, a car came racing down there, and there is some pretty dramatic video that was released on social media, which we do have to warn our viewers, is very graphic.

The car came racing down here and then came off the promenade and then flipped several times and came to standstill here on the grass. In fact, you can see right now, as we're filming, that that car is actually being removed right now. It was here for a very long time. The investigators obviously have been doing their work. But you can see the car is absolutely total.

Now, one person was killed in this attack. That person is an Italian tourists who is 30 years old, the authorities have said here. Now, in fact, they have said that all the people who were killed in this attack were tourists.

And you can see right here that the investigators are still doing their work. They're still collecting evidence. They've been out here the entire evening really doing a lot of very difficult work here, trying to piece together what exactly happened.

But as you can imagine, this is something that definitely since chills down the spines of many people, not just here and Tel Aviv but here in Israel, in general. And the prime minister of this country, Benjamin Netanyahu, he has tonight called up more reserves even then before, from the border guards and also from the Israel Defense Forces, as well, because of what he calls a spate of terror attacks that have been going on.

In fact, earlier today, what happened was that two people were killed. Two women were killed when their car came under fire. The Israeli authorities say that car then crashed, the woman who was driving that car was actually the mother of the two who were killed inside. She was also severely wounded.

So, right now, with those airstrikes that have been going on overnight and generally the very tense situation, as you can see a lot of people here in Tel Aviv and other places in Israel very, very concerned, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes. Those two women were British-Israeli sisters.

Fred Pleitgen in Tel Aviv with the latest, thank you very much.

All right, now, I want to bring in former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us tonight. You heard Fred just talking there about the prime minister's order to mobilize all border reserve units as well as additional troops after these two attacks on Israelis today. Of course, this comes after that barrage of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza yesterday. What is your sense right now of where the situation is headed?

MARTIN INDYK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Nowhere good, I'm afraid, Alex. The attacks that we've seen, this one in Tel Aviv and the one in the West Bank that you we were also discussing where the two young women were killed are likely to be lone wolf attacks or these lions' den attacks, which had not prompted by Hamas or Palestine, Islamic jihad or some of the other terrorist organizations.


And there's a kind of copycat process probably under way in which we could likely seem more of those attacks. The Palestinian authorities are not capable of really exercising control there. The Israeli army, if sent in, will create more friction. And then on top of that, there's these rockets coming in from Gaza and Lebanon and the highly inflammatory situation in Jerusalem, where the onset of Passover and Ramadan together creates just a tinderbox and, again, high likelihood that that, too, can explode.

So, it's something like a perfect storm in which Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to have to exercise a great deal of restraint. He already did so in terms of the retaliation for the rocket attacks, but it's going to be a very grievous situation, I'm afraid.

MARQUARDT: Yes. These two religious holidays coinciding in a very dangerous moment.

Ambassador, we did hear a spokesman for Israel's military tying those rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, from Lebanon, directly to the raid by -- the raids, I should say, two in a row, by Israeli forces on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the most important Islam, this spokesperson saying that it created very negative energies. Do you believe that, to some extent, this latest round of escalations could have been avoided?

INDYK: Well, yes, it could have been a avoided in theory, but in practice, you've just got a situation where, I mean, if you look at what happened there, the Palestinians thought that that the Israelis were going to come up onto the Temple Mount, Haram Sharif, and slaughtering a goat in sacrifice. Prayer has been banned up there for Jews since 1967. But recently, there's been a relaxation of that.

So, they started, they moved into the mosque and stayed overnight with rockets and other -- sorry, with rocks and other things, and the Israeli police, therefore, moved in to try to stop, break them up so they wouldn't attack the Jews, as they came up to pray the next morning.

And so you've got this kind of inevitable cycle of ratcheting tensions in which both sides assumes the worst of the other and then the effort to try to calm things down just doesn't work.

MARQUARDT: Right, an extremely combustible moment. Ambassador Martin Indyk, thank you so much for your time and your insights this evening.

INDYK: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: And just ahead, we will have an update on the American journalist who has been detained in Russia now formally charged with espionage. Our live report from Moscow is coming up.



MARQUARDT: There are new developments tonight in the case of American journalist who was recently detained in Russia. Investigators in Moscow now formally charging Wall Street Journal Reporter Evan Gershkovich with espionage, that's according to Russian state media.

Our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is joining us from Moscow now with the latest. Matthew, what does this mean for Gershkovich now that these charges are official?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in some ways, Alex, it's a legal formality. I mean, the authorities here have ten days to formally charge someone who's suspected of a crime, and it's been 10 days since Evan Gershkovich was detained by the Russian authorities on suspicion of espionage. And so they're playing this by the book.

What it does, though, though, is show that if there was any hope that the Russians would reconsider what they're doing and perhaps pull back on this process, then that's not going to happen. They seem to be proceeding with it apace, or whatever that means, because I think this is going to be a very long, drawn out bureaucratic process.

He has been remanded in the Lefortovo Prison until May the 29th while the authorities build their case. The details of that case have not been made public because it's been designated top secret, but it could extend beyond that. If the authorities need more time, they'll ask for it and that they're likely to get it. And so, you know, it looks like it's going to be, as I say, the start of a very long, drawn out process.

The Wall Street Journal has issued another statement in response to this formal charging. They're saying the charges are categorically false and unjustified, and they called for their reporter's immediate release, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you very much.

I want to go now to Democratic Congressman Jason Crow. He is a member of the armed services and intelligence committees.

Representative Crow, I want to ask you first about what Matthew was just reporting about these formal charges against Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal. What more would you like to see the Biden administration do? We know that they are considering declaring him wrongfully detained, which means that he will essentially -- that his case will essentially be handled by the hostage affairs part of the State Department. But what more can the administration do, in your mind?

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Well, Alex, I think that designation is the right designation to make. Actually, I think there's no doubt he's wrongfully detained. Mr. Gershkovich has never been an employee of the U.S. government. He has never been a spy. He's not a spy now. He is a hostage of the Russian government, of Vladimir Putin to try to gain some kind of leverage over the west to account for his failures in Ukraine.


That's what's going on. So, continue the diplomatic channels and certainly make that designation is the right thing to do.

MARQUARDT: I want to talk to you about this apparent leak of classified Pentagon documents that we've seen circulating on social media. This has to do with what the U.S. is seeing in Ukraine and figures attached that in terms of ammunition is being expended and troops that have been lost. We are learning tonight that these documents have been circulating for quite some time. The Pentagon saying that they're looking into this release. How concerned are you about what may be out there?

CROW: Well, I am troubled by it, Alex. There's no doubt about that. It's my understanding that the Defense Department has launched an investigation, as is protocol in these situations. Leaks are always troubling. Operational security is extremely important. We live in a free and democratic society as we're generally more open and transparent, which sometimes makes it harder for us to keep hands on our information. But it's important to do so in this instance.

So, my first concern is to make sure that it doesn't jeopardize the Ukrainians and the coming offensive in Ukraine, so looking at what documents might still be out there that haven't been posted on social media yet, so very quickly getting our arms around what we think may have been lost or misplaced, and then making sure that remedial measures are immediately put in place to address that before it impacts operations overseas.

MARQUARDT: And like those Ukrainian troops, you yourself have been on the frontlines. You're a former Army Ranger. From what you've seen, how do you think these documents could impact the fight?

CROW: Well, first of all, it appears at first glance that there's a lot of disinformation that these documents do look authentic, but there have been some changes that they've been doctored and revised. The Russian casualty estimates are extremely low, multiples lower than what we believe them to be. The Ukrainian estimates are very high. So, we want to see what extent there's disinformation or misinformation at play here.

But you're right. I mean, we have to look at a troop numbers, how many brigades have been trained ammunition numbers and whether those match the numbers, as we know them to be, in a classified setting. And if that's true, then whether or not that will impact operations, whether there's some shifting and changing of strategy and tactics on the battlefield that might be necessary to switch things up, so the Russians I don't know what's coming.

MARQUARDT: Yes. These documents are remarkably detailed. We should say they do not appear to be a battle planner or anything really to do with this looming counteroffensive that Ukrainians might be launching soon.

Congressman, I do want to ask you about this summary of a review that was released by the -- by the administration about Afghanistan. They put that out. There is a classified section that is going to Congress and unclassified section that was put out in a summary form just yesterday.

Of course, you yourself served in Afghanistan. You were critical of the Biden administration during that withdrawal of August 2021. Now that you've seen this report, do you think that the Biden administration has taken enough accountability? They are certainly putting a lot of blame at the feet of the Trump administration.

CROW: I do. I do think the Biden administration is taking the right steps here. And, listen, I pulled no punches here. There were mistakes that were made. There was a lack of coordination. The withdrawal should have happened much earlier. In fact, I actually formed the bipartisan working group in the House to actually start pushing for a withdrawal to begin in April of 2021 and had that withdrawal and that evacuation of, you know, American citizens and others started months earlier, it certainly would have been easier. We could have gotten more folks out. All that is true, and they admitted as much in some of these reports.

But what is also true is it was absolutely the right move the pull out and end our war. It was an unwinnable war. It was untenable. The Biden administration inherited an agreement that was negotiated in the dark by the Trump administration. They started to pull down under the Trump administration. There weren't enough troops in country to withstand the Taliban offensive that was going to come after the lapse of that deal.

So, Biden's decision was clear, either had the push massive amounts of troops in and be in major combat operations with the Taliban again or he had to withdraw. He did the right thing by withdrawing and ending our 20-year war.

MARQUARDT: Well, this discussion is certainly far from over. Congressman Jason Crow, thank you so much for your time and your insights.

CROW: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: And we have much more news ahead. Stay with us.


[18:35:00] MARQUARDT: We have breaking news. A federal judge in Texas has just ruled -- just issued a ruling on abortion medication that could have far reaching effects all across the country.

Let's get the latest from our correspondents and legal experts. Joan Biskupic, can you break down this ruling in Texas for us?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Yes, Alex. You're exactly right. This is very important. A federal judge in Texas, Judge Kacsmaryk, has ruled that the Federal Food and Drug Administration's approval of an abortion medication drug, an approval that dated back to 2000, was flawed. He has essentially said that the FDA approval should be rolled back.

But this is the important part. He has given the Department of Justice seven days to appeal this ruling, so nothing happens automatically. But if this ruling stands, it will have repercussions nationwide. Because what this judge has done is said that the kind of approval that the FDA allowed for medication abortions, which are still legal in many states across the country, despite how the Supreme Court ruled in June, people would not have access to this drug if this ruling becomes permanent nationwide.

Seven days, the Department of Justice has to appeal the ruling on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration to go to the Fifth Circuit, which is a pretty conservative court, but probably not as conservative as this judge, who was specifically chosen by the challengers.


The challengers, opponents to abortion rights, had sought out this judge, knowing his background, hoping to get a ruling just like this critical of the FDA approval process, which, as I said, dates back decades now. But the judge said that the FDA had not adequately considered the public health benefits, safety of the drugs that had been approved. And again, Alex, this is the first major ruling since the Supreme Court back in June, had struck down the constitutional right to abortion nationwide.

This is going to have ramifications, and I'm sure the Department of Justice will be weighing in soon to try to appeal this. It's been stayed for seven days.

MARQUARDT: And, Joan, certainly, the Department of Justice was expecting that this ruling could come down. Is it safe to assume that they will be appealing this?

BISKUPIC: Absolutely, Alex. I'm sure they probably didn't expect it here on Friday night, right before the Easter weekend and everything, in the middle of sets of religious holidays. They might not have been anticipating it would come now, but they've been waiting for it for weeks, ever since the hearing that was held down in Texas.

And, yes, I am certain that the Department of Justice will appeal on behalf of the FDA. Because, you know, the guidance from the federal government immediately after the ruling by the Supreme Court was that the FDA approval for medication this medication abortion pill was valid. It should endure. It's, as I said, been the law of the land since 2000.

MARQUARDT: All right. Joan, stay with us. I want to go to Shan Wu, who is on the line. Shan, I know that you're just getting your first look at this ruling. As Joan was saying there, this has been -- this pill, this abortion pill has been in use, approved by the FDA since 2000. I want to get your sense of what impact the suspension of this drug is going to have in terms of access to abortion, not just in Texas but all across the country.

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY (voice over): Well, I think it has a very dangerous effect because it puts into jeopardy potentially a lot of what the guidance should be. There are states where it would not right now be subject to any sorts of laws restricting abortion, and yet the dispensing of this particular medication would be impacted.

Now, there are some practical alternatives. There's a second drug, which doesn't seem to be the focus of the preliminary injunction, but this is one of the dangers of these sorts of nationwide rulings that a single judge can do.

On the substantive part of it, you know, I have to say that it seems like there's a lot of grounds for appeal. It's a very weak type of argument. The plaintiffs are really cleaning standing on behalf of doctors. This isn't like patients being harmed if the doctor is saying that resources would be diverted. So, I think the Justice Department will have some very good grounds for appeal, and I'm sure they will.

But one thing we have to be mindful of, of course, is at its heart, this is a question of deference to agency expertise. I mean, this unprecedented. The judge would overrule the FDA's expertise on this. But one of the dangers as it goes up the chain potentially to the Supreme Court is that the Supreme Court has not shown recently much deference towards agency expertise. So, that's on the horizon here.

MARQUARDT: And, Shan, we just heard Joan saying that this was -- that the DOJ certainly was expecting this ruling at some point, preparing for it. So, what do you think the thrust of their appeal is going to be?

WU (voice over): I think it'll be -- well, it will be a repeat of the arguments we've seen. I think they're going to talk about the standing issue. I think they're going to talk about the fact that the FDA properly went through the procedures to test the safety of this drug, which was extensively tested.

But, crucially, for this posture, legally, it's a preliminary injunction. It's different than going through a whole trial. And the showing has to be pretty hard. It's a high bar to have won the preliminary injunction. And part of that bar is you have to show two things, basically, one irreparable harm, and, two, likelihood of success on the merits.

I think DOJ has strong arguments on both points. I mean, the irreparable harm, again, would be to these doctors, not to patients being harmed. And, secondly, on the likelihood of success after a trial, I think that's pretty open to argument here given that you would have to overcome the work that the expert agency has already done on this.

MARQUARDT: All right.


Shan, stay with us as well. I want to go to Elizabeth Cohen, our senior medical correspondent.

Elizabeth, this is something that has been in use, this drug, mifepristone, for more than two decades. Doctors have praised it for being safer even than some low risk prescription drugs. This was something that women would choose to take instead of having medical abortions.

What is your reaction to this ruling and its implications?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Alex, it's really quite stunning. As you said, it's been found to be safer than even, you know, common drugs like Viagra x name one and so not having this, for doctors to prescribe for patients is really quite stunning. It will be quite devastating too many patients.

And so, if you look at it on that level, that women are not going to be allowed -- you know, if women aren't allowed to take this, that's going to be a real problem for reproductive health care.

And if you also look at it, and it's sort of a larger sense, you know, the FDA is scientists who review drugs, who are trained for this, to have MDs, who have PhDs, they're the ones who looked through all the data and have a single judge say essentially that he's smarter than the FDA is really quite stunning. I mean, what else would a judge be able to say? I don't want this drug allowed. I don't think that drug ought to be allowed.

There's an agency with many, many people, many, many experts for a reason.

MARQUARDT: And, Joan Biskupic, you have been going through this ruling in the moments that it has -- since it has been coming out. What more are you learning?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Sure. I'll tell you a few things, Alex. And then let me ask me about the Supreme Court, too.

I just want to read directly from it. The judge said that the FDA had entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem by omitting any evaluation of the psychological effects of the drug or an evaluation of long term medical consequences of the drug. This is -- this is from Judge Kacsmaryk, Alex. Considering the intense psychological trauma and post traumatic stress women often experience from chemical abortion, this failure should not be overlooked or understated. He also was critical that the drug was not tested for underage girls

under 18, critical the entire time of just how the FDA had conducted its process, and you can see the kinds of things that he's homing in on.

And I have to say, Alex, we are on a fast track to the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs back in June, it suggested the majority said, you know, leave it to the states and elected legislators. But this is exhibit A for the fact that it's still very much into the hands of judges, and this single judge has made this ruling tonight that is going to have reverberations nationwide -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Gloria, can you put this into context for us? I mean, this is -- wouldn't you think? That the most significant legal ruling on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, and I think it's striking because the FDA, as Elizabeth was pointing out, is a federal agency, whose job it is to determine whether drugs are safe, and this drug has been deemed safe for more than a decade. And so, what you're looking at is pulling this drug could upend an important form of reproductive access for women all over the United States, if this -- if this ruling holds up.

And I think politically, if you want to take it one step further, what you're looking at is a judge in a conservative, very, very red state has ruled that perhaps the ruling from the court can be taken even further with this drug. And what we just saw, for example, earlier this week is that a liberal candidate and a pivotal race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it was a race that centered on abortion rights and this liberal candidate won because people in the state of Wisconsin were upset about what the Supreme Court had done.

MARQUARDT: Yeah, this was a male judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas.

BORGER: Uh-huh.

MARQUARDT: I wanted to bring up Wisconsin because David Chalian, all week, we've been talking about that remarkable dramatic race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Clearly, David Chalian, that abortion was a driver and we've been talking about looking ahead to 2024 and how much abortion is going to be a centerpiece for candidates, particularly on the left, obviously, in 2024, running for all kinds of office. And surely this ruling is going to give even more momentum to that.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: There's no doubt about that, Alex. I mean, we did get the latest example and lesson this week about the continued potency of abortion rights as a political issue to animate the left and get Democrats turned out to vote.


We saw this in the midterm elections in the fall in 2022 and learned this week it has not dissipated. We are not even a year away from the Dobbs decision yet, so just think about where we are. The Supreme Court overturned 50 years of precedent with Dobbs. We're now seeing a federal judge as Joan was saying, sort of the plaintiffs here went to a friendly Republican Trump appointed judge with this case.

I think, as in a post-Dobbs world, Alex, as these Republican states were looking for ways now that it has sort of been returned to the states to restrict abortion access and more than 20 Republican attorneys general from states, red states, looking to restrict abortion access, signed an amicus brief in this case, directly injecting politics into this case over this drug.

This has been a drug that has been on the market and in use safely, according the FDA for 20 years. So, you're taking these deep-seated precedents that have been out there and upending them, and that is what is driving this political motivation that we're seeing on the left around this issue. It is not going to go away. This is going to be at the very heart of the issue matrix that Democrats campaign on through the next presidential election.

BORGER: And let me just say it's not -- it's not only liberal Democrats, it's going to be independent voters, suburban women and we saw that in the 2022 election, but I think you're going to see more and more of this, particularly, we have to look at what happens with this ruling.

MARQUARDT: And, Phil Mattingly, obviously, this is something that we could expect the White House to weigh in on momentarily. I would imagine if they haven't already as we were saying the DOJ was expecting this to come down. So, surely the White House has also been bracing for this.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alex, I've been watching this very closely. I think they've known that it could be coming at any moment and they have been waiting for and I think based on where this was coming from, the judge that was overseeing this, I think there was some expectations that this was a distinct possibility, and there was also a very clear expectation that they will appeal and appeal very swiftly.

Don't have the timeline or what that appeal would look like, but they have made that abundantly clear on the front end of things. There has been some expectation that if this came, they believed they would win in the end, but I think when you talk to officials, if Dobbs -- and the leak of Dobbs and the eventual Dobbs decision was an earthquake, there has been a very clear recognition from very early on, certainly on the advocacy side, but also inside the White House, where they have been having regular meetings on these issues with their team for weeks and weeks and weeks.

The vice president has been deeply involved. Jen Klein, who is a senior advisor over here at the White House, has been deeply involved. That if it was an earthquake, the aftershocks we're going to continue, there would be significant and they would come very quickly, and I think that's what you've seen here. There's no question about that. And what White House officials have been grappling with is advocates who want them to do more or pushing for them to do more. Some Democratic attorneys general on this issue of specifically have been pushing to do more, while the White House tries to stay within the legal bounds of things and also try and maintain how they are going to actually address these issues when they come from on the legal side of things.

That moment has come on this issue. They have made very clear. They don't believe this case has merit. They don't believe this pill is any danger at all because of the last two decades that it's been on the market, but they are very aware that this could come and now has come and we expect the swift appeal.

MARQUARDT: All right. I want to bring in CNN legal analyst Steve Vladeck.

Steve, what is your reaction to this ruling from the judge in Texas?

STEVE VLADECK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah. I mean, it's pretty stunning. I think it says quite a lot that it came down at 6:00 p.m. on Good Friday. And I think what everyone's been saying is just right. This isn't an enormous deal. It's a remarkable ruling when it consider that mifepristone has been approved by the FDA for 23 years for a judge to sort of turn around all of a sudden and say, I have concerns that the FDA didn't take seriously enough potential harmful side effects, when we have 23 years of data that those harms don't really material. The old house and all but the most, you know, marginal cases.

But I think there are two procedural points that's really worth underscoring here. And the first is what you know we were just talking about, which is that this is not going to be the last word. Judge Kacsmaryk has stayed his ruling for seven days. That gives the government time to go to the Fifth Circuit, time to go to the Supreme Court.

I think the Biden administration's probably right that when this is all said and done, they probably win this case, but you know that's a whole lot of potential chaos if it anywhere along that chain, the ruling is allowed to go into effect.

And, guys, the second part of this is let's not forget this lawsuit was brought in Amarillo, Texas, of all places, entirely so that it could be heard by this specific judge.


By filing this lawsuit in Amarillo, the plaintiffs had a 100 percent chance of having the cases assigned to Judge Kacsmaryk, and I think in tonight's ruling, we're seeing why they did that.

MARQUARDT: Yeah, done by design, it would appear.

Joan, I want to pick up on something you mentioned just a moment ago. You said that the Fifth Circuit is very conservative. Of course, we know that the Supreme Court has run by conservatives, 6 to 3. Game this out for us -- if and when this ends up before the Supreme

Court, what do you think is going to happen?

BISKUPIC: You know, when it comes to abortion rights, I've certainly been proven wrong on some of my predictions about the Supreme Court, notably that they would, you know, so stunningly reverse 50 years of precedent. But I actually think, Alex, that this ruling will not stand when all is said and done because -- for a couple of reasons. First of all, there were some hints in some of the opinions that came out last June about kind of the limits of the ruling by Justice Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts.

And I think they anticipated challenges down the road and wanted to say, you know, we are willing -- the majority was willing to go so far, but maybe they wouldn't have five votes to say even states that would allow abortion will have it shut off because of the complete erasure of medication abortion possibilities. I actually don't think the Supreme Court will go that far.

So what's going to happen is probably we're going to see a pretty swift appeal. I can't predict what the Fifth Circuit will do. Some will depend on you know just exactly what happens there. The panel that's drawn even though as I said, Alex, earlier it is conservative.

But I think what you see in this ruling tonight is the outer boundary of consideration of the FDA process here. I don't think you could have gotten any more conservative than what Judge Kacsmaryk ruled tonight. You know, just from our first blush rural reading of all this and what he has said previously I think this will be the outer pool, and then we'll probably see a greater chance as we go along for the Department of Justice to prevail.

MARQUARDT: I want to go back to Elizabeth Cohen, our senior medical correspondent.

There is obviously a lengthy legal battle ahead, but, Elizabeth, put simply -- for people watching at home, what are the implications? What are the ramifications about for the -- with this ruling, for women both in the short and long term?

COHEN: Alex, the implications really are quite scary. So, more than half, about 53 percent of abortions in the U.S. are now medication abortions, medications used that are done by pills. And so, this would if it goes through, would get rid of that because of the opinion of one judge.

So women really rely on this. They rely on this when they have miscarriages. They rely on this when they have abortions because they have a fetus who is not -- is non viable. They rely on this for all sorts of reasons, and they wouldn't be able to do that.

And so we can think about is sort of that's the -- that could be the short term impact if this goes through. And I want to talk about the safety of this drug. Mifepristone has five deaths per million users. You know, all drugs have side effects, five deaths per million users. Penicillin has 20. Viagra has 49. So if this judge is so concerned about side effects, why isn't he

saying let's take penicillin off the market? Why isn't he saying let's take Viagra off the market? And this is why my decisions are not made by judges, medical and drug decisions are made by doctors and scientists, like teams of them at the FDA.

So when we look long term, there's something else I want to point out, which is that if this goes through, I imagine this decision has made pharmaceutical companies very nervous because they really going to develop the drugs that we need if one judge can justify that it needs to come off the market. There needs to be confidence in the FDA process, so the drug companies can make the drugs that we need and develop the drugs that we need. If they -- if they think they're just one judge can take that drug off the market, they may not be willing to invest that kind of money.

MARQUARDT: I want to go back to Gloria Borger.

Gloria, we only have a minute left, but it strikes me that we've seen these incredible protest in Tennessee, which had to do with guns, but people are responding in very active, very angry ways these days. If you're watching this situation that is specifically in Texas, how -- what kind of reaction do you expect, not just there, but around the country?

BORGER: Well, I think you're going to see the same kind of reaction that you had to the Dobbs decision. I think you're going to see people saying, you know, you've got to vote. And this kind of a ruling is very threatening to women.

I know the judge, as Joan was pointing out, was saying, look, this drug could be dangerous to young women. But then the -- I think you could ask the same question about -- what about when abortion rights are taken away.

So I think you're going to see more of the same. It might be more vocal, but expect more.

MARQUARDT: All right. Thank you all so much for joining me on this late breaking story.

I'm Alex Marquardt here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our special live coverage continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".