Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Russia Accidentally Bombs Its Own City; Wolf And Dana's Emotional Tour Of Nazi Death Camp; Awaiting Supreme Court Decision On Abortion Pill Access; Supreme Court Stops Abortion Pill Restrictions From Taking Effect. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 21, 2023 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Just sitting there waiting for you like a delicious bag of Buc-ee's Beaver Nuggets.


Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I'd like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you Monday.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, an explosive misstate by Russia's military, a Kremlin warplane accidentally drops the bomb on one of its own cities. I'll ask the White House official John Kirby what this reveals about Vladimir Putin's war machine.

Also tonight, we're awaiting a decision by the United States Supreme Court revealing the next steps in the legal battle over access to a widely used abortion pill. The high court is up against the deadline tonight and a ruling could come at any time.

And we'll also take you inside Auschwitz, where Dana Bash and I took a very emotional and deeply personal tour of the Nazi death camp, including the spot where I believe two of my grandparents were murdered.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, a 65-foot crater marks the spot where Russia dropped a bomb on its own territory. State media is calling the release of the weapon near the Ukrainian border accidental

CNN's Ben Wedeman is joining us now from Ukraine with the latest. Ben, tell us more about this admitted blunder by Russia as its war against Ukraine rages on.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. At 15 minutes past 10:00 P.M. Thursday, a Russian Air Force SU-34 twin engine fighter bomber flew over the Russian city of Belgorod and experienced what officials called an emergency release of an air ordinance, or in plain English, it dropped a bomb.


WEDEMAN (voice over): This kind of destruction has been a common scene throughout Ukraine since the war started, but this time it was in Russia. Residents of the city of Belgorod close to the border with Ukraine waking up to damaged buildings and destroyed road. The culprit, Russia itself. Moscow saying one of its aircraft accidentally struck the city. CCTV footage shows a first impact as the bomb penetrates the ground, moments later, a large explosion. Residents feeling lucky it wasn't worse.

Thank God there are no dead, the Belgorod governor says.

While Russia was busy after shooting itself in the foot, Ukraine was meeting with its allies in Germany.

LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Welcome to the 11th meeting of the Ukraine defense contact group.

WEDEMAN: NATO and other international partners discussing additional support for Kyiv ahead of a highly anticipated counteroffensive.

AUSTIN: More than a year later, Ukraine is still standing strong and our support has not wavered. And I'm proud of the progress that we have made together.

WEDEMAN: But for Ukrainians, that progress has been slow. And while the front has barely shifted in months, vicious battles keep claiming lives. On Friday, the Odessa Opera announcing the death of one of its performers, artist turned soldier Rostislav Yanchyshyn, killed in battle protecting Ukraine's future, they said. He joined the armed forces on the first day of the war.

And when CNN visited last July, he had long left for the front, like many of the dancers there. Those that stayed behind, like Kateryna Kalchenko braving the stage to give Odessa a sense of normalcy, dancing in defiance, but very much still struggling.

I want the whole world to stop this horror so that innocent people and children stopped dying, Kateryna says. I ask for help and for people not to remain silent. Its silence is how they began rehearsals this Friday amid tears one minute of silence for one of their own.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And yesterday, the NATO secretary general came to Kyiv and pledged that Ukraine is part of NATO's future. And also the Russians have been watching these meetings in Germany of NATO members. We heard today from Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, who accused NATO of taking an aggressive posture toward Russia treating it as an enemy. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Ben Wedeman reporting from Kyiv, thank you very, very much.


Joining me now from the White House, retired U.S. Navy Admiral John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications. John, thanks very much for joining us. Russia, as you know, says the bombing of its own city was accidental. What does that reveal about Russia's military right now and the risk of unintentional escalation of this brutal war?

JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well I think one thing it's indicative of again continued problems that are happening inside the Russian military. I mean, we've seen since the beginning of this war that they have been terrible at integrating air and ground forces and command and control, this failed mission bombing their own city is another example of just how much the Russian military is struggling.

But to your point, Wolf, it does point out that the risks of expanding the danger here inside -- not just inside Ukraine, but outside Ukraine. So, we're all watching this very, very closely.

BLITZER: Yes, I totally understand that. The U.S. will begin training, we're told, training Ukrainians on the Abrams battle tanks in Germany next month. If they master this quickly, the Ukrainians, how soon could we actually see those tanks in action on the battlefield?

KIRBY: Well, I think, as you know, the Pentagon actually altered their estimates, Wolf. They were originally thinking that we weren't going to be able to get the Abrams tanks for maybe a year or so, 10 to 12 months. They've now backed that up several months because they found out a different way to use an older version of the Abrams tank that they have a little bit more available to them, getting them refurbished in a quicker timeframe.

So, I think there's still working on that basic timeframe here, certainly by the end of this year. But the training will take some time as well. This is a very sophisticated, advanced tank. It's going to take a little bit of time for them to learn it, and not only to learn how to operate and fire it, use it on the field of battle, but to maintain it, to sustain it. You know, you got to have a good supply chain and you've got to have mechanics that know how to work on this thing. It's an advanced tank. So, all that's going to take some time.

BLITZER: Yes, it will while I have you, John, I want to turn to the ongoing violence right now in Sudan with a U.S. citizen among the dead now. The Biden administration says Americans in Sudan should have no expectation of an evacuation at this time. What would change that calculation?

KIRBY: Well, look, we have been very, very honest with the American people now actually going back ten years, but certainly very aggressively since the fall of last year, October of '22, where we put out a travel advisory level four, do not go to Sudan. And if you're in Sudan, you really should think about leaving. And we have aggressively now message that even as recently as just a week or so ago that this is not the place for Americans to be, in Khartoum or Sudan in general. And as we have said, Americans should have no expectation that there's going to be a U.S. government evacuation to help them get out that that remains the case. And right now, Wolf the tension in the violence is bad enough inside Khartoum that there are strong recommendation to Americans who haven't taken our warnings and gotten out should stay in place, should find a place, to find a secure and safe and not move because the airport is not up and operating in the city itself is being fought over by two armed forces. This is not the place or time for Americans to be moving around.

BLITZER: What about U.S. embassy diplomatic personnel who are still there?

KIRBY: Well, again, we are prepositioning some forces nearby in the region. The president ordered that the Defense Department to be ready in case we want to evacuate our U.S. government personnel, that we have no higher priority than their safety and security there at the embassy in Khartoum. But we're still right now working on getting those forces in place.

BLITZER: The head of Wagner, the infamous Russian mercenary group, is denying CNN's exclusive reporting that his group has been supplying missiles to Sudan's Rapid Support Forces. To what extent does the U.S. see Russia influencing the situation right now in Sudan?

KIRBY: Russia has tried to improve their influence throughout the continent, I think, as you know, in ways that are inimical not only to our national security interests but those of our allies and partners there in Africa. I've seen the press reporting on Prigozhin's attempts here to weigh in and provide to one side of this conflict, the Rapid Security Forces, perhaps some weaponry.

I don't want to talk about the intelligence at this point, but we have we have seen this before, Mr. Prigozhin and the Wagner group, which will, by the way, even though he's a private contractor, clearly has the support of the Kremlin and the Russian government and Vladimir Putin in getting involved in these kinds of conflicts, making them more bloody.

BLITZER: Clearly, the situation in Sudan is escalating big time. Thanks very much, John Kirby from the White House.

KIRBY: You bet, my pleasure.

BLITZER: And just ahead, U.S. Supreme Court extension of access to abortion medication ends tonight. We're standing by to find out what the high court does next and when.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Now to President Biden's re-election campaign, as he plans to make an official announcement next week.

CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us right now. Phil, how do Democratic voters feel about this expected Biden re-election bid?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, we have long known, at least according to his advisers, that this was the plan. The president headed off to Camp David just a couple of hours ago, where he's supposed to have some final, very intensive meetings about the infrastructure of his campaign, the pathway forward, before what is planned for an announcement on Tuesday. But to your question, it is a good one because it is one that Democrats have been eyeing, at least in terms of poll numbers for the better part of the last year or so.

If you take a look just at the Associated Press poll that came out this morning, 47 percent, only 47 percent of Democrats want the president to run again. Now, it's worth noting that is actually picked up ten points since the start of the year, but it does underscore that there is some work to do. However, it's also important to note that of that group, nearly 80 percent support the president's -- approved of the president's presidency up to this point. More than 80 percent say that if he does run, they will vote for him.

The concern when you talk to White House officials, Wolf, is not the Democrats will come home or that they will support the president, they very much expect that.


But they do know that over the course of the next year-and-a-half, as they head towards a fulsome campaign in 2024, they have work to do and they need to underscore what the president has done this far and what he plans you're going forward.

BLITZER: How large, Phil, does the issue of age loom ahead of 2024?

MATTINGLY: Look, it's unavoidable. I think you don't just need to look at the Democratic side, you could look at the Republican side as well. If there is a rematch of 2020 between President Biden and Donald Trump, you would be facing looking at two people that would be heading -- President Biden, already the oldest president in American history, former President Trump in his seventies, heading towards the eighties as well.

And I think when you talk to voters, when you look at some of the numbers, and this is both internal and external polling, there is a recognition that there is a desire in both parties to some degree for a generational change. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to get that.

But I do think when you talk to White House officials. They made clear a couple of things, Wolf. One, the president's age was an issue in 2020, and he won. And if the president's age was an issue going into 2024, take a look at what he's accomplished in his first two-plus years. Perhaps the experience that he's had, the decades in Washington, has been a large reason for that.

I don't think anybody's going to run away from the reality that the president is 80 years old, would be 86 by the end of the second term, but they definitely don't believe that it's the deciding factor for a lot of voters. It will certainly be one, though, that's raised repeatedly on the campaign trail.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly over the White House for us, thank you very, very much.

Right now, we also have exclusive new CNN reporting on the investigation of President Biden's son, Hunter.

CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is part of the team that broke this story. So, Paula, what are you learning right now about a key meeting that's apparently coming up in the coming days?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have learned that this meeting was requested by Hunter Biden's legal team in recent weeks and scheduled for next week. Now, in attendance is expected to be top career justice official and the U.S. attorney overseeing the Hunter Biden investigation. That is, of course, a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney who has stayed on to oversee this probe, is described to us as being routine. This is not expected to reveal any sort of final disposition on the case. But, of course, it raises a lot of questions about exactly what is happening with that criminal investigation.

As you may remember, last summer, CNN reported that prosecutors had sort of whittled the charges down to a few possible tax crimes and a possible false statements charge related to the purchase of a gun. There have been no public developments in the case since then. So, it'll be interesting to see what we learn in this meeting.

But we have definitely seen, Wolf, Hunter Biden's legal team becoming a lot more aggressive and forward-leaning, especially since Republicans took over the House. We've seen them become more litigious, suing people like, for example, former Trump Adviser Garrett Ziegler, who they accused of harassing the Biden legal team, also the owner of a computer repair shop, accusing him of mishandling and improperly sharing information on Hunter Biden's laptop. But it will be really interesting to see how they're going to handle this alleged whistleblower on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: Congress right now is clearly digging into this as well, the Republicans in Congress.

REID: That's exactly right. So, this whistleblower, an IRS agent, who has come forward seeking whistleblower protections, alleging that this individual says they have evidence that this case was mishandled, that there has been political interference and that they have evidence that would contradict public statements and public pledges to avoid political interference made by the attorney general.

But, Wolf, I want to note that at this point, this person has not been declared officially a whistleblower. They have not presented any evidence. And as we've seen on Capitol Hill, there have been other promises of whistleblowers related to the Biden family that have not actually materialized or delivered what was promised. So, we'll be watching to see what they bring and how Hunter's team response. BLITZER: Excellent reporting. Paula Reid, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we're continuing to monitor the situation over at the United States Supreme Court just ahead of a potential abortion pill ruling. We will be back in a moment.



BLITZER: Tonight, I want to share with you one of the most moving and meaningful experiences of my life. I just returned from Poland where my colleague, Dana Bash, and I took part in events honoring Holocaust survivors and victims and commemorating a significant moment in the Jewish resistance.

Take a look at what we experienced as we toured the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz and Birkenau.



BLITZER: You've never been here?

BASH: No, I've never been to Auschwitz and never been to any of these camps.

BLITZER: Ever since I was a little boy, I knew my parents were Holocaust survivors. I knew my dad was from here.

BASH: He was from Auschwitz.

BLITZER: He was from the town here, which had (INAUDIBLE). This is so painful for me and so personal for me because all four of my grandparents were killed during the Holocaust and two of them, my paternal grandparents, my dad's mom and dad, were killed here at Auschwitz.

BASH: And your dad's siblings didn't survive?

BLITZER: One sister survived, one younger sister. The others were all killed.

By the end of the war, they were liberated at Bergen-Belsen, and they were taken on this forced march by the Nazis.

BASH: Yes, the Death March.

BLITZER: The Death March, yes.

BASH: That's how my great aunt died, we believe.

BLITZER: And that's -- my dad's younger brother died on that Death March. BASH: My great grandparents, they were Hungarian. So, they were safe until 1944 in Hungary because Hitler didn't invade their until close to the end of the war.


So, my grandparents were in the United States and they were receiving some letters from my grandmother's parents. And as the letters came, they were getting more and more dire. And we have the final letter that says, until this moment, at least I could hold myself together, but now I have to write a farewell letter to my dearest children. My heart is getting very heavy. I must stop after every word and collect myself in order to continue writing. And they were saying goodbye before they came here.

BLITZER: They knew what was about to happen.

BASH: They knew what was going to happen by that time, they knew. I'm looking around and I'm thinking, I don't even know if they made it into the barracks.

BLITZER: They just got off the train and then went to the gas chamber?

BASH: Yes.

This is where I believe my grandparents were killed here.

BASH: You think your grandparents were killed right here?

BLITZER: Yes. This is -- yes, it was really terrible. There were three bodies in there.

BASH: Like they were nothing, not people.

There's so many people here because today --

BLITZER: It's a special day.

BASH: -- is the march living. And it's called march of the living because --

BLITZER: The Nazis took them out of the Death March. And today, we're doing the march of the living, which is so powerful.

Tell us why you came here tonight.

NATE LEIPCIGER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR: I came here today because I represent the 6million people that are behind me whose shadow follows me wherever I go. We were shaved, they took our clothes off and put our number on our arm and I became a prisoner.

BASH: This is even more special to be here because it's the 80th anniversary of the uprising --

BLITZER: The Warsaw Ghetto. BASH: -- of the Warsaw Ghetto. And it was the most important moment for Jews during the war to fight back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Warsaw's Ghetto, where Poles battled Nazis for weeks.

JOANNA FIKUS, HEAD OF EXHIBITIONS DEPARTMENT, POLIN MUSEUM: The uprising began on April 19th, 1943. It was the very first day of very important Jewish holiday Passover. Some of these weapons were -- you know, they were so primitive.

BASH: So, there were 50,000 people still here?


BASH: 50,000 Jews who were starving, disease-ridden. They were either taken away or killed?

FIKUS: Completely. Many people died here on the spot.

BASH: Your parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto, married in the Warsaw Ghetto. How did they survive?

GEORGE BACALL, CHILD OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS: They survived by my father's ingenuity. And the (INAUDIBLE) was the headquarters of the resistance organization, and they lived a block away when the German Army came in. Of course, they were knocking down buildings and burning them down building by building from building, and the Jews were, when they were fighting, throwing Molotov cocktails at the tanks and things you imagine these tanks come in. And it took about a month and they finally had to give up.

RABBI MICHAEL SCHUDRICH, CHIEF RABBI OF POLAND: My friend, Michael Berenbaum, asked Marc Edelman, who was the last living commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising says, did you fight to choose the way you died. Edelman answered, no, we fought to decide the way we would live until we died.

BLITZER: We're really happy that they've kept this place --

BASH: I was thinking about that.

BLITZER: -- so that people can see it and they know it was not some myth.

BASH: What you always say, Wolf, about when your father would see you on T.V.

BLITZER: He said this was revenge. For him, it was satisfying, mot just to see his son T.V. but to know that a child of Holocaust survivors was reporting the news.

BASH: The best revenge is to survive and thrive.

BLITZER: That's why it's so important that we educate and we show the world what was going on, and that's what we're doing. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And Dana is joining me right now. Dana, it's a lot for us to process. We're now back, both of us, in Washington. How are you reflecting on this trip?

BASH: You said it perfectly, Wolf. I'm still processing, for sure. I think it will take a long time for me to fully sort of absorb everything that we saw, things that we learned.


I mean, just being with you, Wolf, standing there and listening to this amazing guide, as you told him the facts about your grandparents and your parents, but specifically your grandparents and him, pointing to that gas chamber that we were then going into and saying that they almost certainly died there, again, you can see I'm speechless.

And particularly from someone like you who is so steeped in history and unlike a lot of people who had parents who were survivors, you say your parents told you a lot about it, but it's very different to be there, right?

BLITZER: It was so different to be in that gas chamber and to think that your own grandparents were killed there and then they were thrown into these crematorium and burnt and the ashes were just scattered in some sort of pit over there at Auschwitz. It was just an awful, awful feeling that I had, and I know you did as well.

I know you're going to have more on State of the Union this Sunday, tour show, including your own conversation with Rapper Meek Mill, who was there as well with us.

BASH: Yes. And so much of our trip was not just about remembering for the past but about understanding because of what is happening in the world, even in especially here in the United States right now, a rise of anti-Semitism.

And the fact that Meek Mill, who's got a very big following, was there learning about what happened and he said that he is going to take it back to the United States and make it clear that that kind of thing cannot happen again, hate across the board, hate when it comes to anybody, no matter their race, their religion, their ethnicity, their beliefs.

And it's the learning and the education that you and I talked about so many times on this trip is so crucial to making sure that hate doesn't continue to fester and explode as it did 80 years ago.

BLITZER: And I think both of us, everyone who goes on that march of the living, everyone who tours Auschwitz and Birkenau, and I know your family, your ancestors were killed in Birkenau, Hungarian Jews were all taken over there in huge numbers. They just started killing them right away.

So, what stands out to you as you look back at our trip there, Dana? BASH: You know, the fortitude. It was -- where we're walking right now, you see, that was the depths of hell. It was hell on Earth. And it's still -- when you and I were in that -- the gas chamber and we were talking about -- it's still impossible to believe that human beings could do such things to other human beings, gather, as my great grandparents, whereas your grandparents were, people who were just living their lives into these giant rooms and gassed and killed en masse, and being done systematically, and not just that, but tortured and humiliated and degraded.

And, again, this is -- it is so important to learn from the past because there are unfortunately Nazi symbols popping up in schools, people using Hitler's name as somebody who is a role model, and it's largely people who don't understand what they're talking about. It's not necessarily that they have knee-jerk hate. They don't understand. So, this education is so critical.

BLITZER: And when I was in that gas chamber at Auschwitz, and I was told that my grandparents on my dad's side, the mother and father and my father, were killed there, the immediate instinct I had, and I think you have the same instinct, was to say the Jewish memorial prayer, the Kaddish in their memory, to remember them, that just jumped out at me as the tears were coming out. I was thinking, you know what, I should say the Kaddish in memory of my grandparents who were murdered there.

BASH: And my mom told me before we went on this trip that because her mother didn't know when and where her parents were killed, that she would use the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising as the date that she would say Kaddish, which is, as you said, the Jewish prayer to mourn your loved ones. She would use that date, which is also an event that we got to commemorate in Warsaw, that the uprising of Jews who were put behind walls and barbed wire at a tight with 450,000 people in a relatively small area inside Warsaw with very dire conditions.


And that was a moment of hope, didn't last very long. But at least, as you heard, the rabbi there tell us at the time, it was Jews deciding that they were going to decide their fate, even though it was pretty clear that the fate was sealed.

BLITZER: And one thing that I think encouraged both of us were the thousands of people who came to Auschwitz and Birkenau for that march of the living, including so many young people from all over the world who just showed up, wanted to learn and then go back to their homes and tell the truth about what exactly happened. So, so powerful, so poignant, so important indeed, and I recommend any of our viewers who are interested next year going there on that march of the living. It will change their lives for sure as well.

All right, Dana, thanks so much for doing this and we'll see much more of your reporting this Sunday on State of the Union. Thanks very, very much. Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we'll have an exclusive new CNN report raising more questions about election meddling by Trump allies in Georgia. Stay with me.



BLITZER: All right. There's major breaking news over the United States Supreme Court right now. CNN's Jessica Schneider is on the scene for us. What are you learning, Jessica?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Supreme Court has just handed down their decision on the application for that stay requested by the Biden administration, and it is, in fact, a win for the Biden administration, the FDA, The Supreme Court here saying that all of those restrictions that the Fifth Circuit had wanted to put on the abortion pill, they're saying that all of those restrictions will not take effect. So, it will continue to be status quo for Mifepristone and the way it's administered while the appeals process plays out in the Fifth Circuit.

This is something we've -- you know, this is the third time the Supreme Court has issued something related to this case. It took a little longer. We're expecting something perhaps on Wednesday, and here we are Friday night. And we're now seeing that the reason it took a little bit longer than expected is because there was a dissent from this from Justice Clarence Thomas and then also a dissent from Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Alito did write about four pages of dissent saying why he would have let those restrictions go into effect, why a stay, he believed, wasn't warranted.

But the takeaway here is that, you know, this will help the FDA. The FDA had warned of chaos and confusion if the stay had not been continued, if the stay had not been granted by the Supreme Court. So, now, things will remain as it's been for the past weeks and months and years as this case continues to play out in the lower courts. Because the lower court here, the Fifth Circuit, has really fast-tracked this appeal. They have set a very fast briefing schedule. Oral arguments will be in less than a month on May 17th.

So, the underlying issue in this case as to whether the FDA went through the proper procedures to grant approval for Mifepristone, that case will play out while everything else is on hold. So, it will be status quo for this drug until the Fifth Circuit, I'm sorry, can we hear these arguments and then make a decision. But, Wolf, it is very likely that this is not the last time the Supreme Court will weigh in on this after the arguments play out and are decided in the Fifth Circuit. It is very likely that either party, the party that loses, will appeal this to the Supreme Court.

But for now, a win for the Biden administration and all things stay status quo, meaning women can continue to access this abortion pill, as they have previously. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very significant news, indeed. I want to bring in Joan Biskupic, who studies the Supreme Court for us, knows a lot about it. Give us your reaction, Joan.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: I think this is a really important signal from the Supreme Court that we are in a different kind of lawsuit now, this is much different than what happened last June, when the justices rolled back constitutional abortion rights, but said that abortion could still be legal in the states that so chose. And if they had gone in any other direction here, it would have been backtracking on their promise of states being able to do what they wanted.

And one thing I would stress here is the lower court judges who acted in this case were really out on the outer limits here. They were going beyond what the Supreme Court had had said back in June. Judge Kacsmaryk, who heard the case originally in Amarillo, Texas, had really imposed his own moral and policy decisions here. I mean, he acknowledged that he was second guessing the FDA and he used language that certainly showed where he stood relative to abortion rights straightly against them. And then the regional appellate court that had affirmed a portion of that decision had also shown that it was willing to engage in essentially a policy analysis by putting itself into the shoes of the FDA and its own scientific determinations.

And the Supreme Court has pulled back. You know, again, as Jessica said, we don't know what will eventually happen when it results the merits of this case, but I think what we see now from the Supreme Court at this point is they are not going to try to extend kind of this aggressive anti-abortion movement against what states individually want to do and against a federal agency that approved this drug dating back to the year 2000 and has done its own scientific determinations about its safety and effectiveness. It's not in a position to second guess that at this crucial but still temporary pointed the case.

BLITZER: Steve Vladeck, I'm anxious to get your reaction as well. Go ahead.

STEVE VLADECK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Hey, Wolf. I think Joan has it exactly right. And I would just add, you know, I think it absolutely isn't that big of a surprise because of the chaos we would have seen at midnight tonight if Judge Kacsymaryk's rule had gone into effect.


It's not the court telling us how they might rule eventually, if the question of mifepristone access reaches them in a normal appeal, it's not the court saying, you know, we disagreed necessarily with the reasoning below, but it is the court saying that when we balance the equities, when we look at the potential harm of letting this decision go into effect, while the appeal works its way through the courts, versus keeping it on hold, that that seems to be very one sided here.

Critically, I think this is an important point. The case now will proceed in the Fifth Circuit, in the federal appeals court in New Orleans, and one of the things we ought to keep an eye on is whether that court now looks at tonight's ruling and says the writing is on the wall, whether that court actually is now more skeptical of Judge Kacsmaryk's ruling such that this case might never even come back to the Supreme Court.

Either way, the headline for right now is that mifepristone access tomorrow is going to be the same as it was yesterday, but that's not going to change anytime soon, and that the appellate process is now going to run its normal as opposed to chaotic emergency, of course.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen is our senior medical correspondent.

So what does this mean, Elizabeth, for women and health care providers for that matter here in the United States?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, I think we can hear OB/GYNs across the country, breathing a sigh of relief that this has happened this way, that for at least a certain period of time, they will be able to use mifepristone. This is a drug that they used to take care of women who are having miscarriages, who are having abortions. And it is -- it has been shown for 20 years, 20 years to be safe, in fact fewer deadly side effects than penicillin, fewer than Viagra, and now they can keep using it.

If this decision had on the other way, and they weren't allowed to give mifepristone, they would have given the other drugs that this is used with. It's called misoprostol. They would have had to have used that on its own, and that is an inferior treatment.

So talking to doctors for the past two weeks, they said, why in the world what I want to give my patients and inferior treatment that I know is going to put them at a higher risk for having what could be potentially serious complications. I should be giving my patients the best treatment, treatment that's been studied in clinical trials and approved by the FDA.

So I think there will be a feeling of great relief but also a bit of a feeling of trepidation. All right. What happens after this certain period of time or what? What might change in the future? Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll see what happens down the road.

Dana -- Dana Bash is still with us.

Dana, talk a little bit about the politics of all of this and how big of a win this is for the White House and for Democrats, for that matter.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRRESPONDENT: Well, it absolutely is a big one. That's exactly how Jessica Schneider when she broke the news described it, but Elizabeth talked about the size of relief in and among obstetricians across the country. I think that there is definitely a sigh of relief that is much less audible, much more private among Republicans.

And all you need to do is look at how Republicans who are either on Capitol Hill or, more specifically, those who are vying to be the Republican presidential nominee, have had a lot of trouble figuring out where to stand on this issue, because it's the question of being sort of -- anti-abortion is one thing but also being for states' rights is another.

And what the Supreme Court did, at least for the time being is allowed them to continue with it if they so choose that consistent argument that it is up to the states to deal with abortion, and it should not be a federal decision to just completely do away with this medication, which is Elizabeth just said has been proven time and time again for two decades to be quite safe, not just for abortion, but for other medical issues like dealing with women who have miscarriages.

BLITZER: And, Steve Vladeck, I saw you nodding, so go ahead and give us your thought.

VLADECK: No. I mean, I think that's right. I mean, I think both with the under said, and when Elizabeth said, is exactly right.

And you know, I think what this really does is this reminds us of the difference between how this kind of litigation is supposed to go and how it increasingly going the way that the legal system has been acting in the last couple of years. It's not normal, Wolf, for us to be having these kinds of late Friday night fire drills where we're worrying about, you know, in five hours is nationwide access to this vital medication going to be entirely disrupted.

And so, I think it's another possible way of looking at tonight's rule in that the Supreme Court rather than necessarily signaling a view on the myth of mifepristone questions specifically is absolutely signal of sort of letting this work its way through the courts without disrupting the entire health system in the process.


You know, I think that's a return to normalcy to create predictability as, Elizabeth says, for medical providers. It creates maybe some more political predictability and, frankly, Wolf, from my perspective, it's really a much more realistic and I think, even keeled way right for the legal system to be handling these kinds of disputes.

BLITZER: Very significant, indeed.

In this historic decision tonight, Joan, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito publicly dissented. What do you make of that?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, I can tell you that there might have been other dissenters behind the scenes because often that you don't have to say we know that they got at least five for majority that was needed. But I know that Chief Justice John Roberts does not like the look of a tightly divided court and, you know, what he gets with this order is sort of a return again to just the usual processes. Steve was mentioning and also shows frankly, a majority in control, a chief in control so that it's not so splintered.

Now, Justice Alito, who handled this case and who also wrote the majority opinion in the Dobbs decision back in January, feels very invested in this issue, I know, and Clarence Thomas also. So I think that you had two pretty -- two justices on the far right, who not only wanted to dissent tonight, but who also wanted to make it public.

But the fact that only two wanted to make that public and signal that I think that's again a victory for the chief justice and sending a signal to lower court judges throughout the country because what had happened below, and I should stress that the three judges who brought us to this point, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, and then the two judges on the Fifth Circuit that affirm part of his ruling, were all Trump appointees, and they had broken from the past practice of differing at least in this early stage to a federal agency's determination and to, you know, going back and examining its findings with care over full briefing and oral arguments, none of which has occurred yet in any appellate court.

We haven't had that kind of consideration, and now we will at the Fifth, and if necessary, we'll have it at the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Yeah, indeed.

And, Jessica, you reported this first in terms of lower courts, a federal appeals court has already announced a briefing scheduled with oral arguments to be heard mid May. Is this the next time we'll see action on this extremely important and very sensitive matter?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We're actually going to see action pretty quickly because my understanding is briefings. The first briefings are due at some point next week, and then after that filings will come in until they hear all oral arguments in the Fifth Circuit on this case. It's unclear what the makeup of the panel is. Joan mentioned that two of the job judges that decided initially where Trump appointees, but it's unclear what the panel will be for the actual appeal. The oral arguments will be heard May 17th.

What's interesting, though, and I'd be curious to get Steve's take on this, is depending on what the fifth circuit decides and its underlying appeal, there couldn't be another emergency petition to the Supreme Court. At some point what, Steve, like after May or June or sometime this summer, depending on what the Fifth Circuit rules here.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Steve.

VLADECK: Yeah, I mean, Jessica, I think that's possible, Wolf and Jessica. All I would say is the ruling tonight really lowers the temperature on what happens next in the Fifth Circuit because now the Fifth Circuit has two real choices. Choice number one is it could affirm Judge Kacsmaryk's ruling, but that decision would not have immediate effect because of this stay -- this stay will remain in place, no matter what the Fifth record does.

Choice number two is that the Fifth Circuit actually read some tea leaves here and thinks the writing is on the wall. The Supreme Court is not going to ultimately side with Judge Kacsmaryk. And maybe that this could actually reverses Judge Kacsmaryk and says he was wrong at which the case might actually come back to the Supreme Court, with the challengers asking the Supreme Court to weigh in, and the Supreme Court might say no.

So, Jessica is right that the total focus now shifts to the Fifth Circuit. The good news for all of us is that it won't in this kind of haphazard Friday night emergency posture because no matter what the Fifth Circuit does, this stay is going to remain in effect until the Supreme Court either takes up the case and decided on the merits or denies a petition for review from that Fifth Circuit ruling that's going to be a while from now. And until then, the status quo of what was true even before Judge Kacsmaryk ruled, is what's going to remain in effect nationwide.

BLITZER: And, Dana, let me just follow up with you. This is clearly a big win for the White House, a big win for Democrats. How do you think Republicans up on Capitol Hill and Republicans who are running for president will view this decision by the U.S. Supreme Court?


A lot of them have, you know, as you know, have been sort of hesitant to weigh in on this case at least so far.

BASH: You know, because we've seen several of the Republican presidential candidates either would be or actual candidates stumble on this and trying to find their way, again, I believe that this Supreme Court decision today gives them a bit of an out because they can say this is a conservative court. A lot of Trump appointees, and they have spoken for now. And my guess is that's what we're likely to hear unless there are candidates and that we know there are actually say, with the exception of candidates who want this drug to be completely eradicated and that the FDA should not be able to approve it.

I think given the real politics of what has happened across the country, particularly in swing states, Wisconsin a few weeks ago, is the most recent example of a Democrat winning in a judge race because there was so much focus on the issue of abortion. And that's one example of many examples of Democrats doing quite well because there are people out there are so riled up about the notion of Dobbs, never mind what we saw on what we're seeing with this mifepristone situation.

BLITZER: Let me bring back Elizabeth Cohen, our medical correspondent.

Elizabeth, you spoke a lot about how before this Supreme Court decision, it was clearly putting doctors and providers in a rather tough spot. So tell our viewers now what's going to happen?

COHEN: So what's going to happen now is that as my colleagues have said, things will go back to the status quo and doctors in states where abortion is legal -- and that's an important note -- in states where abortion is legal, they will be allowed to use mifepristone, So, mifepristone is used as a pair, along with another drug called misoprostol to care for women who are having abortions and miscarriages. And this was to get to Steve's point about how what we've been seeing

of these haphazard random decisions on a Friday night, the decision to approve those two drugs 20 years ago was not random. It was not haphazard. It was done the way that it should be, which is by -- not by a judge, but by teams of scientists spending, you know, months or sometimes years, reviewing applications for drugs and looking at all the data and talking to scientists within the FDA scientists outside of the FDA advising them.

That's the sort of procedural way that this kind of thing should be done rather than as Steve said, haphazardly, you know, let's use this drug let's not use this drug, and it's being done by judges, not by actual scientists.

So, with this decision going the way that it did. Doctors in states where abortion is legal, will be able to go back and use what the FDA says is the best drug combination to treat women in these situations.

BLITZER: And, Steve Vladeck, let me press you on this. What's the next case, the next issue surrounding abortion and reproductive rights that potentially could be in the courts that we should be looking at right now?

VLADECK: Yeah. I mean, Wolf, you know, there's a whole nationwide slew of laws, especially in states that have really moved to restrict abortion access since the Dobbs decision. You know, one thing I'm looking at pretty carefully is in the state of Idaho, first in the nation attempt to actually restrict the ability of minors to travel out of state to those states in which abortion access is still widely available.

Idaho now says that's unlawful and indeed if you help a minor travel out of state to obtain an abortion, you are in violation of law. You are criminally liable.

Wolf, that seems inconsistent at least with what Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in his Dobbs concurrence a year ago about the right to travel still allowing people to choose to leave their state, if the state restricts abortion access. I think we're going to see a lawsuit challenging that restriction, pretty soon. That's going to be another pretty big test case for just how much the Supreme Court met that it was going to leave this issue to the states.

BISKUPIC: I think that's a big point here about Justice Kavanaugh. He was clearly a key vote in the original Dobbs decision, and he wrote that statement breaking off separately, laying down some markers, saying two things that are very relevant here.

First, that judges should no longer be in the business of making policy decisions or moral decisions. Those were his words, and that's exactly what we saw in the lower court cases here.

And the second thing he did say was the Supreme Court is not outlawing abortion nationwide, and I think what we're going to see is the Supreme Court itself, stepping back in several of these cases, it's ruled -- it ruled in a very big way in June, rolling back a half century of abortion rights, but I think now, it's going to wait and let the lower courts do what they're going to do and just take a pass, step back from the brink, so to speak. And leave it, leave it to others and let that prior ruling stand as it is now Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, very significant development. Major, major breaking news unfolding and we saw it unfold right here.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.