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U.S. Signals to Allies It Won't Block Their Export of Jets to Ukraine; Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) Office Confirms 89-Year-Old Senator Had Encephalitis; South Carolina House Passes Six-Week Abortion Ban; Thousands of Israelis Attend Contentious March in Jerusalem's Old City. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 18, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The United States is now signaling to allies that it won't block them F-16 fighter jets to aid the Ukrainians. Stand by for details on this very significant new development in how it could impact the war.
Also tonight, Senator Dianne Feinstein's office just confirmed she suffered major complications while battling shingles including a case of encephalitis. But that's not what Feinstein is telling CNN amid questions about her ability to serve.
And Disney is scrapping a $1 billion development project in Florida, the company's feud with Governor DeSantis clearly intensifying right now and apparently costing the state thousands of jobs just days after before the Republican is expected to formally launch his presidential campaign.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
We begin with a new U.S. message about the war in Ukraine. A significant development as President Biden is out there on the world stage right now and in a potentially very pivotal moment in the conflict.
Phil Mattingly is with the president at G7 Summit in Japan. CNN's Nic Robertson is standing by in Eastern Ukraine, in the war zone.
First, let's go to you, Phil. As the president prepares for this major summit, the Biden administration is also signaling right now a major shift on Ukraine. What can you tell us?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. It would be a significant development. As you noted, the president is just a few hours away from starting the first day of the G7 summit here, meeting with leaders, leaders that have been absolutely integral to the steadfast support of Ukraine since Russia's invasion over the course of more than a year. And Ukraine will be a central, if not, the central topic on the agenda throughout the course of today, including some participation in some form of capacity by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
But it's something that's happening behind the scene, not even on the agenda here at the G7 that is particularly notable. Our colleagues, Natasha Bertrand, Kylie Atwood and Oren Liebermann are reporting that, according to sources, U.S. officials have quietly made clear to their European allies that they will not block any efforts to transfer F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
Now, the U.S., because it's U.S. technology, would have to sign off on any of those transfers. Wolf, as you know well, the administration has been very reluctant to consider sending U.S. F-16s from U.S. stock. That has not changed. There's still reluctance, there's no signal or plan to send U.S. stocks of F-16 fighter jets. But what they have signaled to European allies, several of which have acknowledged that they are looking into the idea given the scale of the Ukrainian pressure as well as allies, including congressional lawmakers from both parties trying to urge the U.S. and its allies to move in this direction.
Now, it's important to note, according to officials, there have been no official requests from any European allies for that technology transfer to allow the export of F-16 jets and the stocks across Europe very, into some degree, aren't exactly significant. But we do know that Ukraine and Ukrainian officials have pressed the U.S. and the Biden administration for this repeatedly, lawmakers have as well. And now, according to our colleagues and the sources that they're speaking to, the administration has signaled they will not block the technology transfer, they will not block exports even if the U.S. will not send from its own stocks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Phil, stand by. I want to go to Nic in Ukraine right now. Nic, the F-16 certainly has been on Ukraine's wish list for quite a while now, months and months and months. How significant would this be, the delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Wolf, it would be huge. It's a big upgrade on what they have right now. The old Soviet MiGs that they have at the moment don't have the range to stand back from the battlefield and fire at enemy targets. The F-16 will give them perhaps 100 miles more potential standoff. Plus, it's compatible with some of the missile systems, for example, the Storm Shadow that's being delivered and given by the United Kingdom, that it would give them platforms for some of the new NATO equipment of missile. So, it will make a big difference on the battlefield.
President Zelenskyy was in Europe earlier in the week. He was meeting with French, British, German leaders. And when he was meeting with the British again earlier in the week, he was pressing for the F-16s. The British have had quite a good and positive conversation, sort of choreographing all of this, going back months, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak back in February saying that the British would begin training Ukrainian fighter pilots on the F-16.
And this week at a meeting of European leaders in Iceland, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, saying that they would build an international coalition to help Ukraine procure F-16s and get a training program going.
So, this is what's been going on in the background. Ukraine, once it got a positive signal from the United States and others, that there would be a delivery of tanks, switch the message very clearly to fighter jets, it's not coming through. It's a big deal for them, Wolf.
BLITZER: A very big deal, indeed. Nic Robertson in Eastern Ukraine for us in the war zone, stay safe over there, Nic. Thank you very much.
I want to bring in our experts right now on Russia, Ukraine and their war strategies. General Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme allied commander, what would it mean for Ukraine's defense if the U.S. were to give the European allies the green light to go ahead and start transferring these F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think it's a very, very big step and it would give the Ukrainians the chance to have air cover for their counteroffensive so the Russians can't bring an air offensive against them. It would also give them the ability to use standoff weapons to strike behind Russian lines. It's a mobile reserve force. So, when the Ukrainians move, if the Russians have a countermove, the F-16s would be the right air to ground system also to take that out. So, yes, it's big.
But, Wolf, I don't want to spoil the party, but every other transfer we've been concerned about, since the equipment, they get part of it, like with M1A1 tanks, but we got to read the fine print on this. And we've got to get this equipment in there with as much of the NATO equipment on it as possible, as soon as possible.
BLITZER: Well, that's an important point. Evelyn Farkas, as you know, in the past, the U.S. initially ruled out HIMARS, Patriots, Abrams battle tanks, only eventually to change the U.S. position and start providing them directly to Ukraine. Do you think F-16s could be next?
EVELYN FARKAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MCCAIN INSTITUTE: Wolf, absolutely. But I actually am not -- so, absolutely, in the sense that the pattern is exactly as you describe it, that there's resistance and then, eventually, the United States caves. However, I'm not sure whether we will provide them. Part of the problem is the funding.
So, I think what they're doing is signaling to the allies go ahead and provide them and maybe even urging them. I mean, I know that you guys have been cautious based on your reporting, but it may be that the administration is actually being more encouraging and certainly President Zelenskyy is running around trying to get these commitments.
The money that we have right now, my understanding is, it will run out in September or so. And if you start taking the money and buying F-16s with them, then you're going to run out a lot faster than you would if you're just buying ammunition, artillery, et cetera.
So, I think the play here might be to have allies and partners step in with F-16s because they're really costly and we have a big fight coming up in Congress potentially for more money. And so I think the administration wants to avoid that as long as possible.
BLITZER: Yes, that's an important, indeed. Jill Dougherty, Ukraine says it's gaining, but Russian infighting has been on full display. All of this is clearly rattling the Kremlin, isn't it?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: I think they're very concerned because they don't know what's coming next. And the fight over Bakhmut has been going on for so long with really very little progress by the Russians, to put it mildly, that I think it is concerning them.
Also, I just wanted to jump in on this question of whether or not the F-16s should be given or provided in some fashion. I just came back from Estonia, where I went to a security conference and also watched some of the military exercises by NATO outside of Thailand (ph). And I think the mood there, and there are a lot of military diplomatic experts saying that, eventually, this probably will happen, that it should happen. Of course, they believe that. But they feel that the longer it goes on without providing enough equipment to really do it, more Ukrainians die. So, they are pushing very much for moving forward very quickly with F-16s and other weapons.
BLITZER: Yes, indeed. General Clark, I want you to watch and listen to what the British defense secretary told our Jim Sciutto earlier today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: You just confirmed that Ukraine has used some of these U.K.-supplied Storm Shadow missiles. I wonder have they proved effective.
BEN WALLACE, UNITED KINGDOM SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: All I can confirm is that it has been used successfully. That is the information I received from the Ukrainians. And I'm pleased that it is helping them to defend their country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, General, how does this fit into Ukraine's counteroffensive plans? They're expected within days, if not a few weeks, to begin a major counteroffensive against the Russians in Ukraine.
WESLEY: Well, I think these Storm Shadow missiles could be very, very useful in taking out the command and control, the logistics and the logistics hubs that would be used to maneuver Russian forces and also the ammunition and fuel supplies that they'll need. And that's really part of shaping the battlefield, preparing the battlefield for the offensive. So, these storm shadow missiles have come in right on time, just when they're needed.
But, Wolf, again, every action in war generates a counteraction and reaction. These are subsonic missiles, so they can be intercepted, they can be shot down. They're tough to jam. They've got redundant guidance in them. But there's no super weapon here. Ultimately, we've got to continue to support Ukraine with everything we've got. We've got to understand there's no silver bullet.
BLITZER: Critical moment in this war right now. Guys, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, we're getting new information about Senator Dianne Feinstein's health and complications she suffered during her three- month medical leave. We're going to tell you what her office is saying and how it's different from what Senator Feinstein is telling CNN.
BLITZER: Tonight, Senator Dianne Feinstein's office is providing new information about her health that may be adding to concerns up on Capitol Hill about her ability to serve. Her spokesperson confirms the 89-year-old senator experienced complications from her recent bout of shingles, including a case of encephalitis.
Our Congressional Correspondent Jessica Dean is joining us right now along with CNN Medical Analyst Jonathan Reiner.
Jessica, first of all, tell us more about what Feinstein's office is saying and what the senator actually told you about whether she had encephalitis.
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. They were kind of at odds with each other, but here's what we heard from her office later today. She said or the office telling us that, yes, she does have these complications, and as had previously been reported in The New York Times, that she suffered from a case of encephalitis and what's known as Ramsey Hunt Syndrome. And those have been previously undisclosed.
Now, earlier, before the office told us that, I had caught up with the senator in the hallways here in the Senate and I had asked her about encephalitis, if she had had that. She told me, no, that it had never been properly diagnosed, that it was a really bad flu, but that she was feeling better.
Now, as we've talked about on The Situation Room previously, there are questions surrounding her about her fitness to serve, to continue serving as senator of California. She has already said that she will not run for re-election in 2024, so she will be stepping down at the end of this. And she had just returned back here to Capitol Hill after several months being out recovering from shingles. And so she's just been back now and there's just been a fresh mound of questions around if she is healthy enough to continue serving.
And one note, she does sit on the Judiciary Committee, and that's kind of at the crux of all of this. Because without her vote, the Democrats have had a hard time getting some nominees out of committee on to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote. And as we know, that has been a major priority for the Biden administration and also for some Democrats, Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly has been. And, Dr. Reiner, can you explain these complications, encephalitis and Ramsey Hunt Syndrome?
DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So, shingles is the reactivation of the chickenpox varicella zoster virus. And in a very small percentage of patients, a fraction of 1 percent, inflammation of the brain can occur, and that's called encephalitis. And encephalitis is a very severe complication. In some series, up to 15 to 20 percent of patients who get this kind of encephalitis will die.
Just as importantly, a study out of France last year showed that about two-thirds of people who have this kind of shingles encephalitis will have significant neurological sequelae, complications for an indefinite period of time. And the kind of issues that people have after encephalitis with the shingles virus include memory problems, language problems, difficulty walking, mood disorders. So, the consequences can be very severe?
BLITZER: So, what does recovery look like, Dr. Reiner?
REINER: Well, she's been out for months. And this actually makes a lot of sense. Most people with shingles have what can be an excruciating course of this vesicular rash. But usually, people will recover and go back to work anywhere between three to five weeks, but she has basically been out of work almost three months, suggesting that there was something going on.
And the encephalitis in conjunction with Ramsey Hunt Syndrome, which is basically facial paralysis from the reactivation of the virus in the facial nerve, can take a long time to recover. The encephalitis symptoms may never recover, and she's at 89. The people with the worst outcomes typically are either the very young, neonate or the very old, and Senator Feinstein is 89 years old.
BLITZER: Yes. The older you get, the more likely the shingles will cause even more significant problems. That's why it's so important to get that shingles vaccine in advance.
Jessica, how active has Senator Feinstein been up on Capitol Hill since her return?
DEAN: It's a good question, Wolf. We've seen her. She's now being pushed in a wheelchair around the Capitol, and so she typically has a lot of aides with her, as she's traveling around the Capitol. For example, yesterday, she didn't attend the judiciary meeting or earlier votes in the day, but then she did come later in the day on a vote where they likely needed her vote to get one of these nominees through. That's kind of the pacing that we've seen as she's been back, Wolf.
And it's worth noting really quickly, too, that her office said that the encephalitis did resolve itself, but that she is still suffering side effects and aftereffects from the Ramsey Hunt Syndrome.
BLITZER: Yes. Of course, it goes without saying we wish her a speedy, speedy recovery and let's hope for the best.
Jessica Dean, Dr. Reiner, guys, thank you very much.
Coming up, Disney now scrapping plans to build a new billion-dollar project in Florida. It's bad news for the state's governor, Ron DeSantis. Just ahead, his expected announcement that he's running for president.
Stay with us, lots of news, you're in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: Tonight, Florida may be paying a steep price for Governor DeSantis' feud with the Walt Disney Corporation. Disney has decided to scrap plans for a $1 billion project in Florida that was expected to add at least 2,000 new jobs.
All this coming as DeSantis is now poised to officially launch his presidential campaign next week.
CNN's Natasha Chen is joining us now. She's got more on Disney's decision today. Natasha, what's behind this move?
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORREPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I got a copy of a memo written by the Disney chairman of Parks Experiences and Products, Josh D'Amaro. In this statement, he said in part, given the considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions, we have decided not to move forward with construction of the campus. This was not an easy decision to make. But I believe it is the right one.
As you mentioned, 2,000 jobs are involved. This was going to be a move that was going to happen over the course of several years. Some people have already moved to Florida but now the employees get to stay in Southern California. Those who have already moved to Florida, the chairman said, that they would work with those individual cases to see if they'd like to stay there or in some cases move back here to Burbank and the Los Angeles area.
Now, this comes as the chairman also says in that memo that they are firmly committed to this Florida flagship resort. They intend to invest $17 billion and add 13,000 jobs in the next ten years, but, Wolf, this also comes on the same day that they announced they are shutting down the Star Wars galactic star cruiser there at that resort, a very premium experience that has only been open for a year.
BLITZER: How is the DeSantis team, Natasha, responding to this news?
CHEN: Right. Well, a spokesperson from Governor DeSantis' office sent a statement to our colleague, Steve Contorno, and it reads like this. Disney announced the possibility of a Lake Nona campus nearly two years ago. Nothing ever came of the project, and the state was unsure whether it would come to fruition. Given the company's financial straits, falling market cap and declining stock price, it is not surprising that they would restructure their business operations and cancel unsuccessful ventures.
And we also heard from some local leaders in the Florida Democratic Party, the Orange County mayor said that this happened because the company didn't have an inclusive and collaborative work environment. The chair of the Florida Democratic Party said that this happened because of DeSantis' personal, unhinged vendetta against Disney. Wolf?
BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Natash, thank you very much.
I want to bring in our political experts for some analysis. Maggie Haberman, I'll start with you. You have new reporting about a call Governor DeSantis just made with donors ahead of his expected official announcement next week about a presidential run. What are you learning?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, a few hours ago, Wolf, Ron DeSantis got on a call organized by the super PAC supporting him, Never Back Down. I think this is the first time that he has laid out a case to these folks. A lot of that is because he's been a sitting governor and he has been a bit hamstrung in what he can do during this race and say until he's a declared candidate, the fact he essentially acknowledged.
But for the first time, he described basically a three-person race, himself, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. And he has said that of those three, he thinks only two of them could become president, and one is Biden and one is him. And he described Trump essentially as unelectable.
Now, how directly he'll make that case on the stump, I don't know. I think it remains to be seen. But that's his private pitch to the people who will be funding him.
BLITZER: Interesting. Let me get Scott Jennings to react. What do you think, Scott?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's an interesting argument for DeSantis to make because those donors that Maggie is reporting on, I mean, they're having to decide right now, is anyone else viable other than Trump to get the Republican nomination. And so to watch him directly go right at that argument and say I'm the only other game in town, if you believe Donald Trump can win the election, I think that's the right argument for him to be making.
And as it relates to the general election, he does have facts on his side. Donald Trump lost the national popular vote twice. He got a lower share of the vote than Mitt Romney did twice. And I think he's going to make a pretty persuasive case that anything that happened between November of 2020 and now make Donald Trump more popular among independent voters, general election-type voters. It may have made it more popular amongst some Republicans, but those aren't necessarily the people who decide who wins Georgia and Arizona and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and so on. BLITZER: Let me get the thoughts from David Axelrod. Go ahead, David.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think that DeSantis is doing what he has to do, which is to try to turn it into a binary choice for Republicans and rally all those Republicans some of whom Scott Jennings knows who think that there should be a different nominee in 2024 behind him because Trump has a -- he has a floor and the floor is pretty high.
Remember, we're talking right now about polling in which Trump has 55 percent on the average and DeSantis, 20. And that gap has widened in the last few months.
So, what DeSantis needs is to get other people out of the race and become the alternative, the unquestioned alternative to Trump.
The thing that I find paradoxical, Wolf, is that during this whole period, DeSantis has tried to signify to the Trump base he's taken very conservative positions, sometimes to the right of Trump, six-week abortion ban, for example. None of these positions will make him more electable in a general election. So, he may be mortgaging his chance to be a strong general election candidate by tackling so far to the right to become the nominee.
BLITZER: And, you know, it's interesting, Maggie, because you're also reporting that Governor DeSantis is signaling, he could become more vocal against former President Trump's attacks in this race. What will that look like?
HABERMAN: I think we don't yet, and I don't think that necessarily knows yet. He spent several months while he was focused on the legislative session and the budget. He was very proud of that. He's talked about the session on the call, trying to avoid pushing back, saying on the call that the reason that he wasn't pushing back is he was focused on the agenda that he said he would push there.
I don't think anyone, Wolf, has figured out how to go at Donald Trump other than to say loser or I'm a winner. And, certainly, look at the results in the midterms and DeSantis was one of the few bright lights during it but Donald Trump will out craven anyone in his comments. And I just don't know how effective that's going to be.
And I still think, to David's point, the problem DeSantis has, is that if you have the original version of a brand then you have the newer version of a brand, if they're both right next to each other, consumers tend to pick the original. So, until he is able to really, you know, see Donald Trump sink of his own weight, which I think as the -- in terms of legal issues and maybe other issues that we haven't seen yet, I think that's what he's relying on. I don't think he knows yet how hard to hit, because when he tried hitting a little bit when Trump was indicted, it didn't work very well.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. Scott Jennings, according to Maggie's new reporting, and it's excellent new reporting, DeSantis didn't mention today's Disney news, the major Disney news, on the call with donors. What does that say to you?
JENNINGS: Well, he wanted to focus on Trump, obviously, and making the case that he's more electable than Trump. And he probably doesn't want to get bogged down talking about it. But on the other hand, this fight with Disney is part of his vibe, right? It's like I'm going to follow these fights all the way to the end. He did sort of mention over the -- I think I read over the last couple of days that I'm not going to give in to a corporation just because the corporation wants me to. And so that continued dog with a bone sort of vibe, like I'm never going to get distracted from these fights, is part of who he's going to be.
Again, I agree with what's been said. Trump is in a dominant position. I don't think it's because of Disney and I don't think it's because of anything DeSantis has done. I think it's because of things that he's done and things that have happened to him. And I don't think it's going to be definitive, his fight with Disney, but I do think he wants Republicans to know I'm not going to give in just because, you know, somebody clamored or because the winds changed. This is not who I am.
BLITZER: Yes, this race is beginning to heat up big time. Guys, thank you very much.
Just ahead, Montana becomes the first state to ban the mega popular app, TikTok entirely, even on personal devices. The fallout for TikTok and its users, that's next.
BLITZER: Tonight, the state of Montana is banning TikTok outright even on personal devices amid growing concerns over the threat the Chinese- owned social media app poses to U.S. national security.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, the app has been banned from government devices across much of the country right now, but this move in Montana seems to be a historic first.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Montana's governor going further than anyone else has so far, putting pressure on the companies that offer the app for downloading, prohibiting TikTok from operating within the state lines. This is a clear escalation in the battle over this Chinese-owned company and its operations in the U.S.
TODD (voice over): For the first time, a U.S. state has completely banned TikTok, sort of. Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signing a bill that bans downloading the app in Montana. Individuals who already have TikTok won't be prosecuted for using it, but app stores, like Apple or Google Play would be fined if they let anyone in Montana download it.
The Montana ban will probably face strong challenges in court, but it's the latest salvo against the popular app that nearly half of Americans use for sharing short videos, of everything from goofy stunts to food recipes and dance challenges. Critics call it a security threat because a Chinese company owns TikTok.
REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R-WA): To the American people watching today, hear this, TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see and exploit for future generations.
TODD: The most serious warnings that personal data could be stolen, privacy compromised.
JAMES LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: That's the main concern is this is Chinese software controlled by the Chinese state and you are downloading it on to -- voluntarily downloading it on to your phone.
TODD: Critics say TikTok users could be spied on and blackmailed. One analyst says China could use the app to take a page out of Vladimir Putin's playbook and create misinformation campaigns to influence American politics.
LEWIS: Maybe down play stories about what's going on in China that they don't want people to see, maybe exaggerate stories about how things aren't going so well in the U.S.
TODD: TikTok's CEO recently told skeptical lawmakers the company doesn't share user data, doesn't spy for Beijing and doesn't take orders on content.
SHOU CHEW, CEO, TIKTOK: It is our commitment to this committee and all our users that we would keep this free from any manipulation by any government.
We will protect the U.S. user data and fire it all from all unwanted foreign access.
RODGERS: Your platform should be banned.
TODD: More than half of U.S. states and the federal government have already restricted the TikTok app from being installed on government devices. Defenders of the app say there's no evidence TikTok has spied on users at the Chinese government's behest or turned over data and --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're talking about free speech for every day Americans.
TODD: And the Chinese government calls talk of a ban a xenophobic witch hunt. But analysts say if the Chinese regime does decide to pressure TikTok for information by Chinese law, the company can't say, no.
PROF. AYNNE KOKAS, AUTHOR, TRAFFICKING DATA, HOW CHIHNA IS WINNING: Are there pressures from the Chinese government that eventually make their way down to TikTok? Absolutely.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD (on camera): In a statement to CNN, TikTok vowed to protect the rights of its users in Montana, saying the governor has signed a bill that infringes on the First Amendment rights of people in the state. TikTok calls the ban unlawful and says it wants to reassure Montanans that they can continue to use the platform to express themselves. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you very much.
Joining me now to discuss this and more, Democratic Congressman Maxwell Frost of Florida. He's the youngest member of Congress, the first from Generation Z. Thanks very much. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. Congratulations on your win. You're only 26 years old. What is your reaction to this precedent that the state of Montana is doing as far as TikTok is concerned? I know you don't support an outright TikTok ban.
REP. MAXWELL FROST (D-FL): I don't support an outright TikTok ban. And I want to be clear. I think it's important we remain skeptical and do what needs to be done to protect the data of consumers and Americans but that has to be seen the same thing amongst all social media. I have the same concern with Facebook and Google and different social media platforms and the internet.
And I think what we're seeing now here in D.C. and now across the country in different states is that people are picking TikTok specifically because of its connection to China, which, again, we do have to pay attention to. But I think it's because it plays into this political -- hawkish political maneuvering that the GOP is doing as far as China is related and it connects to their political message that they're trying to get across. This is the same state that just banned Zooey Zephyr, Representative Zooey Zephyr, from being in the halls. And I think it's unfortunate and does infringe on people's rights.
BLITZER: So, other than a ban, what are the best ways to deal with the national security concerns around TikTok?
FROST: I think we have to continue to look at it. I don't think we know enough to fully understand what the solutions must be. But this is typical in American politics. Instead of looking into something, a lot of times, people want to result to just banning it outright. And I think right now, we don't have the information that's needed. We need to continue to look into it and see how can we protect consumers, yes, with TikTok, but, yes, with other social media and big tech as well. Why is that left out of the conversation?
BLITZER: Let me also get your reaction, while I have you, Congress, to this decision by Disney to scrap this billion dollar project that they were going to be developing not far from your district, I understand, down in Florida, near Orlando, because of what's going on presumably, the criticism, the statements and actions governor has been leveling against Disney.
FROST: Well, what we see happening is Governor DeSantis is more interested in running for president than running the state of Florida. And because of that, he has adopted that politically. If he is in the battle with Disney, it's somehow going to help him out-trump Donald Trump in a Republican primary. And now, Floridians are paying the price.
This was a big project Disney was working on that would bring over 2,000 high paying jobs to the region, which we needed and which was important. And because of DeSantis' fight to really win this presidency, now we're paying the price as Floridians in Central Florida. That's not pro-business. He claims to be pro-business and part of the pro-business party. It's not smart.
And it's not just with Disney. We see this across the board with the legislation he's been championing, the permitless carry, which allows you to hold any gun anywhere, anyplace, banning abortion of six weeks. This is what we see from this governor right now because he's more interested in running for president than running the state of Florida.
BLITZER: While I have you, let me also get your reaction to what's going on in the debt ceiling talks that are underway right now between the president and Republican leadership in the House and the Senate. If the president were to compromise when it comes to the issue of work requirements, how would that impact your decision?
FROST: I think it impacts it a lot. I think the president should stick to what he said before, not negotiating on the programs that Americans depend on. That's SNAP, it's food stamps, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. There should be no work requirements. And I think the president should hold the line on this. This is what Americans want. It's not about progressives. It's about everybody coming together and it's about the people versus the problem. And I have faith that the president will keep his word on that.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens on that front, lots at stake. Maxwell Frost, Congressman, thank you much for joining us. Once again, congratulations being the youngest member of Congress right now.
I appreciate it.
FROST: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, the battle over abortion in South Carolina as that state is a big step closer to imposing a six-week ban. I'll talk to two female state senators who have played a key role in this debate.
BLITZER: We're following another major move at the set -- at the state level to impose new restrictions on abortion rights for women. The South Carolina House has now approved a ban on the procedure at 6 weeks of pregnancy. The House amended a bill passed earlier where the measure faces a final vote.
Joining us now, two members of the South Carolina Senate who have been at the center of this abortion debate, Democrat Margie Bright- Matthews, and Republican Penry Gustafson.
Senator Gustafson, first to you, you help -- I think we just lost her for -- her connection. But let me -- let me see if we can get her back.
Let me go to -- let me go to Senator Matthews.
Republicans describe this six-week ban as a compromise, how would you describe it?
MARGIE BRIGHT MATTHEWS (D), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATE: I would describe the six-week ban as a set up for the okeydoke. They tend to bring this up once again in the next session in January to move forward with the total ban. They've been telling us that for five years now. I have no reason to disbelieve that, especially with the way they've set the "whereas" clauses in their amendments.
BLITZER: Senator Gustafson is now back with us. So, we fixed the technical issues.
Senator, you helped block a near total abortion ban but you've previously voted for a six-week ban, will you vote in favor of this six-week version?
PENRY GUSTAFASON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATE: Well, that is the $1 million question, isn't it? The primary problem is it is notes the bill that we passed. S474 that I voted on it's not coming back to us as 474. They've made so many changes that -- substantive changes.
They have eliminated definitions. They have added language. They have included their own new definitions. And, this whereas clauses, these fact-findings, are extremely troubling when considering the South Carolina Supreme Court that got us in trouble with S1. If we're going to pass an abortion bill that we can restrict abortions and we need to do this, let's make sure it's air-tight.
BLITZER: Senator Matthews, what are the implications for women not only in your state of South Carolina but across the south?
MATTHEWS: Well, across the south, we're in trouble. We, five women in the Senate, have been calling out to women across the state and nationally, because, South Carolina ranks fifth nationally in infant mortality, deaths. How can we, in the state of South Carolina, protect women?
South Carolina has never ratified the equal rights amendment. It took us 40 years to even ratify the voting rights amendment allowing women to vote. South Carolina has removed our only -- our one chance of getting a female on the Supreme Court that will eventually evaluate this law, we don't have that luxury.
In this last voting cycle, they placed a man on the court, and they have told us they intend to make the court even more conservative. This is going to call out -- BLITZER: Where do you put your chances of blocking this bill, Senator?
MATTHEWS: I can not tell you that we did this alone. We have 46 senators, and 16 of them are Democrats, all of the Democrats will vote to block. We relied upon the three Republican female senators, as well as three other male senators.
And all of us agree, that if this is a good -- if South Carolina wants to restrict abortions, then put it on a referendum, allow all of the women and men of South Carolina to vote. If it's a good bill and if it's a good option, then, we should vote on it as a referendum. We expect the men that voted with us, will continue to be with us.
All right. Senators, thank you both of you for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road.
Important note to our viewers, coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", right after THE SITUATION ROOM, reaction from voters in California to what we're learning on Senator Dianne Feinstein's health. That's coming up at the top of the hour.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Thousands of Israelis streamed into the old city of Jerusalem today, taking part in a contentious march at the time of high tensions in the region.
CNN's Hadas Gold has our report from Jerusalem.
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By the thousands they came, nearly all in white, waving Israeli flags. For these marchers, this is a celebration of when Israel took control of East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war, giving Jews access to their holy sites in the old city.
For Palestinians, it marks the beginning of the occupation of East Jerusalem. But in recent years, the march has also become more like a right-wing nationalist rally and a pretext for violence between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, who make up most of the population in this part of the city.
While most marchers were peaceful, some groups sing songs about getting revenge on Palestinians, erasing their names. Others going even further chanting, "may your village burn".
They were emboldened by the presence of right-wing government ministers like National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir who marched alongside them through the old city and to the western wall. Thousands of police showed how tense the situation was even before the
marchers started, using heavy-handed tactics to clear the route, including on senior CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What are you doing? We're press! We're press!
GOLD: The marchers, too, targeted the press, throwing rocks, bottles and cans at our position, forcing reporters to cower for cover.
But Jerusalem Day has seen much more serious violence than this. It was in 2021 as thousands of Israelis made their way to the old city that the Palestinian militant group Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem, setting off an 11-day war. Hamas and Islamic Jihad threatened the march again if any of their unnamed red lines were crossed.
But this year, most of the drama stayed on the ground in clashes and scuffles and not rockets in the sky.
Hadas Gold, CNN, Jerusalem.
BLITZER: And to your viewers, thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.