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The Situation Room
In Major Shift, Biden Supports Joint F-16 Training for Ukrainians; Debt Talks on Pause as Negotiations Hit a Snag and Deadline Nears; Growing Questions About Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) Ability to Serve After Health Complications Revealed; NFL Legend Jim Brown Dies at Age 87. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 19, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's Sunday morning at 9:00 and noon Eastern. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, BlueSky, if you have an invite, and the TikTok, I'm back on it, @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. If you every miss an episode, you can listen to The Lead whence you get your podcasts, all two hours just sitting there like a delicious summer fruit salad.
Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call The Situation Room. See you Sunday morning.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a major shift by President Biden as he tells allies the United States will support joint training for Ukrainian forces on F-16 fighter jets. This as we are getting updates from the war zone, including reports of explosions in Russian occupied territory.
Also tonight, a serious setback for talks on raising the federal debt limit and avoiding a catastrophic default. With negotiations now on hold, I'll ask the former treasury secretary, Larry Summers, what the president and the Congress add leadership should do next as time for reaching a deal is running out.
And new insight tonight into Senator Dianne Feinstein's health and mindset after new confirmation of medical complications she faced. I'll speak with her former Senate colleague, Barbara Boxer, amid growing questions about Senator Feinstein's ability to serve.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in The Situation Room.
We begin this hour with two of the most pressing matters for President Biden as he meets with key allies in Japan, the war in Ukraine and the threat of the United States defaulting on its debt.
CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is with the president at the G7 summit in Japan. Phil, there are significant new developments on both of those fronts today. Give us the latest.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is right. President Biden's advisers were very clear in the lead-up to this trip that they knew it was going to be a complex balancing act between what was going back home in Washington and what president was trying to do here in Hiroshima. And never has that been more clear, laid bare over the course of the last 24 hours, the president in between sessions at the G7 Summit here in Japan, having video conference calls with his team. Not just the debt limit, it is also the war in Ukraine.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, the second full day of President Biden's high-stakes appearance on the world stage clouted by one reality.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We have got to get movement by the White House. And we don't have any movement yet.
MATTINGLY: Even as he wakes up 7,000 miles away from Washington, Biden is no closer to resolving the looming crisis he left behind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until people are willing to have reasonable conversations about how you could actually move forward and do the right thing and we're not going to sit here and talk to ourselves. So, that is what is going on.
MATTINGLY: House Republicans hitting pause on negotiations with the White House over a fiscal deal that would address the debt limit less than two weeks before the U.S. is set to default for the first time in its history with potentially catastrophic consequences for the global economy.
Biden leaving working dinner of G7 leaders here in Hiroshima early on Tuesday night to be briefed on the talks, his second briefing on the day on negotiations that are in desperate need of a breakthrough. A White House official telling CNN, quote, there are real differences between the parties but that the president's team is working hard towards a reasonable bipartisan solution.
Biden's domestic political challenge coming at the same moment U.S. officials are pressing to maintain and accelerate the steadfast support for Ukraine. G7 leaders putting the conflict front and center in the first day of their summit in Japan, launching new sanctions and export curbs designed to squeeze Russia's ability to wage war.
At the same time Biden marking his own shift, delivering the message to his counterparts that the U.S. will support a joint effort with allies to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth generation pilot jets, including F-16s, those fighter jets have been a top Ukrainian priority as Russia's invasion of the country grinds towards 15th month.
And the war sits at an inflection point with allies rapidly moving to provide new defense capabilities as Ukrainian forces prepare for a long awaiting counter offensive. Those efforts set to receive a dramatic boost by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's last- minute decision to travel to the G7 leader summit this weekend. It's Zelenskyy's latest visit to rally support after securing commitments for additional aid in European capitals last week before a stop in Saudi Arabia, where he addressed the Arab League Summit.
MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, President Zelenskyy is expected to arrive here on Saturday night, participate in G7 meetings on Sunday. But before that, this is going to be a day for President Biden focused on another key pillar of his foreign policy agenda, how to navigate China and where western allies are on that issue.
It is often divergent. There will be a bilateral meeting with the Australian prime minister, also a meeting with the quad leaders. And you might remember, those were supposed to be meetings happening in Australia, just something that underscores that dynamic of what is happening at home and what's happening here, all of which are tremendously consequence, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very consequential, indeed. Phil Mattingly in Japan for us, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on the state of the war in Ukraine and how F-16 fighter jets figure into all of this. CNN Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is on the ground for us in the war zone in Ukraine. Also joining us, CNN Military Analyst, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton.
Sam, first to you. These F-16s likely won't be arriving in time for the anticipated Ukrainian military counteroffensive, which is expected to begin soon, but what kind of impact will this have for Ukrainian forces overall?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think key from the Ukrainian calculation will be, Wolf, that if they are successful in this much touted counteroffensive, expected any moment, then the F-16s, particularly as they come online in any kind of numbers, and particularly if they then are armed with the state of the art weapons that they can carry, because they are just carriers of weapons at the end of the day, these aircraft, then they will allow the Ukrainians to hold on to and consolidate and advance the gains that they've been making if. If they don't get them, the Ukrainian argument is then ultimately they'll be vulnerable to the grinding down of their rare defenses by Russian missile and aircraft attacks and then a Russian counterattack led from the air. That is really the doomsday scenario, is being unable to keep the Russians out of their airspace.
And so far the Ukrainians have been amazingly successful of it since Russian planes do not venture significantly into Ukrainian territory. They fly along the frontlines but they drop their bombs and then scoot away in a kind of fish hook shape they leave behind in the sky. You could see them do a sharp U-turn after dropping their loads and that is because they are afraid of the air defenses. If they're afraid of what is coming at them at eye level, too, that, from the Ukrainian perspective, make a very significant difference. Wolf? BLITZER: Yes. Let's follow up on that with Colonel Leighton. Colonel, from a military perspective, how will the arrival of these F-16s shift the battlefield and the tactics on both sides right now and how might Russia respond?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. So, Wolf, in this situation, the addition of the F-16s is going to really change the balance. Because what that will do is that will increase the aircraft inventory that's available to the Ukrainians. If they are trained properly, they'll be able to do basic fighter maneuvers, they'll be able to come in and, in essence, take control of localized air space, and that is something that they really haven't been able to do consistently.
So, that would change the Russian equation and force the Russians to do other things, perhaps use other weapons and certainly employ things, like the S-300 or the S-400 air defense systems, which they have at their disposal, and that could make a big difference.
And the other thing that is really important is if they are being trained by the U.S. or by allies, we think that we can do this now in four to five months. But there will be some elements, such as close air support that will not part of the training package that the Ukrainians get.
BLITZER: Interesting. Sam, quickly, I understand there have been some huge explosions in the Russian-held area of Mariupol. What can you tell us?
KILEY: Well, Ukrainian deputy minister of defense is suggesting that these could have been concentrations of troops. The other Ukrainian officials not in the city are saying that they believe that that is also the case. These are clearly either a long-range attack using possibly Storm Shadow cruise missiles being supplied by the United Kingdom to Ukraine, but they also have other missile systems capable of hitting those locations.
But on top of that, there is more than a hint perhaps of partisan activity of Ukrainian resistance fighters working behind the lines. We saw that quite a lot in the summer and fall offensive launched by the Ukrainians last year, part of the softening up process were these partisan activities. But there is some spectacular imagery on social media showing these recent strikes attributed to the Ukrainians. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Sam Kiley in the war zone for us, stay safe, Colonel Cedric Leighton, thanks to you as well.
Now, let's turn back to the stalled talks on raising of the U.S. debt limit. We're joined by the former U.S. treasury secretary, Larry Summers.
Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
As you know, the U.S. potentially could default in less than two weeks. Can the president and the House speaker afford to pause negotiations right now?
LAWRENCE SUMMERS, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY: I wish it hadn't happened, but I'm not very surprised. There is always posturing in these talks and walking out of the talk is a kind of posturing. I think on both sides, there is a need for everybody to feel like they negotiated as hard as they could. And for Speaker McCarthy, it is necessary for particularly given the fanatics, if I might call them that, who are in some parts of his caucus that it looked like they did everything they could to get as good of a deal as they possibly could and so walking out of the talks at least once as leverage and bluster is probably part of the playbook.
I don't think -- I wish this hadn't happened but I think that it is in the mutual interest of everybody to reach a deal and most important it is in the massive interest of our country to reach a deal so we don't have to do some kind of experiment with what kind -- with what a default looks like or what the definition of default is, or any of that.
BLITZER: As you know, Mr. Secretary, there are some growing Democratic calls for President Biden to invoke the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to simply keep paying off debts without congressional approval, if you will. Do you see that as a viable solution?
SUMMERS: I very much doubt it. I'm not a lawyer. I haven't had a chance to study the legal opinions. But I think the very substantial majority of legal opinion is that that would be a highly problematic course. I think people would know that it was open to challenge in the courts and the challenge, at least we have a good chance of succeeding. And I think under those circumstances, everything about the finances of the United States would come under a cloud.
So, I think that would not be the right tactic. I think this needs to be worked through in a regular order. Yes, it is a game of chicken, but in games of chicken, the cars only swerve at the last moment. I think we will and should find a deal. I don't think the 14th Amendment, in the form that has been discussed, is a highly credible strategy.
BLITZER: I went back and reread the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. And it begins with these words, the validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned, in very precise words indeed. What do you think it will take, Mr. Secretary, to scare both sides into reaching a compromise right now?
SUMMERS: I think we need to get closer to the brink than we are right now. I think there needs to be a broader understanding that past a certain point, and I don't know when that point will come, you really are doing real damage to the country, and you can't just buy more time.
And so when that deadline gets made very clear and very, say, I think, up against that deadline, you're likely to see some kind of resolution. But it is like a negotiation, Wolf, between a union and a management, where you don't have an agreement until just before the strike deadline. It never happens that it all gets worked out well in advance because then everybody is thinking they're leaving something on the table.
And that is my sense about these dynamics and in politics like this. A couple of weeks are an eternity, and we don't really know at this point whether June 1st was identified by Secretary Yellen as a date at which we had to begin to worry, but we don't know that that is when we would go over the brink. And I guess it would be a few days later. So, we don't know the precise timing. And I think as we get close to the precise timing, this will all get more serious.
BLITZER: Let's hope it does. All right, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, thanks very much for joining us.
SUMMERS: Thank you.
BLITZER: And just ahead, a new ruling on whether the accused pentagon leaker has to remain in custody ahead of his trial amid growing questions right now about the red flags that were missed or ignored.
BLITZER: The Air National Guardsman accused of leaking U.S. military secrets will remain in custody as he awaits trial on espionage charges, a judge making that decision just a little while ago.
Let's bring in CNN's Jason Carroll, who is covering the hearing in Massachusetts, along with CNN Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann. Jason, take us through the judge's decision first.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at one point, the judge, in order to make his point, he raised his voice while addressing the court and said that this was a defendant who simply did not care who he was hurting when he was putting everyone at risk and also saying it was too much of a great of a risk to release him on custody.
Here are some of the things he said. He said, first, what the record shows is a profound breach of the defendant's word that he would protect information and the security of the United States and its allies. The judge also went on to talk about who was hurt from Jack Teixeira releasing all of this trove of classified documents online, saying, who did he put at risk, you can make a list as long as a phone book, soldiers, medical personnel, Ukrainian personnel, Ukrainian soldiers.
We do not know how many people he put at risk. He went on to say, the government has said if you disclose this information, you put the United States at serious risk. And the defendant's response was, I don't give an expletive.
Just within the past hour or so, Wolf, we did hear from Teixeira's family. They said in part that, clearly, they're very disappointed by the judge's decision and that they're going to continue to give their support, complete support of Jack Teixeira.
But I also want to point out, Wolf, that at one point, the judge said that he did struggle with one certain part of this. He said if he had released Teixeira on certain conditions, he was confident that he would abide by those conditions of bail. But then he went on to say, but when I look at him, I think what if I'm wrong, what are the consequences of my decision. Wolf?
BLITZER: Pretty ominous, indeed. Oren, you're over at the Pentagon for us. We have learned about extensive warning signs while Teixeira was working in U.S. intelligence. What do we know about how his superiors actually handled those warning signs?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there were a number of instances which in Jack Teixeira was reprimanded or admonished and yet nothing came of that effectively. He retained access to classified intelligence, and as prosecutors allege here, he kept pumping out that classified intelligence online. First in September and then October of last year, he was seen accessing systems, intelligence that he shouldn't have been accessing, had no reason to look at and was even seen taking notes on that. There was a cease and desist order, a letter essentially in his file of reprimand, yet he was seen doing it again in January, looking at information on a system that he had no reason to look at by his job.
But beyond those letters, it doesn't seem like from what we know there was any action taken against him. Current and former service members we've spoken with say that is absolutely baffling. Even if not after the first one, the second one should have immediately triggered a red flag. And then, of course, there is the video that came to light suggesting or showing, frankly, his extremist ideologies. Take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jews scam, (BLEEP) rape, and I mag dump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMANN: The Pentagon had an effort to try to handle extremism that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin brought essentially right after he started. But, Wolf, as we heard from many officials who were dealing with that effort, and sources familiar with the matter, that was essentially phased out after several months.
BLITZER: Very disturbing, indeed. Oren Liebermann, thank you very much. Jason Carroll, thanks to you as well.
Coming up, the debate over Senator Dianne Feinstein's ability to serve at age 89 after decades of service and in the spotlight, we'll discuss her condition now and her legacy with her former Senate colleague, Barbara Boxer.
[18:25:00] BLITZER: New revelations tonight about health complications suffered by Senator Dianne Feinstein are only adding to concerns about the 89- year-old Democrat on whether she's up to finishing out her term, her office confirming that Senator Feinstein had encephalitis and Ramsay Hunt Syndrome during her recent bout with shingles.
Brian Todd is taking a closer look for us. Brian, Senator Feinstein is standing firmly on her decision to keep working after decades of public service.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She is digging in, Wolf. Senator Feinstein displaying the same kind of toughness, some say stubbornness that has enabled her to build a base of power in San Francisco and here in Washington.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Senator Dianne Feinstein's positions on crucial committees, like the judiciary, select intelligence and appropriations panels remain intact despite growing pressure for her to resign because of her declining health, a resoluteness that has been more than four decades in the making, November 27th, 1978, the moment that catapulted Feinstein as a national political figure.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed.
TODD: As leader of San Francisco's board of supervisors, Feinstein had to announce the assassination of the city's mayor, George Moscone, and a popular fellow board member, Harvey Milk, at the hands of a disgruntled former board member. Her suit stained with milk's blood after she tried to administer aid to him, a moment that changed the trajectory of Feinstein's own life.
She was thinking of stepping away from politicals but she ended up being elected mayor of san francisco and it vaulted here in that position.
ANNIE KARNI, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: She was actually stepping away from politics at that moment, but she ended up being elected mayor of San Francisco's and it vaulted her into that position.
TODD: She was San Francisco's first female mayor, a position she held for nearly a decade. Then another first, Feinstein and fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer were elected as California's first female senators. Feinstein proved crucial in getting an assault weapons ban passed in 1994. Years after that ban expired, she tried and failed to get it passed again after the Sandy Hook school massacre.
FEINSTEIN: I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in, I saw people shot. I've looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons.
TODD: Feinstein became the first woman seated on the Senate Judiciary Committee. As the first to lead the Senate Intelligence Committee, many believe her crowning achievement was a 6,700-page report in 2014 on the CIA's role in torturing terror suspects, the subject of the movie, The Report, Feinstein played by Anette Benning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you need to do it 183 times?
TODD: More recently, Feinstein was criticized by fellow Democrats for praising Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's handling of the Judiciary Committee's 2020 confirmation hearings for Conservative Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Feinstein remained tenacious through that, just as she is now with this controversy surrounding her health, the kind of grit, some say stubbornness, that's led to multiple accounts that Feinstein is demanding of her own staff.
KARNI: She's very, very tough person to work for. I mean, again, this is a person who doesn't take vacations, whose whole life is devoted to work. I think people like that expect the same of the people who work for them.
TODD: Annie Karni of The New York Times says this current swirling controversy over Senator Feinstein's cognitive ability and her fitness to serve could hurt Feinstein's legacy. But Karni believes that if Feinstein can still help Senate Democrats push through the nominations of progressive judges where they're trying to place on the bench, her legacy will be harmed a little bit less. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thank you, Brian, very much.
Joining us now, the former U.S. senator from California, Barbara Boxer. She and Dianne Feinstein were both elected to the Senate back in 1992. They served together until Senator Boxer's retirement in 2017. Senator, thanks so much for joining us. How hard is it to hear about Senator Feinstein's ongoing health challenges? The two of you worked so closely together over so many years. When was the last time you actually had a conversation with her?
FMR. SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): I talked with her shortly after he lost her husband, and that really threw her for a loop. And let me just say this, Wolf. It breaks your heart to see someone you really know going through pain like that but all of this could have been avoided. She asked the Republicans on Senate Judiciary Committee to allow the Democrats to appoint someone else temporarily so that she could heal from shingles.
And all of these Republicans who say they care about her and they're her friends, people like Lindsey Graham, they wouldn't do it. And so all of that chaos and all of this pain has come to pass because Senator Feinstein knows she's the vote that is necessary in that committee to get the judges out to the Senate floor for confirmation. And we all know judges hold everything in their hands, whether it is Roe v. Wade to, you know, the quality of our life, to our livelihoods. So, she gets that. And it is rare that one person could make such a difference, and she's not about to step away at this point, although, as we know, she's not running again.
BLITZER: But can she effectively serve, Senator? Can she effectively serve the people of California through the end of her term, which is January, 2025?
BOXER: I think she's going to do it, if she can. I want to make a point because I know sometimes we're living in the moment and we don't realize what has happened in the history of the Senate, but a lot has happened in the history of the Senate and it happened in California, Wolf. I don't know, I had a memory of it and I looked it up.
In 1985 Senator Pete Wilson, who went on to be governor -- I'm sorry that all of this going on the in the background here. Basically, Pete Wilson was wheeled into the Senate on a hospital bed. He had an emergency appendectomy. And before that, in 1965, another senator from California, Clair Engle, was wheeled in on a hospital bed to vote on a civil rights bill, and he made the difference. Pete Wilson made the difference. So, it does happen. It is not pretty. It is not great. It is the way it may be.
I do want to say, again, all of this could have been avoided. And, you know, people say well, does Senator Feinstein have the ability to do it? She's been voting in Judiciary Committee from my reports that I've heard, she gave a very cogent -- she gave cogent remarks in front of that committee, which I think was really good. And she's going to do her best because she knows that she is needed here.
So, my view is she'll stay in Washington. She'll show up for the votes where she's needed and try to heal from shingles.
BLITZER: The California governor, your governor, Gavin Newsom, has said he would appoint an African-American woman if Senator Feinstein resigns. Are there political considerations at play right now for those who back Congressman Adam Schiff's Senate run, for example, like former Speaker Pelosi?
BOXER: Well, I think those rumors are swirling around. I can't speak to them. But, you know, it is premature, because right now, she's not resigning. And, you know, for people to say, you know, she's slipping, I would refer them to some comments made by much younger people, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is a young woman who said that Ruth -- she believes Ruth Bader Ginsburg was propped up before she died, propped up, actually, by a double.
The things that she said, she said Walmart was trying to sexualize children because of the placement of children's toothbrushes in the store. She said there were Jewish lasers stationed in the North Pole. I could go on. You have Santos, who the Republicans just kept -- who thinks that he's a Jewish volleyball player whose mom died on 9/11, all crazy stuff. So, you know, I think that she needs time to recover from the shingles and I think she's back in D.C. now, and that is where it is. Look, if it were me, I would call together my family and my doctor. But Dianne is Dianne, and she's going to do it her way.
BLITZER: Senator Barbara Boxer, the former senator from California, thanks so much for joining us.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a new hint of the timing for potential criminal charges against Donald Trump in Georgia. We have new information. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: In Georgia, tonight, the district attorney investigating Donald Trump is providing new hints about her timetable for potential criminal charges against him.
CNN's Sara Murray is covering the probe of Trump's efforts to overturn Georgia's 2020 presidential election results. Sara, tell us about these clues from the D.A. and what they possibly reveal about a schedule.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, she wrote a new letter to county officials this week, and in it, she lays out something unusual, which is a number of days in the first three weeks of August that her staff is going to be working remotely minus what she calls her leadership team and any armed investigators. She also asked judges in the county if they could refrain from holding any in- person hearings or trials during a couple of weeks in August.
That is a pretty clear signal that she's going to be making whatever announcement she has to make during these first three weeks in August. It cuts back the number of people who are going to be at this judicial complex in Fulton County, Georgia, because they have been really worried about making sure this is a secure area when she makes this announcement.
And she's been pretty clear throughout this investigation that she has faced a lot of racist threats, a lot of racist threats around it. Listen to what she told me last year when I talk to her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We got very ugly communications. I'll classify it as that. Most of them are quite frankly racist.
I am taking all precautions, but I am not going to be bullied or intimidated in any way. I'm going to do my work.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MURRAY: No, we still don't know, of course, who, if anyone, is going to be charged in this case. We know she's looking at racketeering and conspiracy charges, which would allow her to bring charges against multiple defendants at once. But it is clear they want to give the security partners a long lead time to prepare for this and other folks a lot of time to get out of that judicial area when she makes these announcements, Wolf.
BLITZER: I guess you and I shouldn't be taking off vacation time in early August.
MURRAY: Not in early August.
BLITZER: No, it's going to be a busy time. Thanks very much, Sara Murray reporting for us.
Now to the 2024 presidential race. Governor Ron DeSantis is showing an increasing willingness to take swipes at Trump as the Florida Republican is on the brink of officially launching his campaign. CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): How are you doing? It smells really good. I'll tell you that.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is hitting the campaign trail, gearing up to launch his White House bid next week. He's sharpening his electability argument against Donald Trump, telling Republicans it is time to shed their loyalty to the former president if they hope to win back the White House.
DESANTIS: It is going to require a lot of fight. It's going to require that we do a lot of different things.
ZELENY: In a visit to New Hampshire today, DeSantis touted his Florida record as a conservative blueprint for the nation.
DESANTIS: We passed that in Florida.
ZELENY: Even as fallout intensified from his escalating fight with Disney, which pulled the plug on a $1 billion office complex development in Florida.
Republican rivals blasted the governor's feud, with Trump suggesting DeSantis had been caught in the mouse trip. DeSantis defended his oversight of the entertainment giant and his Parental Rights in Education Act, which critics have dubbed the don't say gay bill that first sparked his battle with Disney.
DESANTIS: I know people had tried to interpret and say this or that. The chances of us backing down from that is zero.
ZELENY: After months of flirting with a campaign, DeSantis is poised to formally join the Republican contest next week, convening top donors to a meeting in Miami. Today, he got an early taste of the fight awaiting him, as the Trump super PAC took aim for supporting a national sales tax during his years in Congress. DeSantis brushed aside the criticism and pointed Republicans to his record as governor.
DESANTIS: It is easy to be a frontrunner. It's easy to go out and take positions that are really popular at the time. It's harder to dig in and really cut against the grain.
ZELENY: The field of GOP presidential candidates is swiftly growing, with Senator Tim Scott filing paperwork ahead of a formal campaign announcement on Monday in South Carolina. Fred Plett, a New Hampshire state representative, said Republicans are sizing up the contenders.
STATE REP. FRED PLETT (R-NH): They're looking for a candidate, I think, with less baggage that Trump is carrying with him now.
ZELENY: Do you think Republicans are also looking for a candidate who can win back the White House?
PLETT: Yes. It is not clear who that is right now. And, frankly, even though Trump has got his strong supporters, it may take a primary, I'm not sure he could win a general election.
ZELENY (on camera): And that is the top sentiment for Republican voters we talked to in New Hampshire and in indeed across the country, who can win back the White House and defeat Joe Biden, Wolf.
But there is no clear sense of that. But Governor DeSantis getting into the race next week, Tim Scott on Monday, this race is quickly taking shape. The first debate only three months away on the Republican side, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, that Republican presidential debate coming up in August.
BLITZER: We'll be watching that as well.
All right, guys. Thank you very much. Jeff Zeleny reporting.
Coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," right after THE SITUATION ROOM, Democratic Congressman Jamal Bowman on his very tense exchange with Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. She claimed she felt threatened. Tonight, he responds. That's coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right after THE SITUATION ROOM.
And we'll be right back with more news. Stay with us.
BLITZER: One year ago, a good man opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 students and two teachers.
Outside the classroom, law enforcement waited 77 minutes before breaching the scene and ending the massacre. One of those students was 10-year-old Lexi Rubio.
CNN's Shimon Prokupecz spoke to Lexi's parents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: What is your understanding of what went wrong that day?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My understanding is this first group of officers that come in, they are shot at. They retreat, and they never go back in. They let children die in the classroom.
POLICE OFFICER: Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I can't even explain to you what they have taken from me.
POLICE OFFICER: He's in the class.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's more then just lives. You know, maybe Lexi's gone immediately, but that's what they've taken from me -- those answers.
Had they engaged immediately, and my child is deceased, then I know in my heart that she wasn't scared very long. But because they waited so long, now I will never know and don't know if it was fast, and I don't know if it took 30 or 40 minutes. And that's hard. That's hard to sit with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz is joining us now. Shimon, a year later, where do we stand on accountability for how the response was handled?
PROKUPECZ: Well, you know, Wolf, there's really been no accountability there for the mistakes and failures of that were -- that occurred, because of law enforcement failures, because they did not do what they were supposed to do, they did not go into the classroom and continue to move forward and go towards the gunfire and go to where these kids were, instead they retreated, and there have been dozens, probably now, at this point, by every agency that was there, the investigations, still there are no answers.
We're waiting for the Department of Justice to finish their investigation. We're waiting for the Texas Rangers, and the D.A. to finish her investigation. But now, we're a year later, really for these families, there's not been any accountability, and that's something they are fighting for.
And simple answers about exactly what happened inside the classroom, how much did their kids suffer, when exactly did there children die, and could they have been saved if the police would have went inside. There are still questions that they still want answered, Wolf.
BLITZER: And they deserve answers.
Shimon, how are these families you followed now for a year, how are they doing?
PROKUPECZ: It's tough, Wolf, because they are constantly surrounded by reminders in the community of what happened that day, this is a small community, there are murals and photos of the dead kids. There are all kinds of reminders, and many of the police officers who responded that day are still patrolling the streets in Uvalde.
And then for the survivors, we spent a lot of time with the survivors, Wolf, and they are scarred for life both physically and emotionally and psychologically. So there is still a lot for these families to deal with.
BLITZER: Shimon, thank you so much for all the great work that you and your team have done. I want to congratulate you and your team also for receiving the prestigious Peabody Award and the George Polk Award for your groundbreaking reporting in Uvalde over the past year. Thanks to you so much.
And to our viewers, be sure to see more of Shimon's truly excellent reporting on "THE WHOLE STORY" with Anderson Cooper, one whole story, and one whole hour. It aired Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, only here on CNN.
And we'll have more news just ahead. An NFL legend Jim Brown has died. We'll take a closer look at his life and career.
BLITZER: Tonight, the NFL has lost a legend. Former star running back Jim Brown has died. He was 87 years old.
CNN's Andy Scholes looks at Brown's sports career and how he abruptly quit to become an actor and activist.
ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jim Brown's name no longer dominates the NFL record books but many still consider him to be the best running back of all time.
The former All-American football and lacrosse player at Syracuse was the top draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in 1957. He led the team to league championship game that same season, earning the rookie of the year award. Brown never missed a game but abruptly retired after just nine seasons.
JIM BROWN, NFL LEGEND: My attitude is that as a champion, I only relate to my level of performance, I must remain pure in that, and I am pure in that, and I live that way. What I've done speaks for itself, and I will talk about it when asked about it.
SCHOLES: He walked away from the game as the all-time leading rusher, a record that would stand for nearly 20 years.
BROWN: At the intensity level that I carried in my numbers, in nine years, are going to be hard for anyone to match.
SCHOLES: After football, Brown caught the acting bug, starring in the 1967 movie "The Dirty Dozen", he went on to appear in more than 50 films. Brown also made his mark as a civil rights activist, working with inner-city gang members and prison inmates, but Brown had his own demons. He spent four months behind bars for refusing to accept the terms of his probation for vandalizing his wife's car in 1999.
BROWN: I turned down three deals, then when I was sentenced and given a ridiculous sentence, I turned that down, what you think I did that? Because I'm afraid to go to jail? Hell, no, I'm not afraid to go to jail.
SCHOLES: Through it all, he remained a sports icon, the only man to be enshrined in the pro football, college football and lacrosse hall of fame.
BLITZER: And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT' starts right now.