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The Situation Room

Biden Meeting With Zelenskyy At W.H. Unveils New Aid To Ukraine; Rep. Mike Turner, (R-OH), Is Interviewed About Aid To Ukraine, Government Shutdown; New Blow For McCarthy As GOP Hardliners Sink Defense Bill; CNN Poll: Four GOP Hopefuls Battling For Second Place In N.H.; DeSantis: 'big Mistake" For Trump To Tell GOP To Take More Moderate Stance On Abortion; Sen. Tim Scott Floats Gov. Sununu As Possible Running Mate; Israeli Ambassador On Netanyahu's Judicial Overhaul Plan; Zelenskyy Joins Biden At White House Cabinet Meeting; Poll: Trump Leads DeSantis By More Than 30 Points In Iowa. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 21, 2023 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, be sure to follow me on Instagram at Pamela Brown CNN or write the show on X at "THE LEAD" CNN. I'll see you tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" with a special investigation. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, President Biden meeting now with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over at the White House. President Biden telling President Zelenskyy that he will ensure that the world stands with Ukraine as the two leaders hold these critical talks. Zelenskyy set to directly speak to the American people this hour as a new U.S. aid package for Ukraine does not include everything he wants.

In Ukraine tonight, fire and destruction as Russia unleashes new missile strikes across the country while President Zelenskyy visits the United States. CNN, of course, is on the ground in Ukraine.

And up on Capitol Hill President Zelenskyy's meetings with lawmakers underscore deep divisions among Republicans over Ukraine aid and more, threatening a government shutdown and putting Kevin McCarthy's speakership at risk. In the midst of all of this, why is McCarthy sending House members home?

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news on the meeting between Presidents Biden and Zelenskyy. The White House talks capping a whirlwind day for the Ukrainian leader here in Washington aimed at shoring up U.S. support for his country in its fight against Russia. CNN Senior White House Correspondent Kayla Tausche is covering Zelenskyy's visit for us. Kayla, we saw the two presidents in the Oval Office just a little while ago. Tell us more about their discussions and what President Zelenskyy is getting out of it.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Biden, Wolf, had been looking for a battlefield perspective from President Zelenskyy on his third visit to the White House and the 6th face to face that the two leaders have had personally. They had a lengthy meeting in the Oval Office. They did not answer questions that were shouted from reporters. But when Zelenskyy arrived on the south lawn of the White House, a reporter did shout how important is this visit? And Zelenskyy said, it is very important.

But let's take a listen to what the two leaders said while reporters were in the Oval Office before that meeting.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No nation could be truly secure in the world if in fact we don't stand up and defend the freedom of Ukraine from the face of this Russian brutality and aggression. That's why we brought together a coalition more than 50 countries, more than 50 countries to help Ukraine defend itself. And it's critical. That's why, together with our partners in Ukraine, we have provided humanitarian aid as well as tens of millions of people with food, clean water and so much more. And that's why, that's why we've begun the process of formalizing our long term commitment to Ukraine security alongside the G7 and with other partners to the brave people of Ukraine.

And that's not hyperbole. The people of Ukraine have shown enormous bravery, enormous bravery. Has inspired the world, literally inspired the world with a determination to defend these principles. And together with our partners and allies, the American people are determined to see to it that we do all we can to ensure the world stands with you. And that is our overwhelming objective.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: You know, dialogue is proved that our countries are really truly allies and strategic friends and we greatly appreciate that vital assistance provided by the United States to Ukraine to combat Russian terror, really terrible. Today, I am in Washington to strengthen our position to defend Ukrainian children, our families, our homes, freedom and democracy.

Now I look forward, Mr. President, to our discussion for the benefit of our nations and the world. When it comes to weapons, we will discuss everything with a special emphasis on air defense.


TAUSCHE: Momentarily, we're expecting an expanded bilateral between Ukrainian officials and many White House cabinet members to talk about what Ukraine needs from here. We're also expecting the White House to take the wraps on details of a security package that CNN is reporting totals roughly $325 million. That includes ammunition, artillery, and some cluster munitions as well that is expected to help Ukraine in the near term and the medium term as it defends itself going into the winter.


But the question, Wolf, is what happens after that? The White House has requested $24 billion to help Ukraine sustain the war between the end of September, which is when the government's funding year ends and the end of the calendar year. And the White House has already acknowledged that they've begun conversations with Congress about the funding that will be needed on top of that in 2024 as the war continues. There's deep skepticism that remains on Capitol Hill and deep divisions over domestic funding priorities that are entangling all of this together. But certainly Zelenskyy will continue this campaign to make his case for why that funding is so sorely needed and why it will help Ukraine win the war and win it quickly, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kayla Tausche over at the White House, thank you very much.

As President Zelenskyy is here in Washington, Russia has unleashed a new missile bombardment across Ukraine. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is on the ground for us in Zaporizhzhia.

Fred, tell us about these new attacks and their targets.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Yes, it was really just as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was gearing up for his meetings in Washington D.C., that the Russians unleashed that really strong and big aerial attack in the early morning hours. And the air raid alarms were on for several hours in wide parts of the country. And the Russians not only used ballistic missile for this attack, but even 10 nuclear capable strategic bombers. Here's what happened.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Vladimir Putin unleashing massive aerial attacks across Ukraine just as Ukraine's president visits Capitol Hill and the White House. Firefighters rushing the wounded out of the burning ruins of this hotel in the town Cherkasy.

The sound I heard was boom, and I saw all the windows were gone in the kitchen and in the bedroom, this woman says. And she adds, at around 06:00 in the morning, there was an explosion, a strong one. We came here, saw the windows that shattered in the shop.

Kyiv says the Russians launched 43 cruise missiles in the early morning hours. And while Ukraine's air defenses were able to shoot down most of them, some did come through, also hitting energy infrastructure. Kyiv saying the power grid here hasn't been attacked on this scale in half a year. The Ukrainians certain more strikes will follow as temperatures begin to fall.

We can make certain assumptions that the fuel and energy sector facilities will be further targeted by the enemy, the Air Force spokesman says. Zelenskyy urging the U.S. and its allies to provide more modern air defense systems, but Ukraine also fighting back. The satellite company Planet Labs, releasing these images after the Ukrainians say they struck Russian targets in occupied Crimea, including a military airfield. On the front lines, the Ukrainians say they're making gains.

Cover me, I'll get closer to them, the soldier says. This video released by a unit operating on the eastern front. While in the south, Kyiv says its counter offensive there is also gaining steam, even though the going remains tough.

Despite mining and engineering equipment, as well as strong resistance from the occupiers, our units had a partial success advanced into the depths of the enemy's defense and along the front, he says. But the Russians may already be gearing up for yet another large scale aerial campaign against Ukraine's critical infrastructure.


PLEITGEN: As you can see there, Wolf, quite an eventful day here in Ukraine today. And, you know, the past couple of days we have been near the southern front line where the main thrust of Ukraine's counter offensive is happening. Of course, although a lot of those western weapons are being used as well. And the soldiers there on the ground tell us, of course, they do need longer range weapons, as they've been saying for a while, but also a lot more artillery ammo and ammo for HIMARS to try and make more gains, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen reporting from the ground in Ukraine. Stay safe over there, Fred. Thank you very much.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now where President Zelenskyy met with lawmakers as House Republicans are at odds right now over funding for Ukraine, a rebellion by GOP hardliners, pushing the government toward a potential shutdown within days. All of this happening at the same time and putting the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in political peril. CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill for us.

Manu, how is Speaker McCarthy navigating president Zelenskyy's visit?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He took a much different approach, Wolf, than Senate leaders did. You saw a bipartisan showing behind President Zelenskyy in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, moving -- walking alongside President Zelenskyy, along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. On the House side, much different, only Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader seen in public walking with Zelenskyy. McCarthy, on the other hand, did meet behind closed doors, was pictured with him behind closed doors, but it wasn't until our colleague Annie Grayer got photos of them together that there were public viewing of Zelenskyy and McCarthy meeting.


McCarthy made the decision not to allow Zelenskyy to give a joint address to Congress. He also decided not to have Zelenskyy meet with a full House Republican conference behind closed doors or the full House. Much different than the Senate, which had a full meeting of the 100 senators behind closed doors with Zelenskyy earlier today. And there is still a question about whether Speaker McCarthy will get behind $24 billion in aid to Ukraine that Zelenskyy himself made a personal appeal for saying this is vitally necessary for his country to push back against Russian aggression. McCarthy, on the other hand, said there are still questions he has about -- big -- one big question whether he'll get behind it.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: What is victory? What does it take to be able to win? But I believe when we're looking at where we're going right now, Zelenskyy has answered a lot of questions. We've got to get our -- first, our fiscal House taken care of here in America. What I was asked for was a joint session given like a week before. We don't have the time for a joint session.


RAJU: And Wolf, this could come to a head as soon as next week. If the Senate moves forward with a plan to keep the government open that includes that aid to Ukraine, still an open question what Speaker McCarthy will do, because as heard right there, he's not committing to having a vote on the floor for this aid and certainly not before the government could shut down as soon as next week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is Speaker McCarthy, Manu, actually running out of options to avert a government shutdown?

RAJU: At this point, Wolf, there are not many options. He could cut a deal with Democrats, but if he does that, it could open him up from a revolt from the right wing of his conference, warning that he could be out as speaker if he were to do that. And that would mean that the other option try to get a bill through the House with Republican votes alone. But he has not been able to get enough Republican votes to get there, much less get a deal with the Senate and get something to the White House.

And Wolf, he sent House members home for the weekend because he does not have a deal. He had planned to have a vote on Saturday, but that's not happening amid these divisions, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very awkward indeed. Manu Raju, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, be sure to watch "Inside Politics with Manu Raju" every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Let's get some more on all of this with a key Republican who met with President Zelenskyy today. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Turner is joining us.

Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for joining us. I want you to take us inside --

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH), CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you for having me. BLITZER: -- your meeting with fellow House leaders and President Zelenskyy today. Did Speaker McCarthy explain to President Zelenskyy face to face why he won't pass new Ukraine aid?

TURNER: Well, the discussion was very warm, and in fact, there was strong support, bipartisan support, for military aid to Ukraine. There was no discussion of Ukraine not getting the aid that it needs. In fact, most of the discussion was about what do they need?

Now, the problem isn't Zelenskyy, and it certainly isn't Ukraine that there has -- Zelenskyy met with us knowing he has wide, strong support from the American public. And also that the last time, just within the last two months that there was a bill on the floor questioning support for Ukraine, over 300 members of the House, out of 435, voted in the affirmative to support that aid. So the discussion wasn't about should there be aid, the discussion was, what should the aid be? The problem relates really to the Biden administration. They've sent over a package without much description, without an understanding of what the strategy is.

Speaker McCarthy has made it very clear he's not going to be for a blank check. And the discussion today was around, what does Zelenskyy need in order to be able to win? He said, certainly long range missiles, F16s, air, you know, support. Those are the types of things that really the Biden administration has been very slow to provide, saying that they're going to supply but they have not showed up yet as the Ukrainian people stand against this Russian aggression and continue to fight for democracy in Ukraine.

BLITZER: But as you know, Mr. Chairman, these hardline Republicans are the ones blocking the aid package for Ukraine right now. They don't want it to be part of some sort of temporary measure to continue the government in operation.

TURNER: Well, certainly we're in this unique spot right now where we're trying to fund the government and avert a government shutdown. That -- those discussions really are overshadowing everything. But what's unfortunate for this group, their attacks on Kevin and really the tax on defense spending are really just to mask the fact that they're voting with the Democrats. In order for them to slow these things down to stop these things, they're voting with Nancy Pelosi instead of Kevin McCarthy. They should be voting with Kevin McCarthy and the American public and moving these bills forward so that we can get to the business of making certain government stays open and that our national security is protected.


BLITZER: What message, Mr. Chairman, did the speaker send by rejecting President Zelenskyy's request to address a joint session of Congress? Was that a mistake?

TURNER: No, absolutely not. You know, he has already addressed the joint session of Congress. He did so this very year. We are currently in the discussions on how to avert a shutdown. The meeting that we had was the top leadership of the House with President Zelenskyy. He was very satisfied with that meeting and he certainly had pledges from everyone that they were going to support and get to Ukraine the military aid that they need so that they can stop this Russian aggression.

BLITZER: Now that members are going home for the weekend and Speaker McCarthy is going to try to pass, what, 11 bills in nine days, is a government shutdown, do you believe, inevitable? And do you have confidence in the speaker right now to lead your conference through this?

TURNER: Well, Speaker McCarthy is doing an excellent job. I mean people are working together, not only bipartisan basis in Congress, unlike that they have in decades, but also, you know, the Republican conference is working together. Everyone is working hard and diligently. This is not just a number of people in the speaker's office who are doing work and then handing it down as if it's an eating.

What's unfortunate is you have these individuals who currently for their own self-interest, not really for any particular principle, are voting with Nancy Pelosi to stop the House moving forward. They need to stop voting with the Democrats and vote with Kevin McCarthy. As they threaten Kevin McCarthy, they're standing with the Democrats. That obstructionist attitude is what's bringing us very close to the brink of government shutdown.

I think Kevin's doing a great job and he might be able to bring them to the table in a meaningful way over the next several days so we can get something done. But they really -- when they go home, they should be having to explain to people why are they voting with Nancy Pelosi instead of Kevin McCarthy.

BLITZER: So yes or no, Mr. Chairman, will there be a government/

TURNER: You know I don't have a crystal ball. I can tell you this, if I'm going to bet on anything, I'll bet on Speaker McCarthy to continue to get the work done and hopefully be successful.

BLITZER: Let's see. We will find out. Congressman Mike Turner, thanks so much for joining.

TURNER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, I'll get insight into the state of the Republican Party and the race for the GOP nomination from New Hampshire's Republican governor, Chris Sununu. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: A new CNN poll shows former President Donald Trump dominating his Republican rivals in the key early primary state of New Hampshire. This as some GOP donors worry it might be too late to stop Trump from claiming the party's nomination. Joining us now, New Hampshire's Republican governor, Chris Sununu.

Governor, thanks so much for joining us. This poll of your state shows that Trump is way ahead with some 39 percent of the vote among likely Republican voters in New Hampshire. But Ramaswamy, Haley, Christie, and DeSantis, they're all bunched up far behind Trump in a statistical tie for second place. Why do you think a Trump alternative has yet to emerge?

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): Well, it's still early. It really is. I mean, if you look back in the days of Bush versus McCain, I think at this point in September, Bush was ahead of McCain by, you know, 30 points or something like that, he lost by 19. So there's still a lot of politics to play out. Most folks won't really decide who they're voting for till well after Thanksgiving.

And the most important part of that poll is Trump's at 39 percent, right? It's 15 points below his national average showing that where the conversation is happening, where folks are getting engaged, they're realizing there's great alternatives out there. The most important part, really, of that as well is the number of Trump voters of that 39 percent, it's about a third are willing to walk away from him. So his floor, I used to think it was about 32 percent, 33 percent is really down to about 25 percent when a third of his own support right now has says, we're open to different ideas and different candidates. So, it just shows that there's a lot of game to play.

There's a lot of opportunity for these candidates to shine.

BLITZER: But as you know, Governor, some major Republican donors have expressed concern to CNN that it might already be too late to stop Trump. Why are they wrong?

SUNUNU: Well, Because, like I said before, like when Bush was ahead of McCain, everyone said that that couldn't be bitten. When Clinton was ahead of Obama at this point, well, nothing's going to beat the Clinton machine, don't worry, there's still plenty of time. We've had one debate, right? So there's a lot more debate to happen. And when the first debate happened, you saw Nikki Haley surge, you saw a lot of the numbers change, you saw things sift out.

We used -- about a month and a half ago, we had 13 or 14 candidates. By the first debate we had eight. I think maybe six or six or seven will make the second debate stage. So, the field is winnowing down like we want to see. And so, again, if it's Trump and one other candidate, Trump's going to lose.

So it's just up to the voters to figure out who that alternative is going to be. And as long as we figure that out before Super Tuesday, when you have a lot of those winner take all type states, he's in trouble.

BLITZER: Let's get to some of the issues in this debate right now. Mike Pence and Ron DeSantis, as you know, they both slammed Donald Trump for calling Florida's six week abortion ban a terrible mistake, that's a quote. What Trump says a terrible mistake. Pence accuses Trump of walking away from the, quote, "commitment to the sanctity of human life." How do you see it?

SUNUNU: Well, look, I've said very clearly, I think, a lot of the other candidates on the presidential stage, I'm not one, but they've said as well, it's a state's issue. States are going to decide. What Florida does, what California does, what New York or New Hampshire or Missouri does -- they're all going to be different. And that's exactly what Roe v. Wade said. And so, that's kind of where it's going to go, there should be no federal bans, nothing like that.

That is types -- that's an issue and messaging on a national level that gets Republicans really tongue tied, twisted, and actually probably costs us votes on the Independent side. We want those suburban moms to come back into the picture. We lost a lot of them over the abortion issue. We want young people to come back in. They want to come back in but you got to give them that path and not kind of scare them away with confusing issues.

The abortion one, on a national level, we've never really been able to explain the right way. And frankly, we don't have to. We really don't, because it's a state's issue. Let the states decide.

BLITZER: Tim Scott has mentioned you as a possible vice presidential candidate. Is that something, Governor, you would be interested in?

SUNUNU: No. No, I appreciate it. I'm honored and humbled anyone would think of me like that, but I'm just trying to get the best out of the Republican Party. I'm trying to show the future version of the Republican Party show all these candidates as the best version of themselves. It doesn't necessarily have Trump at the top, and that's just our reality and that's a really positive thing moving forward. So, I just want to help the party, but really no interest in going to D.C. myself.


BLITZER: Chris Sununu, thanks so much for joining us. Always appreciate having you in THE SITUATION ROOM.

SUNUNU: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Up next, Israel and Saudi Arabia are in the middle of diplomatic negotiations which could potentially lead to the normalization of relations between the two countries. I'll discuss that and more with Israel's ambassador to the United States, who's standing by. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Biden has extended an invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Washington before the end of the year. This is happening as Washington is trying to broker a deal that would normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

For more on this, I'm joined by Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us. I know you were in the meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Biden. Can you confirm that President Biden invited him not just to Washington, but specifically to the White House? And what does it say to you that the White House won't name that themselves?

MICHAEL HERZOG, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, definitely invited him to Washington and to the White House. It's in the readout of the White House statement on the meeting between the two leaders. The meeting yesterday was excellent, was productive, and I think we should not focus on the venue. We have a big deal ahead of us. We are working together. We are in this together.

And as I said, the meeting was excellent. And we are focused on the task ahead of us, which is trying to break through to a deal with Saudi Arabia, which would be a historic breakthrough.

BLITZER: So you've been assured that the meeting will be not only at the White House, but in the Oval Office. Is that what I'm hearing?

HERZOG: Of course.

BLITZER: All right. As you know, President Biden says he also raised his concerns, and they're very serious concerns about Prime Minister Netanyahu's controversial judicial overhaul plan in their meeting yesterday. Can you share with us exactly what the President said?

HERZOG: Well, the meeting was in four eyes, so I'm not sure the exact content. Obviously, he asked some questions about it. But I will refer you to the statement by Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this week in San Francisco, where he said that he's seeking a broad compromise, political or public compromise, and I'll leave it at that.

BLITZER: When I recently interviewed Prime Minister Netanyahu here in THE SITUATION ROOM, he wouldn't tell me whether he would accept Israel's Supreme Court ruling on the first part of his judicial plan. What message does this send to the United States, indeed the world, when Prime Minister Netanyahu won't commit to abiding by the rule of law in Israel?

HERZOG: I think Israel is a state governed by the rule of law. I think it's clear to everybody. We have a constitutional crisis in Israel, which is unprecedented. And that's why there's a lot of confusion coming out of Israel. But the bottom line is that Israel is governed by the rule of law.

BLITZER: So you can assure everyone that the Prime Minister of Israel will honor the Supreme Court decision, whatever that decision is?

HERZOG: Look, as I said, this is an unprecedented constitutional crisis, and the current debate and discussion in the court ushers us into uncharted waters. So I'm not going to say ahead of time what might be the outcome and what might be the response of the government. Israel is governed by the rule of law.

BLITZER: But if the Supreme Court rules that it's not legal for this legislation to go forward, I assume you have to agree with the Supreme Court of Israel, right? HERZOG: Look, you are getting me into this legal debate, and I don't want to go into it. I think everybody understands that we are in a constitutional crisis and that ultimately everybody has to abide by the law. And that pertains to everybody involved in this discussion.

BLITZER: I want to turn to the talks going on between Israel and Saudi Arabia on plans to try to normalize relations, which would be a huge, very significant development in the Middle East. The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, signaled he's moving closer to a deal, but that the Palestinian issue, he says, is still very important to Saudi Arabia and to him. So what would an actual deal, Mr. Ambassador, look like?

HERZOG: First, we're talking about a trilateral framework which involves agreements between the United States and Saudi Arabia and normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel. As I noted, this is a historical breakthrough if we manage to do it because it will enhance stability in the Middle East, push back against Iran, it will expand the circle of peace and organization between Israel and Arabs, and also between Jews and Muslims.

And it sends a message of long term U.S. commitment to its partners and allies in the Middle East. Now, there are a lot of building blocks and we have a lot of work ahead of us, but I believe there is a serious window of opportunity. The U.S. wants it, Israel wants it, and Saudis, as we heard yesterday, are interested in it as well. I'm not going to go into details. Obviously, the Saudi says publicly that it has to include a Palestinian component. I will say that as far as we are concerned, the Palestinians could and should benefit from Israeli- Saudi deal, but they should have no veto power over that deal.


BLITZER: Ambassador Michael Herzog, thanks so much for joining us.

HERZOG: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: All right, let's go back to the White House right now, where President Biden and President Zelenskyy just wrapped up a private meeting in the Oval Office and are now talking with cabinet members. Let's listen to it.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- reforms that are going to combat corruption, creating an environment where businesses can thrive and where American and European businesses want to invest.

Ladies and gentlemen, last week, I announced the appointment of Penny Pritzker as our new Special Representative. Penny, thank you for being willing to come back in. She's going to be the Special Representative for Ukraine economic recovery, to help Ukraine reopen markets, mobilize investments, and make the necessary economic reforms needed.

And together with 29 other partners, partners and their partners, we're committed to help Ukraine build a force capable of ensuring Ukraine's long term security, capable of deterring future threats against sovereignty, territorial integrity and freedom, which are underway now because that's what this is all about, the future, the future of freedom.

America can never, will never walk away from that. That's why 575 days later, we stand with Ukraine and we'll continue to stand with you, Mr. President. And that's why we're so proud of being able to be with you. Mr. President, we're with you and we're staying with you.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Thank you so much, Mr. President. Thank you for all these 575 days. And thanks to American people all these days together with us, with Ukrainians, with ordinary people, all of us. Thank you so much. Thanks to you, your team, Congress, and thanks journalists, for all your messages to your society and to the world that you share the truth about this, you know, tragedy, aggression from Russia.

So thank you very much, again, Mr. President Biden. Thank you for warm meeting and very productive, strong negotiations. And today we have some important results. First, we agree to work on the future force of Ukraine. It's very important. And this strategic decision that will allowed us to prevent any, any new aggression against us, against Ukraine, our people.

And this will be one of the outcomes of wellness, G7 declaration and our bilateral security arrangements. Second, we reached new agreements that will strengthen Ukraine's defense capabilities. Thank you so much. More details will be announced shortly and solidly. I thank United States of America and Mr. President, for the new defense package for Ukraine, a very powerful package. Thank you so much. And it has exactly what our soldiers need now.

Fourthly, the United States will be helping Ukraine with strengthening our air defense during this winter season. Fifths, we agreed on specific steps to expand the export of grain from Ukraine and we will continue to work on the peace formula and preparing inaugural summit. So thank you so much. Not only for these points, for all these points, for all these 575 days. Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you confident that Congress is going to support your efforts to get this supplemental aid? Did you get any assurances?

BIDEN: I'm counting on good judgment of the United States Congress. There's no alternative. Thank you. All right, we're ready.

ZELENSKYY: Thank you so much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much, guys. Thank you so much. Everyone try to (inaudible).


BLITZER: All right. We just heard the president of the United States make another strong commitment to continue military and economic political support for Ukraine as it continues to fight this Russian invasion. And we also heard strong expressions of thanks from the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. He says that what the U.S. is now proposing, he described it as a very powerful package and added, it's exactly what our soldiers need right now.

Clearly, this war is continuing, as we saw in our report earlier today. Fred Pleitgen reporting massive continuing Russian airstrikes on civilian targets throughout Ukraine right now. We'll continue to monitor this. Have much more news right after this quick break.


BLITZER: We're following new developments right now in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. New polls now showing former President Trump maintaining huge leads over his rivals in multiple key early contests. Our chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us. Jeff, so where does the race stand right now?


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, as you said, I mean, the former president holds a commanding lead and he is in command of this race without question. But this is largely becoming a race for second place, a race to eventually go head to head with him. And we see a lot of national polls, of course, but we're starting to get a closer look at these state by state polls, which of course are much more important.

So let's take a look at some of those recent ones. So just give a snapshot in time of where the race is. In Iowa, for example, a poll out yesterday from "Fox News" shows that the former president is at 46 percent, certainly a head and shoulders away. But look below there, Governor Ron DeSantis from Florida, he has fallen considerably. Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador, she has climbed. So you can see some distinctions there in the race.

But then when you look to South Carolina, of course, that is the third spot in the road to the White House here in the Republican primary. Again, the former president holding the same level of support. But Nikki Haley once again going above all of her rivals, including a fellow South Carolinian, Tim Scott, the senator there. And again, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has fallen.

So if we look at Nikki Haley specifically here how she has climbed. Look at this, Wolf, from July to September in Iowa and South Carolina, she has climbed considerably in those states as well as New Hampshire. And we look at New Hampshire overall. This is a place where she was campaigning in this afternoon. Now she is locked in a fight for second place here.

Donald Trump, not quite as high in New Hampshire, 39 percent. But Nikki Haley, of course, going into the next debate, which is of course next Wednesday, is trying to essentially play off the momentum from the first debate. And she was asked some interesting questions this afternoon at a town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire about how she distinguishes herself from the former president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He was the right president at the right time. He was being skinned and easily distracted. He didn't do anything on fiscal policy and really spent a lot of money, and we're all paying the price for it. He used to be good on foreign policy and now he has started to walk it back and get weak in the knees when it comes to Ukraine.


ZELENY: So this of course, is the challenge for all of the Republican candidates. How do they walk that fine line of distinguishing themselves and differentiating themselves from the former president, particularly her, because she of course, served in his administration. But Wolf, one of the reasons that she is gaining ground, it is because of the moderates, so that message is likely to resonate there with her. She'll be giving a major economic address tomorrow in New Hampshire, again trying to make the case to voters there. But Wolf, that next debate next week. It truly is a race for second place. Wolf?

BLITZER: Excellent reporting. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very, very much.


Coming up, we'll go live to the southern border where President Biden is boosting the U.S. Military presence amid a surge in migrant crossings.


BLITZER: President Biden is bolstering the U.S. Military presence on the border with Mexico right now amid a surge in migrant crossings. Our senior national correspondent, Ed Lavandera standing by live for us. He's right near the border in Eagle Pass, Texas. Ed, what's the situation where you are?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Eagle Pass has been kind of the center point of this latest surge of migration into the U.S. As you mentioned, some 8,600 migrants have been encountered along the U.S. southern border in the last day. Here in Eagle Pass, we've witnessed hundreds of people crossing the river and turning themselves into authorities. And this is the last part of some of the largest groups we've seen cross today. And these are people, mostly from Venezuela, who crossed over several hours ago and crawled underneath the razor wire that has been lined up along the river here by Texas authorities.

But despite all of that, they have come across many of these migrants saying that despite the possibility that they could face stricter penalties for crossing illegally between ports of entry, that they are willing to take that risk because they have been waiting for months and months to get through what is called the CBP One app, which is essentially a process by which these migrants can set up an appointment to request asylum.

But many of these migrants say that they were simply tired of waiting and that is why they decided to cross here. So some very tense moments throughout the day as these migrants, many of them were standing on the banks of the river, standing in waist high water, several of them mothers with their toddlers standing there in the river.

And we do know that over the last two days, there have been two people that have drowned. One of those was also a three-year-old boy, so very dangerous and treacherous conditions that the migrants are, you know, facing when they cross the river here. And all of this happening as officials here in Eagle Pass say that their ability to handle this migrant surge has really been stretched to the limit.

The shelters are full. The processing centers are filling up. So obviously a great deal of tension here with the numbers of migrants arriving here. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera along the border, thank you very much.


Coming up, President Biden and Zelenskyy's consequential meeting over at the White House has just wrapped up as some Republicans threaten to slash future U.S. Military aid to Ukraine. And President Zelenskyy still has one big item on his weapons wish list. We'll ask a top White House official about it. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy makes a surprise visit at a White House cabinet meeting, wrapping up talks with President Biden and pressing his appeal for more U.S. aid. We'll get a readout of the meetings from a key White House official, John Kirby, standing by live.

Also tonight, new setbacks for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as he accuses Republican hardliners of trying to burn down the House. We'll discuss the chaos, the division, and the government shutdown threat with GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie.

And a huge power shift over at Fox News and beyond as Rupert Murdoch steps down as chief of his media empire, turning over control to his son.