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State of the Union

Interview With Finnish President Sauli Niinisto; Interview With Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO); Interview With U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Interview With Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 20, 2022 - 09:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): Brink of war. Ukraine's president sounding the alarm about tensions between his country and Russia, as the Biden administration predicts a Russian incursion within days.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm convinced he's made the decision.

BASH: I will speak to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and someone with insight into President Putin's thinking, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, next.

And keep calm and carry on. Queen Elizabeth tests positive for COVID- 19, as nearly every governor in the U.S. is loosening restrictions. What does the new normal look like?

A Democratic governor who was ahead of the pack, Colorado's Jared Polis, joins me to discuss in moments.

Plus: mind on the midterms. Democrats and Republicans brace for the upcoming elections. As the party in power searches for a strategy to keep it...

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: They will ban books, but do nothing about guns?

BASH: ... the other divides itself further. How will all this play with voters? My panel is here to discuss ahead.


BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, where the state of our union is worried about war in Europe. Tension over Russia's aggression towards Ukraine has the world on

edge. This morning, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that Russia is planning for what could be -- quote -- "the biggest war in Europe since 1945."

Later today, President Biden will convene his National Security Council in the White House Situation Room, as Vice President Kamala Harris returns from a conference of world leaders in Munich, where she reiterated President Biden's assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a decision to invade Ukraine.

This weekend, Ukrainian President Zelensky left Ukraine briefly to meet allies in Germany, including U.S. Vice President Harris, and told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that the West is not doing enough right now to deter Putin. He called for a list of possible sanctions on Moscow to be made public immediately.

Ukrainian officials say their soldiers are ready for any scenario, as violence and shelling is already escalating in Eastern Ukraine. The U.S. now estimates 160,000 to 190,000 Russian personnel are in and around Ukraine. That's nearly double the number there three weeks ago.

And it's all happening on a grim anniversary for Ukraine. According to the U.S., it was exactly eight years ago today that Russian troops first crossed into Ukraine to eventually annex Crimea.

I want to go straight to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, where CNN's chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, joins us live.

And, Clarissa, President Biden says Putin has made a decision to invade. What are you seeing and feeling on the ground there?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, here in Kyiv, remarkably, the streets are quiet, but largely calm.

However, that can't be said about the eastern part of the country, where a war has been under way for eight years now. But those front lines had largely been frozen for some time, up until the last few days. Yesterday was the highest amount of activity that we have seen on those front lines in years. Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed.

A CNN team who were actually touring the front lines with Ukraine's interior minister came under heavy fire. They were pinned down for some time, and then they were forced to flee the area. Just days before, we had also visited the site of a kindergarten that had come under apparent shelling, so a real uptick in activity along those front lines, and a lot of people concerned that things could unravel even more quickly.

For the most part, though, Ukraine's leadership has been stressing this idea that diplomacy is still an option, it's still the way forward. They say that they don't dispute the U.S. intelligence, but that perhaps they have a different way of interpreting it.

And one thing, Dana, that people had really been looking to as a potential sign of meaningful de-escalation from Russia was the end of these joint exercises between Russia and Belarusia in Belarus. If we had seen those Russian soldiers leaving Belarus after those exercises, there would have been a sense, I think, that people felt more confident that de-escalation and diplomacy might be possible.

However, we have just heard today from Belarus' defense minister that Russian troops will stay there in position to continue readiness checks. And they cited the situation in Ukraine and also particularly in Donbass. That's those separatists, those pro-Russian separatists areas in the east of the country.


So, many here viewing that as a slightly ominous sign -- Dana.

BASH: Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for that report.

And joining me now is the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken.

Mr. Secretary, let's start with what you just heard Clarissa reporting on, learning that troops from Russia and Belarus will continue those joint exercises there past their plan end date. What does that tell you? Does it make you more concerned about an invasion?


And it tells us that the playbook that we laid out, I laid out at the U.N. Security Council last week about Russia trying to create a series of provocations as justifications for aggression against Ukraine is going forward.

We have seen that over the last few days. Now they're justifying the continuation of exercises, and exercises in quotation marks, that they said would end now, the continuation indefinitely of those -- quote, unquote -- "exercises," on the situation in Eastern Ukraine, a situation that they have created by continuing to ramp up tensions.

Meanwhile, they have been escalating the forces they have across Ukraine's borders over the last months from 50,000 forces to 100,000 to now more than 150,000. So, all of this, along with the false flag operations we have seen unfold over the weekend, tells us that the playbook that we laid out is moving forward.

BASH: So, you mentioned the false flag operation. You have that.

You also have, as Clarissa talked about, a kindergarten hit by a shell. And you have a cyberattack that's already happened. Ukraine is reporting dozens of cease-fire violations.

Is Russia's plan to invade already in motion?

BLINKEN: It -- as we have described it, everything leading up to the actual invasion appears to be taking place, all of these false flag operations, all of these provocations to create justifications. All of that is already in train.

But you heard President Biden say this the other night. We believe President Putin has made the decision, but until the tanks are actually rolling and the planes are flying, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from carrying this forward.

President Biden is prepared to engage President Putin at any time, in any format, if that can help prevent a war. I reached out to my Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, to urge that we meet next week in Europe. The plan is still to do that, unless Russia invades in the meantime.

BASH: Ukrainian President Zelensky called for the U.S. to impose sanctions now. He did that in Munich yesterday.

I want you to take a listen.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): What are you waiting for? We don't need your sanctions after the bombardment will happen and after our country will be fired at or after we will have no borders, after we will have no economy or parts of our country will be occupied.

Why would we need those sanctions then?


BASH: And he called on you, at the very least, to make a list of specific sanctions public. What's your response?

BLINKEN: Well, we have been in very close contact with President Zelensky and all -- his entire team. The vice president in Munich met with him. They had a very good meeting, in which the vice president reiterated all the support that we have been building for Ukraine over many months, including in the last year alone, more support for defensive lethal military equipment in that one year than in any previous year, economic support.

I announced a loan guarantee for Ukraine of a billion dollars just a week ago. And we have rallied others to do the same thing.

When it comes to sanctions, we have built, with European partners and allies, a massive package of sanctions. The G7 countries in Munich came together, reiterated that there would be massive consequences for Russia if it pursues this aggression.

The purpose of the sanctions in the first instance is to try to deter Russia from going to war. As soon as you trigger them, that deterrent is gone. And until the last minute, as long as we can try to bring a deterrent effect to this, we're going to try to do that.

As to laying out in detail what the sanctions will be, two things. First, Russia generally has a pretty good idea of what we're going to do. But we don't want to lay out the specifics in advance, because that would allow Russia to try to plan against them. So, we have very clearly -- and the G7 could not have been more clear

-- a massive package that will unfold rapidly, in unison, between the United States and Europe and other countries beyond Europe.

BASH: Mr. Secretary, it seems as though we're hearing two competing notions.

On the one hand, you're saying, and the president, President Biden, said clearly, Russia has decided to invade. And then, on the other hand, you're saying, we don't want to impose sanctions because that would get rid of a deterrent. So, which one is it?

And especially given the fact that you have the Ukrainian leader with hundreds of thousands of troops on his border being told that they're going to -- Russia is going to invade at any minute leaving his country, going to a forum on the world stage in order to have that kind of platform to plead with you, please impose sanctions now, how is the answer not yes?


BLINKEN: Well, first, we have already imposed sanctions.

We have sanctioned various actors...

BASH: More sanctions.

BLINKEN: First, we have imposed -- as I said, Dana, we have imposed sanctions already on actors in Ukraine who are working for Russian security forces in trying to destabilize the country.

And, again -- and I -- look, I understand where President Zelensky is coming from. But these things are not at all inconsistent, because, as President Biden said, while we believe President Putin has made the decision that the die is cast, until that die actually settles and until the tanks are actually moving, the planes are actually flying, the bombs are actually dropping, we're going to do everything we can, with diplomacy and with deterrence and dissuasion, to get President Putin to reverse the decision that we that we believe he's made.

And part of that is making very clear what he risks in terms of sanctions. That's why we reiterated so strongly this weekend with the world's leading democratic economies, the G7. We're going to use every tool that we can to try to get him off the course that he's on.

If that doesn't succeed, if he goes forward, nonetheless, with the invasion, then the world is very clear that it's going to come down on him and Russia very, very hard.

BASH: What are the chances that Vladimir Putin is bluffing?

BLINKEN: There's -- there's always a chance.

But every indication that we have seen, every move that he's made that as followed the play that we laid out for the world to see in front of the United Nations Security Council, he is following the script almost to the letter.

So, I think, while there's always a chance, everything we're seeing suggests that this is dead serious, that we are on the brink of an invasion. We will do everything we can to try to prevent it before it happens.

But, equally, we're prepared, if he does follow through, to impose massive consequences, to defend -- to provide for Ukraine's ongoing defense, and to bolster NATO.

And, here again, what is remarkable about this is, President Putin will have precipitated everything he has sought to prevent, because all of this has only reinforced NATO, reinforced its solidarity, its commitment, and, indeed, reinforced NATO on its eastern flank.

I was just in Munich with all of the leaders of our European partners. And I think all of us who've been doing this for many years have never seen a time when NATO has been more unified and is, I think, going to further demonstrate that if Putin follows through with the invasion.

BASH: President Zelensky also said yesterday that Ukraine's economy is just getting crushed.

The head of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, says that the U.S. should also be ready for this standoff to stretch out for months, perhaps, while Ukraine's economy collapses.

What do you make of that scenario? And would Putin face consequences for that?

BLINKEN: First, it's -- that's a possibility as well. And it's exactly why we announced a billion-dollar loan guarantee just last week. That's on top of previous loan guarantees we have provided to Ukraine, for a total of $4 billion, to shore up its economy.

At the same time, the Europeans are doing the same thing, both on a direct country-to-country basis, but also the European Union making available to Ukraine also a couple of weeks ago a credit facility of more than a billion dollars.

We're also helping Ukraine work directly and closely with the IMF to shore up its economy, to pursue reforms, to make sure that it's able to stand on its feet economically.

BASH: But would Putin face consequences if that is ultimately what he does, he just chokes the economy there?

BLINKEN: We are very focused, with all of our allies and partners, on ensuring that Russia does face consequences for the actions that it takes, to include actions that would involve squeezing Ukraine going forward.

BASH: Before I let you go, you mentioned that you did accept a meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. That's going to happen this coming week. Given that President Biden says President Putin has decided to invade, is the meeting for sure going to happen, number one? And do you have kind of a Hail Mary offer for Russia to avoid war?

BLINKEN: Well, I reached out to Foreign Minister Lavrov about a week ago, suggesting we meet in Europe next week. And he came back and said yes.

I went back and said, OK, the meeting is on, provided Russia doesn't invade Ukraine in the interim. So, it all depends on what Russia does in the coming days. If it doesn't invade, I will be there. I hope you will be there too.

And I will do everything I can to see if we can advance a diplomatic resolution to this crisis created by Russia and its aggression against -- against Ukraine.

We have put on the table a number of ideas that we can pursue that would strengthen security for Russia, for the United States, for Europe, if we engage in them on a reciprocal basis. So, there are things that we're prepared to do if Russia is also prepared to take steps.


That's the conversation I welcome having with Foreign Minister Lavrov. But it depends entirely on whether Russia invades or not.

BASH: Very busy day and week ahead.

Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary, for joining me this morning.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Dana. Good to be with you.

BASH: Thank you.

And can anyone truly know what Vladimir Putin is thinking? I will ask a leader in the region who speaks directly to Putin and knows him pretty well next.

And, also, breaking news: Queen Elizabeth tests positive for COVID- 19. What we know ahead.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash

Perhaps no current Western leader knows more about how Vladimir Putin works than Finland's president, Sauli Niinisto.

And that's why it raised red flags this week when Niinisto told "The New York Times" that he has seen a clear change in Putin's state of mind and decision-making pride -- process, rather. For the past few years, Niinisto has been an interpreter of sorts for Putin and the West, straddling both sides not just geographically -- Finland is Russia's neighbor -- but diplomatically, passing messages from Putin himself to Western leaders.


BASH: And Finnish President Sauli Niinisto joins me now.

So, Mr. President, knowing President Putin as well as you do, what do you think his endgame is here?

SAULI NIINISTO, PRESIDENT OF FINLAND: What we have seen so far -- and I'm a bit afraid it will continue -- we see Russia pushing forward, then taking a step backwards, then two steps forward.

And with all this, like we have noticed, we have, well, been quite confused. And that's maybe the tactics.

BASH: At this point, do you believe that President Putin will invade?

NIINISTO: I think there are still three alternatives.

The first one is that, somehow, they could settle the issue of Eastern Ukraine, Minsk agreement, and all that. I think it's far away. Then, second option is that we will see a full-scale war.

And the third one, which is as bad, is that we see this kind of, like I described, two steps forward, one back, that is increasing tensions all the time.

And the third one might, at the moment, I would say that might be the nearest one, at least.

BASH: Mr. President, for people here in the West who don't know Vladimir Putin, don't understand him as you do, please answer this: Is he an irrational leader with a large army, or is he a fundamentally rational leader with a strategy?

NIINISTO: This is a very difficult question to me too.

Even though I have met him several times during these 10 years and had several phone calls with him, it is -- like we all know, it's very difficult to say and define what other person actually deep down is.

But, so far, I would say that he has behaved in a way which is very difficult to predict, but that might be, also, intentional, to -- namely, to behave in that way, because that brings confusion to surroundings. And I said that we are a bit confused at the moment.

BASH: You have said that you noticed a change in Vladimir Putin in the last year, and said that he suddenly -- quote -- "started to behave in a very, very decisive way."

NIINISTO: Yes. BASH: Can you be more specific about what that change was? And do you think that's connected at all to the way that he's really isolated himself during the pandemic?

NIINISTO: No, actually, it happens that way that we had a telephone discussion, like we have had several ones during these years.

And when I took up the list of demands he had post, and told the Finnish position that we surely are going to keep our sovereignty and right to decide ourselves, then he suddenly, very officially -- I -- and I think he read the whole list of demands.

And that was a change in his behavior. And I would guess -- and from that, I guess that he wants -- at least wants to be very decisive, wants to sound like one. It was different kind of behavior.

BASH: So, as you well know, but I want to make sure our audience understands, that your country, Finland, shares an 830-mile-long border with Russia, and, like Ukraine, is not a member of NATO.


Does Russia's aggression make you at all concerned that your country could be next?

NIINISTO: First of all, we have to remember that Finland is a stable, long-lasting, more than 100 years, stable democracy.

And we are a member of the European Union. We are surely part of the West. And the long border line, surely, you have to know geographics. And you can't do anything with that.

So, we are not afraid, not at all. Actually, the situation in Finnish border line and in whole Baltic sea area is now quite peaceful. We are not afraid of Russian tanks suddenly crossing Finnish border.

BASH: You say you're very much a part of the West. Does this crisis have you and your country rethinking whether you want to join NATO?

NIINISTO: There's a lot discussion about that just now.

And I think that we will continue that discussion. And depending on what really happens in Ukraine, it might even get a lot more lively. But, at the moment, at least, I don't see any reason for any dramatic, sudden changes. It has to be thoroughly thought.

BASH: But if things do heat up and become more explosive, so to speak, in Ukraine, you think that your country will lean in to the notion of wanting to be in NATO?

NIINISTO: At least some of our people are changing their mind. That's very obvious.

A lot depends also what actually happens in Ukraine and how Russia is going to behave after that. If Russia sees that it's a big success story for them, that makes them more dangerous. BASH: And, finally, Mr. President, you said recently that -- quote --

"The post-Cold War era is definitely over."

So, what era are we in now?

NIINISTO: I think that we are actually almost in a colder situation than we were during that traditional Cold War, because, then, we had at least some agreements between the United States and Soviet Union limiting arms and so on.

Now we do not have actually anything, no agreements anymore. So this makes the situation, in my opinion, much more vulnerable.

BASH: Well, I appreciate your time this morning. And I look forward to speaking to you in the future.

Thank you so much for joining me, the president of Finland, Sauli Niinisto. Thank you.

NIINISTO: Thank you. Thank you so very much.


BASH: The CDC says you should still wear your masks indoors, so why is nearly every governor, including Democrats, dropping COVID restrictions?

One of the first Democratic governors to move away from mask mandates joins me live next.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

We have some breaking news this morning.

Queen Elizabeth, who is 95 years old, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild cold-like symptoms. That's according to Buckingham Palace, who also says that she expects to continue light duties at Windsor.

Here in the U.S. this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced his state is shifting to an endemic approach to COVID-19, as other Democratic governors also remove mask mandates.

Someone way ahead of this trend is Colorado's Democratic governor, Jared Polis, who dropped the state's indoor mask mandate more than six months ago.

And Governor Polis joins me now to discuss.

Thank you so much for joining me.

You did lift that mask mandate and ended your emergency order eight months ago, Governor. You never put restrictions back even during the new surges. And, still, your state's death rate is one of the lowest in the country.

So, why did you do that last July, when most Democratic governors are just doing it now?

GOV. JARED POLIS (D-CO): Well, Dana, really following the data.

What's remarkable is, when you look across the data set for United States, those who are triple vaccinated have a 96 percent lower death rate, double vaccinated, 85 percent lower death rate.

And, by the way, let that be a reminder to viewers, if you're putting off that third dose, please, go get it. It makes a big difference.

And it's just such a different place than it was to begin with. Frankly, at this level, the virus is still something you want to avoid. We, of course, and I support masks as a matter of personal responsibility. People who choose to wear them indoors around others are adding that layer of protection.


But the most important thing right now is to get people triple-dosed and move on with our lives.

BASH: Do you think that we have finally reached the endemic phase of COVID-19?

POLIS: You know, I think what's important is, we prepare for an uncertain future.

And I think a lot of states are undertaking that. I hope the federal government is as well. What does that mean? It means that we don't know what variant will occur. We don't know when the current resistance that we have because of prior infection or vaccine wears off. We need to be ready in six months or a year, if we need to, to be able to administer a lot of doses of a new vaccine, or perhaps the same one, quickly.

We also need to have stockpile of masks and PPE, so we're not back in that same situation we were a year ago. We need to have surge protocols and procedures to really add hospital beds and add public health capacity. We need to have those really dusted off, ready to go if and when needed, so that we're better prepared should the nation and the world be stricken with another variant or resurgence of COVID- 19.

BASH: Back on masking, the CDC still recommends masking indoors. And Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning about lifting restrictions prematurely.

I want you to listen to what he said this week.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: We've been through this show before, where things came down, you pull back a little, and it bounces back.

When you want to pull back and say, we're done, well, the virus may not be done with us.


BASH: What's your response to that?

POLIS: CDC issues health-based recommendations, not mandates. And I think it's a sound science that indicates, yes, if you want to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19, wearing a medical-grade mask if you're in an area where there's a bunch of other people, of course that will reduce your risk, not only of getting COVID-19, but of getting the cold or the flu and a variety of other conditions.

Dana, my parents are 77. And my mom has some respiratory preexisting conditions. And, yes, they still wear masks when they're out and about. It's not required in their area. I'm glad they do.

When we go visit with the kids, we do an instant test for the kids before we go over. Even though they have been tripled-vaxxed, and that reduces their risk 96 percent, of course, we want to minimize that other 4 percent chance that something could happen to them. And we take steps, just like many of the American people do, to help protect our loved ones.

BASH: Governor, I want to ask about the politics of this, because we're seeing parents pushing back hard on masks in school -- mask mandates in school, I should say, especially in the suburbs, which tend to be home to key swing voters.

You were in the House before you were governor of Colorado. What is your advice to national Democrats on how to navigate all this?

POLIS: I think talking about masks and vaccines as a matter of personal responsibility, as a data-driven way to reduce your own personal risk, is the right way to be talking about them.

As long as we're stuck in this dichotomy of mandate vs. no mandate, there's a lot of Americans of all persuasions that react very negatively, rightfully so, to being told they're forced to do something.

So, I think it's about winning over hearts and minds about practical steps that we can take to protect ourselves. And I'm proud that you mentioned Colorado has the ninth lowest death rate per capita. It's a direct result of us having one of the higher vaccination rates per capita. I think we're 11th or 12th. And we're eighth or ninth in third doses.

So, I mean, there's a direct connection there, Dana. And I think that just sort of getting the good, trusted data to the American people is what can ultimately save lives.

BASH: Before I let you go, I want to ask you. You are an openly gay governor. And there are GOP lawmakers in various

states across the country pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation, from the so- called don't say gay bill in Florida, to a transgender sports ban in South Dakota.

I want you to listen to an exchange between a reporter in South Dakota and Governor Kristi Noem about the LGBTQ residents of her state.


QUESTION: There's a statistic circulating around right now that 90 percent of South Dakota's LGBTQ community is diagnosed with either anxiety or depression. Why do you think that is?

GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): I don't know. That makes me sad. And we should figure it out.


BASH: As the first openly gay man elected governor in America, what's your reaction to that?

POLIS: Look, words matter. Laws matter.

When a group of people, LGBT youth, feel targeted by the words and laws that some politicians espouse, of course, it can increase anxiety, depression. Many of them are already dealing with challenging issues in their own family.

I think what this is, is, it is an example of Republican overreach on an issue that the American people have long move past. The American people as a whole are completely accepting of who people love and how they live their lives.


And these hard policies about saying certain youth can't play sports, and certain people aren't allowed in certain places, or micromanaging what restroom people use and mandating what they do are really, frankly, un-American and are an example of Republican overreach, which will ultimately hurt their party, if they can't espouse the full diversity of the American people.

BASH: Governor Jared Polis, thank you so much for joining me this morning. I really appreciate it.

POLIS: Always a pleasure, Dana.

BASH: And she is from Republican royalty, but now her midterm primary race is the center of a battle for the Republican Party.

My panel will discuss that and more next.


[09:45:11] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you have any indication about whether President Putin has made a decision on whether to invade? Do you feel confident that he -- that he hasn't made that decision already?

BIDEN: As of this moment, I'm convinced he's made the decision.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

Our panel is here with me.

And, Congressman Colin Allred, I want to start with you on what we just played from President Biden this week.

As somebody who is on Foreign Affairs, you were just in the region a couple of weeks ago. Listening to the president, our reporting is that that wasn't something that he had planned to do.

REP. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): Oh, really?

BASH: Meaning reveal the intelligence that the plans are in the works, for sure, from Russia.

Do you think that was a good move?

ALLRED: Well, I think the president has been very effective at denying the Russians the ability to have any pretext created or to use misinformation to try and get any international legitimacy.

So, I actually think the transparency from the Biden administration has been a good thing. I think the Russians would love to have the element of surprise, or at least to try and get some kind of international support for what they're doing. I think he's denied that by really talking openly about what we know.

BASH: And, Susan Glasser, you lived there. You lived in Russia. You reported from there.

You certainly know the mind of Vladimir Putin better than most of us at this table. Why do you think he's doing this now?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, Vladimir Putin, for two decades has been obsessed with the breakup of the Soviet Union. He called it, most memorably, the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. That was back in 2005.

Ukraine has been a particular sore spot, an obsession of his going all the way back to the 2004 Orange Revolution. And so this is many, many years in the making. Someone said to me -- and I think it's an important point -- Vladimir Putin has been an incrementalist who's done big things. And, again and again and again, we have been surprised at actions that we probably shouldn't have been surprised at. And I agree with the congressman that the Biden administration has

actually done something very different and interesting here by, again, being -- saying, we're not going to be surprised this time. We're going to put it out there. We're going to show you what's happening as it's happening.

This is a sort of real-time, sort of transparent, watching the revolution and the war, in this case, being live-tweeted, unfortunately.

BASH: And, meanwhile, you have a Republican Party, which, historically, largely, almost entirely, has been about pushing back on Russian aggression.

And now you have some pretty loud voices in the GOP, Scott Jennings, from FOX News to Capitol Hill, questioning why the U.S. even cares about this, whether there's even an interest there.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, as a political matter, I do think there is a fatigue in the United States about foreign intervention. It's the impulse, the political impulse that led Joe Biden to pull out of Afghanistan last year and put us in that debacle.

But I would just point you to January, when the Republican Party, led by Ted Cruz in the Senate, tried to put sanctions on Vladimir Putin. And Joe Biden and the Democrats led a filibuster, a Jim Crow filibuster -- their words, not mine -- against these sanctions. There was 55 votes in the Senate.

Now, I'm kind of with Zelensky. Sanctions after they take over doesn't help me. Sanctions in January might have helped. And it was Biden and the Democrat.

So, for all the voices that are out there that you talk about, it was the Republican Party that tried to put Putin in his place in January. And Biden stopped them.

ALLRED: I think we have to acknowledge that we have had four years of a president who did everything he could to cozy up to Vladimir Putin...

JENNINGS: But why didn't Russia try to invade then?

ALLRED: ... and who also allowed Nord Stream 2 to be constructed during the course of his presidency.

And let's be honest here. When we're talking about sanctions, the Biden administration has gathered the world, the E.U., our NATO allies, I think in a very effective sanctions package, that -- with some allies who are reluctant, like Germany and France, has done a very effective job of doing that.

So there's no element of this being the Biden administration's fault. This is all on Vladimir Putin. He decided to do this. And now we are responding with our allies in a way that I think is as effective as it possibly could be.

BASH: And we are in an election year, in a midterm year that will determine control of the U.S. Congress.

Kristen Soltis Anderson, you are a pollster. What are you seeing about whether Americans are fired up about this, whether they see it a distraction? What do they do think?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In CNN's most recent polling, they asked Americans, what's the biggest problem you think our country needs to address?

And foreign policy was the response of 1 percent of respondents. And that's all of foreign policy. That's not just Russia and Ukraine. That could include China, North Korea, you name it. So, foreign policy is relatively low on the list of things Americans are concerned about.

But, with that said, you could have said the same thing about Afghanistan at the end of last summer. It was not a top issue for most voters. And yet it fundamentally changed the way a lot of people thought about characteristics around Biden and his party, things like leadership, credibility, et cetera.


And now, in CNN's most recent polling, only 42 percent approve of how Biden has handled our relationship with Russia so far. So, there is some downside for him, even though this is not an issue that at the moment is registering very high with voters.

GLASSER: You know, Dana, you asked me this really important question of, why is Putin doing this? What does he want?

Well, one of the reasons that he's doing this is because he believes that America is weak and divided against itself. And I think there's a lot of evidence to suggest that that is a correct reading.

We have a situation in this country right now where not only did we have a president who for four years sucked up to Vladimir Putin on the world stage, but we actually have a situation where more Republicans have an unfavorable view of the president of the United States right now than of Vladimir Putin.

And so we are divided against each other. There's no consensus about what American leadership in the world means. And that has made this a moment of opportunity for the world's authoritarians, who include Vladimir Putin and also Xi Jinping.

ALLRED: Dana, if I could, I will just say I was part of a bipartisan delegation to Ukraine.

I actually think that Vladimir Putin has effectively united the Congress, at the very least, around resisting him and his aggression. So it's not all -- not all hope is lost. We can have some bipartisan agreement around this.

JENNINGS: But there is no consensus.

We literally in January had a vote in the U.S. Senate about whether to hold Putin accountable, to put sanctions on this pipeline. And the Democrats...

ALLRED: The Nord Stream 2 pipeline -- the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is...

JENNINGS: ... stopped it from happening. They stopped it. And they were encouraged to do it by the Biden administration.

ALLRED: That's a separate issue.


JENNINGS: It is not a separate issue.

ALLRED: Yes, it is.

JENNINGS: It is very -- it is one of his most important issues.

ALLRED: The pipeline is not even functioning right now. Now...

JENNINGS: And Biden waived the sanctions, and then they stopped the sanctions.

ALLRED: I think it's actually a shame that you're coming on here and putting us this as a Democrat-Republican issue. This should be an American response.

JENNINGS: I agree. I wish the Democrats were willing to stand up to Putin before he invaded.

ALLRED: Listen, I get it. I get. That's your shtick.

But, for me, as a member of Congress, in these meetings, we have been speaking with one voice in a bipartisan way.

GLASSER: I think you will see a bipartisan vote, by the way, when and if Vladimir Putin does take this action right now. I think you will see a bipartisan vote in the Senate, I hope.

And I imagine that, if history is any guide, you will see that, and you will see that in the House.

The issue is that Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden have all opposed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. They're not the chancellor of Germany. They're not in charge of Germany.

BASH: Let's turn to domestic politics, which, as you were saying, as the pollster at this table, Americans care greatly about.

I want to play something that the former presidential nominee for the Democrats and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week when she was speaking at a New York Democratic Convention.


CLINTON: Republicans will claim they're on the side of parents and family values, but they will do nothing for actual parents or families, nothing on child care, nothing on paid leave, nothing to help working moms and dads get by and get ahead.


BASH: How's that going to play?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think, for a lot of Republicans, they're perfectly fine with Hillary Clinton coming out and saying, Republicans claim they're the party that's for parents' voice. You can imagine that being excerpted in almost...

BASH: Well, but she didn't say that. She said...


SOLTIS ANDERSON: Well, I know that's not what the implication was.

But I think a lot of Democrats are still reeling from what happened in Virginia in November, with Glenn Youngkin running very effectively on a message about parental voice, which was able to unify conservatives, who are very fired up about culture war issues and what they think is overreach within institutions like schools, and more moderate swing voter parents, who those may not be the things that fire them up, but they're concerned about their kids.

And these are the kinds of issues that -- again, I think, cost of living, inflation, that's the number one thing that is going to drive this midterm. But these sort of cultural issues under the surface, Republicans have been given an opportunity to have the sort of -- to claim the sort of middle ground on some of this.

BASH: Yes.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: They can fire up their own base, while winning over the center.

BASH: Congressman, you're on the ballot.

We have like 15 seconds left.

What do you think about this strategy?

ALLRED: Well, listen, I don't think Republicans have an agenda.

I think they're a party of grievance right now. We're actually putting forward ideas to try and help people. Yes, the pandemic has been frustrating, but our ideas will actually help us get out of this and help families.

So, that's what we have to run on this as our accomplishments.

BASH: OK, everybody, thank you so much. We have so much more to talk about. We will do it next week.

Thank you.

And this President's Day weekend, CNN is debuting a new original series focused on the life and presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson, sometimes called the accidental president.

LBJ went on to pass major legislation, like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. But his decision to escalate the war in Vietnam may have overshadowed his legacy.

Here's a preview of the new series "LBJ: Triumph & Tragedy," premiering at nine tonight here on CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: LBJ was intensely aware that he came into the office under the cloak of tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It drove him to try to do things no one else had ever achieved.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said to his aides: "What the hell's a presidency for? If you're not going to do something bold, why be here?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Lyndon Johnson would be seen today as one of our greatest presidents because of all that he did. But he made one bad mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vietnam really pulled him apart. He couldn't make a win out of this, no matter how hard he tried.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: LBJ said: "I wish they knew that I want peace as much as they do."

LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's important to reflect and look back and see what has been done, because there's no better way to judge the future than by the past.

NARRATOR: "LBJ: Triumph & Tragedy" premieres tonight at 9:00 on CNN.