Yamiche Alcindor, PBS Moderator: The war enters a new phase and why a top Republican planned to tell then-President Trump to resign.
Unidentified Ukrainian Soldier (through translator): We are probably facing our last days, if not hours.
Alcindor (voice-over): The remaining Ukrainians in Mariupol refuse to surrender as President Putin claims victory in the southern city, and test a new long-range nuclear-capable missile.
Meanwhile, President Biden, with a renewed sense of urgency, ramps up weapons aid to Ukraine.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA): It would be my recommendation that you should resign.
Alcindor: Shocking new audio reveals what House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy planned to tell then-President Trump after the planned attack.
Dr. Ashish, White House COVID Task Force Coordinator: It is essential that the CDC had the ability to put in rules that are going to protect the traveling public.
Alcindor: And the Justice Department appeals to have the federal mask mandate reinstated, next.
Announcer: Once again from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
Alcindor: Good evening and welcome to "Washington Week."
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is entering its third month and on Thursday, Russian President Putin claimed victory over the southern city of Mariupol but Ukraine officials are pushing back, saying their forces in the city are refusing to back down and this week, President Zelenskyy had this to say.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine: The Russian army in this war is writing itself into world history forever as the most barbaric and inhuman army in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Alcindor: And images of mass graves surfacing out of Mariupol echoed the atrocities that happened in Bucha.
Meanwhile, fighting in the eastern Donbas region is intensifying. President Biden also announced an additional $800 million to help Ukraine`s military.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Joe Biden, President of the United States: We`re at a critical window now of time where they`re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war and the United States and our allies and partners are moving as fast as possible to continue to provide Ukraine the forces they need -- the weapons they need, excuse me, the equipment they need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Alcindor: He also announced a new program that will allow U.S. citizens and groups to financially Ukrainians to resettle in the U.S.
Now, joining me tonight to discuss this and more, Dan Balz, chief correspondent for "The Washington Post". And with me here in studio, Laura Barron-Lopez, White House correspondent for "Politico", and David Sanger, White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times."
Thank you all for being here,
Dan, I want to come to you first. How significant is the news out of Mariupol this week given the overall direction of the war?
Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent, The Washington Post: Well, I think it`s very significant, Yamiche. I mean, it`s significant for a variety of reasons, but I think primarily because it does really indicate in a sense the desperation of the Ukrainian military, which has fought heroically from the beginning of this war and the crushing reality of a Russian army which has not performed well but nonetheless continues to put the squeeze on the Ukrainians. And what they have done in Mariupol and the destruction of that city is symbolic of what this war has looked like and where it may be heading.
It`s moving into a phase that could be more favorable to the Russian army simply because of the terrain that they will be fighting on and the resources they have, and the fact that the Ukrainian military will be farther from its supply lines. So, it comes at a very difficult time and the atrocities we`ve seen that you noted in the top of this program continue to be wrenching for the world. And the question is how much help can the United States and other allies provide and how quickly can they get it there?
Alcindor: Well, Dan, I`m going to get to that last question about sort of how much aid we can provide.
But, first, David, I want to turn to you. What do we know about who`s really in control of Mariupol, and why does President Putin think he`s winning this war?
David Sanger, White House Correspondent, The New York Times: Well, for Mariupol, it`s clear the Russians have most of the city. There`s a group of holdout in a steel plant and tunnels underneath. But they`re not in a position right now to go push the Russians anywhere. So, if Mariupol hasn`t fallen now, it seems likely that it will.
The really fascinating thing is, of course, Putin has retreated from his larger objective of taking the entire country and taking it, he`d hoped, within 30 days. Of course, he`s well past that. He`s now retreated back to the original objective of the east and the south.
And I think that`s why you heard President Biden make the case that these next few weeks are critical for the nature of the war. This part of the war is going to look nothing like what you saw in and around Kyiv. This is broad, open spaces. This, as one of my colleagues put it, it`s more like fighting in Kansas than fighting in New York.
And that means that it does play, as Dan suggested, to the Russian advantage, but it also means that the president has got to get big artillery out that has a chance to really punch the Russians back in place and if he can do that -- if they can make that work, then the Russians would have been through two big setbacks and, of course, as you said, American intelligence thinks that Putin believes he`s winning this war and they`ve got to convince him otherwise.
Alcindor: And, Laura, Dan sort of teed up this question I want to ask you about -- how much the White House thinks that they can continue to give support and aid to Ukraine given that they added an additional $800 million. But, of course, David here is also explaining -- talking about the big artillery. Connect those two ideas.
Laura Barron-Lopez, White House Correspondent, POLITICO: Yeah. I mean, basically, the White House has tried to, over this period of time, really give what it is hearing, that NATO allies as well as Zelenskyy is saying that he needs. I mean, they try to very much listen to Ukraine about when do you need supplies and when do you not them? I mean, this is, of course, going to be a conversation with Congress, but the president is definitely -- White House says that time and time again they`re trying to supply, whether it`s the artillery or whether it`s other supplies at the ready as soon as they can.
Alcindor: Yeah. And, David, I want to come back to you, because you were talking about the fact that the next four weeks is going to be critical and that in some ways the White House feels like make inroads here. Talk a littlie bit about that.
Sanger: Well, it`s all a question of how quickly they can get this equipment to the Ukrainians and whether they`re trained in using it. We`ve seen Ukrainians taken out of the Ukraine to some degree, to Poland, to Britain, to be trained on how to use some NATO weaponry that they haven`t seen before.
If the Russians can`t make good progress here, Yamiche, they are a partly broken force at this point. They are putting back together these combat battalion groups and in doing so, they`re putting together soldiers who haven`t fought with each other.
They`re still getting a lot of questions at home about what happened to the ship that the Ukrainians managed to bring down, the Moscow, the Moskva, and that ship, you know, the Russians made the argument today they lost only one sailor and there were a number missing. We think it was probably significantly worse that be that.
So, President Putin knows that the word is going to get around in Russia that these casualties that the Russians have taken are much worse than he`s let on.
Alcindor: That`s so interesting given the fact that we saw Russia test a nuclear-capable missile this week, Dan. There was also a veiled threat, of course, from President Putin. And the Pentagon, the United States is saying that they knew about this test. They were notified in time.
But still, what do you make of the timing of this test given all that`s going on?
Balz: I think the timing is an effort on the part of President Putin to remind people that however badly his army has performed in Ukraine, that they were still a nuclear powered nation, one of the handful around the world. And he has rattled sabers on this from the beginning.
And we know that people are worried about whether the Russians might use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield and I think this missile test was simply a way of saying do not forget about how mighty we are event at a time when you think we`re not as strong as he had intended to be.
So, I think it was mostly symbolic. I think in any other moment they would not have had or needed to do this. Maybe it had been a long-planned test but in the middle of the war, this was nothing more than saying, don`t forget about how strong we actually can be.
Alcindor: Yeah. It`s an interesting point to think about, the reminder that this is -- all of this is involving nuclear powers.
I want to turn to a somewhat different subject to you, Laura, about this new program that President Biden announced, saying that people in the United States can responsible Ukrainians now to help them resettle here in the United States.
How does that program relate to the other asylum programs that we see for other immigrants and what are you hearing from your sources?
Barron-Lopez: Yeah. So, basically, it was a really big deal when the president decided about a month ago that they would be taking in 100,000 Ukrainians and this program that was announced this week, though, was how they were going to do that, how they were going to expedite that process, which is the humanitarian parole program. It`s something that they used for Afghanistan -- for Afghanis that were also coming in.
What it does is it makes it so as you mentioned at the top of the show, that a U.S. -- American has to sponsor people that are coming in and they have to go through background checks. But a lot of refugee resettlement organizations have told me they home this happens very quickly, that it gets off the ground faster.
Part of this is the Biden administration`s effort to rebuild the refugee program, which was gutted by the prior administration. Some frustration, though, from the same organizations is they feel as what about other vulnerable populations that have been trying to get into the United States? Whether it`s Cameroonians which recently did get TPS status, but people from the Central Triangle. They feel there`s not equity there and there is frustration that Ukrainians are being treated more favorably than others fleeing very dangerous homes.
Alcindor: I`ve certainly heard that from Haiti activists that I talked to, immigration activists that are wondering, OK, why can`t Haiti and other countries get this, this treatment on these programs.
David, I want to come to you for another topic which is May 9. Russia and victory day. How`s -- what`s the significance of that date? But also what do expect -- what do U.S. intelligence sources expect in the coming weeks as we get closer to that date?
Sanger: Well, May 9th is the anniversary of when the Soviet Union prevailed over Nazi Germany.
And so there`s a lot of pressure on the Russian troops before this big celebration, which always comes with a show of military might and parades and, you know, Putin will be out speaking and so forth. There`s a really big effort underway to show that there was some form of victory in Ukraine, to have something to claim.
Now, whether that is the east, the south, seems unlikely right now that they`re going to be able to grab the port city of Odessa. We did hear a mid-level Russian defense official today say that the new objectives included trying to grab part of Moldova, another non-NATO state that`s got territory that the Russians have long coveted.
It`s not clear that Putin will actually make much progress between now and May 9. It is certainly clear inside the Pentagon that they want to make sure he doesn`t.
Alcindor: It`s certainly a date we`ll be watching and that we`ll continue to rely on you to explain to our viewers.
Alcindor: Now, we now have to turn to the surprising developments surrounding the Capitol attack. So many people in Washington, D.C., are talking about this story. New audio obtained by the authors of a soon-to-be released book revealed that in the days after January 6, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy considered recommending President Trump, then President Trump, resign.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
Rep. Kevin McCaarthy (R-CA): Again, the only discussion I would have with him, is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign. I mean, that would be my take, but I don`t think he would take it. But I don`t know.
I`ve been very clear to the president: he bears responsibilities for his words and actions, no ifs, ands or buts. I asked him personally today, does he hold responsibility for what happened? Does he feel bad about what happened? He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened. And he needs to acknowledge that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
Alcindor: Very striking. Before the release of that audio you just heard, McCarthy called reporting by "The New York Times" journalists, quote, totally false.
Dan, I want to come to you. You`re, of course, the politics here. You`re a veteran political reporter. I wonder what you make of what`s going on here, especially when your paper, the "Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump and McCarthy talked and that Trump isn`t mad for now.
As an old Trump White House reporter, I have to say for now because that`s what that president`s emotions seem to often be like. So how much trouble is McCarthy really in right now?
Balz: I think that remains to be seen, but I think this was a terrible moment for him, to come out as he did on Thursday and deny -- in the fulsome way he denied what "The New York Times" was reporting, and this is from the book that Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns will publish in early May, that denial was so strong that when the audio was played last night on MSNBC, it completely undid him.
And I think it revealed him for what many people have criticized him for many, many months. One, that he`s been politically weak. Another that he`s been hypocritical and a third, that his kind of desire to be the next speaker if the Republicans win the midterm elections in November, have prompted him to do almost everything imaginable to be subservient to former President Trump.
And I think it was doubly revealing that after having denied and then been revealed to have been lying about the denial that he then reached out to President Trump as opposed to acknowledging, okay, yes, I did say this but I never actually made the call or some way to kind of worm his way out of it.
But clearly, his concern is that Trump will turn on him and if Trump turns on him, then the House conference might turn on him and his dream of being speaker if they win in November would go up in smoke.
Alcindor: Dan, that`s why we have you on this show, because it`s summaries like that that makes me want to talk to you every Friday night.
Laura, the words Dan just used, undid, revealed. I wonder what you think about the other part of this audio is former President Trump acknowledging he has some responsibility for the Capitol attack. How much weight does that have given that Trump is in charge of the GOP essentially and he`s continuing to lie about the 2020 election? He hasn`t changed his tone at all.
Barron-Lopez: Yeah, what`s so striking about this video and everything we`re hearing from the January 6 Committee and everything that`s come out and that, you know, Jonathan Martin from the "New York Times" said there`s going to be more tapes. So, there could be very well more that is coming out.
But is that it appears to be no red line, whether it`s a moral or a constitutional red line for Republicans when it comes to Trump, which is that Trump is saying he bore some responsibility for January 6 to McCarthy. We also -- those same reporters from the "New York Times" said that McConnell agreed that Trump should be impeached and potentially considered voting to convict him in the Senate. McCarthy thought that he should maybe resign.
And yet, despite all of that and despite the fact he they found his conduct unbecoming to be president, they`ve decided to still say they would support him in he runs in 2024 and that they want this support as they tried to regain control of the party -- of the country, sorry.
Alcindor: Of country, of the country, it`s interchangeable in some says.
But, David, I mean, I would ask you an articulate question, but really weigh in here. This is your -- the story we were all talking about last night.
Sanger: What a Washington moment.
OK. First of all, if you have more than two people in a room in Washington, assume that there`s a microphone running some place and a tape running some place.
Alcindor: A good rule.
Sanger: Second rule is, I know it sounds like a really easy thing to go do, particularly for many of pro-Trump Republicans to say, oh, that was in the "New York Times" or the "Washington Post" or you name it. It`s got to be wrong.
OK. Let`s set aside for a moment that Jonathan and Alex, both colleagues of mine, are two of the finest political reporters in Washington and if they report it, you can pretty well take it to the bank. But then to have in this case, the revelation of the tape moments after the denial, I mean, it really tells you how the city works it.
And makes you wonder what McCarthy thought he was doing. Why he thought he could probably -- he could get away with this. Maybe in the long run he will. Maybe no one will remember this come November and December when we`re talking about who`s going to be running the House.
Alcindor: Dan, will there be a political price to pay for McCarthy here? Is -- when you think about sort of the GOP and especially in that party, not a lot of people have paid prices when it comes to false information. And, of course, President Trump, who`s playing party boss and handing out endorsements, he has not obviously been truthful.
So is there a price to pay for McCarthy here?
Balz: Well, I think there`s a price to pay and he`s been paying it in the greater world, in the eyes of history, if you will, without trying to be too grand about that.
Kevin McCarthy`s reputation has sunk over the last 18 months or more because of the way he has behaved vis-a-vis former President Trump. Whether there will be a price to be paid on what he really cares about remains to be seen. And I think, you know, as I indicated, I think to some extent or to a large extent, that`s in the hands of President Trump and programs some others in the Republican conference.
But those who have gone against President Trump have paid a price within the party and exhibit A of that is Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who was on that same call that was -- where McCarthy made these statements and who is the vials chair of the January 6 House Committee and who`s been driven out of the leadership of the Republicans in the House and might well be defeated in November in her bid for re-election. That`s the sort of internal politics of House Republicans and in that sense Kevin McCarthy may not pay any price at all.
Alcindor: It`s striking when you think about sort of where Liz Cheney landed and where Kevin McCarthy landed in listening to that audio. And it tells you so much about sort of what was going on behind the scenes there.
Alcindor: But we have to get one more story, because this was a busy, busy full week. On Monday, a federal judge overturned the federal mask mandate for air travel and other transportation and on Wednesday, I should say, the Justice Department announced it is appealing the ruling at the urging of the CDC.
So, Laura, I want to bring you in here at the White House. We`ve been talking to some sources. They were concerned about being the mask police and seen as the person who is telling the Americans, sorry, you cannot be relieved right now. But how concerned are they with a possible precedent being set here with a federal judge weighing on the CDC`s ability to set public health guidance?
Barron-Lopez: That`s exactly, Yamiche. I mean, that is the biggest thing that the administration and CDC, you know, officials, as former CDC scientists have told me that they`re worried about this most, which is that, what does this do to CDC authority in the future in order to combat pandemic, in order to combat infectious diseases. I mean, the CDC was first created in order to -- like as a malaria control agency.
So this is really at the core of its mission which -- and the pandemic, the current pandemic we`re in isn`t over. There is definitely going to be another pandemic. I mean, that is a given. It may not be right away but that is so much a part of what the CDC has to do and right now, this judge, you know, taking a piece out of their not is why they`re saying we need to go back in and try to make sure that it isn`t in the long term damaged.
Alcindor: Yeah. And what they`re weighing there in looking at sort of that appeal, this is what, David, you experienced. You were on a plane from Boston to D.C. when the policies were changing. Tell us a little bit about what you saw.
Sanger: You know, it`s kind of amusing. So, we`re taking off from Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states, going to D.C., the bluest of blue cities, right? And the pilot came on. Everybody knew about the court ruling, and said, no matter what the confusion is about the court ruling and its meaning, it`s American Airlines` policy now that everybody has to keep a mask on. So everything kept a mask on.
And about 20 minutes into the flight they announced to us that the mask mandate has been lifted and you saw people throwing their masks up in the air like you were at a college graduation, and they were tossing the caps, right?
It tells you how quickly the airlines really wanted to get rid of this. And what the court case tells you in an odd way is little sign that is the Biden administration really would like to get in off their hands, too, because, as Laura said, they want to keep the authority of the CDC, but that doesn`t mean they want to keep the masks.
And so, the one thing they didn`t do this week was ask for a stay to keep the court ruling from taking effect.
Alcindor: Yeah, very fascinating.
Sanger: Yeah. So, that tells you they may not really want to win.
Alcindor: And, Dan, we only have 10 seconds left, but you`re -- I want to just let you weigh in quickly here, how concerned is the White House and Democrats about possible backlash and confusion?
Balz: Well, I think they`re very worried about it. I mean, this has created a real dilemma for them, as David indicated. On the one hand, they want this authority for, you know, whatever and as Laura indicated also, I mean, this authority is important in a public health situation and in a public health perspective.
But from a political perspective, they don`t want to be the people who reinstall or reinstate a mask mandate particularly on airplanes and public transportation. So, this was -- had been extended until May. We don`t know whether it would have come off at that point or not. But politically, they`ve got a -- they`ve got a difficult problem on their hands.
Alcindor: Well, that`s -- that`s going to be something they`re going to have to continue to navigate because people are so relieved, as David experienced.
So, thank you so much to Dan, to Laura, to David, for sharing your reporting and coming on and joining us.
And tomorrow on "PBS News Weekend", anchor Geoff Bennett talks to Dr. Peter Hotez about the lifting of mask mandates and what that could mean for the next COVID-19 surge.
Thank you so much for joining us. I`m Yamiche Alcindor. Good night from Washington.