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Obama Fast-Tracks Sanctions Against Ukraine; Ted Cruz Accuses Fellow Republicans of Trickery; GOP Group Taking Aim at John Boehner Speakership.

Aired February 20, 2014 - 13:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: In Ukraine, it's been the bloodiest day yet in weeks of protests. Antigovernment demonstrators say 100 have been killed in clashes with government forces. Police also say they've suffered dozens of injuries and several deaths. Today's bloody struggle came after an hours-long truce crumbled overnight. And now take a look at this video. Those are snipers taking aim directly at protestors, firing into groups who have gathered in the capital's Independence Square. The situation in Ukraine had been bubbling months. Now, the bloody explosion has governments scrambling to respond.

Joining me is now Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to United Nations.

Bill, Ambassador Richardson, President Barack Obama condemned violence in the Ukraine. The White House using terms like "outrage" at what they're seeing, this new video of government forces firing into the protests. He's now fast-tracking sanctions against Ukrainian leaders. I want to ask you, in your experience, how powerful a tool is that? And should the U.S., can the U.S. be doing more?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: They're a powerful tool, Jim, because if the U.S. and the European Union push sanctions on the leadership, it means they can't travel. They can't come to Europe or the U.S. But it's a stage set of sanctions. The next sanctions would be economic, commercial, energy sanctions that would really bite. It's a stage process. I think what we're basically saying is, all right, Ukrainians, clean up your own act. The opposition and leadership have a truce. But is this truce going to last stopping the violence? Maybe eventually, Jim, leading towards a reduction in president's power and early elections. The best scenario for Ukrainians is to resolve the crisis. If they can't, the European Union stepping in, U.S. mediation and U.S. pressure. This is a valuable country. It's a very strong country, resource- wise. It's a prize of the former Soviet Union. A lot of nuclear weapons were there, a lot of Ukrainian-Americans. We have interest in a peaceful resolution of this issue.

SCIUTTO: This next question is going to sound basic. It's a conversation I've been having with my colleagues about what are U.S. interests there? I keep saying this has a potential to be a civil war within Europe. Ukraine is close to allies of ours in Europe. Does the U.S. have interest in the stable outcome there?

RICHARDSON: We have an interest in regional stability in that region. Ukraine is very strategically located. The Ukrainian people seem to want to move towards the West, toward the European Union, toward the U.S. as opposed to the Soviet Union which, in the past, put pressure on them in terms of natural gas exports. They want to move towards the West. That's in our interest. This is a rich country in terms of energy, natural resources, strategic location in the Black Sea. There are a lot of Ukrainian-Americans in the United States. What we want to see is regional stability there. We don't want to take it over from the Russians. This is, I think, President Putin wanted to recapture the old soviet power by being very strong with the Ukrainians saying you are not going to the European Union. I'm going to loan you money. He loaned them $2 billion. It's not working because the Ukrainian people, the opposition wants to move towards the West and the United States and Europe.

SCIUTTO: Well, you get at an important point there. Russia is very involved. They want to keep the Ukraine in there sphere influence. It sounds like old Soviet-era politics, their fear, our fear. This is a worry. The question is, how far is he willing to go, right?

RICHARDSON: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Do we see him encouraging using violence, more violence, state of emergencies, to end this? To win it back in effect for Russia.

RICHARDSON: I believe President Putin is very pragmatic. My hope is that after the successful Olympics that Russia has staged, they will see it's not in their interest for this violence to erupt so openly and for Russia to be backing and keeping alive the current Ukrainian government. I think what Russia needs to do -- and I think Putin probably pragmatically will move in this direction -- some kind of mediation so there's a political transition that eventually lets the Ukrainian people decide in new early elections. I think that's what Russia needs to do. I wouldn't be surprised, because Putin is pragmatic. He doesn't want to lose another battle, as I think he's losing in Syria, where Russia has the military advantage with Syria. Internationally, it's not helping Russia's image.

SCIUTTO: Very briefly, we have learned in the last couple of hours that Russia sent an envoy to Kiev offering to mediate. In a word, would the other side, the opposition, trust a Russian mediator?

RICHARDSON: They probably would because they know that Russia is controlling the president of Ukraine, Yanukovich. So, yes, I think they want a peaceful resolution. In the end, they want a transition where the president reduces his power and maybe there's early election. They may not trust, but they would welcome because the violence is out of control.

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much, Ambassador Bill Richardson. Certainly been involved in this before. Great to have your point of view.

RICHARDSON: Thank you. SCIUTTO: One thing we have to remember, the violence in Ukraine is playing out a few hundred miles from Sochi and the Winter Olympics. Two members of the Ukrainian team, a skier and her father/coach, have dropped out of the games in protest to the crack down. Here's what the Olympic Committee in Sochi is saying. Quote, "We appeal for peace and mutual understanding to find a positive way forward for Ukraine as athletes compete together with honor and friendship here in Sochi." I just hope that spirit extends back to Ukraine. Coming up next, Senator Ted Cruz accuses fellow Republicans of trickery. He tells our Dana Bash, I don't work for the party bosses in Washington. Here what else he said in Dana's one-on-one interview.

And the GOP rip gets even wider. One Tea Party group is taking aim at John Boehner and any candidate that supports his speakership. Hear why, just ahead.


SCIUTTO: He's a thorn in the side of mainstream Republicans. Senator Cruz says it's his fellow GOP members who are misleading constituents.

In an interview with Dana Bash, Cruz accused the Republican leadership of trickery in the debt ceiling vote last week. He also said the decision forced the 60 percent majority to raise the country's borrowing limit.


SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS: What I said is that I would not vote to raise the debt ceiling without meaningful spending reforms to fix the underlying problems. I also said, listen --


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're not opposed philosophically to raising the debt ceiling?

CRUZ: No. There are some that said they would never raise the debt ceiling.

BASH: You're not one of them.

CRUZ: I'm not one of them. I never said that. What I said, what I campaigned on we should not raise the debt ceiling without meaningful reforms to fix the problem. There were several examples I suggested in that Republican lunch. What McConnell was asking every Republican Senator to do was affirmatively consent to let Harry Reid do so with 51 votes. If I said, if I consented to that, I think I would be misleading the voters that elected me. I don't know how I would answer to them if I came back to Texas and a Texas voter asked me, you said you were going to fight against irresponsible debt and bankrupting the country, and yet you affirmatively consented to let Harry Reid do that.

BASH: On the issue of Texas, this is not any national newspaper, it's the "Waco Trib." Their editorial says "Cruz played into Democrat's hand, forcing those to take the fall and expose himself to underserved era so Cruz would have one more moment in the limelight." Nice guy. You know people are looking at this saying, this is you, making it all about you.

CRUZ: You know, no one should be surprised at the mainstream media. That includes most Texas newspapers. Sides with continually growing the size, power and spending of the federal government.

BASH: Even a conservative editorial page?

CRUZ: Who said it was an editorial page? The premise of that is the only outcome possible was to give President Barack Obama every single thing he wanted.

BASH: But, big picture, another editorial page -- you can't call this liberal. It's the Wall Street Journal. Called you the minority maker. And the idea there is that -- this is what this is all about. You forced Republicans to take votes that could hurt them in their races and could put the Republican Party in a minority again. Do you not want to me in the majority? What's more important to you, being in a majority or party --

CRUZ: Dana, I want to win and turn this country around. The way we lose is not standing for anything. You've been traveling around Texas. Talk to an actual grass-roots voter who's not in Washington and they are beside themselves that Republican leadership is leading the fight to raise the debt ceiling for President Barack Obama. It wasn't Harry Reid. Harry Reid sat back and let Republican leadership lead the fight. How do we win locations? I have a real difference of opinion with some of the Washington establishment. Some of the Washington establishment think Republicans win elections by not standing for anything, keep your head down, don't rock the boat. Every time we do that, we get clobbered in the polls. 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, three of those four elections, '06, '08, '12, we followed the Washington establishment's approach. Republicans got killed. The only election that was a good election for Republicans was 2010. We drew a line in the sand. We said we are going to repeal every word of Obamacare, we're going to stop the out-of-control spending, and it was a Tea Party tsunami. It retook Congress. It was historic.

BASH: You're a human being and you are sitting with people around you that I think you have respect for, fellow Senators in your own party. For them to be so mad at you, so mad at you, what's that like?

CRUZ: Listen, what I try to keep an eye on is that I don't work for party bosses in Washington. I work for 26 million Texans.

BASH: But as a human being, you are a human being --


CRUZ: As a human being, I can't control what they say or how they behave. I control what I do. Every interaction I have with every Senator, Republican or Democrat, is consistently civil, courteous, respectful, treating them with the dignity they deserve. What's treated as painful is not insults in speaking the truths. I think many of them would far rather me call them a blankty-blankty-blank then actually speak the truth, which is that they affirmative desire the debt ceiling to be raised with no changes, but they wanted to cast a vote pretending they were opposed to it.


SCIUTTO: Cruz versus Bash, great back and forth there. So how does Ted Cruz stack against other possible contenders for 2016? In the latest CNN/ORC poll, he's at 8 percent, which puts him in seventh place.

Tension between Tea Party conservatives and House Speaker John Boehner is escalating. Hear what one group is trying to get him out of his leadership position. That's coming up next.


SCIUTTO: Playing hard ball, that's exactly what one Tea Party group is doing against the Republican Party's leadership in Congress. The Madison Project is vowing to withdraw election support this year for any Republican candidate who backs John Boehner for speaker of the House. The group doesn't like Boehner's approval of several bipartisan measures, including the budget deal. The disapproval goes both ways. After October's partial government shutdown, Boehner fired back at Tea Party groups who pressured him to not give an inch to Democrats on the budget. Have a listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: When groups come out and criticize an agreement that they have never seen, you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are.

Frankly, I think they are misleading their followers. I think they are pushing in places they don't want to be. Frankly, I think they have lost all credibility.


SCIUTTO: The Republican leader talking about Republicans.

Joining us now, from Atlanta, "Daily Beast" reporter, Patricia Murphy.

Patricia, I know you talked to one of the Tea Party group taking on Boehner. The first question is, how big of a threat are they to him?

PATRICIA MURPHY, REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: I would say, listen, for him to get reelected to Congress, they are no threat at all. For him to be reelected speaker, when you start to look at the fact that John Boehner almost didn't make it through almost a first ballot process when he was elected speaker -- he made it by about six votes -- he had no opposition, no specific opposition. He did have conservative opposition in 2012. They could start to chip away at his support among sitting members of Congress. When you look at the Republicans who have announced their retirement, a number of those are John Boehner loyalists and allies. They voted for him for speaker and pushed him for speaker. When these groups, who have been against Boehner all along, but when they start to base their support on a person's candidacy based on whether they will support John Boehner in the future as speaker, that is a different story. We heard Republicans complain about Nancy Pelosi. It's new to hear Republicans complain a fellow Republican as speaker. That's why this is important.

SCIUTTO: No question. Could this backfire on Tea Party conservatives if it damages the party as a whole going into a race where they think they have pretty good chances? Right?

MURPHY: I think the Tea Party is already baked it into the cake that establishment is against them. John Boehner made it very clear there is no love lost between them. A number of these groups, moderate Republicans call these "purity for profit" groups. They basically say it's a financial sham. It's a way to raise money from activists. If you talk to the activists, on the other hand -- and a lot of them were a big part of why they picked up Republicans in 2010 -- they are not supportive of the speaker. They are not supportive of the House and Senate leadership and they are serious about getting rid of them. He had support all along, but if you chip away at the edges or start to slow his momentum for 2015 as speaker, that's when it starts to matter. The feud is real, but I don't think Tea Party members are losing any sleep over it whatsoever.

SCIUTTO: You mentioned money there. This is one of the powerful and well-funded outside groups. Where is the money coming from for the Madison Project?

MURPHY: It comes from grass-roots activists. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, it is never been easier for groups to have a nationwide base of support and they can disseminate their own information and ask for contributions from people who support them. If you have a group that is based in Washington, you can get support from activists in Washington State and funnel that or send that to groups that you support or candidates you support in Georgia or Alabama or Louisiana. This nationwide network of grass-roots donors made it possible for these groups to become so powerful.

SCIUTTO: Just briefly before we go, Boehner now, are they going after other Republicans who cooperated with Democrats?

MURPHY: I think absolutely. They will go after anybody in the House Republican leadership or the Senate Republican leadership. What is new about this is that they are going after any member of Congress or any candidate who said they would vote for the same leadership in the future. That will force reporters to start to ask sitting members, sitting Republicans or candidates, oh, you are running for the House and do you support John Boehner for speaker? That is the direction this is heading in. You start to get a sense of Republican candidates who use this as a litmus test, saying I am the real conservative because I don't support John Boehner for speaker.

SCIUTTO: Well, Intra-party warfare in the GOP.

Thanks very much, Patricia Murphy, with the "Daily Beast." MURPHY: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Just ahead, the treasury secretary sounds an optimistic note on the economy as he heads off to the G20 in Australia. His remarks to our Christine Romans, when we come back.


SCIUTTO: Taking a look at the markets now, the Dow Jones and S&P 500 and NASDAQ all moved higher today. The Dow is up about 114 points, well above 16,000. Thanks, says my 401K.

Global financial leaders are gathering in Sydney, Australia, to discuss the economy and the markets.

Before heading to the G20 meeting, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sat down for an interview with our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans. He was upbeat about the U.S. economy.


JACK LEW, TREASURY SECRETARY: If you look over the last year, we have gotten a lot done. We made real progress implementing financial regulatory reform. We have seen a little bit of regularity returned to Washington where we had a budget agreement at the end of the year, an appropriation bill in January. The debt limit was approved. There was an agreement after years on a farm bill. Maybe, just maybe, we will be able, for a couple of years, continue doing business that way and keep doing the business of the American people.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: More action in four months than we saw in two or three years.

LEW: Yeah. And the economic growth over the last six months are signs of progress.


SCIUTTO: That's it for me, Jim Sciutto, filling in for Wolf Blitzer.

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Jim. Thank you so much.