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THE SITUATION ROOM

Biden Flip-Flops On Abortion; Trump Versus Pelosi; Interview With Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY); Trump Back In The U.S. After Mid-Air Attacks On Pelosi, Calls Her Reported Desire To See Him In Prison Disgusting; According To Sources, Aides Made A Forceful, Direct Appeal To Biden To Change His Stance On Abortion Funding; U.S. And Russian Warships Nearly Collude; Man Suspected Of Plotting Times Square Terror Attack Denied Bail; Hundreds Dead, Thousands Displaced In Battle For Libyan Capital. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 7, 2019 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Trump is escalating his war of words with Nancy Pelosi, calling the House speaker nasty and her reported desire to see him in prison disgusting, this as Democrats launch more hearings on the Mueller report and clash over the prospect of impeachment.

Inside Biden's reversal. We're learning more about why the former vice president just changed his long-held stance on abortion funding. Top advisers and a celebrity supporter pushing him to get more in line with the Democratic presidential pack.

And Putin's show of force. A Russian warship nearly collides with a U.S. Navy cruiser. The stunning close call caught on video, as the Pentagon warns Russia's military is dangerously provocative and increasingly reckless.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news this hour, President Trump, he has just landed back on U.S. soil, as the tariffs he's threatening to slap on Mexico remain very much up in the air.

The president is facing a deadline tonight to set the wheels in motion for the tariffs to take effect on Monday. Mr. Trump says there's a good chance for a deal to avoid the tariffs, but he also appears to be pushing forward, at least for now, despite fierce opposition from many Republicans in Congress.

The president spent time on the flight home posting grievances on Twitter, including fresh attacks on the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Mr. Trump fuming about Pelosi's reported remark that she'd rather see him in prison than impeached, calling it disgusting.

I will talk with a key Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to Capitol Hill for more on the president's escalating feud with Nancy Pelosi.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is on the scene for us.

Manu, how will this Trump-Pelosi war of words impact all the growing calls for impeachment proceedings?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the House has been out of session for part of this week, but behind the scenes, the debate has continued to intensify, and next week we will expect to spill out into the open where Democrats will have several hearings to spotlight the findings of the Mueller report.

Calls will grow from Democrats to open up an impeachment inquiry. The House Judiciary Committee having a hearing on Monday of next week with the former White House Counsel John Dean to discuss the findings in the Mueller report, also the House Intelligence Committee having a hearing to discuss the counterintelligence implications of the Mueller report, hearing testimony from two former FBI officials.

Now, at the same time, Republicans are issuing this warning, that Democrats cannot impugn the integrity of the president of the United States in any of these proceedings, because they're saying that would violate House rules. Only when you're in an impeachment inquiry can you actually go as far as alleging the president would commit a crime, according to the Republican, top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins.

And, interestingly, Wolf, we are learning that that is actually one argument that Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, is making behind the scenes to Nancy Pelosi to urge her to open up an impeachment inquiry.

He's saying if there is an inquiry formally launched, Democrats would not be in violation of the rules if they refer to the allegations of a president potentially engaging in criminal conduct, also Jerry Nadler making the case that an impeachment inquiry would help with their legal case in court.

It's part of his push behind the scenes to try to urge the speaker off her opposition to opening up a formal probe. But, at the moment, Wolf, the speaker is resisting. She has the most influential voice in that caucus. But that debate undoubtedly will play out next week in the aftermath of everything that we have seen this week and in the aftermath of defiance of a number of those subpoenas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Shaping up as a critical week, indeed.

And, Manu, all this comes as House Democrats are adding more hearings on the Mueller report and the attorney general, William Barr, faces two separate actions from the Hill next week. What's the strategy here?

RAJU: Yes, that's right.

Next week on the House floor, for the first time, we will see the House Judiciary Committee authorized to go to court and enforce subpoenas that have not been complied with, one, Bill Barr, to get him to turn over the full unredacted Mueller report, along with the underlying evidence, as well as Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, who has not complied with subpoenas for testimony and for records under instruction, from the White House.

Democrats will authorize that committee, the Judiciary Committee, to go to court next week to force them to turn over the records, assuming they win in court.

Now, also, the House Oversight Committee taking separate action against Bill Barr for not complying with their subpoena involving their investigation into the citizenship question that was added to the 2020 census. They plan to move forward with both Barr as well as Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, for the failure to comply.

[18:05:00]

Now, Wolf, as part of that resolution that will be voted on by the full House, any of these House committees now afterwards can essentially go directly to court to try to enforce their subpoenas.

So expect an escalation of these court clashes between House Democrats and the Trump administration in the face of this defiance from the Trump administration to not turn over these records. Democrats now plan to escalate these fights in court -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thank you, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Now to President Trump back from Europe and facing a very, very serious deadline.

Let's go to our Senior Washington Correspondent, Joe Johns. He is at the White House for us tonight.

Joe, the president, I take it, has just returned to the White House?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Just about 30 minutes ago, Wolf, the president and the first lady arrived back here at the White House after the long trip overseas and back to Europe. And it's interesting because we have this tariff issue hanging in the background, and it's quite not clear where this thing is going.

We have heard optimism and pessimism from the authorities at the White House almost in the same breath and in the president's case in the same tweet, no clear indication at this stage of whether those tariffs will go into effect on Monday.

Meanwhile, playing in the background, we have the controversy between the president and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. The president tweeted earlier: "Nervous Nancy Pelosi is a disgrace to herself and her family for having made such a disgusting statement."

Of course, this referring to Nancy Pelosi's suggestion that the president ought to be in prison. He goes on: "Especially since I was with foreign leaders overseas. There's no evidence for such a thing to have been said. Nervous Nancy and Dems are getting zero work done in Congress."

Of course, the president also talked about this on camera. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think she's a disgrace. I actually don't think she's a talented person. I have tried to be nice to her because I would have liked to have gotten some deals done. She's incapable of doing deals. She's a nasty, vindictive, horrible person.

TRUMP: But she made a statement. It was a horrible...

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: When you were overseas.

TRUMP: ... nasty, vicious statement while I'm overseas.

Now, if I made any statement about anybody, it would be like a big -- why would he do that when he was overseas? She did it when -- she is a terrible person.

And I will tell you, her name, it's nervous Nancy, because she's a nervous wreck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: But the main thing right now at the White House is the issue of the negotiations with Mexico, whether those tariffs will go into effect on Monday, as the president has said he would put them into effect if Mexico didn't take certain moves to try to secure the border.

One possible hang-up in those negotiations is the United States is asking for Mexico to stop migrants at its southern border, and essentially process them for asylum there, rather than letting them come north and seek asylum here in the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What happens, Joe, if President Trump does not make a decision tonight on tariffs?

JOHNS: Well, this is his tariff threat, and the president can pretty much do what he wants to. However, there's a whole process that has to be put in place, including with the Federal Register, the notice of any order that the president might have made, as well as putting the border protection people on notice that they have to make certain moves, particularly with computers, to try to put tariffs on the appropriate goods coming across the border.

And we're told there could be a lag of a day or two the longer the from the waits to try to make this thing happen -- Wolf. BLITZER: We will see what happens.

Joe Johns at the White House for us, Joe, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. He's a Democrat. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee. He's also chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. He's a leader in the House of Representatives.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, so let's begin with this growing feud between the president and the speaker. He called her statement that she would like to see him in prison disgusting. You heard that.

Do you believe it's OK, first of all, for the speaker of the House to tell her colleagues that she would like to see the president actually go to prison?

JEFFRIES: Well, I wasn't in the meeting and so I'm not really in a position to elucidate clearly on the speaker's comments, other than to say that she has maintained consistently and publicly that the House is going to do its constitutional duty, but we're going to do it in a dignified fashion.

We're going to follow the facts. We're going to apply the law. We will be guided by the United States Constitution. And we will see where that leads us.

BLITZER: Well, what do you believe, Congressman? Do you believe the president may have committed crimes and should wind up in jail?

JEFFRIES: Well, there certainly is reason to be troubled by the pattern of behavior that was outlined particularly in volume two of the Mueller report and in volume one of the Mueller report, where the special counsel made clear that Russia attacked our democracy for the purpose of artificially placing Donald Trump at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and that Donald Trump and the Trump campaign embraced Russian interference.

[18:10:13]

That's deeply troubling as well. What we want to do as House Democrats, led by Jerry Nadler, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Elijah Cummings and Adam Schiff, is to gather all of the evidence.

We want the unredacted Mueller report, because we can't trust the attorney general to have presumptively made legitimate redactions. We want the underlying documentation. And we ultimately, I believe, should hear from Bob Mueller publicly, who needs to tell his story to the American people.

BLITZER: As I mentioned, you're the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. You're one of the Democratic leaders in the House. As you know, at least 59 of your members, Democrats, they want to at least begin impeachment proceedings against the president, but I take it you disagree, as does the speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

What would it take for you to support opening a formal impeachment inquiry?

JEFFRIES: Well, I support the process that has been laid out right now by Chairman Nadler, which is, we're going to have hearings on obstruction of justice beginning this Monday, hearings on abuse of power, and hearings on the culture of corruption that appears to exist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Once those hearings have been conducted, we will see what comes out and then we can decide how to proceed at that point. In the interim, I think the House Democratic Caucus will continue to be united around getting things done for the American people.

Donald Trump has suggested that we haven't been doing anything. He's not paying attention. The Senate is not doing anything. We have passed bills to lower health care costs, to protect people with preexisting conditions, to drive down the high cost of lifesaving prescription drugs, strengthen the Affordable Care Act, deal with the gun violence epidemic.

The problem, Wolf, is that we continue to send bills over to the Senate which under Mitch McConnell has been a legislative graveyard.

BLITZER: Well, he doesn't even allow a lot of those bills that have passed the House of Representatives, where there's a Democratic majority, to even come up for a vote. What, if anything, can you do about that?

JEFFRIES: Well, we're going to have to raise the stakes and have a public discussion, so that the public can decide, do we want either a functional Senate or are we going to replace the Senate?

At the end of the day, the Senate needs to at least put forth some ideas as to how they're going to confront the issues that are top of mind for the American people, which include the skyrocketing, out-of- control health care costs, as well as our desire to try to find a bipartisan pathway to fix our crumbling bridges, roads, tunnels, airports, and mass transportation system?

We know that the president sometimes signals that he wants to do it and then, at other times, throws a temper tantrum, runs off to the Far East, and claims that Democrats are not interested in trying to find common ground.

We actually want to find common ground legislatively, but, at the same time, we're not going to shirk from our oversight responsibilities to investigate a potentially out-of-control executive branch.

BLITZER: Should the speaker get the final say on whether Democrats eventually wind up opening up an impeachment process, or should that fall to the chairman of your committee, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler? JEFFRIES: Well, I think it should fall to everyone, but the speaker

is the first amongst equals. And she has set forth, I think, what is a standard that the overwhelming majority of House Democrats continue to embrace, which is that in order to proceed toward impeachment, the case should be compelling, the evidence should be overwhelming, and the sentiment around impeachment should be bipartisan in nature.

We don't have any love for Donald Trump. But we do love the American people. And in order to proceed down the road toward impeachment, we have to make sure that we take that solemn responsibility in a way that is done that doesn't further divide the country, but tries to bring the country together, bring the country along in terms of bringing forth the facts that have come out in the Mueller report.

BLITZER: As you know, our congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, has now been reporting that the Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, privately, privately, has been pushing the speaker to open up this impeachment inquiry.

Do you worry that the growing divide among Democratic leadership could potentially wind up hurting the party?

JEFFRIES: Well, we are the most diverse legislative caucus in the history of the country. We have more women now serving in the House of Representatives than ever before, more African-Americans, more Latinos, more Asian Americans, more Native American women, more members of the LGBTQ community.

We come from all over the country, urban America, rural America, suburban America. So, we embrace the diversity, which includes a diversity of perspectives. At the end of the day, I'm confident that we will come together and speak with one voice.

I was on a call with Chairman Nadler earlier today and other members of the Judiciary Committee. We were unified with respect to the approach that we're going to take next week with the start of the obstruction of justice hearings.

[18:15:07]

BLITZER: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, thanks so much for joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Wolf.

Just ahead: Why did Joe Biden abandon his long-held view on abortion funding? We are going to tell you what we're learning about his motives and who pressured him to change course.

A new protest from the Pentagon after a Russian's warship's aggressive course, the near collision with a U.S.-guided missile cruiser caught on video.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:06] BLITZER: We have breaking news this hour on Joe Biden's new reversal on abortion funding.

Sources revealing that the Democratic presidential front-runner was forcefully pressured by campaign insiders, in addition to abortion rights groups and his 2020 primary rivals.

Let's go to our Political Reporter, Arlette Saenz.

Arlette, the Biden camp is portraying all of this simply as an evolution, not a flip-flop. What are you learning?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, you saw that intense pressure from Biden's 2020 Democratic opponents, as well as those abortion rights groups.

But we're learning that there were also intense conversations going on within the Biden campaign, especially in these last two days, with his advisers personally pushing him to reverse course.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ (voice-over): Joe Biden's team coming out in full force today, trying to explain his sudden reversal to oppose the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old ban on federal funds being used for most abortions.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, BIDEN DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: This was a personal decision of his. It was a tough decision. It's one he wrestled with.

SAENZ: But CNN has learned discussions within Biden's campaign intensified in the past two days, with the former vice president hearing directly from members of his team and prominent supporters, including Alyssa Milano, urging him to change course, arguing the measure was problematic for low-income women and women of color.

His deputy campaign manager telling CNN's Brianna Keilar, this isn't actually a flip-flop.

BEDINGFIELD: I think to suggest that this is somehow out of step or out of sync with the way that he's viewed this issue is actually not true.

SAENZ: Biden explaining his reversal last night in Georgia.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can't justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right. If I believe health care is right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's zip code.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SAENZ: The pivot came amid an intense wave of pressure from his 2020 rivals, abortion rights activists, and some within his own campaign. For decades, Biden, a devout Catholic, backed the amendment.

BIDEN: I make no apologies on my last position.

SAENZ: But an exchange with an ACLU volunteer in South Carolina last month appeared to signal a shift.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you commit to abolishing the Hyde Amendment, which hurts poor women and women of color?

BIDEN: Yes. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: It can't stay.

SAENZ: The Biden campaign on Wednesday saying the former vice president misheard, and reaffirmed his commitment to the measure, saying in a statement: "He has not at this point changed his position on the Hyde Amendment."

The criticism was fast and fierce, with nearly all of Biden's 2020 rivals piling on.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The vice president is absolutely wrong on this one.

SAENZ: That evening, the campaign co-chair making this argument:

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA): I think the vice president has been very consistent over his career in the Senate since '76, when the Hyde Amendment became law, that he is a deeply religious man.

SAENZ: But 24 hours later, that reversal came.

BIDEN: But circumstances have changed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Now, Biden campaign officials insist that he did not make this decision based on political backlash, that he heard the arguments and decided to change course based on the merits of that argument.

They are also insisting that this is not the start of an apology tour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arlette Saenz for us, Arlette, thanks very much.

We have a lot more on all the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:28:15]

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including President Trump now back here in Washington from his European trip, and dramatically escalating his feud with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts.

And, Rebecca Buck, I want you to listen to the president really going after Nancy Pelosi after she reportedly said she doesn't really want to see him impeached. She wants to see him in prison. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think she's a disgrace. I actually don't think she's a talented person.

I have tried to be nice to her because I would have liked to have gotten some deals done. She's incapable of doing deals. She's a nasty, vindictive, horrible person.

But she made a statement. It was a horrible...

INGRAHAM: When you were overseas.

TRUMP: ... nasty, vicious statement while I'm overseas.

Now, if I made any statement about anybody, it would be like a big -- why would he do that when he was overseas? She did it when -- she is a terrible person.

And I will tell you, her name, it's nervous Nancy, because she's a nervous wreck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you make of that, Rebecca?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, there goes infrastructure week once again.

Look, this is not a surprise that the president would go after Nancy Pelosi, or vice versa. Of course, he's sort of misleading in that statement, because what she said about him was not meant to be public. So she wasn't trying to make a statement about him while he was overseas.

But this is the sort of rhetoric that I would expect we'd hear a lot more of between Democrats and Republicans, but specifically the president and Democrats, as we get closer to the election.

But, look, they didn't have a good relationship to begin with. This is just an extension of that.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I do think it is worth noting that the president himself is making those comments in front of the American Cemetery at Normandy -- in Normandy.

This is an incredibly sacred space, the graves of Americans who have died, who died on D-Day, on D-Day, for him to be using this as an opportunity to make sort of petty insults against Nancy Pelosi.

[18:30:01] You know, it's hard to be shocked by anything that the President says or does. But I have to say, this has got to be one of the most shocking moments that nobody -- that he thought that that was an appropriate place to make those kinds of statements.

BLITZER: But, you know, the President, you know, Phil, if you hit him, he's going to come back and hit you a lot harder.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, but don't give him some ammo. Look, if you're grading this, he gets an F in my book. Nancy Pelosi gets a D or D-minus. I mean, you're going overseas. There's a rule of thumb in American foreign policy, and that is it's like going to a friend's dinner party. You don't fight with your wife at the dinner party. It looks ugly.

That said, we, during the campaign, said Mike Flynn should be vilified, the National Security Adviser for just a week or two, vilified for saying, lock her up, in reference to Hillary Clinton. A politician should never argue that an opposing politician should be locked up without due process, private or public. She did the same thing. I think she'd be vilified. She gets a D-minus. He's overseas, he does it in public, he gets an F.

BLITZER: But she's trying, you now, Sabrina, to keep her caucus unified and there's a wide range of views there when it comes to formally opening up some sort of impeachment process.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think anytime that Nancy Pelosi is the target of attacks by the President that are increasingly personal in nature, not to mention gender in their undertones, that her caucus tends to rally behind her. But she is facing this internal debate from not just a growing number of rank and file members but also the House Judiciary Chairman, Jerry Nadler, about whether or not to open up a formal impeachment inquiry.

And I do think that her argument that she would rather see the President in prison sort of undermines the case that she's making to those who were saying, well, then why not open a formal impeachment inquiry. Because you're effectively saying, I do think, if you're Nancy Pelosi, that this president has committed a crime and that he deserves to be held accountable. So it does kind of lay bare the calculations she's making is more political and at odds with not just is the Democratic race but increasing number of House Democrats believe is a responsibility of members of Congress to conduct oversight of the executive branch.

BLITZER: Because, Rebecca, on this issue, the Democratic caucus in the House is deeply divided.

BUCK: Absolutely, Wolf. But they do have to be careful. And I think Nancy Pelosi has recognized that publicly, but this is something of a slip-up privately because they don't want to go into lock her up or lock him up territory, like the president did with Hillary Clinton in the last election, even if they do believe, as many do, that they should proceed with impeachment proceedings.

I don't think they shouldn't be passing judgment and it's a political risk for them to pass judgment before they go through that process.

BLITZER: Because the President was widely criticized for not only going after Hillary Clinton, lock her up, lock her up, and all of that, but going after other senior Obama administration officials, leaders of the FBI, the Intelligence Community, saying that not only did they committed crimes but they committed treason.

HENNESSEY: Right. So I think I agree with everyone here that, right, Pelosi, we don't ever want to see politicians talking about their political opponents being jailed in advance of them standing trial. That said, I think Nancy Pelosi's private comments suggesting that she thinks Trump should be held accountable in the criminal justice system is different from what we've seen from the President. Certainly, what we've seen from the President is far, far worse.

That said, you know, Nancy Pelosi is pedaling a little bit of a fantasy here. The idea that the content of the Mueller report will have come out, that the House will decide not to impeach. And then at some later date that the Justice Department, under a new administration, was actually going to prosecute the President, that isn't going to happen.

And a little bit feels as though Nancy Pelosi is saying, don't worry, it's okay if we don't hold him accountable under the constitutional power that's been given to us, to this body of Congress, because somebody else is going to get around to it later. I just think that's not going to happen.

And as Sabrina said, it really does show sort of how bizarre and untenable her current position is, which is she believes the President has committed a crime, that he eventually belongs in jail but isn't prepared to move forward with even an impeachment inquiry at this point.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss, much more on all the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

BLITZER: We have breaking news tonight. New details emerging right now of Joe Biden's change of position on the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for almost all abortions. Sources are telling CNN that top aides have made a forceful case directly to the former Vice President that led him to withdraw his longtime support for the Hyde Amendment.

And, Rebecca, let me play a clip of how the former Vice President, Democratic presidential frontrunner explained his reversal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I have supported the Hyde Amendment, like many, many others have. Because there was sufficient moneys and circumstances where women able to exercise that right, women of color, poor women, women not able to have access, and it was not under attack as it was then, as it is now. But circumstances have changed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Circumstances have changed. Is that the full story?

BUCK: Well, the circumstances that have changed, Wolf, are the political landscape for Democrats. And Joe Biden no longer feels comfortable politically being in the middle of the road, as he has said before, on abortion.

So what's changed is that the whole Democratic field was going after him on this issue. He was in a politically unsustainable position. And he recognized and his campaign recognized that he was going to have to make a shift on this.

Now, he's trying to say that the circumstances that have changed are all these states trying to roll back abortion laws.

[18:40:05]

That's been happening for weeks. We have known this is coming. What changed it that he was in a political crisis.

BLITZER: Do you believe, Sabrina, that the former Vice President is making a good case that this was a principle evolution as his -- of his position instead of an overnight change of heart?

SIDDIQUI: Well that's a fairly difficult case for them to make when they took multiple positions in the course of 72 hours. Look, what's striking about this is that Hillary Clinton made the repeal of the Hyde Amendment a focal point of her 2016 campaign. It was actually part of the Democratic Party's platform in the previous election.

So Joe Biden has had three years to rethink this issue as he's been weighing presidential bid. And as Rebecca pointed out, you've now had this debate over these extreme abortion laws across the country really playing out within the Democratic primary in particular, and so he could have also used that in his opportunity to come out and evolve on the issue, if that's what they want to call it.

It was very clear, especially since his campaign made a point to say that he still supported the Hyde Amendment just earlier this week, that when faced with the backlash from progressives as well as other contenders in the field, that's when they saw that this would not be a tenable position for him and they had to reverse course.

BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, all these new laws being passed in these various states, anti-abortion laws, plus the new conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, do you think it's reasonable that the former Vice President changed his position because he sees what's going on?

HENNESSEY: Yes. So I do think that it felt safe for conservatives like Biden to want to stake out sort of a moderate position when it felt like Roe was solidly the law of the land and that pro-choice advocates had won on this issue. That's not the case anymore.

The court is poised to, if not, overturn Roe directly to sort of chip away, to make the right fundamentally or as a practical matter inaccessible to women. I think Biden recognizes that this is going to be a major election issue for Democrats.

If Donald trump wins re-election and gets another seat on the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade will be overturned in this country or abortion will be rendered practically inaccessible.

That is an issue that conservative voters have been campaigning on the promise of for decades. They have captured court. That moment is now here.

It still is -- they still do not hold the majority view. The overwhelming majority of Americans want Roe v. Wade to maintain on the books, they want abortion to be safe and legal. And so the question here is the challenge for the Democratic candidates is going to be how do they turn out that majority of voters who actually want to protect that right.

And I think that Biden realizes that you aren't going to be able to energize people from sort of a position of compromise or hesitancy. But the person who's going to win the Democratic nomination is going to be someone who is an unapologetic defender of reproductive freedom.

BLITZER: How do you think Biden, Phil, is handling this?

MUDD: I find this really interesting. Just for me, you get one get- out-of-jail-free card. That is you get to say, I reconsider this and my judgment. I exercise good judgment. I can change. You do that a couple of times and then you instantly become a flip-flopper.

He's got 18 months to go before an election and he's got to deal with issues like tariffs, immigration, universal healthcare. The next time he does this, and he's got a long lead time here, people are going to start to say, this isn't about good judgment. This is flip-flopping.

I close by saying, it was 30 years ago that George Bush, the senior, said, read my lips, no new taxes. And then he imposed new taxes and people still haven't forgotten one flip-flop. I think he gets a pass here, but I don't know if he gets two or three in the next 18 months.

BLITZER: When some of these new Supreme Court Justices, as Susan say, and during their confirmation hearings that Roe v. Wade is settled law, it's the law of the land, what do you say?

HENNESSEY: Well, Roe v. Wade is settled law for the lower courts. And so it's a little bit disingenuous whenever we hear Supreme Court Justices say, well, Roe is the law on the books. The Supreme Court has the capacity to overturn Roe. They have overturned precedents that are as old as Roe. And so I don't think anyone should be fooling themselves that they really are prepared to overturn this rule.

BLITZER: Rebecca, what do you think? BUCK: Absolutely. And so the question is how urgent of an issue will this be for Democratic voters? I think what we're seeing in the polling suggests that because of the Supreme Court, this has become incredibly urgent, that's why Joe Biden.

BLITZER: It's going to be a huge issue in the 2020 campaign. All right, guys, thanks very much.

Much more news coming up, a near collision at sea, the ships coming so close that American sailors could see their Russian counterparts sunbathing.

Plus, new developments emerging right now in an alleged terror plot targeting Times Square in New York City.

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[18:49:18] BLITZER: For the second time this week, a dangerous close encounter between the U.S. and Russia militaries, this time at sea.

Our Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr is working the story for us.

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BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. sailors kept the camera running as they recorded a Russian destroyer nearly colliding with their ship. In the dramatic encounter, the Russian warship moves to within 50 to 100 feet of their cruiser. A U.S. aircraft overhead documents the Russian wake of their ship making a sudden high-speed turn, coming up alongside the U.S. warship.

All of this taking place in the Philippine Sea in international waters.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan says the U.S. will protest to Moscow.

[18:50:04] PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING DEFENSE SECRETARY: We'll have military-to-military conversations with the Russians and, of course, we'll demarche them. But, you know, to me, safety at the end of the day is the most important. It will not deter us from conducting our operations.

STARR: A collision was narrowly avoided when the American commander ordered the ship into full reverse at high speed.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: That is a very aggressive engine maneuver to conduct. You're reversing the direction of those propellers to try to get the ship to stop or slow down as quickly as possible. It's a 10,000-ton cruiser. It's not going to stop on a dime.

STARR: Despite the severity of the episode, Russian sailors are captured sunbathing on the deck of their ship.

Russia's state-run news agency claims the U.S. instigated the encounter.

This incident happening close to China comes as President Xi met with Russian President Putin who said Chinese-Russian releases are added an unprecedented level.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They are looking at the kinds of things that they can do in concert with the Chinese to challenge the U.S.

STARR: The Pentagon increasingly worried Russian forces are getting reckless.

Tuesday, a Russian fighter jet flew right in front of a navy patrol aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea. And last month, U.S. Air Force fighters intercepted Russian aircraft off the coast of Alaska.

LEIGHTON: Militarily, what they're trying to do is they're trying to challenge the United States at every particular point that they feel they can get away it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: The Navy says the Russian had been shadowing the Americans for some time safely at a safe distance before the encounter and that convinces them the Russians knew exactly what they were doing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. A very disturbing development.

Just ahead, an alleged terror plot targeting Times Square.

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[18:56:31] BLITZER: A New York man who police say expressed interest in attacking Times Square has been denied bail. Twenty-two-year-old Ashiqul Alam was arrested for knowingly receiving two guns with serial numbers that have bee removed. Prosecutors say he talked to undercover agents about buying weapons, explosives and a suicide vest to use in terror attacks in Times Square or in Washington, D.C., to kill an unnamed senior government official.

The complaint against Alam also says he spoke approvingly of ISIS, Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks. Alam is a Bangladeshi citizens who's a legal permanent resident of the United States.

Now, a CNN exclusive, inside the battle for control of Libya's capital Tripoli. It's the last stronghold of the government and it's been under siege for weeks by forces loyal to a war lord who controls most of the rest of the country.

CNN Senior International Correspondent, Ben Wedeman has this report featuring intense footage shot by freelance camera, Gabriel Chaim.

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BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Battle rages on the outskirts of Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

Since early April, fighters loyal to the U.N.-backed government national accord have struggled to stop the advance of a war lord Khalifa Haftar's so-called Libyan National Army which now nominally controls most of the country and almost all its oil.

It's a conflict with sound and fury aplenty captured in footage provided to CNN by freelance cameraman Gabriel Chaim. As factions fight it out, civilians are as usual caught in the middle.

Nazir Wahid (ph) is one of the last civilians left in the neighborhood of Yahrmuth, south of Tripoli.

We're afraid, of course, he says, but what choice do we have any. He says he is happy to live one day to the next.

His son should be in third grade but all his friends have fled and schools have been closed for weeks.

Children's toys still clutter a house now use the by gunman. The jubilation with which Libyans greeted the fall of Moammar Gadhafi's regime eight years ago now seems a distant memory.

The country is hopelessly divided with France, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt backing Haftar, the Benghazi based group, and the U.S. now leaning in his direction as well. While officially the U.N. recognizes the Tripoli-based government which is backed by Italy.

The most recent outbreak of violence left more than 600 dead nearly 100,000 displaced.

The future says this young fighter is miserable. Since we were young, there has always been war.

U.N.-led attempts to restore calm are in tatters. Misery does indeed appear to be Libya's future.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show at @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.