On this “Face the Nation” broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:
- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba
- Ret. Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe
- Sen. Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware
- David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme
- Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of the Catholic Charities of Rio Grande Valley
Clickto browse full transcripts of “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m Margaret Brennan in Washington.
And this holiday weekend on Face the Nation: Russia responds to the Ukrainians sinking a key battleship with a powerful barrage of missile fire in the west, while President Zelenskyy says the situation in Mariupol is as severe as possible, just inhuman. We will talk with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and get analysis from the former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges.
Plus, Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons will be here to talk about his fight to get more global COVID aid included in a relief bill that is stalled in Congress.
And what impact will the war on Ukraine have on the world’s food supply? We will talk with the head of the United Nations’ World Food Program, David Beasley, and take a look at yet another jump in the inflation rate here in the U.S. Will our food and gas prices go even higher?
It’s all just ahead on Face the Nation.
Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation.
On a day when we are honoring the holy holidays of Easter, Passover and Ramadan, it’s difficult to come to grips with bleak news this morning. Overnight, there have been mass shootings at a shopping mall in Columbia, South Carolina, and at a party in East Allegheny, part of Pittsburgh.
In Jerusalem, there were more clashes at the holy site of Haram al-Sharif, Temple Mount, between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters. In North Korea, pictures released by the state news agency show Kim Jong-un celebrating what appears to be the successful test-fire of a tactical guided weapon.
In the first outdoor mass since the pandemic began, Pope Francis said the world is marking an Easter of war ,and he urged peace.
We begin, as we always do, with the news, but we do hope that you will stay with us through our second half-hour, when we focus on some of the efforts being made to help those who are suffering all around the world.
Our Chris Livesay say is up first, reporting from Kyiv — Chris.
CHRIS LIVESAY: Good morning.
As Vladimir Putin refocuses his land war on the east, the Russian president is reminding us he can still strike Ukraine wherever he wants by air. Russia has increased missile strikes here in the capital and continues to pound major cities on the front lines.
CHRIS LIVESAY (voice-over): The Kyiv region now a graveyard. The bodies of more than 900 civilians have been found in and around the capital, police say.
The killing continues at Kharkiv, close to Russia’s border, where overnight shelling of a residential area killed seven people, including a 7-month-old Ukraine’s local authorities say.
But nowhere is the misery more total than Mariupol. Thousands have been killed in weeks of airstrikes, artillery, even starvation. Russia has now claimed victory. If true, we may never know the full scale of horror.
But Chernihiv in Northern Ukraine offers a glimpse. It too was encircled by Russian forces, cut off from food, water and electricity for weeks, until Ukrainian forces, dramatically outgunned, pushed them back, in one remarkable instance, shooting down this bomber. It crashed into this house, killing one man inside, but, shockingly, no more, its payload failing to detonate on impact, landing on Nikolai’s doorstep instead.
(NIKOLAI SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
CHRIS LIVESAY: “We heard the air raid sirens,” he says. “I was just sitting and praying when, all of a sudden, there was a huge boom and flames.”
The two pilots ejected. One survived, and not just anyone. Here he is posing with Vladimir Putin and his ally Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, where this ace carried out airstrikes.
Soon after his capture, Russia pulled back its forces from Chernihiv, and what was supposed to be a minor speed bump on the way to Kyiv turned into a major setback for Russia, though not without a devastating cost to Ukraine.
CHRIS LIVESAY: Chernihiv offers an unprecedented look at war. Never before, not even in Syria, have events of battle been so closely documented, thanks to cell phone footage, geolocating tools, and a local population that’s incredibly tech-savvy — Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Chris Livesay, thank you.
We go now to the foreign minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba.
Minister, welcome back to the program.
Mariupol’s governor says the city has been wiped off the face of the earth. How long can Ukrainian forces resist Russian control of that city?
DMYTRO KULEBA (Ukrainian Foreign Minister): The situation in Mariupol is both dire militarily and heartbreaking.
The city doesn’t exist anymore. The remainings of the Ukrainian army and large group of civilians are basically encircled by the Russian forces. They continue their struggle, but it seems, from the way the Russian army behaves in Mariupol, they decided to raze the city to the ground at any cost.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Zelenskyy said the elimination of military forces in that city will mean an end to all negotiations with Russia.
Have you been instructed to stop contact with Russian diplomats?
FOREIGN MINISTER DMYTRO KULEBA: Well, we didn’t really have any contacts with Russian diplomats in recent weeks at the level of foreign ministries.
The only level of contact is the negotiating team that consists of representatives of various institutions and members of Parliament. They can continue their consultations at the expert level, but no high-level talks are taking place.
After Bucha, it was — it became particularly difficult to continue talking with the Russians. But, as my president mentioned, Mariupol may be a red line.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine said last month that Russian soldiers were being told the war must end by May the 9th.
What exactly are you expecting in the coming weeks?
FOREIGN MINISTER DMYTRO KULEBA: Intensification of heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine, in Donbass, large-scale offensive of Russia in that part of Ukraine, and also desperate attempts of the Russian forces, as I said, and to finish with Mariupol at any cost.
These are my expectations. And, of course, missile attacks on Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine seem to continue.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This past week, President Zelenskyy released images of a Ukrainian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin, his name, Viktor Medvedchuk, saying that Ukrainian forces had captured him. He had been involved in a plot to take over your government.
What does Ukraine intend to do with him? Did U.S. intelligence aid in that capture?
FOREIGN MINISTER DMYTRO KULEBA: Well, he’s the citizen of Ukraine, so he will enjoy all procedural rights, because we are a country of the rule of law.
And then his future will be decided as part of, on the one hand, legal process and, on the other hand, the political process. We do not exclude any political options. But, as I said, we are a country of the rule of law. And, first and foremost, he will face responsibility for the crimes he committed against Ukraine.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What exactly was he involved with here? How much contact did he have with Russia? And what do you mean political solution?
FOREIGN MINISTER DMYTRO KULEBA: Well, he was extremely close to President Putin.
In fact, Vladimir Putin is said to be the godfather of one of the daughters of Mr. Medvedchuk, I think. I believe this fact speak — fact speaks for itself.
When I mentioned political — political solutions, you know that the spokesperson to President Putin, Mr. Peskov, said that Russia has no interest in exchanging Mr. Medvedchuk. But we will see how the situation evolves.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The White House says President Biden will not visit Ukraine. A lot of other world leaders have done so.
Is it important to you to see a high-level U.S. official come? Is it important for the Americans to reopen the embassy in Ukraine?
FOREIGN MINISTER DMYTRO KULEBA: Since the beginning of the new wave of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, President Biden has demonstrated true leadership in helping providing assistance to Ukraine, in mobilizing international community to support Ukraine.
So, of course, we would be happy to see him in our country, and it would be an important message of support to us. And, of course, a personal meeting between two presidents could also pave the way for new supplies and of weapons of American weapon — U.S. weapons to Ukraine and also for discussions on the political — possible political settlement of this conflict.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we’ll see if any officials are sent.
I do want to ask you about a report that came out this week. Forty-five different countries who are part of the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, had this investigation into war crimes. And it was — it mainly faulted Russia. It was a catalogue of horrors.
But it also faulted Ukraine for failing to inform the Red Cross once Ukrainian forces had identified Russian soldiers using facial recognition technology. And, according to this report, Ukraine’s apparently sending the images to the families of the dead.
Is that accurate?
FOREIGN MINISTER DMYTRO KULEBA: Well, the government of Ukraine is not conducting any such activities.
But, as it was mentioned in the report aired before my appearance on your show, when you discover 900 bodies of civilians killed, tortured, when you know that thousands were raped, of course, there is a people’s rage and people’s desire to bring those responsible for that to account.
And we, as the government, work on legal ways to bring those responsible for these crimes to responsibility.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It also said Ukraine has not permitted the Red Cross to visit prisoners of war.
Will Ukraine commit to doing so and to investigate war crimes by its own nationals if you find that some have been committed?
FOREIGN MINISTER DMYTRO KULEBA: Well, I have good reasons to complain on the way the Red Cross rolled out its operations in Ukraine since the beginning of the war and on the visit of the president of the Red Cross to Moscow and the way it was handled.
But I don’t do it, because we have a good working relationship with the Red Cross and we sort out all issues at the working level in the spirit of cooperation.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for joining us today.
We go now to Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe. And he joins us from Frankfurt, Germany.
Good morning to you.
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES (RET.) (Former U.S. Army Europe Commander): Good morning, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You just heard the foreign minister describe what was happening, particularly in the southeast port city of Mariupol. Many expect President Putin will intensify this assault leading up to May 9 which is a key holiday.
What do you expect to see?
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES: Well, first of all, I — of course, I agree with all that I just heard Minister Kuleba say and what’s been going on in Mariupol, the incredible courage and resilience of the civilians there, as well as the soldiers who have been fighting.
But I do think that the pressure on the general staff to deliver Mariupol finally ahead of 9 May is immense; 9 May, of course, is the annual celebration in Russia of the end of World War Two, or what they call the Great Patriotic War. It’s a huge parade in Red Square every year.
So, obviously, they need to have something to parade, to show as a victory on 9 May. So I think this date does have importance there.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you’ve described a new offensive as a whole new war now. What do you mean by that?
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES: Well, what we saw in the last seven weeks, of course, was a mishandled effort by Russia. They totally overestimated their ability. They were not prepared for the fight they entered.
Ukrainians defeated them at every turn. So, of course, Russia now has withdrawn from most places. And they’re focusing on the Donbass region. And, interestingly, the general staff has decided not to mobilize all of their reservists, which tells me that there’s not going to be a phase three, that what we’re going to do now for the next few weeks is phase two.
And they’re going to focus on trying to gain control of all of Donbass. And I think that’s going to be it for the rest of the year, because they don’t — they don’t have the capability, I don’t believe, especially if they don’t mobilize reserves, to continue the fight after this.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Does that mean the fight could be wrapped by the 9th of May?
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES: No, it means that they will not have the ability to conduct any further offensive operations…
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES: … after this.
And, for sure, the fighting is going to continue. They’re going to continue, as long as they have missiles, murdering innocent Ukrainian civilians and the pressure on Ukraine.
But my sense is that they have made a decision, because of the pounding that they have taken and the lack of resources — I mean, frankly, they can’t even build new tanks because the sanctions are restricting the types of parts that they have to bring in for new equipment — that they really are culminating in their ability to launch further offensive operations, particularly towards Odessa, for example, or Kyiv.
I don’t see them having the potential for that this year.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden authorized new weapons transfers. We know now that some of them have been arriving just over this past weekend.
In this new package, artillery, 18 medium-range howitzers, 40,000 artillery rounds. There’s other kinds of munitions, armored personnel carriers. How long does this kind of weaponry last? How significant is it to the fight?
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES: The howitzers are particularly important, and especially the 40,000 rounds of ammunition that are coming with those howitzers. That’s the equivalent to a U.S. artillery battalion, 18 howitzers.
This is substantial, a high-quality weapon system. But I have to say, we — it’s still not enough. What the Ukrainians need desperately are long-range fires, rockets, artillery, drones that can — that can disrupt or destroy the systems that are causing so much damage in Ukrainian cities, and which will also play a critical role in this next phase, if and when it begins.
The hundreds of Switchblade drones, for example, these are very good, but we need about 1,000 more. If you assume one drone per tank, per artillery system, per infantry fighting vehicle, you can see why the numbers — this is about us being the arsenal of democracy. This is about us supporting democracy vs. autocracy.
And I would really like to hear the administration talk about winning and having a sense of urgency on getting these things there. Otherwise, this window of opportunity we have, the next couple of weeks, to really disrupt Russia’s attempt to build up is going to pass.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we hear from the administration that the aim of all this is to strengthen — strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table.
But we’ve heard from the Ukrainians there’s no table to sit at right now.
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES: Right.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying it doesn’t look to you like the administration has decided they want Ukraine to win; they just want a stalemate?
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES: I would say that I don’t hear the administration talking about winning.
I’m reluctant to say that the administration doesn’t want them to win. But what needs to be stated is, what is our objective, the United States? You know, we’re not just observers cheering for Ukraine here. This is about democracy across Europe and stopping an autocracy.
And so — and, of course, the Chinese are watching. So there are implications well beyond Mariupol or even Kyiv. And so if the United States were to say, we want to win, that means all Russian forces back to pre-24 February, all Ukrainians who have been deported brought back home immediately, a long-term commitment to the full restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty — that means Crimea and Donbass — and then finally breaking the back of Russia’s ability to project power outside of Russia to threaten Georgia, to threaten Moldova, to threaten our Baltic allies.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Ben Hodges, thank you for your analysis this morning.
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES: Thank you, Margaret. And to you too.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And Face the Nation will be back in a minute.
Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the economy.
Inflation in the U.S. surged to yet another new four-decade high of 8.5 percent in March, according to the Labor Department.
Mark Strassmann takes a closer look at how the price spike is impacting businesses and families across the country.
MARK STRASSMANN (voice-over): Inflation is not running. It’s sprinting. And, sometimes, everything on life’s menu seems to bring sticker shock.
Year to year, meat, fish, poultry and eggs jumped almost 14 percent.
WOMAN: I can’t believe how much everything has gone up. It’s ridiculous.
MARK STRASSMANN: Used cars and trucks up 35 percent, gas up 48 percent.
GOVERNOR NED LAMONT (D-Connecticut): Connecticut families are getting slammed by inflation, especially at the pump.
MARK STRASSMANN: Among major cities, Atlanta has seen America’s second highest rate of inflation year to year, 10.6 percent, behind only Phoenix, and just barely, biggest factors, housing costs and energy prices.
Blame a tangle of pressures, supply chain issues, trucks waiting up to 30 hours to cross from Mexico into Texas, labor shortfalls. Walmart’s offer to new truckers? Up to $110,000 in their first year, more than double the national average. Ukraine’s crisis, its impact on energy prices, and our pandemic economy. It went from deep freeze to red hot and needs relief.
JILL SCHLESINGER: The Fed is telling us that it’s not going to be this year. It’s probably going to be the end of next year.
MARK STRASSMANN: An inflation forecast that leaves many restaurants shaken. Inflation eats up their thin profit margins.
KAREN BREMER (President and CEO, Georgia Restaurant Association): Restaurants have had to raise prices by at least 10 percent.
MARK STRASSMANN: Karen Bremer leads Georgia’s Restaurant Association.
How many more restaurants in Georgia do you expect, realistically, will close by, say, the end of 2022?
KAREN BREMER: I think we could lose another 3,000 restaurants, probably.
MARK STRASSMANN: Because?
KAREN BREMER: Because people are just stretched to the max right now.
MARK STRASSMANN: All eyes turn now to the Fed, which uses interest rates to achieve two goals. One is full employment. America has that.
JILL SCHLESINGER: Their other job is to make sure that we have price stability. They have failed on that front. And they are late to the game.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mark Strassmann reporting from Atlanta.
China is wrestling to contain the worst surge in COVID infections in two years. Dozens of Chinese cities are under some form of lockdown right now. But the city grabbing the headlines is Shanghai.
Elizabeth Palmer reports from Tokyo.
ELIZABETH PALMER (voice-over): Twenty-five million people live here, but you would never know it.
For going on three weeks, this dynamic metropolis has been shut down. Private companies like Alibaba, China’s Amazon, have been working flat out, and so has an army of state workers to feed millions of people who can’t go out to shop or even seek medical help.
It hasn’t gone well. Protests have erupted when food has actually run out. Anyone who tested positive had to board a special bus and check into a government isolation facility, including one in Shanghai’s retrofitted convention center.
Last week, there was desperate pushback when police tried to evict residents from their apartments slated to be turned into even more isolation centers. You might think all this would convince the Communist Party to change course. Well, think again.
Chinese television reported a few days ago that President Xi Jinping is doubling down on the so-called dynamic zero COVID policy. But the costs are mounting. Trucking has slowed dramatically. So has freight moving out of Shanghai’s busy port. And companies that make everything from cars to iPhones are partially or completely closed.
ELIZABETH PALMER: Public health experts even inside China, off the record, will say that the current COVID policies are unsustainable.
But the Communist Party has staked its reputation on them. And, for that reason, they’re not budging — Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Elizabeth Palmer, thank you.
We will be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The White House Easter Egg Roll returns tomorrow after a two-year hiatus due to COVID.
But, last week, “The Washington Post” reminded us about 1946, when Harry Truman canceled it, along with the Easter dinner, for a different reason, to call attention to the post-World War II food crisis. This year, the United Nations predicts the war in Ukraine could cause an estimated 1.7 billion people to go hungry.
Coming up in our next half-hour, a conversation with the head of the U.N. World Food Programme about this hunger crisis 76 years later.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be right back with more Face the Nation, including Senator Chris Coons on global COVID relief and a lot more.
Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION.
A new Covid-19 relief funding bill is working its way through Congress, but it is facing some challenges in the Senate.
Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware joins us now from Wilmington.
Good morning to you, Senator, and Happy Easter.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Happy Easter, Margaret, great to be on with you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Leader Schumer has said new money for global vaccination will have to wait until later in the spring because the Senate couldn’t come to an agreement. There are still more than 3,000 people around the world dying from Covid. Each day a new variant coming out roughly every four months.
What do you see as the real-world impact of this stall?
CHRIS COONS: Well, Margaret, I was so disappointed that we in Congress could not come together and deliver critically-needed global help, to deliver the vaccines that we’ve already invented, developed, and purchased, and to make sure that the nearly three billion people around the world who haven’t yet had a single vaccine dose get some protection against this pandemic.
As we were fighting over this additional payment, this additional funding for Covid relief globally, one of my colleagues memorably said, well, my constituents are done with this pandemic.
Margaret, just because we’re done with the pandemic doesn’t mean it’s done with us. And the best way to protect the American people from the next variant that might kill more Americans and more people around the world, is to ensure that the rest of the world has access to America’s vaccines.
Last point. There’s dozens of countries that had to rely on Chinese and Russian vaccines that don’t work.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Romney has argued that this needs to be paid for. Is there any compromise that you see here? Because I think you just said that the vaccine is sitting, already purchased. So, what happens? Does it just go bad if you don’t come up with this funding?
CHRIS COONS: We are going to lose millions of doses of vaccine that will expire, and I think that’s part of the argument that I’ve been making to my Republican colleagues. We shouldn’t waste this moment, this opportunity.
I respect Senator Romney’s press for us to find offsets, but in a moment when we badly need additional emergency funding to support the Ukrainian military resistance against Russian aggression, to support millions of refugees in Ukraine and around the region, in Europe and throughout the world, and to provide food relief and additional Covid relief, I think we should treat this as emergency spending.
But, frankly, we’ll negotiate what we have to in order to secure a chance to move forward and not waste the vital vaccines America has already purchased.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There are some Republicans saying there should be no spending except for on defense. Are you saying this is how it should be characterized?
CHRIS COONS: I think this is critical to our national security.
Look, we’ve already lost a million Americans. This weekend, as families gather to celebrate Easter Sunday, or to celebrate Passover, or during the holy month of Ramadan, we have folks from all three major global faiths, from Islam, from Judaism, from Christianity that jointly have their roots in the Middle East millennia ago. All of these great faiths have a common principle, to do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, and to care for those in need around the world.
I think we can and should justify this additional spending as critical for our national security or as teaching our values, showing to each other the best in the human spirit and the most central tenants of the faith that inspire so many Americans.
MARGARET BRENNAN: For the 10 billion of funding that is sitting in Congress for a future vote, that would go towards vaccines and treatments here in the United States. Even some Senate Democrats are saying they want to attach some kind of amendment regarding these border restrictions related to Covid.
Do you see a way out of this standoff?
CHRIS COONS: Margaret, it’s going to be challenging.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, what is the compromise to get around the issue at the southern border?
CHRIS COONS: Well, frankly, what I think you’re referring to is the announcement that Title 42, which is a public health measure, may be rolled back in a number of weeks. That’s something where the CDC declared that they could no longer justify this ongoing practice of expelling folks who come to our border based on the pandemic. In the region where I’m from, we’re seeing infections rise. I think Philadelphia, for example, just returned to a mask mandate. So, my hope is that that will be reconsidered appropriately. I know that there are both Republicans and Democrats calling for a reconsideration. And the administration just announced a plan for how to deal with a possible surge in crossings at the border.
Margaret, we do need to come together and show our values, that we can secure our border and improve the inhumane immigration system, the immigration system that so many of us have worked to try and address for years. But I think we can separate that. We should separate that from delivering Covid relief that will protect American lives and other lives, billions of lives, around the world.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In some public remarks this week, you said the country needs to talk about when it might be willing to send troops to Ukraine. You said, if the answer is never, then we are inviting another level of escalation and brutality by Putin.
CHRIS COONS: Margaret —
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you arguing that President Biden was wrong when he said he would not send troops to Ukraine? Are you asking him to set a red line?
CHRIS COONS: Margaret, I think those of us in Congress who have a critical role in setting foreign policy and in advising the president in terms of his decisions at commander in chief, need to look clearly at the level of brutality. This is a moment of enormous challenge for all of us. And I deeply respect President Biden’s leadership in pulling together the west in imposing crushing sanctions on Russia and in bringing to this fight countries that had stayed on the sidelines before.
I think President Biden’s leadership has been steady and constructive, but this is a critical moment. If Vladimir Putin, who has shown us how brutal he can be, is allowed to just continue to massacre civilians, to commit war crimes throughout Ukraine without NATO, without the west coming more forcefully to his aid, I deeply worry that what’s going to happen next is that we will see Ukraine turn into Syria.
The American people cannot turn away from this tragedy in Ukraine. I think the history of the 21st century turns on how fiercely we defend freedom in Ukraine, and that Putin will only stop when we stop him.
I’ll close with this, Margaret. This is a weekend when so many families gather to celebrate the very best in the human is spirit.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
CHRIS COONS: And where we grieve the loss of many due to Covid, we should also be prayerful and mindful of those who are fighting for freedom in Ukraine and how much their heroism and patriotism inspires the rest of us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
Senator Coons, thank you and Happy Easter.
CHRIS COONS: Thank you, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll be right back with a look at the devastating impact of the war in Ukraine on the world’s food supply.
Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to David Beasley, the executive director of the U.N.’s World Food Programme. He joins us from Lviv, Ukraine.
Are you confident you can keep food supply lines open?
DAVID BEASLEY, U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: No, I’m not. I’m not confident at all. There are places that we can’t reach, like in Mariupol, and other places where Russian forces have besieged the city and are not allowing us the access we need. If we get the access, if we deconflict these access points, we can reach every single person that is suffering, struggling for food right now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Given the lack of access to Mariupol, do you believe Vladimir Putin is using starvation as a weapon?
DAVID BEASLEY: We’ve seen food depots that have been blown away. I’ve seen places where there’s nothing in these warehouses but food. And that’s not even in Mariupol. And so there’s no question food is being used as a weapon of war in many different ways here. And I don’t know the reason or the rational for it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We know the majority of Ukraine’s own farm land is in the east, where fighting is expected to pick up. We’ve seen images of Ukrainian farmers wearing bullet-proof vests, still going out there, still tending to their fields.
Do you have any sense of how the actual food supply from within Ukraine is going to be affected?
DAVID BEASLEY: It’s going to be a major factor, Margaret. Ukraine grows enough food to feed 400 million people around the planet — 400 million people. In fact, we buy — 50 percent of all he grain we buy from Ukraine, which allows us to feed about 125 million people. And this is a very serious problem. If we don’t get the farmers back in the fields, not just a few, but all the farmers back into the fields so that can plant, they can put fertilizer out, they can harvest and then, equally as important, is we’ve got to get the ports open again. That’s the basis and the way by which 400 million people get their food from Ukraine right now. So that’s got to be opened up. It’s got to be demined (ph) and it’s got to be deconflicted. And it’s got to happen quickly.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The U.N. issued a really frightening report this past week saying food prices are up 34 percent versus a year ago. And that spike is threatening social unrest in countries all around the world.
What areas are you most concerned about? What areas is the crisis in Ukraine going to cause violence in?
DAVID BEASLEY: It’s going to cause problems all around the world. And, for example, we’ve got now 45 million people in 38 countries that are knocking on famine’s door. And you may see a general price increase of food, and let’s say 38 to 40 percent. But in some of the very tough places, it’s going to be 100 to 200 percent, like in Syria.
And let me just give you, for example, in Yemen, we’ve already cut rations to 8 million people by 50 percent. In Chad, (INAUDIBLE) or Mali. We are already seeing an incredible number of people talking about migrating from central America into the United States, from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, as pricing is going up, up, up.
If we don’t get the food that we need to reach the people in need, whether it’s in the Middle East, northern Africa or in Central America, you’re going to have famine and you will have deep destabilization of nations, and then you will have mass migration. And this is going to cost a thousand times more than if we can get the food and reach the people before they either die or create political unarrest or migrate.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re already cutting back on food rations in certain countries because of the crisis in Ukraine. How do you decide that?
DAVID BEASLEY: Because of increased fuel costs, increased food costs, and shipping costs, we are already experiencing a $71 million increase in operational costs per month. So, when we don’t have enough money, well, guess what, we have to choose which children eat and which children don’t eat. We try to reach the most vulnerable children, but it’s based on money.
This’s $430 trillion worth of wealth around the world today. There’s no reason a single child should be dying from hunger, much less going to bed hungry.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The United States is the single largest donor. In the past, Russia has provided millions of dollars in funding. Do you expect them to cough up a dime right now?
DAVID BEASLEY: Well, we’ll just have to see. I mean they are a major producer of food. There’s no doubt about that. And just like Ukraine is the breadbasket of the world, and now they’re in bread lines. The United States has been stepping up in a major way, and it’s got to step up more in a way it never has before.
We’re facing a perfect storm right now. We’re going to need an extra few billions this year. But if we don’t get it, you’re going to have more conflict and destabilization, which is going to cost a thousand times that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, there was additional food aid that was cut out of a recent Covid bill on Capitol. For those who say the United States need to be more fiscally responsible, that it can’t continue to pump in more aid money, what would you say to that? How to you persuade some of your fellow Republicans who are skeptical?
DAVID BEASLEY: It’s not difficult at all. It’s like having leaking water lines in the ceiling, and you don’t fix them. And you’re going to have to replace the flooring, you’re going to have to replace the table, the chairs, the curtains. It’s a lot cheaper to go up there and fix the water lines.
If you don’t reach the people where they are, it’s going to cost you a thousand times more.
We feed 125 million people on any given day, week or month. And I know from firsthand experience, people don’t want to leave home. They don’t want to migrate. But if they don’t have food — and, for example, in Syria, we can feed a Syrian in Syria for 50 cents a day. That same Syrian ends up in Berlin or Brussels or the United States, the humanitarian support package is $70 a day.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The World Food Programme put out a report saying back in 2015 that surge of Syrian migrants into Europe was driven by a cut in funding in World Food Programme aid because people couldn’t find food in the camps, they went elsewhere.
Are you predicting that you see a refugee crisis resulting if there is not more food aid?
DAVID BEASLEY: No question about it. That is what Germany and the EU realized their mistake. I have talked with the German leadership, and they realized the mistake they made by not going in, in advance, and dealing with it up front.
We survey people all the time. When you feed 125 million people, like we do, we survey them, we talk with them. I have met the families. They don’t want to leave home. But if they don’t have food, I don’t know a mother or a father in the world that won’t do what they need to do to get their child food, and that includes leaving home.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is the crisis in Ukraine diverting resources away from desperate places like Afghanistan?
DAVID BEASLEY: The last thing we want to do is take food from a hungry child to give to a starving child. I don’t care where they are in the world. We thought it was bad enough. We had a perfect storm. But conflate climate shocks and Covid. Then Ethiopia crisis. Then on top of Yemen and Syria, then Afghanistan did. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, and we were running short of moneys, which is why we’ve been cutting rations to children and families and people around the world, then you have Ukraine, the bread basket of the world. So we don’t have enough money to reach the children in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Ukraine. And now because we’re devastating the bread basket of the world, there’s a possibility that children all over the world, independent of humanitarian aid, aren’t going to have the availability of food.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Good luck to you, sir. Thank you for your time.
DAVID BEASLEY: Thank you, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll be back in a moment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The number of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border has already hit a record in March, and we aren’t even at peak migration season.
We want to go now to Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
Good morning to you, Sister. Happy Easter.
SISTER NORMA PIMENTEL, CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF THE RIO GRANDE VALLEY: Good morning to you, too.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We know all of these numbers are expected to climb in the coming weeks after some of those health restrictions are peeled back at the border. Are you prepared for what is to come?
NORMA PIMENTEL: Most definitely. You know, what is happening is — has happened for a while already. So many years the numbers have increased. But I’m not focused on Title 42 per se. I’m more focused on ensuring that those families who are at our border, that I see daily, are — are — who face violence, face persecution, can have access to protection and to a humane treatment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you wrote in an op-ed last year, you made an appeal for President Biden to come down personally to see some of what you are describing. He hasn’t been there yet. What impact do you think a personal experience would have?
NORMA PIMENTEL: I definitely believe that somebody — everybody should come to the border so that they have — can have an opportunity to see our community and the people we serve. They can get a — see for themselves and meet families. I think that that impacts somebody’s way of looking at what is happening. And so I definitely encourage President Biden to come and see and to — and to be able to understand more closely what a family that is suffering at the border — how he must decide how — how to proceed, you know?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you’ve spoken out as well about something called the migrant protection protocols, the remain in Mexico policy that I know the Supreme Court is about to take up later this month. And this would allow for asylum-seekers who are trying to get into the United States to have to stay on the Mexican side of the border while they go through U.S. processing.
You said, it is immoral and abhorrent to deter people who are legally and peacefully seeking safety in the United States by deliberately exposing them to the very perils that they are hoping to escape.
Can you tell us, what are those conditions and what safe alternatives are there?
NORMA PIMENTEL: I visit the border on the Mexican side almost daily. And what I see is families suffering because of the fact that there is a lot of abuse for — to them, you know. And the conditions are terrible. And — and there is dangers — their children being exposed to — to being kidnapped, to being snatched, to be hurt. And so it’s not right for us to do this.
I think that someone who faces violence fears for their lives, for their childrens. There needs to be a way to access protection, and that’s something that we, as a nation, can offer to them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you would like to see them housed on the U.S. side of the border, rather than the Mexican side?
NORMA PIMENTEL: I believe that we, as a country, can find ways to be able to offer protection. That could be in the U.S. side. Most definitely they’re asking for protection and they’re fearing for their lives. There needs to be a way to be able to access that protection. And there’s not anything right now. And so whatever that answer is, I think it’s something that we can work to make it happen because these families are in great danger.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We are still in the midst of this public health crisis. And I know the federal government has relied a lot on organizations like yours to help carry out Covid tests for those migrants who do cross the border, and recently have started to offer them vaccines as well.
How does someone who is undocumented even prove that they are vaccinated? How do you reassure American people at home that there isn’t a health risk?
NORMA PIMENTEL: Because we, at the border, are making sure that anyone that enters the country is being offered that safety, that care, so that if they are exposed to the virus, they can get — be isolated and they can receive that care so that they don’t enter our country and spread the virus anywhere else. And so I think that my — the partnership that I have here in the Rio Grande Valley, with our law enforcement, our government, city government in McAllen, and the Border Patrol, we work together to make sure that we address this correctly, and there is not that — that fear — there should not be that fear for — for what is — people that are entering our country, you know?
I think that — that we must help us understand differently what the border is like. You come and visit and see for yourself. And understand our community and how we work and also how the people we serve.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you’re not a political person. You are a humanitarian. But the work Catholic Charities does with children in particular who have crossed the border got some sharp criticism recently from a conspiracy theorist in this country, Alex Jones. And I understand Pope Francis heard about what was happening and his criticism of you, and I want to share with our viewers his personal message to you. He said in a video, the migrants must be received. They must be protected. They must be accompanied. And they must be integrated. Four things, receive, protect, accompany, integrate.
What did that personal message mean to you?
NORMA PIMENTEL: It reaffirmed the fact that we, as a country, must have that heart to welcome those that are fearing for their lives, and to offer them protection, offer them a humanitarian response that cares for humanity. And for especially those that who are our most vulnerable and fragile and hurting at our border.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.
Sister, thank you for leaving us on that note this easter.
We’ll be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: For more on some of the organizations we’ve talked about, visit our website.
We’ll see you next week.