Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump's Retort to Romney; Fear of Retaliation Haunts U.S. State Department Staffers; U.S. House Requests Ukraine Records from V.P. Pence; Hong Kong Demonstrators March against Police Violence, Mask Ban; Iraq Death Toll in Violent Protests Rises to 100; U.S. and North Korea Break Off Nuclear Talks; Republican Voters' Mixed Reaction to Impeachment Inquiry; Deal Meant to Bring Peace Sparks Outrage in Ukraine; Sanders Vows to Return to Campaign Trail After Heart Attack; Researchers Seek Cause of Vaping-Related Illness; Vatican May Allow Married Men to Become Priests. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired October 6, 2019 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Playing offense: the U.S. president on the attack, this time targeting Senator Mitt Romney, the latest Republican speaking out against Donald Trump.

Plus, under scrutiny: sources tell CNN the president's phone call has sparked anger and fear within the State Department. All eyes now on Mike Pompeo.

Also ahead this hour, defiance in Hong Kong. Thousands of people marching on the streets, protesting the ban on face masks. This live image at 5:00 pm there. CNN will take you there.

Welcome to viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

HOWELL: At 5:01 am here on the U.S. East Coast.

The U.S. president is lashing out at his critics, singling out Republicans who have criticized his now infamous call with Ukraine's president.

In this case, the U.S. president signaling out Republican senator Mitt Romney, who had his own rocky relationship with President Trump. Romney, one of the few members of his own party, speaking out against the president.

The senator from Utah saying it was "wrong" and "appalling" that a U.S. leader would solicit a foreign power to investigate one of Trump's rivals.

That call and accusations it was a cover-up immediately triggered the formal impeachment investigation now underway in the U.S. Congress. The president responded with crude insults to Romney. We get the very latest now from CNN's Jeremy Diamond.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: House Democrats are indeed ramping up their impeachment inquiry into the president and this administration after already issuing subpoenas for the State Department.

House Democrats on Friday issued subpoenas for the White House. But at this point it is unclear how this administration is going to comply with this.

What they are considering is issuing a letter to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying that they are not compelled to provide the House committees with any documents until they go to the House floor to vote on opening a formal impeachment inquiry.

Now that is something that has been done in the past but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said, there is no constitutional requirement for there to be a vote. But what the White House is clearly doing here is daring Democrats, especially those vulnerable Democrats in Trump districts, to put down their vote in favor of an impeachment inquiry, something that Republicans have already used to go after those vulnerable Democrats as well as to fund-raise.

What we are seeing from the president this weekend are attacks, attacks in particular on Senator Mitt Romney, one of the few Republicans to publicly criticize the president's handling of this Ukraine matter, "wrong and appalling," that is what the Utah senator Mitt Romney is calling President Trump's request that Ukraine and China investigate his political rival, Joe Biden.

The president on Saturday firing back in a series of tweets, including this one, where he says, "Mitt Romney never knew how to win. He is a pompous ass who has been fighting from the beginning, except when he begged me for my endorsement for his Senate run. I gave it to him. And when he begged me to be secretary of state I didn't give it to him. He is so bad for R's," that is Republicans.

President Trump also calling for Senator Romney's impeachment. Now while senators cannot be impeached they can be expelled from the Senate. There is no indication, of, course that would happen but what the president is doing here is sending a signal to Republicans that if you do not stay in line with, him, if you don't support him in the face of this impeachment inquiry, you could be the target of one of his Twitter tirades -- Jeremy Diamond, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Thank you, Jeremy.

HOWELL: Mitt Romney is not the only Republican to break ranks with the president. Senator Susan Collins is now calling out Mr. Trump for suggesting China should investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden. Collins told a newspaper in Maine it was a, quote, "big mistake" and

completely inappropriate for President Trump to ask China to investigate former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

We're also learning that the Ukraine scandal has been deeply frustrating to some career professionals at the U.S. State Department. CNN recently spoke with a dozen of those professionals, both current and former.

They fear U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo has politicized the agency by putting President Trump's political needs above the nation's interests.

[05:05:00]

HOWELL: And they are resentful that Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal attorney, inserted himself into U.S. foreign policy. One veteran State Department official said Pompeo, quote, "lacks the backbone" to stand up to Mr. Trump. Here he is speaking Saturday in Greece, defending the president's phone call with Ukraine's leader as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Nations do this. Nations work together and they say, boy, goodness gracious, if you can help me with X, I will help you achieve Y. This is what partnerships do. It's win-win. It is better for each of us. I don't -- I'm not offended when your prime minister asks me, can you help us with X, right?

It doesn't bother me a lick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Scott Lucas is with us now. Scott is a professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham, also founder and editor of "EA WorldView," live in Birmingham, England.

Good to have you with us.

SCOTT LUCAS, UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, George.

HOWELL: Let's talk about this rift in the State Department. Several current and former staffers say they worry the department is being politicized, that it undermines their ability to be effective and that the secretary of state Mike Pompeo, quote, "lacks the backbone" to push back against the president.

It does speak to the agency's effectiveness. As an ex-pat yourself, how do you see it?

LUCAS: Well, I think there's two clear incidents that have brought about this excellent report that you have done on tensions within the State Department. The first is last week, Mike Pompeo effectively told State Department staff, don't testify before the House impeachment inquiry. He couched that by saying that the House committee should not bully

staff members. But when the House committee pushed back, and said, look, we have the right to subpoena people who are involved in this affair, it sent a signal to the State Department, which is, do you side with your secretary of state, which is to try to stonewall the inquiry?

Or do you obey a subpoena?

And the second matter which you have referred to is this matter in which not just Rudy Giuliani, who, of course, is Trump's personal attorney and not a government official, but also Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, a political appointee, who gave $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee, they have provided cover for Donald Trump in the eyes of some.

Rudy Giuliani by spending months in trying to get the investigation of Joe Biden and of the Democrats from Ukraine. And then Gordon Sondland providing cover in recent days saying, of course, this has nothing to do with Trump's suspension of military aid to Ukraine.

That has really disturbed some State Department people who are on the record in private communications explicitly saying, yes, this was a matter of foreign aid which was suspended, possibly because of Trump's demand on the Ukrainians to investigate.

HOWELL: Again, Scott, the sources speaking privately to CNN. But again, you do get a sense of what's happening there in State. And we are also seeing some Republicans, namely Senator Mitt Romney, speak out against the president's actions.

And now Susan Collins is telling a newspaper in Maine the president's request for China to launch a probe was, quote, "a big mistake."

Do you expect to see more publicly on this or do Republicans continue to criticize this president behind the doors and in private?

LUCAS: We're waiting to see. Your correspondent was right. Donald Trump's message to Mitt Romney, as crude as it was, wasn't just about the 2012 Republican nominee for president. It was a message to all GOP senators, which is do not cross me, do not vote to convict me on impeachment charges.

But unlike the Trump-Russia affair, where we saw lots of senators coming out openly and supporting Trump, it's been notable that since the complaint came out from the whistleblower, since the transcript came out, which is almost two weeks ago, there have only been two or three senators who have gone public in defense of Trump.

One of them is Lindsey Graham last weekend on a political talk show. As far as today, there are only two Republican senators on the talk shows. One of them, Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, is on record in saying that he heard from State Department about this link between foreign aid and Trump's demand for an investigation.

So I don't think he will be counted as a Trump supporter. A lot of Republican senators are saying no comment or taking cover.

When do they finally break that cover, whether it's for or against Trump's conviction?

HOWELL: It is interesting you point that out. Our own Brian Stelter, media correspondent, pointed out there were no, at the time of his writing, no members of the GOP speaking on the Sunday talk shows. So we will see what they have to say here as the day continues on.

And also, Scott, the request for documents from the vice president of the U.S., Mike Pence. He finds himself now deeper in this mix.

Should he be concerned here?

[05:10:00]

LUCAS: Mike Pence, like Mike Pompeo, involved in at least listening to the July 25th phone call between Donald Trump and the Ukrainian President, which has been the catalyst for this growing affair.

Now we know that Mike Pompeo has been subpoenaed. We know that Mike Pompeo is probably going to hold out against that subpoena. If Mike Pence withholds documents, the next step will be a subpoena of him.

And which way does he go?

Does he accept the rule of Congress or does he dig down deeper in support of Donald Trump.

I suspect it will be the latter.

HOWELL: It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out in weeks to come. Scott Lucas live in Birmingham, England. Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you, George.

HOWELL: I want to take you now to Hong Kong. We have been monitoring the situation there. Tens of thousands on the streets marching against a new emergency ban on face masks.

Police have fired tear gas into the crowds. Take a look at this live image at 5:10 pm there. We're watching what happens on the streets. Let's go now to Anna Coren who is there.

What more can you tell us?

Let's go back to the live image as we get Anna in position there. You see the live images on the streets just a short time ago. In fact, 13 minutes ago perhaps that we were looking at the images of police using tear gas.

They had a sign that said they will deploy tear gas. They would show the sign and then throw the canisters of tear gas out towards the crowds. I believe we now have Anna Coren with us.

Anna, if you can hear us, tell us about what you're seeing on the streets right now?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: George, we are here and there is -- I guess several hundred protesters who have gathered here. Tear gas has been dispersed; multiple rounds. You've got riot police up here on this overpass.

A short time ago the told everybody, including journalists, to leave. There are a bunch of journalists up here on this overpass above us. But we heard multiple rounds of tear gas fired at us in all directions.

This is, of course, an unlawful assembly. Protesters aren't allowed to be here. You can see there are protesters running in this direction. Barricades were made further up the road.

This is the 18th weekend, George, of Hong Kong protests. Today is particularly important because these people, there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of them marching from Causeway Bay up to central.

There were just streams of them for two-plus hours defying that face mask ban, which came into effect Friday midnight. The chief executive, Carrie Lam using these emergency laws. You can see tear gas right down there in the distance if we can get the cameraman to zoom down there. There's tear gas is being dispersed down there.

They are trying to break up this group. But the chief executive Carrie Lam decided to enforce emergency laws and bring about this face mask ban to try to restore law and order.

Obviously people wear surgical face masks so as to conceal their identity. And we might just head in this direction. But there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, on of protesters who were taking into the streets defying that ban.

It was quite extraordinary to watch, George. I'm talking about a cross-section of society. You can see the riot police up there on the overpass just monitoring the situation. It was a cross-section of society that was marching. We're talking about mothers carrying toddlers.

There was an 11-year-old boy with his mother trying to put up barriers across the road. The majority of people wearing face masks. People wearing them now obviously because of the tear gas. But we are here with a group of medics, going down to where the tear gas was dispersed a little bit earlier.

Obviously those running battles happening here in Admiralty. It is only a quarter past 5:00 in the afternoon, George.

HOWELL: A quarter past 5:00. We understand, as the evening goes on, these protests continue. And police step up their efforts to clear the streets. Anna, you are pointing something out. Tell us.

COREN: Yes, George, that is the police headquarters. Riot police positioned there. [05:15:00]

COREN: That is where they have been firing the tear gas, firing at multiple locations. But to that point, it is only a quarter past 5:00 in the afternoon. As we know, the running battles and violence only escalate as nightfall arrives.

We saw the ugly violence on Friday night after Carrie Lam announced her face mask ban. Protesters were setting fire to the train network here, to shops considered to be pro-China, pro-Hong Kong government, the state-owned Bank of China also set alight.

Real, yes, just -- violence that we haven't seen in the 18 weeks. Commuters stuck on the roads, trying to navigate the roads in all of these roadblocks. The violence we saw Friday night was ugly. Yesterday was a bit of a rest day. There were small gatherings of people defying the face mask ban but no violence that we could see.

From what we understand, George, the protesters wanting to save their energy for today and tomorrow. It's a long weekend here in Hong Kong. Police sent out a text message a little bit earlier, saying we're expecting more violence this evening, George.

HOWELL: Yes, 18 straight weekends we have seen this on the streets of Hong Kong. Protesters determined to keep their voices up. Our correspondents and photographers on the ground, along with Anna Coren, doing what it takes to bring us the news there. Stay in touch. We will be back with you.

Still ahead, in Iraq, chaos on the streets there as violent protests show no sign of letting up. We'll take you live to Baghdad.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

HOWELL: Violence has broken out again in the streets of Iraq, this time resulting in even more deaths and injuries there. At least 100 people lost their lives since these mass protests started last week. Around 4,000 have been injured. At a funeral procession, heartbroken families mourned loved ones who were killed in the violence.

[05:20:00]

HOWELL: The unrest started over unemployment, alleged corruption and lack of basic services. CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is live in Baghdad this hour.

Arwa, the protesters determined to keep up the pressure, come bullets or death here.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are, George. It is growing increasingly difficult because of the security crackdown and the reality that the security Iraqi forces have fanned out throughout the capital and completely encircled the main roundabout where demonstrators would normally gather.

A number of other roads are entirely blocked off. Access is very restricted. So what the demonstrators are now attempting to do, as we saw when we went out last night, is gather in smaller groups and then try to get a significant number of people, if they can, and begin marching towards some of these main demonstration areas.

But numerous demonstrators are telling how they have been fired upon. A number of them told us their friends were killed. One young man who we spoke to actually filmed a number of people getting shot, two of whom, he said, did die from their injuries.

And when we talk about injuries, many we're speaking to also were talking about how they are not seeing ambulances, rescue teams on the ground to assist them. Many are concerned about going to the hospitals because they say they're afraid of being detained.

They are telling us that of all the promises, the pledges that the government leaders, that the prime minister, that other religious leaders are making to try to appease them quite simply are not working. They are done with hearing these types of promises.

Iraqis have taken to the streets, making the same demands in the past. They are asking for an end to corruption. It is endemic here. The country is ranked among the most corrupt in the world.

They want job opportunities. A lot of demonstrators who are out there, George, those we spoke to, are university graduates who are unable to either get work or get employment that is related to their degrees. We spoke to one young man who studied law. The only work he said he could find was in a hair salon.

The other key demand is to better basic services. People are well aware that their country is sitting on one of the world's largest oil reserves, that the government is making billions of dollars a month in oil revenue and yet has so far failed to really improve the lives of the population.

They are saying they are reaching a point where they are unwilling to let this be the legacy that they leave to their children. They will be going out there, they say, and trying, no matter what happens, to continue to make these demands.

But the more violent these protests become, George, the more hardened the protesters become. We have also heard reports that various local media also have been attacked by unknown masked men. It is unclear exactly who or what is behind that.

Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned channel, reported its offices here in Baghdad were attacked last night. So it is a very tense situation to say the least in a country that can ill afford this kind of insecurity.

HOWELL: All right. Arwa Damon, reporting on the frustration that continues on the streets of Baghdad and several other cities in Iraq. In Lebanon, authorities are bracing for what could be more demonstrations. This is what it looked like last Sunday when protests flared up in Beirut, Lebanon. Thousands took to the streets over the lack of jobs and employment opportunities, the same theme we are hearing in Iraq.

Lebanon recently declared an economic state of emergency because of the problems. It also implemented austerity budget with cutbacks aimed at bringing down its debt.

The first nuclear talks in months between the United States and North Korea broke down at least for now. The two sides met in Sweden for eight hours before working level meetings were suspended.

North Korea says it happened because the U.S. came to the table empty- handed. Our Paula Hancocks reports American officials have a different take on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Working level talks between the U.S. and North Korea ended in Stockholm, Sweden. Judging from the responses from both sides, they were in completely different meetings. This often happens between the U.S. and North Korea.

We heard from the North Koreans that there were no fresh ideas, that they were very upset that these talks have broken down.

[05:25:00]

We know from the U.S. side that they had a very good discussion and there were plenty of fresh ideas.

The North Korean who was leading the delegation, he said that the U.S. was sticking to old attitudes and old ideas. Now what we can read into that is that potentially the U.S. was not willing to ease sanctions immediately before seeing any concrete moves from the North Korean side.

But we did hear from the U.S. side. Steve Biegun was leading the discussions and a State Department spokesperson said they don't believe the North Korean comments actually characterized the 8.5 hour discussion.

They said there were good discussions, there were fresh ideas. They also said Sweden had invited them back in two weeks' time to continue discussions and they believed that that was going to happen from the North Korean side.

They said that the U.S. should go away and should think about what it has done and decide by the end of the year if it was going to come up with anything new, also saying they are now at a crossroads of dialogue or confrontation.

This is not the first time this has happened, a very different idea of the discussions at hand. But at least the two sides had discussed for 8.5 hours, which is one good sign; whether they meet in a couple of weeks, we simply don't know -- Paula Hancocks, CNN, Hong Kong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Still ahead, the president of Ukraine, as if he didn't have enough to think about, not only under scrutiny for the Trump phone call but now many of his fellow citizens may have a bone to pick with him. The latest ahead.

Plus, trouble in the Trump base. Some Republican voters tell CNN they are troubled by what they have heard and seen from the U.S. president as of late. Stand by. The U.S. and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:30:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from the ATL. I'm George Howell.

(HEADLINES)

HOWELL: Most of the impeachment focus has been in Washington, D.C. But the other part of this is what matters on Main Street.

How do voters see this?

Especially Republican voters who may have the final say in the next election. CNN's Natasha Chen reports from a Republican district here in the state of Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of you are tired of hearing about impeachment?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A room full of Republicans raised their hands in agreement at this monthly Cobb County GOP breakfast.

They're in a district outside Atlanta, once represented by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led the charge in the impeachment inquiry against President Bill Clinton in 1998 and whose daughter Jackie Cushman was a featured speaker this morning.

JACKIE CUSHMAN, DAUGHTER OF NEWT GINGRICH: I'm really concerned about polarization in the country.

CHEN: But this is not the Georgia 6th from the days Gingrich was in Congress.

The district lines have been redrawn and demographics have changed. Democrat Lucy McBath won a tight race last November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEILA BROWER, PRESIDENT-ELECT, COB COUNTY REPUBLICAN WOMEN: I don't really understand what happened so we're trying to get that resolved.

CHEN: The Republican base believes the impeachment inquiry is a sham.

(on camera): You feel it's OK to ask foreign governments for help in our elections?

PAT GARTLAND, CHAIRMAN, ATLANTA VIETNAM VETERAN'S BUSINESS ASSOCIATION: Well, hey, what did he ask for? He wanted to know about a criminal act.

CHEN (voice-over): And they feel like it's work in their favor to take back the district.

BROWER: I feel like it's helpful. I feel like people are mad. People are sick of this.

CHEN: Cobb County Democrats made available copies of the Mueller report and a transcript of the phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine at their booth at a local fair.

They old us giving access to the primary source material is the best avenue, given peoples' mistrust of partisan spin and that these documents speak for themselves in supporting a more thorough inquiry.

Some of the voters in that county who were not at the GOP breakfast told me they feel very differently and they told me they see the president live on television admitting to what he said to the Ukrainian president.

They feel the White House's release of the phone call transcript corroborates the whistleblower complaint. So they told me they support an impeachment inquiry. Representative McBath was not available for an interview but se did give us a statement, saying she voted to formalize the impeachment inquiry on September 12th and she supports the responsible of this Congress to uncover the truth and defend the Constitution -- Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Natasha, thank you.

Now to the U.S. state of Texas. A key witness in the case of a former Dallas police officer convicted of murder has been shot and killed. Joshua Brown was a neighbor of Amber Guyger and the man she murdered, Billie Jean. He testified at trial about the night of the killing.

Brown was found shot several times outside his apartment complex on Friday. He died at a nearby hospital.

Just days earlier, Guyger was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. She said that she mistakenly entered Jean's apartment, thinking it was hers and shot him, thinking he was an intruder.

Ukraine, it is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. But the former Soviet nation is facing its own troubles as well.

[05:35:00]

HOWELL: At this hour, thousands of people are expected to protest against the controversial decision by the president of that nation, Volodymyr Zelensky. He is supporting a deal with pro-Russian rebels that would introduce special status and elections for Ukraine's breakaway regions.

That's where a five-year war between separatists and Ukrainian troops has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. Our Sam Kiley is in the capital city of Kiev.

Sam, this during a time when Ukraine is caught up with its ally, the U.S. Some Ukrainians feel their newly elected leader is not holding the line against Russia.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, George. The demonstrators behind me are clearly signaling their discontent with a deal, a suggested formula for the east of the country, broadly known as the Donbas region, a breakaway region.

The deal would give a very high degree of local autonomy, dominance of the Russian language. This would all be underpinned by some kind of electoral process. Many people in the rest of Ukraine, given this was a land grab effect sponsored by Russia and annexed illegally under international law, the Crimean Peninsula, this is nothing more than a sellout to the aggression of their powerful neighbor.

On the flip side of that, particularly among young people in this country, there is a sense that they are exhausted by the war, this is draining resources from a country that is suffering very acutely economically.

And against all that backdrop, you've also got this squabble going on in Washington between the Trump administration and the Democrats, threatening impeachment over the U.S. president over his attempts to influence the domestic political landscape on his behalf by getting the new regime here to start prosecutions against some of his political rivals and his families.

That, I have to say, is seen as very much a distraction from the main event here, which is how do you solve a half decade old conflict that is bleeding the country both in terms of human life but also in terms of economic energy.

HOWELL: Sam Kiley live in Kiev, Ukraine. Sam, thank you.

Still ahead, despite the dangers and health risks, U.S. teenagers continue to vape. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta asks what it will take to get the message across.

(MUSIC PLAYING) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:40:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: How are you doing?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: How are you, Senator?

QUESTION: How are you feeling?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good --

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Hi, Jane.

JANE SANDERS, BERNIE'S WIFE: Hi, guys.

QUESTION: You happy to be home?

B. SANDERS: Very.

J. SANDERS: Enjoy the weekend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: The Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders there with his wife back in the home state of Vermont following treatment for a heart attack. The long time senator spent two nights in a Las Vegas, Nevada, hospital after experiencing chest discomfort during a campaign event last Tuesday.

Sanders, who is 78 years old, plans to be on the stage at CNN's Democratic debate to be held October 15th.

Now to the questions and controversy around vaping. There's still a lot that we don't know, how it affects the body and why there have been more than 1,000 mysterious illnesses recorded that are related to vaping.

There is one thing, though, that experts agree on, that it is bad for kids and that there is an epidemic of kids vaping across the United States. CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, asks his own kids and their friends what they think about this problem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All across the country, parents are starting to have tough but necessary conversations about vaping. GUPTA: Thanks for being here.

GUPTA (voice-over): I decided to learn from my own kids and their friends.

GUPTA: How would you describe the vaping situation in your school?

SAGE, 9TH GRADE: It got kind of bad last year. Some people did it too much, like a lot too much and it escalated, I think.

GUPTA (voice-over): Last year, she was in 8th grade. This year, early results from the CDC's annual survey of tobacco use found 27.5 percent of high school kids admit to vaping.

GUPTA: You're in high school -- you're a senior in high school. Does that sound like the right number to you? Does it sound too high, does it sound too low?

ANNA, 12TH GRADE: It probably sounds too low.

GUPTA: Really?

ANNA, 12TH GRADE: I think it's pretty common and even though not everyone, like, owns them, people still probably use them.

GUPTA: What did you think was in these vapes, Soleil?

SOLEIL, 5TH GRADE: I thought it just -- a lot of chemicals and some chemicals can like damage you.

GUPTA: Are you comfortable with this conversation?

SOLEIL, 5TH GRADE: No.

GUPTA: Why not?

SOLEIL, 5TH GRADE: Because I'm only 10.

GUPTA: Any age too young to be having this conversation?

DR. LAURA OFFUTT, "REAL TALK WITH DR. OFFUTT": I don't think it's ever too young.

GUPTA: I have a 10-year old.

OFFUTT: And now, I would have the -- I would have the conversation.

So this is where the magic happens.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Laura Offutt knows a thing or two about young people. She answers their health questions on her site, "Real Talk with Dr. Laura Offutt."

OFFUTT: In the early 2010s when it started to become popular with young people, there was less concern because in the whole spectrum of risk-taking behavior that young people can take, maybe this one isn't a bad one.

GUPTA (voice-over): Despite youth cigarette use dropping significantly since 2011, vaping's skyrocketing popularity has erased a lot of the recent progress.

Today, the CDC estimates that over 3.5 million teens are vaping and that number is climbing.

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: The nicotine level in recent products -- recent e-cigarette products is extremely high and very addictive.

GUPTA (voice-over): Anne Schuchat is principal deputy director of the CDC.

SCHUCHAT: The nicotine salts that are used in the more recent generations of e-cigarettes makes the product very palatable and easy to enjoy. And so we think that addictive products are additive.

GUPTA (voice-over): Then you take one of the most addictive chemical substances on the planet and marry it with social media.

SAGE, 9TH GRADE: It just is like keeps being brought up again in social media. And so I think that it's kind of hard not to hear about it.

GUPTA (voice-over): Instagram, YouTube, #Juul.

[05:45:00]

GUPTA (voice-over): Juul said it has taken actions to prevent youth vaping, like scaling back its social media accounts -- platforms that critics say had particular appeal among teenagers.

OFFUTT: It's been very well-documented that e-cigarette companies have been using the playbook of the tobacco companies from the 60s and 70s and even earlier on with -- starting with the health message appealing to interest in being sexually appealing, to being strong, to being part of a group, to being trendy, to being a little bit of a rebel.

So that whole type of identity piece has been pulled into advertising for these products.

GUPTA: I want to show you guys some pictures.

Sky, why don't you read that last one.

SKY, 7TH GRADE: Weak people smoke, strong people smoke less. Intelligent people vape.

GUPTA: What do you think they were trying to convey there, Audrey?

AUDREY, 10TH GRADE: They're trying to say, like, vaping is a smarter version of smoking. That, like, if you want to be smarter, like, stop smoking and, like, vape. GUPTA: And what do you think of that?

AUDREY, 10TH GRADE: I think that's still kind of dumb.

GUPTA: I feel like it's a tough hill to climb as a parent. I mean, I'm going up against peer pressure, feelings of being in the in-group and feeling cool. Social media advertising where kids live.

OFFUTT: I think that one thing that is really challenging as a parent is we all fear for our kids because that's what our job is, to protect our children. But sometimes if we let our fear come to the surface, we inadvertently close the door on our kids coming to us when they need something.

GUPTA: What would I tell you to make sure you never do this?

SAGE, 9TH GRADE: I think you should scare people out of it.

GUPTA: Do you think scaring works?

SAGE, 9TH GRADE: Yes.

GUPTA: Is that why you wouldn't do it?

SAGE, 9TH GRADE: Yes.

GUPTA: Is it the same for you, Colin (ph)?

COLIN: Yes.

GUPTA: Sky?

SKY, 7TH GRADE: Yes, I agree. Sometimes if you just say like you'll be a lot happier if you don't do this by saying what you should do.

GUPTA (voice-over): It's a good point, telling kids not just what they shouldn't do but what they should do instead.

OFFUTT: It's already a challenge to win any risk assessment with a young person based on safety, especially long-term safety. That's always been a challenge. I think sometimes appealing to things that can affect them now can be more powerful.

GUPTA: These people who are using it, do you think they think it's dangerous?

ANNA, 12TH GRADE: People, in the more recent time, have started to really think it's dangerous because I know a lot of people like seeing videos of people throwing them out windows now.

GUPTA (voice-over): A social media movement in the right direction.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: That report brought home by our Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thank you so much. Of course we'll continue to follow this story for you.

In New York, police are investigating a series of beatings, in which four homeless men were killed, apparently as they slept on the streets. Police say it seems the beatings were random. One person is in custody, though. Our Polo Sandoval has this for you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Detectives here in New York City have established what happened. Now the key question is why it happened as they try to establish a motive, investigators saying four homeless men were beaten to death early Saturday morning in New York City's Chinatown.

It is a neighborhood usually bustling with activity, very vibrant. However, at nightfall, the streets clear out and there are many homeless individuals that usually will spend the night on the streets, sidewalks or in doorways in the area.

Investigators believe that's what happened in this case. These four men were likely sleeping when they were attacked by an individual with a metal pipe in what is being described as a series of random attacks.

Investigators do have a suspect in custody. They have only identified him as a homeless 49-year-old man. There is also a fifth victim in all of this. The only person who survived and individual who was 49 years old, also homeless. Investigators are hoping to speak to as this investigation presses forward.

What I can tell you is it is certainly shining an even brighter spotlight on the issue of homelessness across the country and in America's largest city here in New York.

According to statistics from New York City's Department of Homeless Services, at least 60,000 homeless individuals woke up in area shelters Friday morning. Consider that, plus the thousands of unsheltered homeless individuals, who continue on the streets, on the city subway system.

That is who authorities say is perhaps the most vulnerable -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Polo, thank you.

Pope Francis may have a big decision to make. That decision could change longstanding tradition in the Catholic Church. CNN is live in Rome for you on the other side of this break.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:50:00] (WORLD SPORTS)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

HOWELL: Pope Francis celebrated mass a short time ago in St. Peter's Basilica, opening a gathering of bishops there to discuss the future of the church in the Amazon. One topic dominating the event, though, whether to allow married men in the region to become priests. Let's go live now to Delia Gallagher.

Delia, the pope's decision could have a lasting effect on the Catholic Church. But there is some pushback and it's coming from the United States.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, George. Not only from the United States. What's happening here is a meeting to discuss issues in the Amazon.

The pope called it to discuss environmental issues, issues of exploitation of land and indigenous people. But also on the table is a proposal to allow some married men in the Amazon -- they are calling them respected elders of their community -- to be ordained as Catholic priests, to help overcome a shortage of priests in the region.

As you say, this would be a major change to a longstanding tradition in the Catholic Church of unmarried priests. And that is causing some upheaval, particularly amongst conservative groups. We have seen them here at the Vatican leading up to the start of this meeting. Protesting, holding prayer vigils on this issue.

[05:55:00]

GALLAGHER: Interestingly, we have also seen protests, George, from another group because women in this meeting are not being allowed to vote. There are 185 men, mostly priests and bishops, who will be voting.

There are some 35 women, mostly nuns, who will be attending but they don't have the right to vote. So we have also seen Catholic women's organizations and nuns from various places around the world holding signs, demanding women's right to vote in this three-week meeting.

So it is already set up to be a fairly contentious meeting, George. It begins tomorrow. It is behind closed doors. They will vote at the end of the three weeks. The voting is only a recommendation to the pope. It will essentially be up to Pope Francis at the end of this meeting to decide what, if any, changes to make -- George.

HOWELL: Delia Gallagher live for us in Rome. Delia, thank you.

Finally this hour, there is a reason that Simone Biles is called one of the greatest gymnasts of all time. During a floor routine she landed a jaw-dropping double backflip with three twists and made it look like a walk in the park competing at the world championships in Germany.

She also wowed the judges on the balance beam and will have her latest moves named after her.

Thank you so much for watching CNN NEWSROOM this hour. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Stay with us for "BUSINESS TRAVELLER" and thank you.

[06:00:00]