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At This Hour

Make-or-Break Week for President Biden's Agenda; FBI Takes Items from Brian Laundrie's Home for "DNA Matching"; Yahoo News: Trump Admin. Considered Kidnapping, Killing Assange. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Here's what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.

High stakes on Capitol Hill. Every aspect of President Biden's agenda on the line. And a potential government shutdown is just days away.

Searching for clues. The FBI analyzing DNA samples of Gabby Petito's fiance. Still no sign of Brian Laundrie.

An extraordinarily plot. The CIA reportedly hatched a plan to kidnap or kill WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Details of the wild plot considered by the Trump administration ahead.

Thanks for being here, everybody.

We begin with the critical week ahead for Congress and for president Biden's agenda, like the entire thing. And millions of Americans' lives that will be affected by what happens.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delaying a planned vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill, pushing that vote now to Thursday. She's working to unite moderate and progressive Democrats within the party around that bill and the president's much bigger, broader $3.5 trillion spending bill. Pelosi says the next few days will be, quite, a time of intensity. That is one way to put it.

The infrastructure vote now scheduled to come just hours before a possible government shutdown and the potential of the default on America's debt. If the Congress decides to not pay America's bills, that's also not far off.

CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill following the latest here.

So, Lauren, lay out the state of play and the stakes of this week.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the things to watch today are twofold. There is a meeting today in the House of Representatives among the Democratic caucus, and the reason that this meeting is so crucial is because some of those differences that you've laid out between progressives and moderates when it comes to that bipartisan infrastructure bill as well as that $3.5 trillion social safety net bill, they need to be worked out. So this meeting is really an opportunity for leadership to impress upon their members exactly why they all need to unite now behind the president's agenda.

Of course, there's also a critical vote tonight in the U.S. Senate where we expect that Democrats are going to bring to the floor this legislation that would fund the government through early December but would also increase the country's borrowing limit, raise the debt ceiling. That's important, but we have Republicans in the Senate who are saying they will not vote for that legislation, which leaves just a few days until a potential government shutdown on Friday.

We expect the Democratic leaders may decouple these two items. They may try to pull them apart so that Republicans would have an opportunity potentially to vote on a stand-alone government funding bill. How quickly that can happen if that happens, that is still an open question right now, Kate.

We also, of course, have a little bit of a delay on the president's agenda. We knew that moderates have been demanding a vote today on that bipartisan infrastructure bill. That has now been moved to Thursday in part because the votes just aren't here.

Listen to what the House speaker said yesterday about what her plans are for that bipartisan infrastructure bill.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let me just say we're going to pass the bill this week. We will bring the bill for consideration. But, you know, I'm never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn't have the votes.


FOX: So, the big question, is it going to have the votes by Thursday? We know that Democrats are trying to move quickly, to move ahead that $3.5 trillion bill in addition to that bipartisan infrastructure bill, can they get it all wrapped up by the week's end and avoid a government shutdown? Those are the big questions we just don't have the answers to starting out on this Monday morning, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Lauren. Thank you for laying it out for us.

Joining me for more on this is CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju and CNN White House correspondent John Harwood.

John, what is the sense that you are getting from the White House on this today as Lauren laid out kind of the schedule?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think, Kate, the White House is feeling a little more optimistic after the weekend than they did going into it. You had some signs that the -- competing sides within the Democratic caucus backed off a little bit, the moderates allowing this vote to be delayed until Thursday, the progressives saying, well, if we get an agreement on the reconciliation plan, we might be able to vote for the infrastructure bill, not necessarily having it enacted into law, which, of course, is extremely difficult if not impossible to do.

And I think what the White House believes as we get down to crunch time, Democrats are realizing they all act together or blow apart, and they're accepting that they're going to lose some parents of their build back better proposal, some debate over whether you lose entire chunks of it or change deadlines, make them phase out sooner or phase in later to reduce the cost.


All of that is the subject of intense negotiations but it seems as if they're moving forward and Democrats are getting themselves in position to make it possible to advance both elements of the Biden agenda this week.

BOLDUAN: And, Manu, the tone coming out of this weekend is decidedly more kumbaya, let's say, but is that reality from what you are seeing? How the sides fundamentally come closer together?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the jury is really still out here. What the Democratic leadership is going to attempt to do is assuage progressives to get behind that infrastructure plan on Thursday. What they're trying to do is bit of some threatening of sorts as well as trying to make the case politically for their party.

One of the arguments that is being made behind the scenes is, you know, with the president or not with the president. That's something that's going to be the increasing argument that will happen between now and Thursday. And also on the policy side, they'll try to make the case to their members that they are moving forward on that larger social safety net plan. What they're trying to do specifically is come up with some sort of framework agreement on that larger bill, an agreement between House Democrats and Senate Democrats, molds, progressives. The general outlines of what they can accept on that larger social safety net plan in order to convince the progressives to vote for the infrastructure plan.

Of course, they're trying to sink that infrastructure plan to get the mod behind that larger plan. There will be a shift with the moderates and progressives go along that route because they have threatened to sink the infrastructure plan all together until that larger plan has passed both the House and the Senate. There's virtually no way, Kate, that they can get the bill out of both chambers this week, and it's also very, very unlikely it will be bill text this week.

And it's also a big question, can they even get agreement among the members on a general outline, particular people like moderates like Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema. Manchin has called to put the brakes on the larger plan all together. So just many questions.

So, that's why, as John said, intensive negotiations today, for the rest of the week. can they get there by Thursday? That's the big question. But Pelosi is making very clearly, at least by Thursday, that the infrastructure bill is coming for a vote, but she's going to get the progressives behind that to get to the House. BOLDUAN: Now, John, let me play what Congresswoman Debbie Dingell

told me on Friday in terms of what she thinks house Democrats really need right now. Listen to this.


REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): I think Joe Biden would do a lot by just coming up, talk to the senate. You know what? House of representatives is an equal body. It would be good for him to come up and talk to the House members too.

BOLDUAN: Do you think that view is pretty pervasive?

DINGELL: I know it's pervasive and I've communicated it. I'm probably in trouble for saying it publicly, but I don't care, because I believe it needs to happen.


BOLDUAN: John, does the White House get that?

HARWOOD: Oh, I think so. Look, they have the work both ends. That's why a lot of this stuff is taking place behind closed doors and they're trying to coordinate as they go along and negotiate between the marginal votes in the House and the marginal votes in the Senate.

So, you could be sure that whatever they move forward with in house is something they have run by Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. Now, they haven't done it until they prove they have the votes and do it. But they seem to be moving closer and in coordination with one another and the challenge is to keep that process moving for several days so that by Thursday when the highway bill expires and they need to pass that infrastructure bill, they can satisfy the progressive members of the caucus that they've got a framework, a plan for that larger social safety net bill.

Not going to be easy but Nancy Pelosi has got some skills in this game, Chuck Schumer has got some skills and Joe Biden's responsibility is to bring it all together behind his plan.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, not going to be easy is definitely the theme of this entire week. It's good to see you guys. Thank you so much.

Also developing this morning, the FBI back at the Florida home of Brian Laundrie's family over the weekend gathering some of his personal items for DNA testing. Still no trace of Gabby Petito's fiance, two weeks since he was last seen by his family.

Now, Petito's family gathered in New York yesterday for a memorial service to honor and remember the 22-year-old Gabby Petito.

CNN's Nadia Romero is live in North Port, Florida, with the latest on the investigation and the search for her fiance, Brian Laundrie.

Nadia, what are you hearing today? NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, there are still

so many unanswered questions as to what happened to Gabby Petito and where is Brian Laundrie. So here in Florida, we're right outside of the Laundrie family home behind me. The most activity we saw all weekend was when two FBI agents came to the doorstep, gathered something, collecting items, the attorney for Brian Laundrie's parents told us, gathering some items to be tested and potentially matched for DNA.


They came just as quickly as we saw some of the other cars going throughout the neighborhood, police cars that came through throughout the weekend, but not as much activity as what we saw last week.

Definitely a scaled-down approach, we're learning from the FBI, that they're going to do a targeted search here in Florida.

So everyone here is still wondering where is Brian Laundrie. We see people driving up and down the street. There are two people that have come out early this morning with bull horns demanding that Brian Laundrie's parents come out and tell them what they know and speak to investigators. And that just speaks to how many people are invested into what happened to Gabby Petito and finding out where Brian Laundrie is.

As you mentioned, there was a memorial for Gabby Petito that happened just yesterday in her hometown back in Long Island.

And listen to what her father said about Gabby and her legacy.


JOSEPH PETITO, GABBY PETITO'S FATHER: Gabby is the most amazing person I've ever met. So, if you're going to leave here today, I'm asking that you guys be inspired by the way she treated people. The entire planet knows this woman's name, and she's inspired a lot of women and a lot of men to do what's best for them first.

Put yourself first. And do it now while you have the time. I couldn't be more proud as a father.


ROMERO: We know people who didn't even know Gabby Petito waited in long lines, traveled in from California and other states to go to that memorial service because so many people are invested in what's happening here -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Nadia, thanks very much for that latest.

Coming up, still for us, an explosive new report on a CIA plot to kidnap or assassinate Julian Assange. What we're learning about the options the Trump administration was considering. That's next.


BOLDUAN: Developing this morning, Germany is facing weeks, maybe months of uncertainty after no party won a decisive majority in Sunday's election. But what is clear coming from it already is that the party of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel was defeated.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen live in Berlin with more on this major moment for a key U.S. ally. Fred, what's happening now?


You're absolutely right. Angela Merkel's party was not only defeated, they had an absolutely disastrous showing in this election. They lost about 9 percent compared to the last election, which already was pretty bad showing for Angela Merkel's party as well.

Now, the party that did get the most vote is the Social Democratic Party, and they have a gentleman named Olaf Scholz who could be the next chancellor. He had a press conference earlier today where he said he wants to form a coalition to become just that.

Now, there, I was able to ask him, you know, Angela Merkel such a big figure on the international stage and an important partner for the U.S. in the pass 16 years, what about him? Would he be able to fill those shoes? And here's what he said to me.


OLAF SCHOLZ, GERMANY'S SPD CANDIDATE: You can rely on the continuity of this question. It is important that we understand our sides as democracies and that we see as the world becomes more dangerous. It is important that we work together, even if we do have conflicts in one or the other question.


PLEITGEN: Of course very important international affair, of course also very important as the U.S. continues to challenge China, and Germany an important partner there as well. However, nothing is settled yesterday. As you noted, there could be some uncertainty in Angela Merkel's party despite the disastrous showing, saying they want to try to form a coalition government as well. It seems Olaf Scholz in the driver's seat, could very well be Germany's next chancellor -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you there. Thank you, Fred.

Also some breaking news into CNN we need to bring to you right now. The man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan could soon be freed from all court-imposed restrictions that he's faced for decades. This morning, the Justice Department reached a deal for the unconditional release of John Hinckley Jr. from supervision.

Still this deal needs to be approved by a judge. The 66-year-old has been living in Virginia since being released from a mental hospital in 2016. His lawyers have argued he no longer poses a threat to himself or others. Hinckley was 25 when he shot and injured President Reagan outside a Washington hotel. A jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity saying he needed treatment and not life in prison. We'll keep you updated on that breaking news.

But there is also this -- a stunning report out this morning about the CIA's secret plans for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Yahoo News reports based on conversations with more than 30 former U.S. officials that the CIA held several discussions about kidnapping Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London back in 2017. Yahoo says there were top-level talks between the CIA and Trump administration officials about the legality of such actions and if it should go further.

Michael Isikoff, one of the reporters on this story, spoke with CNN this morning. Listen to this.



MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: When the seventh floor of the CIA, that's where the CIA director's office is located, asked for aggressive plans to attack and dismantle WikiLeaks, that's when the kidnapping, the snatch operation plans first started to form late. There was also talk about assassination and in fact there was even sort of options that were prepared as to how that could take place.

But I do want to emphasize, this never went to the White House and I think even inside the CIA, there were concerns this went too far. So it never got approved.

But there were operations that were approved. The CIA was getting live audio and video feeds from inside the Ecuadorian embassy. It was monitoring the communications and the travel of WikiLeaks associates. It was doing a lot of aggressive things to try to dismantle and cripple WikiLeaks.


BOLDUAN: Really fascinating.

Now, CNN has not verified or talked to these sources of Yahoo reports. Isikoff stresses the idea of kidnapping and killing Assange was not ultimately approved.

The latest on Assange is he's being held in a prison in London. The U.S. is currently requesting he be extradited on charges of helping former U.S. army analyst Chelsea M manning steal and release classified documents.

Now, just in to CNN, the Biden administration is taking new steps to preserve DACA, after a federal court ruling this summer. So, the Obama era program was unlawful. The decision put the fate of some 600,000 dreamers in jeopardy and President Biden is trying to change that. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is live in Washington with this new reporting.

Priscilla, what have you learned?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Kate, the Department of Homeland Security this morning announced a proposed rule to preserve DACA. This is a program that has lived through a DHS memo and has come under scrutiny for that reason. Recall the deferred action for childhood arrivals program was created in 2012 under the Obama administration and shields undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation and allows them to work legally.

But this program has been under threat for years. Former President Donald Trump tried to terminate it. And it's been the subject of ongoing litigation.

As you mentioned, earlier this summer a Texas judge ruled that this program is unlawful and said the administration didn't go through the steps it needed to to put it in place.

So, that's what the administration is doing today. They are announcing this proposed rule. The criteria for DACA largely remains the same. It doesn't change that new applicants still can't apply because of that Texas ruling. And most importantly, Kate, it does not provide a pathway to citizenship for this population.

Here's what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. He said this notice of proposed rule making is an important step to achieve that goal. However, only Congress can provide permanent protection.

So, Kate, pressure still on Congress to provide permanent protection to this population of immigrants.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, let's see where this ends up. Good to see you, Priscilla. Thank you for your reporting.

Ahead for us, a new Texas law banning nearly all abortions is putting pressure on providers in other states now. Our next guest, an Oklahoma abortion provider, on the crush of calls that they are now getting.



BOLDUAN: Now I want to turn -- let me get to this breaking news to you just now, just coming in to CNN. We've just learned that President Biden from the White House, President Biden is going to be getting his, coronavirus booster shot this afternoon. The president will also be delivering remarks about the booster program, and this comes just days after the CDC Director Rochelle Walensky overruled a CDC advisory panel endorsing an additional dose of the Pfizer vaccine, not just for older Americans but also for frontline workers at high risk for COVID. That coming this afternoon.

Now, I want to turn to this. It has been 27 days since Texas banned most abortions in that state. The new restriction bans all abortions after six weeks, which is before most women know that they're pregnant. It also takes the extraordinary stem of allowing any private citizen to sue anyone who treats or assists on one seeking the procedure.

Now abortion providers in neighboring states are reporting a big increase in the number of Texas women seeking their help far from home.

Joining me now is someone who knows this very well, Rebecca Tong. She's the co-executive director of Trust Women, a clinic in Oklahoma City.

Thank you so much for being here. Appreciate your time.

You're one of only four abortion providers in Oklahoma as we understand it. And now you're dealing with this overflow from Texas.

In response to the Texas law, what are you seeing at your clinic?

REBECCA TONG, TRUST WOMEN FOUNDATION: Right now, our clinics are trying to see about twice as many patients that they normally do.