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Confessed Parkland Shooter Pleads Guilty to Massacre; Biden Returns to Scranton to Pitch Economic Plan to Americans; Pentagon Says, Nearly Half of Afghan Evacuees Brought to U.S. Are Children. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired October 20, 2021 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Ryan, thank you very much for that.

Still ahead for us as well, President Biden will be making a pitch for his economic agenda in his hometown today. Why he is headed to Scranton and what his message is to Americans.



BOLDUAN: Breaking at this hour, the man who confessed to killing 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, he just pleaded guilty to the 2018 massare. Nikolas Cruz, he also spoke in court.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is live at the courthouse in Broward County, Florida with more on this. Leyla, what happened?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, he pled guilty to 34 counts associated with that horrific massacre on Valentine's Day of 2018, the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. But what stuck with me was not only what he said when he asked the judge if he could say something to the victims, he apologized for his actions, but also the reaction from the loved ones and victims who filled the room today during that change-of-plea hearing. You could hear every single time a count was read, the name associated with that victim was read out loud, and you could see parents wiping their eyes, consoling each others with an embrace.

And just a few minutes ago, we heard from Anthony Borges. He was shot five times while trying to protect his classmates that day, the last victim to be released from the hospital in 2018. And he was asked, the shooter apologized, do you accept that apology? And, Kate, he says, yes. He says he forgives him, because he sees it as a critical part to his healing.

So, what happens now? Well, in terms of legal steps, this will now move in early January to the penalty phase, which essentially means the sentencing phase of this, and the prosecution has said that they do not plan to take the death penalty off the table. BOLDUAN: Their capacity for forgiveness though, those families, is truly remarkable in the face of all this. Leyla, thank you for covering that for us. We'll continue to stay on top of this.

Let's turn to this now. In just hours, President Biden will travel to his childhood home of Scranton, Pennsylvania. And this will be the first trip he'll be making there since taking office. The president is on a mission today to sell his economic agenda as talks with his own party seem to be finding new momentum in Washington over that spending plan.

Joining me right now is Scranton's mayor, Page Cognetti. Thank you for being here, Mayor.

You've been outspoken in your support for these spending bills, the infrastructure bill as well as the larger spending bill. What do you want to hear from the president today, and maybe most importantly, what is your message for him?

MAYOR PAIGE COGNETTI (D-SCRANTON, PA): When you see the president's agenda, you see Scranton throughout, it's the need to repair our aging infrastructure, it's the need for an Amtrak line to connect us back to New York City, it's the need to help working families with kids trying to manage in an economic situation that is changing rapidly around us, it's the need for universal pre-K and helping school districts like ours in Scranton who have been left behind in recent years.

So, throughout his agenda, you see that he's from Scranton, he knows what it's like to be a family in Scranton, trying to make it work with these economic changes. He saw it 70 years ago, you have the changes that we're going through now. And we're looking forward to hosting him today as he continues to push through.

BOLDUAN: I've seen you focus a lot in your statements on the hard infrastructure aspect of it as well as on the climate change provisions. Why is that important for your city?

COGNETTI: Scranton was home to America's first electric trolley. There was a time where Scranton was at the cutting edge of public transportation. We need to get there again. We need to be thinking 100 years down the road, instead of just 100 days. Scranton is an example of a city that was built on industry, was built on these different technologies and then fell off.

We've got to get there. We need the federal dollars in order to do the hard work we needed to do in a city like Scranton.

BOLDUAN: The money to combat climate change seems to be one area that's, I'd say, just most unclear where it's headed at the moment in these negotiations. The funding hasn't been dropped from talks, but it is not clear what it's going to look like on the other end because West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, he has problems with certain parts of it, especially when it comes to on the push towards clean energy and electrical, and he holds a lot of sway.

As the mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania, what's your message to the senator from West Virginia?

COGNETTI: I think, again, we've got to be thinking long-term. We've got to be thinking not just about what we're doing right now. We've got to be thinking generations down the road, and that means sacrifices. We know that. But we've got to be thinking about our history here in Scranton. We look back to where we were built. We were built on coal mining. I'm sitting here in my home and we're built literally on a coal mine. That's a history that we need to embrace. That's a message and a lesson now that we need to look at.

But energy changes, our planning and our ability to be resilient, climate resilient is going to change, we need to be realistic about that.


We're not going to change things overnight and maybe even not in the next decade, but we shouldn't hold ourselves back from future competitiveness and future economic success. So, we need to do the work now, put in the plans now for the dollars to work now to be able to be successful here over the coming decades.

BOLDUAN: It's quite a parallel that you're actually sitting on a coal mine, as we're talking about West Virginia.

When it comes -- you mentioned a couple of these things, I'm really interested, is when it comes to child care and education aspect of this massive spending bill, Democrats are -- and they're in a place of deciding what's in and out. So, you've got universal pre-K, paid family leave, tuition-free community college, the child tax credit. Which one of those programs will have the biggest impact in your city?

COGNETTI: For Scranton, the universal pre-K would have the biggest impact. We are in a situation here where our pre-K options have dwindled, our child care options on a whole have dwindled. We need help getting those back. The way that we fund our public schools in Pennsylvania, and I argue across the nation, needs an overhaul. But in the meantime, getting universal pre-K back online, making sure all of our kids are in school three and four and have a fair shot to be successful. That's the most important thing here in Scranton.

BOLDUAN: Mayor, thanks for coming on. I appreciate your time.

So, while the White House focuses on the economic agenda, it's also coming under mounting pressure to put the same amount of focus on voting rights. Sources are telling CNN that the Biden administration is still not in a place, not planning to endorse changing the Senate filibuster rules, which is key, because that would be setup the way the Senate is now, that would have to be the key in moving forward on such a bill without Republican support. And that has voting rights advocates frustrated, including the head of the NAACP, who spoke to CNN a short time ago. Listen.


DERRICK JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, NAACP: The outcome would demonstrate whether or not the ball has been dropped. For African-Americans, we must get legislation to protect our right to vote. It is imperative that the Senate leadership, members of the Senate and the White House make this happen before the end of the year. Anything less would completely undermine the legacy of this president.


BOLDUAN: Coming up next for us, the incredible new numbers this morning on how many Afghan children were evacuated during the U.S. withdrawal and are now living on U.S. military bases.



BOLDUAN: Developing this morning, the Pentagon confirms to lawmakers that nearly half of the 53,000 Afghan evacuees that were brought to the United States and are living at U.S. military installations, they are children. The revelation was disclosed in a letter from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin answering written questions from a senator. What is not addressed in the letter is how many of these children are unaccompanied, which poses, of course, additional challenges to getting them resettled here in America, fascinating nonetheless.

Joining me right now is CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. She reported extensively from Kabul during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

There's a bit more detail in here, Clarissa, of the breakdown of Afghans that were flown out and into the United States. 22 percent at U.S. military bases are women, 43 percent men, 85 percent were Afghans eligible for those special status visas along with their families. But what do you think of that news that half of the Afghans at U.S. military installations are children?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it makes you realize, Kate, just what a herculean task the U.S. has on its hands now as it tries to go about to resetting, not just individuals who might need jobs but children who will need to go to school, some of whom don't speak English, many of whom will be bearing the hallmarks of having witnessed and lived through extensive trauma.

And the fact that there are some 26,000 of them, and the fact that they're still in these U.S. camps that are getting excellent treatment and have a safe life, but it gives you a really strong sense of just how difficult it is to effectively and fully resettle these people. They were evacuated back in August. And fast forward three months, they're still living in these camps.

I'm not surprised, honestly, by the number of children and that's just based on what we saw on the ground when we were at the airport watching those evacuations taking place. It was extraordinary how many people had babies and young children with them, despite the risks, despite the Taliban shooting into the air, whipping people with truncheons, despite the stampedes. Everyone who was trying to get out was wanting to make sure that they could take their children out too and give them a better life.

So, it sounds shocking but also not entirely surprising that so many of them were indeed minors.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And your time in Afghanistan is one focus of the first episode of your new podcast, it's called Tug of War, and it's launching now. Let me play a clip for everyone, just a piece of it. This is a conversation with the head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.


Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never thought I would do this but I have been encouraging people to leave. No woman's life is going to be better. I mean, yes, hopefully the bloodshed would stop. But Afghan women deserve more. They deserve to live, not just survive. And in any scenario that I can imagine, it's just going to be survival, at least for awhile.


BOLDUAN: At least for a long time, unfortunately, it feels like. Can you tell us more about this conversation, but also more about the podcast, what it's all about and what people can look forward to?

WARD: So, really, the podcast is all about these extraordinary acts of courage that I have been privileged enough to witness from ordinary people who are standing up to often repressive, violent, authoritarian regimes and desperately trying to reclaim their basic freedoms and rights as a citizen.

And whether that's the women on the streets of Afghanistan who, by the way, Kate, continue to go out and protest despite the fact that they have been beaten, they've been whipped, they've been arrested, some of them, they're still out there whenever can desperately trying to desperately cling on to this space that they've managed to carve out for themselves over the last 20 years. Or whether it's ordinary Syrian citizens who took to the streets of cities across that country, or whether it's the people of Myanmar and the incredible pro-democracy movement that surged there in the wake of the Juntas' coup earlier this year.

We really wanted to kind of get under the skin of who these people are, where that courage comes from as they enter willingly into a David and Goliath-like scenario.

BOLDUAN: Where that courage comes from. I'm really looking forward to it. Thank you, Clarissa. It's great to see you.

WARD: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And you can all listen to Clarissa's podcast, Tug of War, wherever you get your podcasts.

Coming up still for us, Facebook is looking to rebrand, apparently. Why now and what is it exactly going to change for the social media giant that's faced so much criticism and is facing more scrutiny from Washington, next.



BOLDUAN: An incredible story out of Texas. When you see this video, now, it's terrifying, but now learn 21 people on board that burning plane were able to escape without any major injuries. The Boston-bound jet crashed shortly after taking off just outside of Houston. The jet left the runway then hit a fence, apparently, and caught fire on a field. And the NTSB is arriving today to investigate what really, really happened here, but amazing though to hear this update, as you see this, that everyone was able to get off this plane safely. We'll continue to track that.

But there's also this I want to get to. Facebook under fire for its business practices and facing a lot of pressure from lawmakers is now facing a big change, rebranding the company with a new name.

CNN's Oliver Darcy is joining me with more on this one. Oliver, what is this all about and what is it going to change for Facebook?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Yes, Kate. The Verge is reporting that Facebook wants to rebrand itself. They obviously own the Facebook app, they own Instagram and they own WhatsApp, but they also do own apps that might not be traditionally associated with social media, and they're working on building this metaverse, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said is really the next big thing.

So, according to The Verge here, the idea is to rebrand the company so that they're not only associated with their social media apps. This is coming, as you said, amid a wave of scrutiny for Facebook, particularly on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are really grilling the company. And so there have been a lot of big tobacco comparisons in the past few weeks, and no surprise you're seeing some today, some people I just saw, Jon Stewart, for instance, point out that Phillip Morrison had changed its name, the cigarette maker, when its name became toxic. And so some people are suggesting maybe that's the same here with Facebook.

I should point out that Facebook is not comment on the report that it's planning to adopting a new name.

BOLDUAN: I want to turn to Netflix though, Oliver, while I have you, the controversy over the Dave Chappell special. One of the co-CEOs of Netflix is now saying that -- the way he put it, as he quote, screwed up, while defending the Chappelle Special. And a company spokesperson this morning is apologizing to its transgender employees. What more are you hearing about this now?

DARCY: That's right. You're seeing Netflix over the past 24 hours or so completely change its messaging in regards to the Dave Chappelle special. So, they're still defending the idea of putting it on their platform, but you're seeing -- let me take a much more conciliatory approach. Co-CEO Ted Sarandos did a round of interviews last night in which he said, quite frankly, like you said, he screwed up in his communications to employees.

I'll read to you a quote he told The Wall Street Journal. He said, to be quite clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world, sometimes quite negative. What I should have led within those emails was humanity. I should have recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting.

BOLDUAN: Very interesting. Oliver, it's great to see you. Thank you so much for bringing it to me.

DARCY: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Also, I still need an explanation of what metaverse is.


We'll talk about that in another time.

Thank you all so much for being here today. I'm Kate Bolduan.