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At This Hour

Haitian Kidnappers Threaten to Kill 17 Hostages; Biden Open at Altering Filibuster on Voting Rights, Debt Limit; Man with Rare Condition After J&J Shot Urges People Get Vaccinated. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired October 22, 2021 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Developing this morning, the leader of a Haitian gang holding 17 American and Canadian missionaries hostage is threatening to kill them if his ransom demands aren't met, and they're demanding $1 million per hostage.

Let's go there. CNN's Joe Johns is live in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with the very latest on this. Joe, what are you hearing about this this morning? What does the United States do?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The United States is involved. They're on the ground here in Haiti, the FBI is as well. And, Kate, I can tell you that cases like these, and there have been hundreds and hundreds over the last past couple years, tend to follow a familiar script. There is the abduction, then there's the ransom demand, then there's proof of life, then there's threats against the individuals who were kidnapped. And we've had all of that. Proof of life, in other words, the kidnappers providing the authorities with proof that they have not killed the hostages, at least so far.

And so the main player in this, of course, is an individual named Wilson Joseph. He is the leader of the 400 Mawozo street gang. He is the person who made that threat against the missionaries. He made it on a video that was shot apparently at a funeral of several gang members who he said were killed by the police. That's where we stand and waiting for authorities to tell us more. Back to you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Joe, thank you very much for that.

Turning to the crisis in Afghanistan, the State Department now says that it's in touch with more than 360 U.S. citizens still in the country. That's more than triple the estimate given by the Biden administration after the chaotic withdrawal this summer. And about half of the Americans still there have indicated that they want to leave Afghanistan.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is live at the State Department with more on this. Kylie, what are you hearing from the State Department about this?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Kate, the State Department yesterday briefed congressional staffers. And according to my colleague, Jennifer Hansler, what they told those staffers was there are about 363 Americans who are still in Afghanistan that the U.S. is in touch with, 176 of those want to leave Afghanistan.

Now, this marks a far higher number than what the State Department was initially tracking when the U.S. fully withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of August. They said that they were tracking, expecting about 100 to 200 Americans to still be in the country who wanted to leave. Those were in the words of Secretary of State Tony Blinken at the time.

Now, since then, there have been more than 200 Americans and more than 100 green cardholders who have been left Afghanistan. Those efforts have been facilitated by the United States. So what this means is that more Americans in the country have come forth, saying that we're here and we want to leave.

It's complicated for the State Department. First of all, we don't know exactly how many Americans were on the ground in the country when the U.S. withdrew from the country because those Americans aren't forced to tell the State Department that they are there. And then, of course, there are Americans who have families in Afghanistan, who are deciding if they want to leave, if they don't want to leave, some are on the fence, changing their minds. It's a complicated situation, but this does mark a large number of Americans that are still there and want to leave the country. Kate?

BOLDUAN: And even after the withdrawal, there's a lot of work still to be done. Thank you, Kylie.

Coming up next for us, President Biden now says he's willing to go there, open to eliminating the Senate filibuster, if that's what it takes to better protect voting rights. So why isn't he ready now? That's next.



BOLDUAN: A big shift for President Biden at the CNN town hall last night, the president now saying he would be open to altering the filibuster rules in the Senate in order to pass voting rights legislation.


He even added that maybe they even go further. Listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, that remains to be seen, exactly what that means in terms of fundamentally altering it, whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: When it comes to voting rights, just so I'm clear, though, you would entertain the notion of doing away with the filibuster on that one issue? Is that correct?

BIDEN: And maybe more.


BOLDUAN: Yet Biden made clear he doesn't have the votes to change it now and even trying could threaten negotiations over the massive spending bill.

Let's start there with Democratic Congresswoman from Texas Veronica Escobar. Congresswoman, thank you for being here. My experience is most House members which don't face restrictions of the filibuster in that chamber often have very little patience for this Senate tradition of the filibuster. What do you think of what Joe Biden said last night?

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): Hi, Kate, so good to be with you. I call it a ray of hope. You know, I have long called the filibuster a relic of the past. It is an instrument of obstruction, and we are facing a number of enormous challenges as a country, whether it be climate, whether it be gun violence, whether it be an economy that hasn't worked for families, or whether it is threats to our democracy that run straight through states like mine with extreme partisan gerrymandering and voter suppression bills. And all of that gets stuck in the Senate.

And the holdup seems to be pinned on the idea or rather the fantasy that you need the filibuster in order to create bipartisan support and compromise. On the House side, we have shown that we can perform in a bipartisan manner without that instrument of obstruction, the filibuster. I would love for Senate to abandon it and move forward in a Democratic process to work with us on solving our greatest challenges, the greatest challenges of our generation.

BOLDUAN: And if you want to get there, it comes to strategy a little bit. This is potentially linked to the debate over the spending bill, I kind of wonder. Joe Manchin is among those opposed to throwing out the filibuster. If you need to get him on board in order to modify the filibuster to get a voting rights bill passed, do you see value in giving Manchin more of a scaled-back spending bill now, which is what he says he wants? Is that how this all works?

ESCOBAR: Well, you know, we are wanting to work in good faith with Senator Manchin, with all of our colleagues on the Senate side. We're all part of the same team. I think we ultimately want the same things. I know that voting rights and saving our democracy is important to Senator Manchin. That's why he worked so hard on the Freedom to Vote Act. It's a bill that we're eager to vote on in the House. You know, we passed HR-1, we passed the John Lewis Voting Rights act, and we're eager to vote on the Freedom to Vote act.

I know that Senator Manchin really holds dear the traditions of the Senate, but I would argue that we are living in a very different era. And, again, those challenges that we're confronting are existential. And if we don't act with urgency, there's a lot we have to lose. BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about something else the president spoke to last night. You represent El Paso, Texas. I want to play what President Biden said when he was asked why he has not visited the border yet since taking office.


BIDEN: I've been there before, and I haven't -- I mean, I know it well. I guess I should go down. But the whole point of it is I haven't had a whole hell of a lot of time to get down. I've been spending time going around looking at the $900 billion worth of damage done by hurricanes and floods and weather and traveling around the world.


BOLDUAN: People listen to that and could have easily heard, this isn't a priority. Isn't that a problem?

ESCOBAR: You know, here's what I understand from my conversations with the White House and with folks who are doing their best to fix what has been a very broken system. I think the White House and I see the challenge we face on immigration not as a border issue. These are challenges that exist long before migrants get to the border. That's why I'm very supportive of the work being done by Vice President Kamala Harris to address root causes.

We have to do more than that, though. We've got to work with our hemispheric partners on a long-term strategy. Congress has a role to play in opening up legal pathways. But I will say this, Kate, I do think that -- yes, I asked the president to come to the border when he was a candidate. I welcome him to the border. The border is about more than just immigration. We're also about commerce and trade. We are a vital artery for the economic health of the United States.


And I look forward to welcoming the president to El Paso. I hope sooner rather than later.

BOLDUAN: You answered my next question. Congresswoman, thank you very much for coming on. I appreciate your time.

ESCOBAR: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: We do have breaking news coming in just now. Actor Alec Baldwin just tweeted out about his first statement, really, about the tragedy that took place on his movie set yesterday. Police, of course, as we've talked about at the top of the show, say Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun killing the film's director of photography, injuring the director of the film.

Let me read for you what Alec Baldwin wrote on Twitter. There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother, and deeply admired colleague of ours. I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred, and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.

That's the first statement we're hearing from Alec Baldwin on what is truly a tragedy all around. We're going to have much more on that coming up. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: A tiny percentage of the people who got the Johnson & Johnson's COVID vaccine developed a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The FDA reports that it has happened in roughly 100 cases out of the 15 million people who have gotten the J&J shot. Yet fears of side effects like this have driven hysteria among anti-vaxxers and misinformation-pushers online, which is exactly why one man, Anthony Flint, was so reluctant to tell his story, but he is speaking out and his message remains. You still need to get vaccinated.

Anthony Flint joins me now. It's so good to speak with you. Thank you for being here. You've written so eloquently about your experience and your message. I just want to read one part because you write, it was impossible to see how my experience would fit into any kind of reasonable conversation. Skeptics would have their fears confirmed further fueling distrust, if not, hysteria. But you are, as you write, one of the unlucky ones who suffered -- who got -- who was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome and it's been a long road. How are you doing today?

ANTHONY FLINT, DEVELOPED GUILLAIN-BARRE SYNDROME AFTER J&J SHOT: Well, I'm all right, I'm hanging in there, and it's been a bizarre experience. Normally, I'm a serial social media poster, but I held back and didn't tell my story, and this experience going through hospitals and rehab, but I decided to tell the story to try to get this more out in the open and be transparent about side effects and just put all the cards on the table that this is possible, but it's very rare, exceedingly rare, and we take a lot more risks with a lot of other things that we do all the days of our lives.

BOLDUAN: And that is important perspective. And also, it's quite a statement coming from someone who was one of the unlucky ones to be suffering from this.

I want to read for everyone because Johnson & Johnson gave a statement to CNN today which says, while the risk of occurrence is very low, this does appear to be above background rates. We strongly support raising awareness of signs and symptoms of rare events to ensure they can be quickly identified and effectively treated.

Anthony, talk to me about why you were reluctant to tell your story.

FLINT: Well, the conversation or what passes for a dialogue in the U.S. has gotten awfully twisted around and supercharged. I was worried that telling my story I would just exacerbate vaccine hesitation. The more I looked into it, most people I think who are hesitating or thinking about getting the vaccine are genuinely curious about it. They are concerned about side effects. They want to know how the vaccine works, and they are not so much believing these conspiracy theories and, you know, like how you could -- implanting a microchip or infertility, which are flat out not true, but that this is an actual side effect, and I just thought it would be better to talk about it and be transparent about it, although I understand why the public health establishment doesn't really talk about it much because it is so rare for it to happen.

BOLDUAN: Right. And for someone who is still hesitating, they might -- again, as you have said, your concern is they might see this and think, wow, this could be me. So what do you want them to take from your experience? Because your message is even if you look at me and what I've been through, you should still get vaccinated.


FLINT: Yes. And I really wrestled with it because, you know, this could easily freak people out. But you've got to come back and look at the numbers and just how rare it is. It's 0.0008 percent chance of getting Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

And GBS is triggered by other things too, not just vaccines. I think it reflects a rise in autoimmune disorders. So talking about all of this and how our bodies work in the context of the vaccine I think is really important. And when people who are hesitating look at the chances, I think it's better to talk about the side effects rather than appear to be hiding something.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And the key is having a real conversation and dialogue, which is more and more rare these days, but it's very good to meet you. Thank you for coming on to have that conversation.

FLINT: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you all so much for being here with me. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Inside Politics with John King begins after this break.