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At This Hour

Astroworld Had No Plans for Crowd Surge; Inflation, Supply Chain Impacting U.S. Economy; January 6 Committee Subpoenas Six Top Trump Associates; DOJ Asks Court to Lift Block on Vaccine Mandate; Democrats Sound Alarm after Virginia Election Loss. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 09, 2021 - 11:00   ET




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

Blame and sorrow: Houston's fire chief says rapper Travis Scott bears some responsibility. The family of one victim speaks to CNN about their grief and loss.

Pain at the pump: Americans are paying more for gas just as new estimates are released of how many people are getting ready to travel for Thanksgiving.

And Dems and the Dems' Biden problem: the president's sinking poll numbers and their very real impact far beyond the White House.

Are Republicans taking note?


BOLDUAN: Thanks for being here.

Let's start with new developments out of Houston where eight people were killed and hundreds more hurt as a massive crowd rushed and surged toward the stage at Travis Scott's concert over the weekend.

CNN has obtained documents, showing detailed operations plans did not contain a contingency plan for surging crowds, despite a history of crowd issues at this very same festival. Three people were trampled and hospitalized at the Astroworld festival just two years ago.

The number of new lawsuits filed against the rapper and organizer Live Nation is increasing by the day. Now 18 lawsuits claiming negligence related to the show. Houston's fire chief telling NBC this morning Travis Scott should have, quote, "absolutely called an end to the concert" when he noticed something was wrong.


CHIEF SAMUEL PENA, HOUSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT: The artist has command of that crowd. In my opinion, and this is my opinion right now, because everything is going to be fleshed out throughout this investigation but certainly a -- the artist, if he notices something that is going on, he can certainly pause that performance, turn on the lights and say, hey, we're not going to continue until this thing is resolved.


BOLDUAN: Now "The Wall Street Journal" is also reporting that police are investigating whether counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl may have played a role in this tragedy.

So the eight victims, they have now all been identified. And Travis Scott says he will pay all of their funeral expenses. It is also important to note there are still other concertgoers that are in the hospital, suffering from injuries related to this, in the hospital as we speak.

Let's get to Houston. CNN's Rosa Flores is standing by for the latest.

Rosa, what are you learning about the investigation today?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we haven't received an update from the Houston Police Department since Saturday and we've been pushing for answers. We're asking questions but they have a policy where, all they do is tweet.

So we are waiting for them to tweet new information and asking if there will be briefings anytime soon.

Again, the latest update was on Saturday when they said this was an ongoing criminal investigation that involved both the Homicide and the Narcotics Divisions, of course, because of that account from that security officer, who said he felt a prick in his neck, that he was revived with Narcan.

So at this point, all we know is that this is a criminal investigation that's in its early stages, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Rosa, we're also hearing, as I mentioned, from some of the victims' families today. And their pain, their loss, their grief, so, so evident.

FLORES: It is just so incredibly daunting, the pain that these families are feeling and the reality that they're facing. One of those families, the family of Danish Baig, talking to CNN earlier this morning about their pain, about what their loved one went through and saying that he didn't have to die. Take a listen.


BASIL BAIG, DANISH'S BROTHER: I just want everyone to know that people who lost their lives shouldn't have lost their lives in this festival. All the parties that were -- that set up this event should be held accountable.

It's just justice for them, justice for Danish, justice for the victims and justice for the families. That's what we want. And in terms of that, if that means rules and regulations need to be

changed, how they do things, how they act and make these events, they need to do something about it. They have blood on their hands.

MIRZA BAIG, DANISH'S BROTHER: To wake up and not be able to hear his voice, to touch him, to kiss him, to tell him how much we love him, it's not going to happen anymore. And the way he left this world is not just. It's not right. It's inhumane what happened to him.


FLORES: The pain is palpable here in Houston, as more people are also fighting for their lives.


FLORES: The Houston fire chief telling me this morning that there are three individuals still in the hospital, two of them in critical condition. One of those individuals is a 9-year old, a 9-year-old boy, who was supposed to have a fun time with his dad at this concert.

According to his grandfather, who tells CNN that he was here with his father and that this little boy was on his father's shoulders as they were watching this concert. And that the crowd was swaying and swaying and, at some point, the dad was having difficulty breathing. Take a listen.


BERNON BLOUNT, EZRA'S GRANDFATHER: With him holding Ezra up, that left him vulnerable, down, so he got really squeezed and he couldn't breathe. He kept -- he just told me, "Dad, I couldn't breathe."


FLORES: Kate, what happened after, according to this grandfather, is that the dad passed out. The little boy fell on the crowd and then was later transported to the hospital and that he is fighting for his life right now, has damaged multiple organs, including his liver, his heart, his lungs.

So we're, of course, praying for that little boy to recover -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Rosa, thank you so much for bringing us the latest.

To another important story we're watching, gas prices and more Americans hitting the road. AAA this morning is predicting more than 53 million Americans will be traveling for Thanksgiving, even as fuel prices are on the rise, heading toward levels not seen in almost a decade. CNN's Pete Muntean joins us now with more on this.

So Pete, I see the gas price behind you over your shoulder.

What are you seeing there? PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, AAA anticipates it's really not going to have all that big of an impact on people traveling during this Thanksgiving travel period. In fact, it forecasts that this jump in numbers this year will be the biggest it has seen since 2005.

Of course, the vast majority of people will drive, according to AAA, 48 million people. Those numbers really not that far off from back in 2019. But for the pandemic, only about a 3 percent difference. So this will not feel like holiday travel during 2020.

In fact, the traffic is back; so is the expense of driving. The average price of a gallon of gas now about $1.30 higher than it was just a year ago. Now a seven-year high and AAA says this will not hold people back from traveling.


ANDREW GROSS, AAA SPOKESPERSON: There's a lot more confidence. People are feeling better about traveling. And no matter what the gas prices are -- and they are quite a bit higher than last year -- people are still going to take that trip.


MUNTEAN: The national average for a gallon of gas now $3.42. It was $2.11 a year ago. It's $3.27 at this Exxon in Alexandria, Virginia. But AAA says it's not demand on the horizon that's driving the jump in price here.

It's really more supply and that oil-producing nations might actually be constricting the supply a little bit, trying to recoup some of their pandemic losses from last year, when things were pretty cheap.

BOLDUAN: Pete, thanks so much. appreciate it.

As Pete is talking about gas prices are a big part of everybody's economic reality. Let's see where things really are.

"Americans are, by many measures, in a better financial position than they have been in many years. They also believe the economy is in terrible shape."

That's the take in a new piece from "The New York Times'" senior economic correspondent Neil Irwin. He joins me now.

Your piece really stuck with me because it got to kind of the psychology of people's economic reality, which, I think, is something not considered enough.

But to your point, if things are better for most folks than they have been in many years but people still think it's terrible, why is that?

NEIL IRWIN, SENIOR ECONOMIC CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": So when we think about our economic lives, there's really two sides of it -- income and spending. There's the income you bring in from your wages, from your government benefits, things like that, and the money you spend.

On the income side, things are looking really good. We've seen the strongest wage earnings in a long time the last few months plus the stimulus payments earlier in the year, child tax credit in people's bank accounts. So people are flush with cash.

On the spending side, that's where the pain is. The supply constraints are real. People go to the grocery store, meat, milk, everything seems to be more expensive. Your refrigerator breaks down; you have to wait months to get a new refrigerator. These supply chain issues are really binding and really affecting the lived experience, the economic lives of American citizens.

BOLDUAN: The lived experience is absolutely part of it.

Why is it inflation -- why is it that it's inflation that seems to be coloring, I guess, maybe is the best way to say it, the way that people see the entire economy so much?

IRWIN: We get reminded of it all the time.


IRWIN: We were just talking about gasoline prices, well, every time you're driving down the street, you see that sign that tells you exactly how much that gallon of gas costs and you remember what it was a few months ago.

I'll add a wrinkle to that: gas prices are still lower than they were throughout the 2011 to 2014 period. It's not as if these are unprecedented highs in gas prices. It's just higher than we're used to. And I think that creates a kind of pain and discomfort that people really just don't like.

BOLDUAN: I wanted to drill down on that, because you wrote about this. Because gas prices are another part and a big part of how people view their economic reality from day to day.

One bit of perspective that you offered in your writing, as you wrote in October, "It took about six minutes of work at the average private sector wage to earn enough to buy one gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. In October 2013, it took almost nine minutes of work."

Not a way I've thought about it before but it had me thinking -- and again, I ask, why don't people feel that way?

IRWIN: To economists, inflation is (INAUDIBLE) cost and benefits. The things you buy are more expensive. But so is your income. I think for most people living a life, those are kind of disconnected. If you got a raise this year, you feel like you earned that, that's great.

But if things cost more at the store, that's an unpleasant harm done to you that really annoys you. I think there's a mismatch in psychology around what happens on the income side and what happens on the wage side -- pardon me, on the consumer goods side.

And I think that divide is really central to why these supply constraints, this inflation, these shortages are really a burden.

BOLDUAN: And that also gets to, what can any politician or especially any president do to offer relief?

This gets to economic policy in the near and long term. But when it comes to gas prices, especially, since this is a big topic, there really is little that any politician or president like President Biden can do to offer relief when it comes to gas prices quickly. Right?

IRWIN: Yes, that's just the reality. It involves overseas production, it involves investment by drillers and oil companies in the U.S. It involves consumer demand. A lot of factors involved but the government doesn't have too many levers to control.

As plenty of presidents have experienced over the years, high gas prices you're your popularity but are not something you can turn a dial and adjust.

BOLDUAN: A tough but very real reality. Great to see you, Neil. Thank you very much.

IRWIN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, new subpoenas for a new group of some of Donald Trump's most loyal supporters. Why all eyes are now on the attorney general -- next.





BOLDUAN: At this hour, six new subpoenas, six people close to former president Trump are facing a demand from Congress to show up or else. This includes top members of his election campaign and top advisers, front and center trying to plot and plan ways to overturn the 2020 election results.

This is also a sign that the House Select Committee digging into January 6th and what motivated it, that they're expanding their investigation. Jessica Schneider joining me now.

What are you learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The committee here has really set tight deadlines for these six Trump allies.

But since they're also close to the former president, will they follow Steve Bannon's lead and defy the subpoenas, since the Justice Department hasn't acted on the criminal contempt for Bannon?

The first deadline for the six to comply is November 23rd for the production of documents and then the committee has scheduled depositions for all six the last week of November and the first week of December.

But as we've seen from other Trump allies or administration officials that the committee has subpoenaed, these deadlines could easily slide, especially if any of these six start engaging with the committee, working to supply them with information.

Or they could just flat-out refuse, as we've seen from Steve Bannon. So the committee says what they all have in common, these six, is that they were involved in promoting the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

The only person we've heard from so far is Bernie Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, now aligned with Donald Trump. He actually paid for rooms and suites at the Willard Hotel in Washington.

And he worked with Rudy Giuliani, Kate, to embrace and perpetuate baseless allegations of voter fraud. So far Bernie Kerik is acting defiant, saying he won't be threatened, intimidated or forced or silenced.

So Kate, already seeing defiance from at least one Trump ally that's been subpoenaed. We'll see what happens with the other five -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Jessica, thanks for your reporting.

President Biden has made clear he credits vaccine mandates for helping to get the pandemic under control. Now the Justice Department is fighting back against attempts to curb those mandates.

In court just last night, to try to get a judge to step in and allow these mandates to continue while they continue to fight it out in the courtroom, at least 27 states are suing to block the vaccine requirements that are applying to private companies with 100 or more employees, certain health care workers, as well as federal contractors.

Let's get over to the White House. CNN's John Harwood joins me.

What is happening with this?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: First of all, let's underscore the stakes of this for the Biden administration.


HARWOOD: The resurgence of the pandemic this summer dispirited Americans, soured their mood, hurt the economy. And that all helped to drive down President Biden's approval ratings, contributed to their poor election showing.

Highly important to the Biden administration to put the pandemic in the rear-view mirror for health reasons and for economic reasons. So they have gone increasingly hard, leaning into mandates.

They've got an employer mandate that's due to take effect on January 4th. Resistant states and businesses, conservatives, went to the most conservative appeals court, the 5th Circuit, and got them to issue a stay of the mandate.

What the Biden administration is doing is going back to the court and saying, let's go through the process that is set out in federal law, that would involve both having a 10-day process of reviewing the mandate but also letting the case go to a randomly selected court of appeals.

That will give them a chance of getting it out of the 5th Circuit, which is so conservative, and give them a chance to enforce this mandate and have it go forward.

They say they have confidence that ultimately it will be upheld. But they're trying to make sure there are no roadblocks to advance the mandates, which they think are the key to changing the mood of Americans and getting us out of the pandemic.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, John. Thank you for that.

Coming up for us, one year away from the midterm elections and more than a few Republicans are feeling pretty optimistic. Why some see Joe Biden as the key to GOP victory.





BOLDUAN: One year after Joe Biden was elected and one year out from the midterm election, Joe Biden has a problem. Last Tuesday's Virginia's election sounded an alarm for Democrats. A new CNN poll out yesterday is likely adding to Democrats' concerns.

They say 58 percent of Americans say President Biden hasn't paid enough attention to the nation's most important problems. And overall 48 percent of adults approve of the way that Biden is handling his job right now, while 52 percent disapprove.

And the share saying they strongly approve of Biden's performance has dropped to just 15 percent, down from 34 percent in April. It's a lot of numbers. But there's a lot in there.

Yet still some say this reality still hasn't set in for a lot of Democrats. Joining me right now is Doug Heye, Republican strategist, former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

What you lean on in this piece you wrote and I'll read one line, you write, "Many are missing the blindingly obvious forest while studying each individual leaf on each tree. President Biden is not popular."

What is so obvious about it and how does your time running coms with the RNC for 2010 relate to all of this?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. In 2010, you know, Republicans were initially declared dead on arrival, sort of how they were after, you know, the most recent elections and slowly built their way back. We had governors' elections in Virginia and New Jersey that went better than expected. We had Scott Brown.

But throughout the process, we were focused on one thing and that was Barack Obama's polling numbers. His magic number for us was 46. We felt if he was at or below that, we'd take back the House. And ultimately right before the elections, he was at 45 and we had a big Election Night.

It's easy to focus on all these other things. Think of how many conversations we've had on critical race theory in the past month or so. But it all comes down to what the president's approval rating is, whether he's going to lift votes or sink votes.

And Democrats are either going to sink or swim based on what Joe Biden's approval ratings are.

BOLDUAN: Staying in Virginia and focusing on the lesson there, one thing Glenn Youngkin, the Republican, now governor-elect, also did is keep Donald Trump at an arm's distance.

Maggie Haberman is reporting that Trump delivered a clear message at a Republican congressional campaign dinner last night, saying that Youngkin would have lost without his support, saying that MAGA support is the only way to win.

With that in mind, I want to play for you what a Youngkin campaign adviser said on CNN just today.


WILL RITTER, YOUNGKIN CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I think what Trump is relative to people's lives and, you know, when you have to weigh in on something that he has said, I mean, he's a major figure, then you do it.

But I don't think that you take the bait and always talk about a former president when you're talk about your own candidacy.

Glenn Youngkin wasn't a Trump Republican or a Romney Republican, he was a Youngkin Republican. People appreciated that and that gave a hall pass to independents and suburban people, who maybe voted for Biden, to come over and vote for Glenn.


BOLDUAN: Here's the thing, though, Doug. You have been very clear that you think Trump needs to be excised from this party. That's not this. That's not what he's saying.

Does this work for other Republicans other than Youngkin?

HEYE: I don't think we know yet. I think we'll have to see as Republicans continue to campaign. I'd say running for governor is very different than running for Senate or for Congress. [11:30:00]