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Secretary Of State Tony Blinken On Release Of Brittney Griner; House Passed Bill To Protect Same-Sex, Interracial Marriage; CDC: Flu Hospitalizations Hit The Highest Level In A Decade. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 08, 2022 - 11:30   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They did. Based on our reporting what they believe was the only option at this moment.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. As John Kirby said it really clearly just now, it was one American or no Americans, and that was that ended up it felt to them the decision they had to make in this moment. Thank you both for being here. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us. The House just passed a bipartisan bill aimed at offering more protections to marriage equality. Developments from Capitol Hill next.



BOLDUAN: Let's go to the State Department. Right now, Secretary of State Tony Blinken.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. STATE SECRETARY: Let me just express my own gratitude to the State Department team and to our colleagues across the United States government who worked tirelessly to secure Brittney Griner's release. I especially want to commend our Special Presidential Envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, and his entire team. Roger is actually accompanying Brittney home as we speak. I also extend our thanks to our Emirati friends who assisted in Brittney's transfer today.

Securing the release of Americans who've been wrongfully detained is a top priority for me as Secretary of State. And it's something that we work on every single day. And so, while we're elated at Brittney returning home, we continue to work relentlessly to bring Paul Whelan home as well. Despite our efforts, the Russian government has not yet been willing to end his wrongful detention. They continue to insist on sham charges of espionage and are treating Paul's case differently. As a result, Paul and his loved ones continue to suffer needlessly and unjustly.

This was not a choice of which American to bring home. The choice was one or none. I wholeheartedly wish that we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane as Brittney, just as at the time, I wish we could have brought Britney and Paul home when we secure the release of Trevor Reed back in April. But we will stay at it. We continue to work with the Whelan family who've been extraordinarily gracious. And we hold them in our thoughts and prayers always but especially today. And we will never relent until Paul, and for that matter, every other U.S. national held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad is free and coming home and joining their families where they belong.

Now turning to our bilateral and trilateral meetings today. It's a particular pleasure to have my friends.


BOLDUAN: All right, as we heard just there, Secretary of State Tony Blinken with his first reaction to the announcement of Brittney Griner coming home and also making clear he says they will continue to work relentlessly to bring Paul Whelan home and other Americans wrongfully detained abroad. That really puts a fine point on how this morning's release of WNBA star Brittney Griner in exchange for a Russian arms dealer that it is bittersweet for the families of all of the other Americans still detained overseas.

CNN just spoke to the former Marine Paul -- the former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan himself who was not part of the swap. Whelan is saying that he was happy that Griner was released. But also, he is, in his words, disappointed the Biden administration has not done more to secure his release.

Now, joining me now is Neda Sharghi. The sister of another American wrongfully detained abroad. Her brother, Emad Sharghi, has been detained in Iran since 2008. Neda, thank you for jumping on with me. How are you feeling? What's your reaction to this news today?

NEDA SHARGHI, SISTER OF AMERICAN EMAD SHARGHI WRONGLY DETAINED IN IRAN: It's mixed. I'm all over the place. I'm overjoyed that Brittney is home. She should have been brought home long ago, and she belongs here with her family. I'm heartbroken for the Whelan family. I'm a sister to a hostage and all I can think about today is what Elizabeth is going through thinking about her brother Paul.

But it's also -- you know, we have to focus and remember that President Biden did today what he needed to do to get Brittney home. And he needs to continue to do this for Paul, for my brother Emad, and for all of the hostages. And I think as Americans, I urge all Americans to come together and support him in doing this so we can give him the courage to do this more and bring more of our Americans home, including my brother.

BOLDUAN: Now, I asked John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council just now on the show, he was at the White House and I asked him about your brother. I asked him about Emad. And your request that you've had for quite some time for a face-to-face meeting and meeting with the president. He said -- John Kirby said that he didn't have an update to the president scheduled to announce but I also want -- I want to play also what else he said. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: He understands the responsibilities that he has to Americans overseas to make sure when they are wrongfully detained that we are doing everything we can to get them home.


And he will do whatever he needs to do in the interest of those families, those Americans as well, as every other American around the world to make sure that we're keeping their safety and security right at the forefront of his mind. And if that -- if doing that means he's got to have any -- will have conversations with family members, whether that's telephonically or in face-to-face, then he'll obviously do that as he has done in the past.


BOLDUAN: What do you hear in that, Neda? Does that give you hope?

SHARGHI: Look, as -- until I get an e-mail or a message that I have a meeting with President Biden, I won't. But it's hard to believe it. You know, we have been asking for so long. I'm even asking to get in to see Jake Sullivan right now. I've never had a face-to-face with him. I feel like I'm constantly begging for FaceTime. And it's hard to believe that it's a priority if they won't even take the easy step of meeting with me.

BOLDUAN: Cherelle Griner, Neda --


BOLDUAN: Go ahead. No, go ahead, I just --

SHARGHI: I hope that you can --

BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

SHARGHI: No, I just hope that I would like someone to ask why they're not meeting with me, why they're not meeting with us, and I hope when you have your guests on, just like you did with Kirby, you can ask the same question.

BOLDUAN: We've been reporting on -- we've been reporting on your brother for a long time. We've also -- in the recent weeks, I've been reporting on the anti-government protests and the crackdowns in Iran for weeks now. What has that meant for your brother? For his condition, how is he doing?

SHARGHI: So, my brother -- you know, when I talk to my brother, I tell him that all he has to do is survive every day and to leave the work to me and to his family to bring him home. What I see in Iran is heartbreaking. And I'm incredibly touched by the bravery of the men and women there. But Emad is an American. Emad needs to be brought home to America. And that should be the first priority of our president and of our administration. And that's all I can -- all I can do is to ask the president to focus on bringing my brother home, to focus on bringing his Americans home.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Your emotion on this day and any day is completely understandable. Especially on a day when, as you said, it's bittersweet and many mixed emotions.


BOLDUAN: It's a big day and a wonderful day for the Griner family and for Americans. And also, we know that your brother is still detained abroad at the very same time along with so many other Americans. Neda, thank you for coming on.

SHARGHI: Thank you for covering the story. I appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

All right, coming up for us. Have a historic moment. A bipartisan bill to protect marriage equality -- that aims to protect marriage equality is headed to the president's desk. We have the latest from the Hill.



BOLDUAN: The House of Representatives just passed the bipartisan bill aiming to protect same-sex and interracial marriages. Manu Raju, live on Capitol Hill for us. Manu, how did the final vote count right down there?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, went along bipartisan lines passage of this historic Bill, 258-169-1 voting present. So, 258 voting in the affirmative, that included 39 Republicans voting for it. All Democrats also voted for it. 169 votes all within the opposition, all Republican -- those were all Republican votes. One of those Republican votes is the Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy. I asked him why he voted against it. He did not say.

But this was this was -- is about a sea change on this issue. In 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act which didn't allow states to deny and other states same sex-marriage. That was approved with just only 67 House members voted against it. This time, this bill would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and allows states to -- require states to recognize another state's legally vowed marriage including same-sex marriages. Right now, Democrats are hailing this measure which goes to the president's desk in a matter of days, and he, of course, plans to sign this into law, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Manu, thank you so much for that. Appreciate it. So, the CDC is raising alarm as hospitalizations from the flu soar. The risk to young children and what parents need to know. That's next.


[11:53:45] BOLDUAN: Flu season is hitting the United States earlier and harder this year. Case in point, hospitalizations are at their highest level in more than a decade, with young children, particularly at risk. That is the focus of the new piece out by -- on by Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University, Irving Medical Center. It's good to see you.


BOLDUAN: Thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Great piece by the way. So, when it comes to -- when it comes to the flu, a lot of parents, kind of look at it or want to look at it, I might say as, like a really bad cold. But what do you think -- what do you want parents to understand? We're -- just people, in general, to understand about the flu this time and what they need to look out for and what they need to prepare for.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Yes. I think, unfortunately, that is one of the biggest misperceptions when it comes to flu as we think it's just a bad cold and it isn't. It can be so much worse, Kate. And sometimes I wish people could come with me just one day in my clinic to see what can happen, or one day in our emergency rooms.

And to be very clear, the flu in children is serious, Kate. I'm seeing so many cases right now, not just if the primary illness is what we call when kids first get sick, but also if the complications. The pneumonia that can come after. The ear infections that can come after. The dehydration that lands kids in the hospital. The sinusitis. That can happen in older kids, even kids with febrile seizures. Kids that develop fevers that are so high that they cease.

BOLDUAN: So, terrifying when that happens.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: It's so scary, so it's serious. And I wish people would take a serious.


BOLDUAN: What do you think is behind this earlier and kind of big -- at least it feels bigger and more aggressive wave of flu that we're seeing right now?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: I mean, flu has always been an unpredictable illness.

BOLDUAN: So true.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: This year, it came early. I think part of that has to do with us not necessarily having immunity from the last couple of seasons being a little bit lighter. And part of it is our restrictions when it comes to COVID have eased up at this point. Everyone was still wearing to some extent, mas last season, we no longer are doing that, we are gathering. Listen, as we should, I want to see family this holiday season. I want to get together with friends. I just think that we have to take a moment and take this seriously and go ahead and get vaccinated and protect ourselves as much as we can.

BOLDUAN: But that also gets to an important question, you know, setting a COVID vaccine aside. Far before that discussion and debate and hesitancy, there are a lot of people who don't really -- definitely do not believe in getting the flu shot because they think they're just going to get the flu anyway, blah, blah, blah. What do you -- what do you say to patients -- parents of patients who come in and are still resistant to getting a flu vaccine?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Yes. I mean, listen, I want to be candid right now. Sometimes when I offer the flu vaccine in my practice to families that come to see me, it feels, Kate, almost like I'm offering, I don't know, a side of fries with a burger. It's sort of said, you know, they say to me -- they look at me, and they say, oh, no, Doctor, I'm good. Not today. Not today.

It's almost like I'm asking you know do you want this to stay or to go?


BRACHO-SANCHEZ: No, I'm good today. And I just want people to really see the flu shot as the life-saving intervention that it can be. Because yes, you can still get the flu, you can still catch it, right?


BRACHO-SANCHEZ: You can still catch it. But the point of the vaccine is to protect you, to save your life to keep you from landing in the hospital around the holiday season, which nobody wants to land in the hospital around the holiday season. We want to be with family and friends. So, take this opportunity to go ahead and get vaccinated now.

BOLDUAN: Get vaccinated. All of the -- all of the measures that we know, keep -- use tissues, stay home when you're sick, wash your hands, but it's all even more critical right now.


BOLDUAN: It's good to see you. Thank you so much for coming in.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Great to see you. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: It's a great piece. You can catch it on Edith Bracho-Sanchez, thank you.

Thank you all so much for being with us this hour. A lot of breaking news we are following with the huge news coming from the Biden administration of the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner in a prisoner exchange with a convicted arms dealer Victor Bout, now headed back to Russia a free man. Much more on this as more details are coming in. Thanks for watching. I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts after this break.