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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Lawyers Say Michigan School Shooting Suspect's Parents Did Not Flee; Biden Pushes Plan to Combat Omicron As New Variant Spreads; Sources: Russia Building Up Military, Supplies Along Ukraine Border; Dems Face Tough Road To Keep House Majority; New Pushback After Baldwin Denies Responsibility For A Fatal Shooting; Police Searching For School Shooting Suspect's Parents. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 03, 2021 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Michigan police activating the fugitive team.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A manhunt under way for the parents of the suspected Michigan school shooter. Parents went missing after prosecutors announced charges and laid out a rather scathing case against them.

As we wait to understand more about the Omicron variant, the Biden White House is hoping to make it easier for every American to get a COVID test. CNN's Sanjay Gupta just sat down with the head of the CDC to talk about how.

Then -- all eyes are on a key border as Russia stocks up medical supplies and fuel and other military equipment. What is Vladimir Putin planning to do to Ukraine and when?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with breaking news. The parents of 15-year-old Michigan school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley are missing. The Oakland County sheriff telling CNN moments ago that all available resources, including a fugitive team, the U.S. Marshals, and the FBI, are right now looking for James and Jennifer Crumbley. Prosecutors earlier today charged the Crumbleys with four counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from Tuesday's deadly shooting, in which their son allegedly carried out, leaving four teenagers dead.

The Crumbleys were scheduled to appear in court this hour after prosecutors said the couple purchased the handgun for their son as a Christmas gift and failed to act despite multiple warning signs, even on the morning before the shooting.


KAREN MCDONALD, OAKLAND COUNTY PROSECUTOR: Ethan Crumbley's teacher came upon a note on Ethan's desk which alarmed her to the point that she took a picture of it on her cell phone. The note contained the following. A drawing of a semiautomatic handgun pointing at the words, quote, the thoughts won't stop, help me, end quote.

In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet, quote, blood everywhere. James and Jennifer Crumbley resisted the idea of them leaving the school at that time, of their son leaving the school at that time. Instead James and Jennifer Crumbley left the high school without their son.


TAPPER: Let's get straight to Alexandra Field live for us in Oxford, Michigan.

Alexandra, do police have any leads as to where the Crumbleys could be?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, Jake. They are actually turning to the public now asking for help. This community grieving but also being asked to be on the lookout for Jennifer and James Crumbley. The sheriff's department putting out pictures of both of them and the black Kia SUV they may have been drawing.

The last video we saw of Jennifer and James Crumbley was their video link when they attended their son 'arraignment earlier this week. The video was being shot from a car. Not clear at all where they are.

The sheriff's office is saying they had been in touch with the couple's attorney to arrange a possible arrest once there were charges. That attorney now saying they are no longer in contact with the couple. All of this coming after the prosecutor laid out more of the chilling details of the shooting inside this school earlier this week, and an impassioned plea for why she thinks these parents need to be held accountable.


MCDONALD: The shooter was the one who entered the high school and pulled the trigger, there are other individuals who contributed to this.

FIELD (voice-over): In a rare move, a prosecutor holding the parents of a school shooter responsible in the deaths of four teenagers hunted down, investigators say, by their son in the hallways of a high school.

MCDONALD: Anyone who had the opportunity to stop this from happening, to have done it.

FIELD: James and Jennifer Crumbley each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter following Tuesday's attack.

POLICE: We have an active shooter incident. So far we do have confirmed injuries.

FIELD: The Oakland County prosecutor saying the father bought the semiautomatic handgun, used in the shooting, four days earlier with his 15-year-old son Ethan by his side. Ethan later posting a picture of it on social media with the caption, just got my new beauty today. And his mother in her own now-deleted post writing, mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present, according to prosecutors.

Within days, Ethan's behavior sets off alarm bells at Oxford High School. Prosecutors laying out a series of glaring failures that followed.

MCDONALD: A teacher at the Oxford High School observed Ethan Crumbley searching ammunition on his cell phone during class and reported the same to school officials.

FIELD: Jennifer Crumbley doesn't respond to messages from the school but investigators say she does send a text message to her son.


LOL, I'm not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.

The next day, the morning of the shooting, another teacher makes a shocking discovery.

MCDONALD: A drawing of a semiautomatic handgun pointing at the words, quote, the thoughts won't stop, help me, end quote. In another section on the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet, blood everywhere, end quote.

Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is a drawing of a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding. Below that figure is a drawing of a laughing emoji. Further down the drawing are the words, quote, my life is useless, end quote. And to the right of that are the words, quote, the world is dead, end quote.

FIELD: Officials say the suspect and his parents met with administrators, law enforcement isn't notified, neither is the school resource officer. But the Crumbleys who were told to get counseling for their son within 48 hours resist taking him home for the day. They never ask him where his gun is, likely in his backpack, investigators say.

POLICE: Put it out as a mass casualty please.

FIELD: As news of a shooting at the high school breaks on Tuesday afternoon, a text from Jennifer. Ethan, don't do it. Minutes later, prosecutors say James Crumbley calls 911 to report a missing gun that had been stored, investigators say, in an unlocked drawer.

MCDONALD: I am by no means saying that an active shooter situation should always result in a criminal prosecution against parents. But the facts of this case are so egregious. This doesn't just impact me as a prosecutor and a lawyer, it impacts me as a mother.


FIELD: Jake, a major development coming in in just the last couple of minutes. Attorneys who say they're representing the Crumbleys reaching out with this statement saying the Crumbleys are, in fact, not missing.

They say this: On Thursday night, we contacted the Oakland County prosecutor to discuss this matter and to advise her that James and Jennifer Crumbley would be turning themselves in to be arraigned.

Instead of communicating with us, the prosecutor held a press conference to announce charges. The attorneys go on to say the Crumbleys left town on the night of the tragic shooting for their own safety. They are returning to the area to be arraigned. They are not fleeing from law enforcement despite recent comments in media reports but, Jake, we know they were supposed to be in court for that arraignment at 4:00.

TAPPER: Alexandra Field, thank you.

Here to discuss, civil rights attorney and CNN legal analyst Areva Martin, former prosecutor Charles Coleman Jr., and CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem.

So, Juliette, let me start with you.


TAPPER: We just heard this statement from the parents' lawyers that the Crumbleys are not fleeing the law, they of just out of town for their own safety. How does that square with the fact they were supposed to be in court and did not attend?

KAYYEM: Yeah, a lot of it doesn't square so this may just be a covering of themselves. It is hard to tell right now. What makes no sense honestly is why is this a story? This should never have happened. Once the prosecutor files and she has a national press conference, you would have the sheriff standing -- knowing where the family is and standing outside the door.

So this may get resolved in the next hour. It's a distraction to the larger story which is, of course, dead teenagers and parents who are being charged for being essentially responsible for that killing, but we'll figure it out. But there's been a gap in communication between the school and the sheriff's office and now the prosecutor and the sheriff's office which all -- which are sort of unforgivable at this stage given what's happened.

TAPPER: Areva, let me ask you. Let's put the issue of where the Crumbley parents are right now, aside for a second and just talk about the extraordinary nature of these charges against them. What are your thoughts? If you were the Crumbleys' defense attorney, how would you be planning a defense for them?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, Jake, these are extraordinary charges. We know that prosecutors have been reluctant to charge parents in these school shooting cases, even though in some cases, like the case of the Crumbleys today, parents seem to have some criminal responsibility. The defense attorneys have to show these parents acted responsibly and all the information that's coming out today suggests they did just the opposite. Their Facebook post of the mom bragging about having bought this gun

for her son for Christmas and this questionable as to whether a 15- year-old could even carry a gun or have a gun in his possession in the state. Also, information coming out that the gun was not kept in a secure and locked place, information that the parents had read flags but they ignored them. This is an uphill battle for this defense team.

TAPPER: Charles, as a former prosecutor, I'm wondering what specific charges there are against the Crumbleys that you think you would have a good chance of prosecuting, because you know, there are rather lax gun laws in the United States, and it may be that it -- I don't know the gun laws in Michigan, but it might not have been illegal to buy their 15-year-old son a gun.


It might not have been illegal to not store it safely in the home. I don't know. What do you think?

CHARLES COLEMAN, JR., FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, Jake, I've taken a look at the statutes in Michigan and, quite frankly, I don't think the prosecution is going to have a strong case with them regard anything of the gun possession laws in and of themselves, at least not against the parents.

I think the prosecution stands to make some ground and get some traction on the involuntary charges that you've seen because they don't require intent and there have been so many different red flags as Areva pointed out earlier that were in the way of what we saw that can be argued, should have been flagged and should have been notes for these parents to intervene in a way that could have prevented this. Because you have the mother texting the son, I'm not mad at you, just don't get caught. Those can be seen as aiding and abetting the final outcome which is why these involuntary charges are going to stick but I don't see very much coming from any gun possession charges in this case.

TAPPER: Juliette, I mean, to put -- I don't want to put too fine a point on this, but bad parenting isn't necessarily against the law.

KAYYEM: Right. No, that's exactly right. And there probably are no gun charges because Michigan doesn't have a safe storage law as the prosecutor said but this is not about bad parenting. So, let's make it clear. This is not about negligence. It's not about bad parenting. It is about involuntary manslaughter which is defined as you are contributing, although you may not wish it, you are contributing to the death of people.

And this is where the case is historic as it is the first case in a mass school shooting where the parents are being criminally charged. But secondly, the facts are really, really strong and not just what was already laid out by the two previous guests. There's this one moment that, you know, everyone's jaw dropped during the press conference but the one that struck me was the parents not apparently not knowing where the gun is, insisting that their child stay in school. Now we can debate why the school allowed that. But the parents, with

full knowledge then want the kid still in school and that's going to hurt them.

TAPPER: Juliette Kayyem, Areva Martin, Charles Coleman, Jr., thanks to all of you. You'll keep bringing you updates on this breaking story.

Coming up, just a week has passed since the Omicron variant was announced to the world. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to the head of the CDC about the variant. That's next.

Then, Alec Baldwin is talking about the deadly shooting on the "Rust" movie set. But his side of the story is raising even more questions.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead today, the Biden administration insists the U.S. has the tools to stay ahead of the new Omicron variant. This as average COVID daily cases top the 100,000 mark in the U.S., the first time that's happened since October. Various Republican officials, including Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, can tweet, quote, real America is done with COVID-19, unquote. But that does not mean COVID-19 is done with America.

Hospitalizations are around 58,000 right now. They've been on the rise for almost a month. Deaths due to COVID in the U.S. are now around 1,300 every day. Every day. That's the highest in more than a month. And that includes 6,000 new cases and 57 deaths in Ohio just yesterday, Congressman Jordan.

While Omicron could be a factor in the virus' rise, the CDC director told CNN's Sanjay Gupta just moments ago that the highly contagious delta variant seems largely to blame. More of her comments in a moment. But, first, CNN's Nick Watt with the Biden administration's effort to fight this new unknown.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Omicron is in the United States. That mild case in Minnesota, he was fully vaccinated and boosted.

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN: So far, I am reassured that this will be just a mild illness, if any illness at all for those of us that are fully vaccinated but there are a lot of people in the U.S. who are unvaccinated and our hospitals cannot take that kind of surge again.

WATT: Still, unclear if this variant first detected in southern Africa evades vaccines or spread faster. But --

DR. SOUMYA SWAMINATHAN, CHIEF SCIENTIST, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: We do think it is quite infectious, quite transmissible because South Africa is been reporting a rapid increase in the number of cases, doubling every day.

DR. MARGARET HARRIS, SPOKESPERSON, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: The other thing that's becoming clearer is that people who are infected with other versions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be reinfected with this one.

WATT: New travel restrictions kick in 12:01 a.m. Monday. Everyone coming into the U.S. will have to test negative within 24 hours of departure. Some experts also advocating domestic travel restrictions.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: When you go through security you show your vaccine card. If you haven't been vaccinated, you can't get on board an aircraft.

WATT: The Biden administration has said it will not do that.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The measures that I announced yesterday are, we believe, are sufficient, but we do require for travel, I'm going to continue to require people to have masks on.

WATT: The administration will now distribute 50 million free at-home tests.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: The Trump administration totally undermined testing. I think the Biden administration has done a better job but I don't think they've done enough to make these tests as widely available as they should be.

WATT: They're now trying to speed up the identification of variant cases. Latest analysis, sample collection to ID takes 28 days here, much quicker in Botswana, Belgium, and the U.K. The delta variant is still very dominant in the U.S. and big picture, we're now averaging over 100,000 new infections every day.


It hasn't been that high in nearly two months. Hospitalizations and deaths are also climbing.


WATT (on camera): And today, the Biden administration is shipping 11 million vaccine doses overseas, 9 million of them to Africa.

Now, of course, this Omicron variant first detected in South Africa, only 25 percent South Africans are fully vaccinated, but it's not a supply issue. They've got plenty of doses down in South Africa. They, like us, have a vaccine hesitancy issue -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Watt, thanks so much.

Let's talk now to CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, thanks for joining us. Always a treat to have you in studio. So, let's play a key moment in your conversation with CDC director,

Dr. Rochelle Walensky. You asked her if she was worried Omicron could become the dominant strain here in the U.S. Here's what she said.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: It might. We don't yet know. What we do know is that early data and even mutation data are telling us that this may well be a more transmissible variant than delta. And so, this is going to take some time to sort out. We are prepared, though. We are doing genomic sequencing in all these states.


TAPPER: What did you make of that?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are doing a lot more genomic sequencing than we were doing. But it does strike me still that most of these variants are typically found in other places first. And I think a large part of that is we're still not doing enough overall testing. PCR tests.

TAPPER: In the U.S.?

GUPTA: In the United States, about a million to a million and a half per day. Remember, at one point, we were talking about 20 or 30 million per day. So, maybe we'll get to that point. Dr. Fauci thinks we will. But that's part of the problem.

If you look at what's happened in South Africa specifically, I think this tells the tale because you look at the graph there. Beta was also a dominant strain for a while in South Africa but they never became the dominant strain here. And also, if you look at the far right of the screen at the time, Omicron really started in large numbers in South Africa, it wasn't competing against anything. So we'll see.

Delta is still far and away the dominant strain. We're not seeing a lot of contacts of these people that we've heard about testing positive. Not seeing them test positive yet. So I think we just have to wait and see a little longer.

TAPPER: So, the Biden administration, they keep saying that they have the tools. We have the tools to get ahead of the variant. We have vaccines, we have boosters, we have testing and now we have added restrictions on people traveling to the United States from other countries.

Is there any evidence that Americans are taking advantage of these tools?

GUPTA: I think there is now. It's interesting. Even since Omicron news broke, you have seen an increase in overall vaccinations, 2.2 million shots yesterday went into arms. About a million of those were boosters. That was the highest number since May.

So, we saw a similar uptick when delta came on the scene because people get nervous. They want to get their shots. We are seeing that. You can see the graph there. You can see the uptick in overall vaccines.

There are more tests. As I mentioned, still not nearly enough, I think, but maybe those numbers will go up.

But the thing about boosters, the sentiment about boosters is most encouraging. If you look at this graph, about 18 percent of people who say probably will not or definitely will not get a booster, but that means about 82 percent say that they will or they probably will. So those are good numbers.

It's always around 17 percent, 18 percent hesitancy. It was the same number vaccine hesitancy initially. Now we're seeing the same with boosters.

TAPPER: We're seeing evidence of community spread here in the U.S. with the weekly average of COVID going up. Hospitalizations going up. Deaths going up.

What do you make of the Biden administration's reluctance to create restrictions nationwide for those who are vaccinated or not vaccinated?

GUPTA: Well, I think when it comes to things like airline travel, for example, I think they are talking about the fact that -- three things, really. One, there haven't been large outbreaks on planes. That's --

TAPPER: A lot of air circulating and people wearing masks.

GUPTA: I think the mask thing is big. You know, since the beginning, they thought that should be a really protective measure and turns out it probably is because we haven't seen those outbreaks. They're going to extend those mask mandates on all kinds of public transport. I think the second thing is that, you know, there's not a real willingness to impose those sorts of mandates on domestic travel, and the airline industry doesn't want them either. So, I think there's been this back and forth.

Why do we need to do this? We haven't had outbreaks. Masks work. Just extend those. That seems to be the message for now.

There's a lot of people in the public healthy community that disagree with that. They think if you really are serious about getting that 35 percent of people who still have not been vaccinated, this would go a long way, but they have made it clear they're not ready for that.

TAPPER: And there are -- there's the whole political party who is against these mandates and even encouraging vaccine ignorance if not opposition.

GUPTA: They think it's over.

TAPPER: They think it's over. That's what Congressman Jim Jordan says, and he's wrong.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

Growing concern that Vladimir Putin is up to no good. New reporting about Russia's latest moves along the Ukrainian border.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our world lead now, new evidence that Russia is preparing for a possibly prolonged conflict and Vladimir Putin ultimately decides to invade Ukraine.


Sources are telling CNN that Russia is erecting supply lines, including medical units and fuel along the border with Ukraine.

CNN's national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is here with his reporting.

So, Jim, are Ukraine, the U.S. and European allies essentially preparing for war?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They don't know what Russia will do but the current U.S. intelligence assessment is that Russia has everything it needs in place today to mount an invasion, and the most recent information is they have supply lines in place that have been missing to this point. Supply lines to supply frontline forces for 7 to 10 days, support forces for 30 days. This includes making plans for field hospitals, medical units to treat their wounded, fuel lines, fuel supplies, ammunition, et cetera. That's key.

In addition to that, Russia are reporting that they've added more troops in just recent days. So they have everything they need and if they were to choose to attack, I'm told by a member of the house intelligence committee that they so overwhelm Ukrainian forces that that would be in the Russian plan would be for a blitzkrieg-like assault. It's meant to be shift and have not just a military element but a political element as well -- replacing political leadership in Ukraine, again, if they choose to invade.

TAPPER: They've done this before. They did this to breakaway republics in Georgia. They did this to Crimea in Ukraine.

So, President Biden was asked about Russia this morning. Here's what he had to say.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be -- will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do. But that's in play right now.


TAPPER: We should point out that President Biden has a cold that I think given to him by his grandson. That's why his voice sounds like that.

Take us behind the scene. What is President Biden talking about?

SCIUTTO: From the beginning, the U.S. strategy in response has been to one internationalize this. Get U.S. allies on board, both in terms of supporting Ukraine and publicly warning them not to do this. And also by providing lethal military assistance to Ukrainian forces so Russia cannot assume that its invasion would be cost-free, right? That it would be long. The question is and I've heard this from Democratic and Republican here that the U.S. has not been giving in the West military assistance to Ukraine sufficiently and quickly enough to raise the costs significantly and sufficiently enough for Russia.

But it's an open question what Russia chooses to do.

TAPPER: That's right. Obama did not give that lethal assistance but Trump did and Biden willing to do so as well.


TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

Ten out of 10 times it has happened, and congressional Democrats, they won't like these numbers. That story is next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is telling colleagues he does not think Biden's Build Back Better Act, the social safety network bill, will pass by Christmas. That if true, could be a big blow for President Biden and Democrats as they head into the 2022 midterms.

Republicans only need to gain five seats to retake control of the House of Representatives, and a new CNN analysis shows the odds are very much in favor of the GOP doing so.

CNN's senior data reporter Harry Enten joins me.

Harry, you looked at the congressional ballot which asks likely voters if they'd like a Democrat or Republican to represent them in Congress. And what's it telling you?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I have looked at this historically speaking and I can tell you right now the Republican lead on the generic congressional ballot. They lead by just two points. But compare that to where we were four years ago at this point. What you saw was that Democrats had a nine-point advantage at this exact point in time. And I could just tell you that Republicans leading on the generic

congressional ballot is very, very, very, very, very rare. But more than just being very rare, look at the opposition party leading on the generic congressional ballot.

And you can go all the way back. Let's go all the way back since 1938. If you go back before Biden is born, you are going back a long time.

And if you look at this -- when the opposition party leads on the generic congressional ballot at this point, in midterms since 1938, they have won or held control of the House 10 out of 10 times.

Now, obviously, that's a relatively small sample size but whenever you get 10 out of 10 in politics, that's a very clear sign the Democrats at this point, if history holds, are in a lot, a lot of trouble.

TAPPER: And, Harry, one of the things Congress watchers do, it's like detecting trouble in a forest. You see rabbits and squirrels and animals running out of the woods into the field and Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio from Oregon, he just announced he's retiring. This is the 11th House Democrat to retire from public office to announce it ahead of the midterms. This is significant.

ENTEN: It is significant because these folks are looking at the same measures that we're looking at. And as you mentioned, Democrats have 11 folks who are retiring from public office in the house. Look how many Republicans have. They have just four.

This is a complete reversal of where we were in 2018 when a lot more Republicans were retiring than Democrats. And, you know, they know what's cooking. They know what's going on.

And if you look back historically, look back since 1974 midterm elections, what do you see? You see the party with fewer retirements gains House seats 8 out of 12 times. So, that's not perfect but when you combine that with what we're seeing in the generic congressional ballot, you can see that they're sort of all these different factors are working against the Democrats at this particular point in time.

TAPPER: And let's talk about President Biden's approval rating and what that might indicate about Democrats in the coming midterms.

ENTEN: It's not good because if you look, normally the party in power, the White House party, loses seats and if you look at the few times where they didn't lose seats, look where the president's approval rating was. It was well above where Joe Biden's was at this particular point. It's just 41 percent, Biden's rating. You look at the times the White House party lost less than 5 seats, look at that, 79, 60 percent, 86 percent.

But if you just look historically and look back since 1870, it shouldn't be a big surprise that Democrats are in a lot of trouble because 34 out of 38 times the White House party has lost five seats or more.

TAPPER: All right. Harry Enten, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Good to see you.

Let's discuss. Gloria Borger, these numbers that Harry Enten laid out are pretty staggering if you're a Democrat.


TAPPER: Pretty much, theoretically, 100 percent chance, according to the data that Republicans will take back the House.

I guess the question is, is there anything Democrats can do to at least stem the tide a little bit?

BORGER: Yeah, first get into bed. Pull the blankets over your head. Yeah, of course there is. They have to start talking about what they are doing to help the average American. And there was this great memo written this week by Democratic strategist who basically said, things that you would -- that are easy. Stop fighting with each other. All people know about you is that you fight with each other a lot.

Have a positive message. Don't tie everything to Donald Trump. They are over Donald Trump. They want to know what your brand stands for. And so far, they think your brand is just Joe Biden and they don't like Joe Biden very much so come up with something else. So that's why they want to pass Build Back Better so they can talk to the American public about what they've done for them.

The public acknowledges infrastructure and likes that. How about some other things?

TAPPER: They acknowledge it and like it but I haven't heard the Democrats talk a ton about it, even though that did pass.

Seung Min Kim, President Biden's approval rating is grim. In "the Washington Post," he's at 41 percent. That's not good. Can the president do anything to improve that? That's 41 percent after the infrastructure bill passed, right? So -- and how much does his approval rating matter in the midterms?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it matters significantly. A lot of times with the fate of the House, they kind of live and die by the popularity of the president, which is why, for example, earlier this year, you had urging from House Democrats pushing the president to be more proactive in selling the Democratic agenda, selling what the Democratic party is doing for the American people. But right now in terms of what President Biden can do for his own immediate approval ratings and help his party's chances in the midterms is to really get the economy under control. Make people feel better about what's going on.

You're seeing reflected in a lot polling. You know, voters don't feel great about inflation, gas prices, the supply chain crisis, how it affects the holidays. You see the White House especially over the past several of weeks first of all take a change in tone saying we feel your pain. This matters to you. We are working hard to fix it, and they've taken some short-term steps to ease some of these current economic issues and they hope that passage of the Build Back Better plan helps create or helps ease these problems in the long term.

TAPPER: Gloria, you mentioned the governor's race in Virginia and that think tank, the center left think tank. So they looked at some focus groups with Biden voters to figure out why these voters either backed Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin or thought about voting for him. This is voters believe the economy is bad and no amount of statistics can change their mind. We should still talk about this. This is a Democrat talking to fellow Democrats.

We should still talk about these but realize they'll have limited impact when people are seeing help wanted signs all over main street, restaurant sections closed for lack of workers, rising prices and supply disruptions, even where things are getting better, Biden doesn't get credit.

So if you are a Democrat running for office, let's say you're in a swing district, what are you supposed to say?

BORGER: You're supposed to keep saying, look what we've done for you. I mean, what was interesting about this memo is he said remember the American Rescue Plan? You do, but the public doesn't.

TAPPER: They don't talk about it.

BORGER: Right. They don't talk about it.

What did they spend all their time talking about? How much money they were going to spend, $3 trillion, whatever it was. And then talk about fighting with each other.

They're not talking about -- this is going to affect you and the president is really trying to do that now. You hear him saying, look, you know, your shelves are going to be stocked at Christmas. We're going to try and get there on time. Your wages have gone up more than inflation.

So you hear him trying to do that, but it takes awhile to turn a battle ship around.

TAPPER: Very quickly, why don't Democrats talk about the fact that, for instance, the American rescue plan lifted half of the kids in poverty out of poverty? Why don't they?

KIM: They do try to promote, for example, that child tax credit provision but Democrats will acknowledge to you privately and publicly, they're just not great at selling their own accomplishments, kind of quality of the Democratic Party. So, that's why you are seeing this push to really sell their accomplishments more.

TAPPER: Gloria and Seung Min Kim, thanks to both of you.

BORGER: Thanks.

TAPPER: Coming up next, Alec Baldwin's most in-depth interview since October's fatal shooting on a movie set. It's already getting pushback. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


TAPPER: In our pop culture lead now, we're seeing lots of pushback against actor Alec Baldwin saying he feels someone is responsible for the fatal shooting on the set of his movie "Rust" but, quote, I know it's not me, unquote.

CNN's Natasha Chen has more on the reaction to Baldwin's first in- depth interview since the gun he was handling went off, killing the movie's cinematographer.


911 CALLER: Two people accidentally shot.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time since cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed on the set of "Rust," actor Alec Baldwin described what he thought happened on October 21st. In an exclusive interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, Baldwin says he never pulled the trigger on the gun he was holding.

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: I let go of the hammer, bang, the gun goes off.

CHEN: He recounted the rehearsal saying Hutchins was telling him how to position his hand, holding the gun just off camera.

BALDWIN: In the scene, I'm going to cock the gun. I said do you want to see that? She said yes. I take the gun and start to cock the gun. I'm not going to pull the trigger. Just tilt it down a little bit like that. And I cock the gun, I go, can you see that? Can you see that? Can you see that?

And she says, and I let go of the hammer of the gun and the gun goes off.

CHEN: In the moments that followed, complete disbelief.

BALDWIN: Everyone is horrified. They're shocked. It's loud. They don't have their ear plugs in. The gun was supposed to be empty.

I was told I was handed an empty gun. I thought to myself, did she faint?

The notion that there was a live round in that gun did not dawn on me until probably 45 minutes to an hour later.

CHEN: The attorney for Assistant Director Dave Halls says Halls maintains he did not see Baldwin pull the trigger and Baldwin did not have his finger on the trigger.

Theatrical firearm safety expert Steve Wolf showed why he believes that's not likely. STEVE WOLF, THEATRICAL FIREARMS SAFETY EXPERT: Not plausible. On a

single action revolver, when you pull the hammer back, which is an intentional act, click, click, click, click. Now the hammer is set. When you pull the hammer back and let go I'm not holding this, the hammer doesn't go anywhere.

CHEN: He says if Baldwin's finger was resting the trigger when he let go of the hammer --

WOLF: He doesn't have to press the trigger again if he already has pressure on it in order for the gun to fire.

CHEN: Baldwin became emotional as he described as his admiration for Hutchins, but said he does not feel responsible or guilty for her death.

BALDWIN: I feel that someone is responsible for what happened, and I can't say who that is, but I know it's not me. I mean, honest to God, if I felt that I was responsible, I might have killed myself if I thought I was responsible. I don't say that lightly.


CHEN (on camera): The district attorney in Santa Fe says that everyone on set had a duty to behave in a way to protect everyone's safety. Certain actions and inactions led to this outcome.

Sources tell CNN that February is a goal for local prosecutors to make decisions in criminal charges by then, Jake.

TAPPER: Natasha Chen, thank you so much.

Breaking news, the parents of the accused school shooter in Michigan are still missing after prosecutors charged them with involuntary manslaughter in this week's high school tragedy. We're going to go live with the latest on the search. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, President Biden touting what he calls his strong economy despite a weaker than expected jobs report today. So, what is the reality?

Plus, families who lost loved ones on the opioid epidemic demanding that the Justice Department take action against the Sackler family. We're going to speak to a father who has said they have been able to, quote, get away with murder.

And leading this hour, a stunning twist today. There's a manhunt underway for the parents of the suspected Michigan school shooter. The FBI and U.S. Marshals have joined the search. James and Jennifer Crumbley were charged earlier today with involuntary manslaughter and were scheduled to be arraigned last hour but the couple failed to show up to court.

The prosecutor earlier today laid out a case against the Crumbleys, including claims the couple bought the gun seemingly for their son and did not take seriously enough the school's concerns about their son's apparent interest in ammunition and violence.

Let's get straight to CNN's Shimon Prokupecz live for us in Oxford, Michigan.

And, Shimon, the parents' attorney say the couple -- they're not fleeing police. They left town for their own safety and are headed back. What are police saying about that claim?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Police are not buying it, Jake. I just got off the phone with the under sheriff here who is in charge of this entire operation.