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Parts of Europe Impose New Restrictions as Cases Soar; India to Repeal Controversial Farming Laws; Growing Concerns for Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai; Canada's British Columbia Inundated with Heavy Flooding; U.S. House Delays Vote on "Build Back Better" Bill; Migrant Camp in Belarus Cleared; Belarusian FM Denies Orchestrating Migrant Crisis; 100+ Faith Leaders Support Arbery Family Outside Courthouse; RNC Chairwoman Says Biden 2020 Election, The First Time She's Clearly Acknowledged His Victory. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired November 19, 2021 - 02:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome to "CNN Newsroom," everyone. I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company. Coming up here on the program, an alarming COVID surge continues across Europe as the continent enters its second pandemic window. What needs to change to combat this.

Plus, growing international concerns for a Chinese tennis star who hasn't been seen in public in more than two weeks. What the Women's Tennis Association has to say.

And an entire town sitting in water as catastrophic flooding hits parts of Western Canada. We live at the "CNN Weather Center" with the latest.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Live from "CNN Center," this is "CNN Newsroom" with Michael Holmes.

HOLMES (on camera): Okay. With the European Union now the epicenter of the global pandemic, unvaccinated Europeans are being hit with tough new rules to keep them out of public places.

The German parliament says only those who are fully vaccinated or have recently recovered from COVID will be permitted at sports events, concerts, and things like that.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the measures are necessary because spiking infections among the unvaccinated are threatening to overwhelm hospitals.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): The situation is highly dramatic and it will be very important that action is taken quickly, that action is taken consistently, that controls are improved.


HOLMES (on camera): On Monday, parts of Austria imposed lockdowns on people who were not vaccinated. And Greece, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic are planning similar restrictions to encourage people to get shots.

Let's get you live to Paris and CNN's Jim Bittermann for the very latest. Jim, good to see you. So, Germany looking to make some pretty strong moves on the unvaccinated as we've seen in other European nations. Are these targeted restrictions going to be the norm going forward do you think?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think absolutely, Michael. I think there is a learning curve that is going on here compared to, say, last year, the kind of massive restrictions that took place this time last year and other times during the pandemic.

The fact is that now, I think people understood, the governments understood that if they target things specifically here on the basis of the geography or the basis of profession or on the basis of economic sector, it can be sometimes just as effective if not more effective and not run down the economy as much as we've seen over the last year, a year and half or so. So, yes, I think we will see these targeted restrictions here in France.

You mentioned the German situation, of course, which is quite worrying. Angela Merkel said that -- she said it's quite worrying the ICU beds are filling up way too rapidly.

Here in France, President Macron said, in fact, to a regional newspaper last night that there are no further restrictions planned because the health pass seems to be working. Now, all of this is contingent on the present situation. I think anything can change over the next few days. The situation can change, Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Jim Bittermann there in Paris. Appreciate it. Jim, thanks so much. Turning our attention to Israel and the transmission rate of the coronavirus reaching its highest level in about two months. The R-rate as it's called is now 9.7, meaning in simple terms, every 10 people with COVID will infect 9.7 other people. Now, that is prompting experts to worry a new spike in infections might be coming.

And the current decline in new cases might be leveling up somewhat. At one point, Israel led the world on vaccinations. So, it offers a window into what might happen next elsewhere.

On Tuesday, 550 new cases were reported. Nearly 78 percent of those were unvaccinated. Israel has approved the vaccine for five to 11- year-olds and is expected to start administering doses next week.

All right, let's go live to Oxford, England now. That's where we find Dr. Sian Griffiths. She is an emeritus professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and was chairwoman of Hong Kong's inquiry into the 2003 SARS epidemic. Great to have you, doctor.

Let's talk about Israel. First of all, this decline in new cases plateauing somewhat. The R-rate, however, is increasing. Trends in Israel have been often ahead of much of the rest of the world.


HOLMES: What are your concerns about those numbers?

SIAN GRIFFITHS, EMERITUS PROFESSOR, CHINESE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: Good morning, Michael. Thank you for having me. The concern is that the level has not started to go up in Israel, but the decline has slowed. As you say, we often look to Israel because they were the first to get vaccination rates high, they were the first to start the boosters. So, (INAUDIBLE) Israel is very important.

I think that you have to be somewhat careful in interpreting (INAUDIBLE) number alone. I think it's a warning sign. If you think of the numbers, they're in the hundreds. If you look across Europe, they're in the tens of thousands. Nearly 60,000 cases in Germany yesterday recorded. So, you are talking about a different scale but you're talking about perhaps there might be an uplift.

So, I think that you should know what's going on in Israel, but really focus on getting the unvaccinated in Europe vaccinated because that must be the key to controlling this next phase of the pandemic along with other control measures that are being implemented in different countries.

HOLMES: Yeah. And the important part there is -- you make a good point, another record case number day for Germany. Ireland has been breaking records, Czech Republic and Slovakia. It's interesting. Yet Spain and Portugal, they have vaccination rates of 80 and 88 percent respectively. They are not having the same level of surge. What does that tell you about the vaccination level that a country needs in order to control the virus?

GRIFFITHS: Well, the vaccination rates in Spain and Portugal are up in the 80s. They, of course, are very tuned in to the risks as they were very hit very hard by the first wave, particularly in Spain. So, I think that the key message here is you need your population to be vaccinated, particularly those at risk, because if you look at any intensive care unit, what you find is that the majority of COVID patients are unvaccinated.

So, there is a big drive across Europe, I think across the world, I think in the U.S. as well to get people who have had two doses to get the third booster. That's definitely the drive here in the U.K., along with ensuring vulnerable groups who perhaps got mixed messages initially such as pregnant women, ensuring that they get the vaccine.

And so, it is a matter of vaccination. And, as you said, in Israel, they will be starting to vaccinate children next week. We need to learn from that. But we've also started in the U.K. to give one shot to every 12- year-olds. In the U.S., children are being vaccinated. So, I think the reason for that is that is that the pools for infection is actually in younger people. And in the U.K., last week, we found that the highest rates were in the younger five to 11-year- olds --


GRIFFITHS: -- which is the first (ph).

HOLMES: And that's where a lot of the spread is coming. The United States, of course, still stuck at less than 60 percent fully vaccinated.


HOLMES: Is it inevitable that the European surge is going to hit the U.S. as well? It is coming.

GRIFFITHS: Well, if you don't get the population -- I think the message universally is that if you don't vaccinate your population, get the population rates high enough to actually control the virus, then there is a sort of inevitability that you will get to spread, particularly because the delta variant is much more infectious than the previous variants.

Now, there is another variant of the delta and that just shows that things are changing all the time. It's still not fully understood. It would appear that it can be more likely to be asymptomatic, which you could say is a good thing because people may not know they got it, but it's also a bad thing because it then spreads without people knowing they are spreading it, particularly to vulnerable people.

HOLMES: Right. European nations are calling what's happening the fourth and fifth waves and so on. But it really feels like it's been one wave with a few minor reprieves. I mean, what are your fears about winter in the northern hemisphere?

GRIFFITHS: I think that in winter, we always see a rise in respiratory infections. This year, unfortunately, COVID is still around that we could easily -- as it gets colder, you come inside, you close the windows, you don't ventilate as well. There is a greater risk of spread.

That's why it's really important not just to get vaccinated and rely on vaccination, but also to remember about wearing mask in crowded places to abide by any public health guidelines. Remember, that that is very important as well as getting vaccination.

HOLMES: I want to ask you this, too. When it comes to vaccine hesitancy and why those numbers aren't up in the 80s in these other countries, I mean, it couldn't be clearer that people who are dying of COVID are overwhelmingly unvaccinated. Why do you think vaccine resistance is still so high in light of that stark fact? That if you are vaccinated, you are almost certainly not going to die, yet so many still won't get the vaccine.

GRIFFITHS: It's a major challenge because it's a misthink.


GRIFFITHS: Sometimes, a group misthink and create the environment in which people listen here, hear something, and think, well, maybe I won't have the vaccine, but that's actually not the most sensible thing to do because we know that if you get COVID, you are more at risk of dying. You have to weigh this up.

You can't rely on other people to get vaccinated because you need to take responsibility. So, this requires community outreach, community discussion. I think public health teams in countries where the rates are higher have been working really hard. They're talking to communities where people have not been vaccinated. Sometimes, we've seen an uptick there, people will come forward.

And then, of course, the other way to increase vaccination, as has happened in Europe, in the U.K. and in other countries, is to actually say to staff who are carrier, you have to be vaccinated because you are putting vulnerable people at risk if you are not vaccinated.

(INAUDIBLE) more about compulsory, the stick as well as the (INAUDIBLE). The (INAUDIBLE) being understand that you are safe if you are vaccinated. You're safer if you're vaccinated that if you are not. And also, actually, if you are not vaccinated, you need a COVID pass, and if you haven't got one, you can't go to the cinema or theater and you can't go to work.

HOLMES: Seeing a lot more of that all around the world make it difficult for the unvaccinated.


HOLMES: Dr. Sian Griffiths, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

GRIFFITHS: Thank you. Thank you.

HOLMES: Now, in India, farmer unions are reacting with caution after an apparent victory in the standoff with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Friday, he announced three controversial farming laws will be repealed. Those laws led to some of the largest protests India has ever seen. Farmers have been rallying against them pretty much constantly since last year. And some of those protests have turned out deadly.

CNN's Vedika Sud joins me now live from New Delhi. This was a highly controversial piece of legislation the opposition fears. Why has the prime minister made this move and why now? It was a surprise for many people, it seems.

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER (on camera): Michael, that's a good question you asked. Well, there is a political move behind. This is what many experts say. Now, we have to put this into context. Remember, the income of about 58 percent of India's 1.3 billion population directly or indirectly gets their income from the agricultural sector. That is a huge number of people. The biggest voting bloc comes from the agricultural sector.

Now, in the next year, we are going to see elections taking place in two very important states, the state of Uttar Pradesh as well as the state of Punjab. Punjab is known as the bread basket of India. That's predominantly where you have a lot of farmers living and getting their income from, you know, just doing the mills -- the farms out there, going ahead, and that is the source they have.

Now, for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that voting bloc is very significant. So, today, he made this announcement. It was unexpected for a lot of people. And he then went on to say that these farmers, who have been camping in three major border areas of Delhi, should go back. Here's what he had to say after he made that announcement.


NARENDRA MODI, PRIME MINSTER OF INDIA (through translator): Today, I am requesting all of our protesting farmers. Today is the holy day of (INAUDIBLE) festival. Please return to your homes, return to your farms, return to your families. Let's start a new beginning.


SUD (on camera): There have been celebrations at these border areas and other areas of Northern India after the announcement, but the leader of the farmers' union has come out to say that they could be extremely cautious. We are not going to stop the protests, that's is very significant and important to note, until these laws are withdrawn in parliament. Parliament session starts or rather resumes at the end of this month.

And the leader has made it very clear that they will not stop protesting until then. They also made very clear that they want a legal yes on MSP, which is Minimum Support Price on crops, in the coming days. That has been one of the major demands.

Now, let's very quickly tell you where and why this law has been controversial. According to the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they wanted to open up the agricultural sector. They want to localize (ph) the market.

But according to farmers and farmer unions, this would make the corporates take the big buck, according to them, and that is what they were fearing. They've called it a black law. They've called this law anti-farmers and pro-corporates. That's why they wanted these three laws repealed.

The Indian prime minister also had reached out to farmers, saying, we can keep this law aside for the next two years, but that is something the farmers didn't agree to.

So, yes, this is a huge political move as it is being seen here in India with the prime minister announcing that these three laws will be repealed in the coming days in parliament. Michael?

HOLMES: All right. Vedika, thanks. Vedika Sud there in New Delhi for us.


HOLMES: Quick break on the program. When we come back, where is Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai? The head of Women's Tennis Association says they are willing to lose millions, if she is not fully accounted for.

Plus, Canada's British Columbia province struggles to get back on its feet after catastrophic flooding and the nation's largest port feels the strain caused by high water and landslides. All that and more when we come back.



STEVE SIMON, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, WOMEN'S TENNIS ASSOCIATION: When we have a young person who has the fortitude to step up and make these allegations, knowing full well what the results of that are going to be, for us to not support that and demand justice as we go through it, you know, we have to start as a world making decisions that are based upon right and wrong. Period.


HOLMES (on camera): The head of the Women's Tennis Association says he is willing to those hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of business with China over the disappearance of the tennis star, Peng Shuai. She vanished more than two weeks ago now after accusing a former vice premier of China of sexual assault. There has been growing concern from the international tennis community over her safety. Many are demanding an investigation.

Serena Williams tweeted this -- quote -- "I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent."

But so far, the response from Beijing has been silenced by and large. A government spokesperson stonewalled reporters' questions on Thursday, saying it is not a diplomatic issue.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins me now live from Hong Kong. Bring us up- t-date on Peng Shuai and the level of concern for her right now.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, the level of concern for her is right now and a lot of attention on that very forceful statement by the head of the WTA.

In an interview with CNN, the chairman and the CEO of the Women's Tennis Association said that he is trying to make contact with the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, that he has very strong concerns about her safety and her whereabouts. And that the WTA is willing to give up its very lucrative business in China for guarantees of her safety and to make sure that the allegations are properly investigated. Now, we know that Peng Shuai is a sporting icon in China. She is a two-time grand slam champion. It was on November the 2nd, almost two weeks ago, when she accused a very powerful man, the former vice premier of China, Zhang Gaoli, of forcing her to have sex with him. She made that accusation in a lengthy, 1,600-word post on Weibo, on her verified page. It was shortly taken down. She has not been seen or heard from publicly since then.


LU STOUT (on camera): The international sporting community in the world of tennis and especially the WTA are very concerned about her safety, about her whereabouts. And now, we have the WTA saying that they're willing to put their business in China on the line for her. Take a listen.


SIMON: We are at a crossroads with our relationship, obviously, with China in operating our business over there. There is no question about it. There are too many times in our world today when we get into issues like this, that we let business, politics, money dictate what is right and what is wrong.


LU STOUT (on camera): Many observers have pointed out that that statement from the chief of the WTA is far more forceful than what we have seen from other organizations, let alone other governments. Michael?

HOLMES: And Kristie, President Biden saying he is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics with concern over Peng Shuai. There are strengthening calls for that. What are you hearing?

LU STOUT: Yeah, the Beijing Olympic Games now less than two and a half months away and the ordeal, the situation, the case of Peng Shuai is definitely casting a long shadow over the IOC in how it answers questions about allegations of human rights in China.

The IOC has long held a view that sports should be separate from politics and from human rights. But the outcry and the hashtag, where is Peng Shuai, that has completely upended and it's challenging that notion.

There is a new statement from the IOC that was released. Let's bring it up for you. And the International Olympic Committee says this -- quote -- "Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature. This explains why the IOC will not comment any further at this stage."

That is effectively a no comment in regards to Peng Shuai from the IOC. We are waiting comment, if there will be comment, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs later today. Yesterday, they declined to comment, saying that the Peng Shuai case is not a diplomatic issue. But the issue of there being a diplomatic boycott of the games, surely enough, that warrants a response. Michael?

HOLMES: Yeah, indeed. Kristie, thanks so much. Kristie Lu Stout there in Hong Kong for us.

LU STOUT: Got it.

HOLMES: Catastrophic flooding now choking Canada's largest port. The province of British Columbia has been hammered by heavy flood since early next week. But officials now say many roads and railways out of Vancouver have been washed out or damaged, which is creating bottlenecks for the transport of goods from its port. It could take up to two more days for the traffic to resume.

Joining me now, meteorologist Derek Van Dam with the very latest. What have you been seeing, Derek?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN WEATHER ANCHOR: Yeah, Michael, you know, November is the wettest time of the year, the wettest month of the year for British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest.

Check out this image behind me. This is the NASA Earth Observatory and analyze the rainfall totals just on November 14th alone. Anywhere you see that dark shading of red, that is over 100 millimeters of rain or roughly 10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period.

Abbotsford, where some of the most destructive flooding took place, nearly doubled their 24-hour rainfall record that was set back in 1998. This is the same location that set a record high temperature just 140 days ago. So, we are talking about weather whiplash across the western parts of Canada, and this is a very consistent with the climate, the climate change that is taking place.

We can't blame any extreme weather event solely on climate change, but it is baked in there. It is making these events more likely. In fact, you can see on the satellite imagery with the increase in the wildfires over the western parts of Canada, and now the heavy rain on top of that, it has created a situation where it has taken this runoff and the sediment right into the ocean. You can see it from satellite.

This is all thanks to these atmospheric rivers. This is a moisture train of -- train of moisture from the Pacific Ocean that just deposits an incredible amount of precipitation over this region. Some of the studies that we have read up on talked about the frequency and intensity of this doubling in the next -- by the end of the century.

In fact, 25 percent wider and 25 percent longer in terms of these atmospheric river events, just allowing for more transportation of heavy rain into these areas. Dry for now, but more rain with another atmospheric river event next week. Michael?

HOLMES: It is a worry. Derek, thanks. Derek Van Dam there. Appreciate it.

Now, the U.S. House is delaying a vote on President Joe Biden's "build back better" plan until Friday morning after a lengthy speech from the Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy. Democrats say they don't want it to pass in the dark of night.


HOLMES: The sweeping $1.9 trillion bill dramatically expands social services for Americans, works to address the climate crisis, increases access to health care, and delivers aid to families and children. It is a pillar of the president's domestic agenda, and passing it would be a major victory for the Democrats, even if it faces an uphill climb in the Senate. McCarthy is still talking, by the way.

Still ahead, the migrant camp along Polish border with Belarus has been cleared, but the huge crowd is now stuck in a warehouse. An exclusive interview with the Belarusian foreign minister coming up.

Also, they were among the tens of thousands who desperately wanted to get across the Belarusian border and into the European Union. But hundreds of Iraqis are now back home, in the place they wanted to be out of.


HOLMES (on camera): Welcome back. The huge crowds of migrants gathered at a border crossing between Belarus and Poland are gone, moved to a giant warehouse nearby. But the crisis itself is far from over. Hundreds of people have been flown back to Iraq, while other migrants are still hoping for refugee status in Germany.

E.U. leaders blaming Belarus for orchestrating the crisis in retaliation for sanctions on the Lukashenko government. But the Belarusian foreign minister says, that is a lie. He spoke exclusively with CNN's Matthew Chance.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the airport in Minsk, a first repatriation flight waits to board. The passengers, mostly Iraqi Kurds, did not make it to Europe. But at least their ordeal in Belarus is at an end.

This is the nightmare they left behind. Officials confirmed this forest camp on the Polish border is now empty. The shocking images of desperate migrants languishing in the cold here have left a mark.

Now, for the first time, CNN is able to hold a senior Belarusian official to account.

VLADIMIR MAKEI, BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: And to see how they suffer, it's very difficult for a normal human being. We are not interested in having the situation here in (INAUDIBLE).

CHANCE (on camera): You say you don't want to see these scenes, but you are accused, Belarus is accused of orchestrating this whole crisis, of encouraging these migrants to come here, and of directing them towards that border. You created these scenes.

MAKEI: Yes, we have heard a lot of accusations towards Belarus. This is a false assessment of the situation.


CHANCE: Also false according to the foreign minister, U.S. and European allegations that Russia, which recently flew these strategic bomber flights over Belarusian support is really behind the crisis, encouraging its ally to distract the West, while preparing Military plans elsewhere in Ukraine.

MAKEI: With regard to this migrant crisis, I can definitely say Russia has nothing to do with it.

CHANCE: But it was President Putin he tells me who set up telephone calls between the German and Belarusian leaders this week, helping to defuse the crisis. And it needed defusing. This was the scene when angry migrants tried to force their way into Europe, past Polish border guards. The refusal of Belarus to intervene fueled rumors, they encourage these attacks.

The European Union says that Belarus has created this crisis to punish them in revenge for the sanctions that the EU was imposed against Belarus for its crackdown on the opposition. How do you answer that allegation?

MAKEI: It's a lie. It's an absolute lie. Belarus has shown the dark side of the European democracy. And you've seen yourself what was happening, what happened at the border within the last two or three days.

CHANCE: It showed shown the strengths of European unity. The now remaining migrants in Belarus are being housed in this giant heated warehouse back from the volatile border. But with Europe refusing to back down, it's Belarus that must now keep them or send them home. Matthew Chance, CNN, Minsk.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: While the foreign ministers comments are being met with skepticism across the European Union, CNN asked the EU Foreign Policy Chief for his reaction.


JOSEP BORRELL, EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF: I'm not saying if he's lying or not, I'm just saying that this 1000s of people coming from more than 10 different countries and all of them willing to go to Minsk and from Minsk being transported to the European Union borders. It's strange that it happened just because everybody thought at the same time that that was a good idea. I think that this had been orchestrated, this has been organized, this has been pushed for.

And now there is a problem, a humanitarian problem, because these people has been cheated. Someone promised them that they could go into Europe and now when they see that it is not possible, they are in a very bad situation. And even if they are there, by some reasons that nobody knows.


HOLMES: All right, the migrants were lured, of course to the border of Belarus and Poland with the false promise of easy entry into the EU. But now hundreds of Iraqis who spent weeks camped out there in hopes of making that journey are instead heading back to the country they so desperately wanted to leave behind. Jomana Karadsheh with more on that.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Iraqi officials say they're going to be organizing more of these repatriation flights what they describe as these voluntary returns. But as you can imagine, people who are coming back are not coming back because they want to really, they have no other choice. We have all seen these tragic events that were unfolding on the border in Belarus in recent days.

The Iraqi government, Iraqi officials say that their citizens were exploited by traffickers and smugglers. But also they accused the government of Belarus of using these refugees and migrants in its crisis and standoff with the EU. So many people, so many of these refugees and migrants are coming back with absolutely nothing.

People used up their life savings, 1000s of dollars to try and make it to Europe through this new route via Belarus that opened up over the past few months. And now they're coming back with nothing. And what is really surprising for so many of us who have covered Iraq for years, is that many of those who have left, 1000s of them who ended up in Belarus, are Iraqi Kurds from Iraq's Kurdish region.

For years that was considered to be the more stable, more prosperous, more secure part of the country. So it's very surprising to see so many Iraqi Kurds leaving and when you ask people why this is happening. I've spoken to Iraqi Kurds and they tell you it's mostly because of the economic situation that has deteriorated in recent months, in recent years. It is the high unemployment, but also this real general feeling of utter hopelessness where people feel they have no future in the country, no future in this region and the only way they can secure their children's future is by getting to Europe.


And that is why a lot of people say that while the Iraqi Government is dealing with this current crisis, what it really needs to be dealing with is the root cause of this crisis. What it is that is driving people to leave their homeland.


HOLMES: Jomana Karadsheh reporting there for us. Quick break on the program. Coming up on CNN Newsroom, Shohei Ohtani capping off a historic season with an MVP award, a live report from Tokyo on how his native Japan is celebrating. We'll be right back.


HOLMES: For just the second time in major league baseball history, a player from Japan has won the Most Valuable Player Award. Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels gained all 30 First place votes after an historic season. The 27-year old superstar drew comparisons to Babe Ruth for his greatness both as a pitcher but also as a hitter this season.

Here for more is Blake Essig joining me now live from Tokyo. I can imagine this is a huge deal and a very well deserved going for him too.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know Michael, it's huge Shohei Ohtani is changing what many thought was possible in baseball not only here in Japan, but around the world. Ohtani as you had mentioned is the second Japanese born player to win the American League MVP. Seattle Mariners legend, Ichiro Suzuki did it in 2001. But what Shohei Ohtani was able to do this year was just different.

He hit 46 home runs, had 100 RVIs, 26 stolen bases and one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball only losing twice during his 23 starts. Now, in sports as in life, it's often difficult to appreciate greatness when it's happening in the moment but make no mistake about it. Shohei Ohtani is great.


ESSIG: There are a lot of great baseball players but few have the ability to break down barriers change what people think is possible and inspire quite like Japan's Shohei Ohtani.

DR. QT, SHOHEI OHTANI SUPERFAN: He just enjoys it. He enjoys playing ball.

ESSIG: On the mound and at the plate, he's almost larger than life.


ESSIG: And the fans, they just can't get enough of Japan's two sworded superstar. From artwork displaying Ohtani as an actual superhero to this music video, his worldwide following is enormous.

QT: To me Shohei, he's like alien. He's like super, from like somewhere you know, not from earth, this earth.


ESSIG: Although his extra-terrestrial origins are debatable.

HIRONOBU KANNO, SHOHEI OHTANI SUPERFAN (through translator): Yes. Number one. He did it. Congratulations Shohei.

ESSIG: Hironobu Kanno who lives in Ohtani's terrestrial hometown of Oshu City says his success on and off the field is fun to watch.

KANNO (through translator): We are so proud of his MVP title here in his hometown. He's not just a professional baseball player. He's a two sword player doing something that nobody has ever tried before.

ESSIG: That of course isn't exactly true. But unless you around more than 100 years ago, it's probably new to you. This bat jersey and signature on display at Japan's Baseball Hall of Fame belong to Babe Ruth, arguably the greatest baseball player of all time, and the only other true two-way player in baseball history to pitch and hit throughout a single season.

SHOHEI OHTANI 2021 AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP (through translator): I feel humbled and I'm even being compared to Babe Ruth. He was not just a player that put up big numbers and that's what makes him especially amazing. It's rare to become an athlete that is remembered forever.

ESSIG: A comparison that Hall of Fame curator, Yuto Inoue you know a says will likely follow Ohtani throughout his career.

YUTO INOUE, CURATOR, THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM (through translator): Many Japanese people are paying attention to Ohtani. His game results are broadcast on TV every day. And even people who aren't interested in baseball are paying attention to him. He shows how big of an impact he's having in Japan.

ESSIG: Well Shohei Ohtani isn't enshrining Japan's Baseball Hall of Fame just yet. Exhibits like this with game used items from his early playing days already line the halls. It definitely cuts it out.

INOUE (through translator): We've got his older uniform gloves, a bat and spikes on display cycling.

ESSIG: And as Ohtani continues to rack up stats, records, wins and awards, this collection and his legend will only continue to grow.


ESSIG: Well, for Ohtani moving forward the big question will be can he stay healthy? And can he continue to operate as the two sworded players is known here in Japan? If he can, Michael, a Showtime Shohei Ohtani could go down as one of the best players to ever play the game.

HOLMES: Yes, he certainly had an amazing season and now thanks to you, I'm not going to get that song out of my head. So Blake Essig in Tokyo, thanks so much.

ESSIG: I'm so sorry about that.

HOLMES: Yes, you should be, you need to be. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @HolmesCNN. I'll add more news at the top of the hour. World Sport coming up next.



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: What is your initial reaction when you heard that attorney specifically go after the pastors who were in court to comfort Ahmaud -- Ahmaud Arbery's mother during the trial?

REV. JAMAL BRYANT, SENIOR PASTOR, NEW BIRTH MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH: It was a badge of honor, really, that it said that the black chokes still has influence, still has impact. You have to know, Rev. Sharpton said absolutely nothing in the courtroom. It was the power of presence. I wish to be speaks that the community is waiting for clergy and the church to stand up, especially in the hour of crisis.

LEMON: Over and over, the same lawyer keeps calling for a mistrial over the presence of black pastors. I want to know what is he so afraid of? But I think the bigger question, what is he trying to do, Reverend? What is going on here?

BRYANT: He is unleashing weapons of mass distraction, he is taking away from what is the bottom line that an innocent young black man is found guilty of one crime. And that's jogging while Black, has nothing to do with Reverend Sharpton or Reverend Jackson or any other pastor, is that we have to stay focused with laser precision, that America has got to see that we are not in a post-racial society. We're still in the eye of the storm.

And it has to be addressed through spiritual approaches. Legally, you can't change people's hearts or your minds. That's a conversion of spirit.

LEMON: You know, so I'm sure people are watching this. And there are many people who are many of our brothers and sisters, shall we say who are watching this? And for them, it's just watching the trial, what's going on. But for black people what is this week?

BRYANT: This week is a trauma roller coaster to go from Rittenhouse, getting the weapons charge dropped, to all of us holding our collective breath to see whether Julius was going to live through this day.

And now in Brunswick, Georgia, waiting to see again, will a black man's life have any vindication. This is in the backdrop of people who defy the notion that black lives matter? And we got three instances in 72 hours that underscores with exclamation point that America has to see that our lives matter.

LEMON: How do the last five years play into this if at all.

BRYANT: It really just keeps building. We had deluded ourselves into believing that we were in a post-racial society after the election of President Obama twice. We thought we were in Alice in Wonderland. And now the proverbial sheets have been pulled off. And we see that racism is still at its peak where 2021 still feels like 1961 for pastors to have to fly into Brunswick, Georgia, from Seattle, from Houston, from Detroit, from Washington to take a stand outside of a courtroom.

We were almost reminiscent of what it must have felt like in hour of (Mateo).

LEMON: And speaking of that, of, you know, (Mateo's) tells mom said I want this this casket to be open right? I want to have an open casket for this. Ahmaud Arbery's mother Wanda Cooper Jones had some really moving word today about how faith helped her after her son was killed. And I want to play some of that. Here it is.


WANDA COOPER JONES, AHMAUD ARBERY'S MOTHER: When a mom was killed on the 23rd of February, the family has some of the darkest times of our lives. We asked questions, we got no answers. We submitted emails with no reply back. But in the midst of all that I prayed. I asked the Lord to somehow tell me what happened to prayers.

Ahmaud's daughter talk to me like weeks after she said Mom, we don't even have an attorney. And I prayed I told Jasmine I said when the Lord get ready for us to have an attorney, we'll get one. Not until then. I just want to say thank you. My heart is full of just joy in the midst of this broken heart.

LEMON: Your response to that Reverend, will be the last words.

BRYANT: It's all the more unnerving was the response of the Father. I'm grateful for the strength of the mother. But I don't want to diminish the value of black fathers that are present because it defies the narrative that black men are not present in their children's lives. We've seen it from Trayvon Martin, all the way up to this case.

The father said, even while I was growing as a man, I will be with my son to fight for justice even after his death. So we pray for the mother. But I want to lift up the arms of black fathers who are doing the work even when they don't get the recognition.

LEMON: Reverend Jamal Bryant, thank you. I appreciate it.

BRYANT: Thank you.

LEMON: Appreciate your words.


LEMON: So the head of the RNC says that President Biden did win the election and take this, it's the first time she's finally admitting it.


LEMON: Take this, more than a year after Joe Biden won the election, almost 10 months into his presidency, it took until today for RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to clearly admit President Biden won.


RONNA MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIR: Painfully Joe Biden won. He is the President of course. It's very painful to watch. I think there were lots of problems with the election and I think it needs to be looked at but yes, he's the president, it sucks.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [02:55:00]

LEMON: So that's first, there has been no proof of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election and the DHS has called it the most secure U.S. election in history, the Trump DHS. So stating the obvious shouldn't be newsworthy. But in this Republican Party where the big lie reigns supreme, it is. Some Republicans still won't admit Biden won or won't do it without pushing bogus theories of unspecified voter irregularities.

So why won't Republicans turn away from the former president? Is it because maybe the answer's here. September CNN poll found that 59 percent of Republicans think believing Trump won is an important part of being a Republican or is it because of this?


MCDANIEL: If he left the party, we would lose. If he left the party Republicans would lose. He has built our party. He has added a new base.


LEMON: So there you go. Up next, our breaking news tonight. The House trying to pass Biden's Build Back Better plan but Kevin McCarthy has been stalling the whole thing for more than two hours.