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Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Returns to Pre-Pandemic Form; COVID cases rising in U.S. as families gather for Thanksgiving; 3 Men Face Life Sentences After Murder Conviction in Ahmaud Arbery Killing. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 25, 2021 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Happy Thanksgiving. It is so nice to be with you today. I'm Poppy Harlow. Welcome to a special edition of CNN Newsroom. And we begin with a great piece of news, the return of a tradition like no other right now, the streets of New York City are full of spectators. Look at that on this beautiful, clear Thanksgiving morning in this great city. It is the annual Macy's Day Thanksgiving parade. The holiday staple, returning to its pre-pandemic form after no crowds are allowed, of course, last year because of the pandemic. Macy's estimates two and a half million people are there this morning.

This is new COVID cases are about half of what they were one year ago when no vaccines were available to the public yet the threat of the virus still very much looms over this holiday. The U.S. is averaging just under 100,000 new infections every day. And Dr. Fauci says things could get worse, especially if unvaccinated people gather in large groups without masks, especially today. Those warnings are not stopping travelers from getting where they need to be in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

TSA says it will screen 2.3 million travelers at airports nationwide, the most in one day since the beginning of this pandemic. And while it will feel good to be with loved ones, this may be the most expensive Thanksgiving ever for families with prices hyped on everything from turkeys to cranberries inflation has pushed the average dinner cost up 5%. That's according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Let's begin with some great news this morning. My friend Miguel Marquez joins us from the Macy's Day Parade. What a day Miguel people are back by the millions.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is spectacular. Look, they are expecting two and a half million people here for this parade. But look 28 floats, 15 big balloons and the crowds today have been amazing. This side chanting happy, let's hear it. Happy. That side chanting Thanksgiving. Happy.

CROWD: Happy Thanksgiving. MARQUEZ: Amazing. Everybody's been so kind that the police officers as they come up and down get chaired. The sanitation workers as they're working get chaired. That's the parade just kicking off now. You can see Tom Turkey all the way down there. They have the floats, many new balloons this year as well, including Baby Yoda that we're all excited about. But I want to talk to this family here that McChughs from Cincinnati. First time seeing this. This is mom, Katie. Introduce everybody here, Katie.

KATIE MCCHUGH, PARADE SPECTATOR: Katie. This is Liliana, Dean. We have Quinn and my husband, James.

MARQUEZ: Welcome to New York.

K. MCCHUGH: Thank you.

MARQUEZ: Welcome to the parade. What are you thankful for this year?

K. MCCHUGH: Ah, has to be our family and our friends. We have such an amazing support group back home in Cincinnati. And we're just so thankful.

MARQUEZ: How tough has the last couple of years been? You know, this parade was truncated enormously last year? And how nice is it to be here? And what does it say about where we are as a city, as the country, the world?

K. MCCHUGH: Yeah, I mean, it feels like we're almost getting back to normal in a sense. You know, we're able to be out in crowds again and be able to see family. We're visiting family in New Jersey that we haven't seen in a long time. So be able to see family and friends is great.

MARQUEZ: Very Happy Thanksgiving. What are you looking forward to?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm looking forward to seeing family this Thanksgiving, because it's been crazy with COVID and it's kind of getting back to normal.

MARQUEZ: And do you guys want to see a float balloon? Which one are you looking forward to? Just that hat.


MARQUEZ: Pikachu. Of course, Pikachu with Eevee. That's a new float this year, going to be very, very exciting. Thank you very much. Have a very --

What are you thankful for, sir? Lovely family.

JAMES MCCHUGH: Yeah, lovely family and a good stock market.

MARQUEZ: That's a good one. I'm going to send it back to you. Just a great day to be out here. The sun is shining. It could not be a better return for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Back to you. HARLOW: It's one of those perfect New York days. Miguel, I want you to get one of those hats. I think you need one of those Turkey hats for next hour. Miguel, thank you very much.

Well, the TSA screened more people yesterday then on any other day since the start of the pandemic, more than 2.3 million people pass security checkpoints ahead of today. That marks the seventh straight day that TSA has screened more than 2 million people. The holiday travel spike comes as the Justice Department cracks down on unruly air travelers. Our Pete Muntean joins us from Reagan National this morning.


Pete, good morning. Happy Thanksgiving. What are we looking at?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, you know the Association of Flight Attendants head Sara Nelson says it is about time for something like this for unruly passengers to go straight to jail. And Attorney General Merrick Garland is now telling federal prosecutors, U.S. attorneys that they must prioritize these cases because the issue here is that the Federal Aviation Administration which oversees these guys, it's been on top of this issue cannot crush criminal charges against unruly behavior onboard flights. It can only assess civil fines.

Just look at the numbers here, 5300 reports by flight crews to the FAA of unruly passengers on board planes. Just this year 266 enforcement actions have been initiated by the FAA but of those only 37 of the most extreme cases have been referred to the Department of Justice. So, we're talking a tiny fraction here. AG Garland says passengers who assault intimidate or threatened violence against flight crews do more than harm employees. They prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel. He also says that the DOJ and the FAA are committed to higher information sharing. The FAA did just find a new slew of passengers including $140,000 for allegedly sexually assaulting a passenger on board a flight earlier this year. This is a really extreme problem, Poppy. Nothing that we have seen like it before any other year, these numbers are really off the charts. And it's happening as so many people are coming back to air travel 2.3 million people as you mentioned, it's likely that number will go even higher as we get later towards the end of this week.

HARLOW: It is. And by the way, let's not forget these flight attendants were the people working through the whole pandemic and being there for all of us. So, to have to have this on top of all the sacrifice they already made. It's unfathomable. I'm glad DOJ is getting involved. And on top of it.

Pete, thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.

Well as loved ones get together this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, Dr. Fauci is encouraging everyone to be careful all and hopes of preventing further spread of COVID 19. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: We can get the unvaccinated vaccinated, we can get those who've been vaccinated boosters, and we can be prudent and careful when we go to indoor congregate settings to make sure we follow the CDC recommendations of wearing a mask. If we do that. It's within our power to prevent a big surge.


HARLOW: Let me bring in Dr. William Schaffner. Dr. Schaffner, Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for joining us today.


HARLOW: Happy Thanksgiving to you. So, I'm one of many households in America where we've got most people vaccinated but little kids, right? So, my three-year-olds not able to be vaccinated yet. My five-and-a- half-year-old as one shot so far. And I say this because I wonder what everyone going to someone else's house or having people over today can do to stay safer, especially for those who are not vaccinated.

SCHAFFNER: Yeah, well, it's a little too late to get those people vaccinated before Thanksgiving. But we could go out quickly and get a rapid test for any number of people, right? That would let us know that if you're negative, then our confidence would increase that we can get together safely. Excuse me. And of course, thinking about the next set of holidays coming along, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Years and the others, it's still time to get vaccinated before then. We have all those people who are unvaccinated. The people who do need boosters, and the children, five and older, we need to get them all vaccinated.

HARLOW: That's right. OK. So, one startling number that I saw just came out yesterday from the CDC is that only one in eight eligible children in this country have received their first vaccine dose. Only one in eight, you know, and I -- my daughter here, I've got my daughter singing All I want for Christmas is my two vaccines. He wants a second one. I mean, she literally made that up the other day. But when you see a number like that, how troubling is it to you?

SCHAFFNER: Well, it's a start in our vaccination program. Yes, parents have to be reassured that this is a good thing for their children. Ask your pediatrician and family doctor. They are trusted. They are there for you. Please have that conversation. And I hope you will get your children vaccinated.


HARLOW: What do you think is going on in Europe right now because they're tightening restrictions. You've got the World Health Organization predicting Europe could suffer another 700,000 COVID deaths by March. Why is this happening across the continent?

SCHAFFNER: Yeah, as enthusiastic and warm as we are now here and Thanksgiving looking at Europe and actually some of our own states, which are seeing upticks in cases, it's too early for mission accomplished. We need to keep vaccinating the unvaccinated and the people who need boosters and children, as I've said, and continue to be cautious. If you're older, you have an underlying illness, if you're immunocompromised, keep wearing those masks, particularly indoors. We need to protect ourselves because this delta variant can throw us curveballs as it is in Europe at the present time.

HARLOW: OK, Dr. Schaffner, good advice to everyone. Thank you. Have a nice holiday.


HARLOW: Still come this morning, Ahmaud Arbery's mother speaking out after all three men charged in the killing and murder of her son, are found guilty of murder and now face additional federal hate crimes charges.

Also, the rising cost of your Thanksgiving meal likely a topic around the table this year. Is inflation here to stay. We'll speak with Kevin Hassett, the former chairman of the president -- former President Trump's White House Council of Economic Advisers. We'll get his take. And two more large scale robberies overnight with groups of thieves targeting high end stores, making off with tens of thousands of dollars of merchandise details on the recent wave of smash and grab crimes, ahead.



HARLOW: The three men found guilty of murder and the death of Ahmaud Arbery now face the possibility of multiple life sentences in prison. But defense attorneys for Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael and neighbor William Roddie Bryan say they plan to appeal the convictions. Let's go to our national correspondent Ryan Young. He joins us in Brunswick.

Georgia has been following this whole trial. Ryan, good morning. The judge in the case has not even set a sentencing date yet. But the question is, if parole, there's a mandatory life here, but the question is the possibility of parole? And if he will allow that. And that will be considered. What do we know?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that would be interesting. In fact, we were asking some of those questions yesterday. Haven't got an answer to that just yet. But we do know that sentencing could take place sometimes. So, let's not forget, Poppy, they could also be facing federal charges when it comes to this. But you think about the emotions that were involved in yesterday. You think about the two weeks, the more than two weeks that were involved in this case, in terms of putting on this testimony. It was very interesting to watch how everything sort of just exploded when this verdict came out yesterday, especially outside. And just listen to Wanda Cooper-Jones talk about that moment and how she moves forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WANDA COOPER-JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: This is the second Thanksgiving that my family and I will share without Ahmaud. But this is the first Thanksgiving that we can look at that empty chair and said we finally got justice for you Ahmaud. I'm very, very thankful that God gave me the son, Ahmaud. He gave me the assignment as a mass mom. I'm very, very thankful for the people in the community. The people in the state of Georgia. The people in the United States of America who stood with us, supported us to this huge, long fight that we finally got the chance to say we got justice for Ahmaud.


YOUNG: Yeah, Poppy, you think about her composure, all the things she's had to see in that courtroom. Some of the videos, some of the pictures were very tough to watch. And then you have the defense attorney who talked about his hygiene at one point, all very emotional moments in court and the sobbing that happened inside that court, you can all understand it.

One thing that we can't really remember ever seen before a prosecutor walking out a court to cheers. It was almost like a football stadium yesterday with the amount of chairs that Linda Dunikoski got as she walked out, and she talked about putting in the hands of the jury. And then you talk about that judge who's going to have to make that final decision when it comes to sentencing. That judge coming from Chatham County, putting his strong hand on all this. It was very interesting to watch how all this played out. But the relief in this community is something that you can feel.

HARLOW: Yeah. And how many prosecutors in DA's hands that this case went through before it even got to hers is just remarkable as well. Ryan Young, thank you for the reporting.

Joining me now to talk about this our Senior Legal Analyst, former Federal Prosecutor, Elie Honig.

I mean if it were not for so many things, Elie, these murder convictions, his trial may never have been, had it not reached Linda Dunikoski's hands, had that video not been turned over by one of them to the local radio station. I mean, there's so many things that came to play in this happening and now the sentence. You've got a mandatory life sentence for the malice, you know, malice and felony murder convictions and then the question of whether parole will be entered in.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, Poppy. So, the judge here under Georgia law has to sentence all three defendants to life in prison. These offences actually were eligible for the death penalty, technically under Georgia law, but prosecutors did not seek the death penalty here.

So, the only real question for the judge at sentencing, there's two questions. One, will he give each of the defendants a chance of parole or no parole? Parole means when under certain circumstance as you can get released from prison early it would be way down the line. But the question for the judges does he want to give any of these three defendants a chance, decades from now to be released from prison?


And the other question is, will the judge impose one life sentence on each or multiple life sentences? Sometimes people hear, well, this person was sentenced to five life sentences, you rationally think, well, personally has one life? What's the purpose of that? And it's sometimes to make a point. The judge wants to make a point. But you'll more see that where there's multiple deceit, it's multiple victims. So, if one person has killed three people, that's where you're likely to see three life sentences.

Here, even though the defendants were convicted of five, four and three different counts respectively, of murder, it all relates to one incident. So, we'll see one life sentence each.

HARLOW: Or for a general deterrence motivation, though, Elie, right? I mean, that's also something to consider if you were to give multiple life sentences.

HONIG: Absolutely. Judges want to think about deterrence, they want to send a message to other people, obviously, it is the most unacceptable thing you can do to kill another person. Judges also try to seek proportionality. And I think one life taken one life sentence.

HARLOW: Elie, ahead in February is another trial, and that is the trial over federal hate crimes charges that by the way, before Georgia changed its law, not that long ago, couldn't have even been. These are additional criminal charges. Can you talk about what that would look like and what that will look like?

HONIG: Yes, Poppy. So, this is a completely separate indictment, and this trial is scheduled for February 2022. It will happen, it would have happened regardless of yesterday's verdict, if they had all been found not guilty, if they had all been found guilty and everything. We are going to have a federal trial unless they plead guilty.

Now, this one's charged a little differently, because as you know, Poppy, at the time of Ahmaud Arbery's murder, the state of Georgia did not have a hate crimes law. They do now largely because of Ahmaud Arbery's murder. But federal law has had a hate crime statute on the book for a long time. So, in the federal case, the big difference is the racial motivation is part of the charge. In the Georgia trial, the racial motivation was sort of a subtle subtext of the prosecution's case, but in the federal case, it's going to be front and center. And again, if they're convicted, federally, they're looking at federal life sentences, as well as the state life sentences.

HARLOW: Elie Honig, thank you on all of this, we know you'll be across it as we wait for the sentencing and the federal trial as well. Happy Thanksgiving, Elie.

HONIG: Thanks, Poppy. Happy Thanksgiving to you too. All right.

HARLOW: So, I'm sure some of the discussion today, the Thanksgiving tables will be how expensive, it all is right now. Inflation very much showing up at the Thanksgiving table. We'll take the pulse on the state of this economy, next.



HARLOW: President Biden and his family are keeping to their tradition of spending Thanksgiving on Nantucket. This Thanksgiving, Biden is largely expected to stay out of the spotlight. Today, our White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz is travelling with the president. She joins me from lovely Nantucket.

What a great place to get to spend the holiday, Arlette. I know that we just got a message from the Biden's for the holiday and what do they have planned today?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy the Biden family has descended on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, a place that they've been visiting for more than 40 years. The President skips that tradition last year due to the pandemic but once again, his entire family is here gathering for the Thanksgiving holiday. And a short while ago, the White House released a Thanksgiving message from President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, where they talked about those who have lost loved ones due to the pandemic, and also offered special thanks to the military. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: You know, as we gather together again, our table in our hearts are full of grace and gratitude for all those we love. And as Commander-in-Chief, I'm especially grateful to our service members and their families, for the sacrifices to our nation.


SAENZ: Now the Biden's have been coming here for quite some time. And if your walk down the streets into stores and restaurants, oftentimes people have stories of either a waiter serving a cheeseburger to the President or him showing up at the annual Christmas tree lighting. Of course, as president, he can't move as freely so we'll see if he pops up anywhere over the course of the next few days.

HARLOW: OK. And Arlette, before you go, I mean, we are also learning this morning that President Biden had a polyp removed during that colonoscopy last week. What more can you tell us? He seems in great health this morning.

SAENZ: Well, the White House last night released a letter from the President's physician Dr. Kevin O'Connor, who revealed that a three- millimeter polyp was removed from the president during a colonoscopy last week. Further testing showed that that polyp was benign but potentially precancerous. He had a similar polyp removed back in 2008. And he's been advised that he will get another colonoscopy in seven to 10 years. But that letter from the physician last week, the initial summary, of course did not include that detail. It wasn't until five days later that the White House revealed that that had happened.

HARLOW: OK, Arlette, thank you. Have a good holiday.

Well, there is a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, including this, the U.S. recording is lowest weekly unemployment numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, the lowest actually since 1969.

Kevin Hassett is with me this morning. He is the former Chairman of President Trump's Council of Economic Advisers also distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and also the author of a new book, "The Drift: Stopping America's slide to Socialism." A decade in the making. Congratulations on getting it out. Kevin. Good morning.

KEVIN HASSETT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yeah. Thanks Poppy. I hope you got your turkey in before he came to work today.

HARLOW: I'm not doing it. By husband is --

HASSETT: I'm free right into.