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Republicans Close to Clinching Control of the House; Some Senate Republicans Pushing to Delay Leadership Vote; Trump to Announce 2024 Presidential Bid Tonight; New Audio Reveals Senior Uvalde Officer Told Kids Needed to be Rescued. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 15, 2022 - 10:00   ET



KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: And that Orion capsule splashing down into an ocean somewhere, and so, you know, Jim, this rocket has taken so many beatings, politically, financially, technically, engineering wise, and then it gets hit by two hurricanes in less than six weeks. One it had to ride out on the pad, the other one they tried to roll it back to the vertical assembly building right here, and that's what caused this most recent delay.

But, you know, Jim, I've got one bit of good news before I go. Weather is 90 percent favorable for launch.


FISHER: So fingers crossed, third time's the charm.

SCIUTTO: And they got three mannequins and a Snoopy on board. We did not miss that headline, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: But Snoopy being the most important.


HILL: Kristin, thank you.

Top of the hour on this Tuesday morning. I'm Erica Hill.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

Right now as Republicans edge closer to regaining a majority in the House, they only need three more wins, currently leading in six races, there is a major vote to decide who will lead the party. That vote just hours from now. For the current GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, his road to speaker of the House got a little bit more rocky overnight. This after the Freedom Caucus member Andy Bigs confirmed that he is jumping into the race to challenge him.

HILL: At the same time, well, you have Democrats are doing the run with a big win in Arizona. CNN projecting Democrat Katie Hobs will beat Republican Kari Lake in that state's governor's race winning by less than 20,000 votes. We're also learning President Biden has made a congratulatory call to Katie Hobbs this morning. Lake, of course one of those high-profile election deniers out there, has continued to cast doubt on the election process in her state, has yet to concede. It comes as one of her main endorsers, former President Trump, is set to launch his third bid for the White House tonight.

Let's start, though, with the balance of power in the House, as Jim mentioned. Republicans on the verge here of regaining that narrow majority. And as that is happening, the battle to lead the party really heating up.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

So what's the latest jockeying happening up there this morning, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we expect House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to get the votes from his conference this afternoon to be nominated as the next speaker of the House. He just needs a majority of the conference. But the challenge for him is that is just the first step in the process. The big vote will be in January, assuming the Republicans do take control of the House, they are on path to do just that. That's when they will need -- he will need 218 votes in the full House in order to win the speakership.

If there are a handful of defections, Republican defections, that could be enough to complicate matters which is why the margin is so significant in the House. McCarthy had wanted a big governing majority. They are looking at likely a very narrow majority which is giving power to some folks on the hard right who are seeking to challenge him. One of the challenges we expect today, Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican who doesn't have the votes to defeat McCarthy but is trying to siphon away enough votes to show that he does not have 218 votes ultimately to become speaker and try to get him to the negotiating table.

Now on the Democratic side there has been a lot of back and forth as well. There are still of course questions about what Nancy Pelosi will do and whether she will try to run as a top Democratic leader again or step aside as she has indicated in the past. But she in a private meeting today did not address any questions about her future. And there are still some back and forth about what -- the possibility that Democrats could have actually hung on to the House in the midterms last week.

There was one House race in Oregon, Kurt Schrader, a blue dog Democrat, a conservative Democrat who was pushed out by a progressive challenger in his Oregon district. That district flipped to the Republicans after the Tuesday midterms. I caught up with that Democrat and he called on his party to support a bigger tent. Listen.


RAJU: What is your message to the progressive left that came after you? REP. KURT SCHRADER (D-OR): We're supposed to be a big tent party

historically. We should get back to that. Respect the fact that we all have different opinions, we represent different districts well, and you need some moderates to actually win the majority in the United States House of Representatives.


RAJU: So a lot of questions, guys, on all caucuses, and tomorrow, too, the Republicans in the Senate will vote to elect Mitch McConnell as the next Republican leader even as some are asking to delay that election.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Lessons perhaps for Democrats as well as Republicans in this midterm election.

Manu Raju, thanks so much.

All right, in the Senate, some Republicans pushing to delay leadership elections set for this week. To delay it until after the December 6th runoff in Georgia between Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock.

HILL: Yes. They want to buy some more time there for the opposition to Mitch McConnell's leadership to come together. McConnell, though, moving full steam ahead with a planned vote tomorrow.

CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza joins us now.


So, just put this in context for us. Just how much is McConnell's leadership really at risk in this moment?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: OK. Sure. Short answer, Erica, not that much. Longer answer, there are people within the conference, Republican conference who have issued some worries about McConnell and want to delay this. One is Josh Hawley. Josh Hawley tweeted recently, senator from Missouri, tweeted, 'The Old Party is dead. Time to move on."

Ted Cruz who we all know from running for president, Ted Cruz went on his podcast yesterday and essentially said Mitch McConnell is all about being leader. He cares more about being leader than he cares about Republicans being in the majority.

All of that said, I just named two people, right. There are 49 Republicans. We have that quote up there. "Mitch would rather be leader than have a Republican majority." That's two voices. There's probably five or six or seven or eight. But the simple fact is, I'm going to quote Tom Cotton quoting Ric Flair, the famous wrestler. So Tom Cotton, the senator from Arkansas, said, quoting Ric Flair, to be the man you've got to beat the man.

And what that essentially means is you have to have someone who is going to stand against Mitch McConnell. Rick Scott, the senator from Florida who ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is mentioned but there is not a majority of votes for Rick Scott in the Senate conference.

So like it or not, my strong sense is that there is going to be a vote tomorrow and Mitch McConnell is again going to be leader. I think these other people are positioning for their own purposes. Cruz and Hawley both mentioned as 2024 candidates.

SCIUTTO: Chris Cillizza, thanks so much.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Jim.

HILL: The projected defeat of Republican Kari Lake in the Arizona governor's race is the latest loss for high-profile election deniers who former President Trump thrust into the midterm elections.

SCIUTTO: Despite this record, a failure, the ex-president is expected to launch a third bid for the presidency tonight at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us now. Jeff, you do have some Republicans that are criticizing this decision now but others who are at least keeping their powder dry. I wonder, what do you believe the reception will be to this tonight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I mean, we've seen the former president under more siege than really we've seen since January 6th, 2021. But you're right, we have to measure that because his conservative base still is very much with him. But as I've been talking to voters throughout the summer and fall, there is a mix of people who support him but don't necessarily want him to run for president again.

So he will have to make that argument for why he is running again. But look, one thing that's different tonight, he was hoping to be flanked by many of these endorsed candidates, who he was hoping would win.


ZELENY: Well, that would be a pretty small list now. It certainly wouldn't fill the ballroom at Mar-a-Lago. So he still may be surrounded by some of his supporters this evening. But one of his top supporters, of course, the former vice president, Mike Pence, he is out with a new book coming out and he is talking specifically about what he thinks about the former president. Let's take a listen.


DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: Do you believe that Donald Trump should ever be president again?

MIKE PENCE (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: David, I think that's up to the American people. But I think we'll have better choices in the future. For me and my family, we will be reflecting about what our role is in that.

MUIR: Will you run for president in 2024?

PENCE: Well, we're giving it consideration in our house. Prayerful consideration.


ZELENY: And he's certainly right it is up to the American people, not Mike Pence obviously. And there is a bigger question, is there a market for a Mike Pence presidential candidacy? But all eyes are on Florida of course tonight for the former president's expected announcement but also in Florida because of Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor who had one of the strongest re-election nights of any Republican in this country. So we will see what the former president says. But certainly no one is taking him not seriously this time as many people did in 2015 but there is a burden for him to make the case of why he should be a credible candidate.

Of course Grover Cleveland is the only U.S. president to win a nonconsecutive U.S. term. That's been a very, very long time ago.

SCIUTTO: Been a while, and there have been a lot of election losses for Trump since he won in 2016. Erica?

HILL: Well, joining us now to discuss all of this is CNN senior political commentator, Scott Jennings, CNN senior political analyst Kirsten Powers.

Good to see you both this morning.

Scott, let's pick up if we could right where Jeff just left off. I found that answer from Mike Pence so interesting because, yes, as Jeff pointed out, it is up to the voters to decide but the question was very clear. Do you believe that he should be president again? He dodged that question. And it is interesting, Scott, as we look at where we're at right now, yes, we know the announcement is coming tonight. How much hold do you think Donald Trump still has on this party given, not just the election losses in 2022, but those that we've seen for the last couple of cycles?


SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it was interesting answer. Pence, I think, should have just said no, I don't, because of what he did and I'm looking seriously at running against him because I think we need new leadership. That would have been a far more forthright answer.

I mean, the reality is Trump is still quite formidable. I still think, you know, 40 something percent of the party today probably says they would support him again. This is before any campaign is run. There has been some polling put out this week by some conservative groups and other entities indicating the strength of a possible DeSantis campaign both nationally and in certain states.

In fact there was some polling released yesterday showing DeSantis leading Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire and a few other states. So Trump is formidable. I mean, for intents and purposes, he is the establishment now. He has all the operatives around him, who fully depend on him for their livelihoods. He has a ton of money that he didn't spend on behalf of Republican candidates.

He's a former president and all that goes with that, and these other candidates are now kind of the insurgents. So formidable but I think weaker than he's ever been politically. The question is, are people going to take advantage of this vacuum and move on him or are they going to hesitate like they have in the past?

SCIUTTO: Kirsten, Trump seemed to help Democrats in this election. Many of his endorsed candidates lost. Just the presence of Trump seems, according to the pollsters, to have swung some races their way. As you look to this announcement tonight, is that in political terms good news for Democrats?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there is honestly no way to know. Because we don't know what is going to happen over the next many years. We don't even know what's going to happen next week, right. So I also think we've seen this movie before. We've seen people underestimating Donald Trump. We've seen people saying like he'll never win and all these things that I now see everybody saying again.

So I think that, you know, you could look at the polls if you want but I'm not sure how useful they are. I mean, Morning Consult had a poll that actually had Trump up ahead of DeSantis, right. So I think we have to wait and see what happens. And at least according to the reporting, Donald Trump wants to be seen as the underdog. He feels that that works to his advantage. That is what worked to his advantage when he ran the first time.

He doesn't want to be seen as the establishment, even though he's a former president, and so he wants to very much have that underdog vibe and that's what he's coming into this with. I think it's interesting, though, that he really is going ahead with this date that he chose to announce because he was expecting a very different outcome in the election that he was expecting to be taken credit, right. And now he's not taking credit. So it's going to be really interesting to see how he spins what just happened.

HILL: Scott, I'm also curious to see what happens with the Kari Lakes of the world. Actually, let's start with the Kari Lake, solely Kari Lake, who had told, of course, our colleague Dana Bash she would accept the results if she won. This is where we are at now. She is the projected loser in that governor's race in Arizona. Where does she go next? Where does she take that firebrand election denialism that still garnered a lot of support in her state and she wasn't the only one, even if it was a loss?

JENNINGS: Yes. Good question. I mean, of all the sort of Trump centric candidates, of all the people who most closely aligned themselves with Trump and his style of candidacy, she was probably technically the best of them from a skillset perspective. She was a news anchor for many years out there in Arizona. She had that communications polish that a lot of candidates lack. And so during the campaign, a lot of people were wondering, you know, is this the next big Republican star because she seems to be next level in terms of her communications ability? Now she's lost the race. She hasn't quite said what she's going to do

in response to that. In fact, there are some indication she's calling results of it into question. I guess the real issue is, does she try to take this show on the road and go outside of Arizona or does she seek another office in Arizona?

I think one thing we learned in Arizona and a lot of other states is that running your campaign in large part or solely on the idea of relitigating 2020 or on conspiracy theories about the outcome of elections is not a winner. In fact most of the most extreme candidates in this vein lost all over the country and that's a good thing because this sort of conspiracy theory as a platform is a dead end for the Republican Party. We learned it in Arizona. I suspect if Trump gets the nomination we'll learn it again in 2024.

SCIUTTO: We talked about Mike Pence missing a moment there just to say in clear terms, no, Trump should not run again. But, you know, Mitch McConnell had that chance, too, right, in the impeachment following January 6th in which he eviscerated Trump for being responsible for those events, but did not vote or get his caucus to vote to convict.

I wonder, Kirsten, and perhaps to you as well, Scott, given your closeness to McConnell, does McConnell regret that given that, well, Trump is running again?

POWERS: Well, I mean, Scott can definitely answer that better in terms of what Mitch McConnell is thinking.


I mean, you know, certainly if he had done something differently, if he had, you know, voted for impeachment, for example, and you know, it might have allowed other members to follow him and you could have a very different outcome. So I think whatever happens with Donald Trump just the fact of him running, whether he becomes the nominee or not, just the fact of him running, I would say is very bad for the Republican Party because he will either be the nominee or he will destroy every single nominee on his way to not winning the nomination. I mean, he will -- you know, it will just be absolute fire and destruction.

SCIUTTO: Scott, do you think any regrets from McConnell?

JENNINGS: I mean, look, he'll answer for that someday, I'm sure. I mean, I certainly think that if you look at the cycle that followed, just through the pure political lens, Donald Trump's impact on the Senate cycle was corrosive. I mean, obviously, lost the Georgia runoffs in 2021. Got involved in a bunch of primaries and most of his people lost. Not all, but most of his people lost. Did he elect Vance in Ohio and Ted Budd in North Carolina, although Vance ran way behind where Mike DeWine was.


JENNINGS: He continues to be a sponge for small dollar donors in the Republican Party depriving other campaigns of money. So on the whole, I think -- and when you look at the results about where independents went, I mean, it's pretty obvious that he's been corrosive for the last two years. But I'm heartened candidly, Jim, today by seeing a number of senators and other elected officials saying out loud Donald Trump may not be the leader of us, even Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming said Ron DeSantis is now our leader.


JENNINGS: I think those are noteworthy statements you hadn't heard before.

SCIUTTO: You're right. More public. Scott Jennings, Kirsten Powers, thanks so much to both of you.

Still to come, a CNN exclusive, new audio reveals that a senior Uvalde officer was told that children needed to be rescued from inside that classroom at Robb Elementary but they failed to organize help.

And later Georgia's Senate race is heading to a runoff thanks in part to a libertarian candidate, Chase Oliver, why he says he will not endorse either candidate in the runoff.

HILL: Plus new data shows the number of babies being born prematurely in the United States is climbing. Why this disproportionately affects babies born to women of color.



SCIUTTO: Now CNN exclusive, new audio obtained from the investigation into the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, shedding light on exactly what officials knew and when in critical moments while that gunman was still inside the school.

HILL: For the first time here, a phone call reveals a senior Uvalde officer was alerted children needed to be rescued after a child called 911, and reported she and her classmates were trapped with the gunman.

Here is CNN's Shimon Prokupecz with more.


MARIANO PARGAS, ACTING UVALDE POLICE CHIEF: So how many are still alive now?

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Eight to nine are still alive. She's not too sure.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): New audio of a recorded phone conversation obtained by CNN shows the acting Uvalde police chief was directly told that children were trapped with a gunman and needed rescue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Subject with an AR.

PROKUPECZ: And still he failed to take direct action to save them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's in there? He's in the class.

PROKUPECZ: CNN has pieced together multiple body cameras and new security footage from inside the school hallway, along with this never-before-heard phone call, to show how a failure of leadership allowed 77 minutes to tick by before police killed the gunman. Acting Uvalde Police Chief Mariano Pargas was among the first police officers to enter Robb Elementary on May 24th.

The chief of the Uvalde Police was on vacation which left Pargas in charge of the city police. Pargas arrived at 11:36 a.m., just three minutes after the gunman fires his first shots. His officers run in ahead of him and make an initial attempt to breach the classroom. They quickly retreat when shots are fired in their direction.

CNN has chosen to mute the sound of those gunshots.

SGT. EDUARDO CANALES, UVALDE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?

PROKUPECZ: Minutes later, Uvalde School District Police Officer Ruben Ruiz, whose wife is a teacher of Robb Elementary, delivers critical information to Pargas, the shooter is located inside his wife's classroom.

OFFICER RUBEN RUIZ, UVALDE SCHOOL DISTRICT POLICE: The shooter is in my wife's classroom.

PROKUPECZ: Pargas, who was suspended by the city of Uvalde in July and placed on paid leave while they investigate his role as a commanding officer during the shooting, is walking in and out of the hallway, taking cover next to a wall, failing to organize a response. Even when Ruben Ruiz barrels back into the hallway telling his colleagues that his wife, Eva Mireles, called him from inside the room and says she's dying.


RUIZ: She says she's shot, Johnny.

MENDOZA: This is not important.

PROKUPECZ: It's Pargas, the acting chief, who comes and removes Ruiz from the hallway. As time goes by, the police on the scene can be heard looking to Pargas, asking him for direction. They want to know what the plan is. Pargas tells them he's waiting on the Texas Department of Public Safety.

DET. JOSE RODRIGUEZ, UVALDE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Are we just waiting for BORTAC or what's going on?

PARGAS: They tell me a DPS Ranger has somebody in there and come in.

PROKUPECZ: At 12:10 p.m., nearly 30 minutes after police first arrived, 10-year-old Khloie Torres, a fourth grader trapped inside the room with the gunman, is on the phone, with a 911 dispatcher.

KHLOIE TORRES, STUDENT, ROBB ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, UVALDE: I'm in classroom, what's the classroom number? 112.



TORRES: 112, 112, yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: What's your name, ma'am?

TORRES: Khloie Torres. Please hurry. There's a lot of dead bodies.

PROKUPECZ: CNN obtained that call and published it with the approval of her parents. When the dispatcher radios the information to the officers, Pargas and other police on scene are immediately informed.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Child is advising he is in a room full of victims, full of victims at this moment.

RODRIGUEZ: (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Full of victims. Child called 911 and said the room is full of victims.

PARGAS: It's what?

RODRIGUEZ: The room is full of victims. Child 911, child 911 call.

PROKUPECZ: Pargas, who didn't have a radio with him, takes one from a detective and enters the hallway. He tells the men inside.

PARGAS: A child just called that they have victims in there.

PROKUPECZ: But then Pargas steps back. Two minutes later, he walks out of the hallway and places a phone call directly to the Uvalde dispatcher. CNN has obtained this call.

PARGAS: OK, and the call you got in from the -- from one of the students, what did they say?

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: OK, Khloie's going to be (INAUDIBLE), she's in room 112, Mariano. 112. She's with about eight or nine students that are still alive at the moment (INAUDIBLE).

PARGAS: So how many are still alive now?

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Eight to nine are still alive. She's not too sure.

PARGAS: And how many more?

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: She's not too sure how many are actually DOA or possibly injured.


UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: We're trying to get more information but she (INAUDIBLE).

PARGAS: OK, thanks.

PROKUPECZ: The recorded phone call proves for the first time that a senior officer at the scene was directly made aware of the horrors happening inside the classroom. Pargas walks back in the hallway one more time.

PARGAS: Someone called 911, there's nine injured.

PROKUPECZ: A few seconds later, the acting police chief turns his back and walks out. In the doorway, Pargas can be seen talking to the Texas Ranger Christopher Ryan Kindell, who as CNN has previously reported, is currently suspended and under investigation for failing to organize a response that day. But Pargas doesn't appear to tell him about the 911 information he received.

CNN has learned from sources familiar with the investigation that a number of law enforcement officials on scene including high-ranking officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety say they did not know about the 911 call.

A few minutes later, at 12:20 PM, Pargas can be seen walking away from the school, away from the hallway where dozens of officers from several law enforcement agencies remain, debating, at times confused and seemingly uncertain about what to do. They wouldn't breach the classroom for another 30 minutes.

CNN analysis of a new never-before-made public angle of the hallway security camera shows that Pargas never steps foot back inside this hallway. In interviews with investigators obtained by CNN, Pargas says he didn't believe he was in charge and his officers from the Uvalde City Police were there only to assist the school police until the Texas Department of Public Safety took over.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which placed seven of its officers, who were at the scene under further investigation, labeled Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo as the on-scene commander. Arredondo, who was fired in August, maintains he wasn't in charge either.

CNN reached Pargas by phone. He said, quote, "He would love to defend himself. But he's been told not to speak to the media," adding, quote, "It's not that we're afraid because there's nothing to be afraid of. We did what we could, but the thing is that we've been told that we can't."

In interviews with Texas Rangers, he was asked why officers didn't force their way into the classroom sooner, as active shooter training clearly indicates.

PARGAS: The room was extremely dark. And we didn't know where he was or the kids were standing, they were by him or not knowing what was behind the doors.

PROKUPECZ: Pargas didn't tell the investigators about his direct call with the dispatcher and claimed he didn't remember hearing radio traffic about the 911 calls.

PARGAS: We knew we had heard all those shots. But we didn't know there were kids in there, there were kids alive, there were kids -- we had no idea.

PROKUPECZ: But Pargas did know. He knew Ruben Ruiz's wife called and said she was inside dying. And he knew a child called 911 and said she was in room 112 surrounded by victims. As the acting Uvalde Police Chief Mariano Pargas was a commanding officer on scene and could have done something about it.

Shimon Prokupecz, CNN, Uvalde, Texas.


HILL: It just leaves you absolutely speechless.


HILL: These poor families, it is infuriating at every turn the story gets worse, and to then hear him say, I didn't know there were kids in there alive when we heard that audio of him saying how many, eight to nine kids in the classroom?