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Biden, Netanyahu Hold Call Amid Rising Tensions; Netanyahu Pledges "Safe Passage" Of Civilians In Rafah; Biden Allies Slam Special Counsel Report; Officials Brace For Election Disinformation, Deepfakes; Houston PD: Reports Of Shooting At Joe Osteen's Lakewood Church; Kickoff In Las Vegas: Chiefs Versus 49ers; Pentagon: Secretary Austin Hospitalized This Afternoon. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 11, 2024 - 16:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Happening now in the NEWSROOM after weeks of not talking, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Biden speak today. Biden telling Netanyahu that a plan should be in place for the more than one million people sheltering in Rafah before any military operations move forward.

And from Pennsylvania to Maine, a potentially dangerous winter storm is about to wallop the northeast with some areas seeing up to a foot of snow. And King Charles is seen in public for the first time since it was announced he has cancer.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Hello, again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Despite growing tensions President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a call today for the first time since mid-January. It comes just days after Biden delivered his sharpest rebuke yet over Israel's military campaign in Gaza, calling it over the top. The president is now pushing for a clear plan from Israel as its military prepares to move its ground operations into Rafah, where more than a million civilians are currently taking shelter.

And on Capitol Hill, this afternoon, the U.S. Senate in a key vote moved one step closer to passing a bill that would provide tens of billions of dollars in assistance and military aid not just for Israel but also Ukraine and Taiwan.

We have team coverage. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live for us in Tel Aviv with more on Israel's looming military offensive. And CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is at the White House where we begin.

Let's talk about this call between these two leaders, Priscilla. What do we know?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a call that comes amid tensions between President Biden and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it also comes at a critical juncture for these hostage negotiations. Again, the focus here, releasing those hostages who have been held in Gaza.

Now this is a call that lasted 45 minutes according to a senior administration official, two-thirds of which was specifically focused on the release of hostages. Senior U.S. officials have been deploying to the region to hammer out a framework for their release that includes of course freeing of the hostages, but also a humanitarian pause.

Now the senior administration official said that significant gaps still remain, though it's unclear what exactly those are. But again maintaining that there is progress on this front. Now a readout from the White House says that President Biden emphasized all of this to the prime minister, noting that they should work on moving this forward and building on the progress of the last few weeks.

Of course, this comes after the prime minister slammed Hamas' recent proposals, calling it, quote, "delusional." But another important element of this phone call between the two leaders was that military offensive in Rafah. This is something that the U.S. has been forceful about, especially because it is an area where there are millions of Palestinians, many of whom were displaced to that region and have nowhere else to go in Gaza.

And the senior administration official saying that it would require moving people for this to be tenable at all. So the U.S. still holding the line and saying that this is not something that the U.S. can envision under the current conditions. But it was clear both from officials today and also from this White House readout that the prime minister and the president are going to remain in close contact as both of the storylines are developing.

WHITFIELD: And, Jeremy, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has offered little detail on how he plans to provide safe passage for more than one million in Rafah. So instead what is he saying?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Israeli prime minister is stressing the importance of carrying out this military offensive in Rafah, saying that without doing so, without going after what he described as Hamas' last bastion, there would be no way to achieve are his war aims of destroying Hamas and removing it from power in the Gaza Strip.

Now he is saying that civilians will have, quote-unquote, "safe passage" out of Rafah and that the military is actively working on crafting a detailed plan for exactly how that would happen. But beyond saying that the civilians would be directed to go north, he is really not providing any detail at all.


And humanitarian aid groups have been raising serious questions, serious concerns about not only the feasibility of actually getting an estimated 1.4 million people who are sheltering in a place that normally has about 300,000 residents out of that area, but also questions about where they will go and what they will find when they go further north. We know that the destruction in Gaza resulting from this war has been

rampant with the majority of buildings destroyed or partially damaged. And we also know that one of the reasons why Rafah has become this last refuge for so many internally displaced Palestinians is because hundreds of humanitarian aid trucks have been coming in through that Rafah crossing and getting humanitarian aid further north has proved to be an enormous, enormous challenge.

And we've seen the kinds of conditions for civilians who are further north having trouble accessing basic essential services and food and water. So this is obviously going to be an enormous challenge. And it comes as there's more and more international pressure building.

WHITFIELD: Right. And that international pressure is, indeed, building because now, you know, Qatar is even weighing in, Jeremy, saying that this plan is not working and it leads toward genocide.

DIAMOND: Yes. There has been rampant criticism and concern expressed by not only countries in the region who don't have diplomatic relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, for example, saying that there would be serious repercussions if Israel moves forward with this offensive and demanding once again an immediate ceasefire and a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, but also from partners in the region like the United Arab Emirates and Egypt who have been raising serious concerns, and of course key allies like the United States, just last week saying that it would be a disaster if the Israeli military moves forward with this operation without significant planning.

And obviously, that was a key point that the president -- President Biden stressed during his call with the Israeli prime minister. So what's remarkable, of course, beyond the overwhelming concern and criticism is the fact that the Israeli prime minister is doubling down in spite of all of that. And that gives you just a sense of where his head is at and what could come next from the Israeli military.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there. Jeremy Diamond, Priscilla Alvarez, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

All right, I want to bring in now John Hudson. He's a "Washington Post" national security reporter focusing on the U.S. State Department and diplomacy.

So you co-wrote a piece today talking about how Biden and Netanyahu are moving closer to a breach over the war. Do you view things any differently after today's phone call between the two?

JOHN HUDSON, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes. It's very much still building up. And I think this is the latest reflection of the administration becoming more comfortable showing and exposing these rifts, giving a readout of that call between Biden and Netanyahu in which the president himself made clear his concerns about what's happening -- what could happen in Rafah without a plan for civilians to get out.

This is just the latest in what has been a growing amount of agitation in the White House. A lot of Biden's aides have been urging him to really expose, do a much bigger public rupture than what we're seeing today, and really make clear while the president is a strong supporter of Israel, it doesn't mean he has to wed himself so closely to Prime Minister Netanyahu who is obviously quite unpopular among Democrats but also unpopular in Israel.

And there is growing concern that this is a liability for the president in swing states. And it's also just hasn't been a successful policy to keep all of the differences between the two men in private. It doesn't seem to be the best way to influence Israeli positions and behavior.

WHITFIELD: Well, it seems as though President Biden is becoming a little bit more comfortable expressing himself differently than how he has. I mean, earlier in the week, he said Israel's campaign in Gaza was over the top and was also, you know, very wary about this ground operation in Rafah. Is Netanyahu hearing any of those messages?

HUDSON: I guess we will have to see. But I think the part that officials -- many senior officials are concerned about is this has been a really repeat, there's been a bit of a Groundhog Day situation where when the Israelis first announced they were going into the south in areas like Khan Younis, the administration was saying, the way you conduct this cannot be the way that you conducted affairs in northern Gaza where there was a huge civilian death toll.


In fact, though, when they conducted operations in the south, there were significant civilian deaths and there was a lot of disappointment. And so there's a concern that this is just going to be the latest episode where there have been, yes, like politely worded concerns saying, please make sure to take steps X, Y, Z, but that the reality on the ground is a quite ferocious and devastating military campaign that also results in significant amounts of casualties.

Obviously, the situation in Rafah is particularly concerning for some U.S. officials, because this is -- you know, multiple times now, residents of Gaza have been told to move from one area to the next in a sort of endless nightmare of displacement.

WHITFIELD: Earlier today, the U.S. Senate moved a bit closer to passing a bill that would provide Israel with more military funding. Is that a way in which Biden can exert a little bit more leverage with Israel as he tries to influence Netanyahu to come to the table to have a different kind of approach to the military strategy?

HUDSON: Yes, it's a great question. I mean, some of the people that we interviewed for this piece have said that this debate about where to break with Netanyahu on rhetoric right now actually misses the point and that Israelis are going to look at U.S. actions more than they are going to look at U.S. rhetoric.

And so what has been the Biden administration's actions since October 7th has been to flood the country with weaponry. And in some cases bypassed congressional review in the process of getting it is there so urgently. Now U.S. officials say this is defensible. They needed some of this weaponry, some of its precision-guided weaponry, some of the small diameter bombs, but for the critics who are urging a different policy, they're saying, unless you exert leverage over things like you mentioned, the billions of dollars in aid, and threaten to withhold it, you're not going to influence Israeli behavior.

The same -- the other critics within the administration have said, that's not the right way because that will embolden Israel's enemies Hezbollah and Hamas, and encourage further attacks on the Jewish state. But really, where the debate is right now for the administration is whether or not to dial that rhetoric up or down. They're really not closely considering pulling off aid or even threatening to reduce military assistance to Israel.

WHITFIELD: All right. John Hudson, glad you could be with us. Thanks so much.

HUDSON: Good to join you.

WHITFIELD: Still ahead, a special counsel report calls President Biden an elderly man with a poor memory. Hear how the White House is pushing back.

Plus, a manhunt in Tennessee for an armed and dangerous suspect accused of killing a deputy at a traffic stop. Officials now increasing the reward leading to his capture. We have the latest.



WHITFIELD: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is reportedly facing fresh scrutiny from his boss, according to a new report in "Politico." "Politico" writes that President Biden is telling advisors that Garland didn't go far enough to reign in a searing special counsel report that called him an elderly man with a poor memory.

And today, Biden's allies are on offense, slamming the special counsel report as really shabby work, quoting that, and defending the president's mental acuity.


BOB BAUER, PERSONAL COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: This is a report that went off the rail. The special counsel's decision to cherry pick in a very misleading way some of the references that you are discussing here is an example of what I call a really shabby work product and completely out of bounds for a prosecutor.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): This is a man who is sharp, who's on top of his game, who knows what's going on in the Middle East and around the world. He had a 12-minute press conference where he was focused, engaged, purposeful, and all you're focused on is that one minute at the end.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now is CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton.

Great to see you. OK. So, "Politico" notes that, you know, Biden, you know, has held 33 news conferences compared to Obama's 66 and Trump's 52 at this time in their residences. Does Biden need to get more out there to dispel to voters -- dispel any concerns that voters might have about his mental competency and agility?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he will have to do that. Democrats will complain that this was not fair the way the report treated this or that this is an issue -- shouldn't be an issue. And often there's comparisons to former President Trump. But it is an issue. And it's registering in the polls. And I think rather than just trying to explain it away, the most effective thing that President Biden can do is govern, is to show himself in public and to demonstrate through what you see and what you hear that the reports are not true. And that's going to be a challenge for him, I think, in the coming months.

WHITFIELD: The issue of age seems to continue to linger. A new poll showing 59 percent of Americans think both Biden and Trump are too old for another term. 27 percent say only Biden is too old, 3 percent say only Trump is too old. So how is the White House supposed to move forward on this? Because, I mean, the age is not something that he's going to be able to change, right?


But instead, you know, what kind of shifting does the White House need to do to respond to polls that say voters are concerned?

ZELIZER: Well, the question has to be, does age affect his ability to govern? That's basically the question on the table. And what the president has tried to do -- but I think he needs to do more of -- is to show that's just not true. And that's where his record comes in and what he has accomplished becomes part of the conversation.

And secondly, it would be him campaigning. I mean, him campaigning in the next few months will be a demonstration where he can prove his agility. So I think those are the two ways he is going to do it. It would be limited. I think these polls are going to stick to some effect, but that's what he can do to try to at least diminish some of the concern.

WHITFIELD: And then, you know, now we're at this interesting juncture because Democrats originally, you know, cheered Special Counsel Hur's the appointment, saying he's not politically motivated. But of course now after seeing the language that some critics say just simply went too far, was unnecessary. You heard the vice president said it was, you know, inappropriate. Even now some of those same Democratic fans of her are, you know, alleging that he is politically motivated.

So does this hurt or help, I guess, Democrats who are being critical of his characterizations? Because now it has taken on a life of its own, hasn't it? ZELIZER: I think you're right. And it's a delicate situation. I mean,

it is traditional for presidents to attack special prosecutors and to raise questions about their motivation. But what Democrats don't want to do is raise broader questions about investigations, special counsels all together because President Biden's opponent is facing some pretty serious indictments. And those are underway. And so they don't want to fuel the rhetoric that the former president has really made central to his campaign, that everything is illegitimate, everything is partisan, nothing can be believed.

So they have to figure out how do you thread that needle raising their criticism without criticizing the entire process.

WHITFIELD: And then, you know, and in response to this "Politico" article which says, you know, the White House is upset that, you know, Merrick Garland, the attorney general, didn't reign in, you know, the special counsel report, is the inference there that the attorney general has the power to proofread the report before it is public and that Merrick Garland would have had an opportunity to take out those characterizations of this report?

ZELIZER: I think if Garland had interfered in any way in this, that would be the story we are talking about. And it might be a much bigger story in some ways, because that wouldn't be about age or it wouldn't be about memory, it would be about interfering in a process that involved an investigation into the presidency. So I think there wasn't much that Garland can do. And Garland has been very cautious for that exact reason on many different issues given that this is all unfolding in the middle of a campaign, and the two investigations involve the two candidates.

WHITFIELD: All right. Julian Zelizer, thank you so much. Good to see you this Sunday.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, new CNN exclusive reporting. Officials from the Biden administration are running drills to prepare for potential threats to the 2024 election. What they are fighting against.



WHITFIELD: All right, now to a CNN exclusive. Officials from the Biden administration are running drills to prepare for potential threats to the 2024 election. But they're realizing how severely limited a federal response would be to things like rampant disinformation, deepfakes and the harassment of election officials. And it comes in the wake of recent AI made robocalls ahead of the New Hampshire primary that mimicked President Biden's voice.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again. Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.


WHITFIELD: Wow. One official warns that we are in unchartered territory now.

CNN's Sean Lyngaas joining me now with more on all of this.

Sean, that is scary, isn't it? I mean, what kind of training exercises can be done to try to thwart this?

SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, we've got to look inside the White House situation room in December when senior Biden administration officials from the FBI, Department of Justice, CIA and others held a first of its kind training exercise saying, what are we going to do if there's two really stark scenarios on the eve of the election? One scenario was if a deepfake emerges that was attributed to the Chinese government that showed a senator -- purported to show a senator destroying ballots in the campaign that he is in.

And the other scenario was, what if there's violence at the polls? What do we do? Do we support state and local authorities? And in both cases, they were confronted with the limits of their authorities. You know, the federal DHS and FBI cannot necessarily immediately send in agents to polling stations. They don't have jurisdiction there.

And in terms of who's a trusted voice in public on disinformation, it's often state and local election officials. So the people the table, the very senior people in the U.S. government were saying, I think we have to be very careful about, A, not putting our thumb on the scale, making it look like we're influencing the election on the eve of the election, and B, in the post 2016 world after Russian interference, you are at the risk of being accused of politicizing intelligence no matter what you do.

One U.S. official familiar with the meeting told me, we're all effing tied up in knots, end quote, when it comes to confronting these challenges. So it's very much a work in progress -- Fredricka.


WHITFIELD: So, how are national security officials weighing how to respond to disinformation, whether to publicly call attention to it or not?

LYNGAAS: Well, the simple fact is if it's a foreign actor, if they're -- if they're certain that a foreign government or otherwise a foreign actor is behind an influence operation, they can be swifter and more forceful and decisive and saying this is a national security concern. However, if there's a chance, Fredricka, that an American citizen might be involved and they're much, much more hesitant to get involved because it might infringe on free speech.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. Oh, my gosh, frightening.

Sean Lyngaas, thanks so much.

All right, still ahead, we're counting down to the Super Bowl. We'll go to our Coy Wire live in Las Vegas as people start arriving for the big game.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: All right. This breaking news just into CNN, we're following reports of a shooting at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston.

CNN's Jean Casarez is following this developing story.

What are you learning, Jean?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joel Osteen, obviously, nationally known, a very, very huge complex, a church in Lakewood Hous -- in Houston, Texas, Lakewood Church. We are learning from the Houston Police Department on Twitter. They are saying that they are responding to reports of a shooting at the church location on southwest freeway in Houston.

This is an ongoing active scene. Please avoid the area, additional information when possible. Now, Lakewood Church itself has tweeted out: There is an active shooter situation involving shots at Lakewood. Law enforcement is on the scene now.

We do have some information from one of our affiliates, KPRC is saying that a Lakewood parishioner is telling them that it was right before the Spanish language service was about to begun that this person heard multiple shots. They were told by an usher to run.

And now we have more comments from someone who was there from KHOU also our affiliate in Houston.


MARTHA CARDENAS, ATTENDED SERVICE AT LAKEWOOD CHURCH: And then everybody goes by, what happened. This is my first time of the church. I'm living in Florida I myself was on the floor.

So when I was outside, I looking for my phone to call my family. No phone, no nobody. I was no panic. Thanks God, but was in control. I'm waiting, thanks God the children was inside the rooms with the fathers. So they start to go, you know, slowly by grades. So then when I found it -- like I want to have after, but you know, everything is on control.

REPORTER: Will you describe again what you heard?

CARDENAS: Shots like boom, something like that -- how you say like -- yes, like pistol, something like that. REPORTER: How many?

CARDENAS: Yeah. I hear three, three shots, like maybe 15, 20 seconds or 30 seconds. Be doing one or the other one. But it was inside because the auditorium was empty in the in the size. So nobody was -- I was looking maybe there are something, you know, inside the auditorium, but I no, nobody.

REPORTER: And then they said evacuated?

CARDENAS: Yeah, they start to, you know, hear this, the people who say helping seven on the church. So they start, you know, everybody was moving their people start to cry unto run around. I was slowly, you know, quietly, and that's it. Help -- helping people. But, you know?


CASAREZ: -- right before the 03:00 Central Time Spanish language service at Lakewood, Joel Osteen's church. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is now tweeting that information does remain preliminary as things remain dynamic. It is believed that a possible shooter is down, shot by one of our deputies on scene. He says that he is in route to the scene right now.

So that is the latest, Fredricka, allegedly, a shooting taking place at Lakewood Church, Joel Osteen, nationally known, very huge complex. Many, many people are in it.

Obviously are also so many books on positive thinking and possibly this afternoon, a shooting at Houston church.

WHITFIELD: And I know you're just getting a lot of the information and it's very fluid, but hasn't been conveyed in any way with the Spanish language service, roughly, how many people attend, you know, attend that service? I mean, that is -- that church is quite sizable. I don't know the numbers at the top of my head, but it is quite large and I'm wondering, you know if -- oh, okay, I'm told 16,000 people that it seats.

Is it the feeling that, you know, it was filled to capacity that center or you, know, is there any way of knowing how many people may have been impacted here?

CASAREZ: You know, Fredricka, here's what we do know. His broadcasts are televised. There are cameras in that church, various angles, different locations. And every time we see one of those broadcasts, that church is packed. It is absolutely packed with people, because the cameras have all the different angles and you see the -- how the immensity of where Lakewood Church is and the amount of people that it hold 16,000. That's -- that's what we see on camera.

So whatever may have happened, I think it should be documented potentially and law enforcement will -- I'm sure we'll have more information as this is continuing situation.

[16:40:01] WHITFIELD: All right, Jean.

I want to also bring in CNN senior national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem.

So, Juliette, you know, active shooter or active situation, you heard the reporting from Jean there, possibly authority say they may have a shooter down, but when we talk about the dynamics of, you know, the focus, the many focus -- focal points for law enforcement there, the place itself, you know, is well-known, heavily trafficked, you know, 16,000 people, can be there.

But now, look at all this traffic going by in that shot. But it's also right on the highway. So this is a very complicated scene, a complicated place for police to respond to four report like this.

So tell me what they're up against. What they're dealing with?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yeah. Okay. So a little bit about these mega churches, anyone who has never been around, they are huge. And so a shooting around, a facility like this, it's very vague. We don't know.

We know that Lakewood has announced that there was a shooting at Lakewood. We just don't know exactly where that was. The demographics of Lakewood are also interesting. You know, Joel Osteen has a controversial, complicated that -- but his congregation is equal parts white Caucasian, Hispanic, and African-American. And so, it's a very diverse congregation. It's not one or the other.

And the fact that this was the sermon that was going to be in Spanish or bilingual makes sense given who comes to the church. So we can't -- you can't really determine anything from this because every week he has a very diverse parts of Houston come for his sermons, nor do we know exactly where he is or what time.

So, obviously, the second thing I'd say, these mega churches are often protected by public safety for the reasons that you don't want a mass shooting at a mega church. It appears that the deputies or some deputies were already assigned to the church and were therefore there when something bad. We don't know the extent of it, when something bad happens. So that's what they're trying to determine right now.

We've done this enough. We're looking at the pictures. There's not a lot of activity that always is somewhat good, but we can't decide, we can determine quite yet.

WHITFIELD: Right. A church of that magnitude likely has its own security. There's detail there with in cooperation probably with the jurisdiction of Houston PD, and then Jean was mentioning the cameras. You know, cameras everywhere, not just to broadcast and, you know, livestream the services, but obviously security cameras, too.

So the pictures that were looking at now coming in from our affiliate, you do see people I don't know the stories of whether people have been evacuated and that's what were seeing. People who have evacuated or Houston is also a very busy, you know, metropolis, and whether this is in a community where there's a lot of foot traffic. Not clear.

KAYYEM: Yeah, this looks -- I'm just looking at the bigness is that they've been evacuated. They obviously would regardless of the nature of the shooting and it looks like there's police but they're not running. It looks like there was no holding pattern and they're calmly exiting.

But we know the gunman's down. So that's -- that's at least so there might not be any more thread, but I have to talk. This gives you a sense of how big these mega churches are and that their security is equal in response. So, the fact that there were deputies there is not a surprise.

The cameras -- some of these mega churches actually have metal detectors, most of them do not allow guns in them, regardless of what the state or local rules are and so, we'll find out what numbers are.

I mean, look, Joel Osteen is a global figure. This is relevant simply because we don't know where he was at the time. And whatever your religion or politics are, he is someone who is a anything happening to him would be or at his church would have at least national impact and so well just wait to see what the -- what the specifics are, and what -- what was meant by that shooting.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. Well, Juliette, stick with us. Jean Casarez as well. Stick with us.

We're going to take a short break for now. We're going to continue to monitor the developments here, again reports of shooting there at Joel Osteen's church there Lakewood in Houston. It taking place during a Spanish language of service or just ahead of it. We'll to continue to keep -- keep tabs on what's happening there.

We'll be right back



WHITFIELD: Okay. We're just about two hours away now from Super Bowl LVIII. The bright lights of Las Vegas will have the world's attention as the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers take the field for another epic Super Bowl showdown.

CNN's Coy Wire is at Allegiant Stadium for tonight's kickoff.


Okay. So we're getting close. I'm sure the adrenaline is pumping out there.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: It's pumping. This has got to be one of the most physical games we've seen all season. These guys are going to be spitting fire, breathing, snot and bubblers, the Niners want revenge, a rematch of Super Bowl four years ago when Patrick Mahomes rally the Chiefs who stormed back from the when Mahomes was on the field long before the game, sitting on the sidelines visualizing he's one of four starting quarterbacks in NFL history to have two MPV awards, two Super Bowl wins, joining Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Peyton Manning. We're going to see it if he could go and get a third Super Bowl title.

Now, a 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, is playing his very first Super Bowl. He's proven that he's not just some fortuitous game manager. He's a beast, 21 in five as an NFL starter, he's worked his butt off to take advantage of these opportunities, got a big one in front of them.

Now, we have a kickoff just around the corner and Taylor Swift is in the building. Can her boyfriend Travis Kelce and the Chiefs become the first back-to-back champs since Belichick and Brady? In the past, did it nearly 20 years ago or will the Niners play anti-hero, take down the man and get some revenge in this bad blood Super Bowl matchup, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, I see it all happening.

Okay. Coy Wire, thank you so much from Vegas.

WIRE: You got it.

WHITFIELD: All right. And now we're following more breaking news. Just into CNN, the Pentagon says U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has been transported to Walter Reed and hospitalized for a second time now, in the past three months.

CNN White House correspondent Priscilla Alvarez has more on what we're learning -- Priscilla.

ALVAREZ: Well, we're getting more details from this statement from the Pentagon press secretary. That says that the defense secretary was sent to the hospital at around 2:20 p.m. this afternoon. So about two hours ago, he was sent or transported with his security detail. It goes on to say that he is being seen for symptoms, quote, suggesting an emergent bladder issue.

It also notes that the secretary is retaining the functions and duties of his office and that the deputy secretary is prepared to assume the functions and duties of the secretary of defense if required. Of course, all of this comes after the secretary of defense was admitted to the hospital in early January for complications following prostate cancer surgery. He was later released from the hospital, discharged in mid January.

Of course, that -- that time in the hospital really sparked a firestorm in the Capitol Hill, and at the White House because the defense secretary didn't notify Congress or the White House when he was admitted to the hospital. This clearly different circumstance as he is providing notifications. In fact, in this statement, it says that the White House and Congress has been notified that he did go to the hospital because of this again, emerging bladder issue. We'll get more updates as they come, but for now, this is what the Pentagon is sharing with reporters -- Fred. WHITFIELD: Okay, of course, we're wishing him well. Keep us posted as you learn any more information, Priscilla. Thank you so much.

The other big breaking story that were following in Texas, reports of a shooting at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston.

CNN's Jean Casarez is following the story.

Jean, what are you learning now?

CASAREZ: Well, the Houston Police Department is saying that they are responding to an alleged shooting at the Church, Lakewood Church. This is the church of Joel Osteen. It is a megachurch right in the heart of Houston, Texas, very, very the diverse congregation.

This apparently was shortly before the Hispanic language portion of the day. There is a Spanish service at 03:00 p.m. and one of the parishioners told our affiliate, KPRC, that they were in the church ready for it all to begin. They started hearing multiple shots. The usher told them to run.

Now, we do know that the sheriff of Harris County has said that that he believes that the shooter is down. He is on the way to the scene. We know the public information officers for the police department are on their way also, but the latest we have is that there is a family reunification area that they are asking all parishioners to go, all family members to go at the Lifetime Fitness Center. It is in the Gateway Plaza area, right there in Houston, Texas -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jean.

Also with us, CNN senior national security analyst Juliette Kayyem.

So, Juliette, even if shooter is down, what are the challenges for authorities there?

KAYYEM: Well, they're going to want to find out who he is and why he did it there.

This is a facility that can hold up to 17,000 people at the time. These megachurches are remarkable in that sense.

And so why he chose that time and whether it was because of something related to the church or an individual in the church will be relevant. Now that he's down, a lot more will be easier, both because they know that the threat is gone. They could determine where the leadership of the church is and make sure that everyone is safe but also getting to motives.


Was this a fight between people who knew each other that just got out of hand? Or was it targeted at the Hispanic service? I'd remind people in the previous segment, this is a very, very diverse church of Caucasian, Hispanic, and African-American. So it is this sort of a reflection of the city itself. And so determining what his motive was will be important.

WHITFIELD: And the youth of the surveillance cameras inside the church, as well as outside the church that will be very helpful, helpful for authorities to try to piece together what precipitated this happened just prior to what happened to the duration and immediately following.

KAYYEM: That's exactly right. So what was this, what we would call the ticktack of what is -- what happened? Who is this person? How did he get in? Was he a congregant and something happened in terms of carry rules in Texas, what -- you know, what did he have in his possession or was this a targeted attack? That we actually just simply don't know right now. And the cameras are going to show us a lot.

These facilities are -- you know, have layered defenses. This is a lot of people go in and out in a very short period of time. And so it's not just the cameras, it is -- it is personnel are deployed at various areas. They work with state, local, and federal law enforcement in terms of training and preparedness and evacuation routes, you saw a little bit of that today.

These are these are I hate to make the comparison, but these are sort of Super Bowl of churches, when you have that many people in a single site who are -- who are praying, who are not there for interrupt -- you know, are not expecting to be to be victims of a shooting. There is a lot of preplanning that goes into it and this facility is known for that. So, we'll find out exactly what happened. But there was a deputy on site and therefore, he minimized the threat.

WHITFIELD: All right. Juliette Kayyem and Jean Casarez, thank you so much.

Of course, two big breaking news stories here this shooting at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, reportedly, a shooter is down. We'll have more on that at the top of the hour, as well as the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, back in the hospital.

We'll be right back.