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Fetterman & Oz Battle in Only Debate of Critical PA Senate Race; Rep. Jayapal Withdraws Letter to Biden on Ukraine Policy; Respiratory Viruses Surging, Pediatric Hospitals Nearing Capacity; Lawyers: Brittney Griner Hoping for Prisoner Swap after Losing Appeal; Biden Warns Russia: 'Serious Mistake' to Use Tactical Nuclear Weapon. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired October 26, 2022 - 06:00   ET



MEHMET OZ (R), PENNSYLVANIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: He hasn't paid his own taxes 67 times, but he's raising mine and yours. Those are radical positions. They're extreme. They're out of touch with the values of Pennsylvanians.


LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA), PENNSYLVANIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Here's what I think we have to fight about inflation here right now. That's what we need to fight about inflation right now, because it's a tax on working families, you know. And Dr. Oz can't possibly understand what that is like, you know. He has ten gigantic mansions.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Pennsylvania's Senate race, I mean, it took center stage on debate night in America last night.

I'm Brianna Keilar with Alex Marquardt this morning.

Great to have you.


KEILAR: John Berman is off this morning.

And Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz trading attacks in their first and only debate. The candidates sparred over abortion, inflation, and fracking, issues that according to a CNN poll are the most important to Pennsylvania voters.

Fetterman's health, of course, has been a question during this campaign, and the debate highlighted his continued recovery from his stroke. He used closed captioning for assistance.

MARQUARDT: And up in New York, fighting crime was front and center in a really heated debate last night between New York Governor Kathy Hochul and her Republican challenger, Lee Zeldin. Crime is the No. 1 issue for New York voters. Recent polls show that

the governor's race is tightening in these -- in these final weeks of the campaign.

And then, in Michigan, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her Republican challenger, Tudor Dixon, clashing there in their debate over a referendum that would amend the state constitution to guarantee abortion rights. Take a listen.


GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI), MICHIGAN GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: Proposal 3 is absolutely necessary to preserve the rights we've had for 49 years under Roe v. Wade. Now, the other side will say all sorts of wild-eyed things that are not true. Parental rights and consent will still be effective.

TUDOR DIXON (R), MICHIGAN GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: The governor has just been dishonest in the very first answer. We know that Proposal 3 does remove parental consent. It also makes it so that you don't have to be a doctor to perform an abortion. So when Governor Whitmer tells you that this is going to be Roe, it's not even close to Roe.


MARQUARDT: We begin our coverage this morning with CNN's Jessica Dean, live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the site of last night's Pennsylvania state -- Senate debate.

Jessica, this was the first and the only debate between these two men.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good morning to you, Alex and Brianna.

The first and only time we are going to see them together. Also, their first time meeting.

And of course, all eyes very focused on this, both from the Republican and the Democratic side. The outcome of this race could very likely determine who controls the U.S. Senate.


DEAN (voice-over): Tuesday's debate in Pennsylvania further shining a spotlight on one of the most crucial Senate races in the country. Democrat John Fetterman addressing his health right at the start.

FETTERMAN: Let's also talk about the elephant in the room. I had a stroke. He's never let me forget that. And I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together. But it knocked me down, but I'm keep coming back up.

DEAN (voice-over): Fetterman used closed captioning for assistance throughout the debate and was asked twice if he would release more of his medical records but did not provide a definitive answer on the topic. FETTERMAN: I've been very transparent about -- being very open about

the fact where I use captioning. And I believe that, again, my doctors, the real doctors that I believe, you know, they all believe that I'm ready to be -- serve.

DEAN (voice-over): Republican Mehmet Oz was questioned on abortion rights. The former TV personality was asked three times if he would vote for Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's bill to federally ban abortions after 15 weeks, except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

OZ: I don't want the federal government involved with that at all. I want women, doctors, local political leaders leading the democracy that's always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forwards.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So a yes or no on the Lindsey Graham bill?

OZ: I think I've answered it very clearly three times.

DEAN (voice-over): Fetterman lashed back, accusing Oz of aligning himself with far-right politicians, like Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who as a Pennsylvania state senator, introduced a 2019 bill to prohibit abortions if physicians can detect early cardiac activity.

Fetterman did dodge accusations by Oz that he was changing his position on the issue from his previous primary debates.

FETTERMAN: I want to look into the face of every woman in Pennsylvania. You know, if you believe that the choice of your reproductive freedom belongs with Dr. Oz, then you have a choice. But if you believe that the choice for abortion belongs between you and your doctor, that's what I fight for.

DEAN (voice-over): The issue of fracking was a pivotal point in the debate. Fetterman now says he supports it. In 2018, he said he never supported the industry and never will.

FETTERMAN: I've always supported fracking. And I always believed that independence with our energy is critical, and we can't be held, you know, ransom to somebody like Russia.

OZ: John Fetterman calls fracking a stain on Pennsylvania. This is an extreme position on energy.

DEAN (voice-over): Fetterman did struggle at times throughout the debate but tried to paint Oz as out of touch with the working people of Pennsylvania.

FETTERMAN: I'm running to serve Pennsylvania. He's running to use Pennsylvania. Here's a man that spent more than $20 million of his own money to try to buy that seat.

DEAN (voice-over): To refute Fetterman's attacks, Oz constantly touted touring the commonwealth, trying to push back on accusations he has not spent enough time in the state.


OZ: I love traveling to the four corners of the beautiful commonwealth. And I've heard your problems. I'm a surgeon, doctor. I listen to what you say, and I'm trying to help address them today.


DEAN: Now, in talking with Fetterman's campaign officials, they'll say they really felt like he performed well last night, that they really got some hits in on China, on abortion rights. Abortion rights, of course, a key closing argument for John Fetterman as we head into election day here in just a couple of weeks.

The Oz campaign really feeling like Mehmet Oz did an effective job of painting John Fetterman as extreme, as out of touch, that his positions are extreme.

Of course, Brianna and Alex, it's going to be up to the voters to decide who did what. And it's also interesting that the Fetterman campaign, you could hear John Fetterman, kind of some halting speech. You could tell that he's very much still recovering from the stroke he suffered back in May.

The Fetterman campaign really believing that people can look past that, understand that he is still recovering, and make their minds up on the issues alone -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Jessica Dean, who's been criss-crossing Pennsylvania over the past few months and certainly will be for the two remaining weeks. Thank you very much.

KEILAR: All right. Let's bring in Al Schmidt and Ashley Allison. Al is a former Republican Philadelphia city missioner and the president and CEO of the Committee of 70. Ashley is a CNN political commentator and the former national coalitions director for Biden/Harris 2020, as well as a former Obama White House staff member.

OK, Ashley, you first. What did you think, writ large, of the debate?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I will say it was clear that Fetterman was still recovering from the stroke.

I also think that Dr. Oz avoided a lot of questions like abortion. When asked about the federal minimum wage he did a lot of, you know, TV talk but not actually saying he wants to raise people's wages.

Coming out of it, he also made a real big mistake about the abortion, talking about a woman, a doctor, and state officials should be making that decision.

All in all, I think -- I don't think it moved the margins at all in Pennsylvania. But Fetterman comes out raising a million dollars after that debate. MARQUARDT: Al, do you think that it was wise for the Fetterman

campaign to put him up against Oz? I mean, even before the stroke, Oz was so much more polished on television because of his decade -- his, yes, two decades on TV.

But then, particularly in the wake of the stroke, do you think it was -- it was the right move to have him debate Oz?

AL SCHMIDT, CEO, COMMITTEE OF 70: I think it was really to his credit that he debated. As we've seen in our commonwealth, with our, for example, Republican candidate for governor refusing to debate and any number of candidates, Democratic and Republican, refusing to engage in debates. And voters -- if we want voters to make informed decisions, voters should have access to more information, and that includes debates. So I think it goes to his credit that he participated.

KEILAR: I want to ask you both the same question, and as you said, Al, he should get some credit for this. Were you expecting John Fetterman's -- and he calls it the elephant in the room here. Were you expecting his stroke system [SIC] -- symptoms to manifest the way they did? And maybe more importantly, do you think voters were, and will they just look past that?

ALLISON: Well, if you've ever seen anyone recover from a stroke, I think -- I think it seemed like he was recovering from a stroke. It -- it didn't seem like he didn't have a policy understanding. He understood. He just was, like, a little delayed. It took 15 extra seconds for him to read the closed captioning and then answer.

But on the debate stage, that seems a little awkward. But he stood up there for an hour and had a conversation about national security, domestic policy. I mean, I think voters think he could serve.

KEILAR: Al, what do you think?

SCHMIDT: No. I mean, it was hopefully not a distraction for -- for viewers and voters when they're -- when they're watching. At times, you know, undoubtedly, you can see it on Twitter. You could see it in -- in communications about the debate, that I think a lot of people were focused on that.

But if we're talking about style of delivery, and we're talking about substance on issues, you know, Fetterman clearly struggled with the style of his delivery, and Oz used his ability -- just incredible ability on TV to avoid answering questions about some important issues.

MARQUARDT: As Jessica noted in her report, this could be the race that determines control of the Senate. So Ashley, do you think Pennsylvania voters, whether they're Republicans or Democrats, are voting, really, for the candidates, or are they voting for that single vote in the Senate?

ALLISON: It gets a mixed bag depending on who you ask. People really are suffering because of the economy, and they want somebody who's going to deliver and determine their -- improve their everyday life. I think also people -- there were two questions that I really paid

attention to also, is if Donald Trump runs again would you support him? And Oz said yes.

And if you're a Pennsylvania voter that supported Donald Trump, in the primary, there were some questions of whether or not Oz was really going to be that Trump candidate. That might be favorable for Oz.


Whereas Fetterman, you know, stayed close to Biden and said he would support Biden.

But we also know that democracy was the third issue on the screen that mattered to Pennsylvania voters. So I think -- I don't think everyone is voting because of this one seat, but I think they're voting on the actual issues that will affect everyday life.

MARQUARDT: Al, what do you think?

SCHMIDT: I would have welcomed more of a conversation about confidence in elections and the strength of our democracy for many people. Right now, that is a single issue that matters a whole lot. So I would have liked to hear more of a conversation about that last night.

KEILAR: Yes. I think a lot of people would.

Al, Ashley, thank you so much to both of you for the analysis.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and her Republican challenger, Lee Zeldin, they squared off in their first and only debate, as well, last night. They sparred over issues like abortion rights and the 2020 presidential campaign, but it was really crime that captured the spotlight. Take a listen.


GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY), NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: There is no crime-fighting plan if it doesn't include guns, illegal guns. And you refuse to talk about how we can do so much more. You didn't even show up for votes in Washington when a bipartisan group of enlightened legislatures voted for an assault weapon ban.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY), NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Unfortunately, Kathy Hochul believes that the only crimes that are being committed are these crimes with guns. And you have people who are afraid of being pushed in front of oncoming subway cars. They're being stabbed, beaten to death on the street with hammers.


MARQUARDT: And things also getting contentious when Hochul and Zeldin got into a heated exchange on the issue of abortion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HOCHUL: Why nothing changed the day of the Dobbs decision? It's because I'm the governor of the state of New York, and he's not. So we can talk about policies all you want. Let's look at the record. There was very few people in Congress who have a more pro-life record.

ZELDIN: It doesn't matter who the governor was the day of the Dobbs decision, because it was already passed into law a few years ago. Here's the reality. A few years back, New York codified far more than Roe. When we woke up the day after the Dobbs decision, the law in New York was exactly the same as it was the day before, and I'm not going to change that.


MARQUARDT: Now, Hochul's once commanding lead has dwindled, a Quinnipiac poll showing last week the race within single digits.

KEILAR: And this morning backlash from fellow Democrats prompting Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the House Progressive Caucus, to withdraw a letter to President Biden urging him to pursue diplomacy with Russia on Ukraine, in addition to military aid.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live for us on Capitol Hill.

This is quite the reversal, Sunlen. At first, there was a clarification and then, a total reversal.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It certainly is, Brianna. And certainly, the congresswoman in the statement saying that she accepts responsibility for what has become a very messy and embarrassing distraction for House Democrats this week.

Now, in her official statement withdrawing the letter, the congresswoman acknowledges this has become a distraction, saying, quote, "The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting. As chair of the Caucus, I accept responsibility for this."

And the issue of the timing here is what certainly has set off many House Democrats. Many of the signatories of the letter, House progressives, saying, Look, this was written months ago. It was signed onto months ago. That was a very different part of the war. And many acknowledging that they likely wouldn't have signed onto the letter in this current climate.

Many feeling blindsided, saying that no one re-checked with them to see if they still supported the contents of the letter.

And more broadly speaking, more broader implications, many House Democrats arguing here that this is not a good look two weeks to midterm elections. They can't stand to not look united, especially over Ukraine policy, two weeks to midterms. One member who signed onto this letter, Brianna, summing this up politely, saying, quote, "The timing here is terrible."

KEILAR: Yes. And look, a lot of their constituents, these progressives, they've taken flack from them for the funding for Ukraine. They have. But man, it seems like they didn't read the room with this letter.

SERFATY: That's right.

KEILAR: Sunlen Serfaty, live for us from the Hill. Thank you.

SERFATY: Thanks.

MARQUARDT: Pediatric hospitals across the country are running out of beds because of an alarming spike in infections of the virus known as RSV.

Now across the country, 73 percent of pediatric hospital beds and 76 percent of pediatric ICU beds are currently filled.

CNN's Jacqueline Howard is at Children's Health Care of Atlanta.

Jacqueline, how much worse is this expected to get as we head into the winter?


JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH CORRESPONDENT: Alex, I can tell you, hospital staff here at Children's Health Care of Atlanta told me just this morning that they are concerned about what's to come this winter.

And that's because we are facing the triple threat: flu illnesses, RSV, and, of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

And here in Atlanta, Georgia is one of seven states currently seeing the highest respiratory activity right now. And because the nation is facing this triple threat, just yesterday, President Biden, while he was getting his updated COVID-19 booster, he encouraged Americans to get vaccinated against flu, get your COVID-19 shot.

We don't yet have a vaccine for RSV, which is why it's more important than ever to get that protection against flu and COVID. Here's the president.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While you're at it, get the flu shot. Have your kids get their flu shot. We're already seeing a rise in flu and RSV and other respiratory illnesses, especially among young children. Take precautions, stay safe.


HOWARD: Stay safe. That's the message from the president. And that message is especially important, Brianna and Alex, for parents of young children and households with older adults. Those are the two groups that are most vulnerable right now for respiratory illness.

KEILAR: Yes. You know, we were talking to Ashish Jha with the White House yesterday. He said perhaps an RSV vaccine by fall of next year. I mean, that would be amazing to see. But just tell us, as we wait for that hopeful thing, tell us about the conditions at the hospital where you are, Jacqueline.

HOWARD: Yes, here at Children's Health Care of Atlanta, they are seeing an uptick in flu. And it's interesting, Brianna, just last a few weeks ago, just last week, I should say, that the majority of the respiratory illnesses at this hospital were RSV. But now that's switched, and flu is really what's dominating here.

And so much so that their patient volume is now two to three times what is normally seen. And the hospital also has set up a tent in case it needs that space for patient overflow.

There is a tent available for patients with less severe illness and less severe injuries, so that they can be seen more quickly. As right now at the hospital, the wait time is more than three hours.

And this is something that many children's hospitals across the country are seeing, due to this rise in respiratory illness -- Brianna and Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, get your shots, folks. They're cheap, and they're easy. Jacqueline Howard in Atlanta, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Now, WNBA star Brittney Griner is hoping to leave Russia in a prisoner swap. How likely is that? What the State Department is saying.

KEILAR: And a stern warning from President Biden as officials fear Russia is laying the groundwork for a false flag attack.


BIDEN: Let me just say, Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake for to use a tactical nuclear weapon.





BIDEN: We're in constant contact with Russian authorities to get Brittney and others out, and so far, we've not been meeting with much positive response.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Our message when it comes to Brittney Griner has been clear. She should be released. She is wrongfully held.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This news only increases the urgency of our efforts to bring Brittney home.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: So this morning, lawyers for WNBA star Brittney Griner say that she's hoping now for a prisoner exchange. That is her hope while she can get back to the U.S., because a Russian court has now rejected that appeal of her drug smuggling conviction after Griner apologized and asked for her release.


BRITTNEY GRINER, WNBA STAR DETAINED IN RUSSIA: I've been here almost eight months, and people with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given.


KEILAR: CNN's Clare Sebastian is joining us with more on this. So Clarissa, what are the hopes here? What do we know about how realistic a prisoner swap may be in this request?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. Brittney Griner's lawyers making it clear that a prisoner swap is now likely her only path home before the end of her sentence. She has pretty much exhausted her options under the Russian legal system.

And look, we know that Russia does engage in prisoner swaps. We saw that with Trevor Reed back in the spring. We know that the U.S. has Russian citizens that Russia wants back.

But it's also clear that the offer that the U.S. put on the table over the summer of swapping convicted arms smuggler Viktor Bout for both Brittney Griner and another U.S. citizen, Paul Whelan, in detention in Russia was not enough for Russia.

As for a timeline on this, it's very hard to say right now. The State Department is saying the negotiations are not moving as fast as they would like. But the discussions are still ongoing.

As for the Kremlin, there (ph) this morning, they have said that they want all contacts of possible exchanges to only be carried out in, they say, conditions of complete impermeability and silence. They don't want any of this leaking out during these negotiations.

KEILAR: And Clare, you mentioned the name Viktor bout. That is certainly one big name that has been mentioned. There's also some thinking that Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner would be swapped at the same time, possibly with Viktor Bout. What else do we know about what a trade could look like?

SEBASTIAN: Yes. So the offer the U.S. put on the table that apparently was set before the Russians in June of this year was to swap Viktor Bout, who is that convicted arms smuggler, prolific arms smuggler, known as the Merchant of Death, who is about halfway through a 25-year sentence in the U.S. that he would be swapped for those two American citizens, right, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

[06:25:09] The Russians clearly did not see that as a big enough offer. It was understood, CNN reported in the end of July, that through a back channel, Russia had asked to add to the deal a convicted murderer who's serving a life sentence in Germany.

The U.S. sort of hit back again, saying that was not good faith negotiation. And since then, we haven't heard of any other further names on the list, of any other sort of elements to this negotiation. So it seems that, while discussions are ongoing, there hasn't been any key elements of progress, at least to our knowledge at this stage.

MARQUARDT: Yes. Extremely sensitive conversations there.

Clare Sebastian in London, thank you very much.

Now this morning, Russian officials continue to push claims that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb, which is an explosive device that is laden with radioactive material.

Now, these claims have been rejected by Ukrainian and Western allies. It does reflect an increasingly urgent concern that Russia may be searching for a pretext to unleash a dirty weapon of its own.

Now, this is prompting President Joe Biden to issue this stern warning to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Take a listen.


BIDEN: Let me just say, Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake if it were to use a tactical nuclear weapon. I'm not guaranteeing you that it's a false-flag operation yet, don't know, but it would be a serious, serious mistake.


MARQUARDT: With me now is David Sanger, CNN's political and national security analyst, as well as the White House and national security correspondent at "The New York Times."

David, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

I think the last time we spoke was after President Biden's comments about Armageddon. Here we are with another Biden warning, not just talking about tactical nuclear weapons but talking about the prospect of a dirty bomb. Both Ukrainian and Russian sides have been talking about this.

So is there a belief among U.S. officials that the likelihood of some kind of nuclear device, whether it's a tactical nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb that has some nuclear material, is more likely?

SANGER: Well, certainly, it seems like we're on this escalation ladder, and that's the really worrisome thing. If it seems a little bit confusing, it's because people are talking about a lot of different elements of this. So the dirty bomb, as you suggested before, isn't a nuclear weapon. It

doesn't go off with a nuclear weapons force. It's basically a conventional explosive that's wrapped in hospital waste or a -- waste from an energy plant of some kind. Something that is radioactive and could make blocks or part of a city uninhabitable for some period of time.

But it was interesting. The president was asked about a dirty bomb, and the question he answered was about a tactical nuclear weapon. That's where their brains are. It's keeping Putin from breaking the nuclear taboo and actually using a nuclear weapon, even a small one, for the first time since 1945 in a conflict.

MARQUARDT: The Ukrainians are accusing the Russians of preparing one at that Zaporizhzhia plant we've talked about so much that they have controlled for months now.

But David, you are reporting that, if a -- if the Russians were to use a tactical nuclear device, that no one is arguing for a nuclear response by the U.S. and the West. What would a response look like?

And we've heard the administration say that they've spelled out the consequences for Russia.

SANGER: They have, but they haven't spelled it out very publicly for us. I think there's a bit of a debate on here about what the right response is.

This isn't like the old cold war days where, you know, Russia threatens New York, and the United States threatens Moscow. Nobody is talking about using a nuclear weapon in response to a nuclear weapon.

But you also can't let the detonation of a nuclear weapon go unresponded to.

So you've heard the president say there will be very severe consequences. There are some who believe that needs to be a military response, maybe by the Ukrainians, conventional; maybe against the locations where this was launched from, but something against Russian forces in Ukraine.

There are some who argue that, no, the United States and its NATO allies themselves have to make -- be part of that conventional response.

There's also a group that says, well, maybe you use the opportunity to bring the Chinese, the Indians, others who are still buying Russian oil and gas; and say this country has to be completely isolated and unplugged from the rest of the world.

MARQUARDT: The Russians are clearly on their back foot. They're -- they're doing very poorly militarily. But they have been able to hobble Ukraine by hitting critical infrastructure -- power, heating -- in a way that, you know, now we have Ukrainian officials saying to Ukrainians outside the country, Don't come back.

So how much have those attacks on civilian infrastructure levelled the battlefield?

SANGER: Well, they are certainly spreading the battlefield. In other words, even if you are not being struck directly by Russian missiles, you are beginning to go cold.