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Candidates' Final Debate Blusters; Sen. Chris Coons is Interviewed about the Elections; Justice Alito Speaks of Roe Leak; Tourists rescued Underground in Grand Canyon. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired October 26, 2022 - 08:30   ET




ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Early voting is well underway with under two weeks to go until the midterms. And candidates are making their final pitches on the debate stage, clashing over everything from abortion, to crime, to inflation.

John Avlon has more in today's "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, last night was debate night in America for at least a few final key races. You know what that means, there's going to be some reality checking to do.

So, let's start in Pennsylvania where Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman took the stage against Trump-backed TV doc Mehmet Oz. Now, Fetterman is, of course, recovering from a stroke and has done much of his campaigning via Twitter. So, appearing at the debate was a risky and gutsy move for Fetterman, who could appear halting at times last night. But those stylistic issues have nothing to do with the substance of one flip-flopping statement he made.


LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I've always supported fracking. And I always believed that independence with our energy is critical.


AVLON: Now, it's fine for Fetterman to change his mind. But it is false to say that he has always supported fracking, as the moderator pointed out, because as recently at 2018, Fetterman was saying the opposite as first unearthed by CNN's K-file.


FETTERMAN: I don't support fracking at all, and I never have.


AVLON: Now, for Dr. Oz's part, the long-time New Jersey based former TV host was definitely comfortable in front of the cameras but he uttered at least one line that may come back to haunt him around this Halloween, saying that abortions should be decided not by the federal government but by, quote, women, doctors, local political leaders. One of these things is not like the others.

All right, let's move to New York, where Governor Kathy Hochul faced off against Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, who's been gaining traction on the issue of crime. But when Zeldin was asked, knowing what he knows now, after the January 6th attack on the Capitol, whether he would again vote not to certify the election, couldn't get a straight answer.


REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK GOV. CANDIDATE: The vote was on two states, Pennsylvania and Arizona, and the issue still remains today.

And it's about looking forwards, not backwards.


AVLON: These are weasel words. There was no evidence then, and certainly no evidence now, that could remotely justify trying to overturn the election to keep Donald Trump in power. And so the issue does not remain today. And there's no riggling out of accountability by trying to pretend that this is about looking forward. It's not.

All right, next, let's go to Michigan, where Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer is facing off against conservative commentator Tudor Dixon. And much of the sparring was about abortion.

Now, with the sudden repeal of Roe v. Wade, a 1931 Michigan law remains on the books which bans abortions even in the case of rape or incest. Now, in response, a citizens' petition put Proposal 3 on the ballot, which would amend the state constitution to guarantee abortion rights. Dixon described the proposal this way.


TUDOR DIXON (R), MICHIGAN GOV. CANDIDATE: The most radical abortion law in the entire country. The only place that has something similar are China and North Korea.


AVLON: Now, this is a kind of surreal example of a defense we're hearing from many Republicans playing offense by saying that protecting reproductive freedom on the state level is the real extremism, with the added invocation of communist China and North Korea as an inspired touch. But it's BS. And for what it's worth, Proposal 3 does explicitly reference the right for the state to regulate abortion in some cases.

Now, beyond abortion, the economy and defending democracy, another big issue -- campaign issue, of course, is crime. And so I wanted to play one exchange from a debate in Oklahoma last week where the Republican Governor Kevin Stitt is facing a surprisingly tough challenge from Joy Hofmeister, the state school superintendent, and a Republican turned Democrat.


Take a listen to this.


JOY HOFMEISTER (D), OKLAHOMA GOV. CANDIDATE: The fact is, the rates of violent crime are higher in Oklahoma --


HOFMEISTER: Under your watch than in New York and California.

STITT: That's not true.

HOFMEISTER: That's a fact.

That medical marijuana -

STITT: Hang on. Oklahomans, do you believe we have higher crime than New York or California? That's what she just said.


AVLON: Well, it turns out that the school superintendent had done her homework, because according to the most recent CDC data, Oklahoma did have a higher murder rate per capita than New York or California. It's a well-timed reminder that conventional wisdom and partisan narratives are often unrelated to the facts.

And that's your "Reality Check."

MARQUARDT: All right, John Avlon, thanks so much.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden directing the DNC to immediately transfer an additional $18 million to House and Senate Democrats in a final push to hold on to this party's majority in Congress. The new infusion comes as polling momentum has shifted to Republicans and Democrats seek to overcome history and serious economic headwinds with less than two weeks to go.

Joining me now is one of the president's closest allies on Capitol Hill, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He also sits on the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees.

Sir, thanks so much for being with us.

I know that you've had your eye on this Pennsylvania Senate race, as we all have. And so I want to ask you, as we look at this infusion of cash into these races, why would you say that voters should be more concerned about, say, Mehmet Oz, including his problematic abortion answer, than John Fetterman, including his problematic fracking answer and his health issues? SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, Brianna, those are exactly the sorts of

things that Pennsylvanians will be weighing in the just 12 days left of campaigning before the midterm elections. I watched the debate last night. It was hard to watch, frankly. I know both candidates. And I recently had a chance to campaign with John Fetterman.

And I think at the end of the day, first, the Philadelphia area is going to follow the World Series and the surging Eagles, and then they're going to return to focusing on this campaign. And at the end of the day, they've got a pretty stark choice between John Fetterman, who looked uncomfortable in a suit and tie, whose answers were at times halting, but who is authentic and who will fight for working families in Pennsylvania and whose got a real and strong record as lieutenant governor and mayor to run on.

And they will contrast that with Mehmet Oz, who looked very comfortable in a tailored suit, who's very good on television, but who made clear his positions on a few issues. The one you just mentioned, he said clearly that a choice, a reproductive rights choice by a women should also include elected officials. And that's going to be one of the stark, I think, defining issues of this campaign. Does the average Pennsylvanian look for someone who's a lifelong Pennsylvanian, who's been knocked down by a stroke and who is going to get back up and is fighting for them, or do they want someone who spent most of his life outside Pennsylvania and is comfortable on television and has proposals that are more aligned with Donald Trump than with what might be the values of most of Pennsylvania?

So, I think this will be a very close call. It will come down to the last couple days. And when I watched, frankly, the 2016 presidential debates, I thought it was obvious that Donald Trump wasn't going to win. His answers were halting and he didn't understand the issues and he was combative and aggressive. But millions of Americans voted for him because they liked his attitude, they liked his authenticity. And my gut hunch is that a lot of Pennsylvanians, when they see John Fetterman in his hoodie and his sweatpants and look at the record of what he's done in Braddock and as lieutenant governor will choose him over someone who is, frankly, very polished on television but has positions on things, like abortion, that are outside the mainstream of what Pennsylvanians will vote for.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about Saudi Arabia because "The Times" is reporting that the Biden administration had walked away from the president's trip to Saudi Arabia with an understanding that there would be an increase in oil production here in the near term. Instead, of course, OPEC Plus has cut production significantly and has done so at a politically vulnerable time for Democrats and President Biden when gas prices are still high, inflation is very high. Were you aware of any agreement or understanding that was secured from that trip to increase oil production?

COONS: No, that's not a detail that I got in any readout of that trip.

But, let's be clear, gas prices here in Delaware have come down for several weeks now. Overall, they've been coming down for months. But inflation and prices generally are still too high. [08:40:02]

The difference between, for example, Fetterman and Oz, or the Democratic Party and Republican Party nationally is that we have taken strong actions and have clear plans for how to address the cost of living. Whether it's reducing prescription drug prices, transitioning to clean energy and promoting American energy security and dealing with the costs that your average American has to fight through, instead of simply attacking Democrats for the cost of living.

I do think that the decision by the Saudis to align with Russia and to help them pay for their war of aggression in Ukraine was a shock to many of us and not what we expected after President Biden made a trip to Saudi Arabia and, frankly, a trip to the gulf and was part of a conference of the leaders of the entire Persian Gulf region.

KEILAR: So, let me ask you about Ukraine because there were House Democrats, progressive House Democrats, who drafted a letter to President Biden, asking him to pair with military and economic aid negotiations with Russia. A lot of backlash they got on that. They clarified. They then reversed this letter. But there's clearly some discord in your party when it comes to this aid to Ukraine, or exactly the open-ended nature of it at this point in time. The story before was really Republicans who were saying, there's not going to be a blank check. Well, now, Democrats are part of the story.

What are your concerns as American allies are watching this story line?

COONS: Well, Brianna, look, there are members of both parties, Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House Republicans, and this group of 30 House Democrats who have withdrawn that letter. But there are voices in both parties who have said that they will not continue indefinitely to support Ukraine.

But let's be clear, leaders in both parties, Mitch McConnell in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House, Republican and Democrat, are reasserting more strongly than ever that they will support President Biden's efforts, as will I, to ensure that the brave Ukrainian people who are fighting tirelessly against Russia's aggression and occupation will continue to have our support.

I think President Biden put it best when he said there should be nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. If any country has earned the right to be at the negotiating table to make the decisions about when and whether they negotiate for peace, it's the men and women of Ukraine who have fought so bravely against overwhelming odds. They continue to make progress on the battlefield. We should continue to support them.

And I think, as you said, that sends a strong message to our allies and our adversaries, whether the United States will stand with those who are fighting for freedom in Europe and around the world.

KEILAR: All right, Senator Coons, thank you so much for being with us this morning. COONS: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaking out, saying the leak of his draft opinion overturning of Roe v. Wade last spring put the lives of his fellow justices at risk.



KEILAR: A grave betrayal. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaking out on the leak of this draft opinion that would end up overturning Roe v. Wade.

CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue is with us this morning on this story.

What else did he have to say?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, you know, it was interesting because for the first time we're hearing from the guy who actually leaked the opinion, right? We'd already - or who actually wrote the opinion.

KEILAR: Wrote the opinion that leaked, yes.

DE VOGUE: Right. We'd already heard from Chief Justice John Roberts, Kagan, all o them had said how worried they were.

But now we're hearing from Alito himself. And he shows that he was scared and he felt like it was a target.

Take a listen to what he had to say.


JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT: The leak also made those of us who were thought to be in the majority in support of overruling Roe and Casey, targets for assassination, because it gave people a rational reason to think they could prevent that from happening by killing one of us. And we know that. A man has been charged with attempting to kill Justice Kavanaugh. It's a pending case, so I won't say anything more about that.


DE VOGUE: Those are strong words. And today actually there's a status hearing for that man who was charged with trying to kill Justice Kavanaugh. And Alito really showing there that he was worried, this was something quite different. And he also, in that speech, made clear that they haven't found the person who is the leaker. So, it's been about five months. They still don't know who that it. So, this continues along. And it comes at a time when tension on the court is still very much alive. And Alito himself is very concerned about that and the future of the court.

KEILAR: Yes, that investigation drags on, it makes you think we may never find out.

DE VOGUE: Yes, you know, it does fell that way a little bit.

KEILAR: Ariane, thank you so much.

DE VOGUE: Thanks.

KEILAR: And a 20-minute Grand Canyon walking tour turned into a 31 hour nightmare 200 feet underground. We have more ahead.



MARQUARDT: This morning, some tourists who were trapped underground at the Grand Canyon caverns are thankfully safely back on the surface. It was supposed to be a short 20-minute walking tour but turned into a 31-hour rescue effort after an elevator malfunctioned leaving that group stranded 200 feet underground.

For more let's go to CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam.

Stephanie, this is a crazy story.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I can't imagine how terrifying that would be on some level, right, Alex. So see that here you are, you're thinking you're going to do a quick 20 minute walk, take this elevator down, the seniors in your family can do it, and then also the children that you have with you, including a five month old and a two- year-old, that is exactly what happened to this family that had about eight people in their group. They thought they'd be down there quickly and come back.

In fact, take a listen to them talk about what happened.


SHERRY JIMENEZ, STRANDED FOR 31 HOURS AT GRAND CANYON CAVERNS: The elevator did not move. And so they called up to the top and let them know that it wasn't working. And they said they would reset it. And it still did not move.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And how long were you stuck down there?

JIMENEZ: In total, the last person out, it was 31 hours.

DOUGLAS GRASHEL, STRANDED FOR 31 HOURS AT GRAND CANYON CAVERNS: Our group was the short tour, and there was another long tour group that was behind us.


And when the elevator failed at approximately 11:30, the other group had caught up with us. And by that time you could smell the smoke in the elevator shaft and see the smoke coming down into the cavern.


ELAM: Now, there was an emergency exit. Twenty-one flights of a stair like ladder like from the pictures that we've seen exit that you'd have to take up. Now you just heard Douglas Grashel there speaking about that. He was like, my wife has two knee replacements. I'm about to have back surgery. There's no way we can do it. Sherry Jimenez's stepdaughter saying that they had these young children with them, so that was obviously not an option, especially since it was completely open on both sides.

All in all, they felt like they couldn't get out of there. But they did say that they did have water and that when they requested food it was sent down. However, we've reached out to Grand Canyon Caverns to see what they have to say what happened and they have yet to respond to us, Alex. But, still, just terrifying to think about.

MARQUARDT: Terrifying. Twenty-one flights of ladders. It's not like, you know, if you're stuck in an apartment building and need to climb back up the stairs. That's - that's -- that's incredible. And they were so calm. Thirty-one hours.

KEILAR: What a nightmare.

MARQUARDT: What a nightmare.

ELAM: Yes, I mean, there is a motel down there, but, still, I would say that's terrifying and most people are not, you know, ready to go climb themselves out of that. So, you know, it's too much.

MARQUARDT: All right, well, Stephanie Elam, thank you so much for that story.

And CNN's coverage continues after this break.

Take care.