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The Situation Room
Biden admin ramps up Haitian deportations amid backlash; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Tout Deal on Framework to Pay for Spending Bill amid Democrat Infighting over Biden Agenda; FBI Issues Arrest Warrant for Brian Laundrie in Connection to Gabby Petito's Homicide; CDC Panel Endorses Pfizer Booster Shots for People Ages 65 and Up and Many With Underlying Conditions. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 23, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues right now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in "SITUATION ROOM" next door. See you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the Biden administration ramps up deportations of Haitian migrants at the southern border. A key U.S. diplomat calls it inhumane and quits in protest. Lawmakers in both parties are blasting the policy as well. I'll get reaction from the secretary of Homeland Security and from the Haitian ambassador to the United States.
Also tonight, after weeks of division, top Democrats say they've cut a deal on a framework to pay for a centerpiece of the Biden agenda, but their lack of specifics makes it clear there's a lot more work to do. I'll talk with a key player in these negotiations.
And CDC advisers just endorsed giving Pfizer boosters to people ages 65 and up and many with underlying medical conditions. Stand by for details on this breaking story and what happens next.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with the migrant crisis at the southern border and growing criticism of the Biden administration's policies. CNN's Rosa Flores is in Del Rio, Texas, where thousands of migrants have been camped out. Rosa, first of all, what are you seeing on the ground tonight?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, dramatic pictures, a dramatic change here on the ground. I want to go directly to live drone footage, because that is the story tonight. As you look at these pictures, you'll see that the area right next to the international bridge, which was peppered by handmade huts, that has been leveled. Heavy machinery was brought in, as the number of migrants that are waiting to be processed by U.S. immigration authorities begins to dwindle.
I was here a week ago when the first tents went up. I saw them from the air. And we saw as the numbers in this camp swelled to more than 14,000. Well, today, officials say that there are just over 3,000 migrants waiting to be processed. Now, all this as DHS announces the suspension of horse patrol here in Del Rio, after those controversial videos were released by news media, showing border patrol agents on horseback, that were using aggressive tactics against migrants. And, Wolf, I should add, that according to DHS, those incidents are being investigated and that investigation is ongoing. Wolf?
BLITZER: You know, Rosa, I know you've had a chance to speak to some of these migrants who have been able to actually enter the United States. What are they telling you?
FLORES: You know, I've been able to talk to Haitians who are speaking in Spanish, and were in Portuguese, because they spend so much time in South America, in countries like Chile and Brazil. And I can tell you that they say that they've been there for several years, some of them two to six years. And they say that the situation in those countries got so bad they decided to come to the United States. But, Wolf, I've got to tell you, despite everything these migrants are going through, many of them smiling, saying that they're glad to be in America. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Rosa, thank you very much.
I want to go to Haiti right now as more migrants are being deported there. CNN's Melissa Bell is in Port-au-Prince for us. Melissa, you've been at the airport where these migrants are arriving. They're coming in. What are you hearing them tell you?
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well what we just heard from Flores, essentially, she's been speaking to the lucky ones. The unlucky ones are the one who found themselves on those flights. Many of them didn't even know where they were headed until they got on those flights.
And as they arrive, heartbreaking stories of many years spent in other countries trying to earn a living, trying to make ends meet, trying to raise their families. As Flores just said, many of them no longer really Haitians, some of the, many hundreds of children who been flown back these last few days, in fact, bearing other nationalities. Those are the countries to which their parents have fled.
So for these Haitian who had left the country many years ago, that was already facing grinding poverty, political corruption, gang violence, they are coming back to a country many years later where, in fact, things have gotten worse. The IOM has told us that the figures tonight at nearly 1,500 Haitians returned these last few days, they're trying to help Haitians authorities ramp up those efforts, four flights arrived in Haiti, two in Port-au-Prince today, two Cap-Haitien in the north of the country. The IOM expect that there will be more flights, a greater number of flights each day.
So far from backing down from this controversial policy described as inhumane as the -- by the resigning U.S. special envoy to Haiti, by possibly illegal by the head of the U.N. refugee agency. Far from backing down, the Biden administration appears to be ramping things up, Wolf.
[18:05:01] BLITZER: All right, Melissa, thank you very much. We'll get back to you.
Let's discuss what goes going on with the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us. I know you've got a lot going on right now. What's the situation right now? I understand the Department of Homeland Security says 1,400 Haitians have been deported. How many have actually been released here into the United States?
ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Wolf, we have indeed removed approximately 1,400 people from the Del Rio sector. We accumulate our statistics on a monthly basis, and, of course, we'll publish those as well. The individuals whom we release and place into immigration enforcement proceedings are those, for example, with acute medical conditions, specific vulnerabilities, or if our operational capacity so dictates.
It's very important, Wolf, to underscore the fact that this is not a matter of immigration policy, but rather this is a matter of public health policy. We are applying the law pursuant to an order that the Centers for Disease Control issued in light of the fact that this country and the world is in the midst of a pandemic. We are exercising that authority, as we are required to do, to protect the health and well-being of the migrants themselves, our personnel, local communities and the American public.
BLITZER: So, I take it, 1,400 have been sent back to Haiti. There's a local organization helping migrants, say more than 1,000 have been released here into the United States. Is that right? Have a thousand Haitians been allowed to stay in the United States at least for now?
MAYORKAS: Well, what we are doing is we are continuing to remove individuals. We have moved people from Del Rio to other processing centers along the border, to ensure the safety and security of the individuals and to facilitate the removal process. Those individuals who are not able to remove by reason of their acute medical conditions, we place in immigration enforcement proceedings or address our operational capacities as need be. But we are very focused on applying the public health laws that we are obligated to enforce.
BLITZER: So, can you give us a number, how many have been allowed to stay here in the United States, for whatever reason?
MAYORKAS: We believe it is a very small percentage of the total that assembled in Del Rio, Texas, and that will be removed.
BLITZER: What does that mean? About 15,000 have shown up. I take it, 1,400 have been sent back to Haiti. What about the rest?
MAYORKAS: Wolf, if it's 10 percent or 15 percent, I don't have the precise numbers. I assure you it's a minority of the individuals for the reasons that I have articulated, and they are placed in immigration enforcement proceedings, where they are able, where they appear before a judge, and if, in fact, they make a valid claim to remain in the United States, then, of course, we honor that. And if not, they are removed as well.
BLITZER: The special U.S. envoy to Haiti resigned today, as you well know, saying, and I'll read a quote from his resignation letter, I will not be associated with the United States' inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian and illegal immigrants. Mr. Secretary, how do you respond that the Biden administration, that the policy of the administration is inhumane and counterproductive?
MAYORKAS: Well, first of all, let me say we don't use the term, illegal immigrants. I actually issued a policy in the Department of Homeland Security. We use the term non-citizen to respect the dignity of every individual as a preliminary matter.
Second, I will defer to the State Department. That is a matter within the State Department's province, but let me say this. Having been in government service for more than 20 years, I'm aware of the fact that some people have policy differences, and I respect and acknowledge that fact. I respectfully and vehemently disagree with what this individual, whom I do not know, articulated.
We have a relationship with the government of Haiti. We are exercising the public health imperative, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control. We are surging resources not only here domestically at the border, but also in Haiti, to ensure that the needs of the individuals whom we return to Haiti are addressed appropriately.
USAID has surged resources. We are working with the international organization for migration with the Haitian government, and we are addressing the needs by devoting resources to them.
BLITZER: I understand you're committed to speeding up these deportations of these Haitians, but this special envoy also said this, of these Haitians, but this special envoy also said this, that he cannot enforce the forced infusion of migrants lacking food, shelter and money without additional avoidable human tragedy. Does the Biden administration really think it's safe to send these migrants back to Haiti where the situation has deteriorated so rapidly in recent months and years?
Well, what I wish the individual had done is stayed with the cause of addressing the needs of individuals all throughout the western hemisphere and dedicating the resources and the talent and the energies of the men and women in the United States government to rebuild our humanitarian relief capabilities just as we are doing now in the Biden/Harris administration. We have surges, I have said, resources to not only Del Rio, Texas, not only to all along the southern border, but to Haiti itself.
BLITZER: But are you personally comfortable, Mr. Secretary, with sending these Haitian migrants from the United States, from the border with Mexico back to Haiti?
MAYORKAS: Wolf, let me share with you the efforts that we have made, because we studied very carefully the country conditions in Haiti. And in light of the country conditions that existed earlier in the year, we made a determination that humanitarian relief should be extended to individuals here, resident in the United States, of Haitian origin, who were unlawfully present, but who could not safely return to Haiti. And we issued the lawful order of temporary protected status, which provided relief to those individuals who were resident in the United States prior to July 29th of this year.
And that is very important. That is a very important date, because smuggling organizations are deceiving vulnerable individuals south of our border, and trying to coax them, exploiting them to take the perilous journey, which will not work.
We have, since July 29th, studied the conditions in Haiti, and determined that we can, in fact, safely and humanely return individuals to that country, working with the Haitian government and devoting the resources that I referred to earlier.
There are many countries, not only in our hemisphere, but in the world, that don't enjoy the conditions of the United States of America that we have rebuilt in this country. We are mindful of that. But we made a determination, based upon our study, that we could do what we were doing in exercising the public health imperatives that I have spoken of.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, I know you've got to run, but we are grateful to you for the time. We'll continue this conversation, for sure, down the road. Thanks so much for joining us.
MAYORKAS: Thank you so much, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's get reaction right now. The Haitian ambassador to the United States is joining us, Bocchit Edmond. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for joining us. Let me get your reaction to what we just heard from Secretary Mayorkas.
BOCCHIT EDMOND, HAITIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: I respectfully understand Secretary Mayorkas. As I said before, this is the United States, they're applying the laws, and we do have to respect that. But the only thing we are asking is to respect the dignity of any person regardless where you're from, but that's the most important issue, the dignity and their rights. I believe in every society, someone has a due process, and those are values that are being championed by in the United States for years. So that's what we expect from the United States.
BLITZER: Well, I ask the question, then, do you think the U.S. is treating these Haitian migrants along the border with dignity and respect? And I ask the question, because the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, you know, has resigned, citing what he calls deeply flawed and inhumane U.S. policy toward these migrants. First of all, do you agree with his characterization?
EDMOND: I think I will leave -- I understand the situation of Ambassador Foote. I will leave it to them because this is a domestic issue. But the only thing I would say that what really occurred at the border of Del Rio was unacceptable, it was heartbreaking. But I -- we welcome the decision, the swift decision of the U.S. administration to go like that, but I believe I heard that those horses are not meant to be used there.
So, I think we need to understand there have been some very swift decisions, and, unfortunately, those images will be there for some time to come.
So we do hope the U.S. authorities will continue to work on that and make sure that the treatment reserved to migrants will be more humane.
BLITZER: As you know, the Biden administration is ramping up these deportation flights to Haiti, but Haiti, as you know better than I do, is still reeling from a deadly earthquake, a presidential assassination, the pandemic, and much, much more. Is the special enjoy, the U.S. special envoy, right, that Haiti right now simply can't handle these returned migrants?
EDMOND: Yes, because the situation is a really dire one. We need to acknowledge that economically, and when it comes to security. But I know authorities -- Haitian authorities are working very hard to make sure that we create conditions for any Haitian to leave Haiti.
But the most important thing is those people, what they are seeking, they are seeking for a better life, for opportunities. But this is probably that could be the moment for the United States to reassess or bilateral relations, to see how they can help to have more foreign and direct investment, and to create more jobs and more wealth. Those people will have jobs and probably they would be less interested to risk their lives through those perilous trips.
But we do hopes that this situation, everybody, Haiti and the United States, will get a lesson from that.
BLITZER: So, bottom line, Mr. Ambassador, what is your message to President Biden right now amid this cried?
EDMOND: Look Haiti differently. Stop looking at Haiti on a humanitarian lens. I believe that there's no nation that can be developed without humanitarian assistance. Let us reassess our bilateral cooperation. Let us make it something dynamic by helping us resolve the security situation, by strengthening our national police and make sure that we have a stable condition where we can actually have foreign and direct investment, we can create more jobs, and people will get jobs and they will stay in their own country. But as long as there isn't any opportunity, people will always want to leave their own country and to seek a better life. So, that's my message to the U.S. administration.
BLITZER: Ambassador Bocchit Edmond, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you and good luck to all the people of Haiti. I appreciate it very much. Thank you.
EDMOND: I appreciate it. BLITZER: Just ahead, congressional Democratic leaders are now touting what they call a framework to pay for President Biden's $3.5 trillion spending plan, but no details. We'll have the latest on the president's agenda, which clearly right now remains in peril.
BLITZER: Congressional Democratic leaders are trying to present a united and optimistic front, but as of tonight, divisions inside the party of President Biden's ambition plan in peril.
Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is joining us now from Capitol Hill. Ryan, Democratic leaders, they are touting what they call a framework to pay for President Biden's $3.5 trillion budget package. But, tonight, are there any details to back it up and will there actually be a vote on Monday as scheduled for the infrastructure bill?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: To answer your first question, Wolf, there are not very many details, and not for just those of us covering the story but for those legislator that actually have to vote on this piece of legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announcing that there had been a framework just to pay for this bill, he said a menu of options he and the tax-writing committee chairs had agreed upon.
Now, many of the rank and file members, including even some of the chairs requisite committees didn't even know the specifics behind this. And it just shows how complicated this process is, as both leaders in the House and Senate are trying to move through these two big massive pieces of legislation that are really central to the Biden agenda.
And while there is a lot of angst among Democrats that they can get this deal done, there's one person who remains confident, and that's the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I've always been very calm about this, because it's like it always happens the same way, all this bluster, and this and that, and who's there and who's there. But at the end of the day, we will be unified for the American people, and we couldn't be better led than by Joe Biden and his vision, his vision for America's working families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: And it seems like every time we ask Pelosi about this process, she tells everyone to calm down, that this is the way that legislation is written, it takes time, it requires a lot of negotiating among a lot of different groups with different interests. She remains confident that they will be able to get both packages passed and put into law. The question, Wolf, is when will that happen and in what form. That remains something we still don't have the answer to. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes, the clock is really ticking. Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.
BLITZER: Let's discuss right now with a key player in all these negotiations, Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. He's the co-chair of the bipartisan problem solvers caucus. He took part in President Biden's meetings with moderate lawmakers. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.
I know you say you're optimistic the Democrats will get to a deal by Monday infrastructure and the bigger spending plan. What needs to happen in the next three days to make that a reality?
REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Well, Wolf, I share the speaker's optimism and what she just said, that we're going to get there Monday. We have an historic piece of legislation coming to the floor Monday for consideration on infrastructure.
As you remember, it came out of the Senate with 69 votes, all 50 Democrats, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Manchin, and, of course, 19 Republicans, including leader Mitch McConnell. So, you realize just how much support for this is, the country wants it. These are roads, bridges, tunnels, climate resiliency, broadband, so many things that matter to Jersey and the country where I'm from. And I'll tell you the support at home is enormous because it's 2 million jobs a year. And we're going to get this done.
We all agreed to vote on this bill on Monday to bring it to the floor, so that's what's going to happen. And we're also, Wolf, to the speaker's other point, working around the clock as well on reconciliation. That's the other package. Both are so important to the president's agenda. That first one, which why I know everyone will be there for the president on infrastructure on Monday. The president is there. The speaker said she'll get the votes. There's no one is better than Speaker Pelosi at doing so. So, I'm optimistic, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know you said Monday's infrastructure vote, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, will be a big win, but it won't necessarily, Congressman, be a big win if the progressives in the House do as they promised to and vote against it unless the $3.5 trillion package is at the same time also approved. If you don't have a deal by Monday, are you ready to delay the vote on infrastructure to reach an agreement on the bigger reconciliation package?
GOTTHEIMER: Well, Wolf, I believe we there have the votes. I believe, as the speaker said, and as I've seen her do, there's no one better at getting the vote, and she will. And so I know Steny Hoyer, I talked to today, who was part of this agreement we had in August that we all supported to bring this critically important and historic, once-in-a- century infrastructure package to the floor on Monday.
So, we'll do it, and we'll get the votes, and we're also, Wolf, going to keep working on the incredibly important reconciliation package. And that's where you hear people working around the clock at right now. I'm going to another meeting in a minute about that.
So we're going to get both done, but, first, we have got to focus on the two separate pieces of legislation. The first one on physical infrastructure, we're going to get it done on Monday, we'll get it across the finish line and keep working on that reconciliation package.
So, I'm optimistic, Wolf, that it will all come together. No Democrat is going to vote against the president on infrastructure, on physical infrastructure on Monday. I just don't see it.
BLITZER: But, you know, maybe 45, maybe 50 progressives have already said that they're not going to vote for the infrastructure package unless the bigger reconciliation package is passed at the same time. And it doesn't look like they could get both of those ready by Monday.
GOTTHEIMER: I just don't think that they'll vote against, and we can't afford any Democrat to vote against the president's historic infrastructure package on Monday. You're talking about 2 million jobs a year and rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our crumbling rail and transit, and so much resources for climate -- to fight climate change, climate resiliency. New Jersey just got hit so hard by Hurricane Ida. These are resources that help there. We've got the third worst roads in the country in New Jersey. To actually -- to get these resources that's so important, and the gateway tunnel between New York and New Jersey.
So, Wolf, there's so much on the line. We'll get there, as the speaker said, we'll all unite and get it don't on Monday, but we're also -- Wolf, we're going to keep -- and this is what I've been saying and my colleagues have been saying, we're going to keep working on reconciliation and we're also going to get that done.
You know, that bill is not written yet. The physical infrastructure passed out of the Senate. It's sitting in the House waiting for consideration. We can get it to the president's desk next week and all get behind it in a bipartisan way, which is great for the country. And then, of course, we're going to get reconciliation done. But, Wolf, it will all work out.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Congressman --
BLITZER: -- do you have a commitment from Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, that there will be a vote in the House on Monday on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, and you can worry about the bigger spending bill down the road? But do you have that commitment from the speaker?
GOTTHEIMER: She publicly said it on August 24th, and has continued to say it. So, yes, I have -- listen, we all voted for it. Every Democrat in the caucus voted to bring it to the floor. The speaker said this. So, know she'll help us bring it across the finish line and there's so much great momentum. And the president and our country need it, so we're going to get it done.
BLITZER: All right. Congressman, we'll see what happens. Thank so much for joining us, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.
There's more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The FBI has just issued an arrest warrant for Brian Laundrie in connection to the homicide of his fiancee, Gabby Petito. We'll have a live update on the manhunt. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the case of Gabby Petito. The FBI has just issued an arrest weren't for her missing fiance, in connection with her death, which has been ruled a homicide.
CNN's Leyla Santiago is working the story for us. She's joining us from North Port down in Florida. Leyla, this is a major new development in this case. Update our viewers.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this arrest warrant, this federal arrest warrant coming in just the last half hour, and of note here is that it was issued for the unauthorized access of devices, specifically, we should note, that it is for access to bank asks and use of a debit card, no mention of a homicide charge here.
This comes as the FBI continues to ask for help from the public and sort through evidence collected here at the home where the couple lived.
SANTIAGO (voice over): The silver Mustang seized three days ago is now back at Brian Laundrie's North Port family home. The FBI had it towed away on Monday, but this morning, it was back on the driveway. A neighbor told us she last saw him the weekend of September 10th.
KARYN ABERTS, NEIGHBOR: I saw him and the family in the neighborhood out on the front yard.
I thought it was just -- again, a normal -- they were going for a walk kind of, you know, thing. I never thought anything about it.
SANTIAGO: Teams gathered again today at the swampy Carlton Reserve to continue their search for any clue that could lead them to Laundrie.
The search today, however, did not include the specialized dive team brought in earlier this week.
OFFICER JOE FUSSELL, NORTH PORT POLICE DEPARTMENT: We are trying to cover every acre in this preserve.
SANTIAGO: His fiancee's remains were found Sunday in a camping area of Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. And on Tuesday, a coroner's initial determination of Gabby Petito's death was homicide. The couple had been traveling, visiting national parks in their van before Petito disappeared.
Now, witnesses are coming forward and detailing troubling interactions between the two.
NINA ANGELO, BELIEVES SHE SAW COUPLE FIGHTING AT RESTAURANT: We saw them in Wyoming, they were the couple fighting at the restaurant.
SANTIAGO: One woman took to Instagram, stating she saw Petito and Laundrie on August 27th at Mary Piglets Tex-Mex Restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming.
ANGELO: They got kicked out of the restaurant, and were fighting with the hostess. They were fighting with the hostess. She was hysterically crying.
She was standing on the sidewalk crying. And he walked back in and was like screaming at the hostess, and then walked back out, and then he walked back in like four more times to talk to the manager.
GABBY: We've just been fighting this morning, some personal issues.
SANTIAGO: This week, the city of Moab, Utah, also announced it is launching an investigation into the Moab City Police Department's handling of a dispute between Petito and Laundrie.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't get that far into it. She was hyperventilating.
SANTIAGO: The couple's interaction with police captured on body cam footage after a witness called 911.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're driving by and I would like to report a domestic dispute. We drove by, and the gentleman was slapping the girl.
SANTIAGO: Petito told police she slapped Laundrie. He told police he pushed her. No one was arrested, no charges filed. Moab said in a statement, at this time, the city of Moab is unaware of any breach of police department policy during the incident. However, the city will conduct a formal investigation, and based on the results will take any next steps that may be appropriate.
SANTIAGO (on camera): And, Wolf, we're told the search teams at the reserve have called it a night, nothing found today, expected to be back at it tomorrow.
BLITZER: All right. Leyla, thank you very much, Leyla Santiago reporting.
Let's get some more on all of this with CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Anthony Barksdale and CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan.
Paul, what's your reaction to this warrant that has just been issued not for Petito's death but for what's called use of unauthorized access devices by using a debit card and bank account after her death?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, It's a big development in the case because it transforms Brian Laundrie from the status of a person of interest to a fugitive from justice, if he is, in fact, alive. I think it also indicates that federal authorities at least now don't have enough evidence to charge him with murder. If they did, certainly a more serious charge would have been lodged against him.
This charge is a charge of essentially using Gabby's debit cards to withdraw $1,000 from a bank. Now, that's a federal felony and you can go to prison for that. But the effect of this in the investigation is important, because every FBI agent, every law enforcement person in America who spots Brian Laundrie can now place him under arrest with the authority of a federal grand jury.
And the second very important thing is that anybody who helps Brian Laundrie keep himself concealed from law enforcement authorities is harboring a fugitive from justice, and faces as much as ten years in prison. So, I think this will be a great aid in the investigation of the Petito homicide.
BLITZER: Well, let me get Anthony's thoughts. How much of a game changer, Anthony, is this development, the FBI now issuing this federal arrest warrant?
ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: This is huge, Wolf. Now, it's opened up to every law enforcement officer in the United States of America. He's got a warrant on him. He's got paper on him, and now serve it. If you see it, if you see him, serve it. And then it can also bring in the U.S. marshals. I mean, you're going to get the cream of the crop now able to aggressively search for this suspect.
So, it's a good thing, a great thing.
BLITZER: You know, Paul, with the issuance of this warrant, this officially now becomes a manhunt, doesn't it?
CALLAN: Yes, it does. And it becomes a nationwide manhunt. And, of course, we all know that underneath this charge of using a debit card illegally is really a very serious homicide investigation. And I think when we get the final autopsy reports on Tuesday from the medical examiner, we'll know a lot more about the details concerning how Gabby Petito actually died.
BLITZER: You know, Anthony, we had this new video of Laundrie's appearance returning home this afternoon. Do the parents have specific hard questions they need to answer, because they knew he was gone for days and didn't alert authorities?
BARKSDALE: Well, I don't know how deep the parents are in this incident. They have a right. They can be silent. They cannot incriminate themselves, their son. But, honestly, at this point, it doesn't look good for them or their son, whether he is dead or alive. This is not good. I'm also suspicious of the story that they told of the vehicle going to the park and then them picking it up, or whatever they want to say. I'm definitely skeptical of everything that they have done thus far.
BLITZER: What about you, Paul?
CALLAN: Yes. You know, I think they now have a lot to worry about. Because before this warrant was issued, their son was not a fugitive from justice, even though every newspaper and television station in the country has been talking about the case, there were no criminal charges pending against him. Now, that he is a fugitive from justice, anything that they do to help harbor their son and prevent his arrest could lead to criminal charges against them, so it does increase the exposure, the criminal exposure of the parents.
BLITZER: Yes, new developments. Paul Callan, thank you very much. Anthony Barksdale, thanks to you as well.
CALLAN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: There's other breaking news coming into The Situation Room tonight, new information about a mass shooting near Memphis. Police in Collierville, Tennessee, say at least one person is dead and at least 14 are injured after a gunman opened fire in a Kroger Grocery Store. One employee describes running to co-workers to hide with the gunman chasing as he continued to shoot.
First responders found workers and customers actually hiding inside a freezer and in offices. The gunman is also dead. Police believe he shot himself.
There's more breaking news just ahead on the sometimes messy vote by CDC advisers on who should get a COVID-19 booster.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following breaking news on the COVID-19 booster shot. CDC vaccine advisers issuing their recommendation just a little while ago after a long and sometimes heated debate. They endorsed third doses of the Pfizer vaccine for people ages 65 and older, and for those with underlying conditions as young as 18. But the panel voted against recommending boosters for people whose jobs put them at risk potentially for infection.
Let's discuss this and more with the former FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He's also the author of a timely new book entitled "Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic."
Dr. Gottlieb, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for writing this book.
First of all, what's your reaction to the new decisions from these CDC vaccine advisers? DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: Well, look, the CDC
narrowed considerably who is available for a booster based on a recommendation that came out Food and Drug Administration. They firmly rejected some aspects of the advice that was issued to the Food and Drug Administration by its own advisory committee, and came up with the set of conditions that I think could be complicated to implement, and put some additional burdens on patients and providers, could potentially forestall access to certain patients, especially patients who already face obstacles getting access to care.
Right now, under the guidelines that the CDC issued, if this does get implemented, the CDC director has the discretion to adapt this guidance or change it in certain ways, but if it gets implemented, you have a situation right now where a 30-year-old with an underlying condition could be available for a booster potentially, but a 64-year- old who lives in an assisted facilities who doesn't have any underlying medical conditions wouldn't be. I don't think that was the spirit of the FDA intended. This is really the first time I've seen them diverge so quickly, and it calls into question whether in the setting of a global public health crisis, should we have brought the FDA and CDC more closely together so that we could get alignment from the outset, not have this diverging kind of issues.
BLITZER: That's a good point.
You say the FDA will likely change its booster guidance as it gets more data. Dr. Fauci, by the way, agrees with you. Why not approve boosters for everybody right now?
GOTTLIEB: Look, I think the CDC and other public health officials aren't convinced the data in the younger population supports the use of booster right now. There's clear evidence I believe in the Israel data set for 60 and above, you can make an argument for 50 and above. And the CDC seemed to affirm that, they seemed to agree.
I think where there's more debate is below the age of 50. But what the FDA said was that they felt that people who are at risk at severe outcomes from COVID, even from 18 and up should be eligible for booster, including people also with occupational exposures, like healthcare workers or schoolteachers. What the CDC effectively said here is they don't believe people age 18 to 50 should be eligible for boosters. Only above age 50, if you have an underlying medical condition.
Below that age, you would have to get some kind of certification presumably from your provider because what they said is that if you're going to get a booster between the ages of 18 and 49, it should be subject to some additional assessment of risk benefit which would imply some recommendation from a provider.
And the recommendation for administering boosters for people who are at risk of a severe outcome, just by virtue of their occupational exposure, people who are exposed to COVID on a repeated basis, at higher risk because of that, CDC firmly rejected that advice. That was a recommendation from the FDA panel.
BLITZER: I know they were just considering Pfizer the vaccine. What about Americans who received the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? It seems unfair that only those who got Pfizer the first time around are eligible for this booster protection.
GOTTLIEB: Yeah, and that was part of the complication today, and part of the misgivings of the CDC panel, is that the FDA is not in a position to recommend that you can mix and match the vaccines. There's a study underway by NIH looking at mixing the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. That study will read out at some point soon.
I would expect that you showed that there is no inadvertent side- effects from using these vaccines interchangeably. But we do not have that data yet. We have some foreign data that suggests these vaccines can be used interchangeably, but not American data. I think that was part of the misgivings of the CDC with the broad recommendation today.
Perhaps both vaccines were before the advisory committee, they would have come out differently. Pfizer got the vaccine in front of the FDA sooner, so their vaccine got authorized more quickly. As you know, on the board of Pfizer.
Moderna is a little further behind, but hopefully the booster comes on to the market as well. That could potentially change the recommendation.
BLITZER: A lot of people are hoping that happens.
Dr. Gottlieb, thanks so much for joining us, and thanks for writing this really excellent brand-new book, "Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID- 19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic." I appreciate it very, very much.
State Department victims of what is called Havana syndrome, that mysterious Havana syndrome, allegedly being denied access to care at a top U.S. medical military facility. We are learning new information and will share with you when we come back.
BLITZER: A new twist tonight in the mysterious so-called Havana syndrome, which has sickened multiple Americans working overseas.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.
Brian, I understand lawmakers are now raising a lot of concern about the lack of care for some of the victims of this Havana syndrome.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are, Wolf. And the senators concerns are directed at the State Department, whose overall handling of these cases is being called into question.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): The State Department, under growing pressure tonight, to do more to do -- to help its staffers who are suffering from a mysterious illness, the so-called Havana syndrome. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, along with Republican Susan Collins, sending a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, raising concerns that some State Department victims of the illness have been denied by the department itself. Access to be treated at the Walter Reed National Medical Military Care Center, quote, despite their request to be seen at Walter Reed.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): Diplomatic personnel, State Department personnel all over the world sacrificing themselves and their families. If they are injured on the job, they need to get the same treatment that everybody else gets.
TODD: This comes at a critical moment. The woman the State Department tasked with getting to the bottom of this, Ambassador Pamela Spratlen leaves her position after only six months and amid questions over the task forces handling of the probe. A state official says Spratlen was always slated to serve only six months.
But there's new urgency to investigate. CNN has learned of two high profile incidents recently. A visit by Vice President Kamala Harris to Vietnam in August was delayed when several U.S. personnel reported symptoms and two had to be medevaced. And more recently, when CIA Director Bill Burns travelled to India, a member of his team reported symptoms and had to receive medical attention, according to sources. An incident that set off alarm bells within the U.S. government and one source said left Burns fuming with anger.
ANDREW HAMMOND, HISTORIAN AND CURATOR, THE INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM: The fight the CIA director was on a visit to India and a member of his team was targeted is definitely sending a message. The message is we're not terribly afraid of the consequence, whatever those consequences may be.
TODD: It's called Havana syndrome because the symptoms started with diplomatic officials in Cuba about five years ago
But similar incidents also appeared with American diplomats and intelligence officers in Russia, China and elsewhere. Symptoms of what could be attacks using a direct energy device include ear popping, vertigo, pounding headaches and nausea.
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS, FORMER CIA OFFICER WHO SUFFERED HAVANA SYNDROME: Many of us have said subsequent to getting injured, we wish we would have been shot.
TODD: Who or what is the perpetrator? Current and former U.S. officials say it could be Russia or China, but that is largely circumstantial. Russian officials have vehemently denied responsibility for the attacks, as have Chinese and Cuban officials.
TODD (on camera): State Department officials have so far not responded to the letter from Senators Shaheen and Collins complaining about the lack of access to Walter Reed for State Department employees. Wolf, they detail CNN last month that they are aware of their employees concerts over this and are working to address them, including establishing a team of medical experts.
BLITZER: American diplomats are still suffering as a result.
Brian Todd, good reporting as usual. Thank you very, very much.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram at Wolf Blitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.