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Soon, January 6th Committee Votes On Holding Bannon In Criminal Contempt; Now, Biden Meeting With Democrat Moderates On Stalled Agenda; Source: U.S. Health Officials Likely To Recommend Pfizer And Moderna Boosters Starting At Age 40; New Images Of North Korea Firing Sub-Launched Ballistic Missile. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 19, 2021 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the January 6th select committee is getting ready to vote and holding Trump ally Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. We are waiting this critical milestone in the investigation of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Also tonight, President Biden holds back-to-back talks with dueling groups of Democrats as he ratchets up efforts to try to advance his stalled agenda. He is meeting with moderates right now. Are they any closer at all to reaching a deal as an end of month deadline nears and fear of failure looms over the White House?

And we're learning that the U.S. government is likely to issue a recommendation very soon for people as young as 40 to get Moderna and Pfizer booster shots. We'll break down what we know and what it could mean for the pandemic.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with the January 6th committee taking a big step tonight towards punishing Steve Bannon for defying a subpoena. Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is awaiting the vote. He is up on Capitol Hill for us.

Ryan, first of all, tell us more about the vote and what happens afterwards.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. You know, for weeks the select committee has promised those who they sent subpoenas to, they would act quickly if those subpoenas were not cooperated with. And they are making good on that promise. They are holding a vote tonight to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt. And once that vote leaves the committee, we are told the full House could refer it the Department of Justice as soon as Thursday.


NOBLES (voice over): The January 6th select committee making good on their threat and moving quickly to hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): We feel this behavior is outrageous.

NOBLES: The committee has requested documents and wants to talk to Bannon about his conversations with Trump and others in the days leading up to January 6th.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL ADVISER: All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.

NOBLES: Tonight, the committee will hold a vote to officially report their claim that Bannon's defiance rises to the level of criminal contempt of Congress. From there, the entire House of Representatives will send the matter to the Department of Justice where prosecutors will decide whether to prosecute the case, a lengthy process that's likely to be fought in court for some time.

PROF. WILLIAM BANKS, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LAW: We can go up and down the federal court hierarchy multiple times. So, district court, court of appeals, even the United States Supreme Court could potentially hear one of these cases.

Historically, one of the remarkable things about the clash between the executive and the legislature in this kind of setting involving executive privilege and congressional demands for information is that almost all of the time the parties have negotiated a settlement.

NOBLES: Bannon seems content to let the courts make the call. In a letter last week to the committee his lawyers wrote, until such time as you reach an agreement with President Trump or receive a court ruling, as to the extent, scope and application of the executive privilege in order to preserve the claim of executive and other privileges, Mr. Bannon will not be producing documents or testifying.

His posture is hardened by Trump himself filing a lawsuit against the committee yesterday, the committee not buying any of their claims. Mr. Bannon has relied on no legal authority to support his refusal to comply in any fashion with the subpoena. The report that they will vote on tonight states.

LOFGREN: And you can't just say, well, I'm not coming in. The law requires when a subpoena has been duly issued, as this one was, to come in and make your case.

NOBLES: An option Bannon does not appear to be willing to take. And so the committee is moving forward tonight, hoping that other potential witnesses will take note.

REP ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It's also really important right from the start that we establish that if you ignore your lawful requirement of testifying when you are subpoenaed, you will go to jail.


NOBLES (on camera): And Bannon continues to attempt to put hurdles in the way of the committee, even at the 11th hour. He sent the committee a letter asking them to delay their proceedings tonight to allow the court cases to play out. The committee not buying it, they denied that request, Wolf. They plan to vote on this criminal contempt referral tonight. It could happen as soon as 7:30 tonight, in fact, here on Capitol Hill. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, we will watch it. Ryan Nobles, thank you.

Let's break down all of this with our experts. Joining us now our Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, he's the author of the new book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors, the Investigation of Donald Trump. Also with us our Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, he's the author of the book Hatchet Man, How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor's Code and Corrupted the Justice Department, and also with us our Legal and National Security Analyst Asha Rangappa.


Jeffrey, what message is the select committee sending with tonight's vote?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they are sending the message that they are doing their best, but doing their best is unlikely to go very quickly. I mean, it is just worth focusing on how this schedule works. Even if the Congress, the full House of Representatives, votes for a contempt citation, the Justice Department has to make a decision about whether it will proceed. If it does proceed, and I think it will proceed, they have to impanel a grand jury or find an existing grand jury, get an indictment, then that will go to a district court.

The district court then will control the entire schedule. And Bannon will have the right to move to dismiss the indictment. That's a legal argument that will take some time. That could then begin an appeals process. All of this could take months and months, even with the House doing its best to go as fast as they can.

BLITZER: Yes, that's interesting. You know, Elie, ahead of tonight's vote, Bannon's lawyers had asked for a delay because of the former president's lawsuit. Is that the game plan for Trump and his allies right now, delay, delay, delay?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: 100 percent, Wolf. It is not at all surprising that Steve Bannon requested a delay. And it's absolutely right that the committee said no. And I think this sort of highlights why this is such a big deal. This is really about more than will Steve Bannon get charged with a crime, will Steve Bannon go to prison? Maybe he will, maybe he won't, as Jeffrey said, that matters.

But what really matters here is our balance of powers between Congress and the executive branch. Will there ever be meaningful ability for Congress, through the Justice Department, to force accountability or will a small group of zealots, Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and others around them, can they just break this system by defying subpoenas, by refusing to play by the rules, by forcing everything to court and by dragging their feet and delaying? That's the big question here. BLITZER: You know, Asha, we do expect as we've been now reporting that the full House will vote to refer this to the U.S. Justice Department as soon as this coming Thursday and then how much of the strategy depends on the Attorney General Merrick Garland's actual willingness to prosecute Bannon?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think -- as Jeffrey said, I think there is a good chance that they will prosecute it. Wolf, remember that what Bannon has done here is not just assert this kind of bogus claim of executive privilege but he has refused to even show up or, you know, even kind of make the appearance of having a good-faith attempt to show up and then refuse to answer question, for example, that like others have done in the past, for example, Corey Lewandowski did that. He showed up and then refused to answer questions.

So, he is demonstrating a level of willfulness which would be required in a prosecution of contempt of Congress in terms of his state of mind. So, he's kind of making the case easier for prosecutors in terms of, you know, prosecuting it on a criminal case.

TOOBIN: And, Wolf, it's worth pointing out just how bad Bannon's legal argument is. Because, you know, if Mark Meadows were to claim executive privilege, he was chief of staff to the president, that you could see there would be at least a colorable legal argument there. Steve Bannon didn't work for the government since 2017. He was just some guy who was an outside advisor. He has no executive privilege claim, yet the system is stacked in such a way that even with this self-evidently bogus claim, he can delay this process for months and months, and I think it's going to be a source of terrible frustration to Congress.

BLITZER: It's going to be a dig delay. You know, Elie, is there any chance at all that Bannon potentially could be held in custody while this plays out in court over the next few months, or is that simply not how these things work?

HONIG: Yes, that's not how these things will work. This charge, this federal criminal charge, is a misdemeanor, meaning the maximum punishment is one year. Oddly, there is actually a minimum of one month, which is unusual. But I have never heard of someone being held pending trial on a misdemeanor.

But this is going to be a real moment of truth, Wolf, for the attorney general, for Merrick Garland. A lot of people are going to be looking at him. And, frankly, if he doesn't charge Steve Bannon here, he is not going to be charging Meadows or Scavino or any of the other people who this committee may want to talk to, because as Asha just said, Steve Bannon has the weakest argument of all because he was not part of the executive branch.

So, if Merrick Garland says no on Bannon, forget it. Game over. All these guys are going to defy and they're going to have no fear of meaningful prosecution and meaningful consequences. And that's why Merrick Garland has to step up and do his job here.


BLITZER: On another legal issue, Asha, what sort of legal fight do you actually expect for the select committee to get its hands on the documents from the Trump White House?

RANGAPPA: Well, Biden has already, you know, asserted that he's -- or not asserted executive privilege over these documents. So, I think, you know, they are going to get the documents they want one way or the other. I don't think that they are going to be stopped from conducting their own investigation.

The key here with Bannon is that he has specific firsthand knowledge about certain things. Possible foreknowledge of the January 6th attacks, which he talked about, the fact that he was in the war room with John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani on the day of the attack.

So that's like additional information that could be helpful to them. What could also be helpful is locking in his testimony because Department of Justice is undoubtedly also looking at Bannon and, you know, what he was doing on this day as they do continue their criminal cases, and if what he tells Congress is at odds with what evidence they have gathered, that could itself turn into a criminal case. So, there are reasons to have him testify, but I don't think it will stop the committee if he doesn't.

BLITZER: Yes. We will see how far Trump's lawsuit to try to prevent his documents while he was in the White House go to the select committee. We will see how that plays out. That's going to, obviously, delay things a bit as well.

All right guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, a major concession by President Biden as he struggles to bridge the Democratic divide putting his top priorities in very serious peril right now. We are going to get the latest live from the White House when we come back.



BLITZER: We're following President Biden's increasingly urgent efforts to unite members of his own party to pass his top legislative priorities.

Let's go to our CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, the president cleared his schedule for separate meetings today with progressives and moderates to try to bridge the divide on his proposals to overall the nation's social safety net. What are you hearing?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, Wolf. And that meeting with the progressive members of his party went about two hours, we are told, and some key developments are coming out of it, including what the president was telling those progressive members about some of the priorities they have for this bill. That's what the president met there.

And we are now told by sources that the president told them they are expected to drop that tuition-free community college. Something that had been a big priority of the president's and one he had touted several times since he unveiled the proposal for this big social safety net and climate change package. But now, that is likely out. He also told them that the child tax credit, which they wanted to extend for several years, will now likely only be extended for an additional year. That's much lower than what a lot of Democrats were hoping for.

Though they did say, Wolf, that when it comes to that expansion of Medicare, something that Senator Bernie Sanders has been a major champion of, that is still expected to be in line with where the progressive priorities are because they are at the stages of these talks where they are trying to decide what to keep in here, what can fit in, and also, Wolf, still with the price tag of this is going to be.

So, that was the meeting with progressives. Right now, the president is meeting with moderates as we wait to see what the framework of this is going to look like.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Today, he is spending virtually nearly every minute of his day meeting with members of Congress.

COLLINS (voice over): President Biden chasing a deal on his agenda.

PSAKI: The president believes in the value of meeting face-to-face, hence the meetings today.

COLLINS: Biden huddling with Democrats as he attempts to hash out an agreement between the warring factions of his party over his plan to reshape the social safety net and fight climate change.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): There was universal, universal agreement in that room that we have to come to an agreement and we got to get it done and want to get it done this week.

COLLINS: First, Biden sitting down with two holdouts.

PSAKI: He met with Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema this morning.

COLLINS: Then progressives who want a bigger price tag, expanded Medicare coverage and aggressive proposals to fight climate change. That followed by a meeting with the moderates, who favor a scaled back bill with income caps on key provisions.

Those are the two groups who disagree with each other. So, why would they not meet together?

PSAKI: Well, these are serious policy discussions often on nitty- gritty details and they aren't duels between factions of the party.

COLLINS: Lawmakers say progress is being made, although there is still no agreement on a price tag.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, I mean, the president has consistently laid out a number that is somewhere between, you know, 1.9 and 2.2, and I think, look, it's not the number that we want. We have consistently tried to make it as high as possible.

COLLINS: After Senator Manchin made clear he opposed a critical climate change program, Senate Democrats began floating the idea of using a carbon tax. But Manchin said today it's not on the table.


REP. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): No, no we're not talking -- that's -- we haven't talked about that.

PSAKI: That's an idea that not one the president proposed but one that has been put forward by a range of members of Congress.

COLLINS: At times during the talks, tensions have flared within the Democratic Party, including between Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders and Manchin. After publicly feuding for days over the size and scope of the plan, Sanders and Manchin met Monday later emerging for pictures.

MANCHIN: We're talking.

REP. BERNIE SANDER (D-VT): We're talking.


COLLINS (on camera): And it turns out, Wolf, they are still talking tonight because we are told that Senator Sanders and Senator Manchin are again meeting right now, going over, of course, where their vast differences are over how they should put the president's priorities into law.

We should note that the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said they are hoping to get a framework by the end of the week.


BLITZER: Kaitlan, I want you to stand by. I also want to bring in CNN Senior Commentator, former Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Governor, what's your reaction to this latest concession that President Biden is making to the Democratic moderates, dropping tuition-free community college from the package?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Wolf, the whole thing is a mess. You know, I think Kaitlin and her piece, she is very good at this, she said he is chasing a deal. You know, executives don't behave that way. I've been an executive. I ran the seventh largest state for eight years, and I was a legislator, but I learned that when you go in a room, you tell people what you want and then you'd be prepared to fight for it. Think about this, Wolf. If they had to pass the earlier infrastructure package for highways and bridges and roads, think about how that would have accrued to President Biden's benefit. It would even be helping the candidate for governor in Virginia because they haven't had anything done. And now, he is in another negotiation with the moderates and the progressives or the lefties. You know, that's what he is doing.

And so what is he going to come out with? He's going to come out with sort of, you know, some sort of a package, but it's just not going to be the kind of package he wanted. I really hope -- I really had hoped, maybe there is still hope, that he would say we are going to pass an infrastructure package. If you don't like that, vote against it, I will go to the Republicans. If the Republicans don't want to go for it, then he becomes Harry Truman.

Executives get in trouble when they don't stand for something. And, frankly, at this point, I'm not sure where Joe Biden's vision or his passion is. That's what he needs to show and he needs to fight for it and the people of this country would reward it, in my opinion, if he did that.

BLITZER: But, Kaitlan, the progressives, the Democratic progressives in the house, they threatened to vote against that $1.2 trillion traditional infrastructure package unless it came in coordination with a much bigger reconciliation package. So, among Democrats, correct me if I'm wrong, they didn't have the votes.

COLLINS: They did not have the votes. And that's why you've see this delay. And we are talking about this deadline of October 31st that the Democratic leaders have now set. But, Wolf, that is after they blew past several other deadlines when it comes to actually getting this passed.

Now, it seems unlikely they are going to be able to actually pass something by October 31st. That is something that you saw Senator Manchin conceding earlier today, talking about the work that remains to be done.

But where we are right now is a place where the White House says it's time to make tough choices. It's time to actually try to have an agreement on this and have some framework of what they are going to agree to because these meetings that are happening with Senator Manchin and Senator sinema, these moderates and progressives, those are meetings that the president has been having for several weeks now.

KASICH: And, Wolf --

BLITZER: Go ahead.

KASICH: -- let me go back in cover this business about the infrastructure package. If I were president, I would dare those progressives to vote against the improvements in our bridges and our highways and our ports and our airports. I would have dared them. I then would have gone to the Republicans and say, I want you. And if the Republicans wouldn't have come and he lost that thing, he would be a winner in the end.

You see, sometimes people win when they stand for things and fight for things. Now, we've got the president in this room, he's running to the other room, he is chasing a deal. What do you think the public thinks about that? There is no clarity. There is no simplicity.

And so, to me, I mean, he's got to go in those rooms, he's going to say, this is what I expect, this is what we are going to do. And if he does that, in my opinion, both Wolf and Kaitlin, he comes out a winner. That's what executives do when they are successful. Thanks for letting me have a word.

BLITZER: I suspect if he still gets the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and a $2 trillion reconciliation package, if he gets both of those, that's still a big win for the White House.

John Kasich, thank you very much. Kaitlan, thanks to you as well.

An important note to our viewers, be sure to join our Anderson Cooper for a CNN town hall with President Joe Biden. That's this Thursday night 8:00 P.M. Eastern only here on CNN.

Coming up, we're closing in on the January 6th committee's vote on holding Steve Bannon in contempt and we are digging deeper into Bannon's efforts to help former President Trump try to overturn the presidential election.



BLITZER: Right now, we are awaiting a significant vote by the January 6th select committee, the panel poised to formally begin the process of holding Trump loyalist Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He is working the story for us. I know you are taking a close look at Bannon's interactions with the president -- the former president, I should say, leading up to the insurrection.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We found that Steve Bannon was a pivotal figure in lighting a fire under Donald Trump to stir things up on January 6th. It was all consistent with Bannon's history of stoking Trump's most combative instincts.


TODD (voice over): In those tense days after the 2020 election and before January 6th, Steve Bannon had no formal role at the White House, but according to credible accounts was a key player in then- President Trump's efforts to overturn the election results.

JOSHUA GREEN, AUTHOR, DEVIL'S BARGAIN, STEVE BANNON, DONALD TRUMP AND THE NATIONALIST UPRISING: From the moments the polls closed, Bannon was busy trying to stir up chaos, trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Joe Biden's election. TODD: Right after the election, Bannon called the results fraudulent.

BANNON: Biden can only win by cheating. He can only win by stealing Trump's victory. We are not going to let it happen.

TODD: On December 30th of last year, according to the book Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Bannon was feverishly trying to prepare Trump for January 6th when Congress would certify the election results, telling Trump, quote, we are going to bury Biden on January 6th, F-ing bury him, we're going to kill the Biden presidency in the crib.


On his podcast war room recently, Bannon didn't deny saying that.

BANNON: Yes, because it is illegitimacy. Just let this go with this illegitimate regime is doing. It killed itself, okay? But we told you from the very beginning, just expose it, just expose it, never back down, never give up, and this thing will implode.

TODD: Now, the House select committee investigating January 6th wants information from Bannon on what he did just before the insurrection. The committee says on January 5th Bannon was involved in a war room at Washington's Willard Hotel helping plan Trump's Stop the Steal rally, which took place the morning of the attack. On the 5th, Bannon said on this podcast.

BANNON: All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. Just understand this. All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.

TODD: But there is no evidence Bannon was involved in planning any aspect of the actual attack on the Capitol or that he knew it would happen. Author Joshua Green says Steve Bannon was introduced to Donald Trump at least a couple of years before Trump's 2016 presidential run. Bannon was a perfect fit, Green says, to be the CEO of that campaign.

GREEN: He didn't come from the Republican establishment. He didn't have to answer for anybody. He didn't have a background in GOP politics. All he wanted to do was come in and burn things down.

TODD: Bannon lasted only about seven months as Trump's Political Advisor in the White House. Booted out, authors say, because Trump was jealous of the attention Bannon was getting. How did Bannon win his way back into Trump's good graces?

GREEN: He became Trump's biggest defender and pushed a lot of these conspiracy theories that have gone from the fringes of U.S. Politics to the very center of Republican politics today.


TODD (on camera): And Joshua Green believes the Bannon/Trump partnership could further be rekindled in the future, even if Bannon has no formal role in a possible Trump presidential bid in 2024. If Donald Trump runs, Green says, Bannon could be his proxy in attack the media, promoting conspiracy theories, re-empowering the MAGA movement and trying to undermine electoral integrity to benefit Donald Trump. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much, Brian Todd reporting for us.

Let's bring in our Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, the former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. He's the author of the book, The Threat, How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.

Andrew, does it surprise you that Bannon is still doing the former president's bidding given the rather tumultuous relationship they have had over these years?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Not at all, Wolf. As the report we just listened to makes clear, Bannon's entire identity, his relevance, his ability to use his megaphone, his access to a megaphone at all, is all predicated on his slavish devotion to Donald Trump. You didn't hear much from Steve Bannon during that time after he was booted out of the White House and before he was brought back into Trump's good graces.

So I think it's pretty predictable that Bannon has latched himself to Trump's future prospects and it looks like he is prepared to go down with the ship.

BLITZER: This is a man who reportedly said, and I'm quoting now, we're going to bury Biden on January 6th. Just how dangerous is that kind of rhetoric that Bannon regularly pedals?

MCCABE: Well, Steve Bannon and others like him say things like that because they know it's inflammatory. They know it's the kind of thing that's really going to appeal to the most extreme listeners or viewers that they are speaking to. So, he uses these very visceral, almost violent images to get people's attention and really get them fired up.

The question, Wolf, is what did he mean by that? What did he mean on January 5th when he told his, I guess, podcast listeners that all hell was going to break loose in the Capitol on January 6th? What did he -- was he in possession of some knowledge about what was planned? Was he maybe a participant in those plans? That's the kind of information that the committee wants to get to the bottom of.

BLITZER: I am sure they do. On a different subject, there was a dramatic moment here in Washington today. The FBI conducting searches today at two of Oleg Deripaska's homes. He's a close ally, as a lot of our viewers will remember, of Vladimir Putin, also did business with Paul Manafort. And this apparently is in connection with a federal investigation out of New York that's ongoing right now. What does that tell you?

MCCABE: Well it tells me it's a very bad day for Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska is a guy, fabulously rich, a guy who amassed his wealth and his fortune originally during a time in the early is the1990s, referred to as the aluminum wars in Russia, through his associations with organized crime figures he managed to privatized massive state assets.


He has been able to manipulate that into a career of currying favor both in the black market with organized crime folks and also with the highest levels of power in Russia, specifically Vladimir Putin.

So the range of issues that he could possibly be under investigation for is literally limitless. He was sanctioned in 2018 by the United States government. It's likely that these searches are related to the enforcement of those sanctions.

BLITZER: We will see what happens. Andrew McCabe, as usual, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, I will talk to a key Senate Democrat, a very close ally of President Biden, as he struggles to unite his party around his agenda.

Plus, North Korea firing a suspected submarine-launched ballistic missile, we have details of Kim Jong-un's latest provocation. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Senate Democrats huddling as President Biden's top agenda items are clearly on the line right now, but one key lawmaker missed the lunch, met with the president separately.


Let's get some more with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, after emerging from the caucus lunch, the Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Democrats want a framework by the end of this week. Is that realistic? Are you going to have a deal by Friday?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, if I'm optimistic he we will get to President Biden's desk, both the bipartisan infrastructure plan and a series of policies in his build back better plan, that will come through the Senate and through the house. Whether it's the end of this week or later this month, I think it's less important than what is in these policies, what is in these bills?

The build back better plan that will reduce costs for working families, provide support for things like day care, pre-K education, lower health care costs, and a robust middle class tax cut that allows the whole bill to be paid for so it doesn't add to the deficit, paired up with an infrastructure bill that will create 650,000 new high- skilled, high-wage jobs, revitalizing our economy and investing in our infrastructure, that's a great agenda that Democrats can get behind, that we can support, that we can run on next year.

And today President Biden, through personal lengthy engagement with progressives and moderates, demonstrated his skills and ability to bring us together. There is a renewed sense of urgency in my caucus about getting this done and getting it done soon.

BLITZER: As you know, in order to get the deal, the president is now making some very, very serious concessions, especially to the moderates. CNN has learned that the president told the progressives today over at the White House that tuition-free community college, two years tuition-free community college is likely to be dropped from the final package. That's a major concession. A blow to progressives. Is that a provision the president should be willing to trade away?

COONS: Wolf, I would look at this bill as less as what is being cut than what we are going to advance. Because I will remind you, under President Trump, under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the previous Congress, no one would be having a serious conversation about investing hundreds of billions of dollars in providing things like support for better quality and more affordable day care or support for pre-K.

So my personal favorite is you know, expanding AmeriCorps in order to give younger Americans the chance to earn a college opportunity through national service. There are many, many proposals in this mix, and at the end of the day Democrats are going to come together against reducing the costs that keep average working families up at night and making investments that will help people get back to work grow our economy. That's what we're coming together afternoon.

BLITZER: You need Senator Kyrsten Sinema, as you know, you need Joe Manchin as well. Senator Sinema was notably absent from the meeting today. She was over at the White House instead. Do you think she should have been there given that she is one of the two Democrats holding things up dramatically right now?

COONS: I think it's important for the president of the United States, who ran on someone who can bring our country together and move us forward, to be invested in the kind of time he has been investing in getting us over the finish line, getting this package of his policy proposals embraced by entire caucus.

And if that means spending time with both moderates and progressives in person at the White House, that's the kind of leadership I have come to expect from President Biden and I'm very optimistic this will move us forward.

BLITZER: One thing I don't understand, and maybe, Senator Coons, you can explain it to me, why is he meeting separately with the moderates and separately with the progressives? Why not bring all of them in the room and tell them, go up to Camp David, we are working this out, we are all going to get together right now?

COONS: Wolf, I think later this week you'll see some of those closing the gap conversations. But initially I think it was important this week to be clear about the range of policies, about the size of the bill, and about the path forward, and sometimes those judgments are best made by someone like President Biden who has spent decades as a legislative leader here in the Senate of the United States and, frankly, you know, for those who haven't sat with the president one- on-one or in a group in the oval office, it has a certain persuasive impact. And I think he is using that to the best impact and best effect today and this week.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. All right, Senator Coons, as usual, thanks to you as well.

Coming up, a new booster guidance in the works for Americans age 40 and up. How soon an additional dose of the COVID-19 vaccine could be available to younger Americans, new information coming up.



BLITZER: Millions more Americans could soon be eligible for COVID booster shots. U.S. health officials will likely recommend Pfizer and Moderna boosters starting at age 40.

Let's discuss with Dr. Richard Besser, the former acting director of the CDC.

Dr. Besser, do you think it's the right call for the government to recommend booster shots for Americans, let's say as young as 40?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: You know, Wolf, I will be interested to see what data they use to make that decision. You know, the information that I have seen so far shows that except for the groups for whom it's been recommended, those over 65, those who are at high risk for medical conditions, the vaccines are holding up very well, especially in terms of severe illness and hospitalization and death which is the main reason we -- we vaccinate.


I want to see some clarity around what's going into that decision.

BLITZER: Yeah, me, too.

What was the point of issuing guidance on boosters last month, only to potentially see a major change a few weeks later?

BESSER: You know, one of the -- one of the big challenges that -- that we have is that with three products that are out there -- that are -- that are all different, that all have different dynamics in terms of the level of protection and how quickly that falls off.

There -- they are going to see guidance for boosters based on when companies file their -- their requests. Each company's been looking at that separately. And so, while the government initially announced that everyone who wanted boosters would be able to get them, that's really contingent on the companies coming forward with data to show the boosters are safe and that they are effective.

And one company, Pfizer, came through with that first. Then, Moderna. Then, now -- now, J&J.

BLITZER: The FDA is also preparing to allow Americans to receive a different COVID booster vaccine than the one they originally got. Who should consider getting what we are calling this mix-and-match booster dose?

BESSER: Well, you know, the -- the committee last week that advises FDA was looking at the data from the National Institutes of Health and what their data was showing is that the mRNA vaccines -- the -- the Pfizer/Moderna are much more effective as boosters. It's important your viewers know that our foundation was founded with -- with money from the Johnson family that comes from Johnson & Johnson and we own stock in that company.

But clearly, the data from NIH showed that a Moderna or Pfizer booster was much more effective than a J&J booster for people who had received that vaccine.

BLITZER: Are there any drawbacks to mixing and matching COVID vaccines?

BESSER: Well, you know, I -- I want to see what the FDA says because, you know, the -- the data that NIH brought forward was very limited. And so, it -- it's being -- if they make that change, it's not being done based on a very large study. But the information that was shared was quite convincing for -- for that small population.

BLITZER: Dr. Besser, as usual, thank you so much for joining us. We always appreciate it.

BESSER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, we are just getting some new images of the latest military provocation by North Korea. A submarine launched ballistic missile.



BLITZER: We are just getting some new images of North Korea firing a ballistic missile from a submarine. The latest in a series of aggressive moves by the dictator Kim Jong Un.

CNN's Will Ripley is working the story for us.

Will, you have been to North Korea on many occasions. What are you learning?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, this is the photographic evidence that the United States, South Korea, Japan, all of the military intelligence experts are going to be looking at. It just was published in North Korean state media about 24 hours after the initial launch. And that's how it works. The launch happens. The rest of the world hears about it. North Koreans don't hear about it until a day later once the images are cleared and approved. What it shows? A missile coming out of the ocean and it shows a submarine.

Very similar, actually, to images from a 2019 -- what North Korea claimed was a submarine ballistic missile launch but actually at that time it was lunch launched from an underwater kind of a barge. So, we will see what the military experts say if they do believe, Wolf, that this is a submarine launched ballistic missile. If it is, it's certainly a dangerous weapon, even though North Korea's subs are pretty far behind, technologically. They can still sneak up on a target and fire a missile with very little warning.

BLITZER: This is just the latest as you know, will, in a series of provocations from north -- North Korea, right?

RIPLEY: Absolutely. In fact, it was just last month, Wolf, that North Korea claimed to test a hypersonic missile. Hypersonic is anything that can go five times faster the speed of sound. And also, change direction and actually approach a target so low that it evades radar, and can even actually move as opposed to being a ballistic missile which is on a set trajectory from A to B.

Why is this significant? Well, it's one of the most dangerous and advanced weapons out there right now. Only China and Russia have actually deployed them. The United States is currently developing hypersonic missiles. If North Korea -- this impoverished country of some 25 million people -- now has submarine launched ballistic missiles and is moving towards hypersonic missiles, they were going to be one of the most heavily armed countries on earth despite the fact a large number of their population doesn't have enough food on the dinner table every night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You are joining us from Taiwan, right now, Will. How serious is the tension that has developed in recent weeks between China and Taiwan and the potential the U.S. might be dragged into this?

RIPLEY: You know, there is two different kind of realities here. On the ground in Taipei, when you talk to regular people, it's life as normal. It reminds me a lot of Seoul, actually, during the height of the North Korea tensions.

But at the government level, things are not good. They have been getting more tense. There have been, you know, different kind of -- different jabs taken back and forth. Of course, China flew a record number of war planes into Taiwan's self-declared air defense identification zone. Not its air space which is 12 nautical miles from that main island.

But in that zone where Taiwan air force, they activate their fighter jets. They activate their missile defense systems. They send out radio alerts. And then Taiwan is now investing billions of additional dollars in weapons to defend against China.

We were at a military-style parade for their national day. We saw F- 16s. There were patriot missiles made in America in Taiwan's arsenal right now, Wolf.

So there is a lot of militarization and, of course, the more moving parts, the more risk there could be for a miscalculation.

BLITZER: Yeah. Lots of tension right now. We'll stay in close touch with you, Will. Thank you very, very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.