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Biden Preparing To Take Questions At CNN Town Hall; House Votes To Hold Steve Bannon In Contempt For Defying Subpoena; FBI Identifies Human Remains As Brian Laundrie; CDC Advisers Vote To Recommend Moderna, J&J Boosters, Endorsing FDA's Emergency Use Authorization. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 21, 2021 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: It's not up to the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute a Trump loyalist. I'll speak with a prominent member of the January 6 select committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, and we'll talk about what happens next.

And there's breaking news just coming into CNN. The FBI has just confirmed the human remains found in a Florida nature reserve do belong to Brian Laundrie, the missing fiancee of Gabby Petito.

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

We begin with President Biden and the challenges, enormous challenges he currently faces as he prepares to take the stage for CNN's exclusive town hall less than two hours from now. Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is over at the site of the event in Baltimore.

Kaitlan, the president has yet another opportunity tonight to try to promote his domestic agenda, but the White House is still negotiating with a key Democratic senator who at least at the moment seems willing to hold up key parts of the legislation.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, and that is going to be the challenge for the president tonight is that he is here selling a bill that is still not finished. And that's not just dealing with the components and the size and the scope of this bill, which, of course, we've been talking about all week, the priorities that the president has that he's had to scale back in this bill, but now is going to be another chief component of it that you've heard the president tout time and time again, and that's how to pay for the bill. Because, of course, Senator Kyrsten Sinema is now still opposed to raising taxes on corporations and high earners. That has been a stance that she's held for several weeks, but it is one that we have now learned has not changed.

And so what you're seeing is a scramble among Democrats as they are trying to figure out other ways to potentially pay for this bill because that is something the president and top Democrats have said time and time again, this is a bill that's fully paid for. And you're seeing frustration among some of Sinema's fellow Democrats, some in the House, especially some of those progressive members, where you've seen the divide in them over the priorities of what should be included in this bill. And Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal was speaking to CNN earlier making that frustration very clear.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): I just think it would be outrageous, honestly. I mean, I don't know if we're going to get it done or not, but I think it would be outrageous to not include something that so desperately needs to be done, that is the most popular part of this entire package and, you know, that is something that all of us ran on. I think we need to understand that here you've got 49 senators who support doing that. There's one that doesn't, apparently. I don't know that to be true. I hope it's not true.

REPORTER: Do you think that at this point she needs to be more open and transparent on what her positions are?

JAYAPAL: I don't know. I'm just going to let the White House negotiate. I'm just saying I think we should reform the tax system and make corporations pay their fair share.


COLLINS: And that, Wolf, is a critical point here, because if they do change the way that they're going to pay for this, that has been one of the most popular points, which is raising taxes on corporations. You've heard the president say it time and time again on the campaign trail since he's been in office. And that is something that they believe should happen. So, if they change that, one of the most popular components, that will be another question that is also facing the White House.

But, Wolf, tonight, while the president is here in Baltimore, one thing that White House officials say he will focus on is what is still in this bill and what is something they have not taken off the table and that they do still want to include when they have the final framework that they're hoping to get for tomorrow. And that, of course, includes billions of dollars for climate change, universal pre-K and, of course, that expansion of Medicare that Senator Bernie Sanders has talked about so much, though there are still big questions about what exactly it's going the look like, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in our Political Director David Chalian and CNN National Politics Reporter Eva McKend.

David, the president emphasized today just how high the stakes are. What will you will be watching for in tonight's town hall?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, first and foremost, I'm going to be watching Joe Biden's salesmanship. I mean, this is a real opportunity for him in a primetime audience to talk to the nation, not about top line numbers and not about the weeds of the negotiation, but actually, Kaitlan was saying, what's in the package, and to sell that as to what he sees will benefit the American people in a pretty transformative way. And so sort of how he handles salesman in chief is something I'm watching, but I'm also going to watch to see how he navigates around some of the big concessions.

I mean, you just heard the whole piece about the taxes that Pramila Jayapal was talking about and Kyrsten Sinema's opposition to raising the tax rates on corporations and wealthy individuals. Congresswoman Jayapal was not wrong when she says, basically, the entirety of the Democratic Party, including Joe Biden, ran on just that.


So, if that's out and they find another way to pay for it, how does the president explain that?

And then, finally, the urgency, Wolf, is the president going to set hard, real deadlines as to when he wants to be able to sign something or get a framework announced? I'm going to be looking to see if he has any real hard deadlines here.

BLITZER: Yes, good points. Eva, watch what President Biden said earlier today on voting rights speaking at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Watch this.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Today, the right to vote and the rule of law are unrelenting assault from Republican governors, attorneys general, secretaries of state, state legislatures and they're following my predecessor, the last president, into a deep, deep black hole and abyss.


BLITZER: How does he view this critically important moment right now in his presidency?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: I think he understands the gravity of the moment but he also recognized his audience. He was speaking to a group largely concerned about the future of voting rights in this country.

I also want to note that in that speech, talking about Dr. King, he spoke about his legacy and the context of worker justice and workers' rights. And that was critically important too, I think just as important as talking about voting rights. One of the unfortunate consequences of the weaponization of so-called what many wrongfully describe as critical race theory is this sort of absence of talking about Dr. King's full legacy. He was also a critic of capitalism and also very concerned about poverty and worker's rights, so, President Biden mentioning that today, very, very big.

But all that being said, him having these eloquent speeches doesn't necessarily translate to results and that's what both the people in the audience were looking for and voters around the country that elevated him to president are looking for as well.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see if he can deliver in the next few days.

David, getting back to these spending issues that are so sensitive right now, there's clearly mounting frustration, as you correctly point out, as Kaitlan points out with Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. But the White House maintains she's negotiating in good faith. What does that tell you?

CHALIAN: It tells me they need her vote. We know that, right? It's a 50/50 Senate and every single Democratic senator's vote is needed to actually get this across the finish line. So, when the White House says that they believe she's negotiating in good faith, that is them keeping her at the table because they don't have any other option. That's how I read it.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Kaitlan. The White House insists this plan and the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, insist the plan will be fully paid for. So, what happens now if they can't go ahead and raise taxes on wealthy Americans, they can't go ahead and raise taxes for corporation, for example, how do they pay for it?

COLLINS: Well, that would be a big concession if they cannot find an alternative. What we are told though, Wolf, right now, is that they are trying to find an alternative, but it's not simple to find a new tax structure that can pay for this given, of course, the enormous side. Yes, we've talked about how it's come down from what progressives initially wanted, first, $6 trillion, then $3.5 trillion. Now, that range that's being floated is at 1.75 to 1.9 or roughly $2 trillion. That's still a lot of money to be paid for.

And so that has been one of the chief talking points that you've heard from Democrats as they are trying to pitch this bill to voters. He is telling people not to worry about the spending because they believe with the tax increases, that it is going to balance each other out. Of course, now if they don't have that with this opposition from Senator Sinema, then that's going to be a big question for them, and it's not something that you can really just come up with easily.

And so I think that's why you're seeing some hesitation from people like Senator Manchin about whether or not they'll actually have a deal tomorrow or just a kind of loose framework. And you hear the frustration from progressives there. I think they're going to be looking for a pretty detailed framework if they are going to get their support behind that other infrastructure bill that, of course, hinges upon the success of this one, according to those progressives.

And so big questions facing the White House before this town hall tonight and we'll see what the president has to say about the latest negotiations with Senator Sinema, of course, something that he's not really weighed in on a lot in public.

BLITZER: Eva, you've spent a lot of time covering the governor's race in Virginia. What are the implications of these current talks dealing with these issues for the president? What are the implications for the governor's race in Virginia, and for that matter, for the 2022 midterm elections?

MCKEND: Well, Wolf, I think we have to be careful not to overstate the implications of this governor's race. Yes, this is going to be a disaster for -- it will be a disaster for Democrats if Terry McAuliffe loses the election. But this is principally a race between Terry McCauliffe and Glenn Youngkin.

And Glenn Youngkin has seized on this issue of parental rights in a way that seems to be making an impact.


I was at a rally of his this week, huge numbers, hundreds of people outside couldn't even get in the room. And so he is speaking to a vulnerability there and has captured on something.

And so if Glenn Youngkin is able to pull out a win here, we're going to hear a lot of these same talking points echoed from Republicans in their races in 2022, but I don't think we should be overconsumed with the implications of just this one race and use it as an example for national trends across the entire country.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's not forget Biden carried Virginia over Trump by ten points last year and if this -- this seems to be neck and neck right now, so we'll see what happens. Guys, thank you very, very much.

And to our viewers, stay with CNN as Anderson Cooper moderates our exclusive town hall with President Biden. It all begins tonight, 8:00 P.M. Eastern.

And there's more breaking news just ahead on the House vote to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. Will the U.S. Justice Department prosecute the former Trump adviser? We'll discuss with a key member of the January 6th select committee. Congressman Adam Schiff is standing by live.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the January 6th investigation, the full House of Representatives voting just a little while ago to hold former Trump Adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress.

Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles. He's up on Capitol Hill. Ryan, the House just sent the actual criminal referral letter on Bannon to the U.S. Justice Department. Tell us about that.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, joined by the chair of the select committee, Bennie Thompson, assigned that criminal contempt referral almost immediately after it was passed by the House of Representatives. And we were told that the clerk had it in the hands of the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. by 5:30 this afternoon. This as the select committee continues its quick work to get the information they're looking for.


NOBLES (voice over): Steve Bannon, a long time adviser for former President Trump and the man who predicted this on the day before January 6th --

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

NOBLES: -- is now in a legal predicament.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The resolution is adopted.

NOBLES: The House of Representatives voting to refer him to the Department of Justice for criminal contempt of Congress because he has refused to comply with a subpoena of the January 6th select committee.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): If you act deliberately with sneering, cavalier contempt for the American people and their representatives, we will hold you in contempt. We will get to the truth of the violent assault on America.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Do not believe for one moment that if we fail to hold Steve Bannon accountable that he will be the exception. He will become the rule. Not a rule of law but the misrule of men. Either we are all equal before the law or none of us is. This is the essence of our democracy.

NOBLES: Nine Republicans joined Democrats in the contempt vote, one of them, Representative Liz Cheney, criticizing her own party.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): There are people in this chamber right now who were evacuated with me and with the rest of us on that day during that attack, people who now seem to have forgotten the danger of the moment, the assault on the Constitution, the assault on our Congress.

NOBLES: The vote now triggers a process in the hands of the Department of Justice. They will decide if Bannon's defiance is worthy of prosecution. If convicted, Bannon could face fines and jail time. Attorney General Merrick Garland will have the final call.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances, we'll apply the facts in the law to make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution.

NOBLES: Meanwhile, the committee continues to negotiate with other Trump allies to get them to cooperate with their investigation. They've postponed depositions for former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Pentagon Official Kash Patel. Dan Scavino, the former deputy White House chief of staff, is now scheduled to appear before the committee on November 4th, as some lawmakers sound the alarm about future elections.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Even now, however, the ex-president and his allies continue to cast doubt on the last election and appear to be drafting a plan to overturn the next one. And next time, we may not be so lucky.

NOBLES: All this while Trump himself continues to pedal false rhetoric about the 2020 election in attempts to whitewash the violence and chaos of January 6th. The insurrection took place on November 3rd, Trump wrote in a statement. January 6th was a protest.


NOBLES (on camera): And while the committee does want to get as much information as they can from Steve Bannon, they are also using today's vote as a signal to the other people that they've subpoenaed that they will do whatever it takes to get that information. They're still negotiating with Mark Meadows and Kash Patel. They're hoping to hear from Dan Scavino the first week in November. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Let's discuss with a key member of the January 6 select committee, Congressman Adam Schiff. He's also the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and he's the author of the new best seller, Midnight in Washington, How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could.

Congressman, what's your message to the vast majority of your Republican colleagues who voted against holding Steve Bannon in contempt?

SCHIFF: Well, if they think they can do a carve-out here and essentially exempt one of the former president's friends without eviscerating Congress' power of oversight, they're wrong.


Either we're all in this together, either the rule of law applies to everyone equally or we lose out on a fundamental aspect of our democracy that the rule of law applies to everyone and no one is above that law.

So, they're undermining their own institution. They're undermining a system of checks and balances, and they're continuing to damage that they did in pushing the big lie about the election.

BLITZER: Republican Congressman Jim Banks scoffed at the idea that Steve Bannon had advanced knowledge of the January 6th attack, saying, and I'm quoting him now, every American knew that violence was a possibility that day. What's your react to that?

SCHIFF: Well, first of all, if Steve Bannon has nothing to say and nothing to fear, then why is he obstructing Congress and refusing to testify? So, let's find out what he knows. Clearly, he had a reason to say he thought all hell was going to break loose, and it did. And he was in communication with the president. He may know something about who organized these rallies and what the expectation was in terms of violence, what the participation was going to be among these white nationalists groups. There's one way to find out and that's to put him under oath at this point. If he doesn't, I hope that the Justice Department will put him in jail.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of the Justice Department, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, testified today that the Justice Department will apply the facts and the law, his words, to consider your referral to hold Bannon in contempt. If the Department of Justice declines to prosecute him, what would that -- where would that leave your overall investigation?

SCHIFF: Well, I think it would be a real body blow. If they do apply the facts to the law, I think it's actually quite simple, because Steve Bannon has no absolute right of immunity to somehow just fail to show up. He also has, I think, no valid executive privilege claim to assert. And even if he did, he would need to come before the Congress and specify which question, which document the former president was formally asserting privilege. None of that happened.

So, the facts could be clear. The law also could be clear. And to me, this is an early test of whether our democracy is recovering. If the Justice Department shrugs and says we're not going forward, they're inviting other contempt of law by other individuals, not just contempt of Congress but contempt of the law more generally. And I just don't think that's where the Garland Justice Department wants to go.

BLITZER: How soon will your select committee decide whether to pursue contempt for other witnesses, for example, Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino or Kash Patel?

SCHIFF: As soon as we decide that we're getting nowhere in terms of our discussions with counsel. If we feel that we're really getting stalled for time, they're playing rope-a-dope with us, we won't hesitate to move forward with contempt. But if we can work it out and secure their testimony without having to bring up a criminal contempt charge, that is certainly our preference.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks so much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a major development in the Gabby Petito homicide case, the FBI now confirming only moments ago that the remains of her fiance, Brian Laundrie, have been found.



BLITZER: There's breaking news tonight in the search for Brian Laundrie, the Florida man missing since shortly after the death of his fiancee, Gabby Petito.

CNN's Randi Kaye is working the story for us. Randi, the FBI just a little while ago confirming that Laundrie's remains had been recovered along with some other potentially important evidence. What are you learning?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's been more than five weeks since Brian Laundrie disappeared from his home. He left just two days after Gabby Petito was reported missing, and now after that exhaustive search, we have learned, finally, that the remains found here at this reserve just yesterday have been identified as Brian Laundrie.


KAYE (voice over): The FBI identifying the human remains as Brian Laundrie after comparing dental records.


KAYE: One day after the remains of Laundrie were found in a Southwest Florida reserve, investigators returned to further search the area today amid treacherous conditions.

MARCENO: We're talking about water levels up above almost the chest area, rattlesnakes, moccasins, alligators. You just can't walk up and look. It's not like you're searching a house or a car. These areas are huge and they're covered by water.

KAYE: A source close to the investigation tells CNN the remains appear to have been there a while, clothing believed to be Laundrie's was found as well.

Laundrie, who had not been charged in the death of his fiancee, Gabby Petito, was last seen September 13th when he went hiking in the Carlton Nature Reserve, his family said. The remains found yesterday were in the Carlton Reserve, about a 45-minute walk from the park entrance. Officials say personal belongings believed to be Laundrie's were also found by his father.

STEVEN BERTOLINO, LAUNDRIE FAMILY ATTORNEY: It's quite sad, you can imagine, as a parent, finding your son's belongings alongside some remains, and that's got to be heartbreaking and I can tell you that they are heartbroken.

KAYE: But there are questions about when and where the remains were found, including the circumstances of yesterday's search that involved his parents, Roberta and Chris Laundrie. The area had been underwater until recently and only reopened to the public yesterday.


BERTOLINO: As they went further in, Chris ventured off the trail into the woods, he was zigzagging in different areas, law enforcement was doing the same thing. At some point, Chris locates what's called a dry bag. The dry bag is a white bag laying in the woods I'll say 20 feet or so off the trail. According to Chris, it was in some bramble.

KAYE: The personal items include a backpack and notebook, but so far, the contents have not been revealed. Laundrie disappeared more than a month ago. Wednesday, the FBI called him a person of interest in the killing of Petito. On September 1st, Laundrie returned to his parents' home in Florida without Petito after their summer road trip. Her remains were later found in Wyoming. Her death ruled a homicide.


KAYE (on camera): And not long after those remains were identified as Brian Laundrie, law enforcement went to the home of Chris and Roberta Laundrie, where Brian used to live with Gabby Petito, his fiancee, and alerted them that, yes, indeed, those remains did belong to their son.

One other note, Wolf, you heard the attorney there mention this dry bag. I'm told by a source close to the investigation that near that dry bag is where that notebook was found. I'm told that it was quite wet, but that they believe it is possibly salvageable. They're going to try and dry it out and see what's inside it.

But, of course, Wolf, you can imagine this is very important in case Brian Laundrie did write anything down about what happened to Gabby, how she ended up dead. Certainly, the family and many others are going to want sentences, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Randi, thank you very much, Randi Kaye reporting.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, Forensic Pathologist Priya Banerjee and CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, the former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe.

Andrew, can you walk us through the FBI's role in identifying these remains as Brian Laundrie? What resources did the FBI devote to this effort?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, there's no question that this is a case that's been given all the resources it could possibly need. In terms of this current iteration over the last 24 hours or so, I'm quite sure that the local medical examiner was the person who conducted the exam of the remains, but the FBI can be very helpful in terms of getting the either DNA samples or dental records and those sorts of things to the medical examiner for the purpose of comparing with the sample, the evidence they recover on the scene.

So, there's also a coordination piece here between the investigation that's still ongoing out in Wyoming. Let's not forget that we have a homicide that was committed in a national park, so federal land in Wyoming. And I'm quite sure the FBI is still actively engaged in trying to figure out exactly who killed Gabby Petito.

BLITZER: Dr. Banerjee, the FBI used dental records to identify Laundrie. How complicated is that process?

DR. PRIYA BANERJEE, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: Yes. I mean, if you have good X-rays from before, it's quite doable just with X-rays of the body as well as the prior X-rays to make a comparison. It's visual. And once you have those next to each other, you can do it pretty rapidly.

BLITZER: You know, Andrew, we just heard Randi Kaye report that the notebook recovered at the scene might be salvageable. What information might investigators be able to glean from that discovery?

MCCABE: Well, it's incredibly important, Wolf, that the evidence recovery agents and other technicians on the scene recover that evidence in a way that preserves it for exploitation back at the lab. I would expect that most of those articles have been taken or will be flown to the FBI lab at Quantico, Virginia, where we have experts who really spend their careers doing things, like drying out paper evidence, trying to recover the writing and the ink marks and potentially fingerprints and all sorts of other potentially relevant pieces of evidence from an article just like this.

In terms of understanding Laundrie's motive, his feelings about Petito, maybe even, you know, any kind of notes or comments that he may have made about the events we're still trying to understand in Wyoming, that notebook could shed a lot of light on all those issues.

BLITZER: Do the Laundrie parents, their involvement in the search at all, affect suspicions that are out there right now? What do you think, Andrew?

MCCABE: Wolf, I think the Laundrie family has conducted themselves in a fairly odd way that's generated a lot of suspicious right from the beginning, right? There's the, oh, he left on the 14th. No, as it turns out he left on the 13th. There have been all kinds of suspicions about that.


There's no question in my mind that the circumstances under which the Laundries participated in that search, specifically Chris Laundrie, yesterday, that's all known to the investigators. So, it may be entirely coincidence that he came across his son's remains and articles of clothing and things. That certainly could be the case since that area was recently submerged in water, but we have to leave it up to the investigators to determine if there's more to pursue on there, more questions to ask the Laundrie family.

BLITZER: Dr. Banerjee, quickly, as a forensic pathologist, what stood out to you?

BANERJEE: Yes. I mean, usually even when I respond to a crime scene, the family is not allowed. No external people are allowed other than the immediate, you know, investigators. So that was odd to me. But in this case, I do believe that the two major issues again are identification, which has been completed, and now my colleagues have quite a challenge in determining the cause of death.

You know, I don't know how much has been recovered of his body, so that will be challenging. I know they were out there again today. And maybe the diary or other evidence can shed some light as to what happened.

BLITZER: Dr. Banerjee, thank you very much. Andrew McCabe, as usual, thanks to you.

Just ahead, we're counting down to CNN's exclusive town hall with President Biden as he hits a new sticking point in trying to get his ambitious agenda through Congress. We'll speak with a key Democratic lawmaker when we come back.



BLITZER: President Biden is about to face voters in an exclusive CNN town hall as the divide between a very small number of Congressional Democrats poses a very large threat to his priorities in his agenda.

Let's discuss with Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He's a key member of the party's caucus.

Congressman, if tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations for that matter are out, as Senator Kyrsten Sinema apparently wants, does that jeopardize progress, progressive support for that matter, progressive support for this plan?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Wolf, I don't think so. Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, apparently has a constructive meeting with Senator Sinema. There are ways to raise revenue by just making sure the big corporations are actually paying the tax that they owe, a 7 percent minimum. That can raise revenue. Tax enforcement can raise revenue. Obviously, I hope some tax increases are on the table and will be supported.

BLITZER: You mentioned your fellow progressive congressman, Ritchie Torres saying, and I'm quoting now, there's a sense that we live under the tyranny of Kyrsten Sinema. Do you agree with him?

KHANNA: I may have misspoken. I meant Richard Neal of Ways and Means. But Ritchie Torres, I think he's just expressing a frustration that 49 senators believe and all of the House believe we ought to raising taxes on the very wealthy and on corporations, big corporations. Senator Sinema already voted against the tax cuts of Trump. All we're saying is restore them. And I think what he says is we don't understand what is the governing ideology. With some people, you have a clear sense of what they stand for with. With Senator Sineman, it's really hard to figure that out.

BLITZER: If this spending plan gets whittled down, and it's already gone from $3.5 trillion down to below $2 trillion, can Democrats afford not to pass at least something for the American people?

KHANNA: We must pass it and we must talk about what's in it, Wolf. We need to say, this is going to be the first time ever, universal preschool, it's going to mean childcare, you're not going to pay more than 7 percent of your income. Seniors are going to get dental, vision, hearing. There's a lot of good things to improve working class life and we just need to do a better job communicating. That I'm confident the president will do that tonight on CNN. BLITZER: If it's going the take longer to get the so-called reconciliation package passed through the Senate, would you at least go ahead and immediately pass the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which passed the Senate with 19 Republican senators and all 50 Democratic senators?

KHANNA: Wolf, the president has been very clear. The speaker has been clear. They need to pass it together. The reason is that the House had absolutely no say in that infrastructure bill, so a lot of our provisions on climate are in the reconciliation. I'm confident they both will pass and at least we will have a clear framework for the reconciliation bill.

BLITZER: So, it's basically all or nothing, is that what you're saying?

KHANNA: It's going to be all. It's not all or nothing in the sense that we're willing to compromise. I mean, the progressives have --

BLITZER: But you want both?

KHANNA: But we need both. We need both.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Ro Khanna, I appreciate it very much. Thanks so much for joining us.

KHANNA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Coming up, CDC advisers sign off on boosters for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. Breaking news when we come back.



BLITZER: Another big step tonight on COVID-19 booster shots. CDC advisers voted just a little while ago to recommend booster doses of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The group endorsing the FDA's emergency use authorization today earlier.

Let's discuss this breaking story with a key member of the FDA vaccine advisory committee, Dr. Paul Offit. He's also the author of the new book "You Bet Your Life: From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovation", the title, "You Bet Your Life", I should say.

Dr. Offit, what's your reaction to these decisions from CDC vaccine advisers?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: I think they were the right decisions. Basically what they're saying is if you're over 65, you benefit from a booster dose. If you're between 15 and 64 and have a medical condition with high risk of severe COVID then you too likely benefit from a booster dose. For the most part, young healthy people are protected against severe

disease. I mean, what's been amazing about these vaccines, whether it's Moderna, Pfizer, or Johnson & Johnson is protection against severe disease has really held up. It's held up for all aiming groups -- age groups and held up for delta. But those two groups I just mentioned, the booster dose I mean, clearly, would be of value.

BLITZER: What about mixing and matching boosters from different companies based on the data you've analyzed. Is that a good idea? Is it safe?

OFFIT: So when we met last time, Kristen Light (ph) presented data from the University of Maryland with 50 people in each group, and basically what she was found was that everything worked.


If you got Johnson & Johnson, you were boosted with Moderna or Pfizer, that worked. Vice versa works.

So, I think to make it easier for people, the decision was that you can be boosted with anything if you're in those two groups I just told you about and it is likely to boost your immune response. I think what we need to decide we want out of this vaccine is what's the goal. If the goal is protection against severe disease, we've really met that goal. If it's to try to keep your neutralizing antibodies high, which means that that will protect you not only against severe disease, but mild disease or asymptomatic infection, then we're talking about more frequent boosting.

And I think we'll see how this plays out. We're trying to build the airplane while it's in the air at some level.

BLITZER: Yeah, we get a flu shot once a year. Eventually who knows, we might have to do it with this COVID vaccine. Would you recommend those who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, more than 15 million Americans we're told, would you recommend that they now get a booster of one of the mRNA vaccines, Pfizer or Moderna, which seem to be more effective?

OFFIT: Well, you're right in that certainly if you boosted with an mRNA vaccine on top of Johnson & Johnson and introduced a greater antibody response than J&J vaccine. But J&J did a 30,000 person trial of the two dose vaccine and it was 94 percent effective against all manner of illness and greater than that against severe disease so both work. Both the Johnson & Johnson boost or mRNA boost.

BLITZER: And the Johnson & Johnson, that's a one dose shot, get the booster after two months, right?

OFFIT: Well, at least two months, but it can be six months later. I think, frankly, in retrospect, Johnson & Johnson's was probably always a two-dose vaccine. When we reviewed those data in February, they were in the midst of a two-dose trial which they finished a few months after that, and clearly showed there the efficacy was 94 percent as compared to 75 percent against illness with the one dose vaccine. So I think that is a two-dose vaccine.

BLITZER: All right. Dr. Paul Offit, as usual, thank you very, very much. We're always grateful to you.

Coming up, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon now in contempt of the U.S. Congress. We're going to take a closer look at the unusual path that brought him to this point.



BLITZER: More now on Steve Bannon, the former Trump strategist and enduring ally who's now being held in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now. Brian, this is the latest chapter in the ongoing drama between Steve Bannon and the former president.


You know, Steve Bannon continues to play this game of chicken with the House Select Committee. We have new information on Bannon's ascent in Washington and what drives him to be such a beacon for the far right.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, this notorious 67-year-old political operative is one of the most sought-after figures in Washington. As he continues to elude the House Select Committee investigating January 6th and risks a contempt of Congress charge, those who have covered Steve Bannon and worked with him are not surprised that he's in the middle of this maelstrom.

KURT BARDELLA, FORMER MEDIA CONSULTANT FOR BREITBART, WORKED WITH STEVE BANNON: This is somebody who lives by confrontation and believes that sheer force of personality is enough to undo our structures.

TODD: Tearing down the structures of government, stirring chaos in the political establishment are at the core of Steve Bannon's beliefs and his goals, those who have known him say. Something Bannon alluded to as he started working for the Trump White House in 2017.

STEVE BANNON, CHIEF STRATEGIST AND SENIOR COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Deconstruction of the administrative state. And if you --

TODD: At that time, Bannon's power and proximity to it had few rivals. In the early months of Trump's presidency, Bannon had a top White House advisor role, leveraged his relationship with Trump to even get himself a seat on the National Security Council, was called by "The New York Times" the de facto president, and displayed a level of ambition tough to live up to. BARDELLA: I think that he didn't get nearly as much done as he

thought. I remember when he came into the de facto role in the White House, he had this board in his office with all these things they were going to do.

TODD: Bannon found himself booted out of his White House job just seven months into it, some say for committing one of the cardinal sins against Donald Trump.

JOSHUA GREEN, AUTHOR, "DEVIL'S BARGAIN": Bannon's falling out with Trump came bosses Trump was jealous and resentful of the media coverage that Bannon was getting.

TODD: But Bannon eventually got back into Trump's good graces by using his podcast and other platforms to amplify false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. And according to the House committee, helping to plan Trump's Stop the Steal rally on January 6th and riling up the base the day before.

BANNON: This all converging and now we're on as we say the point of attack, right? The point of attack tomorrow.

TODD: All this from a man who according to one of his representatives was born into a family of Democrats, got a master's at Georgetown University, an MBA from Harvard and served as a U.S. naval officer.

What do you think it was that drove him so far right?

BANNON: Opportunity and access and power and money and fame.


TODD (on camera): Kurt Bardella who used to work with Steve Bannon believes there's a good chance that Bannon will return to the epicenter of Donald Trump's political world, especially if Trump runs for president again in 2024. But Bardella is also believing that there's just as good a chance that the two of them will turn on each other again.

Contacted by CNN, a representative for Steve Bannon did not comment for our story.

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

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 @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

And THE SITUATION ROOM is also available as a podcast. Look for us on or wherever you get your podcasts.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.